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Welfare Of Battery Hens Regulations 1987

Volume 490: debated on Thursday 19 November 1987

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7.35 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Baroness Trumpington)

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6th July be approved. [2nd Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move. With your Lordships' permission, it would be convenient to discuss together both instruments standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The battery hens regulations implement a European Community directive which lays down minimum welfare standards. I ought to say straight away that the Government welcome the principle of Community safeguards for animal welfare. The directive means that there will now be welfare standards in all member states. For the first time there will also be statutory rules with the force of law behind them, which will be a new development in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

The regulations are being made after full consultation with interested parties and follow the provisions of the directive pretty closely. They fall into two parts. General requirements, such as cleaning and proper daily inspection, are contained in the schedule and will apply to all cages from 1st January 1988. The more specific standards, such as the minimum floor area and cage height, are laid down in the main body of the regulations. These more exacting provisions will come into effect from 1st January next year for new cages. But for existing cages a generous phase-in period had been provided, so that producers will not need to comply until 1st January 1995.

To many people the most important provision is the minimum space allowance per bird, and here we have taken the figure of 450 sq cm contained in the directive. The Government said at the time that we were disappointed with this figure but that it was the best we could get in Brussels. We would have preferred to get Community agreement on 600 sq cm, but that was not possible. With one exception, therefore, we have kept the directive's figure of 450. The exception concerns cages with small numbers of birds. Most cages contain four, five or six birds and this provision will not apply. But where there are only one, two or three we believe it is right to allow them each more space. This is because birds in larger numbers can to some extent share each other's space. Such sharing is not possible when there are only small numbers.

The directive contains a provision for a scientific review in 1993. The idea is that the Commission should come forward with a report on developments and possible amendments to the directive for discussion in the Council of Ministers. My department will keep in touch with the welfare societies, the egg industry and those engaged in R&D over the next few years so that we can be fully prepared to take part in those discussions. We would expect them to include both welfare and industry concerns.

My department has had representations from the egg industry about the effect of these regulations on the so-called A-frame cages, which make up about a third of all cages in current use. These cages have an inward-sloping back and therefore have limited headroom. The effect of the directive's provision on cage height, combined with our own rules on floor space, is that some producers might have to take several birds out of the cage to make it comply fully. We accept that this is a problem for a minority of producers, although even these people would not need to change until 1995. In view of their concern we are prepared to keep the position in the industry under review over the next few years. If there is still a significant problem by the time the directive comes up for review in 1993, we shall consider seeking an amendment to it. or possibly to our own regulations, to deal with it.

To conclude on battery hens, I know that there is a wide spread of opinion as to how stringent these rules should be. The Government have to strike a balance. We believe that these regulations—which set statutory standards for the first time—will help to protect the welfare of the birds. If we find that they create a continuing problem for the industry, we shall undertake to see what further action we can take.

I should now like to turn to the Welfare of Calves Regulations, which are intended to ban veal crates. The veal crate is the most intensive form of husbandry used in the cattle sector, and consists typically of a narrow high-sided individual box, in which the animal is unable to turn round. The system is coupled with a diet which is low in iron and which contains no roughage. This can distort the development of the rumen and increase the risk of digestive problems, as well as causing the calf to become anaemic.

There has been widespread and long-standing concern about the welfare of calves in crates. This was raised as long ago as 1965 by the Brambell Committee, which looked into intensive livestock systems. The welfare code for cattle, first published in 1971 and revised and strengthened in 1983, makes several recommendations which are breached by the crate system. When the code was revised, the Government hoped that it would mean the end of veal crates; but this has not happened. We have therefore decided that the time has come for legislation.

The regulations will apply to all calves kept in single pens or stalls. They will set conditions which effectively rule out the features associated with crates. Other rearers of calves in single pens will have no difficulty meeting these provisions. First, we shall require the width of all such pens to be not less than the height of the animal at the withers—a precise point at the top of the shoulder. We shall also require the calf to be able to turn round without difficulty. These two measures will deal with the problem of confinement.

