HL Deb 15 July 1994 vol 556 cc2112-25

12.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14th June be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the main purpose of this draft statutory instrument is to implement European directives and our commitments to the Council of Europe in respect of animal welfare. It is being made after consultation with the industry, welfare organisations and other interested parties. While the size of the document may appear daunting this is principally because, as well as making the necessary changes to the legislation, we have taken the opportunity to consolidate five existing statutory instruments.

The House will note that there are four schedules to these regulations, relating to battery hens, calves, pigs and other livestock. We think this is a presentational improvement. Previously, for example, anyone trying to establish the welfare requirements relating to pigs would have had to consult three separate statutory instruments as opposed to the single schedule in these draft regulations.

I will now explain the main changes we are proposing. First, I should draw your Lordships' attention to the inclusion of a provision in the main body of the regulations which implements a recommendation made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. The council were concerned that wording used in some welfare legislation could militate against a successful prosecution particularly where a defendant denied knowledge of an animal's condition. The draft regulation makes it clear that references to a person "knowingly permitting" livestock to be kept also encompass those circumstances where a person might "reasonably be expected to know" how that livestock is kept.

Schedule 1 on battery hens updates the previous Welfare of Battery Hens Regulations 1987, which implement the Community directive of 1986 setting minimum standards for battery hens. It may assist the House if I explain a complex problem which arose when the 1987 regulations were made. The EC directive requires 450 sq. cm. of floor space for each hen—this is the minimum cage area. Normally, hens are kept four or five to a cage giving as a minimum an overall cage size of 1800 to 2250 sq. cm. This gives the birds some flexibility as to the use of space. However, some cages exist in which three or two birds are housed or one bird on its own. Clearly, 450 sq. cm. per bird is quite inappropriate when such small numbers are considered, because birds in these smaller cages cannot share each other's space as they can in the larger cages. Our domestic legislation therefore requires 550 sq. cm. per bird for three bird cages, 750 sq. cm. per bird for two bird cages and 1,000 sq. cm. for single bird cages.

Now for the complication. The height of the cage is regulated by reference to the minimum cage area. For certain three, two or one bird cages, mainly those known as "A-frame cages", while they meet the requirements in all other respects, their height in relation to the overall floor area will be just short of the minimum required when the minimum area is the higher area specified in UK law. We accepted arguments put forward by the industry that it would be unreasonable to make such cages illegal from 1995. The change in the regulations before the House will ensure that the cage height requirement refers to the minimum cage area set in the directive (450 sq. cm. per bird) and not that in our domestic legislation, thus permitting continued use of these cages. This will, we estimate, save the industry £9 million at current prices without adversely affecting the welfare of the birds concerned.

I will now take the schedules relating to calves and pigs together as the changes proposed to existing requirements are similar. In November 1991, the Council of Ministers adopted Community directives laying down minimum standards for the welfare of calves and pigs. We are, of course, required to implement those directives and are somewhat overdue in doing so. In addition to setting new space requirements for calves and weaner pigs the regulations implement a ban on the pig rearing systems commonly known as "sweat boxes" from 1st July 1995. They also introduce certain new provisions which although numerous, can be summarised as relating to the maintenance of good husbandry.

There are two important respects in which the requirements in these regulations go further than those in the directives. I refer, of course, to the ban on the use of veal crates and the phasing out of close confinement stalls and tethers for pigs. In the case of veal crates the ban was introduced in the Welfare of Calves Regulations 1987 and came fully into effect in 1990. The phase out of stalls and tethers was introduced by the Welfare of Pigs Regulations 1991 which allowed an eight year phase-out period to the end of 1998, unlike the directive which requires the phasing out of systems using tethers by the end of 2005 and allows the use of close confinement stalls to continue. These two UK requirements were in place before the directives were adopted and both were introduced for sound reasons of animal welfare. We do not consider therefore that, in implementing these directives, we should water down our own high standards. We voted against these two directives precisely because we were convinced they did not go far enough and we will continue to press for their amendment.

