Draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007

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Bill Wiggin: As I said earlier, I support proper punishment for genuine cruelty. Obviously, we cannot amend a statutory instrument. However, it is odd that although a fine could go to level 5 for cruelty, that is not included. Why was that not incorporated during the drafting process? I should be grateful if the Minister looked into that, if necessary, and if he could write to me that would be great.
Jonathan Shaw: I confirm that we could use level 5 under the 2006 Act. I think I got my words round the wrong way. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is so.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, both mentioned the review of common land. Our maps of common land date back to the 1960s. We look forward to the implementation of the Commons Act 2006, so we can have proper detailed information on the common land in our country. I assure the Committee that there will be a review in two years. My noble friend Lord Rooker gave that undertaking in the House of Lords yesterday evening.
Mr. Williams: When we considered the then Commons Bill, we were not aware that there would be an extension of the duty to people who keep animals on commons, allowing them to be dealt with under the same regulation. That places a duty on people who keep animals that become ill to keep them isolated or in a situation where they can be treated. Obviously, that is not easy on a common. There is a presumption in the 2006 Act that buildings should not be put on commons. There seems to be a bit of a problem there. Will the Minister, in considering any regulation advanced under that Act, take that into account?
Jonathan Shaw: We will certainly take that into account. We cannot regard animals that are grazed on common land as second class or consider their welfare differently from those grazed on normal pastures. I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts that, but he raises an important issue. I will consider that matter and write to him and other Committee members.
On the European directive and the review of the scientific evidence, we were reviewed by the European Commission according to advice from the animal welfare committee of the European Food Safety Authority. A timetable for the review was set by the Commission.
The hon. Member for Leominster asked, “Why only cattle, hens and pigs?” Schedule 1 covers animals, such as goats, for which there is no specific European welfare directive.
Does the rule on popholes in schedule 2 apply to all henhouses? Schedule 2 only applies to laying hens in establishments with 350 or more laying hens. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said that a flock of 350 hens is protected by a duty of care under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The obligation is to avoid causing suffering. So far as schedule 1 applies, everyone has the duty of care.
Bill Wiggin: We talked about laying hens. I have heard rumour—nothing more than that—that in Europe there may be a desire to delay the implementation of the cage ban in 2012. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will do all he can to ensure that it takes place in 2012? Will he also confirm that the relevant provisions will apply to city farms and that type of establishment as well as to ordinary rural farms?
Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful for that question. We will certainly do everything to ensure that the 2012 target is adhered to. We do not want any rowing back on improvements to animal welfare. It is reasonable that farmers tell us about the level playing field, which is critical. We will continue in that vein.
Mr. Williams: I am pleased that the Minister said that WTO negotiations could or should be carried out at a European level, because that would add more weight to the representations made. However, that does not apply just to animal welfare issues. Those points should also be made on environmental and human rights issues in respect of employment in agriculture. I should be grateful if the Minister spoke to me about that on another occasion.
Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Member for Leominster asked whether other European countries will row back on the 2012 ban in respect of chickens. We have to forge our alliance with other member states in Europe so we can have a powerful voice at the WTO. I have taken that point on board. It is right to raise that issue. I would love to announce that all the other European states will agree with us, and sign up and take that matter to the WTO. Trade, employment and animal welfare issues are essential, but so is reform of the common agricultural policy, not just for animal welfare reasons but for developing countries to develop their markets so that there is a more level playing field. That means a level playing field not just for animal welfare, but for farmers in this country, the rest of Europe and the developing world as well.
Hon. Members mentioned protection from predators. Methods depend on the deterrents, such as electric fences and providing shelter from birds. Some predators, such as crows, will be shot. I hope that the crows have heard that warning.
Bill Wiggin: What about badgers?
Jonathan Shaw: We are keeping that matter under careful review in light of the evidence that has been presented by scientists, as the hon. Gentleman is fully aware.
Farm inspections are important. They need to be undertaken with a light touch for those farms that practise good husbandry. Good farmers have nothing to fear from inspection. Indeed, I hope that inspections are a positive process and that they confirm good farming. The hon. Gentleman winces, having been through the process, which I clearly have not. To take a parallel case, head teachers fear Ofsted inspections—perhaps that is a result of the climate created some years ago—but they are generally pleased once they have been carried out. I hope that it is the same for farmers.
Mr. Williams: In a previous life I was a schools inspector, so I know a little about the apprehension that inspections create. As a farmer, I know that however confident one is in one’s systems, there will always be a little apprehension. The problem is not so much one-off inspections. A number of farmers have complained about a series of inspections that take place over a number of months, but which could be done together in one big inspection. The fear and apprehension would have been contained to one or a couple of days rather than being spread over a longer period. We need to have such co-ordination if the Minister is to achieve the light touch that he wants.
Bill Wiggin rose—
Jonathan Shaw: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Bill Wiggin: The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is absolutely right about inspections. It is another aspect to consider. I have been inspected four times in the past two years, but I have only a handful of cattle and sheep. Inspectors are unable to cover everything, so a vet inspects the health of livestock, someone from the Rural Payments Agency makes sure that the movement book is correct, and someone else may come to check ear tags. There are so many different types of inspection that simply being good at animal welfare or farming does not produce the feeling that the Minister described. I urge him to do everything that he can to streamline the inspection process to ensure that we have success in animal welfare without the persistent inspections that farmers have to put up with at the moment.
Jonathan Shaw rose—
The Chairman: Order. It would be helpful if interventions were much briefer. I have been very tolerant, but I am running out of patience just a little.
Jonathan Shaw: You are, of course, ever tolerant, Lady Winterton, but we know that if we take things too far, you will carry out your own inspection of our comments and give them an E. Where was I?
Bill Wiggin: Your were being inspected.
Jonathan Shaw: Yes, thank you.
The hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire and for Leominster made reasonable points. I am reminded of, I think, a Heineken advert in which all the utility companies put their pipes in a hole in the ground at the same time. We often have to wait at traffic lights while the gas people come along and dig up the road, and a few weeks later we have to wait while the electricity people do the same. It is for agencies to use their best endeavours to join up their actions because that reduces the time taken up and the anxiety caused. The picture painted for the Committee by the hon. Member for Leominster was helpful. He is a practising farmer—
Bill Wiggin: A smallholder.
Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman is a modest man, and I am sure that inspections showed his holding to be exemplary. He has been in his post for a considerable period and he has brought to it experience of the different types of inspections, not only those concerning animal welfare, and I appreciate his comments.
There will be matters outstanding from the issues that have been raised, and I undertake to write to members of the Committee to deal with those points in detail. We can take from the Committee the pleasure of knowing that there is consensus on animal welfare. We recognise that there are pressures on farmers and that we should seek to ensure that there are level playing fields, but we are proud to lead the way on animal welfare. We can be proud also of the consensus, which the British people will support along with the regulations.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at twenty-nine minutes to Four o’clock.
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Prepared 12 July 2007