On diet, the regulations will require sufficient iron in the daily ration to maintain the calf in full health and vigour. Calves over 14 days old will also be required to have access to enough digestible fibre so as not to impair rumen development.

I know there is concern that, although we are banning crates here, we still export calves which will go into crates on the Continent. We are anxious to see similar rules applied in other member states, and are pleased to be able to report that the European Commission is already working on a calf directive. We are helping them with their preparatory work and will certainly support a Community-wide measure as soon as it is tabled.

Finally, my Lords, I can assure you that the calves regulations are being introduced for sound welfare reasons. Producers using them have already had several years of official discouragement, and there are other systems available. We said at the end of last year that we would phase them out over three years, and the regulations will come into effect on 1st January 1990. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6th July be approved. [ 2nd Report front the Joint Committee]—( Baroness Trumpington.)

7.45 p.m.

My Lords, we are delighted that the noble Baroness has brought these regulations forward for discussion. There is no question, particularly so far as concerns the battery production of eggs, that there is a lot of feeling one way or another and I think that these regulations should help to give some succour to the people who feel that battery egg production should be banned altogether.

Whatever one may think of battery egg production there is no doubt that it produces cheap eggs. I looked at the egg stall in a supermarket no later than this morning and found that half a dozen eggs, which I am pretty certain were all battery-produced eggs, were 56p a half dozen and free range eggs were 79p for half a dozen. They were No. 4 size eggs. That makes a tremendous difference of 46p a dozen between eggs produced by battery production and by free-range production, and somebody told me that they did not think that free-range farmers were making much of a profit even at those prices. Whether of course the supermarkets are taking too much profit on them I do not know, but that is the difference. We have to look at that side of it when discussing the abolition of battery egg production altogether. To be fair to these figures, the smaller the egg the difference is not quite so great.

Over the years there has been the development of different batteries, which the noble Baroness mentioned, and fresh regulations. As regards the regulations, I have been handed the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments report on these regulations, and I must admit that it is pretty hard on them. No doubt the noble Baroness has had pointed out to her what it says. It is a little vague. It says:
"Most of the requirements in the Schedule seemed to the Committee to be extraordinarily vague. Given that the breach of these requirements would constitute a criminal offence, the Committee inquired whether it would not have been possible to tighten up the terms of the Directive rather than reincorporating them virtually wholesale?"
When one reads some of the regulations—particularly the one on the angle of the floor—they are difficult to understand. They make a point of what exactly eight degrees means as against 14 per cent. The committee gives a sketch which explains it to a layman, but I think that the noble Baroness should take note of these matters.

The other point I want to raise on the regulations is the question of:
"'laying hens' means adult female domestic fowls which are kept on agricultural land for egg production".
Does that cover a battery on cement at the back door of some smallholding, or a private house where somebody has a bit of land? I presume it does, but there are these things in the regulations which are, as the committee says, a bit vague. Because they will be criminal offences they will need to be cleared up a bit.

As I said earlier, and as the noble Baroness said, there have been changes in the design of batteries and these regulations create a problem. I understand that the alterations that the Danes made a few years ago have been much to the loss of the Danish farmers who have lost a great deal of business to the Dutch because the regulations were so hard.

We welcome what the noble Baroness proposes to do about the A-frame battery, which is a good battery in that it allows the droppings to drop clear of the other cages, and also one can see the birds much better. From a husbandry point of view the birds are much easier to see because there is light coming in from the top on every layer of cage whether there be three or four. I think that these regulations could create the following situation. I gather that if they were carried out to the letter they could reduce the number of hens in an A-battery by up to 60 per cent., and that would mean a considerable loss to the farmer.

I do not know how long batteries last. I installed a battery just after the war. It certainly lasted 10 or 12 years; I sold it, and I think it is still going. It may seem a long time to 1995 but it passed very quickly. I think that the noble Baroness mentioned that in 1993 they would look at the regulations again so that they could do something by 1995.

As we all know, there is tremendous competition in the EC in the egg market. Anything that would put our farmers at a disadvantage would be most unfair. Therefore we welcome the point that the noble Baroness made.

