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Animal Husbandry (Welfare Standards)

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2006

I should point out that, notwithstanding what is on the Order Paper, the full title of the debate is “Animal Husbandry (Welfare Standards)”.

Thank you for that clarification, Mr. Weir.

A high priority for me throughout my political life has been campaigning for higher standards in animal welfare—recently, as a member of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and before that through many ways in the community. I am therefore grateful to have secured this debate and delighted to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), is to respond. He has a truly superb track record on animal welfare matters, so it is good that he is here.

How we treat animals, how they are viewed by society, what legislation exists to protect them and how it is enforced must all underpin any claims we might have to being a civilised, compassionate and caring nation. The Government have a good track record, with such legislation as the Hunting Act 2004 and the groundbreaking Animal Welfare Bill, which is teetering on the brink of the statute book. I am also pleased that we have a wide range of powerful and persuasive animal welfare organisations in the United Kingdom, including Compassion in World Farming and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I pay tribute to both for their continuing work.

The RSPCA recently launched a new initiative—a gauge to track what is happening with animal welfare, which is not only crucial from the perspective of animal protection, but essential as regards feeding into Government policy and better informing decision makers and stakeholders. The gauge will point up where policy, industry practices, education and social attitudes need attention and reform. It is a new and potentially valuable concept that I welcome.

I referred to the Hunting Act, which devoured an enormous amount of time in this place. The use of animals in laboratory research understandably generates a good deal of attention, and not a little legislation. By comparison with those two issues, animal husbandry is less debated, and I regret that. For every fox that was killed by the hunters in red coats, at least 200 animals are killed by experimenters in white coats. For every rodent killed in a laboratory in the interests of our health, 200 hens are killed, often in inhumane conditions in broiler units, in the interests of our nutrition. We must get our priorities right, and I contend that we need to focus more on animal husbandry.

The large numbers of livestock bred annually in our land generate a great variety of welfare issues, which are linked to the rearing, handling, transporting and slaughtering of various species. It is indeed a challenge to ensure an acceptable quality of life for all farm animals, in which their physical and behavioural requirements are recognised by an appropriate environment, suitable management and proper health care. However, it is a challenge that we must take up. I will deal with my concerns in two prime areas—later in animal transportation, but first in the poultry industry.

It is encouraging that more than one third of hens in the UK are now kept in barn or free range systems: 31 per cent. of hens are kept free range, with 5.5 per cent. in barn systems. The majority of hens, however, continue to be kept in battery cages. Around 18 million hens are kept in battery cages in the UK, which amounts to about 63 per cent. of the UK’s flock of 30 million.

The battery cage system is inhumane. Hens are crammed into cages so tiny that they cannot even stretch their wings. Scientific research has established that hens have strong instincts to lay their eggs in a nest, peck and scratch in the ground, dust bathe and perch. None of those behaviours are possible in the battery cage. Moreover, the severe restriction of movement in the cage leads to high levels of osteoporosis and so to many battery hens suffering from broken bones.

The 1999 EU laying hens directive bans conventional battery cages for egg-laying hens from 2012, but that ban is now under threat, because the directive requires the cage ban to be reviewed before it comes into force. That review is currently taking place, and many EU egg producers want the ban to be dropped or, like our own British Egg Industry Council, postponed for many years. I urge the Minister to take the lead at the EU Agriculture Council in opposing any postponement of the ban. The ban on battery cages must come into force in 2012, no later.

Many farmers plan to switch to so-called enriched cages, as the ban on battery cages approaches and as the laying hens directive permits. Under the directive, hens kept in enriched cages are given just 50 sq cm more useable floor space than those kept in battery cages. Such cages provide perches, a nest box and a littered area, which are largely inadequate to meet hens’ behavioural needs. Enriched cages do not in any sense overcome the welfare problems inherent in the battery cage system. As animal welfare campaigners, we must urge consumers not to buy battery or enriched-cage eggs, but instead to buy barn or free-range eggs.

The supermarkets, food manufacturers and food service operators have their role to play too. It is important that the ban on battery cages is supported both by individual consumers and by those groups, to ensure that UK egg producers are not undermined by the import of battery eggs from outside the EU when the prohibition on battery cages comes into force in 2012.

It is well recorded that many UK consumers are willing to pay extra to buy non-cage eggs. Several major supermarkets report that a majority of their shell egg sales are barn or free-range eggs. Those supermarkets include Tesco, the Co-op, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. All supermarkets should adopt a policy of selling only non-cage shell eggs. Once that is in place, they should introduce a policy of using only non-cage eggs in their processed foods. Food manufacturers and food service operators should support the cage ban by committing themselves to not importing battery eggs or battery egg products from outside the EU once the ban comes into force.

The public sector has a big part to play, providing meals and food in hospitals, schools, prisons and staff canteens, and to the armed forces. It should be encouraged to source and provide only eggs and egg products that have been produced to EU welfare standards. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will promote a policy within government and other public bodies of supporting the ban on battery cages by committing themselves to not sourcing battery eggs and products from outside the EU, once the EU cage ban comes into force.

More than 800 million broiler chickens—chickens for meat—are reared each year in the UK. Nearly all are farmed industrially. They are kept in huge windowless sheds that are so overcrowded that as the birds grow bigger one can barely see the floor, so thickly is it carpeted with chickens. Up to 50,000 chickens may be crammed into one shed. The main welfare problems faced by today’s broilers stem from the fact that they have been pushed, mainly through selective breeding, to reach their slaughter weight in about 41 days, which is around twice as fast as 35 years ago. The legs fail to keep pace with the rapidly growing body and often buckle under the strain of supporting it. As a result, millions of broilers each year suffer from painful, sometimes crippling leg disorders. Some of the chickens have difficulty reaching the food and water points in the broiler sheds, and in the worst cases they can barely move at all. The heart and lungs, too, often cannot keep pace with the rapidly growing body, and millions of broilers succumb to heart failure each year.

Again, I urge the Minister to ensure that his Department addresses those problems by working with the breeding companies to encourage them to give a higher priority to leg health and strength in their selection programmes, and to stop selecting for even faster growth rates; to encourage broiler farmers to reduce growth rates and/or to change to slower-growing breeds; and finally, to adopt the target of emulating France, where one in six broilers are slow-growing breeds that do not reach slaughter weight until about 86 days of age, as opposed to the industry norm in this country of about 41 days. At present, very few UK broilers are slow-growing breeds.

I welcome the proposed, first ever EU directive on broiler welfare. It is currently being negotiated; perhaps the Minister is involved in that. At present, there is no species-specific EU legislation to protect broilers on farms, although they are covered by the directives on transport and slaughter. The broiler welfare directive could be settled next month, so it would be helpful if this debate sent a clear message to the Government about what campaigners and MPs, here and elsewhere, hope will be included in it.

