§ Order for Second Reading read.9.38 am
§ Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill could scarcely be shorter or about a more simple issue. The question is whether a sow should have around its neck a narrow loop with a chain at the end of it just 2ft long—I have one here. The sow is kept in that state for four months from when it is served by a boar until it goes out to a farrowing crate. Some would say that the alternative of a stall is worse. It is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around. It can only stand up or lie down and, at best, move only a few inches.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) knows that just over half a century ago I was deputed, as a schoolboy during the war, to look after sows. I learnt that, of all the farm animals, the pig is the most intelligent. In the intervening years, I have kept many thousands of pigs. There is no doubt that the more intelligent the animal—I suppose that this applies also to the human being—the more easily it is frustrated and placed under stress. To keep an animal such as a pig in a condition where it cannot move for four months, other than just to stand up or to lie down, causes acute stress.
It is not a pleasant sight to see a young sow put in one of these stalls for the first time. The sow is likely to struggle for half an hour or three quarters of an hour and in that time it will scream and eventually subside. One of two things then tends to happen: either for the rest of the four months it becomes listless and fails to respond to stimuli, other than food put immediately in front of it, or it rapidly becomes mentally deranged, and when the animal is released after the four months to go into the farrowing crate, it is often aggressive and vicious and it may attack the stockman.
I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on his statement about this system. He could not have put it more strongly when, in a press release this week, he said that the systemcould not be justified in any circumstances".He echoed the views of every livestock farmer who is conscious of his responsibilities to his animals and who realises that livestock farming is acquiring a bad name because of the minority who persist in using the system.
I very much regret the fact that the National Pig Breeders Association, of which I was long a member—indeed, I have been an office holder—has decided to oppose the Bill. The association alleges that about 70 per cent. of sows are kept in these conditions. I do not believe that that figure is right. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that Dr. Baxter was appointed some time ago to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I do not suppose that any academic is more familiar with the problem. He has studied it at length. In his view, 50 per cent. of sows are kept in these conditions and the number is declining.
It follows that many farmers, like me, do not regard this system as necessary. In several papers on the subject and with the support of many other academics who have 564 studied it, along with veterinarians and livestock farmers, Dr. Baxter said that the problems of keeping sows closely covered and in stalls will continue and will probably never be overcome. Those people and the majority of those of us involved in the livestock business know that there are many other systems. I had sows on outdoor and indoor systems. Over the many years that I kept sows, I experimented with different systems. It is true that every system has some little difficulty—there is no perfect system—but, on the whole, the difficulties associated with the alternatives are minimal. Much research has been carried out into them in recent years. For that and other reasons, a large number of farmers have moved out of the existing systems of sow stalls and close tethering. One cannot give figures, because no precise ones are available, but the majority of pig farmers do not use the systems any more.
There is a large number of large herds. There are several large herds of 1,000 or more sows in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend). I have been to the famous college in his constituency twice to talk about pig husbandry and I met his constituents, some of whom have these 1,000 sow herds in stalls or on close tethers. I had my ups and downs with them. I said that that system made for lazy stockmanship and that lazy stockmanship was bad stockmanship. They could not disagree with me, because most of the farmers in my hon. Friend's constituency who own those huge herds do not feed or look after the pigs but sit behind mahogany desks, with computers, secretaries and accountants running their large businesses.
This business has been indirectly subsidised by the taxpayer. I do not believe that these sow stalls would ever have come into being in this country had it not been for the tax allowances which were available.
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
My hon. Friend realises that feelings in my constituency were running rather high after the rather insulting remarks that he was purported to have made and which were published in the press. If I have an opportunity to do so, I shall deal more fully with that matter later. Will my hon. Friend be good enough to tell me and the House how many pig units in my constituency he has visited and which they were?
§ Sir Richard Body
I have not been to any of them. I have been to two conferences on this subject at the famous college in my hon. Friend's constituency, where I spoke at length. I have visited many pig farmers. When I was actively involved in pig farming and was experimenting, naturally I went to many such farmers to see what others were doing. I am glad to say that many of my fellow pig farmers came to see what I was doing and we exchanged ideas.
I am disturbed by my hon. Friend's use of the word "insulting". I did not wilfully insult anyone. I said some rather forthright things about those farmers who were letting down the farming community. I emphasise that the strongest support I have received for the Bill is from livestock farmers who are worried about their reputation. I have also had enormous support from the veterinary profession, especially among working vets who visit farms and see the injuries caused to sows. There is no doubt in their mind of the mental stress caused to the pigs.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
While it is one thing to criticise my hon. Friend for his forthright remarks on this matter, we should also draw attention to the 565 remarks made this morning on radio by the chief executive of the National Pig Breeders Association. He sought to impugn the motives of hon. Members when he had no way of knowing the reason for our views. He sought to suggest that there was something improper in hon. Members supporting the Bill. By doing so he does himself, his organisation and its members a grave disservice and he should be ashamed.
§ Sir Richard Body
I have been saddened about what the National Pig Breeders Association has done recently. I was a member of it for a long time and an office holder. In those days I got to know many association members and I do not believe that any of them would have contemplated introducing such a stall system. However, the association has sought to attract many more of the large-scale, commercial producers and I suspect that those types now effectively run the association. I do not want to be over-critical of association members, but it is important to note that if one is actively farming seven days a week and one enjoys looking after one's stock, there is no time to go to London, or wherever the committee meetings may be, to play an active part in that association.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend's knowledge of my constituency. Does he therefore recognise that the south-west branch of the National Pig Breeders Association consists of those who run small businesses rather than large ones? Those farmers care deeply about their stock and they undertake the difficult task of finding time to come to London to participate in the association. I hope to speak later, but does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Bill goes through, the larger, commercial pig breeders will possess the ability to fall into line with the new regulations while the small farms will be driven out of business?
§ Sir Richard Body
I do not believe that I have ever disagreed with my hon. Friend before, but I feel that I must on this occasion.
My hon. Friend knows that I go down to the west country from time to time and that I keep an eye on what is going on in the pig business there—I cannot help but do that. I believe that the casualties will be those farmers—sometimes I wonder whether they should be described as such—who have thousand-sow herds. They had their stall systems established as a result of tax allowances that no longer exist.
§ Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)
Like my hon. Friend, I have kept pigs in the past and I care greatly for their welfare. My hon. Friend, however, has portrayed pig farmers, particularly those who run large farms, as not caring for their stock. The practices that my hon. Friend has described are also widespread on the continent—perhaps more so than in Britain—and they have developed over a long time. Those practices have been accepted by the majority of people in agriculture—my hon. Friend is an exception—until recently. Most farmers care for their stock and, as my hon. Friend is well aware, unhappy stock does not thrive. Farmers would not keep their stock in conditions where it did not thrive. I agree that changes may be necessary now, but to attribute to pig farmers evil, malicious and uncaring feelings is unfair.
§ Sir Richard Body
I am not so sure. I am complaining about a minority. I do not believe that the majority—I am 566 almost willing to bet on it—keep pigs simply to make money. I can speak with some authority about making money or losses from keeping pigs—one can do both. The majority who keep stock, be it cattle, pigs, sheep or anything else have a feeling for those animals. Those who work in the fields, or in the piggeries, and look after those animals have a feel for them. I am not arguing about that majority; I am concerned about a problem that touches the minority.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
I could take my hon. Friend to many small pig breeding farms in Sussex where the farmers have provided open areas in which the pigs can run. The difference between those and the filthy, disgusting stalls in which pigs are chained is colossal. Does my hon. Friend agree that certain elements of the farming world display a degree of hypocrisy when they try to pretend that they care for those pigs, while they treat them like that? My hon. Friend has already shown to the House the restrictions that are placed upon pigs.
§ Sir Richard Body
I agree with my hon. Friend.
I have challenged the National Pig Breeders Association and the National Farmers Union, whose representatives I met recently, to give me the names of any farmers who have gone over to the ultra-intensive form of production in the past three years. So far, no names have been given and I do not believe that there will be any. Dr. Baxter, to whom I referred earlier, has also made inquiries and I am reassured by his findings. Manufacturers of the chains have also told me that there are no more sales, which is a great advance.
When we had a generous system of grants and tax allowances one could receive a large grant for putting down the concrete base for the intensive pig farms. One also received a tax allowance, over seven years, for erecting the buildings. The equipment, the sow stalls and tethers, could be written off against one year's tax. Those with large farms and receiving a substantial income had a considerable advantage over those with small farms whose income was not as great and whose tax liability, therefore, was not enough to enable them to take advantage of the tax allowances. It is not unfair to say that it is the taxpayer, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has been largely responsible for the introduction of the stall system.
I remind the House that as long ago as 1981 the Select Committee on Agriculture, under the chairmanship of Bill Elliott—now in another place—carried out a long and detailed inquiry on the stall system. We visited many farms in Britain and in France, Germany and Denmark where we examined their practices not only on the farms, but in research establishments. We heard a great deal of evidence and at the end we agreed unanimously on the report. The House has always respected the unanimous report of a Select Committee. It is 10 years since we agreed that report which came down against the ultra-intensive methods of pig husbandry.
The House subsequently spent a whole day debating the report, which also made recommendations about the more controversial question of poultry and veal. On pig husbandry—in particular, sow stalls and close tethering—the House agreed unanimously what the Select Committee had decided. There have been disagreements on all sorts of issues in the Select Committee and the House will know that it consists of some fairly hard-faced hon. Members. I must not be unkind about my colleagues, 567 but they were certainly not sentimental about the matter; let us say that they were practical. Nevertheless, those of us who brought to the Committee a considerable knowledge of livestock farming were appalled at some of the things that we saw.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
My hon. Friend has described accurately the acceptance of the report by the House, but the matter went even further than that. The 1983 guidelines issued by the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), said:The keeping of sows and gilts in stalls, with or without tethers, raises serious welfare problems. It inevitably places severe restrictions on the animals' freedom of movement …alternative systems, such as kennels, store yards or yards and cubicles, in which animals' behavioural and exercise needs can be fully met, are therefore strongly recommended.So by 1983 the Government had accepted the basic thrust of the Select Committee's report.
§ Sir Richard Body
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps I may digress for a moment, because I realise that my hon. Friend the Minister is none too happy about the five-year period. Let me explain why it was selected. The lifespan of the stalls is usually about 15 years; the tethers have a considerably shorter lifespan. The Select Committee reached its decision 10 years ago and there was a considerable amount of reporting in the farming press when the report was published and debated. I cannot believe that any livestock farmer can have been unaware of what the Select Committee or the House had said. Moreover, when the welfare code was published in 1983, there can have been no doubt about the matter among pig farmers because, again, there was a considerable amount of publicity. If my arithmetic is right, 10 plus five makes 15. That means that by 1996, 15 years will have elapsed since the Select Committee unhesitatingly drew those conclusions which were then endorsed by the House.
There is another matter that concerns a number of producers. Will the European dimension put our farmers at a disadvantage compared with farmers on the continent, and will there be an increase in imports from countries that have a lower regard for their animals than we do? I do not think that will happen. I have given the matter careful thought. I have discussed it with a number of farmers and others. It will not happen because, in the first place, the system is not profitable. It has been made artificially profitable, as I sought to explain earlier, by the tax allowance. If it were profitable, the sow stall systems would not be disappearing as rapidly as it is. The figures show clearly that farmers are abandoning the system and, in the past three years, have not been replacing sow stalls that have ended their natural life. Any hon. Member who has an appreciable number of pig farmers in his constituency will know that pig farmers have had a pretty rough old time in the past few years and that pig farming is not always a highly profitable business. There has been acute pressure on farmers at the margins. One might have thought that that would be reflected in intensified systems and certainly more farmers would have gone over to sow stalls and tethering if that system had been seen to be more profitable. That is simply not the case.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson
I have a lot of pig farmers in my constituency. Indeed, we bred pigs when I was a child.
568 Does my hon. Friend agree that the real reason why pig farmers have been under such economic pressure and have been going out of business is that they have not attracted the subsidies that have been handed out to other sectors of the industry? The sums that they have been offered and the tiny tax allowances that they have received have been too modest to stop people going out of business. Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that the pig farmer deserves just as much attention in this context as the pig? I hasten to add that I support the concern about better welfare for pigs.
§ Sir Richard Body
My hon. Friend is enticing me and inviting me to make at least a half-hour speech on my favourite topic, but I have to keep an eye on the Chair and I would be monstrously out of order if I answered my hon. Friend's question, tempted though I may be. This is a short Bill on a simple issue and I must return to it.
In respect of the European dimension, there is a positive advantage in getting rid of stalls and tethers rather sooner than at the end of the five-year period. Five years is a compromise figure. Many farmers would like the system to be got rid of more speedily for commercial reasons. After all, we face competition from the continent, although I am glad to say that in recent years, we have doubled our exports of pigmeat to the continent and that has been a triumph for our farmers. There would be a marketing advantage in getting rid of the system and I look forward to hearing the Minister's views about the subject.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
The Government recently decided virtually to ignore the EC's proposals on magpies and only yesterday the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that the Government would use what he called "devious means" to ensure the continuation of our various protections for horses and ponies. In the light of those facts, would not it help if the Government made it clear that they would once again fight hard—and, if need be, use devious means—to stop the import of bacon produced by those who use this appalling practice in other parts of the Community? Is not that a better answer than more subsidy, bearing in mind the fact that this year the EC is to spend £23,000 million on direct subsidy and that that is an all-time record?
§ Sir Richard Body
My hon. Friend is always right when he speaks about matters emanating from Brussels. I do not see why we should not invoke article 36 of the treaty of Rome to bring those imports to an end on moral grounds.
I should say that the great majority of continental farmers do not resort to the practice. Most of them still have very small pig units and it is simply not worth their while to embark on the sow stall and tether system.
§ Mr. Lord
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) gave the House the global figure for agriculture subsidies. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who knows the subject well, will surely acknowledge that the pig industry is not among those that receive massive subsidies and that it has to stand on its own feet.
Those of us who will speak today on behalf of pig producers are not against the principle of the Bill. We are trying to get a little balance into it. I represent Suffolk, which has probably the second largest population of pig producers in the country. The producers in my area are changing over to a loose housing system. I have spoken to one of my pig farmers who is also a pig consultant. He 569 travels widely on the continent and tells me that many of the practices in Europe are much worse than the practices and the way in which we keep our pigs here. We are considering a two-pronged issue: the first is the way in which pigs are kept on the continent and the second is unfair competition with our pig farmers. Surely such a proposal for change should be implemented at the same time throughout Europe.
§ Sir Richard Body
I will return to my hon. Friend's peroration shortly. However, he is right to state that pig farmers have not been subsidised. They have been taxed. Some 70 per cent. of the working costs are feed costs and that has been taxed by up to 100 per cent. That has been a severe burden for pig farmers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) knows, that tax takes the form of import levies. Many of my fellow pig farmers went out of business when we imposed very high import levies on imported maize which some of us believed was a very good feed for pigs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central is trying to lead me astray like the temptress, my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West. In reply to the peroration of my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central, I refer once more to the European dimension. I believe that there is a marketing advantage and I do not suggest that our farmers should be placed at a disadvantage in relation to farmers on the continent. However, our farmers could experience a positive advantage.
There is growing concern in this country about farm animal welfare and the kind of things being done on our farms. If we can say that we have stopped the worst excesses of intensive methods of animal production and that our methods, if not totally humane, are less inhumane than practices permitted on the continent, that will be a great advantage for us to exploit commercially. We should be able to tell shoppers, "If you buy British, you will be buying bacon, ham or pork that is produced less inhumanely than is the case on the continent."
§ Mr. John Townend
I was interested in my hon. Friend's last point that we will be able to buy British pork that is produced more humanely than anywhere else. Why, therefore, does the Bill exclude Northern Ireland? If those practices are as evil as my hon. Friend makes out, surely they should be excluded throughout the United Kingdom. Has Northern Ireland been excluded because if the Bill applied there it would make it very difficult for pig farmers in Northern Ireland to compete with pig farmers in the Republic?
§ Sir Richard Body
I invite my hon. Friend to talk to those who understand the constitutional niceties. It was explained to me why it would be unwise to include Northern Ireland in the Bill, but I cannot for the life of me pass on that explanation, because it was beyond me.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I support the Bill with the utmost enthusiasm. I regret the fact that it does not extend to Northern Ireland. If I catch the eye of the Chair later, I hope to urge the House to extend the provisions to Northern Ireland. I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure in Committee that it is extended to the Province.
§ Sir Richard Body
As they say, that is a Committee point. My hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder)—and I insist on calling him my hon. Friend——
§ Sir Richard Body
Hon. Members may not be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for North Down and I once contested the primaries in North Down. Neither of us won on that occasion, but that was long ago.
I do not want to be diverted again from the European dimension. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) referred to the unfair advantage that Northern Ireland producers might experience. The ultra-intensive systems are not more profitable than many of the available alternatives. Those systems have been introduced—[interruption.]—If I am wrong, why are those wretched systems going out rapidly now? Farmers are turning away from those systems because they are not profitable. I do not want to be unkind to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington, but I repeat what I have said in my hon. Friend's constituency on two occasions: those systems make for lazy stockmanship. It is easier for one man to control a 1,000-sow herd when those sows are kept in stalls in the conditions I have described than it would be if those sows were in open yards or kept in any of the other ways in which we can keep our pigs.
§ Mr. John Townend
My hon. Friend's argument lacks logic. On the one hand he says that it is no more efficient or economic to have the present system while on the other hand he says that that system leads to lazy stockmanship and that we can manage with fewer men. If labour costs rise as a result of changing the system, the present system must be more cost effective. A pig farmer in my constituency has just erected one of those units that my hon. Friend claims is going out. There is no great movement out of the present system in east Yorkshire, which is the largest pig-producing area in the country.
§ Sir Richard Body
Of course labour costs are important. However, they are not the biggest costs involved. In relation to feed costs, they are very small. The great majority of pig farmers do not count their labour costs because they are working farmers. A working farmer does not look at the clock and calculate how much he has or has not earned that day. He gets on with the work and works seven days a week. Labour costs are not a significant item in the budget of the average pig farmer.