On the question of the calves, of course nobody likes the veal calf system at all. We know the reason for keeping them from turning round of course: for control. The food had no roughage, but nowadays one cannot buy food without the proper fibre and so on.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness has any thoughts about whether the regulations for calves should deal with the fact that veal calves are always kept in darkness. There is no word as to whether we ought to stop keeping them in the dark.

On the question of calves in general, I was brought up in Aberdeenshire where it will now be an offence to tie up any animal. I left Aberdeenshire and have not been on a beef farm for a long time, but my noble kinsman may know of a whole host of cattle tied up in what we call byres that are well looked after and perfectly happy.

In Denmark I saw sows tethered in wide stalls and bedded on straw. One could not have seen a better bit of husbandry than that. We need to look closely at the suggestion that farmers in the North-East are being cruel to cattle by keeping them tied up in byres.

With regard to the regulation about the height and the width—the height being the height up to the wither—I think it would be much better to take an average size calf and give a figure. I can imagine a joiner coming along to make some calf pens, trying to catch a calf to measure its withers and then deciding how wide to make the pen. I feel that is a little vague.

However, we welcome these new regulations to help the situation in animal husbandry, particularly intensive animal husbandry. Apart from the points that we have made, we give them our blessing.

My Lords, we, too, from these Benches welcome the regulations. I must say that I welcome them much more wholeheartedly than my noble kinsman. I should hope that the regulations would not only improve the temper of the critics but would do something for the hens as well. As a farmer I detest the battery system. I know that it produces eggs and, as my noble kinsman said, they may be cheaper; but free-range eggs would certainly be worth half as much again as eggs produced in a battery. The system is widely abhorred.

Another kinsman of mine shows many schoolchildren round his farm. They go into the calf house and the the milking parlour which are very modern. They go into the piggery. They are extremely interested. However,when he takes them into the battery house a hush falls on the children. I think that this is universally felt.

Therefore I welcome the small step forward in the regulations. I am not unaware of the fact that in this kind of case we must protect our producers who are driven by commercial factors to produce in this way, as against our comrades on the continent.

I hope that the Government will take a lead in pushing for further regulations. I thought it delightful that the cage is sloped in such a way that the droppings fall clear. I have no doubt that that is absolutely admirable, but why should the bird have to bend down every time it wants to defecate? It appears to me to be most cunning, but it is still not at all a good system. Therefore, I hope that the Government will work towards getting it abolished throughout the EC. We shall then have far better eggs. The hens will take up some of the land that at present is used to produce surplus food. We should produce from that land something worthwhile and worthwhile eating. While paying due regard to the competitive nature of the industry, I do think that this is a step forward.

In the case of the calves I do not think that there is anything with which to quarrel. I cannot see that the colour of the veal that we eat should be obtained by depriving the calf of any vital element in its growth, particularly as calves may be intended for veal but given fodder at a later stage.

I can assure the noble Baroness that from these Benches I welcome the regulations. I recognise the practical difficulties of the industry. However, I hope that the Government will push for regularisation of the position on batteries inside Europe and progress to abolishing them altogether.

8 p.m.

My Lords, I seek to take part in the discussion on the regulations which are before us, mainly because in another place in the parliamentary session 1980 to 1981 I chaired the Select Committee on Agriculture and with 11 of my colleagues in another place spent an entire parliamentary session looking into the conditions in which eggs, meat from pigs and meat from veal calves was produced. Our inquiry was a natural follow on to the Brambell Report which my noble friend mentioned in opening this evening. It was also very much in response to a great deal of public disquiet at that time about what had become known as factory farming. I believe that there is a great deal of public disquiet about factory farming today, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, who has just spoken, has indicated.

I was interested in his comments about schoolchildren being taken round a farm. I can fully understand the reaction of young people in seeing hens particularly in their natural condition in a farmyard and then seeing them in the battery system.