I have one or two suggestions. Most broilers are kept in extremely overcrowded conditions, and scientific research shows that stocking density is an important factor in determining broiler welfare. Scientific papers show that higher stocking densities lead to poor litter quality, and so to an increasing incidence of foot pad dermatitis and deep dermatitis.

Owing to the reduction in activity, there is a greater incidence of leg disorders at higher stocking densities. In overcrowded conditions, chickens find it difficult to move around and they get less exercise, which means that they have less opportunity to develop leg strength. That is one of the factors that leads to the high level of leg problems among broilers. Another issue is poor air quality. Higher stocking density leads to a higher concentration of ammonia in the air, and that increases the risk of respiratory disease. I have identified two other issues: the increased level of heat stress during the later stages of life and increased mortality from about 24 days of age onwards.

The proposed EU directive lays down a maximum stocking density of 30 kg—about 15 chickens—per square metre, but allows a higher density of up to 38 kg—19 chickens—per square metre for producers that comply with certain additional requirements. Those figures are far too high and lead to severe overcrowding.

The UK is one of the member states that wants a maximum density to be set from the start of the directive. I am pleased about that; it may be down to the Minister’s influence. I urge him to continue to insist on the issue. We should not delay until an uncertain and distant date the setting of that important welfare determinant.

I turn to transportation. The continuing and recently expanding transport of live farm animals from this country for further fattening or slaughter abroad is pointless and shot through with risk to animal health and welfare. It is a basic principle that animals should be slaughtered as near to their place of rearing as possible. Although I accept that most livestock animals have to be moved at some time in their lives in their own interests, the frequency, length and complexity of such journeys should be kept to an absolute minimum, and there should be the optimum available standards of care en route.

I have listened to my hon. Friend with interest. Like him, I have spent many years campaigning against live animal exports. My time goes back to when I used to sail on cross-channel ferries that carried on that wretched trade. The introduction of the carriage of calves was a great disappointment to me.

We acknowledge that there have been improvements—marginal, I would say—in the carriage of live animals, but just this afternoon I have heard that two consignments of calves arriving at Dover docks have been inordinately delayed. One of the lorries has been there for more than 14 hours. It might have to wait another 10 hours before it leaves, and even after its trip across the sea it will continue on to places far beyond. I hope that I shall get the opportunity to talk to the Minister directly after this debate.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. From our conversations in Strasbourg and elsewhere, he will know that I agree with every word that he has just said.

Live export for fattening or slaughter fails on every count. It is unwarranted, as animals can readily be fattened and slaughtered at home and their meat exported. Live export frequently involves both land and sea travel, which are covered by legislation that is wholly inadequate to protect animals’ health and welfare. For instance, very little account is taken of such basic animal needs as space allowance, temperature and humidity. The unfamiliar experiences and conditions are highly stressful and facilitate the transmission of illnesses in transit.

In 1996, the BSE-related beef ban led to the end of live calf exports. Before that about 500,000 calves a year had been exported from the UK, mainly to veal crates in the Netherlands and France. Sadly, the lifting of the beef ban has resulted in the resumption of live calf exports to continental veal units, and thousands of calves have been exported since the trade started again in May. As the Minister will confirm, DEFRA figures show that 4,400 calves were exported in May and June. Figures for July and August seem not to have been published, or perhaps I have just not been able to get my hands on them.

Since the resumption of the trade in May, the destinations for UK calves have been Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy. They are shipped from Dover—my hon. Friend’s constituency—in chartered roll-on/roll-off ferries. I am strongly opposed to live calf exports because of the detrimental impact of long journeys on welfare and the very poor rearing systems in which calves are often kept on the continent.

Typically, calves are just 15 days old when they are exported from the UK. Scientific research shows that such young calves suffer greatly during long journeys.

Dr. Toby Knowles of Bristol university has concluded:

“Evidence from the literature suggests that young calves are not well adapted to cope with transport and marketing, often suffering relatively high rates of morbidity and mortality, both during, and in the few weeks immediately following transport”.

Veal crates become illegal EU-wide at the end of this year—if I had not said that, I am sure that the Minister would have. We all welcome that move. However, many veal crates have been replaced by extremely barren systems in which calves are kept on concrete or slatted floors without any straw or other bedding.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I wanted to intervene before he left this subject. How can it be right that, within a common market, Dutch farmers receive an extra £50 per head for those calves, when British farmers do not?

That is a pertinent and important question, which I shall transfer to the Minister as one that I would have put myself, had I been able to do all the necessary research.

The systems that will follow veal crates would be illegal in the UK, as our legislation requires calves to be provided with appropriate bedding and to be given more space and more fibrous food than is required by EU legislation. Surely it is morally wrong for UK calves to be sent for rearing abroad in systems that have been prohibited on welfare grounds in the UK.

Unfortunately, thousands upon thousands of calves are shot at birth. I suggest to the Minister, who is an influential figure, that they should neither be shot at birth nor exported for veal production. Instead, the dairy and beef sectors and DEFRA should work together to find welfare-friendly and economically viable uses in the UK for male dairy calves. They could include rearing calves for veal in the UK, where legislation requires higher welfare standards, and/or rearing them for beef. Much of the veal consumed in the UK is imported, so UK retailers and caterers should be pressed to use UK veal, which is produced to higher welfare standards than those that generally obtain on the continent.

In addition, as the UK is not yet self-sufficient in beef, it should be possible to expand the proportion of male dairy calves reared for beef. I recognise that they would not provide prime beef, but there is a large demand for second-quality beef, which is used for a range of processed foods.

In July, the CIWF and the RSPCA organised a multi-stakeholder forum entitled “Beyond Calf Exports: Forum for a Humane Dairy Industry”, which was attended by the Minister—as ever, he had his finger on the button. Senior industry figures were also at the forum, which examined ways of finding humane, economically viable uses in the UK for male dairy calves. As further stakeholder meetings are due to take place later this year, will the Minister indicate his assessment of progress so far?

Finally, I turn to live sheep exports. Although the volume of such exports for slaughter abroad has been much reduced in recent years, the trade still persists. In 2000, the year before the foot and mouth disaster, 750,000 sheep were exported for slaughter abroad. In 2004, that figure had sunk to 48,000; last year, exports stood at 37,000 sheep. Almost 7,000 sheep were exported in the first six months of 2006, although that figure is deceptive as sheep exports really begin only in late July, as lambs come to slaughter weight. DEFRA has not yet published figures for exports in July and August, but my impression is that sheep exports this year will end up even greater than in 2005. I would like to hear the Minister’s assessment of that situation.

Sheep export destinations this year include France, Germany and the Netherlands, and some sheep will also go to Italy and Portugal. Traditionally, UK sheep that are exported to the Netherlands are often re-exported within a day or two to Italy or Greece. Over the years, many investigations have documented the great suffering imposed on UK sheep by long journeys to abattoirs in southern Europe. As the hours and days wear on, the sheep become increasingly exhausted, dehydrated and stressed. Some are injured, and some collapse on to the floor of the truck where they risk being trampled by their companions. Sheep should not be exported to continental abattoirs. They should be slaughtered in the UK, and our exports should be in meat form. The sheep industry can and must bring live exports to an end.

