To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what reports he is expecting from the Farm Animal Welfare Council.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council has just started studies of the welfare of broiler chickens and of animals kept in extensive husbandry systems. I look forward to receiving the council's advice when this work has been completed.
The Minister will be aware that the main recommendation of the February 1990 report from the council was that recommendations in earlier reports, which are still outstanding, should be implemented. He has not implemented those recommendations. Will he ignore the February 1990 report like he ignored all the others? Will he continue to allow animals to be subjected to misery?
The hon. Gentleman's remarks are unfair and wrong. We received two reports in February which we are currently consulting on and studying. We have accepted the overwhelming majority of FAWC recommendations and many of them have already been put into legislative effect. I hope to lay before the House shortly detailed regulations on the slaughter of red meat animals and later this year regulations on the welfare of horses at markets. The hon. Gentleman must be careful before he makes erroneous comments to the effect that we have ignored FAWC reports.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the acceptance of many FAWC recommendations has helped to ensure that this country has one of the best records on farm animal welfare in the European Community? In future changes in the welfare codes, will my hon. Friend try to ensure that those practices are extended, not just in this country, but throughout the European Community so that we do not export unacceptable husbandry practices?
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. When we consider welfare in this country and the excellent FAWC reports, we accept that it is becoming increasingly important to extend those provisions to other EC countries. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister took a welfare initiative in the EC. We sent EC Commissioners a host of recommendations on animal welfare that we would like to be extended across the Community. If we like animals and believe in their welfare, it is not good enough simply to improve their lot in Britain and these islands; the morality must extend overseas, too.
Will the Minister confirm that FAWC has the right to inspect and to report on puppy farms which, in certain instances, have been the cause of considerable abuse? What is the Government's latest thinking on that matter and what do they intend to do to tighten controls in that area?
The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about welfare on puppy farms. This is a matter for the Home Office, and I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is currently considering what action can be taken. I shall certainly pass on to him the hon. Gentleman's concerns.
Further to the previous question, will my hon. Friend take this issue seriously? There have been strong reports about puppy farming in west Wales and we have seen horrific photographs of emaciated dogs being cruelly treated. The matter causes great concern to my constituents and we need Government action immediately.
Those of us who like animals, and especially those of us who love dogs, agree with my hon. Friend that action is required. That is why my hon. Friend at the Home Office is considering what action can be taken. Having heard the views expressed in the House today, I shall be pleased to confirm to my hon. Friend that the House wants action on this matter.
May I remind the Minister that the February report on enforcement specifically recommended that the number of vets in the state veterinary service should be increased to allow them to discharge properly their responsibilities on animal welfare? Given that during the past 10 years the Government have reduced the number of vets in the state veterinary service by 25 per cent., yet, despite that, the Government still apparently have a commitment to animal welfare, will the Minister now undertake to accept that specific and direct recommendation in the FAWC enforcement report and ensure that the number of vets in the state veterinary service is increased?
I have made it clear that, having just received those reports, we are currently considering all the recommendations and are consulting widely on them. The hon. Gentleman should not be obsessed merely with the numbers employed in the state veterinary service. He should be more concerned about how effectively and efficiently it is carrying out its work. I am delighted to be able to tell him that its efficiency and effectiveness has improved considerably. I am proud of the excellent job that it does in all aspects of animal welfare and in enforcing the regulations.