Back in 1981 my committee produced our report and our recommendation for battery hens was that Community agreement should be sought to obtain through regulation a minimum of 750 square centimetres per bird in battery cages. We also very strongly recommended that 550 square centimetres was the absolute minimum that could possibly be reasonable.

I therefore welcome, belated as they are, Recommendations (1)—(3) which are before us tonight. I regret very much that birds in cages of four should just have 450 square centimetres. My committee further recommended that agreement should he sought in the European Community on a statement of intent, that after a period of five years egg production should be limited to approved methods which would not include battery cages in their present form.

The date of that report which I signed was 2nd July 1981. The new regulations represent, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has suggested, a modest step forward on the humane front. The new regulations representing this modest improvement in welfare are not effective until 1st January 1995—food for thought for those of us who sat on that committee those years ago. My colleagues and I on that Select Committee were fully aware of the economic consequences of our recommendations. Throughout our report— as those of your Lordships who have read it will note—we appreciated that regulation must be on a Community basis if the United Kingdom producer was not to be disadvantaged. The point was made by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, speaking for the Opposition. However, we did not hesitate in our conclusion. The report summed up our feelings, and I should like to quote from paragraph 149:
"Despite the conflicting arguments our conclusion is clear: we have seen for ourselves battery cages, both experimental and commercial, and we greatly dislike what we saw. We think that, provided that a move away from them was carried out over a reasonable period of years, and provided that it was made in concert throughout the Community, then so far as can be estimated at present the economic consequences would not be prohibitive, the likely price increases need not he unacceptably large, and consumers would adapt to them as they have to much else".
Since the production of our report—since I wrote that paragraph- progress has been deplorably and abominably slow. I hope that our strong recommendation, made at the time of the report, that research into alternative, more humane methods of egg production will continue.

What is happening with regard to the hopeful work which was being carried out at that time at Gleadthorpe on the aviary system or the work at Celle in Germany on the get-away cage system? The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, spoke of the use of land. I remember that during the course of our inquiry in 1981 a witness stated that the straw yards system—which was a reasonable system and certainly more humane than the battery system—was at a disadvantage because it would take precisely five times as much land as the battery system. We are now looking for alternative uses for land so perhaps it may not be too had a thing if the straw yard system were to be considered once again.

I believe that public opinion has moved with regard to battery and free-range produced eggs. Free-range produced eggs are now more freely available than at the time of the production of our report. I live in the heart of Northumberland where we can obtain free-range eggs easily. When I am in London I live in the heart of the metropolis, as my noble friend knows, because we are neighbours. I have no difficulty in obtaining free-range eggs here and I think that it is an improving trend. There is, however, no doubt— and we would be foolish if we did not recognise it—that a caged system of some kind will continue for a long time to come. The economics of the situation still demand it.

I hope that more research will be undertaken and that in the near future further steps will be taken. I regret that action since the production of a report, on which 12 Members of another place, including myself, did a great deal of work has been so long in coming. During the course of that we experienced a great deal of distress at what we saw. I hope that it will be not too long before we have a further step forward.

I welcome the requirements laid down in the draft regulations as regards veal calves. The Select Committee's recommendation that, above all else, a calf should have the ability to turn round is met. That is a good thing, whether it is measured by the withers or in another way. It will now be possible for a veal calf to turn round and that is an enormous step forward in the name of humanity. It was a deplorable sight to see rows and rows of calves unable to turn round in the full period of their short lives. Considering the deplorable conditions in which we saw them kept, one felt a certain amount of relief at knowing that their lives would be short. I welcome the new regulations but I regret that they will not come into force until 1990.

The committee strongly recommended that the production of loose housing for veal calves should be given full consideration by the government of the day. I hope that the advantages of loose housing are still being borne in mind by Her Majesty's Government.

As the past chairman of a Select Committee which looked into the subject closely and carefully, I welcome the recommendations, but with the reservation that they have been too long in coming and that they are much too modest.

