Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007

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Jonathan Shaw: I have heard that about imports, but does the hon. Gentleman have any specific examples, particularly in the EU? If he has, we would want to take them up.
Mr. Williams: Certainly, the examples would relate to pigs. The introduction of improved animal welfare has been delayed in Europe, whereas it has been implemented almost immediately in this country. As a result of that, 70 per cent. of pigmeat imports into this country come from animals that have been kept in welfare conditions that are significantly worse than those on English and other UK farms. A recent visit to Brazil by a group of Irish farmers identified practices that would not be allowed in this country on farms that were certainly exporting beef from Brazil to be imported into this country.
The way to exert pressure to encourage good animal welfare right across the world is to introduce animal welfare conditions into World Trade Organisation negotiations. That would really put pressure on those countries that wish to export to this country to up their game and lead to huge improvements in animal welfare across the world.
The Minister and the hon. Member for Leominster mentioned that the regulations would extend the duty to people who keep livestock on common land. That is welcomed as well. However, I hope that in drawing up the codes and regulations the Minister will take into account the difficulty of achieving the same level there as in respect of animals that are kept either in housed conditions or on enclosed land. Often, tracts of common land can extend for 30 miles or more in both directions and thousands of animals, with a number of different owners, can be on those commons. In the days when daily shepherding took place, there was close contact between the people responsible and their animals. Unfortunately, however, due to the economics of farming, daily shepherding cannot be carried out now in the way that it was in previous times.
The Minister should say what kind of temporary structures would be allowed on commons to house animals in need of veterinary treatment. Also, in relation to the Commons Act 2006, will the Minister consider what temporary structures or even permanent fencing could be allowed on commons to improve the management of livestock? That issue was taken up during the 2006 Act, but the changes that are now in place and the duty on farmers to abide by these regulations brings that into much closer focus.
There is also a duty in the regulations to protect animals from predators. Will the Minister say what actions farmers should take to protect their animals—lambs and other such livestock—from predators? What action could farmers take and what excuse could they give if they were caught carrying out certain actions?
The hon. Member for Leominster has talked about improvement notices, and they have worked in some instances. I believe that almost all farmers wish to look after their animals. Intentional cruelty is very rare indeed. I do not think that anyone makes any money out of abusing or committing cruelty to animals. However, from time to time, some people will neglect their animals and not look after them properly, often through circumstances beyond their control. In many ways, I think that they need support through improvement notices rather than prosecution.
I urge the Minister to ensure that, if anyone looks after their animals inadequately, any notice that says that they should not keep animals in the future is implemented far more rigorously than in the past. There have been a number of occasions on which people have been ordered by the courts not to keep animals. For some reason, that order has not been implemented or, over the years, it has been forgotten about. The person has kept animals again and gone on to neglect them. That is not acceptable.
The hon. Member for Leominster has gone into great detail about the familiarity clause. I, too, ask the Minister to comment on that. I also press the Minister about farm inspections, which cause a huge burden for farmers and should be better co-ordinated. The Minister should work with DEFRA, Animal Health—the overarching body that looks after the state veterinary service—the Environment Agency and all those other agencies that have the power to inspect farms. They should co-ordinate inspections, plan their programmes in advance and ensure that the burden of inspection is kept as light as possible and proportionate to the risk that the farming business might present. I am not against inspections taking place on an ad hoc or reactionary basis. However, if they are done as a matter of sequence, they should be co-ordinated to reduce the pressure on farmers.
In general, we welcome the regulations. Nothing will do British agriculture more good than the acknowledgement that farmers look after the animals well and that our customers can be assured that food is produced in this country under the very best animal welfare conditions.
2.59 pm
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to appear before you, Lady Winterton.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his well-deserved promotion and the Government on the regulations. I agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire about the desirability of including animal welfare in World Trade Organisation negotiations. Perhaps a logical follow on to that would be to look at using labels that include the geographic origin of farm produce, as well as the conditions under which it was produced.
My hon. Friend the Minister will be surprised that I have one or two technical questions to ask him. In regulation 5(1)(b), the protection for poultry will not apply if someone is keeping fewer than 350 hens. Someone could deliberately or inadvertently do a lot of damage to 349 hens, which would not have specific protection under the regulations other than general protection, in contradistinction to the protection provided under schedules 2, 3, 4 and 5.
I am an urban MP and I do not have a great deal of farming knowledge, particularly about poultry farming. However, it seems surprising that, under schedule 2(2)(c), which deals with nests for laying hens in non-cage systems, there must be
“at least 1 m2 of nest space for a maximum of 120 hens”.
That is a large number of hens for only 1 sq m of space.
Will the Minister explain the second comparative figure? It may be due to the historic changeover from conventional cages to so-called enriched cages, but under paragraph 2 of schedule 3 on conventional cages,
“Cage systems must have at least 550 cm2 per hen of cage area, measured in a horizontal plane”.
The corresponding figures that cover enriched cages are in paragraph (2)(a) of schedule 4, under which laying hens must have
“at least 750 cm2 of cage area per hen, 600 cm2 of which must be useable”.
There is quite a difference between 550 sq cm, which seems far too small for conventional cages, and 750 sq cm for enriched cages.
Perhaps I could trespass a little further on the Minister’s kindness and ask him to explain the difference drawn in paragraph 2(a) of schedule 4 between the
“750 cm2 of cage area per hen, 600 cm2> of which must be usable”.
I am not entirely sure where the other 150 sq cm have gone, but it may be to do with the way in which the calculations are done.
