asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present number of laying hens kept in battery cages in the United Kingdom.
Precise figures are not available. The 1981 June census indicated that the United Kingdom laying flock totalled 44·5 million birds. It is estimated that 95 per cent. of these are kept in battery cages.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the deep concern that is felt by many people about the treatment of animals that are kept in battery conditions? When will the Government introduce new legislation, or is this yet another example of Britain having to follow the rules that are laid down for this country by the EEC?
In many ways this country has led the EEC in matters of animal and poultry welfare. The Council of Agriculture Ministers has already agreed a large part of the draft directive. However, it must await the opinion of the European Parliament before reaching a final decision on stocking densities and implementation dates.
Does my hon. Friend mean the European Assembly?
I mean the European Parliament.
Has the Ministry any information about the number of birds that are kept in cages with four or fewer birds per battery, and the number where there are seven birds per battery? Is it possible to compare the incidence of stress in those cases and the improved yield that is available where fewer birds are kept?
A great deal of research is currently being carried out on the effect on birds that are kept in battery cages, both in other European countries and here. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have proposed the two-tier approach in Europe—450 sq cm per bird at the first stage, and 600 sq cm per bird at the second stage.