My Lords, I welcome the recommendations in the sense of welcoming not half a loaf as being better than no bread but a single crumb. The regulations have a few things to recommend them but I think that they may be harmful in confirming to the public that the Government approve of intensive farming. I do not disapprove of intensive farming merely from a humanitarian point of view. I dislike it also because of the danger to the consumer. The animals, which live an entirely captive and unnatural life, become delicate and subject to all kinds of disease. They have to be injected with antibiotics and, as everyone knows, calves must also be injected with hormones. It is that which makes the meat eaten by the consumer unnatural and possibly even dangerous.

It is a pity that the regulations were not prepared in English. For those noble Lords who do not understand European, I should like to point out that 1,000 sq. c. equals a rectangle of approximately 19½ in. by 7½ in. It could be a different measurement but it is a small space in which a hen must spend its entire life.

On the other hand, I am glad that the food for calves has been improved. It is much better than the food they are given in France. There they are made anaemic because the French public demands white veal. I am thankful to say that we in this country are not quite so particular.

The noble Baroness said that the regulations are put before us in order to keep in step with European standards. Why on earth should the European Commission dictate to us as regards our domestic affairs?—on international affairs most certainly, and one can understand that. But it seems to me that our domestic regulations are entirely beyond its business and I cannot understand it. However, I dare say that I am one of those old-fashioned people who like England to be England.

I do not like the regulations. I do not like intensive farming but, on the other hand, they might he a great deal worse.

8.15 p.m.

My Lords, at the risk of being tedious, I shall complain once again about the indiscriminate way in which important business is raised during what is supposed to be a break for supper. I hope that the Procedures Committee will look very closely at the convention to see whether something better cannot be arranged.

I think that this debate reflects matters of much greater importance than the regulations themselves would suggest. I find it extremely congenial to be in the company of those who are interested in this subject, but I deplore the fact that the majority of noble Lords go to join in the social life available at Westminster, while some Members remain behind to do what they believe to be their duty. One day I shall become so impatient that I shall do something rash. I shall bring in my own sandwiches and have my own working supper. It will shame all those who are enjoying the amenities of Parliament to a greater extent than are those now present in this Chamber. I shall leave the matter there.

Of course the draft regulations are welcome, but they are 22 years behind the times. The Brambell Committee, which has already been referred to, began the analysis of the new development of intensive animal husbandry. The committee was set up by a Conservative Government in the summer of 1964 and reported in December of the following year when a Labour Government was in power.

At this point I must say that I deeply regret that the Labour Government in 1965 was so shamefully weak that they did not do something much more positive then. I share the responsibility for that, and I can only offer in extenuation the political circumstances in which the Brambell Report was received. At the beginning of 1964, the Conservative Government made a very generous farm price settlement. I am sure that they had no ulterior motive for doing so. When the Labour Government took office later that year and had to deal with the Farm Price Review in 1965 (of which body I was chairman) something had to be done to curtail the rising costs of agricultural support. But with a tenuous majority in the Commons, it was difficult to follow one unpopular measure with another. When the then Minister of Agriculture, my noble friend Lord Peart, who I very much regret is unhappily unable to be with us on these occasions, was going round the country to meetings of the National Farmers' Union, he had dead chickens thrown at him on account of the discontent with the Farm Price Review of 1965.

We should have grasped the nettle then, but we never have our time over again. These regulations are of the same type (though in some respects not as good) as those recommended by the Brambell Committee 22 years ago, which shows just how long it takes to make progress. People say that one cannot stop progress, but my experience has been that it is hard to get it going, and in this particular connection it certainly has been difficult.

We are now in the European dimension whereas in 1965 we were not. In 1965 we were masters in our own house although, admittedly, the rivalry in prices and production between agriculture in this country and Europe was still present. However, at least it was not governed by the disciplines and laws of the European Community. I was strongly in favour of Britain joining the EC as I realised that it would mean entering a new dimension and bring a new discipline that we should have to accept in the interests of the common advancement of policies throughout Europe. Today we are confronted with one of those policies.