On a general point, I hope that my hon. Friend will clarify why schedule 3 refers to conventional cages and why schedule 4 covers so-called enriched cages, because even the figures for enriched cages seem hardly sufficient to look after the welfare of poultry kept in flocks of more than 350.
3.4 pm
Jonathan Shaw: I thank hon. Members for their kind words. I will do my best to answer the questions they have asked, and if I miss anything I will reply to them in writing.
The first question I was asked was whether the codes would be replaced by new ones. A second commencement order will be made in October to repeal part I of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968 and to save the codes passed under it.
On access to the codes, it is important that we concentrate on stock-keepers’ skills. The codes perform several important functions for the owners and keepers of farmed animals. They provide good husbandry advice to stock-keepers, taking into account practical experience and the results of scientific research. They give detailed guidance to the regulation—in that regard, the Government have received positive comments from inspectors and the European Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office. They are used by farm owners and managers as a training guide for stock-keepers, and they implement Council of Europe recommendations on specific species.
Bill Wiggin: I am sorry to press the Minister, but paragraph 6 of the regulations says:
“A person responsible for a farmed animal...must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person employed or engaged by him does not attend to the animal unless that other person...has access to the code while attending to the animal.”
The codes—I have one here—are very good to read, but as for having access to one “while attending an animal”, nobody who has tried to catch a cow would want to be holding one in their hand at the time. [Laughter.] I have raised an element of levity, but my point is absolutely right. If someone does not have a code with them, they will be committing an offence according to the draft regulations. I hope that the Minister will allay my fears that that is the case.
Jonathan Shaw: Law is based on what is reasonable. Would it be reasonable for everyone who works on a farm to have the code available as the hon. Gentleman described? No, it would not. The provision is about having access to a copy, whether in an office or the farm setting. As for whether the code is available to download on a farmhand’s BlackBerry while they are catching a cow, we will have to see. It is about what is reasonable and practicable. I hope that that reassures him.
Bill Wiggin: It goes some way. Will the Minister make it clear? I am the proud possessor of seven Hereford cattle—three bulls are for sale, if anybody is listening. [Interruption.] The price depends on how big the bull is. If an inspector were to turn up, look at my BlackBerry and not find the right page, would the next step be a warning notice, or would he have to proceed straight to prosecution according to the letter of the regulations?
Jonathan Shaw: I repeat, it is about what is reasonable. If an inspector turns up and witnesses cruelty, he will obviously go through the process. If he says to that person, “You are treating that animal cruelly. Show me the code,” the person is not likely to take the code out of his back pocket, but if the inspector returns to the farm, asks for the code and is told, “The dog ate it, we haven’t got it,” we would start to build a case. The requirement for the code to be readily available does not mean that it must be on the person, but that it must be within the farm building.
Good farmers would have the literature; they have nothing to fear from the codes. They are a guide and set out what farmers do 99 per cent. of the time anyway. If we all believe in good animal welfare, as I am sure we do, we need the means to prosecute, as the hon. Gentleman said. Having the codes in the farm building is entirely reasonable. However, the person who is prosecuted will probably be the person who does not have the codes, and there will be other issues as well. It is often not one thing, but a host of things that leads to a prosecution.
Bill Wiggin: I flicked open the code of conduct. I say, for the benefit of the Committee, that it states:
“Anyone who clips cattle should be experienced, competent and trained in clipping techniques.”
If people are being taught to clip cattle, they are none of those things but, of course, as common sense dictates, they have to learn. By definition, according to the code of conduct, if they did not have that experience and they were being taught to clip cattle, they could be prosecutable. That engenders fear. I am not talking about common sense or cruelty. That is a completely different issue, on which the Minister has my full support.
The key point is clarity. My argument is about the letter of the statutory instrument and the risk that it poses to an already burdened farmer, who probably does not want to see the inspector and would be quite hostile. Inspectors have the patience of Job in a lot of cases, because their visits are a burden and sometimes take place at the most inconvenient time. Therefore, I am worried, because the Minister has not said that people who do not have the code easily accessible will not be prosecuted, but they may well be warned. That is what I am waiting for.
Jonathan Shaw: I have an important point for the hon. Gentleman. A case will have to be made and presented, and it will be for the courts to determine. Clearly, if a case rests on whether the farmhand, farmer or person who has animals in their care does not have the code book in his or her back pocket, I do not think there will be a case to answer. A case is based upon what is reasonable. The codes have been welcomed and, as I said, several consultees pointed out that farmed animals are different from non-farmed animals.
As for the improvement notices that the hon. Members for Leominster and for Brecon and Radnorshire mentioned, animal health veterinary inspectors make assessments on the basis of the evidence that they can see when they inspect the animal. They then decide whether there is a need to issue an improvement notice. It is for the practitioners on the ground and the experts to decide. We often talk about letting the clinicians in hospitals get on with the job. On farms, we need to allow the inspectors to get on with their job.
On another point raised by the hon. Member for Leominster, individuals will not automatically go to court if the regulations are breached. The inspectors will apply a common-sense approach to enforcement. If an inspection of a farm with an exemplary record shows that something is missing, which can happen even among the best farmers and people who care for animals, a common-sense approach should be applied, not a stringent, unreasonable approach. That is what we envisage. We have come to that position in consultation with the appropriate people.
The hon. Gentleman asked why level 4, not level 5, fines should be imposed. Under the previous regulations the fines were set at level 4, so we are keeping them the same. However, if there is cruelty, we could use level 5 fines under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
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