Next I would like to deal with the schedule: concerning the welfare of other livestock. This brings together requirements currently contained in the Welfare of Livestock (Intensive Units) Regulations 1978 and the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1990. The intensive units regulations were introduced in 1978 as a result of our commitment to implement the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes. That convention has now been amended, requiring contracting parties to amend the definition of intensive farming in their law. The old definition assumed that "intensive" livestock farming meant the fanning of animals in environmentally controlled buildings and required that they be attended on a daily basis to ensure their welfare. However, the convention now acknowledges that farming systems. particularly in the southern states of Europe, which are not in buildings, may be equally intensive and the animals concerned may equally require daily attention if they are not to suffer. Although the change will be of little consequence to farmers in this country, it is necessary to enable us to ratify the amendment to the convention. By way of clarification I should explain that the reason the requirements in this schedule are not applied to battery hens, calves and pigs is, as I explained earlier, because those animals have been catered for in the schedules which deal specifically with them.

These regulations maintain our reputation for standards of animal welfare which are among the highest in Europe. Some of your Lordships may be disappointed that we have not taken the opportunity to go further than the EC directive and impose new requirements for battery cages. I make no apology for this. While we intend to retain our existing high standards, as we propose for calves and pigs, the way forward, as I and my colleagues have stated on a number of occasions, is in general to seek to persuade our European partners of the importance of achieving satisfactory controls on a Community-wide basis. We await the Commission's proposals for amendments to the battery hens directive and will be pressing hard for improved standards.

We do appreciate the concerns which have been expressed on behalf of those who are at the sharp end of this legislation; namely, the farmers. Statutory controls are an essential part of our programme for the protection of animal welfare. The requirements set out: in the many pages of this statutory instrument, a number of which are new to our legislation, may appear onerous. However, those who already respect and care for their animals—and this, of course, means the vast majority —have nothing to fear. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14th June be approved. [21st Report from the Joint Committee].—(Earl Howe.)

Lord Geraint

My Lords, my noble friends on these Benches and myself welcome the new regulations. We believe that they are a step in the right direction but that they should go a lot further in the near future.

Being a farmer, and having been involved with stock all my life, perhaps I may first say a few words about battery hens. I hope that the Minister in his wisdom will introduce legislation in the near future to abolish the battery hen system. It is only greed and big business that control the present system, and in my view, and in the view of many others, the hens should be set free. At the moment, they are prisoners in their own environment. We have thousands of acres of set-aside land in this country and farmers are being paid for not doing anything with that land. On a lovely day like this I am sure that the hens would prefer to run on those acres of land which are growing nothing and doing nothing for anyone rather than be prisoners in cages. Fair play to the Minister, he has recommended different sizes and bigger cages for hens; but even if each hen was allowed a cage measuring one yard by one yard it would still be a prisoner in that environment. Let us hope that the Minister in his wisdom will introduce a scheme of diversification from the present system to involve the use of set-aside land.

I turn next and briefly to the dipping system. I know that the Minister has agreed with all of the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Although I respect the council's views—it has done excellent work—I should point out that the president of the Farmers' Union of Wales, Mr. Parry, strongly believes that sheep scab should regain notifiable disease status and that enabling powers should be permitted to allow the imposition of movement restrictions in order to facilitate the enforced treatment of infected flocks and allow for the tracing of possible contacts. Special measures are also needed in relation to flocks on common land. Although the Minister has said on many occasions that the Government have no intention of reintroducing sheep dipping, I hope that on this occasion they will listen once more to the views of the Farm Animal Welfare Council because that disease is spreading at a colossal rate in our part of the world and throughout Britain. Compulsory dipping will need to be introduced sooner or later.

I am now going to say something that is irrelevant to the regulations. Last week many of us saw a film about one of the zoos in Belgium. The way in which the animals in that zoo are treated is a disgrace. I do not know whether the Minister has been in touch with the Belgian Government, but I hope that he will have an opportunity to see that film—perhaps once again— because the way in which those animals are treated is deplorable. Now that we are partners within the Community, I hope that the Minister will be able to say something on that to the House later.