One of the traits that I so much deplore in the human species is the way in which we treat animals. Our attitude seems to be that animals are either for slaughter, for domestication or for imprisonment. We put them behind bars, and when it comes to intensive animal husbandry living creatures stay behind some very small bars indeed. I make no apology for referring first of all to calves, which have probably suffered most. The Brambell Report recommended some quite positive conditions under which veal calves should be kept. The consumer fad for white veal is an abomination because we make the calf do its own bleaching by the manipulation of its food intake, by keeping it in darkness and not allowing it reasonable room for movement. There is not the slightest doubt that when we see a regulation about prevention of cruelty, cruelty is exactly what we mean. Cruelty, whether it be cruelty to animals to children or whatever, is of itself an evil thing. We have raised it to the level of a criminal offence in our statute law. It appears again in these regulations. This is the first time that regulations of this kind in respect of either poultry or calves appear in statute. Up to now we have relied upon voluntary compliance with a code of practice.

I am not a person to decry the nobility of response to voluntary effort and compliance with agreed standards which may not have the backing of statute law but have a strong moral influence behind them. Nevertheless, we now have these regulations, which appear 22 years after Brambell, to deal with calves. We are dealing with calves because the deterioration in the treatment of calves during the intervening period has been more than public opinion can take. I believe that that is another aspect of the situation in which we find ourselves at the present time. The mood of the consumer— which is expressing itself more and more in disquiet and distaste for many of the methods used in the production of animals as food—lies behind these regulations, welcome as they are. The deepest worries are aroused in the consumer by the amount of doping that goes on, the hormones that are pumped into animals, and the whole range of laboratory techniques used in the treatment of animals in confined areas.

With the decline in the need for intensive arable production in our farming industry there will be a strong demand that some of the land should be used to give more space to animals that are now kept in cages, crates and other confined spaces. That will be a good thing. As for cost, one of these days we shall have to preach the doctrine that the animals come first, and if they cannot be produced at the cost that one wants to pay, they will have to be produced at the cost that one cannot afford to pay. We shall then see what your priorities are. The public has not really been tested on its priorities. We have kept food prices low; we have kept rents low; we have kept everything essential low, in order that many disposable incomes can rise for use in many directions less desirable and less needful than those which should come first in domestic expenditure.

By 1993 or 1995—I do not suppose for a moment that I shall be here to see it—something will be moving in this field which it will be impossible to disregard, and all these square centimetres, inches, slope of the floors and slats will be going out of animal production. I sincerely hope that it will.

On calves we have practices which have grown up and become intolerable, and which are now to be made unlawful. We are creating criminal law tonight in the supper break and I think we should understand that that is so. I welcome that. Even so, looking at the draft order on calves, I find some difficulty in satisfying myself that charges will stick and convictions will be made under such loose phraseology as we have in the regulations. This is the reason why, unwelcome as it may be sometimes, it is necessary to prescribe fixed dimensions and precise conditions to which conduct can be related.

If you look at the regulations, there are one or two conditions for keeping a calf which—I do not know—may be somewhat difficult to prove. They read:
"the calf is free to turn round without difficulty".
How difficult should it be for a calf to turn round without difficulty? Your Lordships know what the lawyers make of the construction of words in statute law when they get busy, and the absence in the draft regulations of something more specific about space and room for calves is to be regretted.

I am not part of the indiscipline that has kept us running late with our supper break; and I am not feeling constrained by any suggestion that we have an informal timetable on this debate—we have not. The House cannot resume on the Criminal Justice Bill until we have finished. I think that we should finish in our own time. It is important to assert our right, if we are to discuss matters during the supper break, to extend the supper break to fit our feeling of discharging our duty, which is what I am doing.

I once described the battery hen, as the most miserable being in the feathered world, and I think that is still true. Here we have more specific regulations on space to be available. The nub of the problem about the regulations for the battery hen is the difference between the standards that we wanted and those which were obtainable, and the extent to which the regulations alter the directive of the EC on minimum space. That is really what is bothering the industry and is probably perplexing other people, too.