I am determined to return to the European dimension. I will not give way, no matter how tempted I might be, to my hon. Friends. I will not digress again. Before I was interrupted, I was inviting my hon. Friend the Minister to respond about the commercial advantages. Only quite recently I received an invitation from Safeway, which is one of the major supermarket chains, to see what it is doing to provide more humanely produced meat. I was very impressed by what I saw.
Safeway has commenced farming to increase the supply of the kind of meat that it wants, because the supply of humanely produced meat was not available elsewhere. Safeway is charging its customers in the supermarkets a 25 per cent. premium for such meat. Safeway is successful and it hopes to recruit more farmers who are willing to keep animals humanely and in return receive that 25 per cent. 571 premium. As a commercial concern, Safeway is convinced that consumer demand for humanely produced meat will increase and it is determined to meet that demand. I must not put words into Safeway's mouth, and I am not doing so, but it would be enormously grateful if some farmers in north Humberside would contemplate using other methods. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington to take the message to farmers that the demand for humanely produced meat will increase and that it would be excellent if some of them abandoned some of their ultra-intensive methods.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
Most of the problems of the pig market stem from the fact that supermarkets are creating a very low price for pig products. The idea of Safeway giving anyone a 25 per cent. premium would probably cause a farmer in Hampshire to fall over in astonishment. That is not to detract from my hon. Friend's Bill—I am 100 per cent. behind what he is trying to achieve—but supermarkets are one of the reasons why that vicious practice has built up in the past.
§ Sir Richard Body
I must agree with my hon. Friend. However, I am totally resolved not to be diverted by anyone else again. I have been on my feet for much longer than I expected. It is a short, simple Bill, and we are digressing. There is a plot. I suspect that the usual channels want the Bill to be debated for as long as possible. I must now conclude.
Those of us who think seriously about livestock farming know that vegetarianism is now surging forward. In the Members' Dining Room there is now a vegetarian menu, which we certainly did not have in times past. On the blackboard menu in the cafeteria there are six, seven or eight dishes on offer, and two or three are always vegetarian. I do not suppose that a single restaurant in London does not now provide a vegetarian dish. Most significant of all, hon. Members who have visited universities or polytechnics in the past year or so and eaten in the halls or canteens will have noticed that a third and sometimes half the students are vegetarians. Intrigued by that, I have talked to them about it. There seemed to be a logical syllogism. "We cannot condone cruelty. We believe that modern meat production is cruel, therefore we do not eat meat." I do not think that one can fault the logic of that syllogism.
It is important, therefore, that those of us who are concerned about the future of livestock farming should clean up its reputation and put right what we believe to be wrong. It is not only what we in the livestock industry believe to be wrong; almost every inquiry including every scientific inquiry has condemned those ultra-intensive practices, and the sooner they are got rid of the better it will be for the reputation of farming. At the last annual general meeting of the National Pig Breeders Association the chairman said:The time has come when the UK pig industry must start to improve its public image.He went on:The case for promoting our product more effectively to the consumer must be advanced within the framework of the need to burnish our reputation with the general public.572 I agree with that statement, and I hope that House will also agree. I hope also that the National Pig Breeders Association will think carefully about what it has been saying recently.
The Bill is obviously in the interests not only of wretched sows that are kept in stalls for four months at a time, with the stress and the lack of will to live that so many of them suffer as a result, but of every livestock farmer.
§ Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
I am privileged to follow the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). I pay tribute to his work on the Bill. He is one of the few Back-Bench Conservative Members of whom I had heard before I was elected. I have a brother who is involved in organic farming in Northern Ireland and he mentioned to me the work that the hon. Gentleman had done not only on this issue but on many other farming issues to put across the organic message. I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman has said.
This is a small, narrow, definitive Bill and we should be able to pass it very quickly. I hope that there will not be any of the procedural or tactical delaying methods in which the House seems to involved itself. Let us have a straightforward debate and then vote on the Bill. I hope that hon. Members will support it.
I shall tell hon. Members of my own interest in the measure and why I feel passionately about it. I am a product of the pig industry. I was brought up on a small rural farm in Northern Ireland. I do not think that I would be here were it not for pigs, because that was the way in which my family made their money and ensured that I was able to be brought up in a way that would help me in my future life. That pig farm was a genuine pig farm. I am confident that I have delivered more young pigs into this world than many other hon. Members have. Therefore, I know just how intelligent pigs are.
I support everything that has been said. Pigs are the most intelligent farm animals. I could relate many examples—I shall not bore the House—of sows who, no matter what was done, were able to open the gate and get back in when they wanted to. When they were let out into the field for the day and got fed up they always knew how to get back in. No matter what we did, one sow was able to let herself out. She could even manipulate and get rid of the wire that had been used to secure the gate. Pigs are extremely intelligent, clean animals. Anyone who has looked after pigs knows that, unlike many other animals, they perform their bodily functions on exactly the same spot and at the same time, practically, and will never mess up the place in which they are kept. That is why it is disgraceful and appalling that pigs in this country are still being kept in the way that has been described.
I do not believe that any genuine farmer—that is, someone who cares first and foremost about the animals that he or she looks after—could possibly oppose the Bill. I understand why hon. Members from areas in which there is industrial intensive farming have been lobbying hard on the matter. I understand that there are pressures on them, but I urge them to realise that the people exerting that pressure are not genuine farmers. A genuine farmer would not use such methods of husbandry.
The Bill is not about the economics of pig farming and the problems of commercialism in farming. There is time for that in another debate. We are not here to discuss what tax advantages should or should not have been given to the 573 pig industry, although I have firm views on that. I entirely agreed with many of the promoter's remarks. The Bill is about stopping an unacceptable practice as quickly as possible.
One hon Gentleman said that some of the people who would go out of business and suffer most from the provisions of the Bill would be small farmers. However, if a small farmer thinks that the only way to run an economic farm is to use intensive methods, he should not be in business anyway. If that is the only way in which he can be profitable, there must be something wrong with the way in which he runs his small farm and I probably know as much as anyone here today how difficult it is these days to make small farms economic.
I plead that in Committee or at some other stage we extend the Bill to Northern Ireland. I believe that the methods described are practised very little in Northern Ireland. Many people in Northern Ireland would want the measure extended to the Province because, whether people like it or not, it is part of the United Kingdom. Laws that are applied in this country should be applied to Northern Ireland. However, that is a separate matter.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
I apologise that I was not present to hear the beginning of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body). I wish to make two points about Northern Ireland, which I am sure that the hon. Lady will confirm from her experience. I spent a year there as Minister with responsibility for agriculture. First, Northern Ireland has a separate health regime in farming which, in many cases, has led to farmers producing a healthier product. Northern Ireland would not automatically want to be treated as having the same health status as the rest of the United Kingdom. It has a higher status, which is worth protecting and which is built on separate Northern Ireland legislation.
Secondly, Northern Ireland food should have a wider reputation as more natural food. Whether or not food goes through the full organic process which the hon. Lady said was used on her brother's farm, Northern Ireland has less input and its livestock, whether chickens, pigs or cows, have a more natural life. For those reasons, people should look out for Northern Ireland produce in their shops in both the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.
§ Miss Hoey
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that he is knowledgeable about Northern Ireland. The detail could be discussed in Committee, but I wish to see the Northern Ireland dimension brought in. I am sure that Northern Ireland farmers will welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
The Bill makes a start with pigs, but I hope that it will be seen as a general move away from intensive farming in general. At some stage perhaps we can come back to the House with measures on battery hens, which suffer similarly from the way in which they are reared. However, I shall not go into that now.
Even though this country is at war and thousands of people are worried about what is happening and about their families, I am pleased to say that I and, I am sure, many other hon. Members receive many letters about intensive farming. People care about it. I have certainly received more letters about it than about the Gulf crisis. I do not want to draw any comparisons, but many people in Britain care about farming methods. They have discovered 574 that we have a real opportunity today to do something about it. It is not often that the House discusses a measure that will make a real change. I urge all hon. Members to give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope that the measure will progress and become law as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. It will be evident to the House that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. Therefore, I hope that speeches will be reasonably brief.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part early in the debate. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey). I agree in principle with much of what they said. Few hon. Members would disagree with the principle of the case that they put forward. Few of us disagree with the assertion that sow stalls are unpleasant and undesirable and that a date should be set after which they will no longer be permitted. However, some of us also argue that that date should be set across the European Community and that the absence of agreement on a date would be unfair to many pig producers in Britain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston almost conceded my point, if he did not actually do so. He said that large farms such as those that can be found in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) and in my constituency would be casualties. That is true. Firms will suffer and go out of business in our constituencies. Members of Parliament cannot be expected to come to the House and support such a measure when other farmers a few hundred miles away on the continent will be allowed to continue the practice.
§ Sir Richard Body
I hope that there is no misunderstanding. I said that the only farmers who would be put at a disadvantage were those who had large herds and had gone in for what I can only call lazy and, therefore, bad stockmanship. The House should not take any step to support them. I repeat—I have said it many times already—that we do not need to fear any competition from the continent.
§ Mr. Hague
My hon. Friend and I will have to disagree on that point. Many of us believe that there will be problems of competition in the industry if we ban the practice but other countries do not do so at the same time. If we are to have fair competition, it should be EC-wide. If we are to improve animal welfare, there must be EC-wide agreement. Otherwise we shall have more imports from farms on the continent which still have sow stalls and similar systems or alternative systems which also have severe drawbacks.
We can tell farmers that the system must be brought to an end, but we have no right to make them do that when, across the channel, Dutch farmers are still building such systems and intend to use them for many years to come.
§ Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)
The hon. Gentleman wants to wait until we have European-wide legislation on this point. Does he follow the logic of that argument? Would he wait until any legislation was Europe-wide before we introduced it here? The Bill requires that the practice be stopped within five years. I am sure that his 575 Government could work within Europe in the next five years to achieve agreement across Europe. In 1987 the European Parliament agreed to do exactly that. The hon. Gentleman stated that he agreed in principle with everything that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) said. Does he intend to vote in accordance with that principle this morning?
§ Mr. Hague
We shall vote on the Bill, not the principle. [HON. MEMBERS: "No; it is the principle."]. We are voting on the principle of the Bill, but there are other principles within it.
I shall be happy to see all European Governments, including the British Government, work to achieve early agreements on the matter.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
I have the highest regard for my hon. Friend because his logic is usually faultless. However, this morning logic has temporarily deserted him. The Prime Minister has said that we must be in Europe and offering constructive suggestions for improvements and give a lead. Is it not eminently to the benefit of the United Kingdom in Europe if we can say, "We have done our best in our sovereign Parliament and now we challenge Europe to follow our lead." Is that not the way to proceed?
§ Mr. Hague
There are many ways of giving a lead to the European Community, not necessarily by implementing these proposals but by trying to persuade other countries to adopt them. However, I fear that if we adopt them and wait for others to fall into line, our example may not be followed, as has happened in other cases that right hon. and hon. Members can bring to mind.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson
Will my hon. Friend remind the House that such proposals have gone forward in various ways, but that there is fierce opposition to them from Europe's primary pig producers in the Netherlands, West Germany and Denmark? Let no one say that we have not already tried.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
The hon. Gentleman is right to argue that there should be advances across Europe, but does he realise that if the Bill is rejected today, that will be seen throughout Europe as evidence that Britain is not prepared either to take a lead or to insist on decent and humane standards? Opposing the Bill would be damaging not only to Britain but to its reputation throughout Europe.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
There is agreement in all parts of the House that improvements should be made in both the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. My view is that we should provide a lead in consumerism as well as in farm welfare. Many people in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany would like to join that movement. I suggest that my hon. Friend should employ his great oratory in explaining why it is advisable for the United Kingdom to be in advance of the rest of Europe. In that way, producers 576 who need to change their methods would be a year or two ahead. That will produce a true image and reflection of reality—that buying British bacon and Northern Ireland pork offers an advantage. That will create a retail as well as a health advantage, and the United Kingdom will then enjoy a green, clean and healthy image. That could be combined with legislation at Community level to put a tax on slurry producers. The Netherlands is currently producing pig slurry at such a rate that it cannot dispose of it. Such a combination would produce a pincer movement of good production, good environment, and good commercial advantage for our farmers.
§ Mr. Hague
I wish that I could eagerly agree with my hon. Friend, but most consumers want a consistent, reliable and safely produced product at an affordable price. The risk is that they would have to obtain such a product at an affordable price from producers in other countries, using the very methods that the Bill aims to ban.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
My hon. Friend is right to argue that the measures should be implemented throughout Europe, but I understand that even the Government's proposals to phase out such practices over eight years are not dependent upon securing agreement within the Commmunity. My hon. Friend argues for something that even the Government are not proclaiming to be a fundamental requirement. Whether phasing out occurs over eight years, or over the five years proposed by my hon. Friend, which I would prefer, would it not be in the interests of United Kingdom pig producers to transform their operations as quickly as possible? Even in a commercial sense, in terms of writing off old equipment, five years is a reasonable time in which to undertake that operation.
§ Mr. Hague
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston pointed out that 15 years is the usual life of such systems and that some last much longer. They are not all 10 years old, so it is unreasonable to claim that it would be to the farmers' commercial advantage to phase out their old systems within the next five years.
One reason why farmers have not introduced new systems in the past five years was the risk that the law would be changed, rather than because they have not wanted to run good operations. The Bill provides further evidence that that fear was justified. I am glad that not many of the old style systems are still being installed, but when that method is banned, it should be banned throughout the Community.
§ Sir Richard Body
I wonder how many of the farmers in my hon. Friend's constituency share his view, because, to my certain knowledge, a number of them take a different approach and strongly support the Bill. They want the phasing-out period to be as short as possible, and not more than five years. My hon. Friend looks after his constituency intensely well, but I urge him—despite the difficulty of having to represent a great number of farms —to reflect more broadly the views of his constituents.
§ Mr. Hague
If farmers in my constituency who do not use sow stalls were to argue other than that all farmers should be prevented from using them as quickly as possible, I would be very surprised. However, the farmers who use sow stalls make a fair point about the competition that they face from the European Community.
§ Mr. John Townend
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of capital cost, and that there are problems inherent in the phasing out of dry sow stalls to which no one has found a solution? I refer particularly to problems that arise in the first 35 days of pregnancy, when sows can be subject to bullying that may result in abortion and the losing of pigs. Towards the end of pregnancy, many aggressive sows develop the rather unsavoury habit of vulva biting. There are welfare problems associated with the doing away of dry sow stalls.
§ Mr. Hague
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who leads me neatly to my next point, which concerns the welfare problems inherent in other systems, with the consequence that great attention must be paid over the next few years to devising a proper alternative. In 1983, the Farm Animal Welfare Council set out four criteria: freedom from thirst, hunger, or malnutrition; appropriate comfort and shelter; the prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment of injury, disease or infestation; and freedom from fear and freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour. Clearly, alternative systems do not meet all those criteria in full, because it would be a normal pattern of behaviour for sows to move around much more freely than they allow.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I had not intended to intervene, because I did not want to jeopardise my chances of being called to make my own speech. My hon. Friend referred to the freedom of farm animals to indulge in normal behaviour. That has been more fully defined in these terms:The environment should not unduly restrict the animal's ability to perform essential maintenance activities such as grooming, nor deny it social access to others of its own species.I ask my hon. Friend—who is a very honourable person and a great friend—to cover the broader aspects of the point that he makes. If he does not do so, it will serve not his argument but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body).
§ Mr. Hague
The criteria serve both our arguments, because while my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston and I agree that sow stalls do not meet them, and the fourth criterion in particular, the same is true of most of the alternative systems. It has proved very difficult to devise a system that meets all the criteria.
Progress with the alternatives is not very rapid. The problem with most of the alternatives is what pigs can do to each other. A few days ago, in an article in the Financial Times, Mr. David Richardson said:The trouble is, however, that pigs are pigs. When it comes to feeding time every pig will fight every other pig in its group to get more than its share of what is on offer. With young animals, say of up to six months of age, this seldom causes problems and it is unusual for injury to be caused. Larger pigs, like breeding sows, however, develop long, strong canine teeth and are capable of doing serious injury to their pen mates in their all-consuming desire for food.There has been much research into electronic feeding of various kinds. It has taken about five years to ascertain that that is not a good alternative either.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
My hon. Friend might have given the impression in that quotation that Mr. Richardson was against the Bill. For the sake of his reputation, we must make it clear that he also says in that article that he does:not seek to maintain those intensive systems in the long term, indeed I rejected them many years ago for anthropomorphic reasons.578 It is important for the sake of his reputation as a distinguished farm journalist that we do not give the impression that he is against the Bill.
§ Mr. Hague
I do not want the whole debate to hinge on this article by Mr. David Richardson, but I must quote the penultimate paragraph to my hon. Friend, in which he says:It is also vital to avoid discrimination against some UK pig producers that more economical tethers and stalls are banned in all other EC countries at the same time.That is the point of his article. That is his opinion, and that is the opinion that I am putting forward today.
He also talks about the electronic feeding alternative and says:Meanwhile in recent years alternative high-tech systems have been in the course of development"—
§ Mr. Michael Brown
In the 17th and 18th centuries, when France and Britain both had empires and both had slavery to maintain those empires, this House unilaterally decided to abolish slavery. Does my hon. Friend think that some hon. Members opposed that on the grounds of timing, and said that we should wait until France and other empires had abolished slavery?
§ Mr. Hague
I recognise the force of what my hon. Friend says, but if there had been a community of European empires at the time, we might have sought to abolish it at a stroke rather than set an example as an individual empire.
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg arid Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has fled to the other side of the Chamber in disgust. There are problems with alternative systems—
§ Miss Nicholson
It might be right for my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) to have fled to the other side of the Chamber because the Member of Parliament who spoke against the removal of slavery and indentured labour was William Gladstone, who I suspect must have sat over there, too.
§ Mr. Hague
I think that Mr. Gladstone sat on both sides of the Chamber at various times. However, we had better get back to the matter in hand.
