Skip to main content

Farm Animal Welfare

Volume 515: debated on Thursday 9 September 2010

The coalition Government are committed to achieving high standards of animal welfare and are working through the detail of several policies to ensure that we accomplish this.

Does the Minister’s refusal to name a date for the abolition of beak trimming not demonstrate the Government’s failure to prioritise animal welfare?

That is complete nonsense. As the hon. Gentleman should know, the date is already enshrined in law. The question is whether we seek to change that. To suggest that I have not set a date is nonsense, because his Government set that date. But we are considering representations, as did my predecessor, about whether to change that date. One of the underlying factors, not just on this but throughout animal welfare, is the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which is the body set up to advise the Government, and I think the cross-party view is that it is a very worthy organisation. We take its views strongly into account as we consider this matter.

As a former Minister, I have seen photographs of the terrible consequences of some of the types of game bird farming that occur. Supported by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and other animal welfare groups, the previous Government brought forward legislation to improve the position. Why is it that this Government are determined to reverse that legislation and cause unnecessary suffering to game birds?

It is precisely because that was the advice of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which his Government disregarded.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), does my hon. Friend agree that, for those people concerned about the issue of beak trimming, the worst possible outcome from an animal welfare point of view would be that we end up with legislation that resulted in exporting animal welfare concerns—and jobs—to other countries? That would surely be a far worse outcome.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The sad reality is that chickens will feather-peck and adopt cannibalism in any circumstances, including in large free-range facilities. The challenge with which we have to wrestle is whether or not debeaking is a bigger or lesser welfare issue than the consequences of not debeaking. The Government want to see an end to debeaking and we will achieve that, but we have to ensure that we do not make the situation worse in the process.

As the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) hinted, we have some of the highest farm animal welfare standards in the world. Does the Minister agree that unnaturally increasing those would have two results? First, we would import food from places with far lower standards than we have here, and secondly, that would put perfectly good farmers in this country out of business.

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and we have learned the lesson. I accept that it was a Conservative Government who banned stalls and tethers in the pig industry, and we saw over the following 10 years a halving of the domestic pig industry while we continued to import pigmeat produced under the very systems that we had banned. That is why, alongside our determination to raise animal welfare standards in this country, we must also try to raise them at least across Europe.