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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Ann Winterton
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Chaytor, Mr. David (Bury, North) (Lab)
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Field, Mr. Mark (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
Fraser, Mr. Christopher (South-West Norfolk) (Con)
Griffith, Nia (Llanelli) (Lab)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
McCafferty, Chris (Calder Valley) (Lab)
McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
Mallaber, Judy (Amber Valley) (Lab)
Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
Shaw, Jonathan (Minister for the South East)
Smith, Mr. Andrew (Oxford, East) (Lab)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Mr. Roger (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD)
John Benger, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 11 July 2007

[Ann Winterton in the Chair]

Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Lady Winterton, at my first Committee in this role, and I look forward to doing so for many more.
The regulations will replace the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2000, as amended, and will be made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The 2006 Act, which came into force in April, represents the most important achievement in animal welfare legislation for more than a century. It consolidates and modernises the range of animal welfare legislation relating to farmed and non-farmed animals. As part of that rationalisation, part 1 of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, under which existing farm animal welfare legislation has been made, will be repealed, as relevant provisions have been incorporated into the 2006 Act. To preserve the requirements of existing secondary farm animal welfare legislation, the Government have introduced replacement regulations under the new Act.
For many years, farm animals have been protected by the duty of care. The 2006 Act introduced a duty of care for owners of all vertebrate animals including, for the first time, pet animals. Previously, people had a duty to ensure that their animals did not suffer. Now, animal owners must also do all that is reasonable to ensure the welfare of animals with respect, for example, to diet, housing and the ability to express normal behaviour.
In addition, the 2006 Act gives enforcement bodies the power to issue improvement notices to the owners of pet animals, a tool used for many years to help to improve the welfare of farmed animals. Improvement notices will help to explain clearly the steps needed to rectify welfare problems and will set a definite time limit for doing so.
The 2006 Act has an important role in that it allows for secondary legislation to be made under it—specific laws that will help protect animals, in addition to the Act’s protective framework. One such piece of legislation is the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations 2007. The mutilation of animals is banned under the Act, and the regulations set out the limited circumstances and conditions under which it is permitted. The draft replacement regulations before the Committee are also secondary legislation made under the Act.
The new regulations will remove any previous duplication between the 2006 Act and the 2000 regulations. For example, the duty of care provision and powers of entry are not included in the new regulations, as they are now provided for in the Act. Likewise, the power to issue improvement notices is now contained in the Act, so a similar provision is no longer required in new regulations. Good practice has been covered in farm animal welfare legislation for years. It will also now apply to all animals kept by man.
I hope that the Committee will agree that the draft regulations are a significant step forward in the Government’s commitment to animal welfare. They will play an important role in raising animal welfare standards on farms. The Government have taken a lead in implementing improvements at home, and have been at the forefront of pushing progress at European Union and international level.
We took the lead in encouraging Europe to follow the UK in implementing a ban on the use of veal crates, which have been banned in the UK since 1990 under measures introduced by the previous Conservative Government. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] A ban on the use of veal crates throughout the European Union came into force at the end of 2006. The UK banned close-confinement sow stalls in 1999, and the EU pig directive, adopted in 2001, contained several key provisions to improve the welfare of pigs, such as minimum space allowances for sows and gilts, access to environmental enrichment for all pigs, and a ban on the use of sow stalls across the EU by 2013.
In 1999, directive 99/74/EC was adopted to protect the welfare of laying hens. It bans the barren battery cage from 2012, and introduces minimum standards for non-caged systems such as barn and free range, as well as enriched cage systems. In May, the UK was at the forefront of agreeing new rules to improve the welfare of meat chickens across Europe.
We must avoid a situation in which welfare standards continue to rise in this country while remaining the same elsewhere. That can put our producers at a serious competitive disadvantage in the global economy and in some cases put them out of business. That is why the Government work hard to put ourselves and our values in the middle of the European and international arena by leading by example and encouraging others to do much more on animal welfare.
We want international acceptance of animal welfare standards that underpin global trade and minimise competitive disadvantages to EU and UK producers. We also want to provide a fair deal for all those British farmers who try to deliver high standards and who offer consumers the healthy, sustainable and responsibly produced foods that they want. We know that that will not happen overnight on the international stage, but the UK is leading from the front—for example, we pushed hard to support the World Organisation for Animal Health in its efforts to set tougher welfare standards across the world.
The UK has a higher standard of animal welfare today than at any other time in its history and is among those with the highest standards anywhere in the world. The regulations are an important part of maintaining those standards, and I commend them to the Committee.
2.38 pm
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Lady Winterton.