There are problems with alternative systems. For example, the problem with automatic feeding systems is that pigs lose their transponders and find that they cannot eat. Without good stockmanship, they may go days or, as has been reported, weeks without any food. Without extremely good stockmanship, it can be difficult to give pigs the injections that they need because they can be hard to handle and to separate. We need a higher standard of stockmanship. After a time the passage of measures such as this Bill, will help to improve standards, but again it is important that there should be fair competition throughout the European Community. We should develop the matter, but we should do it with the rest of the European Community.
The Government have recognised that fact in their previous responses to the Farm and Animal Welfare Council. For example, paragraph 16 of the Government's response in March 1989 states: 579The argument put forward by some interested parties that alternatives already exist which are completely satisfactory in both economic and welfare terms is not accepted by FAWC or by the Government. While alternative systems may operate successfully with good management, the Government does not believe that these housing systems, catering for modern large herds, are yet at a sufficiently proven stage for existing stall and tether systems to be phased out on a national basis. Indeed, unless management is of a high enough standard, loose housing systems can lead to poorer welfare.Paragraph 17 states:From an economic viewpoint it is also clear that any move away from stalls into alternative systems could place producers at a competitive disadvantage unless the alternative could be run at a similar level of cost. Precipitate unilateral action could therefore encourage the import of pigmeat from other Member States produced from animals bred in stalls. For these reasons the Government believes that it is particularly important to take action on dry sow stalls on a Community basis, so that the measures affect all producers in all Member States together.That is the central argument used by the Government in their response to the FAWC, and that is my argument today.
I shall also quote from a recent EC document the opinion of the European Parliament, which expressed the view on 12 March last year that:… it is … recognised that some group-housing systems could also lead to welfare problems such as vulva-biting"—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) referred—and excessive fighting which is mainly associated with feeding activities.1.4 Although research is being carried out to solve the problems posed by group-housing it was not yet so far advanced that a definite recommendation could be made to prohibit the use of sow stalls and/or tethers in favour of the group-housing systems.Those are the difficulties mentioned by the European Parliament which our Government also mentioned so forcefully in their response to the FAWC in March 1989.
The position of the European Community causes us a great problem. It seems that its modest proposals to prohibit the use of sow stalls in the first four weeks or so after weaning are now intended only to come into effect on 1 January 2005, and further proposals are awaiting a report to the European Commission which is due in January 1993. So the European Community is not exactly moving with lightning speed. The Government could make a great contribution by increasing the speed, which is lacking within the European Community on this issue, rather than by taking unilateral action in this country. It is important to have EC-wide—
§ Ms. Mowlam
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me twice. If the hon. Gentleman agrees with this measure in principle and wants this change in the long run, surely if he and other hon. Members do not support the Second Reading they will not be giving the Government the support that they may be looking for to enable them to decrease the number of years. Surely, given the case that the hon. Gentleman is making, he thinks that we should back the principle and support the Bill this morning.
§ Mr. Hague
I am doing my bit for supporting the principle by speaking for it in the House today. We shall see how the debate goes and how many Members support the Bill later. We all have the opportunity to make it clear that we are probably almost entirely united about the principle behind the Bill.
580 I shall now try to conclude, as I have taken a lot of interventions and I must deal with the remainder of my argument. If we do not have an EC agreement, we shall not be helping pig welfare. Dutch and Spanish pork is likely to come into this country, produced in conditions which are banned in this country. The change will be extremely expensive for the British farmer. A farmer in my constituency quoted a cost of £400 or £500 per stall if he had to get rid of all his stall systems. Moreover, each year one or two pigs fewer per sow are produced, so this part of the industry will be less productive and less efficient, but it would have to compete with European producers who remained just as productive and efficient as before. This would clearly be a further disadvantage to an industry which already frequently does not compete on equal terms in the Community and which has often suffered many disadvantages because of the green pound, and so on.
In some ways the problem is similar to that with eggs. We have brought in safety regulations which have not applied to the rest of the Community. As a result, imports have come in, produced in circumstances that we would not allow, or at least on which we would check. But this case is worse, because there is a powerful argument for saying that British eggs are safer to eat—but we would not even have that advantage in the pig industry.
We are in grave danger of damaging the industry in the name of welfare, thereby assisting farmers on the continent who do not propose at the same time to improve the welfare of their animals. That is why I have such grave doubts about the Bill.
§ 11.2 am
§ Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)
I am pleased to support this Bill, although some might be surprised at that, as I represent probably the biggest pig-producing area in Scotland. Aberdeenshire accounts for 50 per cent. of all the pigs reared in Scotland. There are also some distinguished research establishments there, engaged in research into pig behaviour and husbandry. The North of Scotland college of agriculture is the leading research unit into pig husbandry in Scotland.
One of the most distinguished research institutes in my constituency is the Rowett research institute, which deals with animal nutrition. Its director is Professor James, who made his reputation as a human nutritionist. One of the great changes that he brought about was to direct his researchers to recognise the demands being brought to bear on agriculture by consumers, in terms of the quality of the product produced on British farms and of the methods by which it is produced. I wholly agree with the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) that the public's anxieties about how agricultural products are brought to market are a significant and growing factor in the marketing of agricultural produce and that farmers fail to respond to that factor at their peril. That is why the Bill deserves considerable support.
Driving around my constituency I have been interested to note the increasing numbers of pigs in fields, in open housing units. Clearly, that is an increasingly popular trend. If he were allowed to speak here, my noble Friend Lord Mackie of Banshie would be delighted to regale hon. Members at great length with stories of his innovative free-range pig farming and of the considerable commercial success that he has had since taking it up a few years ago.
581 Arguments about the problems of investment are valid, but they are wasting arguments. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston said that no one had been able to demonstrate to him evidence of investment in new large-scale dry sow stall schemes in the past three years. He is asking for a five-year phase-out period, so the newest conceivable scheme would be eight years old by the time the Bill came into effect. That approximates to the depreciation that would take place in any case and it is more than ample time in which to take account of the changes that would be required.
Aberdeenshire is also renowned for the quality of its beef production, and there is a lesson in that, too. During the past year of the BSE scare and the problems of the feedstuffs given to cattle, which had induced BSE in the first place, the farms in Aberdeenshire that have traditionally raised cattle using normal farming methods were able to show that the risks and incidence of BSE on their farms were minimal and that the disease's eradication was almost assured by virtue of the fact that they had never embarked on methods of feeding animals unnaturally with foodstuffs that did not form part of their normal cycle. Cattle are vegetarian and, if they had been treated as such, BSE would never have developed in the first place.
All this shows that traditional livestock methods are ultimately safer and that they measure up better to consumer demands.
I have been in touch with the Scottish agricultural college in Aberdeen, which agrees with the Government's position. I have been an hon. Member for nearly eight years and in the first year after my election I was bombarded with letters about dry sow stalls, so I took the time and trouble to go to the research unit at the North of Scotland college of agriculture to find out about the potential problems and about what progress was being made. One of the things that stuck in my mind from my visit was the research that the unit had carried out into the natural behaviour of pigs. There was no dispute about the fact that when they are pregnant and preparing to farrow, pigs naturally build nests. They gather straw, usually against a wall or shelter, and farrow there.
It was pointed out to me that dry sow stalls were first introduced partly because it was believed that they improved the welfare of pigs. I accept that there are difficulties associated with alternative methods which, for example, would reduce the mortality rate of piglets because the sows can roll over and crush them, but we must take into account natural animal behaviour. For instance, how much stress is caused to pigs by imposing unnatural methods on them? What effect does that have on the quality of the product and, increasingly importantly, on the consumer?
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston pertinently pointed out that a growing proportion of young people are vegetarian—he mentioned up to 50 per cent. of college students——
§ Mr. Bruce
I do not dispute it. A significant number of young people are becoming vegetarians. I can testify that some of them grow out of that later, but between 10 and 15 per cent. of the whole population now regard themselves as wholly or partly vegetarian. I represent a livestock-producing area which produces high-quality 582 livestock in natural ways that are acceptable—in most cases—to the consumer, and we should continue to develop such practices. If we do not, more and more people will say that they are not prepared to eat meat, either because they do not like how it is produced or because they do not trust what they are told about how it is produced. The industry needs to clean up its act.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am sometimes described as partly vegetarian, but many of us might be better described as partly meat eaters. The problem is how to produce that meat so that it appears more attractive to more of us in ways that seem more justifiable to people who care about the welfare of animals.
§ Mr. Bruce
That is a fair interpolation.
I greatly respect the research work being carried out in my constituency. I accept that it has identified problems with the switch. The Minister looks at me quizzically, perhaps thinking that he has an answer to that. He is inevitably involved in European Community negotiations. If the Community can decide to go for a single market over five years, surely British farmers can decide to do away with dry sow stalls over the same time scale. Theirs is a rather smaller undertaking.
I wholly agree that it would be desirable to persuade the whole European Community to move with us. Nobody who supports the Bill would demur from urging the Government to do everything in their power to persuade other Community members to adopt the standards that we are trying to impose. I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) that if the Bill does riot go through the authority of the Minister to speak in Europe will be substantially weakened.
British people and consumers are demanding this change and the fact that many British farmers are already responding to it is a telling point. Denmark and Holland are British pig farmers' two main competitors and may well not wish to move in this direction at present. However, those two EC countries have sophisticated consumer and environmental lobbies. If Britain takes a lead, it will be difficult for pig farmers in Holland and Denmark to sustain their determination to resist that development.
§ Mr. Lord
The hon. Gentleman said that he had spoken to universities and colleges about the way in which sow stalls were originally introduced. Will he confirm that, although we are now a little wiser about such matters, when they were introduced they were seen as the best way to proceed for the welfare of the pig and for better profits? Now we are wiser, but it is unfair to attribute to pig farmers the kind of motives that were given to them earlier.
§ Mr. Bruce
I wholly accept the argument that when those stalls were introduced they were believed to be beneficial to the sows. We now know better and my research establishments confirm that. Therefore, the argument is not about that issue but only about timing. Those establishments support the Government, but I do not. I believe that the hon. Member for Holland with Boston has the right approach.
We must grasp this nettle and show that we are prepared to give a lead. We all know from our postbags that thousands if not millions of people would desperately like to see the House at last grasp at least one nettle in relation to animal welfare. That is always difficult to do. 583 We can always find reasons for saying that a proposed system is not perfect or that the timing is wrong and that there is more to be done. I am wholly in favour of giving more money to my research institutions to enable them to demonstrate the validity of alternatives.
The fact that no other method is perfect is not a reason for not phasing out a system that everybody agrees is no longer in the best interests of pigs and is no longer acceptable. We should move to the speedy adoption of natural methods that comply with the natural behaviour and instincts of the animal and which the growing demands by consumers that animals used for human consumption should be reared in humane conditions that most closely approximate to their natural behaviour. British consumers will increasingly demand that and, in their own interests, British livestock farmers would be wise to respond.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on his Bill. I am delighted to be one of its sponsors. I hope that it will be the first of many Bills dealing with the blight of factory farming which is now far too prevalent in our countryside.
Those who are opposed to the Bill but who are not prepared to say so openly have put up smokescreens. The Bill is about cruelty and suffering. It makes more of our people aware of the number of animals that are suffering in the most appalling conditions for year after year. If they fully understood the implications of such treatment the mass of our people would not accept them.
As has been said, the pig is almost certainly the most intelligent farm animal. Too many of them are subjected to horrific confinement and deprivation and can spend up to 40 weeks a year in appalling and cruel conditions. I have always believed that animals have certain basic fundamental rights, but many pigs are being denied those rights.
Let us consider, first, freedom from hunger and from poor feeding. A balanced diet is essential to give an animal sound health and vigour. Those who support the present system may say that sows have a balanced diet. However, they are not able to make the best use of that diet, because they are unable to exercise or move limbs or turn around. For a significant part of its life, a sow may be living in its own excreta. That hardly amounts to giving it basic rights.
The second issue is freedom from excessive heat and cold. People could claim that there is some form of temperature control, but I suspect that far too many farm animals are not being kept under the right conditions of heat and cold. The third issue is freedom from physical distress. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston has told the House about the tethering system, which must create enormous physical distress. It is obscene to subject an intelligent animal to that for week after week and that is totally unacceptable to any civilised nation.
The fourth issue is freedom from disease and injury. The environment should minimise the risk of infectious disease or injury and, when they occur, they should be treated effectively and quickly. It has been said that sows 584 are treated in that way, but the conditions under which such animals are kept render it prone to all sorts of disease and injury—if not physical, certainly mental.
The fifth issue is the animal's freedom to express most of its normal behaviour. This must surely be one area in which the present system of farming is wholly unacceptable. The animal's restricted movement and its inability to be able to groom and look after itself in a natural and open way is denied. How can we say that that is acceptable? We know that the pig is a social creature. I have visited many Sussex farms and have seen pigs in natural, open surroundings thoroughly enjoying each other's company. They communicate with each other and are alive. Their life may be short, but at least it is reasonable and decent before they end up as joints on our tables. The present system denies them any real social contact.
The sixth issue is freedom from fear. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston graphically described what happens to a pig when it is first tethered. That poor animal will sometimes scream for three quarters of an hour or more before it loses its strength and settles down into appalling apathy and unconcern and probably starts to lose its normal mental balance. I have visited many pig farms in Sussex and other parts of Britain and the difference between the open system and the system that the majority of hon. Members and our people want to see abolished is colossal. If a better system is working for almost half of our pig breeders why cannot it work for the other half?
The majority of farmers treat their livestock with respect and genuinely care for, and look after, their animals. I have nothing but contempt for those greedy, unfeeling farmers who exploit animals to line their pockets with gold.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
I hope that the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail; he knows that I also support the Bill.
The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and I have crossed swords in a variety of Committees examining Bills dealing with energy and we rarely find ourselves in agreement, but I agree very much with his comments today and do so in the knowledge that many farmers in England, as well as in Scotland, will share his views.
I had not intended to speak in the debate because my interest is with a later Bill on the Order Paper. I am keen to support that, albeit briefly, partly because it is a splendid Bill and partly because it was introduced, at my suggestion, by my close friend Donald Coleman, who died last week. I hope that the House will recognise the merits of both our former colleague and the Bill that he hoped to see through the House in his last Parliament. The Bill is aimed at protecting the red kite in Wales, and I hope that, although we may not debate it later today, the House will give it a Second Reading.
I am speaking in this debate because the European dimension has entered it. It was referred to by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and spoken about in great detail by the hon. Member for Wentworth, who appeared to have the approval—I am sorry, I mean the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I am the hon. Member for Wentworth. The hon. 585 Gentleman knows that I live in a place called Wath upon Dearne and, until recently, he lived in the village of Wentworth. I hope that he will forgive me for that error.
If the House rejects the Bill—the Minister may disagree with me as much as he likes, but I am convinced about this— there is a danger that, over the next few weeks, the Europeans will say that the British Parliament has rejected what the Minister is demanding. Although the Minister may field detailed arguments to counter that proposition, that will not work. Europe will ask how British Ministers can demand higher standards when the British Parliament, in which the Government have such a huge majority, rejected such a proposal. I urge the Minister not to encourage his hon. Friends to oppose the Bill.
Britain has a pretty good reputation in both conservation and animal welfare in Europe. At this stage, with a whole variety of issues facing Europe, for Britain to appear to be turning its back on its record would be a dangerous move. Some of the issues are important. The hon. Member for Kemptown serves with me in the Council of Europe, as does the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord). I do not think that either of them had joined at the time when we were tackling a particularly odious practice. I use it as an illustration.
Until the beginning of the 1980s, Greece had a law on horses. For quite a time, international animal welfare organisations—the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will be aware of this—pressed for the repeal of that law and a number of us took up the cause in the Council of Europe. Under the law, it was an offence to export horses that were sound. The law had been introduced many years ago to guarantee an adequate supply of horses for the cavalry. However, the Greeks still had a considerable export trade in horses for slaughter, and people were employed on the portside to blind and maim horses so that they could be exported without exporters breaking the law.
When we were arguing about that, some people in Europe—I have to be candid and say people from southern Europe, many of whom are a great deal less sensitive than most people in northern Europe—asked me how the British could be seeking to stop them from maiming and blinding horses so that they could be sold for food when we subjected horses to steeplechasing. I am not criticising steeplechasing. I am merely pointing out that people will look carefully at us when we argue in favour of welfare or conservation. If we turn our back on the principle of the Bill, of which most hon. Members seem to approve, to support political calculations, we shall be doing the cause a profound disservice.
I am not suggesting that the House should not be sympathetic to livestock farmers, who in recent years have suffered from severe disadvantages. There is cause for grave anxiety about them. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) asked a question about the position of livestock farmers in less-favoured areas. My area is not regarded as a less-favoured one, although it is in economic terms. Even if livestock farmers throughout the country are facing real causes for anxiety, that does not justify the House voting for the retention of a system that the House must agree is callous, brutalising and no longer acceptable.
I am not a vegetarian—like many hon. Members, I am carnivorous—but I believe that we carnivores now take the view that if we are to continue to eat meat, we must insist that it is produced humanely and that the barbarity and suffering associated with the system of rearing pigs, a 586 system which the hon. Member for Holland with Boston wishes to end, is such as to justify the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that the House will take a kindly view of it, and will support the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) said. I was particularly glad to hear his reference to horses, because that brings out an important aspect of the way that horse welfare has developed in Europe at a time when it is extremely important, as the House discovered only yesterday.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) said in moving his Bill, of which I am proud to be a sponsor. We heard his points with great interest because of his many years of experience as a farmer and as a pig farmer. He has seen pigs produced in a natural environment, by which I mean an open environment. That is something which, as a country boy, I have also seen. My hon. Friend has also seen sows in the confined circumstances with which the Bill deals, and so have I.
I confess that there is only one farm in my constituency, and that is a dairy farm, but most of my constituents are meat eaters and most of them take an interest in the way that meat is produced. Many people take an interest in the welfare of animals, as I know from my mail bag of recent weeks, and as my colleagues will also know.