In conclusion, I have dealt with only two topics in this enormous field, but I hope that the debate will be a useful contribution to improving animal welfare. Several sectors have an impact on, and some responsibility for, the welfare of farm animals. Clearly, the farming industry has the most obvious and significant effect, and the Government, through their enactments, regulations and enforcement, are charged with ensuring decent standards of care. However, the food industry must carry its share of accountability. Retailers, restaurants and caterers cannot turn a blind eye to animal cruelty carried out by proxy on their behalf.

In the final analysis, consumers have the greatest power of all: buying power. We can drive up standards. But to do that, we must be alerted to the key issues through awareness-raising initiatives, and we must be able to recognise higher welfare products such as the RSPCA’s freedom foods through open, honest and accurate labelling. The room for animal welfare complacency in this nation is even more restricted than the space for the thousands of animals squeezed together on cross-channel ferries or the millions of birds packed in appalling conditions in windowless sheds—all of that in our name.

I shall endeavour to be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on securing this important debate. Outside the House, I regard him as a personal friend, but parliamentary convention requires that I refer to him as “the hon. Gentleman”. He does the House a service by raising these issues.

I would like to pay tribute to another friend, the hon. Member for Dover (Gwyn Prosser), who has played a considerable part in contesting the export of live animals through the port. Many of those animals go through the county of Kent, part of which I also have the privilege to represent.

It is a sad fact that the trade in veal calves and meat on the hoof has been resumed. Several cross-channel ferry companies have honourably and properly decided, on a commercial basis, not to carry animals. The fact is that they carry the traction units, the animals are carried by commercial freight ferries in animal transporters without the traction units, and the traction and freight units are married up on the other side of the channel. In other words, the exporters are finding ways of bypassing the wishes of the passenger ferries. I regard that as a retrograde step and a great sadness.

I now take no pride in this whatsoever, but I was one of those who worked with Compassion in World Farming and managed to secure from the Conservative Government of the day a ban on the use of veal crates in the United Kingdom. At the time, we thought that that was a tremendous victory, but it was a pyrrhic victory. What in fact happened was that we banned the use of veal crates in the UK and then saw a flood of veal calves that were unwanted in the UK exported across the channel under infinitely worse conditions than they would otherwise have experienced to be reared briefly under even worse conditions in Belgium, France and Holland. Far from achieving an enhancement in animal welfare, we actually made it worse.

I learned one lesson from that. If the problem is to be solved, it must be solved on a pan-European basis. I say that with a high regard for the British farming industry. It is by no means perfect, but I believe it to be among the best in Europe and, probably, the world. I now see no merit whatsoever in seeking to disadvantage the British farming industry as against our European and worldwide competitors in the name of animal welfare. If we are to solve the problem, we will not solve it by moving it from A to B and pretending that we are done. We will solve it by ensuring that the rest of the world—most certainly the rest of the European Union—raises its animal welfare standards to the same high level that exists throughout most of British agriculture.

The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire rightly made a point about the plight—I use the word advisedly—of battery and broiler chickens brought up in cages. That is no life for any living thing—it is frightful. The method of execution following that brief life is almost worse. Such practices bring shame on humanity, but, again, we will not solve the problem if we penalise British farmers, egg producers and producers of birds for the table only to import an equivalent or larger quantity of eggs and birds from the new European Union entrants in the east or from other countries. That will do nobody any service at all.

At present, the farming industry is unable to afford proper animal welfare, and that is a disgrace. I have to say to the Minister that the imposition—again, I use the right word—of the veterinary medicines directive has militated against the use of proper veterinary medicine by the farming community, which finds that the value of the animals, birds and livestock that they are rearing no longer justifies proper veterinary medical attention. It is cheaper, easier and quicker to kill a bird or an animal and quietly dispose of it by whatever means than it is to call in the vet, pay for the medicine, treat the animal or the bird properly and move on from there.

We have done the farming community a grave disservice by putting it in a position where animal welfare is no longer commercially viable. I know farmers who are passionate about their animals and who care about them enormously. In the end, those animals may go to the table, but that is not the point. The farmers care about the animals in their charge while they are alive, and they want them to be properly looked after, but the commercial reality that they face, particularly with the disgraceful single farm payment system and delay, is that they can no longer afford to pay for proper animal welfare, unlike their contemporaries in mainland Europe who can afford to pay through subsidy.

If we are to move further down this road, as we must, it behoves all of us, whether in government or opposition, to take a clear view of the matter and to seek to ensure that no animal, bird or farm produce raised elsewhere under conditions that would not be permitted in this country should be allowed to enter the UK. My late friend, the right hon. Eric Forth, who was the MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, found that it was his duty—peculiarly, in his case—as a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry to abolish the trademarks legislation and bring us in line with the European Union. Subsequently, it has been much harder for us to brand English and British food in the way that we would wish, but I urge the Minister, with his colleagues in the DTI, the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and Downing street, to investigate every conceivable way of making absolutely certain that the purchaser of food stuffs in the UK is completely aware whether the foods that they are buying have been produced under the standards that we in this country find acceptable. And I urge him to go one stage further: we must insist that all produce sold in this country adheres to the standards.

The hon. Gentleman would probably agree that there is a growing love affair in Britain with ethically sourced food, and that there is a demand and a market for the standards to which he refers. The egg industry has successfully promoted higher standards to the extent that 40 per cent. of all sales are of free-range eggs, but the broader industry has yet to do that. Only 3 per cent. of chickens are brought up by high welfare standards. That is the target and the focus. That is where the Government can be active.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman to this extent: the fact that 40 per cent. of the eggs sold in this country are produced under acceptable conditions is to be applauded. It is not acceptable that 60 per cent. of eggs, by implication, are produced by hens living under other conditions. It is not acceptable that 1 per cent. of produce sold in this country should be produced under conditions that we would not permit and under which British farmers would not be allowed to operate. I hope that the Minister will be address those issues.

It is a privilege to follow such doughty fighters as the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Gwyn Prosser), who made an intervention. They have established a reputation in the House on this important issue, and much though we might not be great in numbers here today, I hope that the quality of our input will make up for that.

I make no apology for concentrating on just one issue, perhaps to the despair of my hon. Friend the Minister, who will not be surprised to hear that I am going to talk about bovine tuberculosis. In passing, however, I want to look quickly at five issues relating to the subject, two of which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire.

First, I am pleased that the Hunting Act 2004 eventually made it onto the statute book, but it behoves us to make it clear that we will monitor the behaviour of hunts. It might seem that hunt monitors—human beings—are the most endangered species in the country, but it is important that we do not simply pass the legislation; we must make it clear that we want it to have an impact.