The National Farmers Union has raised another point with me. It continues to object most strongly to the additional costs that adherence to the new regulations will impose on UK pig producers. It says that the regulations are unlikely to reduce the proportion of pigmeat that is supplied using restricted systems, but will merely ensure that that pigmeat is sourced from outside the UK. Producers who have depleted their financial reserves in order to remain in pig production are unlikely to be able to afford the reinvestment that is necessary if they are to comply with the regulations. On the other hand, the National Farmers Union, like ourselves, would welcome amendments which would delay or reduce the cost of complying with the regulations and which would offset the ongoing impact of the regulations on the productivity of individual pig units.

Those are my views and the views of many of my colleagues on these Benches. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley will raise many other matters.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, I intervene briefly because the question of intensive methods of food production has been very much at the forefront of my mind since some 12 years ago when in another place I chaired a Select Committee which looked into the question of intensive farming. Having been associated with traditional farming all my life, I found the experience of examining intensive farming methods very disturbing. With my committee, I travelled all over the United Kingdom and to several places in Europe. Eventually my committee produced a report. Our recommendations, some of which were very strong, were duly noted by the government of the day. Progress towards more humane methods of food production has certainly been made, but very, very slowly. Therefore, I hope that the new regulations, which I also welcome, are just one step forward of many still to come so that the conditions in which hens, pigs and calves are kept can be steadily improved.

Perhaps I may make a brief comment on the report. As far as I can see, the new regulations make little changes for battery hens. I listened carefully to what my noble friend said about the battery system and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, that that system is a wholly undesirable way of keeping poultry. It is just too cruel. We tried very hard 12 years ago to improve the batteries and, although the battery system remains undesirable, we realise that it will be with us for quite some time because of investment reasons. I do not see that the new regulations have changed much about the battery system other than possibly the regulated height of the cage.

On calves, I strongly welcome the outlawing of individual veal calf crates. Seeing those crates was a horrifying experience to my committee and myself. I also very much welcome the fact that calves can no longer be kept in darkness. There are still some 400,000 calves being exported to continental systems from this country. I very much hope that European regulations can be brought up to the same standard as ours at the very least.

I also welcome the end of muzzling for calves. One of the most distressing experiences that I have ever had with regard to animals was when I visited a large veal production plant in Normandy. Rows and rows of calves were muzzled. They were also tethered very short and were bothered by flies. The muzzling looked awful. Muzzling is carried out so that calves cannot get any roughage at all into their systems. I understand that that eventually results in the meat being whiter. I welcome the end of muzzling.

According to the new regulations, calves should also have visual contact with other calves. Again with some knowledge from my own traditional farming, I appreciate how necessary such contact is for the contentment of animals. Therefore, that new regulation is most welcome, but it is somewhat undermined by the exemption for existing accommodation.

Turning to pigs, the new regulations state that a pig shall be free to turn round without difficulty at all times. What a blessing. Again going back to the days of my inquiry, I found sow stalls quite horrifying. Pigs must now be allowed the freedom to turn round. That is absolutely right. Like the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, I very much welcome the end of the sweat box system. Unfortunately, that is not to end for yet another year.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am very interested in what the noble Lord is saying, but do the provisions allowing a pig to turn round apply also to farrowing crates in which sows may be placed to farrow so that they will not lie on and squash their piglets? If a sow is kept in the farrowing crate purely for that period, it appears beneficial that she cannot turn round.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, I accept and wholly agree with what the noble Lord has said. The sow stalls to which I was referring have nothing to do with farrowing. I was referring to the normal accommodation in which sows are kept. They are kept closely together to save space. When we saw them, those animals were showing signs of fearful boredom. They were gnawing constantly at the iron bars in front of them. I wholly agree with the noble Lord that precautions must be taken when sows are farrowing so that the piglets are not smothered by the mother rolling onto them.

Welcome as is the advance in more humane methods, I feel strongly that they are still inadequate. The new regulations fall significantly short of the RSPCA's Freedom Food Standards. I end by reminding your Lordships of the FAWC's definitions of freedoms which livestock should know. They should know freedom from hunger and thirst; from pain; from fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behaviour. I welcome the new regulations, but we still have a very long to go.