I have two objections to the way in which pigs are reared. That is why I support the Bill. It is wrong and cruel to prevent the movement of any animal by means of collar and chain. Two or three years ago an experiment was conducted with a young calf. The collar with which it had been chained throughout its short life was removed, but the calf continued to stand against the wall where it had been chained. It did not want to move. Those who say that there is nothing cruel about chaining calves said, "Look, the calf doesn't want to move; it's perfectly happy because it's standing where it has always stood." They took no account of the fact that, from its earliest days, the calf had been conditioned to stand where it did. Any wish to move about and to be active had been driven away. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said that by restricting the movements of an animal and confining it by means of a chain and collar we take away the mind of an animal, which is both inhumane and wrong. It is not fair, right or proper to prevent the movement, by means of collar and chain, of any animal, particularly the sow.
All too often I have seen sows chained and unable to move about. If they are lucky, they are able to stand. Sometimes, however, I have seen low bars in stalls that force sows to lie down all the time. It is unacceptable brutality, when as many as a dozen piglets can be suckling a sow, for a sow to be forced to lie down. Piglets grow fast and demand food. That leads to constant suckling to the point of soreness. The sow is unable to prevent suckling if she is forced to lie down.
§ Mr. John Townend
I do not believe that my hon. Friend has visited a modern pig farm. Is he aware that the Bill does not make illegal the use of farrowing crates into which sows are put just before they give birth? They remain in those crates while they are feeding the piglets. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with 587 Boston (Sir R. Body) accepts that it would be impractical to make farrowing crates illegal. Although pigs are very large animals, the piglets are very small. If the piglets were not in farrowing crates, many of them would be crushed to death by the sow rolling over them. No clause in the Bill would make farrowing crates illegal.
§ Sir Richard Body
Will my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) allow me to reply?
§ Mr. Greenway
I think that I must respond before I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston to intervene. Of course I have visited pig-rearing establishments and I speak with the knowledge of what I have seen. Had I not done so, I should not have had the audacity to say what I said. I realise that it is very strong stuff.
§ Sir Richard Body
I am all in favour of getting rid of farrowing crates, but it would require a very high degree of stockmanship. I am very glad to say that on our farms we have that high degree of stockmanship.
§ Mr. Greenway
Sows continue to be tethered. They are unable to control the feeding of their piglets in the way that I have described. All animals, including cows, cats, and bitches, have to control the suckling of their young. Sometimes they walk away from their young. That may be because their teats are sore. There may be mental or many other reasons for it. We are inhumane if we take away the right of the mother to control the feeding of her young. If I were told that the piglets could starve if the mother insisted on walking away and not feeding them, my reply would be that it is up to the farmer or stockman to provide alternative methods of feeding. That can easily be done.
Large areas of farmland are not being used because of the current glut of food production. They could be turned over to free-range pig farming. Farmers are at their wits end to know which land to rest and which land to use. That must be the answer to those who say that land is not available for pigs and other animals to be reared as free-range animals.
As a small boy, throughout the last war I helped to look after a couple of pigs for my family. We called them Hitler and Himmler. They were very good to eat and we enjoyed them very much. As soon as one was killed we had another. I have a great deal of experience of pigs and know what amazing creatures they are. I taught "Animal Farm" as an 0-Level set book more times than I care to remember. The writing is brilliant about the psychology of the pig. I regret that it was shown to be more intelligent than Boxer the horse. But Boxer was not a thoroughbred. The thoroughbred is not mentioned in the book. The brilliance of the mind of the pig is brought out in that remarkable book and is widely appreciated by many thousands of pupils who enjoy reading "Animal Farm".
I have seen pigs reared in fields and in pig sties. I have seen them reared most happily in sheds. If pigs are reared in sheds and are given a reasonable amount of space in which to roam they have a most happy environment. I 588 hope that the Bill will lead to the pig population enjoying again those living conditions on a 100 per cent. rather than a 50 per cent. basis.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on introducing the Bill. It carries great weight, because he is a distinguished farmer.
I am proud to be a sponsor of the Bill. I am also proud to be a member of Compassion in World Farming. I am not a vegetarian, but I eat less and less meat as I learn more about the treatment of farm animals. I cannot justify the way in which they are treated. I suspect that the more the public find out about it the less meat they will consume. The only way to justify it is not to talk about it. That has happened for far too long. However, because of the work done by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston and others, this is becoming an important issue in political life.
However, the Bill is only the first step. Many other farm animals, particularly poultry and cattle, are treated inhumanely. All hon. Members must be aware that the public are showing a growing revulsion against the inhumane treatment of farm animals. We are all responsible, not just farmers. I am glad that many farmers do not treat their farm animals inhumanely. The consumer, however, has a very big responsibility. Those of us who eat meat ought to take an interest in how it is produced. The more people find out about that, the more things will change.
It is about time that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food caught up with the growing public mood on this extremely important issue and took the matter seriously. I suspect that I shall find the Minister's speech depressing. No doubt, he will express sympathy with the Bill's aims but not with the details. I am delighted to say that the Labour party is taking the issue seriously. "Farming Without Cruelty", which will form part of our programme at the next election, outlines a range of measures that apply to the welfare not just of pigs but of animals generally, particularly farm animals. I shall be pleased to support that document and shall make it part of my election programme, even though I represent a constituency which, like that of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), has probably only one farm in it. Many of my urban constituents and I feel strongly about this subject.
This is only the first step. Changing the culture in which farm animals are reared may be a long political battle. If the day dawns when I am fortunate in having my name drawn high in the ballot for private Members' Bills, I too will raise some aspects of farm animal welfare. My constituents and I feel strongly about this and we want a change for the better.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)
I shall not speak for long because many colleagues want to participate in the debate. I hope that the House will forgive me if I leave a little later because I must go to Devon for another meeting with farmers.
I am glad that I have been called to speak in this debate because the welfare of animals must be interwoven with our thinking as civilised human beings. I support the Farm Animal Welfare Council's proposal to phase out these 589 unhappy arrangements for breeding pigs, although I do not regard the council as the architect of all perfect thinking. It was a great pity that the council misunderstood my Bill on deer slaughtering and opposed it. It would have brought about better controls in slaughterhouses where there had been no controls before. I am glad that subsequently, despite the council's opposition and misunderstanding, the Government managed to introduce suitable regulations, which are now in place and which will be backed by further regulations in response to my parliamentary question last week about other animal species in slaughterhouses. I bow to the compassion that the FAWC shows throughout its work for animal welfare, although it is not always accurate or correct.
I have the highest regard for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and particularly its deputy chief veterinary officer, Alistair Mews. I have carefully read the material that Mr. Mews and his organisers sent me. I have had extensive briefings from the National Farmers Union. My constituency includes the deputy chairman of the county of Devon branch of the NFU, Brian Jennings; the vice-chairman, Graham England; the chairman of the pig committee, Mr. Brian Jones—who, for the purposes of the debate, lives in the wrong place, the village of Sheepwash, but is a pig expert— and London delegate Ray Martin, from Tavistock, who is involved in milk production in the area that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) knows so well.
In the latest issue of "Farm-House" sent to me and other supporters of its members' great work, the south-west branch of the NFU describes the Bill as aBody Blow to Pig Farmers".That headline is misleading, although it is delightful and a nice play on words. It pays tribute to the far-sighted integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston in continually lobbying for the best conditions for pigs. None the less, pig farmers have misunderstood. This is not a body blow to pig farmers.
From talking to pig farmers in my constituency and in the NFU, I know that they share a proper concern for the welfare of the animals in their charge. That is why I strongly refute the easy route that the Bill's sponsor has chosen in criticising what he damningly calls large-scale commercial pig farming. These people operate with the highest ethics and work extremely hard to provide consumers with cheap, healthy pigmeat at the lowest possible price. It is worth remembering that, although some consumers are prepared to pay an on-cost of 25 per cent. for specially produced meat, many people cannot afford that cost. We should pay tribute to pig farmers—whether large commercial or small but also commercial pig farmers—who have produced such excellent clean, green and healthy pigmeat for us over many years.
One hon. Member derided the product and talked about "green, clean and healthy" production as though only organic pig farming would produce such qualities. Other hon. Members have been somewhat anthropomorphic in attempting to identify in pigs behavioural patterns, intellectual capability and emotions that are derived from their behavioural patterns as human beings and are not attributable to pigs.
I shall deal first with a green, clean and healthy aspect. Pigs are notorious for picking up diseases and infections. As those of us who have travelled widely know, it is easy 590 for pigmeat to carry such infections, some of which are serious for human beings. It is a credit to our pig producers that we have green, clean and healthy pigmeat, even though the way in which some of it is produced is not, according to current perception, the best possible way to let pigs lead a comfortable life before being killed.
On anthropomorphism, I remind the House that pig behaviour patterns differ from ours. Human mothers do not, unlike pigs, eat their young for almost no reason. When I was small, we were involved with pig farming. We had a farm throughout my childhood and adolescence and most of my twenties. They were kept comfortably and, in human terms, happily in pig sties, not the stalls about which we are talking.
The difficulty is that pigs eat or lie on their young. As other hon. Members pointed out, they behave in what in human terms would be described as a selfish way, by muscling in, taking all the food and not leaving any. We all want every person in charge of animals—whether cats, budgerigars, dogs or pigs—to treat those animals in a way that is consistent with the highest ethics that civilisation demands. None the less, let us not give pigs attributes that they do not possess.
The Government's perspective should be given the credit that it deserves and the recent ministerial statement should be recognised as a major breakthrough. The Government and the Bill's sponsors should accept the major problems involved with phasing out pig stalls too rapidly, because there is no suitable alternative. Do they agree that the Government should give more assistance through research? We could offer pig farmers a possible way forward which would restrict the less attractive human attributes that are so detrimental in pig breeding programmes but would not inhibit their normal behavioural patterns.
It is wrong that British pig farmers should be subjected to a change that will not affect European producers. I strenuously believe that change will come and I am delighted with the Minister's statement, but we should spend much time and effort trying to persuade our major competitors—Denmark, west Germany and the Netherlands—that they must make the same changes. That is an important factor, otherwise we shall face similar problems as we now do with crated veal. We took right and proper steps, but others did not follow. Therefore, our calves, raised in the United Kingdom, are then reared further in other European countries under the methods that we discarded. Those calves are then sold back to us, so all that has happened is that we eat the veal but the profit has gone to different European farmers.
If the Bill goes through, it is important that Northern Ireland is not exempt. It is an exemption that I cannot justify; it is strange and incomprehensible. If the Bill proceeds, Northern Ireland should be included.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has done the House and the cause of animal welfare a great service by introducing the Bill. Many of our constituents believe that this is a crucial subject. I also warmly welcome the Minister's announcement to the effect that new installations will be banned and that existing dry sow stalls and tethers will be phased out.
591 It must be accepted by all sensible people that pigs are intelligent animals. In a recent editorial, The Times described them as "civilised". Pigs are bound to be stressed if they are kept in stalls for four months where they are unable to exercise or to turn around. The pig producers that I have met are content that the dry sow stalls should be phased out, but in a way that enables them to convert to a more acceptable system within a reasonable timescale.
There has been some debate about relative costs and profits. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said that some farmers are changing their methods for commercial reasons, which is interesting. Pig farming is not a significant activity in my constituency, but at the weekend, in the knowledge that the Bill would receive its Second Reading today, I had the opportunity to visit two pig units in Yorkshire. They are run by the same company and are well managed. It operates intensive units with sow stalls and has straw yards in which the animals are loose-housed. The total number of animals kept runs into four figures.
The performance of the units is continually monitored on computer and it is possible to compare such indicators as the number of pigs produced per year, the percentage of piglet deaths and the cost per pig reared. In the dry sow stall units, 4.2 per cent. of the piglets died, while in the straw yard system the figure was somewhat higher, at 11.8 per cent. Neither figure is dramatically high, but it is only fair to say that there is a higher rate of loss in the straw yards. Sows kept in the stalls produced 23.3 piglets per year while loose-housed pigs produced 19.4 on average In the best conditions, it is clear that there is a differential in the rate of breeding due to suffocation, bullying and abortion. The figures produced at the two production units also showed that the cost per pig reared is £9.94 for those kept in straw yards and £8.22 for sows kept in the sow stalls in the intensive unit.
Despite some of the claims to the contrary, the cost of rearing in straw yards can be about 15 per cent. more than the cost of rearing in intensive units in sow stalls, where both units are managed to the best standards. That is an important factor.
Converting to straw yards is not prohibitively expensive, but the relatively small difference in cost is enough to make some production units in Britain potentially uncompetitive compared with their continental counterparts unless the latter are also required to make the same changes.
In the Netherlands and Denmark, a higher proportion of pigs are reared in intensive units. Therefore, the effect of a change on our part without a commensurate change overseas would be an increase in imported bacon and other pig products, probably resulting in a contraction of our industry. There would be no overall benefit for the animals as a whole if the size of the market continued as before.
The units that I visited were, as I said, extremely well managed and I saw no signs of distress in any of the animals. It was explained to me that the conditions were good because pigs cannot thrive if kept in poor conditions. It is not only good animal welfare practice, but sound economics that causes responsible pig producers to look 592 after their animals well. Indeed, the animals that I saw have a diet of broadcast music, and I understand that they prefer Radio 2 to Radio 1.
§ Mr. Waller
I do not dissent from that.
Yesterday the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the pressure group, Compassion in World Farming, helpfully showed some hon. Members a film of a pig production unit at the opposite end of the scale to the ones I visited. Frankly, the conditions were abominable, and it was clear that the animals were suffering neglect on the part of whoever was responsible for their welfare. Apparently, that person visited the unit only irregularly and it was left unattended for the rest of the time. The place was filthy and decrepit. It was not only obvious that there was a high death rate among the piglets, but some dead piglets had been left lying around for some time. There was every justification for shutting the place immediately and prosecuting the people responsible.
The film depicted the conditions in an intensive unit using dry sow stalls, but I am sure that there are badly kept units that use the free-range or straw yard system. The film was not in itself an indictment of the dry sow stall system, but it showed that some people should not be allowed anywhere near animals and that they do untold damage to the image of the industry.
Given the choice, I do not doubt that a well-managed intensive unit in which the pigs are kept dry, warm and well fed is preferable to another system in which the pigs are cold, wet and hungry. That does not justify, of course, continuing the dry sow stall system. I support its abolition and I believe that satisfactory alternatives already exist. It is vital, however, for a persistent and unrelenting effort to be made for a European-wide ban in the interests of animal welfare and the survival of United Kingdom pig breeders.
I am far from an advocate of widespread harmonisation in the European Community for its own sake, but if it is justified in any area, it must be justified for pig production. We must ensure that those who are less scrupulous about the welfare of their animals cannot gain an economic advantage.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has gone further than the provisions of the Bill in one respect by introducing a ban on new installations. I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading to show that we are set firmly on the course of abolition. The Bill should be amended in Committee, however, to ensure the commercial survival of responsible pig producers who genuinely want to meet the standards that consumers, rightly, increasingly want.
§ Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on his success in the ballot and I thank him for choosing such an important subject. Anyone who has any doubts about the Bill should study my hon. Friend's excellent and informative speech, which brought home to us the cruelty of the system that we seek to change.
It is often said that we are a nation of animal lovers, but I doubt whether that is true. There are far too many horrendous examples of cruelty to animals, and I am not really surprised. Last year, the House agreed to extend 593 until the time of birth the permitted period for killing unborn children by abortion, which is often carried out in a violent and painful way, and almost invariably for social reasons. If we can do that to our own kind, it is scarcely surprising that we show even less respect for animals and treat them, too, in a cruel and violent way.
Our attitude to animals begins to be formed when we are young children. It is characterised by a great contradiction in what we say and what we do. Young children are encouraged to love cuddly rabbits and dogs and go to bed with a teddy bear. Thus, some animals are the objects of love. On the other hand, children's bedtime stories tell of the big bad wolf, which is depicted as a granny-eating animal with transvestite tendencies. In the nursery rhyme, there is general rejoicing that three blind mice have their tails cut off with a carving knife. No wonder the cow jumped over the moon. Is it surprising that when young people grow up, their attitude towards the treatment of animals is at best ambivalent and there are so many examples of cruelty because people do not care about animals or respect their rights?
It is also little wonder that in 1821, when Richard Martin sought to introduce legislation to prevent the ill-treatment of horses, the House fell about laughing. The laughter was redoubled when the 1821 equivalent of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested that the legislation should also be extended to asses or even to dogs and cats. Thankfully, we have come a long way since then, and it is to be hoped that hon. Members' attitudes to animals is more enlightened. However, we still have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a civilised nation in the context of the way in which we treat animals. The Bill seeks to take us a step further along that road and I am happy to support it. I am not a vegetarian—although I probably would be if I had to kill the animals that I eat— but I feel strongly that even animals which are eventually eaten should be treated in a humane manner.
In seeking to end the use of neck and girth tethers for breeding sows and to prohibit the confinement of breeding sows in narrow stalls, the Bill seeks to improve the awful conditions in which pigs are often kept. I welcome the Minister's announcement that the Government are to ban the use of narrow breeding stalls and neck and girth tethers in all new installations once Parliament has approved the regulations.
In supporting the Bill, I have one concern to which hon. Members have referred, and which is set out well in a letter that I received from the north-west region of the National Farmers Union. The letter was written—appropriately or inappropriately, I am not sure which—by Mr. R. J. Bacon, the senior policy advisor. Mr. Bacon writes:To require those United Kingdom pig breeders who still use stalls and tethers to abandon this practice and invest in alternative systems within 5 years would be harsh to say the least. Some 30 per cent. of our pigmeat products are supplied from abroad … and there is no intention to ban imports from countries using similar stall and tether systems.NFU believes that welfare standards for pigs, as for all farm livestock, should be applied equally throughout the European Community. We would therefore urge you to press for an EC wide agreement on pig welfare standards when this Bill comes before the House.I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston answered that valid point. Unless we seek to extend such provisions to Europe, we may simply transfer the suffering of pigs from our country to Europe. We could so easily damage our own suppliers without any gain in terms of animal welfare. That would be tragic, not least for 594 the pigs, so I hope that, in tandem with the Bill, we will do all that we can to improve conditions for pigs in the Community.
By giving the Bill its Second Reading today, we shall enable ourselves to argue with greater strength for such a change in Europe. As the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) said, if we do not support the Bill, we shall be in a poor position to argue for change in Europe. I hope that the House will support the Bill, not only for that reason but because it represents a more enlightened attitude to the treatment of animals generally.