Secondly, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe)—I consider her my friend in this case—is presenting a petition to Downing street at this very moment, in which thousands of signatories are demanding that the Government ban snares. I took that campaign up some years ago, and there is an early-day motion on the subject in my name. However, as it is not necessarily related to this debate, I shall pass quickly on. It is an important, though, and there should at least be a debate about it. The majority of farmers to whom I talk want to ban snares because they are a pretty hideous way of trying to control wildlife.

The third issue is that of animal experimentation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire alluded, and I have had a debate in this Chamber on the way in which the 3Rs—reducing, refining and replacing animal experimentation—are evolving. Although that is the responsibility of the Home Office, not my hon. Friend the Minister, and although I understand that the time for a royal commission on that may have come and gone, I am concerned that, having had a commitment in a previous manifesto to establish a royal commission, we still have quite large numbers—indeed, there is a steady increase in our laboratories—

Order. The subject of the debate is animal husbandry. The hon. Gentleman is going rather wide of the mark in talking about animal experimentation. Will he come back to the subject in hand?

I certainly take your advice, Mr. Weir. I was merely commenting on what my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire said.

Fourthly, on husbandry, it would be remiss of me not to mention the reports that have come out in the past few days on the foot and mouth outbreak. Like other hon. Members, I read the article by Magnus Linklater in The Times today, which talked about “carnage by computer”. We must learn the lessons of that outbreak. I was sympathetic towards the Government at the time, but we must do something about the problem. It is not a matter only of the way in which we dealt with the outbreak, and all the ways in which that showed how our husbandry was deficient, but of the way in which the whole EU apparatus encouraged us to send animals around the country, which resulted in the outbreak being that much worse than it would have been.

The hon. Gentleman definitely shows his credentials and cares about animals. How, therefore, does he feel about ventilation turn-off as a way of dealing with outbreaks of avian influenza in broiler farms?

I do not agree with it, but it is right to hope that we learn some lessons. We must prevent such diseases. If we cannot, we must shut them down as soon as possible. The only way to do that is to have good animal husbandry and methods in place that work on the basis of consensus. The saddest thing about the outbreak was that it brought division rather than the consensus that we needed to deal with the problem.

The last point that I want to mention in passing is also one about which I am very concerned. In passing EU regulations into British law to prevent farmers from burying dead stock on farm, we have brought about a situation in which farmers come to me saying that they have no means of disposing of animals and wildlife on their land—some of those animals may, indeed, be theirs—and certainly on the roads abutting it. I hope that the Government will understand that if we are to bear down on disease and have good animal husbandry, it is crucial that we have mechanisms in place to allow us to deal with the problems that wildlife can cause, not least when it is, sadly, lying dead on the side of the road or on farmers’ holdings.

On bovine TB, my hon. Friend the Minister knows that I have enormous sympathy with him—I have expressed it more times than I care to state—for his having to face the problem of bovine TB. I despair of the extreme things said by the two sides involved, none of which is credible, let alone fair or reasonable. There must be a way of dealing with this dreadful disease. It has a direct impact on the way in which we keep our livestock, but it is also prevalent in our wildlife.

All that I ask my hon. Friend to do is to consider the comments of those of us who have served on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or who have taken part in the various debates in this place and not to take any precipitate action. From all the evidence, however, I would not say that he is going to do that. As he knows, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended continual investment and interest in good husbandry as one way of bearing down on bovine TB, and I hope that that will continue. However, given all the other issues involved, including whether to cull or not to cull, the danger is that some of the sensible things that could be done in passing will often be left out.

On whether to cull or not to cull, I am against a cull on one simple ground: the scientific ground. There is no evidence that culling—certainly at the level that some would have us believe is necessary to make an impact on bovine TB—will work. In fact, all the current scientific evidence tends to suggest that the opposite would happen and that there would be a further increase in the disease. That would be completely bizarre, but it might well occur because of the impact of perturbation and badgers moving around more readily, which seems to happen when they are diseased and because they are often expelled from their lairs. There is also the fringe issue of driving diseased badgers to move among those that are clean. That has a major impact on husbandry.

I am pleased to see that the number of animals affected by bovine TB has come down, but I would not jump to the conclusion that that is entirely due to pre-movement testing and bearing down on cattle involved in cattle transfer. I have to hope that that is one of the reasons, but it is too early to reach that conclusion. However, I hope that the Minister is looking carefully at the issue and that we will continue to consider the need for good husbandry. I also hope that we will continue to search for a vaccine, and I am pleased that an experiment is going on in my area, as he knows. I hope that that work bears fruit in due course.

The most important thing is that we use science, that we do not jump to ready conclusions, that we ensure that husbandry is at the forefront of all that we do with our livestock, and that we continue to investigate wildlife issues, such as avian influenza, foot and mouth and bovine TB. I wish the Minister good fortune in dealing with those things because we are only one jump ahead of the next problem caused by animal disease.

We underestimate the impact of animal disease in this country. We talk about terrorism and other things happening around the world, but animal disease, as we know from foot and mouth, can cost us millions of pounds—let alone the moral dilemmas that it confronts us with. We must move it up the agenda. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire has done us a great service in raising again in Westminster Hall the need to see the subject as much more important, because the welfare of our livestock and wildlife is crucial to millions of people. We should never forget that.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on securing the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) is quite right: British consumers should be able to know that they are buying British food when they go to supermarkets. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is also quite right to raise the important issue of bovine tuberculosis and its connection with the badger population.

I want to draw attention to a matter of crucial importance with regard to animal welfare and husbandry—the operation of the greyhound racing industry. In particular, I want to speak in support of an organisation called Greyhounds UK, which is campaigning not for a ban on greyhound racing but for the improvement of standards of welfare for racing greyhounds.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said:

“We are unconvinced by the argument that the greyhound racing industry should be allowed until 2010 to regulate itself and improve its own welfare standards.”

It went on to comment that

“greyhound racing tracks should be subject to a licensing regime”,

which should not wait until 2010.

With regard to the husbandry of greyhounds, there are 30,000 active racing greyhounds in the UK. Three quarters of those are imported from the Republic of Ireland. About 10,000 leave racing every year. The industry-controlled Retired Greyhound Trust is said to find homes for 3,000 of those 10,000 every year, which leaves something like 7,000 retired greyhounds a year whose fate no one knows. The rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club allow euthanasia by veterinary surgeon, but no figures are kept for the number of dogs for which homes are found other than through the Retired Greyhound Trust, and no one knows how many are destroyed, by veterinary surgeons or otherwise. That raises the issue of the effectiveness of self-regulation of the industry.

Order. I have let the hon. Gentleman discuss this matter, but he is rather wide of the debate. Will he bring his remarks around to the particular terms of the debate on welfare standards in animal husbandry?

I appreciate your guidance, Mr. Weir. The issue is a crucial one for the husbandry and welfare of greyhounds. My point is that the Government are seeking self-regulation of the welfare and husbandry of greyhounds, while organisations such as Greyhounds UK point out that self-regulation is not working and that the industry needs to be licensed.