1 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I too welcome the regulations, although I believe that they should have been implemented on 1st January, should they not? I wonder why there has been a delay. There was also a slight feeling that the four statutory instruments were made into one so as not to have four separate debates. I am delighted to learn from the Minister that that was not the reason. The reason he produced was a good one.

I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lord Geraint said. It is good that we are having this debate during the week in which the RSPCA's Freedom Food Initiative has been launched. That was a welcome occasion. It is the only time I have had the opportunity to attend a launch meeting in the Grand Committee Room and to come away with half a pound of bacon. I hope that there will be many more such occasions and, if there are, that the produce will all be obtained by humane methods.

The directives allow member states to have stricter regulations than are applied in the directives. It is right that this country, with its good tradition of animal welfare, should lead the way, but we should possibly push on a bit further. The only trouble at the moment, I suppose, is that when we produce initiatives which we believe would be good for the European Union or the Council of Europe to follow, the European Union, for one, is not in much of a mood to pay much attention to what Britain has to say, given Britain's attitude to other matters within the European Union. To be an effective leader, one has to be followed.

There is obviously a balance to be struck between the just calls for the improvement in the welfare of animals at home and the need for farmers to make a decent living. I know that my noble friends Lord Geraint and Lord Mackie, who are farmers, accept that point of view fully. I welcomed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elliott, which contributed greatly to our understanding of the problems involved.

I welcome especially the call for a phasing out of the battery hen system. It is not humane in any sense of the word. Although we manage to edge regulations gradually to the stage where the methods used are less barbarous than they used to be, the battery hen system should be done away with altogether—not immediately, but over a period of time. As my noble friend Lord Geraint pointed out, at least we now have the land to do that because it is not being used for other things.

The regulations do not meet the standards put forward by the RSPCA which, in their turn, are based on the FAWC's five freedoms. I should like to ask what part the FAWC had to play in the drawing up of the regulations. Surely the failure to meet those standards highlights the need for a properly independent animal welfare commission as proposed by our party. That will raise standards and not allow the government of the day to get away with a situation which may be an improvement on a past situation, and which may be better than in some parts of the European Union, but which is still not good enough.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the regulations are a welcome consolidation of a number of measures, as the Minister pointed out. Therefore, they are useful in that respect. The debate on the regulations shows that we are ahead of many of the other member states of the European Union where animal welfare is concerned. We should be aware that concern for animal welfare seems to be a peculiarly British phenomenon within the European Union. Will the Minister confirm a figure that I read somewhere, that the Ministry receives 10 times as much mail on animal welfare matters than on all other subjects put together. That illustrates the interest that we have in this country. That does have an effect, because we know that there are different attitudes—I shall be referring to some of them—in other member states, especially in southern Europe. British concern has a direct effect on our policy and on the fortunes of livestock farmers in this country.

I shall deal first with battery cages. The proposals on cage height, which the Minister explained extremely clearly, put right an anomaly. It does no more than that. I am sure that we all share a reluctance to see this system of egg production, but we are told that battery cages cannot be banned overnight and that they must be phased out in an agreed programme throughout the European Union otherwise we will have a flood of imported eggs produced through battery systems in those countries which do not share our concern. I believe that that is a fact.

If the system is to last, and I believe that it will last for some considerable time, there is an argument for much more research and development to make the battery cage more acceptable while the system exists. Some research into that is being done, but a great deal more should be done.

The argument that were we to ban the battery cage system in this country we would be flooded with battery eggs imported from overseas does not apply to veal calves and to pigs. We have banned the veal crate in this country, and that is something I welcome. As was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Elliott, we export 450,000 calves a year. We then proceed to import large amounts of veal reared abroad in crates in a system banned in this country. Having said that, how many of us when we order veal ask where it comes from, and if we do ask, would the restaurateur know? It is more than an anomaly, as has been recognised by everyone, that we ban the system and then proceed to eat the imported veal produced abroad by that system.

Before I leave the subject of calves, and on a point of detail, Schedule 2, regulation 1(3) deals with the calf tether. It provides: Each tether must be of sufficient length to allow the calves to stand up, lie down, rest and groom itself without hindrance. The design must be such as to avoid, as far as possible, any risk of strangulation or injury". I wish the designer some luck when he comes to design a tether to fit that requirement.