§ 12.5 pm
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on his success in the ballot and on using it for such an important Bill. I hope that the House will forgive me if I say that it is a kosher measure. Only this week, following my vote against war in the Gulf, one of the tabloid papers described me as a treacherous swine, because I voted to save our soldiers' bacon. Perhaps my remarks on the pig Bill will carry more credence as a result.
I have still better credentials. I held an exhibition in the House on behalf of that excellent organisation Compassion in World Farming, which strongly supports the Bill. That exhibition brought to hon. Members' attention the immense cruelty involved in dry sow stalls and called for the abolition of the system. I remember that there was a papier maché pig on display. One day, unbeknown to me, the organisation brought in a real pig for publicity purposes. I received an urgent phone call saying, "What shall we do with the pig?" Thinking that pit was a papier maché pig, I said, "Let it in," causing chaos at the front entrance. Luckily, out came the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) who handled the pig excellently and was very sympathetic on the issue. I pay credit to him for that.
§ Mr. Cohen
He may be a butcher but he handled the pig with great care on that occasion. I only wish that the present Ministers would take a similarly sympathetic attitude, because we were beginning to be on the way to getting the system abolished.
I raised the matter during a debate on the Finance Bill.
§ Mr. John Townend
I appreciate the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's views and I know that he has seen demonstrations. But has he visited one of the large, highly efficient pig units at which the farmers are very conscious of animal welfare and where the pigs are well looked after? Is he basing his argument purely on photographs and articles or has he been to see some of the most efficient producers in the country?
§ Mr. Cohen
No, I have not seen the big farms, but I have seen the dry sow stall. It was a key part of the exhibition that I sponsored. Anyone could see that here was an instrument which inflicted grave cruelty on the pregnant sow. The same is true of the tether. I brought a tether into the Palace and showed it to the Finance Bill Committee when I was trying to get the tether abolished.
The practice is incredibly cruel because the sow is kept in very close confinement for the duration of her sixteen-and-a-half week pregnancy and perhaps for 595 pregnancy after pregnancy. The sows are tethered to a concrete floor by a heavy chain attached either to a girth or to a metal neck collar. There is no room for any kind of movement. That is a very cruel process. Both the sow stalls and the tethers should be phased out. Many welfare organisations and official bodies have condemned tethers on welfare grounds.
As long ago as 1981 the Select Committee on Agriculture stated that the practice was cruel. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food welfare code for pigs produced in 1983 admitted that close confinementplaces severe restrictions on the animals' freedom of movement, denies them normal exercise, can give rise to patterns of abnormal behaviour and very commonly causes injury and leg weakness.The European Parliament voted against the practice in 1987 and again as recently as last year.
In 1988 the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommended that:The government should introduce legislation as a matter of urgency to prevent all further installation of units of these designs.In 1989 the Government responded to the FAWC assessment and stated:the keeping of sows in stalls, with or without tethers, imposes an undesirable welfare burden on the animals.The evidence from the official bodies is conclusive. The practice is cruel.
Alternatives are available, and half of Britain's sows are now being kept successfully in different systems such as indoor loose housing systems or free range out in the fields. There has been no economic disadvantage for pig farmers who use those systems.
The Bill could be policed easily, because MAFF already employs divisional veterinary officers who make welfare visits to farms and could easily check.
I am pleased that the Labour party has come to grips with the issue. There are two Labour proposals that are relevant to and support the Bill. First, Labour will prohibit the installation of new sow stall and tether accommodation, set a strict timetable for the phasing out of existing systems and require the provision of dry bedding. That is an excellent proposal and I hope to be a Back Bencher voting for the implementation of such a proposal under a Labour Government. The second proposal is that Labour will require the provision of bedding to growing pigs and prohibit the rearing of pigs in sweat boxes and multi-tier pens. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) for introducing those proposals into Labour party policy. The Government had better accept them quickly.
Reference has been made to the Common Market and the Government claim that they cannot implement such a policy unilaterally because EC rules state that we must move through harmonisation. That is not the case. The United Kingdom acted unilaterally when we banned cruel veal calf crates because in that respect we viewed the issue of cruelty differently from the rest of Europe. That has set a precedent for us to act on this occasion.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
What effect did that ban on veal have on the comparative competition between veal farmers in this country and those on the continent?
§ Mr. Cohen
I am not an expert in that area, but I have not heard that it has affected British farmers adversely. I am sure that if it had, with the farming lobby in this country able to make a big fuss, we would have heard about it. It is right that the United Kingdom should make a stand on issues where cruelty is involved and then try to spread that policy throughout Europe.
In 1989 the European Commission published a proposed regulation for the minimum standards for the protection of pigs. I am concerned that the latest version of the proposal does not prohibit sow stalls or tethers. It is likely that it will be several years before even that inadequate legislation will be in place. There is nothing to stop individual states in the Common Market setting minimum standards that may be more stringent than the 1989 EC regulation when it becomes a directive. If that is the case, we could act now. The Government are using the European dimension as an excuse for not acting at the moment. We should have a Europe-wide ban on sow stalls and tethers, but that should be in addition to action that we take in this country. There should not be a requirement that we should do nothing until there is a Europe-wide ban.
There are many areas in which we do not have harmonisation with the rest of Europe. For example, we are not in harmony with the rest of Europe in respect of the war in the Gulf. Similarly, there is no harmonisation in respect of taxation or European monetary union. It is perfectly proper, especially on principled matters of animal cruelty, that we should act in advance of Europe and spread the issues to Europe.
§ Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)
Obviously we are concerned about cruelty to animals. However, the real cruelty is the cruelty to humans. We are all aware of the Gulf crisis. We are also aware of how some people suffer in this country and of how some live in cardboard boxes. It is right to consider pigs, but we must consider the human animal above all else. That is clearly a political issue. The Government do not think about such issues. The only thing that they think is important is profit. That is all they think about and that is a tragedy.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. In responding to that intervention, I hope that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) will address the Bill.
§ Mr. Cohen
Yes, indeed. I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) said. Our votes against the Gulf war were principled votes to stop the enormous loss of life there. There is a connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty between human beings, and it is consistent to try to stop both forms of cruelty.
The Bill allows five years for the phasing out of those cruel practices. When I first read the Bill, I thought that that was too long. However, at least that allows plenty of time for the practice to be ended, especially as the argument has been going on for so long. The argument has been won. The practice is cruel, and it should be ended. I support the Bill and I wish it every success.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on introducing the Bill. I have 597 no doubt that the practices that are used to keep pigs are cruel. That was the main reason why, two years ago, I decided no longer to eat meat. Those cruel methods and the descriptions of them that are freely available for people to see have driven several people to reach the same decision. I mention that point to explain my position. I do not seek to persuade anybody else to take a decision or to change their own way of life. It was my decision. Therefore, I applaud and am sympathetic to the arguments that have been made by my constituents.
Some of the practices that are used when pigs are kept in intensive systems have aroused concern for some time. In March 1988, the Farm Animal Welfare Council published an assessment of pig production systems which examined in some detail, among other things, the stall and tether systems for keeping dry sows.
In stall systems, the sows are kept in temperature-controlled buildings, in individual pens that are closed on all sides and in which they cannot turn around. Bedding is not normally provided in such stalls, as we have heard.
In tether systems, sows are again kept in temperature-controlled buildings and are restrained by tethers around the neck or girth. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston for showing hon. Members such a tether. Unless one sees the outrageous nature of the piece of chain with its plastic cover, one has no idea of just how cruel it can be. The tether is extremely heavy. The full horror of that device was not entirely conveyed when my hon. Friend explained it on the radio this morning. Nevertheless, anyone who has seen such a tether device must understand that it should be banned as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. John Townend
I agree with my hon. Friend's remarks about the tether. However, does he think that it should be banned completely? I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) proposes to ban it only in a dry sow unit and not for tethering outside. If it is cruel to tether a pig in that way, is not it cruel to do so whatever the situation?
§ Mr. Hughes
If my hon. Friend is asking for my view, yes, of course. Anyone who has read descriptions about pigs knows that they are not only intelligent but sensitive animals. There is legendary evidence of pigs knowing that they are going to the slaughter, and crying. There have been some long and, no doubt, accurate descriptions in some of the literature that I have read about the sensitivity of pigs—for example, the way in which they form friendships and can understand what is going on around them. The answer to my hon. Friend's intervention is yes. However, we are not dealing with Bill to deal with the issue that he raised. Perhaps some hon. Members may wish to amend the Bill in Committee, and perhaps the Government may examine that matter as they have done in the past, My hon. Friend makes an important point.
Tether systems were originally evolved at least partly to prevent the bullying and fighting that often occur, especially at feeding time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has graphically explained. FAWC considered that both systems failed to meet certain welfare criteria to which particular importance was attached. The 1983 version of the code of welfare for pigs stated that keeping sows and gilts in stalls, whether with or without tethers, raised serious welfare problems.
598 I have several problems with the Bill, which I shall try to explain. The first relates to the role and relevance of the European Community. I am rather perplexed. I do not want us to end up in the situation in which we found ourselves with a piece of fisheries legislation that had taken up a great deal of legislative time, only to be told by the European Commission that we could not sustain that legislation. Of course, we had to pass legislation repealing that fisheries legislation. If that were to happen again, it would not be helpful to anyone—certainly not to pigs.
I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would explain precisely the situation with the European Community. Do we have full entitlement to pass this legislation? What will be the situation with the regulations that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has promised? The Government have generally supported the introduction of European Community standards on animal welfare. They have an extremely good record in this and other animal welfare matters and in trying to push the European Community for higher standards. The Government have supported the introduction of EC standards on animal welfare, saying that the FAWC report and its recommendations most of which, of course, they accepted should be used as a basis for negotiations and that they would use them as a basis for negotiations when the EC proposals appear.
On 27 July 1989 the European Community published proposals for the welfare of pigs and calves. The proposals for pigs—EC draft 7654/89—were wide ranging and included a provision that sows should not be tethered for four weeks after weaning and that, if individually stalled during that period, they must be let out for daily exercise. The draft did not suggest a general ban on dry sow stalls., while tethers would be banned only from 1999, and the use of stalls generally permitted if one hour's exercise a day was given.
The proposals on calves and pigs were debated by the Second Standing Committee on European Community Documents on 8 November 1989. My hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said that the Government thought that both sets of proposals were inadequate and would seek modification to them. The European Parliament subsequently sought various changes to the proposals, some of which the Commission accepted. However, the proposals did not cover the FAWC recommendations on sow stalls and tethers. The revised proposals were originally to have been considered at the Agriculture Council meeting last September. But there has been a good deal of slippage and at present there is no firm date for their discussion. Again, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister will cover that in his remarks to give us some idea of when the Government believe that the European Community will get round to discussing these matters.
In a press notice issued on 10 January 1991, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that discussions in the European Community were proceeding; and that the Government were still committed to securing Community agreement along the lines of the FAWC recommendations at the earliest date. He said:In the last two months a Commission-sponsored seminar attended by welfare and farming bodies from Europe 599 concluded that alternative systems for sows had been developed to the stage where they can safely replace stalls and tether systems. These conclusions will give a major impetus to the development of the necessary Community rules.That was an extremely welcome statement from my right hon. Friend. I would put it this way. The preconditions suggested by the FAWC for banning stalls and tethers have been met.
There is, of course, a difference between the recommendations of my right hon. Friend and the details of the Bill. I received a letter and a briefing paper from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In my short time in the House I have listened to various debates on dogs and the RSPCA has mounted campaigns about dogs. I never thought that I would praise in the House a document that I had received from the RSPCA. However, on this matter, unlike in the debates on dogs, the RSPCA has been extremely responsible.
The letter from Jerry Lloyd, the parliamentary liaison officer for the RSPCA, is extremly well written. More to the point, it is fair. It points out fairly where the debate is centred. The letter makes two points. I should be interested to hear the response of my hon. Friend the Minister on those points. The first concerns the Ministry's intention to ban new installations from this year. The RSPCA applauds that addition to the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said, it has been clear to any sensible pig farmer for some time that it would not be wise to install a new system—and scarely any have been introduced over the past three years. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston will accept that improvement in Committee, and it was very fair of the RSPCA to describe that development in the way that it did.
The second point is more perplexing. I refer to the time difference in the phasing-out period allowed in the Bill, that indicated in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister, and that suggested by the National Farmers Union. The difference is marginal.
How much difference will it make in reality if the phasing-out period differs? Knowing that the system is to be phased out anyway, would not pig farmers react and change their operations, to achieve compliance on more or less the same date?
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
My constituency, perhaps in common with that of my hon. Friend, contains no pig farmers—and because of the nature of my constituency, it probably does not contain many dead pigs either. Nevertheless, many of my constituents have written to me to express their concern and interest in the Bill. My inclination is to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) that the practice in question is outrageously cruel and ought to be stopped as soon as possible. My concern is the difference between the action that would be taken in this country and on the European continent. If we take action that others do not, we might put our pig farmers out of business simply to achieve the marginal difference of which my hon. Friend speaks.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend's latter observation is absolutely right. If we care about the welfare of these sensitive and intelligent animals, and if that is the reason for the Bill, we should be concerned not only about English pigs but all the pigs in the European Community. 600 Our main thrust should be to achieve improvements throughout the Community for reasons of animal welfare, but also because it would be unreasonable to put United Kingdom pig farmers at an unreasonable disadvantage. However, my hon. Friend made one incorrect remark at the beginning of his intervention, because there is one pig farmer in my constituency. However, I am pleased to say that he does not use the methods of which so many of us disapprove.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, the question of timing can be dealt with in Committee? I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1982–83, the Government told this country's milk producers to change their policy overnight. The Government did not give them an hour's notice of the unfavourable quota system.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean)
That measure was imposed by the European Community.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend the Minister rightly points out that that decision was taken by the European Community and that the Government had no option but to implement it. The Liberals like to suggest that they are the only people who believe in the Community, so it ill becomes them to suggest that we should not comply with its directives. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I have no doubt that the timing aspect will be examined in Committee. If it reaches the conclusion that the period suggested by my hon. Friend the Minister is right, why is there a need for the Bill in the first place? Would not we do better to follow the regulations?
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
As a Member whose constituency contains not only pig farmers but a population who are very concerned about the welfare of pigs, I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that, by destroying or making very difficult the viability of our own pig producers, we shall be letting into the country, by way of substitution, pigmeat that has been produced in a far more inhumane way than any method currently used in Britain? Would not that make a total nonsense of the Bill?
§ Mr. Hughes
One of the drawbacks of giving way to my hon. and learned Friend is that he puts arguments in a way that I wish I had done. It would be an absolute nonsense if we were to cripple the activities of our own pig farmers, merely to see their products replaced by those of others who are using the methods that we deplore. We must have that very much in our minds before passing legislation that would have the effects described by my hon. Friends on the pig farmers in their constituencies.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
One of the topics on which my constituents have also written to me is the transport of live animals. The transportation from the continent to this country of live animals might increase if the proposed legislation is introduced.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically interesting point, and it is one worthy of research. It should be possible to find out from farmers who produce pigs or other livestock what they would do if confronted with the situation that has been described. If my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) is proved right, we would have to consider 601 whether we are doing the right thing. However, there is not that much between the two sides to the argument. No one suggests that tethering under stalls is anything but a cruel practice.
Therefore, I shall finish where I started, and warmly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Holland and Boston for bringing this matter to everyone's attention and for producing the Bill. I hope that the Bill will get into Committee so that the important matters that have been discussed can be further aired during the Committee's deliberations and we can decide whether we are better off with the regulations than we are with the Bill.
I shall add one further point to my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland and Boston. The reality of government is that without some pressure, and without the Bill—I do not refer to pressure from lobbying groups but from my hon. Friend and the admirable campaign that he has put together which has culminated in the Bill—I suspect that, at the very least, it might have taken more time to introduce such regulations. The fact that my hon. Friend has been able to campaign, and that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have responded in the manner that they have, shows that pressure from hon. Members, especially when they are as well informed as my hon. Friend, pays off. That is the way to bring about changes in these important matters.
I welcome the debate and the fact that, one way or another, these cruel practices will be ended. I hope that this is just the start, and that we will begin to consider the enormous cruelties that we impose upon animals in the name of our way of life in this country, and I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Second Reading of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) has done a signal service to the country and to the House by choosing this subject for his Bill. There can be few hon. Members who can speak on the subject of pig breeding with more experience than my hon. Friend.
I have had to study the Bill carefully. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), who I see in the Chamber and who represents a constituency similar to mine, I have had to consider this issue from the point of view of a Member of Parliament representing a Humberside constituency which probably contains more pigs than humans. It is probably true to say that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington, I represent more pigs than constituents. Therefore, hon. Members will understand that I have been lobbied by the pig industry on this issue, if not, unfortunately, by the pigs.
I could have made an easy judgment, on the basis that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) arrived at his conclusions, because there is a large pig industry in my constituency which is an important employer. One would think that, as a result, I ought to be suspicious of the Bill. However, the more that the pig breeders have lobbied him on the issue, and the more that I have studied it, the more convinced I have become that my hon. Friend's Bill is necessary. Of course, I have also received representations from other constituents about farm welfare as it is affected by the Bill. Therefore, I have arrived at a very different judgment from that of my hon. 602 Friends the Members for Bridlington and for Richmond, Yorks. It is unusual for me to be in this situation. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington represent constituencies which are in the same county—north and south Humberside—and which contain a large pig breeding industry. I cannot think of any occasion in the past when my hon. Friend and I have not been on the same side. Perhaps this issue underlines the differences between attitudes on the north and the south banks of the River Humber, and accounts for the reason why the Local Government Boundary Commission for England is seeking a case for the transfer of my constituency to Lincolnshire. Although we both have many pig breeders in our constituencies, we have different views on this subject.
§ Mr. John Townend
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that I entirely agree with his idea of his constituency rejoining Lincolnshire. For myself, I should like to see the restoration of East Yorkshire.
§ Mr. Brown
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support, but I want now to concentrate on the Bill.