In no other sphere of animal husbandry and welfare are such a large number of animals subject to the gambling industry. Racing brings no benefits at all to the greyhounds concerned, but makes substantial profits—from which the Treasury draws revenue—for the bookmakers and race promoters. In 2004 the Association of British Bookmakers declared a net profit of £92 million.

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but now that he is talking about gambling he is well outwith the terms of the debate. Unless he can bring his remarks back to animal welfare standards and husbandry I shall have to cut him off.

My fate lies in your hands, Mr. Weir. The point that I am trying to make is that the husbandry and welfare of greyhounds is subject to the gambling industry. I am seeking to use the opportunity of the debate to draw to the attention of the Minister responsible for greyhound welfare and husbandry the reasons why the system is not working, and why the industry needs to be licensed as other aspects of animal husbandry and welfare are licensed.

Sparing your wrath, Mr. Weir, I think that I am right in saying that it was in the early 1990s when the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I was then a member, and which had responsibility for the issue at the time, conducted an inquiry into the greyhound racing industry. We concluded that the beneficiaries of the industry—the industry and the bookmakers—were paying a pitiful sum towards the husbandry and welfare of racing greyhounds. It is an incredibly sad fact that 10 years have gone by and no significant improvement has so far been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet is, as always, spot on. In fact, in 2005 bookmakers increased their voluntary levy to the greyhound racing industry, but only from 0.4 per cent. to 0.6 per cent. of off-course turnover.

Those who manage rescues for greyhounds will testify to the frequent abuse of greyhounds, which are found wandering, injured or starving. Those can include old or injured ex-racers or unwanted dogs that failed to qualify in the first place. The experience of organisations such as Greyhounds UK is that although the greyhounds may have identification in the form of ear tattoos, the NGRC, citing the Data Protection Act 1998, will not disclose details of the registered owner to anyone, including the police.

We will all have read during the recess the appalling stories about the treatment of greyhounds and the disappearance of large numbers of them. My hon. Friend will know that that is covered by the Animal Welfare Bill, for which the Minister is responsible. I hope that my hon. Friend will also agree that the priority given to regulating, through codes of conduct, the keeping of greyhounds has been set far too low. Should not that be moved further up, and should it perhaps even be the Government’s first priority?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose constituency I had the pleasure briefly to visit in the summer. He is, of course, right. That point was made about the Bill on Report. I had the privilege of sitting as a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill, and although I could not move my amendment on Report, I requested of the Minister that when he got round to drawing up codes of practice for the different categories of animal covered by the legislation, greyhounds should be at the top of the list.

The sad truth about the husbandry and welfare of greyhounds is that over the summer some very disturbing articles appeared in the national press, including, for example, details published by The Sunday Times on 16 July of the destruction by means of a bolt gun of thousands of greyhounds, over decades, and their burial in a field in Seaham in county Durham. The names of the trainer and racing manager who were involved were also published. On 17 September, The Sunday Times published an account of the routine destruction, without veterinary intervention, of greyhounds allegedly from NGRC-approved tracks, by a so-called animal sanctuary in Wigan.

Order. I understand that those matters may be sub judice, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman could desist from referring to those cases. I appeal to him again: he is sailing very close to the edge of the debate.

I appreciate your guidance, Mr. Weir. I am simply referring to articles in the public domain, which appeared over the summer, the content of which has disturbed many people.

I suggest, Mr. Weir, that it may be helpful, not necessarily in this debate, but in a more general forum, for all Members of the House to receive the updated legal advice on sub judice matters and parliamentary privilege.

I am grateful for the Minister’s advice and for yours, Mr. Weir.

In conclusion, the greyhound racing industry is an industry. It is controlled by gamblers and those involved in gambling. Each year, 7,000 greyhounds disappear, effectively without trace. It is high time that the industry was licensed and that the Government stopped allowing it to self-regulate because the industry has been guilty of too many abuses over too many years.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), and everyone else who has contributed. Although there are not many people in the Chamber, it is important that we continue to press down on this issue. Over the years it has been demonstrated that continual pressure has significantly improved animal welfare conditions in this country, in farming and elsewhere. We hope that through continued pressure from individual Members, pressure groups and other organisations, which will put the subject in the public domain, and by dragging up the standards of our European partners, in particular, who are way behind where they should be, we shall continue to raise standards not only here but abroad.

The problem is that in this country we raise some 900 million livestock a year. A huge variety of welfare issues are associated with the rearing, handling, transportation and slaughtering of such a number of animals. To ensure that throughout the process we consider the quality of life of farm animals is, for anyone, highly challenging, not least in terms of legislation.

We are paying the price, as we all recognise, for what we might call cheap food—inexpensive food. Over the years, through a range of actions—some of which had implications that we had not quite realised—we have borne down on the cost of food. It was the objective of a number of Administrations to ensure that quality food, which was also affordable, was available, but we have concentrated on the cost and, as is so often the case, forgotten some of the other issues. We are beginning to learn the lessons. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) mentioned disease, and I have no doubt that some of the intensive practices in which we have engaged in recent years have contributed, in a way, to the extent of disease that we have seen.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if he were to go to the largest supermarket in his constituency, whichever it might be, with a clipboard and urge people to sign a petition protesting against the iniquities that we visit on broiler chickens—how they are brought up and how they have their throats cut, often when still alive—people would queue up and push others aside to sign it? However, 97 per cent. of people buy chickens according to price. How do we bridge that gap between the welfare approach clearly adopted by many people and the decisions that they make when they put their hand in the chiller cabinet?

I totally agree. There is little doubt that many people would sign up to require animal welfare standards to be implemented but immediately go and purchase a product much cheaper than it would be if those standards were in place, and they will find no problem with that. We can deal with that by the usual methods: trying to raise awareness, putting information in the public domain so that consumers have choices and ensuring that those choices can be made with better labelling and better promotion. We need also to deal with the issues that arise as we begin to recognise that we have gone too far and need to draw back. As an aside, we have not only done such things to animals but to the soil and things that grow. We have produced such intensity that the nature that we control is at risk.

Tribute has rightly been paid to the farming industry for its role in improving the situation. I also pay tribute to the Government, who during this period of administration have concentrated much more on some of the issues that are important to us.

The live transport of farm animals from the UK for slaughter or for further fattening is, I totally agree, unnecessary and fraught with risk to animal health and welfare. It has an economic aspect, too. It is better that animals are slaughtered in this country than exported. However, we must recognise that banning the trade might simply export the problem. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) recognised that unless we have EU-wide legislation on the matter we will not get the effects that we want and, of course, we will disadvantage our farmers who are compelled to or want to raise their standards and bear the resulting costs.