I should declare an interest. The farming company with which I am involved keeps sows in sow stalls. We keep a much larger number outside. We keep some pigs in so-called sweatboxes, or the high humidity pig housing. Perhaps I may deal first with sow stalls. As we know, the measure to ban those was introduced in 1991 to take effect from 1st January 1999. It was clear at the time that the Government expected that they would be able to persuade other member states in the Community to introduce similar measures. They have suffered a complete defeat on that issue.

I quote briefly from the words of Mr. Maclean, the Minister at the time, speaking in Standing Committee C on the Pig Husbandry Bill in March 1991. He said: if some of our producers go out of business, as they would if we act prematurely, pigmeat will merely be imported to make up the difference. We believe strongly that animal welfare cannot stop at a national boundary. There is nothing more immoral than saying 'we have clean hands in Britain now—we have no sow stall and tether systems' and then turning a blind eye as Europe floods us with pigmeat produced under the system that we had banned". That is exactly what will happen. I am not defending the sow stall. I am merely pointing out the practical effects of the proposals.

We know that tethers are to be banned in this country from 1st January 1999 and they are to be banned in the other member states from 1st January 2006. There is no ban on sow stalls in the other member states and I believe that there is very little prospect that there ever will be. There has been a substantial expansion in the use of sow stalls in Denmark, Holland and north-west France and it will be very difficult to persuade the other member states to agree to prohibit systems in which they have just invested large amounts of money.

I must admit that I have been uneasy about the sow stall. But it is fair to point out that they were introduced in the first place not just to save space, as the noble Lord, Lord Elliott, said, but also to reduce the bullying which was taking place in the system that existed at the time when sows were kept together. They were introduced to make sure that the sow had continual access to food without bullying, and so on. I am not saying that I agree with them but some farmers believe that if trials were conducted in which sows were given a choice between a sow stall and free housing, many of the sows would spend a great deal of time lying in their sow stalls. I make that point because I believe that there has been a lack of behavioural studies to support a number of the proposals that are being made.

The argument on the sow stall is a classic example of a perfectly understandable welfare worry which will result in the British pig producer being at a severe disadvantage. In the past year or so we have experienced the worst period for pig prices that I have known in nearly 40 years. But in 1993 the export refund and private storage aid for pigmeat in this country amounted to 2.6 million ecu; in France it amounted to 6.1 million ecu; and in Germany it amounted to 33 million ecu. I believe that the figure for France excludes the illegal aid which was given at the time.

If the sow stalls have to go—and they clearly do—at the end of 1998, I believe that we should at least examine the proposal that the sow stalls should be allowed to be used after service until the sow is settled in pig. A period of 35 days has been suggested and I do not wish to argue about the exact number of days. If that proposal were to be examined objectively there may be welfare arguments in favour of it. Again, the 35 day proposal is a good example of the need for objective research into animal behavioural studies so that we can discover what truly constitutes animal welfare.

Perhaps I may turn now to high humidity pig housing. Very few people have ever examined that system scientifically and in depth. If we go back to first principles, the pig is an animal from the tropical forest. Given the opportunity, pigs like best to wallow, to get wet and to lie together closely. High humidity houses were designed to reflect that fairly natural behaviour by pigs. Arguments against sweathouses are entirely anthropomorphic. People look at them and say, "I would not like to live like that and therefore a pig would not like to live like that". Research in the 1960s showed that there are actual health advantages in high humidity pig housing which reflect the first principles that I outlined.

I have never understood the rationale for the banning of the high humidity house. I am quite prepared to be convinced, but I should like to know on what scientific basis that decision was made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Government.

Also, another important point is that that system started in Northern Ireland. Some time ago many pigs were kept in that way in Northern Ireland, although I believe that that is not so common now. However, it is still a fairly substantial number. I should be interested to know when the regulations are to be introduced in Northern Ireland. It would be extremely unfair if British pig producers were to suffer not only from unfair competition from abroad as a result of the banning of the sow stall but also unfair competition from Northern Ireland. However, as it is a European directive no doubt it will have to be introduced in Northern Ireland and the system banned from 1995.