I congratulate the Government on their response to the Bill. It is a classic example of the success that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston has achieved even before uttering the words, "I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time." My hon. Friend was successful in gaining second place in the ballot. It is no coincidence that since then, just two days ago, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued a press release in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister stating thatconsultation is now to begin on a pig stall and tether ban. The Government issued today"—on Wednesday, two days before this debate—a consultation document which provides details of proposals to ban stall and tether systems for all pigs. Agriculture Minister John Gummer announced on 10th January that the Government intends to ban new installations and to phase out existing systems by 31st December 1998.So the only point at issue between the Government and my hon. Friend is one of timing. Everything that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has said publicly shows that his attitude is exactly the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who has thus encouraged the Ministry to accept the principle of the Bill and to come forward with its own proposals.
My hon. Friend wants to phase out in five years this dreadful way of rearing pigs, but the Government have conceded his point already, so it might be argued that the Bill is unnecessary because the Government intend to phase out the system over eight years—there is a difference of only three years between the two proposals. Nevertheless, I have come to the view that we should allow the Bill to go into Committee if only so that other points such as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) can be discussed; and we might want to extend the Bill to include one or two other aspects of pig breeding.
The evidence in support of the Bill is overwhelming at every point of reference. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston quoted from a report by the Select Committee on Agriculture, issued in 1980–81. He was a member of that Committee and, as I speak for and on behalf of pigs today, I must remind the House that I am the parliamentary private secretary to my hon. and learned 603 Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who was also a distinguished member of that Committee—and I am a defender of all hogs, human or four-legged.
The Select Committee categorically recommended that every effort be madeto develop the alternative small group system and any other which looks promising as quickly as possible to the point where, whilst maintaining its welfare advantages, it is established as practicable and economically competitive. As soon as this point is in sight notice should be given that close confinement will be phased out over a reasonable but defined period, and the tether and stall and tied stall method be abolished.I have already quoted the following evidence in an earlier intervention this morning. It is the definitive work on this issue—
§ Mr. Conal Gregory (York)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I notice that my hon. Friend is repeating what he has already said this morning. We have been discussing this important Bill for more than three hours. The House has a long agenda before it, and there is great interest inside and outside the House in the Domestic Smoke Alarms Bill. Therefore, I beg to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
I must inform the hon. Gentleman that, although I understand his frustration, it is my role in this Chamber to safeguard the business before us and to see that Members who are still rising and who wish to participate in the debate are allowed to do so. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's motion at this time.
§ Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I support the Bill, and I am an RSPCA activist and a vegetarian. I am also a sponsor of the Domestic Smoke Alarms Bill, which is about saving the lives of 700 children a year. I am concerned that attempts are being made by way of a filibuster to wreck the opportunity to debate proposed legislation that could save the lives of many people in the United Kingdom. I hope that we shall bear that in mind and that at some stage an opportunity for debate will be provided for those who support not only the Pig Husbandry Bill but the Domestic Smoke Alarms Bill. We must not lose the opportunity to alleviate the misery of pigs, but we must also take steps to save the lives of 700 people who die needlessly each year.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order for the Chair, but I shall see to it that there is no tedious repetition.
§ Mr. Brown
But for those two interventions, I might have resumed my seat. In an intervention earlier, I did not speak about the Select Committee on Agriculture. I spoke about the notes for guidance which were issued in 1983 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) may not have realised that the first time that I mentioned the Select Committee report was a few moments ago.
In 1983 the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), said in his guidance notes to pig breeders that sows should not be kept under the system that the Bill 604 seeks to phase out. Alternative systems such as kennels, straw yards or yards and cubicles will more fully meet animals' behavioural and exercise needs.
My hon. Friend the Member for York will note that I did not draw attention to the latest work on this matter which was issued by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in February 1988. Studies on the whole issue go back a decade and the only question to be answered is about the timing. The other matter to be addressed is the attitude of our European competitors.
I intervened during the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks to say that there is no point in the House—this body of all bodies—saying that until Europe makes a move we should not do anything. As I have said, we could lead by example and put before the European Commission a proposal for the rest of the Community. We could say that we have passed legislation on the issue and could use our example in making the case for similar legislation throughout the Community.
It would be wrong for us to say that we will not put right an injustice, whether it is in relation to animal welfare or about minorities. It would also be wrong to say that future injustices will not be put right until we have first ascertained that the lowest common denominator has been reached in the European Community. It is important to establish that matter of principle.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston on his Bill. I have had to agonise over my decision. If I had to decide on the basis of immediate short-term interests, I suppose that I would take the narrow view because there are many pig farmers in my constituency. That would lead me automatically to vote in their favour and against the Bill. However, I shall not do that. If there is a Division, I shall vote in favour of the Bill because the clear indication from pig breeders is that they are voluntarily moving away from the present system. That is quite right.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
I applaud the view taken by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) on the European dimension, and share that view. I congratulate the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on his good fortune in coming second in the ballot for private Members' Bills and on his good judgment in introducing a measure which will command support from both sides of the House, despite some of the speeches that we have heard. I confirm the whole-hearted support of the Labour party for the Bill, which will improve the conditions under which breeding sows are kept.
The hon. Gentleman is well known for his concern about, and advocacy of improvement in, animal welfare. He is well-respected both inside and outside Parliament for his independence of spirit and the determination that he has consistently shown in promoting his cause.
The Bill is supported outside the House by many people who have been vigorous in their attempts to ensure that their representatives know of their concern and are present to give the Bill a well-deserved Second Reading. They have been the foot soldiers of the admirable professional organisations that have been supporting the Bill. I pay tribute to the necessary and valuable work that they do. The RSPCA, with which we are all familiar, supports the Bill, but it is principally the creation of Compassion in 605 World Farming. That is a lesser-known, but no less worthy, organisation and it must take much of the credit for the popular support that the Bill enjoys.
According to a public opinion poll published three years ago, 88 per cent. of those questioned supported the Bill. There is no reason to suppose that that overwhelming majority will have diminished. The Bill is timely in that animal welfare is moving rapidly up the agenda of the British consumer, thanks, in large part, to these organisations. A piece in Agra Europe on 4 July shows the way that things are moving. It reports:The welfare movement in meat production is gathering momentum and producers in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand are already taking steps to meet the expected change in demand. According to the UK Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC), welfare will become the area in which producers put most effort in the 1990s and will make the production of leaner meat a secondary target. Much of the impetus in the UK is coming from the five biggest supermarkets (Sainsbury, Tesco, Safeway, Asda and Gateway), which by the year 2000 are expected to be selling more than half the meat retailed in Britain. Tesco is retailing "Traditional Norfolk Reared Pork", Gateway is about to launch a similar line in pork and beef, Asda is already selling conservation grade lamb and Safeway is marketing organic beef.I understand the concern of hon. Members who fear that British producers might be disadvantaged against continental competition. However, the argument that if our modes of production are better, we shall be better placed to compete in 1993 is more convincing. There may be a short-term dislocation in the market, but the combination of the welfare argument and the prospects of a better organised and more welfare-oriented system will give our producers an advantage. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) made that point in a speech that was exemplary in every respect.
§ Mr. Martin Jones (Clwyd, South-West)
Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that many farmers would like a change in the law on pig husbandry because they can see the possibilities and opportunities created by the efforts of animal welfare promoters, the RSPCA and other worthy bodies, which have led to increased awareness among consumers about animal welfare?
§ Mr. Davies
That is very much so. Those who oppose the Bill have overstated their case. We have to recognise that the Bill is supported by a large number of producers, principally those who have already voluntarily changed to using methods that do not involve the tethering system.
I understand from the producers that the system is unacceptable and will have to be phased out and that it is in their interests to move as quickly as possible away from it voluntarily. They recognise that British agriculture will be better if this measure is on the statute book. There are differences of opinion about the European dimension, and the lead-in period is causing concern. The Government have expressed reservations about the measure. They believe that it should be dealt with in a different way. However, that need not excite hon. Members who have expressed strong opposition to the Bill.
The quotation from Agra Europe will have gladdened the hearts of all those who are concerned about farm animal welfare. There can be no arguments against the Bill on welfare grounds. It appears from what was said by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is not here at the moment, and by a few other hon. Members that there is confusion about what the Bill covers. It relates 606 only to dry sows, not to sows that are farrowing. Farrowing crates will continue to be used. Therefore, piglets will not be suffocated, due to the removal of dry sows. The argument that the Bill will reduce welfare considerations is not valid.
The debate continues in pig breeding circles about the welfare implications of dry sow stalls and tethers. There can be no argument that in this measure we are balancing what most experts agree is an improvement in animal welfare against a slight temporary economic dislocation. Animals should have the benefit of the doubt every time. We can do no better than refer to the Government's Farm Animal Welfare Council if we wish to obtain independent expert opinion. Reference has been made by several hon. Members to the 1988 assessment of pig production. The FAWC's fourth report says:Both stall and tether systems fail to meet certain welfare criteria to which we attach particular importance. As a result of their design, the animals housed in them are prevented from exercising and from displaying most natural behaviour patterns; in the wide range of systems seen by members there was little scope to reduce the continuing stress which can be caused by confinement in these systems … We recommend that future trends in housing the dry sow should be away from the use of stalls and tether systems (both girth and neck types) and that the Government should introduce legislation as a matter of urgency to prevent all further installations of units of these designs … We recommend that the Government should do all it can to encourage the adoption of alternative systems, whether new or traditional, and the improvement in husbandry skills needed to avoid welfare problems. As soon as it is satisfied that the necessary skills are available, the welfare-related problems have been eliminated from the emerging systems and that they are commercially viable, it should introduce immediate legislation to phase out stalls and tethers.All those conditions have now been met. The Government acknowledge that they have been met, because they say that they accept the principles of the Bill and that they intend to phase out dry stall systems with tethers.
Unfortunately, in 1988 the Government could not find the time to implement the recommendations of the Farm Welfare Animal Council. However, they can keep good faith with the recommendations if they agree to support the Bill. If they feel that, for whatever reason, they cannot support it, I earnestly hope that they will not use their best endeavours to block it. The Government's acceptance of the Bill would be in line with the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council and those of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whose welfare code states:The keeping of sows and gilts in stalls with or without tethers raises serious welfare problems. It inevitably places severe restrictions on the animals' freedom of movement, denies them normal exercise, can give rise to patterns of abnormal behaviour and very commonly causes injury and leg weakness. Alternative systems, such as kennels, strawyards or yard and cubicles in which animals behavioural and excercise needs can be more fully met, are therefore strongly recommended".That is the Ministry's code on the welfare of pigs. We could not have a clearer condemnation of the dry stall system.
I am disappointed and surprised that, following the introduction of the codes in 1983, eight years later we are still arguing about whether we should pass a minor Bill which will put into legislative practice those principles which have been endorsed by not only the Government, their scientific advisers and all the animal welfare groups but the overwhelming majority of public opinion. The attempt to frustrate the Bill's intentions is disgraceful.
607 I know that the Government have some difficulty with the measures because, in a press release on 23 January, they said:Confining pigs in small stalls on a routine basis cannot be justified under any circumstances".That was the latest Government pronouncement. It was a green light to accept the Bill.
The Government's position on the Bill is slightly different. They say that they have difficulty with it because they propose a ban on new installations, which will go further than the Bill. I accept that, but I cannot imagine anyone in his right mind, having seen the House of Commons accept the Bill, next week voluntarily committing himself to capital expenditure to introduce a new system which he knows will be phased out. We welcome the Government's intention to introduce a ban, but it is a ban that will not take place anyway.
§ Mr. Bowden
I heartily approve what the Government said about banning any new stalls. Would not it be possible to introduce an amendment to the Bill in Committee dealing with that?
§ Mr. Davies
I was about to draw that conclusion. My instinct was not to give way to the hon. Gentleman, but courtesy caused me to do so.
The Government say also that they will extend the provision not only to dry sows but all pigs, which is clearly welcome. They also say that the phase-in period should be two years later than the time scale envisaged, and justified, by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston.
Those are three minor differences. Given the overwhelming agreement on the principle of the measure, it is sensible to agree to the unhindered passage of the Bill, get it into Committee as soon as possible and, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) suggested, consider in which ways it needs to be amended to provide any additional measures that the Government wish to introduce.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes talked about the European dimension. If the House agrees to the measure, that will considerably strengthen the Government's hand. It will reflect endorsement of the Bill's principle by the House of Commons. The Government will have to go to the European authorities on this matter. I congratulate them on their efforts in arguing for improved welfare standards. Their case will be strengthened immeasurably if they can say to the European authorities that the House has agreed to the measures, that the Bill is on the statute book and that we should ensure that the measures are adopted at European level. That would be a sensible, straightforward position to adopt.
I am delighted that the Government have accepted the principle of the Bill. We look forward to participating, in government or in opposition, in a considerable number of 608 such welfare improvement measures in coming years. The public's appetite for them is increasingly evident, no doubt whetted by welfare considerations and the human health implications of some modern intensive practices.
I do not propose to raise the spectre of the various food scares of recent years, but there is no doubt that modern intensive farming methods have made a major contribution to those problems. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston who has followed the logic of his argument and has done much to warn us of the impending dietary and environmental disaster from locking our livestock away in cages. At last the tide is turning and thanks are due to people such as the hon. Gentleman who have set great store by the welfare of their livestock throughout their farming lives.
There are many alternative methods of keeping dry sows and such methods already accommodate nearly half of them. I know that there is some dispute about the figures and no doubt the Minister will tell us what his information has revealed. Many of the dry sows live in the most profitable and productive units. Loose-housed, dry sows on straw, if kept in small groups, have few welfare problems as do the large and growing number of sows kept on free range. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston has acknowledged, however, that neither of those systems is without some welfare implications.
Contrary to some of the propaganda from the Ministry and the manufacturers of intensive housing—clearly they have a vested interest—the alternative systems are tried, tested and successful. They are just as successful now as they were before the introduction of the dry sow stall and tether.
I recognise that there is some opposition to the Bill from certain sectors of the pig breeding industry. They argue that the Bill will discriminate against them in comparison to their European competitors who will be able to continue to use the sow stall and tether in their housing units. It is true that it is important that, on this matter, in common with all other farm animal welfare measures, action is taken on a European level. I urge the Minister to continue his efforts to raise this issue with his European colleagues, armed with the knowledge that United Kingdom consumers are demanding that action should be taken.
The National Pig Breeders Association has expressed particular concern to me and to a number of colleagues that discrimination against domestic producers will result in consumers exercising double standards. They will not be able to be sure whether their rashers of bacon come from United Kingdom farms that do not have any stalls or tethers or from continental farms that still use such methods. That particular problem was raised with my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who is one of our Front-Bench spokesmen and is unavoidably absent today, by a large-scale pig producer in his constituency, Mr. Jackson of Jackson Farms, Appleby. I acknowledge that fear and I believe that it reinforces the argument for action at a European level. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Holland with Boston that that does not invalidate the need for action at a British level —the hon. Gentleman made that point with force.
When starting from scratch it makes good economic sense not to incorporate stalls and tethers in dry sow housing. Therefore, in the long run there would be no advantage to those who continue to use them.
609 If we develop a consumer-oriented system of welfare labelling, to which we are committed, the days of the sow stall will be numbered, even without the Bill. In the event of change, our pig producers might be at a disadvantage and British consumers may be unable to exercise choice by choosing pig products obtained from alternative systems. In that event we must accept the logic of a labelling system that identifies the method of production. British consumers may then ensure that there is no unfair advantage, because I am satisfied that even if there is a premium price, British consumers will be prepared to pay it in the knowledge that they are supporting a production system that meets the animal welfare needs that they have requested.
I know that the Government accept the general principle of labelling according to the method of production. I do not want to use this opportunity to criticise the Government in any way. I want to encourage them in their good work—sometimes I wish that they would go a little faster. The Opposition will support the Government when we believe that they are right and we shall urge them to go further when we believe that they have not gone far enough.
Not only have the Select Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Government's welfare code all highlighted the welfare implications of stalls or tethers; those systems have been implicitly condemned by the Brambell report and by the important European convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. Now, we have the biggest single step forward yet. On 10 January the Government committed themselves to abolishing the sow stall in Britain. The point at issue between the Government and the hon. Member for Holland with Boston essentially concerns the time scale—the phasing-out period.
I regret to say that the Pig Breeders Association has argued that the Bill is premature. Nothing could be further from the truth and I am surprised that anyone can seriously argue that line. For the manufacturers and users of the sow stall and tether, the writing has been on the wall for years. The Select Committee produced its report in 1981 and reflected opinion that had been current for many years previously—not only were stalls and tethers inadequate on welfare grounds; they were questionable in economic terms given that, at that time, the capital expenditure on a breeder's fattener unit was roughly £1,000 per sow place, compared to a tenth of that for a free range unit and a figure somewhere in between for a straw yard.
Far from being premature, the Bill is more than a little overdue. In 1988, the Farm Animal Welfare Council spoke authoritatively on sow stalls and tethers. If its advice had been taken by the producers then, we should not be in this position. Let us not forget that the council was set up to advise Ministers on precisely these matters. If its advice had been taken then, the eight-year phase-out period now proposed by the Government would end in 1996 and that is precisely what the Bill proposes.
Anyone who has installed tethers or stalls in the past few years has taken a calculated risk, knowing the potential consequences. Many producers will have had more use out of such systems than they expected when they installed them. The Government always say—we must bear it in mind that what they say and what they do are sometimes very different—that they take the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council very seriously. The council 610 recommended abolition three years ago, so the Bill is not premature but at least three years late. Anybody who believed the Government's protestations must be very thankful that they have already had so many years' use out of their stall or tether systems. By 1996, they will have written down the cost and can then move on to using a less expensive dry sow housing system.
I realise that there are differences between the Government's intentions in the legislation that they propose and the provisions in the Bill. As I have said, they are not major differences, and the hon. Member for Holland with Boston is a sensible and eminently reasonable man and I have no doubt that if the House gives the Bill its Second Reading, he will happily discuss the implications and consider such matters in Committee. For those reasons, I hope that the Government will allow the Bill its Second Reading today. We can iron out our differences in Committee.