Standards have to be raised and we have to ensure that others raise them. That is the message. We want better standards and EU-wide legislation that will force others to raise standards so that we have the mythical level playing field to which we all refer on occasion. That will mean that we do not export the problem or see absurd situations where, because of consumer demand, we import and put on sale animals produced under processes that would be banned here. I cannot let the time go by without saying that some of my colleagues represent constituencies in the Orkneys and Shetland where farmers are quite horrified at the fact that they might not be able to export their animals to the mainland. We must recognise that there are always exceptions, but I am sure that proper legislation could always take account of the exceptions when trying to deal with the generalities.

Another aspect of the question that we have not really tackled is the fact that we do not have a network of local abattoirs to the point where we have slaughtering facilities closer to the rearing establishments. Although there may only be a short journey involved in taking animals to slaughter, that can sometimes mean that standards are not as good, and we need to encourage a better network of abattoirs.

Our key welfare concerns with broiler chickens in particular have already been mentioned. Slower-growing birds should be selected for meat production. The rapid growth rates that have come about have produced welfare problems. There are many ways of trying to measure the space allowance, but the measurement that I have considered and that has been recommended to me relates kilograms of bird to square metres of space. Of course, some birds are bigger than others. At the very minimum, space allowance needs to be increased so that serious welfare problems are diminished.

Those of us who have visited the facilities for broiler chickens have seen that they live in a barren environment, with dim light to discourage activity so that the growth rate is maximised. It seems pretty bad to have to live in half-light all the time. All animals need a day and a night—a proper rest period where the lighting levels are brought down. We have to try to enrich the quality of life of chickens and animals in general. The natural behaviour that we enjoy as animals is in many ways destroyed for other animals, and we must recognise that they need to enjoy their natural behaviour.

I do not want to speak about greyhounds. I do not know much about them, although I accept that the subject needs to be considered. As for husbandry generally, I was fortunate to be a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which undertook the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Animal Welfare Bill. I am pleased that it is making progress, albeit somewhat slowly.

The husbandry of circus animals needs some attention. I believe that not much of a case can be made for considering how they are transported and shown. The Government were keen to ban hunting and so on. I believe that, as a minimum, there ought to be some sort of licensing arrangement setting minimum standards for circus animals. As I say, I do not think that there is any need for it, but as a minimum it ought to be considered.

Bovine TB is a subject on which the hon. Member for Stroud and I have spoken many times. Whatever the transmission rates from cattle to cattle, cattle to wildlife, wildlife to wildlife and back again, I am convinced that if we merely slaughter out one part without addressing the other, we will not have a prolonged effect. The disease will go on and on. We need to understand that the eradication of this disease is necessary; it is a welfare issue as much as anything else. We may have seen a dip lately for some reason, but while we merely concentrate on one particular animal among our livestock and slaughter it out, without recognising that we have to do something about the wildlife, we are deluding ourselves.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on securing another debate this year on this extremely important subject. I am sorry that he did not attend the debate on the ventilation shutdown measure in Standing Committee in June. His presence was missed, as I am sure that he shares my anger at the Government for even expecting to fail to control avian influenza and therefore factoring into their plans ventilation shutdown as a legal method of killing chickens.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I tabled an early-day motion almost immediately the news broke—it received wide cross-party support—that condemned the suggestion of slow suffocation as a means of eliminating the national flock should avian flu, God forbid, start to affect it.

I know that the hon. Gentleman did so, and I shall tell the House of something else that he did. On 24 May, when Westminster Hall last debated animal welfare, he raised a number of points about the inclusion of animal welfare in the England regional development programme.

During DEFRA questions the previous week, I pressed the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), on the issue. He responded that the Department thought that it could deliver improved animal welfare through a training and access to skills scheme, like the one that it is already using. That lacklustre response was very disappointing, especially when we consider that the rural development programmes in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and in other countries such as Germany and Austria, have more animal welfare improvement measures. In Germany, for example, RDP funding is being used to provide for higher welfare standards, including a stocking density of 25 kg per square metre—that is 13 kg lower than the 38 kg that the Commissions want to enforce through the draft directive that the European Standing Committee debated in April. In Wales, RDP funding will be available for reducing stocking densities and joining an assurance scheme. If other countries can use their RDP to raise animal welfare standards, we in England should be able to do so.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is totally wrong to link competition with welfare standards? It depresses me that people should argue that improving welfare standards, particularly of farm animals but also of wildlife, always has a huge anticompetitive effect. It is a dangerous line to take. Welfare should be considered because it is right.

If I understand correctly what the hon. Gentleman says, I do not have a problem in agreeing with him. Yes, competition is a separate issue. However, I am talking about the Government’s failure to support schemes similar to those going on elsewhere in the world which would reward good behaviour. We are used to seeing plenty of sticks; this was a carrot opportunity, and the Government have missed it.

Another disappointment is DEFRA’s failure to meet its own targets for supporting ERDP projects benefiting animal welfare. The target during the 2000-06 programme is to support 91 such projects. In 2002 only one project was achieved; in 2003 only five were achieved; in 2004 another five projects were achieved; and in 2005 only two more projects were achieved. Only 14 projects are up and running, which is 77 short of DEFRA’s target, and there is only one year to go. At that rate, it will take DEFRA at least a quarter of a century to achieve all 91 projects. The Department’s animal welfare ambitions for the ERDP relate only to training within the rural enterprise scheme, and it is still failing to provide it.

In May, I asked the hon. Member for Brent, North about linking animal welfare to the ERDP. He said:

“Far from excluding animal welfare from the rural development programme, we have specifically stated ways in which we can deliver on that agenda through training and access to skills under axis 1 and axis 3.”—[Official Report, 18 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 1116.]

It is bad enough when DEFRA does not significantly promote animal welfare through the ERDP, but when the Department considerably fails to reach its own targets, it demonstrates that farm animal welfare matters are being excluded and sidelined.

Will this Minister let us know how many projects have been achieved this year? Have 77 been achieved to reach the target? If not, why is the target not being reached? Will those projects continue into the ERDP for 2007 to 2013? DEFRA has announced that it is unlikely to make the January 2007 start for the new schemes. Will the Minister confirm that he intends to use the extra time to reconsider the animal welfare component?

Despite the Department’s being lobbied by the RSPCA and the Wildlife and Countryside Link for the inclusion of further animal welfare measures in the next ERDP, animal welfare does not get a single mention in DEFRA’s initial summary of consultation responses. Given that DEFRA excluded animal welfare from the ERDP in the original consultation document, I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that animal welfare measures were still considered by the Department. I hope that he will be able also to let us know how many respondents lobbied for its inclusion in that scheme.

The apparent exclusion of animal welfare from the 2007-2013 ERDP is surprising when we consider the growth in public interest in the subject. Public interest in animal welfare matters has never been higher. I am aware that animal welfare-related matters are among the top three most asked questions that DEFRA receives from the public, and the most asked question relates to the live export of calves. Although members of the public are demanding higher welfare standards for the animals that they consume, the Department refuses to use a crucial measure to raise the welfare of farmed animals.