I notice that paragraph 9(a) of Schedule 4 states: Where any cows which are calving are kept in a building, they shall be kept … in a pen or a yard which is of such a size as to permit a person to attend the cows". If ever I have seen a regulation which is otiose, it is that one.

British livestock producers have a real problem. There is a higher profile for animal welfare considerations in this country—and I do not object to that at all—but that has an effect on our systems of livestock husbandry compared with other member states. There is not the same concern in other member states. As I have already said, in some countries in southern Europe they do not even understand the concept. With the single market it may be that we shall be at a permanent disadvantage as a result of that.

It is an enormous task to persuade the consumer to buy British on welfare grounds. I shall be extremely interested to see how the RSPCA freedom food concept actually works out. That is fascinating. But if the Government are prepared to recognise that in-built disadvantage, perhaps I may offer two practical suggestions to help to overcome that problem.

My first proposal is to provide tax relief at a rate of at least 25 per cent., compared with the building rate of 3 per cent. or 4 per cent., for new buildings which are required expressly as a result of the welfare regulations or legislation. Secondly, extra resources should be provided for marketing British food in an attempt to exploit positively the higher standards of animal welfare in this country. It is difficult for the producer to do that on his own with the funds which are available. If because of the particular anxieties in this country we expect a higher standard of animal welfare from our farmers, then it is only fair that the Government should help with the extra costs and not say that those costs should be met by persuading consumers to pay more for British food that is produced in more humane conditions.

Having said that, I believe that the regulations are to be welcomed. They bring together a number of regulations in a number of areas. I feel that they reflect the particular situation in this country which, in the long term, works to the disadvantage of the British farmer.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have expressed their views on this important and emotive subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, representations to my Ministry on the subject of animal welfare exceed those made on any other topic by quite a wide margin, although I cannot be precise as to what is that margin.

I began my opening remarks by explaining that the regulations are, to a large extent, a consolidation of existing controls. Nevertheless, there are some important changes and, once again, your Lordships have taken the subject of animal welfare very seriously.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, referred to the delay in implementation of the regulations. It is true that the calves and pigs directive should have come into force on 1st January this year. Unfortunately, the pressures on my department have been such that the timetable was impossible to meet. Naturally, 1 regret that very much.

At this point, I should say that I shall try to deal with as many of the points raised in the debate as I can. The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, and other noble Lords, referred to battery cages. The noble Lord asks whether we would consider a ban on the system. I accept that the standards and the regulations are capable of improvement, but the Government do not consider that: a ban would be appropriate at present. As the noble Lord will know, all systems of egg production involve potential welfare risks. Birds that are kept in large groups can exhibit high levels of aggression and consequent injury. That is why proper welfare standards are needed for all types of production and why we are funding research into the area. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, wishes to intervene. I give way.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I am much obliged. I quite understand why the Government will not contemplate a ban in the near future. However, if they were to say that that was the direction in which they were hoping to move, it would give the kind of signal which would help farmers to change their capital investment over a period of time so that when the ban came into force it would not put them at a disadvantage and it would be a very humane way of looking forward and planning.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I was just about to turn to what the Government propose to do and to press for in the Community. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the directive is to be reviewed. In fact, it required the Commission to review the existing rules and to propose new minimum standards for alternative systems of husbandry by the beginning of 1993. The Commission's proposals have not yet been published. We shall be pressing the Commission to do so. The UK is seeking for battery cage systems a significantly increased area per bird over the 450 square centimetres that is currently required. We are also seeking environmental enrichment of cages including, for example, perches and scratching bars. We also expect the proposals to take account of the welfare needs of those laying hens which are not kept in battery cages. I hope that that will be of assistance to the noble Lord.

The noble Lords, Lord Geraint and Lord Carter, spoke about the phase out of stall and tether systems for pigs. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, was especially concerned about the UK's competitive position in the Community. I appreciate the industry's concern about the phase out of those systems. However, as noble Lords may recall, the original Private Member's Bill introduced by my honourable friend Sir Richard Body had widespread parliamentary support, although it did not reach this House for consideration. The Government considered that the five-year phase out proposed in that Bill would have caused serious difficulty for the industry. We therefore introduced the Welfare of Pigs Regulations 1991 which, we believe, reduce industry costs to acceptable levels by providing for an eight-year phase out.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked whether there could be an exemption for the use of stalls during the first 35 days after service. We do not believe that there is a case for allowing that exemption from the ban. Comparisons made over the whole gestation period between the best managed herds in loose housing and those in close confinement systems show no difference in productivity.