I assure the House that the Bill has the wholehearted support of the Labour party and I shall urge all my hon. Friends who are present today to support it in any Divisions that may be called.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean)
I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate and to contribute to the unnerving air of consensus which seems to characterise nearly all our debates these days.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) is well known for the interest that he takes in animal welfare matters. He is to be admired for the concern that he has shown for farm animals over many years and in presenting the Bill.
The last time that my hon. Friend and I were engaged on a major venture together was almost exactly five years ago when I had the privilege to be a very junior member of the Select Committee of which he was Chairman. Late one Monday night in April 1986 the Government lost the vote on Sunday trading. Early the following morning, my hon. Friend and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) found ourselves in Washington, where we were engaged in a study of pesticides. Without our knowledge, President Reagan bombed Gaddafi that night. We had a very interesting visit to the United States —and we did not pay for a single drink ourselves.
I want to pay tribute to the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have written to me about this issue. As some hon. Members have seen, it is true that I, as a constituency Member—and I suspect most hon. Members—have received infinitely more letters on this subject than on the major events taking place in the middle east. That does not surprise me when animal welfare matters are at stake.
I want also to pay tribute to many of my hon. Friends who, over the years, and during the two years that I have been at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, have been quietly lobbying and nobbling me behind the: scenes about animal welfare. That will continue for the benefit of all of us and to the benefit of animals.
Let me begin by considering the history of the welfare debate on stall and tether systems. The use of those systems for keeping dry sows and gilts has been and is one of the subjects of greatest animal husbandry concern. The systems are criticised by animal welfare organisations and, 611 as my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said, not all in the pig industry are content with them, either.
The Government too have had a long-standing policy of advising against the use of stalls and tethers and, more recently, of phasing them out. There is an equally long-standing commitment to research into the alternative systems. That research will not end with the current moves to remove stalls and tethers.
However, concern over conditions in which pigs are kept is nothing new. In 1772, a man by the name of Brauner, writing in Stockholm, described the agriculture literature of the time as constantly stressing the importance of providing swine with a dry lying place and straw bedding. He added that in those days systems were never used in which the pig was permanently tied or confined so that it could not separate the three functions of feeding, dunging and lying.
Indeed, most husbandry systems for dry sows used up until about the late 1950s to early 1960s consisted of individual pens or small groups which allowed the sows to use separate parts of the pen for those three functions. It was about this time that the close confinement systems were introduced. It has to be said that their introduction was not purely for economic reasons. It was thought that some welfare advantages would also result.
The first full examination of intensive livestock husbandry systems was in 1965 when the Brambell committee made its report at the request of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland.
To a large extent, it was publication of the book "Animal Machines" by Mrs. Ruth Harrison which first led to the widespread public interest in farm animal welfare and which led to the formation of the Brambell committee. I am pleased to say that Mrs. Harrison is still a member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council and was a member of its predecessor, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.
The Brambell report made a number of recommendations on pig welfare. The recommendation relevant to the debate today was:Pregnant sows should not be kept without daily exercise in quarters which do not permit them to turn round and, in any case, should not be tethered indoors".During the 1980–81 Session of Parliament, the Select Committee on Agriculture, to which reference has been made today, examined animal welfare in poultry, pig and veal calf production. It published its report in July 1981. It also made a number of recommendations on the welfare of pigs relating to stall and tether systems including thatThe Code of Recommendations for Pigs should recommend that steps be taken to relieve frustration and boredom where sows are tethered or kept in stallsIt went on to state:Efforts should be made to develop alternatives to the close confinement of pregnant sows. As soon as these are established as practicable and economic, notice should be given that close confinement will be phased out over a reasonable period. Governments should support the necessary research and development work. Financial grants should be used to support the small-group system and should not be given to producers using close-confinement methods … Pigs housed indoors should always have access to a bedded area, and the Code of Recommendations should say so".612 The Government's welfare code for pigs, based on recommendations from the Farm Animal Welfare Council, was revised in 1983. It tood account of the Brambell committee's recommendations and gave the clear warning thatThe keeping of sows and gilts in stalls with or without tethers raises serious welfare problems. It inevitably places severe restrictions on the animals' freedom of movement, denies them normal exercise, can give rise to patterns of abnormal behaviour and very commonly causes injuries and leg weakness".However, the code went on to say that alternative systems, although recommended, required higher levels of stockmanship and increased capital investment. It was not thought then that the time was right to phase out those systems.
The next major review of stalls and tethers came with the publication in 1988 of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's assessment of pig production systems. At that time, the council considered that it was possible to ban new installations of stalls and tethers. However, a phase-out date for existing systems could still not be set. The council passed to the Government the responsibility for deciding when alternatives would be viable and sufficiently free of welfare problems. In the Government's response, we accepted the Council's recommendations. As there was a proposal for Community legislation concerning the welfare of pigs under discussion, it seemed most sensible to try to have the Council's recommendations accepted on a Community basis, and that is what we have striven to achieve. The Community negotiations are, however, taking longer than we wished, and we have now decided that the time has come to set an example to the rest of Europe.
Finally, a seminar organised by the European conference group on the protection of farm animals was held last November. This seminar, attended by a wide range of interests, concluded that alternative systems could now replace the stall and tether systems. The reservations that existed at the time of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's recommendations concerning the problems which could arise with alternative systems have therefore now been satisfactorily resolved.
The Government have therefore been re-examining welfare aspects of the use of stalls and tethers. The Farm Animal Welfare Council considers husbandry systems in the context of the "five freedoms". They are first, freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition; secondly, appropriate comfort and shelter; thirdly, prevention, or rapid diagnosis and treatment of injury and disease; fourthly, freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour; and, fifthly freedom from fear.
It is clear that stall and tether systems do not meet all those freedoms and, in particular, sows certainly cannot displaymost normal patterns of behaviour in them".That is not to say that alternative systems are perfect—it is unlikely that any husbandry system will ever reach perfection in welfare terms. However, the scientific evidence that close confinement causes unacceptable welfare problems is now overwhelming.
In 1977, for example, it was reported that confined sows were not able to groom normally, that they may have difficulty maintaining the correct body temperature, that most are fed small amounts of food infrequently and that they cannot interact normally with other sows. 613 Stereotyped behaviour is one response shown by a variety of animals to such situations in which the individual has little control of its environment.
Stereotyped behaviour is a pattern of repetitive actions that are fixed in form and orientation and serve no obvious function. It can be caused by confinement and boredom in a barren environment when the animal is unable to carry out most of its normal patterns of behaviour. Stereotypes are an indicator of poor welfare and they are frequently seen in many stall and tether units. The relatively low volumes of feed commonly given to pregnant sows may be a contributory factor to poor welfare, but the confinement itself must be a major problem for the animal.
§ Mr. John Townend
Does my hon. Friend accept that farrowing crates, which are not dealt with in the Bill, cause the same problems? He accepts that keeping dry sows in single stalls throughout the whole period is unsatisfactory. Will he also accept that there is a case for keeping them in stalls for 28 to 30 days immediately after they have been put in pig because there are problems of bullying and other problems at that time?
§ Mr. Maclean
I accept much of what my hon. Friend says. Neither the Bill nor our regulations propose to deal with farrowing crates. We see welfare disadvantages in farrowing crates; but there are also tremendous disadvantages in the alternatives when pigs are about to litter. We pointed out in our regulations that we wish pigs to be confined in farrowing crates for the minimum period during the period of pregnancy when they are about to litter. But research and development is continuing into alternatives to those systems, too.
In 1984 and 1987 it was observed that pigs in tethers spent less time in active behaviour. Pigs in stalls showed increased amounts of stereotyped behaviour such as licking and biting of the stalls and a higher incidence of aggressive actions. Physiological measurements taken from the pigs indicated that they were showing a chronic stress response as a result of confinement. Sows subjected to this stress were considered by one author to be suffering from clinical neurosis.
Stereotyped behaviour is recorded in tethered sows as well as those in stalls. Studies of stereotypes in tethered sows lead us to the conclusion that the behaviour can be spread to newly introduced sows, thus contributing to the stress experienced by the newcomers.
Stall and tether systems, in particular those using tethers, are often the cause of injuries. Skin lesions caused by chafing of the tethers are not uncommon and were reported in 1986 as arising at levels of 39 per cent. and 21 per cent. of the animals in two herds studied. Girth tethering can lead to increased udder damage because the sow is impeded when getting up. Increased incidence of urinary infection and lameness in closely confined pigs has also been recorded.
However, as the Farm Animal Welfare Council has accepted, the alternatives available are not without their problems. The lack of control over injuries caused by aggressive interactions between sows and bullying of individuals at the bottom of the dominance chain are typical examples. As I have said, it is unlikely that any husbandry system will he completely free of welfare problems. So it has been a line judgment to decide when the time is right to take action. The industry itself has all but abandoned new installations of stalls and tethers. But, 614 contrary to what has been said this morning, we have evidence that a few have been installed in the past few years. However, the industry has largely given up the system. The only real question that remained was how long was needed for existing systems to be phased out, and whether we could go ahead in advance of the rest of the European Community.
Against that background, we must look at the economic situation of the industry. I have already emphasised that in 1989 the Government fully accepted the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council for phasing out stall and tether systems. We have always made it clear that we wished to pursue this matter on an EC basis, and we shall continue discussions to secure Community agreement on these measures as soon as possible. I give that firm assurance to the House. But the Community seems reluctant to move. Now that there are viable alternatives to stall and tether systems, we believe that we must go it alone.
However strong the arguments on the welfare aspects, we cannot be blind to the dangers that moving on a unilateral basis will present to the competitive position of our pig industry. The pig industry is totally dependent on pig breeders. If breeders went out of, or reduced, production, there would be fewer piglets for the fatteners to rear. We would run the risk of increased imports of pigmeat produced by the very systems that we were banning in this country. There would be less pigmeat for our slaughterers and processing plants to handle. There would be a smaller market for our cereal producers and feed processors. Other ancillary trades would also be affected. A large number of our people are involved, either directly or indirectly, in the pigmeat industry. We do not want to put those people out of work, nor to hand over an even larger slice of our pork—especially our bacon—market to producers in other member states producing under the very system that we would have banned.
The United Kingdom pig industry is an important part of our agricultural and national economy. We must bear that fact very much in mind and proceed carefully.
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) rubbished the unilateral argument and quoted the example of veal crates. I shall tell him the direct effect of the veal crate ban, which I am proud that we introduced unilaterally on 1 January last year. The net effect, not in commercial terms as I do not know the figures but in welfare terms, is that veal is now eaten in this country which has been imported from overseas and produced under the same system that we thought was inhumane and that we banned. Because of the treaty of Rome, we cannot ban such imports.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
I share the Minister's concern about the development of the live export trade in calves. Does he acknowledge the fact that, because we have taken that action in this country, it immeasurably strengthens his hand when he is arguing in the Council of Ministers for the adoption of a ban on veal crates throughout the Community?
§ Mr. Maclean
That is a fallacious argument, and I shall deal with it later, as other hon. Members have made the same point. It does not necessarily strengthen our hand to be unilateral in Europe. Firm scientific advice on the judgments that we take is what strengthens our hand.
§ Mr. John Townend
My hon. Friend has been arguing a poignant case against the Bill and has been using the veal 615 example in support of that case. If he is so worried about the pig industry and believes that it may suffer the same problems as the veal industry, why is he putting forward these proposals?
§ Mr. Maclean
I have already told the House that a fine judgment has to be made here. We believe that, because alternative systems are now available, and because of the increased welfare benefits, we should act upon this matter now, and we shall make strenuous efforts to ensure that the European Community agrees with us as quickly as it can. However, I do not want any hon. Member to dismiss the unilateral argument out of hand, and to say that there is no problem about Britain acting unilaterally. There are problems, but at times we decide that we must do it for welfare considerations.
There has been some discussion in the House about the percentage of sows housed in such systems. Our estimate is that about 70 per cent. of the 800,000 sows in the United Kingdom at present are housed in stalls, but, whether it is 50, 60 or 70 per cent., as we are in agreement on the main principle, we should not argue over the figures. The natural life span of these stall systems is about 15 years, and very few have been installed in the past three years. I have no sympathy for pig producers who installed stall and tether systems after the Government announced in 1989 that we had accepted the Farm Animal Welfare Council's recommendations for phasing out stall and tether systems. That means that there are still a large number of stalls which were built before that date, and which pig farmers could reasonably have expected to last up to 13 years. To ask pig breeders to take out their stalls within too short a time scale would clearly lead to a great deal of wasted investment, and might encourage them to leave the industry altogether.
The need for a transition period of sensible length is reinforced by the consideration that those in the pig industry make a precarious living. The pig industry has not enjoyed the same degree of support under the CAP as the producers of some other commodities. The pigmeat regime is a light one. There is no public intervention. Within the ring fence of the Community's borders there is very much a free market and producers have to make their living from the market price. Given the fierceness of competition, and the vagaries of the pig cycle, margins over time are slim and are often non-existent and at times highly negative. In short, there is not much money available for reinvestment.
My staff in the economics department of the Ministry have carried out a very careful calculation of the economic costs to the industry of a ban on sow stalls. On the best assumptions which they can make, they estimate that the economic costs of banning sow stalls to the industry, in terms of wasted investment and additional running cost, would be £99 million if there was an immediate ban. Even if the ban was delayed for five years the cost would still be £30 million which I believe to be an unacceptably high figure and one which would encourage a good number of pig breeders to go out of production. If the transition period extends to the time limit that we have proposed, the cost falls to around £9 million which, it seems to me, is a figure which we could ask the industry to live with. It compares with the total value of our pig industry's output of about £1 billion.
616 But the industry has the potential to offset some of these costs. Many consumers in this country consider farm animal welfare very important. They are prepared to pay a premium for produce from animals which they believe are reared under conditions best suited to their welfare. In future the pig industry will be able to say with all honesty that it is not using the systems that have caused so much controversy. I appeal to our farmers and producers to capitalise on the lead that they will have over the rest of the Community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) suggested that I become devious and ban pigmeat imports from these countries. That is not the solution. It is not for me to be devious but for our producers to become good marketeers. I spend a great deal of time speaking to consumers and meeting consumer groups; I go round the shops and big supermarkets and I can see the trends in them. Some sell "conservation-grade" meat, some "traditional" meat. I tell the shops that we shall monitor them to make sure that the terms that they use are factually correct so that the consumers are not deceived.
I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and not just because I visited Northern Ireland and had a chance to go round the Province just before Christmas. I believe that there is a marketing opportunity, but it will not simply land in farmers' laps. They will have to go out and then persuade consumers to buy British pigmeat. When the regulations come into force or if this Bill is passed, some time this decade British pigmeat will be produced under systems with greater welfare benefits than those in any other country in the European Community. That gives us a possible competitive advantage—if we seize it.
§ Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)
My hon. Friend's figures puzzle me. I have been trying to work them out: £99 million if there is an immediate ban; if we wait for eight years, £9 million; if we wait for five, £30 million. I can make no sense of that. The progression seems wrong, but the figures seem to be loaded in favour of the Minister's argument and against that of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body).
§ Mr. Maclean
I do not want to take up too much time going into the figures in depth. Our economics division has worked them out carefully. The short answer is that the figures relate to an exponential curve. We examine not just capital costs but the running costs of the enhanced systems. I can take my hon. Friend through the arguments later if he wants; I have pages of statistics with me, but I do not want to bore the House with them.
§ Mr. Ron Davies
The Minister speaks about the positive advantages and the protection that would accrue from enhanced production methods. Does he accept that the logic of that argument is for him to introduce a labelling system for all animal products sold in Britain indicating the system under which they have been produced? That would be an enormous advantage to the consumer because it would allow him to exercise choice, and it would give the producer a market advantage.
§ Mr. Maclean
I do not want to be led into the labelling trap because time is pressing and other hon. Members wish to speak. Our independent food advisory committee has just published a huge review of all aspects of labelling, and 617 welfare labelling was one of the topics considered. I expect that that massive report is in my weekend box. That will ensure that I am kept out of mischief this weekend.
Of course the Government are generally committed to the principle of more informative consumer labelling, but I stress potential marketing advantages and hammer home the point that farmers and producers need not think that there will be an automatic marketing advantage. They must get out there and tell the consumer. It sometimes grieves me to know that our egg producers are not drawing to the attention of consumers the potential benefit that British eggs may have over imported eggs.
§ Mr. John Townend
Could my hon. Friend give the split between capital and revenue costs, which is quite important?
§ Mr. Maclean
We calculate that the capital costs of buildings and equipment for sow stalls and alternative housing systems are considered to be broadly equal at about £400 per sow place. In both cases it is assumed that the total investment has a life span of about 15 years and that repair costs of £40 per place will be incurred in the last five years. Additional running costs will be associated with the alternative systems because they must have a higher quality of animal husbandry and better qualified pig men. The level of the additional costs will depend on the type of system used and the value of additional inputs.
I do not want to spend 10 minutes going through all the economics of the industry, but I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) about the figures that I have given and about the view that the Ministry has taken on the calculation of the costs. We think that an instant ban would cost the industry an extra £99 million and that a five-year ban would cost £30 million. Under the time scale that we propose the figure can be reduced to about £9 million.
When stalls and tethers are phased out in the rest of Europe, we must have our systems and management up and running and operating as efficiently as possible and in the best interests of the animals so that we are ready to seize the potential marketing advantage. Taking all that into account, the Government believe that changes can and should be introduced now. Powers already exist under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 for Ministers to make regulations about the welfare of livestock and, in particular, on the dimensions and layout of accommodation. The enabling Act is already in place and its powers will be used to implement any agreed Community obligations for pig welfare.
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced on 10 January that he intended to use those powers to make regulations to phase out stall and tether systems for pigs by 31 December 1998. A consultation exercise, which is required by the 1968 Act, has already begun.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) asked whether we had the competence to introduce these regulations. We have the competence unilaterally to make them, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston has the legal power to pursue his Bill. Of course we cannot enforce our regulations on other countries, nor can we ban their products because their pigmeat has not been produced under the system that is required by our regulations.