We would all like to see improvements in animal welfare, starting with better husbandry on the farm and going right the way through to the abattoir. People should be rewarded for doing the right thing, for going that little bit further; and it would be a missed opportunity if DEFRA did not improve the range of support for animal welfare measures through the ERDP.

The export and transportation of live animals is an important issue that Parliament has rightly debated at length over many years. I am sure that we would all prefer to see livestock reared close to the point of slaughter so that our animals do not have to endure hours of travel, whether they are staying in their country of origin or being transported for rearing abroad. We have all been lobbied by various NGOs and our constituents on the matter. We should develop policies that produce high animal welfare standards throughout the food production chain.

The UK is typically at the forefront in animal and livestock welfare, and that is something of which we should be proud, but we want to see consistency in other countries, and in particular in other EU member states. The UK has traditionally had higher standards of animal welfare than other countries; we interpret and enforce directives more stringently and readily, and our high level of compliance has left British farmers at a competitive disadvantage. While UK meat supplies have increased since 1997 from around 4 million tonnes of dressed carcase to 4.5 million tonnes, domestically produced supplies have remained static and imports have increased by 50 per cent. I am keen for British farmers, who have superior husbandry standards, to fulfil the demand for more meat and reap the rewards.

On livestock transportation, the UK has led the way. In 1990, the Conservative Government banned veal crates and it is a shame that it has taken 17 years for the rest of Europe to follow our lead. I thought that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made an important and powerful speech. I am worried about further livestock transport regulations. Under the new EU regulations to be introduced on 5 January 2007, transporters carrying out journeys of more than 65 km lasting under eight hours must be authorised by the competent authority. Journeys by road lasting more than eight hours must be authorised by the competent authority and vehicles and livestock containers inspected. So far, that is all right. New vehicles will have to be fitted with satellite navigation systems and training will be a requirement for all personnel who work at markets and assembly centres. On 5 January 2008 all drivers transporting farmed animals, horses or poultry on journeys of more than eight hours or 65 km will need to be assessed and receive a certificate of competence. That worries me because 65 km is 40 miles, which is not a great distance. If one travels through London the average speed would be 11 mph, so in eight hours one could go considerably further than 40 miles—that is a discrepancy.

My hon. Friend referred to satellite navigation, which relates to the traction unit not to the container of the animals. It is perfectly practical and possible to bypass the regulations by changing traction units.

Those issues have been raised so that the Minister will consider the regulations, decide how appropriate they are and ensure that we get proper animal-driven welfare regulations, rather than ones that appear to be helpful but are not.

Earlier, we talked about poultry. There have been significant changes in that industry. I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the British Egg Industry Council, which has promoted the lion brand so successfully. Yes, we do have a problem with battery chickens—I have visited them. My hon. Friend said that if we are not careful we will simply export the problem—that is an extremely valid point. We want the highest standards of welfare for everything that we eat, not just the eggs that look like eggs, so we have to be careful about the catering sector.

This morning, I was excited to read that it is now possible to buy an egg with a lion brand on it which, when the egg is boiled, will change colour and indicate whether the egg is soft, medium or hard boiled. That type of innovation can only be good. It is a tremendous idea that encourages people to eat eggs and read on the label where they originated. We should recognise that the industry is doing everything that it can to promote higher welfare standards through its ability to innovate, and it deserves credit for that.

We are supposed to have a common agricultural policy with our European neighbours, but it is of less benefit to British farmers when the rules that we implement are different from those of our competitors. One of the most prominent issues relating to farm animal transport is the export of veal calves and part of the problem is that there are different standards and policies between the UK and other EU countries. Although farmers on the continent can claim a premium for raising a veal calf, British farmers cannot. Consequently, they are faced with the choice of either disposing of the calf or selling it for export. That is just one example of where British farmers are missing out and broader animal welfare issues are ignored because of our anomalous application of the common agricultural policy. The Government can make a real difference to animal welfare by ensuring that our farmers either have a level playing field or create the right circumstances for a veal market in the UK.

One way that we can all agree to reduce livestock transportation is through promoting consumption of local produce and strengthening the domestic market. The Secretary of State has referred to that being part of one-planet farming and the Government should use the full range of tools at their disposal to reduce livestock transportation and promote better animal welfare.

The single greatest correlation between poor animal welfare and the Government’s ability to make changes is when it comes to poverty. The Government have an opportunity to ensure that the 2006 single farm payment is made on time. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance today that the 2006 payment will be at least 80 per cent. paid by Christmas day, thus breaking the link between poverty and poor animal welfare and ensuring that we have a British farming industry that is properly supported and that the Government rectify the appalling record they have in paying the 2005 payment. I hope that the Minister will assure us that farmers can look forward to receiving at least 80 per cent. by Christmas day.

I almost thought that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) was announcing that he had converted to my long-held view that there is a connection between animal welfare and human poverty. We will do all that we can to ensure that the farmers receive the payments he talked about.

I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), a long-time champion of animal welfare both inside and outside the House, on securing this timely debate. It is timely because as he has acknowledged, we have already agreed and are about to implement new rules on animal transport and there is an important broiler directive currently being debated under the Finnish presidency.

I will confine my remarks to the title of this debate. We have had a debate that has ranged widely over the whole gambit of animal welfare issues. If I have time, I will come back to one or two of the points that were not strictly within the subject of my hon. Friend’s debate.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, as a number of hon. Members have acknowledged, we probably have the highest animal welfare standards we have ever had and that they are among the highest in the world. This Government have been not only at the forefront of implementing higher standards domestically, but active both on a European and international level in trying to improve standards. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made a vital point, to which I shall return, that it is no good our having the highest animal welfare standards in the world if they are not replicated elsewhere. In a single market and an increasingly global economy that would result only in our farmers finding it more and more difficult to compete and going out of business, as the hon. Gentleman has warned. We would then suck in imports from countries with far lower animal welfare standards. It is a very difficult balance to strike, and although we have improved domestically, the Government, animal welfare organisations and all political parties will have to think carefully about how to move the agenda forward on a European and international level.

During the UK presidency of the EU, the Minister was chairman of the farming committee and could therefore have had a huge impact on animal welfare. What did he do while he was chairman to achieve that?

I will come on to that shortly if the hon. Gentleman is patient.

It is worth reminding ourselves what we have already achieved in the past few years. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire said, we are on the brink of enacting a historical Animal Welfare Bill, which will be the single most important piece of legislation governing the welfare of animals for a hundred years. We have banned veal crates and battery cages for chickens, and we have successfully argued for an EU-wide veal crate and battery chicken ban as well as for inclusion in the proposed EU constitution of a specific article on the protection and welfare of animals. We have worked for agreement on the farm animal welfare directive, which sets minimum standards across the EU and relates to the important issue of labelling raised by the hon. Member for North Thanet—I will come back to that shortly. We banned the close confinement of sows in stalls, and the EU is preparing a similar ban. We have introduced new codes on the welfare of sheep, cattle, pigs, laying hens and broilers, and we are preparing new codes for goats, ducks and turkeys.