This arose when we knew of the directive of the EC earlier this year. I remember commenting on the fact that we should receive an EC directive on a lower minimum standard than we were asking the industry to provide under the voluntary code in this country, and a great many producers have sustained their business on a higher standard of space than that provided for in the EC directive. But the draft regulations depart from the EC minimum in the case of cages containing a smaller number of birds.

It is interesting to bear in mind that Brambell recommended that no cage should contain more than three birds. Now we are talking about one, two or three as if they are the smaller fry. The real business of keeping poultry today is with five and six in a cage—a sort of flock—so that they can use each other's space. The trouble about using each other's space is that you get in each other's way and that leads to all sorts of bad habits in all species. Even human beings crowded together can scarcely behave themselves in a decent fashion. It is not a hit surprising that we get cannibalism and other malpractices from one bird to another.

But the industry is saying what the regulations, as drafted, require them to do in the future, not now—and this is another feature of these regulations which we must remember. It is a phasing-out and a phasing-in process which could last a long time. For calves it is two years. For poultry it can be seven years, with a review to begin before that so that the period might not be extended unless absolutely necessary.

But it will be in the law, it will be in the regulations, and they will have the force of an Act of Parliament. The industry will have to adjust itself to the prospect that when that time comes these regulations may become fully effective. This may give rise to problems of relationships with production costs in Europe and other matters related to the EC.

But one of the things we must require in the interval is some evidence of compliance—enforcement, indeed—of the EC directive in some of the countries in Europe. We may think that 450 cm2 is a bit on the low side, and it is; but countries that have no minimum standards will have to comply with the EC regulations or should do. We want to be very clear that that is likely to be possible.

Altogether I think that this is a much more auspicious occasion than one would have realised. It is the first time that we have put in the statute law conditions in these two fields of intensive animal husbandry. That itself is a notable step. Secondly, it is the first time that we have standards set out in a European Convention. We are now part of the European dimension and that we have done for the first time and lent our influence as best we could in the European discussion.

Therefore I think I can chide the Government with having no idea how to celebrate their achievements—certainly not in the supper break. There ought to have been something much more notable in the reception given to these regulations than has been possible in the rather secondhand shop conditions in which we are debating this matter at the present moment. But it is an achievement and the Government have to be commended on that. Here we have something on which to build, and bring the future consideration of this problem into the pool. I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of the next phase in the treatment of birds and domestic animals and will set in motion not an extension of this system, but a departure from it and to embrace much more civilised conditions for keeping our animals in the future. A country that cannot treat its animals decently is not worth much in the estimation of posterity. We might as well make up our minds that if we cannot be great at least we can be civilised.

My Lords, before my noble friend replies I wish to follow on one point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, regarding agricultural land. Why is it necessary for those words to be included in the regulations? It could be because a number of battery hens are kept on land which is not agricultural land. There could also be a few calves which are kept in back gardens and therefore not covered by these regulations. I think that they should be covered by the regulations.

8.30 p.m.

My Lords, at the risk of a cold supper I must say a few words about the battery hen. I have kept hens all my life under every different system. I started off with free range hens then I progressed on to straw yards and dropping pits. I have tried all the different systems and I ended up with the battery hen system. In my experience hens which are kept in well run batteries are happier and better looked after than hens which are kept under other systems. They are also very productive.

In the case of a straw yard there is always the worry of rats, which are very difficult to keep out of straw yards. Farmers tend to drop eggs on the straw. Perhaps they do not pick those eggs up and they may get picked up the following day. All those problems are involved. There is also bullying among the hens.

The ideal way to keep hens is to have about 10 hens and a cock in a farmyard where they all have room to spread. That is fine and lovely but once one starts to increase the number the hens begin to fight and bully. The hens get miserable and some get their bottoms pecked. If one puts them into cages in a well run battery house, anyone who walks into that battery house, who knocks on the door before he goes in and walks down the rows quietly finds that the hens will talk to him. They are as happy as Larry. They produce lovely eggs.

