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4 Mar 2003 : Column 679—continued

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had a moment to look at the lead letter in The Times today, from Professor Sir Bernard Crick, the constitutional expert, in which he compares Ministers' respect for the House of Commons somewhat less than flatteringly with the Government of Lord North's? Against the background of your own repeated statements that Ministers making important announcements should come to the House of Commons first, have you been able to reflect on the Chancellor of the Exchequer coming not here, where he surely ought to be, but to Canary Wharf, to tell us that the costs of any war against Iraq will be met, whatever they are, or on the fact that the Evening Standard can refer to the prospect of a rise of 4p in the pound in income tax? If income tax is to rise by 4p in the pound, should not the House of Commons be told first, rather than the distinguished company at Canary Wharf?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman, the Father of the House, applied for an urgent question today. I am rather worried that, when he is refused urgent questions, he tries to raise points of order on the same matters. That is what he is trying to do now. He sought an urgent question to try to bring the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the House, and I refused his request. I need not give any reason for doing so. It is quite improper that the hon. Gentleman should then raise a point of order and try to raise the matter in this way.

4 Mar 2003 : Column 680

Welfare of Laying Hens (Enriched Cages)

12.33 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I beg to move,

First, may I pay tribute to Compassion in World Farming, whose campaign has inspired this Bill? Secondly, may I say that the Government have done much to improve the welfare of farm animals? They led the way in securing the EU protocol, which gives animals a new legal status as sentient beings rather than agricultural products, as they were previously defined. They have banned fur farming and played a key role in winning an EU-wide ban on battery cages, which is due to come into force in 2012. I am aware that the Government are in the process of consulting on whether to ban enriched cages, and I hope that they will do so. The purpose of my Bill, which has all-party support, is to give Ministers a little prod in the right direction. I was hoping that there would be a Minister from the relevant Department here today, and I am sorry that there is not.

I am sorry to say, however, that as things stand much of the egg industry plans to side-step the ban by going over to the cynically named enriched cages, which, sadly, have not been banned by the EU directive. An enriched cage will give hens just 150 cm—about the area of a postcard—more floor space than a conventional cage. It will contain the same number of hens—usually four—and provide a tiny nest box, a perch and litter for dust bathing, all of which will be woefully inadequate in the tiny space available. The hens will still be unable to turn or to flap their wings, and competition for the nest box is likely to lead to aggression. I defy anyone who has seen it to say that this represents a serious improvement in farm animal welfare.

These so-called enriched cages are little more than glorified battery cages. They have nothing to do with humane egg production, and have been designed principally as a device for getting around the EU ban. They will enrich only the egg producers, not their wretched hens. The 2012 deadline for phasing out conventional cages is, by any standards, generous. Producers have ample time to prepare for it, and what they ought to be doing is investing in perchery or free range systems; indeed, the better egg producers are already doing so.

There are, of course, those who argue that more expensive welfare systems in the EU will lead only to increased imports from countries where EU welfare standards do not apply. I understand this concern, but it need not be the case. Of course, the obvious solution would be for the EU, once its own cage ban comes into force, to ban the importing of cage-produced eggs from elsewhere. I am aware that both the Government and the EU make the pessimistic assumption that the rules of the World Trade Organisation do not allow restrictions on such imports. We should challenge this view. I note that the WTO recently ruled that an importing country may make it a condition of access to its markets that the exporting countries adopt policies of environmental protection comparable to its own. I also note that the EU, which bans cosmetic testing on animals, has recently decided that a ban on the sale of imported animal-tested cosmetics is consistent with WTO rules. I therefore see no reason why the same principle should not be extended to farm animal welfare, and I trust that Ministers will press for this.

4 Mar 2003 : Column 681

Whatever the position with the WTO, however, there are other steps that we can take to prevent welfare standards in our egg industry from being undermined by imports. Supermarkets should follow the example of Marks and Spencer and Waitrose in refusing to sell battery eggs, and fast food chains should do the same. Believe it or not, UK branches of McDonald's use only free range eggs. If McDonald's can adopt this principled position, so can other food chains and manufacturers. Where the market goes, industry will follow.

In any case, the cost of change is often exaggerated. Industry figures show that barn eggs cost about 8.5p a dozen more to produce, and free range eggs about 18.5p a dozen more. Given that we consume about 180 eggs per person a year on average, this amounts to about tuppence a head per week for free range eggs, or 5p a head per week for barn eggs. That is not a high price to pay for rescuing hens from a lifetime of misery, or for injecting a little morality into factory farming.

I repeat: these so-called enriched cages are a cynical device designed to undermine the little progress that we have already made towards mitigating the worst excesses of factory farming. Germany has already undertaken to ban them, and if Germany can do without them, so can we. I note that the egg industry is arguing that the Germans can afford to take this principled stand because their industry is migrating across the border into Poland. This overlooks the fact that by the time the ban comes into force in 2012, Poland will be well inside the EU, and the rules that apply to German egg farmers will also apply to Polish ones.

I trust that Ministers will not fall for any of the special pleading coming from the egg industry. Instead of looking for ways round the ban, the industry should put its energy into ensuring that there is a level playing field and expanding the market for eggs that are humanely produced. If they were to do that, they would have the full support of the House and the public.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mullin, Ann Clwyd, Mr. Tony Banks, Sir Teddy Taylor, Bob Russell, Mr. Gwyn Prosser, Mr. John Horam, Sue Doughty, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Bill Etherington and Peter Bottomley.

Welfare of Laying Hens (Enriched Cages)

Mr. Mullin accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the keeping of laying hens in enriched cages: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 28 March, and to be printed [Bill 65].


Motion made, and Question proposed,

Question agreed to.

4 Mar 2003 : Column 682

Orders of the Day

Communications Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

As amended in the Committee, further considered.

New Clause 23

Secretary of State Guarantees for OFCOM Borrowing

'(1) The Secretary of State may guarantee—
(a) the repayment of the principal of any borrowing by OFCOM;
(b) the payment of interest on any such borrowing; and
(c) the discharge of other financial obligations incurred by OFCOM in connection with any such borrowing.
(2) The power of the Secretary of State to give a guarantee under this section is a power (subject to subsection (3)) to give it in such manner and on such conditions as he thinks fit.
(3) The Secretary of State must not give a guarantee under this section if the aggregate of—
(a) the amounts that he may be required to pay for fulfilling that guarantee, and
(b) the amounts that he may be required to pay for fulfilling other guarantees previously given under this section and still in force,
exceeds £5 million.
(4) The Secretary of State may by order substitute another amount for the amount for the time being specified in subsection (3).
(5) No order is to be made containing provision authorised by subsection (4) unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.
(6) Immediately after a guarantee is given under this section, the Secretary of State must lay a statement of the guarantee before each House of Parliament.
(7) Where any sum is paid by the Secretary of State under a guarantee given under this section, he must lay a statement relating to that sum before each House of Parliament as soon as practicable after the end of each of the financial years—
(a) beginning with the one in which the sum is paid; and
(b) ending with the one in which OFCOM's liabilities under subsection (8) in respect of that sum are finally discharged.
(8) If sums are paid by the Secretary of State in fulfilment of a guarantee given under this section OFCOM must pay him—
(a) such amounts in or towards the repayment to him of those sums as he may direct; and
(b) interest, at such rates as he may determine, on amounts outstanding under this subsection.
(9) Payments to the Secretary of State under subsection (8) must be made at such times and in such manner as he may determine.'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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