In his intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, referred to farrowing crates. Sows are kept in farrowing crates for no more than 28 days at a time. The crates make a valuable contribution to the welfare of the piglets as I am sure the noble Lord will know. A sow can weigh a hundred times or so more than her piglets and can crush them without even noticing. MAFF is funding research into alternative systems; but, for the time being, they present too great a risk of very high piglet mortality to be recommended.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about behavioural studies. I appreciate the importance of basing Government policy on sound scientific studies. The Government have funded research on animal welfare amounting to over £7 million in 1993–94 and that programme continues. Alternative husbandry systems for sows are an important part of that programme. The noble Lord also devoted some time to the system of sweat boxes. He asked about the evidence from the FAWC in that respect. The council was widely consulted over the review of the pig husbandry systems which recommended the ban on sweat boxes. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. My point was that it has never been clear as to exactly what scientific evidence the FAWC based their recommendations on. I believe that the council is just as liable to take the anthropomorphic view as anyone else.

Earl Howe

My Lords, the directive sets a number of criteria about the conditions in which pigs are kept; for example, as regards ventilation and humidity. They would have prohibited the sweat box system from 1st January of this year. However, we obtained a derogation allowing the few remaining systems to continue in place until 1st July. I do not have the report of the FAWC with me, but I shall be glad to write to the noble Lord outlining the relevant parts of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, also asked about the application of the sweat box regulations for Northern Ireland. The regulations that we are debating today extend to Scotland, but not to Northern Ireland. However, I am advised that a similar measure will shortly be introduced to cover the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, spoke about sheep scab and also referred to the recommendations of the FAWC in that regard. The Government will be responding in full to all the recommendations contained in the council's recent report. However, we believe that there is currently considerable scope for action by the industry itself before regulation should again be considered.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, also devoted some of his speech to the FAWC. I should tell the noble Lord that the Government greatly value the advice of that body and takes such advice fully into account when deciding on provisions in the UK and in European legislation. Of course, the FAWC is already a fully independent body. Therefore, in my view, there is no need for an independent commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about assistance with marketing. The Government consider marketing to be a priority area. My right honourable friend the Minister recently launched the marketing development scheme under which about £10 million will be available over the next three years. That will provide help for improved marketing throughout the food chain. Moreover, we have recently opened for registration a scheme, part funded by the European Union, to provide for capital investment. We hope for a good response.

I accept the request expressed by all noble Lords for an improvement in standards generally. However, the Government have undertaken not to introduce further unilateral improvements which could be to the disadvantage of UK producers. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I must say that we do not accept that we have problems of leadership in this field. As I said, we shall continue to press for improvements and continue to work for them both through the Council of Europe and the European Union.

I hope that it will be clear from my remarks that we believe the Community still has some way to go in establishing satisfactory farm animal welfare standards and that we are ahead of the game in some respects. The ban on veal crates and the impending ban on stalls and tethers provide two examples. I recognise that those measures impose extra costs on our farmers which the producers of imported meat do not have to bear. It is only right that those extra burdens should also provide a marketing advantage. It is certainly the case that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of issues such as animal welfare in making their purchasing decisions. That has been recognised by the RSPCA in its recently launched Freedom Foods Scheme and is a point that those involved in marketing might wish to emphasise.

Finally, while the Community rules we are implementing represent a useful step towards better welfare standards, I see them as transitional pending their further amendment. Husbandry methods are constantly evolving and research into welfare continues to improve our understanding both of the needs of the animal and how these can be taken on board by a commercially viable industry. I cannot emphasise too strongly the Government's commitment to our present high welfare standards and to maintaining pressure on our Community partners to achieve them. Equally, once achieved, we must ensure that they are kept under review and up to date.

On Question, Motion agreed to.