I begin by welcoming the Minister to his new role. He has a tough act to follow, but I am sure he will do a grand job, and I look forward to working with him, when appropriate, to improve the standard of animal welfare in the United Kingdom. We welcome measures to improve animal welfare and recognise the need to make these regulations on the welfare codes for on-farm animals under provisions in the 2006 Act.
The Minister mentioned the 2006 Act’s recognition of the improvement notices clause, which applies to all persons who care for animals. It is not clear in the proposal how those will work. It is something that I pressed for very hard in Committee and on Report when we discussed the Act, and I am keen to hear how the Minister thinks they will work. Will someone who breaches an improvement notice be automatically prosecuted under the welfare offence?
There are some significant regulatory burdens in the proposal. We are disappointed that the opportunity in the regulations to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers and to improve animal welfare has to some extent been missed. The regulatory impact assessment and the letter from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consultees recommended the removal of regulation 10—the familiarity requirement—from the 2000 regulations, which would save £7.9 million per year and fit with the Government’s better regulation policies. However, at the last minute, the Government appear to have lost their nerve and kept those costly requirements in the new draft as regulation 6. It would help if the Minister could clarify that. If a farmer or his worker were unable to gain entry to the farm office where the code was filed, or if the filing cabinet were locked, as it says in section 6, that person would be in contravention of regulation 7 and would have committed an offence, making them liable for a 51-week stretch in prison or a £2,500 fine. Is that right? Have I fully understood the need for codes to be put all around the farm, or will the Minister give an assurance that prosecutions will not take place?
Why have the Government changed their mind and made a policy U-turn, especially considering that they are supposed to be reducing the burdens on business? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a target for reducing administrative burdens on business of 25 per cent. by 2009. Although the figure is disputed by their own estimates, DEFRA has perhaps wasted an opportunity to reduce a £7.9 million burden. There are provisions in the 2006 Act to prosecute farmers for not delivering the desired welfare incomes, regardless of whether a farmer is able on the request of an inspector to prove that they have access to a code. Farmers who are listening to the debate may need reassurance that there is no trade-off between higher animal welfare standards, which we all want to see, and an increase in pressure on both farmers and inspectors.
The Minister has the power to clarify when such a regulation might be necessary and when it would be draconian. I hope that he will grasp this opportunity to get his view on the record. Will the inclusion of the familiarity clause set a precedent, and are we likely to see a future requirement on those who own domestic pets to be not only acquainted with the relevant codes but to have access to them while handling their animals?
On the punishment for breaching the regulations, the duty of care requirements in the 2006 Act allow trusting people to look after animals in their care, and if they fail to do so they are dealt with through the warning process. If necessary, they will then go through the courts. Why do the Government feel that it is necessary to threaten them with a 51-week jail sentence and a fine of up to £2,500 for not being acquainted with the welfare code or for being unable to access it on request? Before the Minister thinks that I am going in any way soft on punishments for cruelty, I am sure that it is on record that I have always argued for strong punishments. That is why I find the fine so inconsistent. The 2006 Act permits a maximum fine of level 5, which is £5,000. Why was it decided that the maximum fine should be £2,500, which is level 4, for these regulations, and not £5,000?
There are two types of failure: ignorance and wilful cruelty. If a farmer is not providing for the welfare of his animals because of ignorance, he should be warned, and if he ignores the warning, he should be prosecuted under the 2006 Act. The public can be reassured that our farmers maintain the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and that it is in their interests to buy British to support those standards rather than export poor welfare through cheap imports. However, I am not so sure that a farmer should be prosecuted simply on the basis that they or their family have not got immediate or full access to the welfare code. There are more than 80,000 livestock and mixed farms in England, and only around 50 improvement notices arising from regulation 11 of the 2000 regulations are issued each year. Does that not demonstrate already the very high standards of animal welfare in England’s livestock industry? How many convictions have been made for welfare code offences and for farmers not being acquainted with, or having access to, the codes?
There was no mention of the Government’s intention to maintain those strict measures during the passage of the 2006 Act, and the then Minister, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), went as far as to say:
“A breach of the code of conduct will not necessarily mean a prosecution, but a court would be able to use it as evidence for a prosecution of a welfare or cruelty offence.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 180.]
A farmer or anyone in possession of an animal could breach a welfare code but not be prosecuted because it may not have affected the overall welfare outcome. However, a farmer who does not have a copy of his code with him while attending to his animals could face such criminal sanctions.
Many farmers are already in self-regulating assurance schemes where they must meet certain prescribed animal welfare standards. If a farmer is meeting the standards laid out in an assurance scheme such as the red tractor or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ freedom foods, will he still need to be able to demonstrate to an inspector that he is acquainted with the necessary welfare code from DEFRA? Will all the codes issued under section 3 of the 1968 Act be replaced with new ones under section 14 of the 2006 Act? Do any need to be updated and when will revisions of all the codes be completed?