We spend £3.4 million a year on research on animal welfare to ensure that our policy and its application have a sound scientific base and to support the UK’s negotiating position in the EU. That money has supported a wide range of research, including on the management and welfare requirements of broiler meat chickens. I shall come to that in a little more detail.

We have improved the welfare of animals at slaughter, accepting nearly all the recommendations in the report of the independently established Farm Animal Welfare Council, and we will consult on a new code of practice shortly. We have introduced new regulations to improve the welfare of pigs. They relate to the minimum space for sows and gilts and increase the minimum weaning age from 21 to 28 days.

On transport, which formed a major part of my hon. Friend’s speech, we have always said that we prefer a trade in meat to the long-distance transport of live animals to slaughter, whether in the UK or across borders. A number of hon. Members said that they would like this to happen, but we cannot stop the export of live animals under European law. However, the House should note that the proportion of live sheep exports, for example, has fallen from some 15 per cent. in 1999 to 3 per cent. in the last few years.

One thing that we did during our presidency was to push the Commission for more radical changes on the rules for transporting animals. Although I acknowledge, as I have before in the House, that we did not achieve everything that we wanted, we have won important improvements through new regulations that will come into force from next January. Those will give more clarity on an animal’s fitness to travel; improve the protection of horses and young animals, including calves; require training and assessment of drivers, attendants and transporters to be authorised; set standards for transport, be it by sea, road or air; and introduce additional requirements, including the inspection and approval of vehicles, for journeys of more than eight hours. We fought hard for an eight-hour journey limit; unfortunately, we were not successful. The regulations will also improve co-operation and the exchange of information between member states so that rogue transporters can be tackled and enforcement across the EU is more uniform.

I think that we all support those measures, but they will all involve some cost to the industry. It would be helpful if, after the regime has been established for a while, there is a review of how those costs are bearing down on the industry. One idea may be to reduce the number of inspections down to one, rather than having lots of different ones. We want to maintain standards, but we need to reduce the costs of that on the production side.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. The industry has been very supportive of the UK negotiating position on the animal transport regulations. Yes, the UK industry does not want extra costs imposed on it over and above what is happening in the rest of Europe, but it does want a level playing field, and those measures were about trying to raise the standards in most other EU countries to the level of standards here and about trying to ensure that we have more consistent enforcement. We will shortly lay secondary legislation before Parliament to support the regulations.

The issue of veal calves was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire and for Dover (Gwyn Prosser). Indeed, the latter spoke about an issue that has arisen in his constituency today. I am well aware of the public concern regarding the resumption of live exports of calves and veal calves in particular. The rules governing the welfare of veal calves and their transport have improved considerably since the trade last happened, before the ban because of BSE. However, I am working closely with the farming industry and the welfare organisations.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire kindly highlighted the fact that I had attended a summit meeting bringing both sides together to try to find a way forward to boost our domestic veal production. I recommend all hon. Members who are not vegetarian to buy British veal, support it and encourage other people to buy it, because one of the big problems that we have here is that we simply do not have a strong veal market. I will go away and write to my hon. Friend in detail about some of the ideas that he has proposed in his paper.

On the question of market price, because there is not a strong consumer demand for veal in this country, there are much higher prices to be gained on the continent, where consumers eat veal in greater quantities. Before the live export, particularly of male dairy calves, resumed, many of those calves were simply shot because of their low value, but we are working hard to try to address the problem.

I am extremely concerned to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover says about the particular incident in Dover today. I have tried to get some information on that during the debate and I understand that there was an incident with consignments of calves for export that suffered considerable delay. Our staff at Dover docks ensured that the animals had water and they made the best possible arrangements for the calves to reach a place where they could rest, but I have to say that the transporters should have had contingency plans for such an event, and our officials will investigate the incident closely.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that assurance. Since my intervention, a further note has been passed to me that says that a second consignment of 1,800 calves has been on the quayside for 15 hours. Another four or five hours’ journey time is expected, with five hours beyond that, so it will be more than 24 hours’ journey time in total. That report is from KALE—Kent Against Live Exports—of which I am proud to be a member. Its observers say that the animals have not been properly watered or fed and that they are clearly in distress—they are howling and crying.

I will investigate that as a matter of urgency and get back to my hon. Friend after the debate.

On the issue of broiler chickens, negotiation is, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire said, going on in the EU to introduce the directive, which is long overdue in my view. The UK is among the countries committed to a maximum stocking density and we will continue to push for that. This comes back to what I said earlier. EU enlargement has been very good for the UK in many ways, but on animal welfare it is making it more difficult for welfare-minded countries, such as the UK, Sweden and Germany, to win the arguments in the EU. One reason the animal transport directive was, in the end, not as good as we would have liked was the accession countries voting with the Mediterranean countries, which traditionally do not have such strong concerns for animal welfare. We must redouble our efforts in this country, across parties and with animal welfare organisations and their international partners, to make the case for animal welfare in Europe so that we win back that majority on the Council, otherwise we will face real problems.

Does the Minister accept that labelling is an issue? Ninety-four per cent. of unprocessed meat in British supermarkets has country-of-origin information clearly attached to it; only 19 per cent. of processed meat has such information. The National Pig Association argues that low-welfare foreign produce is often passed off as high-welfare British pork. That cannot be allowed to happen without damaging its members and damaging the welfare of pigs, can it?

No. I agree with my hon. Friend. One thing that the UK pushed for strongly, which we are pleased has been agreed, is animal welfare labelling as part of the EU animal welfare action plan. That is work in progress and we will continue to push for it to happen as soon as possible.

Let me deal briefly with specific points raised by hon. Members. Ventilation shutdown has been comprehensively debated in the House. We have argued before that we took the view that we needed every tool in our armoury to tackle avian flu. Ventilation shutdown would be used only as a last resort. There are other, preferable culling methods that we would use, but there could be circumstances in which it was better for the welfare of birds infected with the disease for them to be killed quickly than to let them die slowly from a very nasty and painful disease.

ERDP funding is a matter for the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner), but I will ask him to write to the hon. Member for Leominster with the details of the projects that he requested. However, one consequence of devolution is that different decisions will be made on funding details in England, Wales and Scotland.

Greyhounds have been comprehensively debated in the House in proceedings on the Animal Welfare Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) that the reports over the summer were particularly shocking. They are being investigated and a court case may be pending, so we have to be careful about what we say on that, but I have summoned the greyhound authorities to come and meet me to talk about what they will do to deal with the issues raised by that case.

As I said earlier, it is no good for our animals, or indeed the world’s animals, if the UK acts unilaterally. I am asking our chief vet to consider how we can engage better on a European and international basis to increase welfare standards across the world, so that we can carry on improving our welfare standards without jeopardising the livelihoods of our producers.