The nigger in the woodpile as regards eggs is when they reach the shop. More damage is done to eggs when they get into the shop than ever happens to them on the farm. The first thing people notice when they enter a shop is that the eggs are stuck in the window. The sun pours in on them and they are subject to evaporation. If people want a decent egg they should get it as soon as they can from the hen and keep it in the right conditions, with the right humidity and with the appropriate ventilation. If it is kept under those conditions and sent straight to the customer the customer will get a beautiful egg and he will never be able to tell the difference between an egg that has come from a battery hen and one that has come from the outside. However, if that egg is taken into a shop, is warmed up and then cooled down, the customer will get a horrible egg. I agree that such an egg is horrible. There is a very noticeable difference between a really fresh egg and one which has been battered about.

My speech may have meant that we shall have our supper a little later but I had to say something about the battery hen.

My Lords, this debate has certainly reflected the level of interest and concern that is expressed by a wide cross-section of the public on these subjects. As I am deeply concerned about any cruelty to animals, after listening to the powerful pleas by the noble Lord. Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the contrasting remarks of my noble friends Lord Hives and Lord Wise, I feel like a rather battered old bird myself. I shall try to answer as many points as I possibly can as fast as I can.

I am very grateful for the welcome by the noble Lord. Lord John-Mackie, for the regulations. The vague drafting that he talked about is the result of having tried to follow the directive as closely as possible. As regards agricultural land, which the noble Lord mentioned in the context of drafting. the definition comes from the enabling Act, the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of 1968 which applies to all commercial farmers and smallholders. As regards calves being kept in darkness, the Government's welfare code requires that calves have suitable lighting. I hope that that is reassuring.

My Lords, I see. With regard to the height of calves' withers the code was deliberately designed that way to cover animals of different breeds and sizes. I imagine that one would take the largest calf and choose its wither height.

On the question of A-frame cages, at the industry's request we have already obtained an important concession from the Commission that the directive's height requirements should apply only over the minimum cage area. Without that A-frame cages would have been ruled out. We shall keep the position in the industry under review.

My noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth, whose work as chairman of the Select Committee was widely respected, brought up several points and spoke about the time lapse. I shall return to that in a minute.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, does not approve of these draft regulations because they are certainly aimed at improving the lot of just those animals and birds about which he worries and for which he suffers. He brought up the question of hormones. They are banned in poultry and calves. I hope that that will reassure him. The Community ban is on the way for other classes of livestock.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, raised the question of government support for intensive farming. The risk to consumers is no greater than that from other foods. Intensive systems produce clean, good food, which most people want. People can buy alternatives if they wish to. They can even become vegetarians.

The response to the Brambell Report, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was that the Government passed legislation, which was the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968. We set up the advisory committee, which is now the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I am sure that the noble Lord knows that we started the work on welfare codes.

As regards the enforcement of regulations, my department's veterinary staff will be responsible for that. They will use their clinical judgment. If need arises we shall prosecute.

My noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth and many other noble Lords would like to see cages banned, but most eggs are produced under the battery system and no practical substitute has yet appeared. Free range and other systems have their place but they involve greater costs and hence greater prices, which most consumers seem unwilling to pay. The free range system in particular requires a considerably higher quality of stockmanship than is generally available.

Alternative systems are unlikely to take over from the battery system and there is no realistic prospect of a ban on cages. We are of course supporting research in this country and in other EC member states into alternatives to the battery cage. At our own farm in Gleadthorpe we are carrying out a trial into the aviary system. Early results have given some encouragement. There is a long way to go but that work and the work at Celle must continue.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshic, that we shall continue to press for improved measures of care within the EC. as we have always done in the past. As regards enforcement in other member states, the directive specifically sets up the procedure for the Commission to check up on national arrangements. If others fall short. we shall pursue the matter in Brussels.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, hit a nail on the head when he spoke of the past. The Government have a delicate balance to maintain when helping animals; in other words, it is the art of the possible. The noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Elliott, as I said, deplored the length of time that it has taken to arrive at this stage. I remind your Lordships that we have the opportunity to progress even more through the review of the Community directive in 1993.

On Question, Motion agreed to.