618 It has been argued that our EC partners will think that an Act of Parliament resulting from the Bill has a higher standing or is more important than regulations. I see no reason for giving credence to that case. I am afraid to say, although it grieves me to do so, that we must not kid ourselves that the EC Commission pays strict attention t o measures going through the House, and differentiates between whether they are Bills or regulations. Nor will it pay tremendous attention to what happens on Friday mornings in this Chamber.
The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), whose contributions I always enjoy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) said that, if we reject the Bill, we shall send the wrong signal to Europe. That would be true if we did nothing at all, but I am not proposing to do nothing at all, because that would be wrong. I am asking the House to note that our new draft regulations, which are wider in scope than the Bill—
§ Mr. Maclean
They have to be in draft form because we must go out to consultation. When the consultation has finished in February, I shall ask the House to pass the regulations into law. I believe that the regulations will be better and will go further than my hon. Friend's Bill. If the EC pays attention to what the House does, it cannot fail to be impressed by these regulations, which will become British law if the House agrees to them.
§ Mr. Bruce
Given the time scale that the Minister has just given us, with the consultations finished by the end of February, would it not be appropriate for him to support Second Reading and bring the results of the consultations to the Committee so that the Committee can determine what should happen on the basis of those arguments?
§ Mr. Maclean
That is for the House to decide. I am merely saying that, as our regulations are wider in scope than the Bill, they do everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston wishes to do with his Bill, and on other technicalities do even more. We have a disagreement on the time scale. I leave the decision to the judgment of the House, but I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the Bill and go for the regulations.
The regulations that we have proposed will vary from the provisions of the Bill. The major differences are in relation to the scope of the provisions and the time by which all systems must comply.
I note with interest that the Bill does not appear to prevent new installations of stall or tether systems. It would be highly unlikely, and dashed stupid, for a farmer to go ahead with such installations. Nevertheless, that point should be addressed, and our regulations do so.
With regard to the scope, I believe that our proposals go further than the Bill in some important respects. There are some producers, if only few, who keep boars and finishing pigs in close confinement systems. There is no justifiable reason for keeping these animals in such a way, and our regulations will, therefore, apply to all pigs.
It is also our intention to phase out all forms of tethering, not just tethers for indoor pigs. It is the Government's view that the potential injuries and frustration that can be caused by tethers can arise in outdoor systems just as easily as in indoor ones. In addition, the old outdoor tethering systems, using a harness on a 10 to 15 ft rope, might be reintroduced. Such 619 ropes can get tangled around trees or other obstacles. Of course, the possibilities for injury if they are not properly adjusted are just as severe as with ordinary tethers. We see no good reason to take these chances, and they will be outlawed by our regulations.
The date by which all stall and tether systems must comply is the most contentious aspect of the regulations. The industry would prefer such action to be taken on a Community basis or, if we have to do it unilaterally, over a period of 10 years or even more. The Bill, along with many voices in the welfare lobby, proposes a five-year period.
The signs are that European Community action to phase out stalls and tethers will not take place before the Commission has undertaken a review of these systems. It is difficult to predict when the EC will follow our lead. I warn the House that we shall be hard pushed, even after the most strenuous efforts, which we shall continue to take, to get it to agree the deadline in our regulations. I am certain that, irrespective of the efforts made by the Government, hon. Members and welfare organisations, the EC will not phase out stalls and tether systems within the five years proposed in the Bill. Therefore, we have proposed the date of 31 December 1998 as a realistic balance between the ideal for the industry and the five years proposed by the Bill, which the Government believe would reduce the competitiveness of the industry too much and allow in further imports of foreign pigmeat produced under the system that we would have outlawed.
There are other minor differences between the Bill and our proposals, particularly in areas where legitimate close confinement should be allowed for short periods. The Government's proposals have been sent to all interested parties for comment. The comments received will be considered quickly but most carefully before draft regulations are placed before the House. I am sorry that my hon. Friend—as I shall call him—the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) is not in his place. Both to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) may I say that I understand from my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office that, following the usual practice, their regulations are not included with ours but that there is a firm intention to follow the lead that we are taking in our regulations.
Let me make it clear that the Government's proposals have not been led by the industry's economic concerns. Both my hon. Friend's Bill and our regulations will have an impact on the competitiveness of the industry. The regulations are firmly opposed by some sections of the industry. I have already said that there is a real risk that the increased costs to the industry, both capital and running costs, will lead to more imports of pigmeat produced under the stall and tether system. Until we can achieve a Community ban on stalls and tethers, those increased imports are likely to be from animals kept in the systems that we are acting against. Our time scale reduces that risk to a level with which we believe the industry can live.
The Government's timetable also has welfare considerations. Many people seem to believe that to stick sows into group housing systems, whether indoors or outside will magically lead to perfect welfare conditions. That is not necessarily true. While alternative systems may be 620 ready—and some are working well in practice—the level of stockmanship required to operate them must be of a high order, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston acknowledged, if different welfare problems are not to take the place of those created by stalls and tethers. That was recognised by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in its 1988 assessment of pig production systems. Farmers cannot find high calibre pig men and pig women to operate the alternative systems without a significant period being allowed for recruitment and training.
Let us not be in any doubt that this is a major task for the industry. If the welfare of pigs is to be improved, the industry must be given a sensible period within which to achieve that objective. Five years is a long time, but I remain to be convinced that the industry can achieve its target within that time. If it does not do so, the animals will suffer.
I believe that the Government's proposals will go further in providing welfare protection for pigs than the Bill now being discussed. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) has told us for the first time that the Scottish agricultural colleges back the Government's approach. Everyone will respect their independent view. I believe that the timetable for the final phasing out date for stall and tether systems is far more realistic than that proposed by the Bill which, as I have already said, would probably serve only to export our welfare problems while causing damage to our industry.
The Government's proposals will ensure that this country remains in the forefront in its commitment to farm animal welfare. Our producers will rear pigs under the most humane systems in the Community. The industry should make that fact known to consumers. The Government will not forget their commitment to raise welfare standards not only in this country but in the European Community. In future discussions on European pig welfare legislation, we shall continue to fight for our minimum standards to be adopted on a Community basis, and as quickly as possible. The Government's proposed regulations can only strengthen our hand in achieving that goal.
§ Sir Richard Body
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I beg to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Several hon. Members who have been in the Chamber for many hours wish to take part in the debate. They should be heard.
§ Mr. Amess
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) on introducing the Bill. I have no intention of delaying the proceedings and I shall have no hesitation in supporting the Bill. I arrived here this morning, naively believing that not many hon. Members would wish to speak and that this was a fairly uncontentious measure—how wrong one can be.
The House may wonder about Basildon's interest in the Bill. There are still 28 farms and smallholdings in Basildon and a few of my constituents still keep pigs. My constituents enjoy pork, ham and bacon, but they have no wish to enjoy that food if it has been produced by cruel 621 means. It is clear that tethering sows for four months is cruel and is a treatment more suited to being dished out to Mr. Hussein.
Between 1955 and 1959 my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston represented the constituency which I now represent and he is still remembered with affection by my constituents. He will recall how warmly the people of Vange thought about him. A few years ago, those people came to my surgery complaining about the cruel tethering of horses, ponies and donkeys. I introduced a ten-minute Bill and, judging by what happened this morning, I had better fortune than my hon. Friend. With the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), the then Minister, the Bill went through on the nod and the debate in the other place resulted in its name being changed. I am happy to tell the House that since 1988 there has been an Act that prevents horses, ponies and donkeys from being cruelly tethered.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston on the Bill. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 2.2 pm
§ Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)
Naturally, like all civilised people, in principle I am in favour of animal welfare and against cruelty. There is room for improvement in every aspect of agriculture and I understand the argument by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) about tethering. Tethering is being phased out, but the Bill goes too far, too fast.
This debate occurs on a Friday, and I am sure that my colleagues will accept that it is rather unusual to see me here on this day. I usually have constituency engagements, but I am taking part in this debate because pork production is a major industry in my constituency and because there are nearly 200 pig producers in it—indeed, there are more pigs than people. My area is the biggest pig-producing area in the United Kingdom and has some of the most efficient pig producers in Europe. So important are pigs to our part of the country that my daughter and son-in-law bought me two stone pigs as a Christmas present to put outside my door.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston said that few people are employed in this industry and that most of the work is done by the farmers. That is untrue. Many of my pig units employ a large number of staff who are well trained and have attended agricultural college.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston talked about animal rights—pig rights—and, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), I began to wonder where it would all end. I thought that he might suggest that pigs should have votes. I am sure that the Opposition would support that, as I do not believe that I would be back here after the next election. Animals do not and cannot have the same rights as human beings. The whole process of producing meat for human consumption demonstrates that that would not be practical. People who go over the top about this can only justify their attitude if they are vegetarians, and I accept that there are such people about.
In one part of my constituency, Holderness, there are 112 pig farmers. My hon. Friend is wrong to suggest that a large proportion of pig producers are moving away from single stalls and tethers because, of that 112, 105 would be 622 affected by the Bill. Not all those farms are large and my hon. Friend is also wrong to say that it is only those farms that will suffer. My hon. Friend has argued that many farms do not have any staff and that the farmer works seven days a week, but he then argued that by moving to loose styes there will be more work. Who will do that work? Unless the small-scale farmer undertakes that work he will have to incur the extra cost of employing another man.
We are all pleased at the success of the pig industry. My hon. Friend spoke about the increase in exports. Despite his criticism of the industry in my constituency, many of the exports come from east Yorkshire. Exports of breeding stock, in particular, come from one of the most famous producers—Northern Pig Development.
We all accept that there will be a small premium market that will appeal to the green element in society. I noted with interest what my hon. Friend said about Safeway—no doubt that store will be copied by Tesco and Sainsbury. I assure my hon. Friend that if my pig producers thought that they could get 25 per cent. more on the cost of their pigs by changing their system, the system would change tomorrow.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on coming second in the ballot. Ever since I entered the House 11 years ago I have seen a regrettable steady decline in the number of hon. Members who could be described as characters and their own men. I am pleased to say that I have always looked upon my hon. Friend as his own man, and without any doubt he is a parliamentary character. He is an independent man, a person of integrity and courage. Over the years I have greatly admired the way in which he ha .s criticised the nonsense of the agricultural policy of the Common Market. However, I was hurt and saddened at what I considered to be his unwarranted attack on the pig industry when he launched his Bill. I was saddened at his attack on the pig farmers in my constituency and, in particular, on the stockmen. I am sure that my hon. Friend is a generous man and that, on reflection, he will accept that criticism, especially as he admitted to the House that he had not visited a single farm. If the Yorkshire Post has misreported him, no doubt my hon. Friend will wish to intervene and I shall be happy to allow him to do so.
My hon. Friend's remarks were so outrageous that they were described in the Yorkshire Post in the following terms:A scathing attack on Humberside's more intensive pig producers has come from the Tory MP, Sir Richard Body at the launch of his Private Members Bill on pig husbandry yesterday. Sir Richard, MP for Holland with Boston, said he thought it would be a very good thing if many of the regions 1,000 sow producers went out of business.With respect, that was an appalling thing to say. I know that my hon. Friend has been involved in agriculture for many years. He has also been a Member of Parliament for many years. I do not know whether he has ever faced bankruptcy but he should realise that when people go out of business and go bankrupt there are enormous effects not only for them but for their families and for those who work for them.
§ Sir Richard Body
Let me clear this matter up. What said then, and what I have said in my hon. Friend's constituency on two occasions, is that livestock farming should be conducted in smaller units. I deplore the fact 623 that livestock farming is involving larger and larger units because that is not good farming. That was my point. I do not want anyone to go bankrupt.
§ Mr. Townend
If many of the 1,000 sow producers go out of business, more than simply one or two big producers will be involved. As I said, there are 200 pig producers in my constituency.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Let me interpose myself between my two hon. Friends. The key point is that if there are more smaller pig producers, there are more, not fewer, jobs. My hon. Friend should realise that there will be changes; we heard as much from the Minister. The question concerns timing and whether we should go further. I think that the House would like the Bill to go into Committee and to see what happens after that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) may prefer to have no change at all, but he must face the fact that that choice is not available. The question is whether he and others propose to continue the debate for 10 or 20 minutes and prevent the House from reaching a decision on the Second Reading of the Bill, when pigmeat consumers clearly want to have confidence in what they eat. I believe that the pig producers' best friend is my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, who, like so many of us, wants the Bill to go into Committee.
§ Mr. Townend
I represent the biggest pig producing area in the country. Not one pig farmer has written to me in support of the Bill. I am in contact with my farmers on a regular basis and I have not met one farmer who is in favour of the Bill.
The remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston have caused great upset in my constituency. He is reported to have said:I think they are not good farmers; not good livestock men at all.How he can say that about farms he has never visited, I do not know. My hon. Friend continued:I know how they spend their time: sat behind mahogany desks with a computer.I do not know what is significant about a mahogany desk and I cannot believe that my hon. Friend really thinks that farming can be carried on today without a desk, without paperwork and without adequate costings. Even Members of Parliament have been dragged reluctantly into the 20th century and have their own computers. My hon. Friend went on to say, although I do not know how he could say this, given that he has not been to any farms:They also recruited a very poor type of stockman. I regard stockmanship as an art. In their eyes it's entirely a science, and I don't think they make good farmers.It was most inappropriate for my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston to attack the work force in the industry and his attack was greatly resented. Many stockmen in the pig industry attended the Bishop Burton agricultural college. They are very dedicated men.
It is a matter of argument whether something is a science or an art. Just because my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston believes that the industry is an art, that does not mean that those who think it is a science are wrong. My hon. Friend went on to say that many would "throw in the sponge" over the coming years. If the Bill is enacted, many people in the pig industry will do that because they will face financial pressure.
624 I agreed with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Minister said. However, he accepted that the Bill would place enormous financial pressure on the industry. Having said that, and having put forward many of the arguments that I intended to put forward and with which I agreed 100 per cent., I could not understand why my hon. Friend the Minister reached his conclusions.
I will give the House an idea of the resentment caused by the remarks of my hon.. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston. In a letter to the Yorkshire Post on 19 January, a pig farmer called Mr. Dewhirst wroteThe only element of truth in that statement is that nearly all pig farmers use computers to record the performance of their herds.I cannot understand why my hon. Friend opposes the use of computers. Mr. Dewhirst, continued:They are an essential aid to management and are used in many other areas of agriculture just as they are in all industry.Without being offensive to my hon. Friend, Mr. Dewhirst went on to write:This modern-day Luddite would obviously far prefer to see us all blundering in the dark without the use of any technological advance whatsoever.His second assertion that 'pig farmers in Humberside have recruited a very poor type of stockman' is a disgraceful slur on some of the more dedicated and hard working men and women employed in agriculture.Humberside possesses some of the most efficient pig units in the world, with numbers of piglets reared per sow per year being the envy of many Continental producers.If the Bill enters Standing Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston has an opportunity to speak, I hope that he will give a full apology to the industry and in particular to the very hard working dedicated stockmen in the industry who are great believers in animal welfare and care for their animals more than anyone else.
Unlike many hon. Members present today, I have been to see some of the best run pig units. I visited some of those units in my constituency last Saturday and that was a very good way to spend a Saturday. I visited one of Mr. Dewhirst is units. According to my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston, Mr. Dewhirst is one of those computer pig breeders who sits behind a mahogany desk.
Mr. Dewhirst began breeding pigs in 1972 with 140 sows. Over the years he has expanded his business and he now runs five pig units with 1,700 sows producing more than 35,000 bacon pigs a year. Before starting his pig business, he spent three years at agricultural college completing his national diploma in agriculture and a diploma in pig technology at Harper Adams college. Mr. Dewhirst employs very skilled and efficient people.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
My hon. Friend's visit is yet another example of the superb way in which he always tackles issues so valiantly for his constituents. He speaks up for them at every opportunity and that is an example for every hon. Member. However, in view of the strong feelings that have been expressed today, does not my hon. Friend believe that we should vote on the Second Reading so that we can decide whether we accept his opinion or that of other hon. Members?
§ Mr. Townend
I understand that whatever I do today, if there is sufficient support for the Bill, it will go into Standing Committee. That is not a matter for me. It is for the promoter of the Bill to see whether he has enough 625 supporters. I do not think that the National Farmers Union has covered itself with glory. There has been a sparsity of hon. Members from agricultural constituencies. Many hon. Members had not even been approached by the NFU.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He has dealt with interventions with courtesy. Does he agree that if, say, 88 hon. Members wanted the Bill to be voted on and he was the only person, with two hon. Friends, who did not, it would not come to a vote and that the publicity for weeks afterwards would be such that consumers of bacon and pork would believe that it was not right to eat British bacon and that farmers would lose because of that?
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 118, Noes 0.626
|Division No. 47]||[2.20 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)|
|Amess, David||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Anderson, Donald||Burt, Alistair|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Carrington, Matthew|
|Atkinson, David||Cartwright, John|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Cohen, Harry|
|Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)||Cook, Robin (Livingston)|
|Battle, John||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Beith, A. J.||Crowther, Stan|
|Bellotti, David||Cryer, Bob|
|Bendall, Vivian||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Benton, Joseph||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dobson, Frank|
|Boateng, Paul||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Body, Sir Richard||Dykes, Hugh|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Fearn, Ronald|
|Bowis, John||Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Flynn, Paul|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Forman, Nigel|
|Foster, Derek||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Fraser, John||Mullin, Chris|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Glyn, Dr Sir Alan||Norris, Steve|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Gregory, Conal||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Ground, Patrick||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Hardy, Peter||Richardson, Jo|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Haynes, Frank||Shelton, Sir William|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hill, James||Short, Clare|
|Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)||Sillars, Jim|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Skinner, Dennis|
|Howells, Geraint||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Soley, Clive|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Knox, David||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Livingstone, Ken||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Livsey, Richard||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Thorne, Neil|
|McCartney, Ian||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|McCrindle, Sir Robert||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Waller, Gary|
|McWilliam, John||Ward, John|
|Madden, Max||Wheeler, Sir John|
|Marek, Dr John||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Martlew, Eric||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Moate, Roger||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Mr. Alan Meale and|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Mr. Peter Bottomley.|
|Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mr. John Townend and|
|Mr. William Hague.|
§ Question agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).