Guidance notes are supposed to follow on from these regulations and be ready by 1 October, which is the commencement date. Will the Minister assure us that the guidance notes will be ready in time? These regulations and the 2006 Act provide an opportunity to update the existing laws and codes. Is the Minister aware of any of the current welfare codes in circulation now being outdated as a consequence of the passage of the Act?
The five freedoms in the existing welfare codes for livestock vary slightly from the five key needs in the 2006 Act. Will that necessitate further changes in the welfare codes so that they focus on the key needs outlined in section 9 of that Act rather than the five freedoms, or is the Minister confident that the welfare needs of farmed animals are already sufficiently covered?
The draft regulations transpose four substantial European directives and the 1968 Act. When was the last time that the relevant directives were scientifically examined or reviewed for their adequacy? Will the Minister explain why there are schedules in the regulations for cattle, pigs and hens but not for sheep, goats and farmed deer? Will the existing welfare codes for those animals fall within section 14 of the 2006 Act, or will they become void when section 2 of the 1986 Act is repealed on 1 October 2007?
Regulation 8(2) of the new regulations enables the Secretary of State to direct that he undertakes a prosecution instead of a local authority. That measure was not in the 2000 regulations. Why have the Government decided to give themselves that power and under what circumstances does the Minister envisage that it will be used?
These new regulations reaffirm Animal Health as the main enforcement body for the regulations. It will also now have new responsibilities for enforcing the animal welfare standards of animals farmed on common land, as the Minister said. Given that Animal Health’s predecessor organisation, the State Veterinary Service, had its budget slashed by £3 million last year, which is 3 per cent., does the Minister believe that his Department is giving Animal Health sufficient resources to carry out its new responsibilities? Moreover, given the nature of common land farming, will the Minister commit to undertake a review of the workability of these regulations for common land farming within the next couple of years?
A period of only eight weeks was available for consultation on the regulations. According to the explanatory memorandum that was because of the short time between the 2006 Act coming into force—April 2007—and the next available opportunity to present the proposed regulations to Parliament. However, as the Act received Royal Assent last autumn, why did DEFRA not seek to consult at an earlier opportunity? Can the Minister also advise us on how the regulations, which are specific to England, will apply to farms that straddle the English and Welsh borders and the very few that straddle the English and Scottish borders? There are three that straddle the Scottish border and nearly 300 on the English-Welsh border.
Will the Minister ensure that the regulations will be enforced with a degree of common sense rather than just to the letter of the law. For example, paragraph 17 of schedule 1 states that animals not kept in buildings
“must, at all times, have access to a well-drained lying area.”
However, as the Minister will be aware, with the current weather conditions farmers may not be able to meet that requirement through factors beyond their control. Has he therefore considered changing the drafting of the regulations to include wording about farmers taking reasonable steps to ensure that the standards can be met?
Referring to schedule 6, how long should the maximum time be for a calf to be confined in an individual pen when receiving treatment? Does the Minister think that perhaps it might be more appropriate to state that no calf may be confined permanently, rather than use the current wording which implies that a non-permanent pen confinement may not be illegal. There may also be occasions when a farmer needs to isolate a calf before a vet can provide a certificate.
With regard to schedule 2 and the conditions for keeping laying hens in non-cage conditions, will the Minister give greater clarity about what is meant by “several”, in reference to the number of popholes needed to give direct access to an outer area? The regulation states that there must be a pophole of at least 2 m per group of 1,000 birds. Do the regulations apply to all hen houses? Many small ones are usually sold with just one pophole and it is possible to have a door open, too, rather than a pophole. Does that mean another 51 weeks doing bird?
The regulations also reassert the obligations on vets, placed under previous regulations, to certify certain activities, such as the confinement of a calf over eight weeks. What consideration has the Minister given to reducing the burden on vets and farmers to require certifications from vets, especially at a time when there are serious concerns about the number of large animal and farm vets?
2.51 pm
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is a great pleasure to serve under your knowledgeable chairmanship, Lady Winterton.
I, too, welcome the introduction of the regulations. Not enough can be done to ensure that the high standards of animal welfare on farms across England benefit English farmers. Although the Minister said that DEFRA is at the heart of, and provides leadership in, improving animal welfare in the EU and across the world, this country still suffers, because we have added costs associated with improvements in animal welfare, whereas a number of people who export to this country—a number of our imports—come from countries that do not share our standards of animal welfare. We have lost 40 per cent. of our pig production to such countries.
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Prepared 12 July 2007