Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, my objective is not to be a Scarlet Pimpernel rescuing cochons from the guillotine, since all animals, like your Lordships, must die sooner or later, but to ensure that while they live they enjoy a life free from pain and cruelty; for pigs are intelligent and lively active creatures while young.

Today the vast majority of pigs are forced to spend the whole of their lives in barren overcrowded sheds without fresh air or daylight, mostly without straw or other bedding.

At present the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994 sanction severe overcrowding. Clause 1 of my Bill insists that they be given ample space and bedding. Pigs need space for lying, for exercise, for feeding and for dunging. They also need bedding for foot-health and for exercise of natural rooting, foraging and exploring behaviour. The schedule lays down the space required. It is quite possible that this should be amended, but Professor Broom comments that,

is a good one.

In natural conditions pigs are not weaned until they are at least 13 weeks old. On most of today's farms piglets are weaned after three and a half weeks. Sows reach their peak lactation three to four weeks after giving birth, the time when today the piglets are weaned. The object of early weaning is of course to enable sows to become pregnant again as soon as possible. Early weaning causes stress and poor welfare among piglets and leads to tail biting in lieu of a teat to suckle. Clause 2 of my Bill makes the minimum age for weaning, save in exceptional causes, a modest six weeks. The British pig association, whose approach can be judged by its dismissal of Mr. Mullin's speech in another place, based as it was and as I hope mine will be, on the best scientific advice available as

    "uninformed, biased, totally inaccurate and intemperate",
suggests that weaning at six weeks will have an adverse effect on the pigs' welfare.

If modern sows cannot properly look after their piglets after the age of three to four weeks, that should be a reason to look very hard at breeding policies. I would suggest that

26 Jan 1998 : Column 67

that highly responsible body, the Soil Association, is right to recommend a weaning age of eight weeks. In any case, four weeks should be the absolute minimum age, with no escape clause to allow it a week earlier. Here is another point where we could usefully discuss figures at Committee stage.

Clause 3 deals with tail docking. I do not believe that we should indulge in mutilation of animals except for their own welfare. In addition to this general principle, there is evidence that tail docking causes lasting pain and distress. Most of us think of tail docking as a quick snip and that is it, it is all over. However, Professor Broom comments that,

    "neuromas in amputated limbs cause phantom limb pain and it is likely that a pig with neuroma in its docked tail region",
and he asserts that they do have that,

    "will have frequent or continuous pain all its life".
That totally contradicts the British pig association claim that,

    "pigs feel no more than transitory discomfort".

It is said that the reason for tail docking is to stop tail biting by other pigs. But the tail biting is caused by early weaning, as we have seen, and by intelligent animals being kept in intensely boring surroundings. Many of your Lordships will be aware of similar behaviour in horses such as crib-biting and wind-sucking and I venture to suggest that if your Lordships were kept in the same kind of conditions as pigs you might go in for tail biting too. The cure for tail biting is not tail docking; it is proper living conditions. And it should be pointed out that tail docking is carried out in defiance of the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994 by the totally improper use of an escape clause.

Clauses 4 and 5 of my Bill lay down penalties and establish definitions. Professor Broom advises me that the latter may need amendments with which I will not bother your Lordships at the moment. Clause 6 gives the Bill a Short Title and allows a generous two years before it comes into force, besides extending the Bill to Northern Ireland where there is a healthy pig industry.

The reasons given for the inhumane conditions in which pigs are kept are often that they give us cheap food. A new report by Compassion in World Farming Trust, using Meat & Livestock Commission data, reveals that free-range pork and bacon are just as cheap to produce as meat coming from factory-farmed pigs. The industry has run out of excuses. I urge your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Beaumont of Whitley.)

6.46 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am sorry that I have to move this somewhat erudite Motion instead of just saying no to the noble Lord, which I have done in the past. But I have been told that I must approach the matter in this way.

I regret that because I understand, appreciate and support the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and his supporters have promoted this Bill. As your

26 Jan 1998 : Column 68

Lordships have heard, it is their opinion that this Bill will improve the conditions in which pigs are kept. Your Lordships, any farmer and I myself must support such an intention for, apart from the fact that treating animals cruelly or unsympathetically always results in a loss of profit, such action is totally against a farmer's ethos. That ethos, which can be called the rural philosophy, is very much under pressure from those not privileged--and I mean that--to live and experience it.

We are all deeply concerned by that lack of understanding. Unfortunately, the noble Lord's Bill falls into that trap, for far from protecting the welfare and conditions of pigs, it does exactly the opposite for the following reasons. First, increased space will lead to cold pigs. As every noble Lord will know, pigs like heat and like to snuggle together. I could be frivolous but I shall not. Cold pigs catch pneumonia, which leads to an increased use of antibiotics.

Today's sows and piglets are bred to be weaned at four weeks old. Extending that would put a strain on a sow's metabolism resulting in either death or again an increased use of drugs.

I accept that when the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and I were a little younger, eight weeks was the norm. I fear that neither I nor the noble Lord, nor even the right reverend Prelate, can prevent time moving on, although sometimes perhaps we should wish to.

The forbidding of crates would cause horrific losses by the sow rolling on her piglets. That certainly used to be the case, as I know to my cost, when they were kept "naturally", if I may use that word. Failure to tail-dock at an early age more often than not leads to cannibalism, resulting in great pain and again the use of antibiotics to clean up the inevitable infection.

Your Lordships will have listened to news broadcasts yesterday when the pig industry made a plea for protection against imported pig meat which is being produced under cruel and, indeed, unhygienic conditions. Foreign producers already have the advantage of being able to use meat and bonemeal, whereas British meat producers have to use the more expensive fishmeal, which, incidentally, encourages further depletion of the world's fish stocks. The Bill would further encourage those cruel and unhygienic imports.

Some noble Lords may say--indeed, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was saying this--that it is against the custom of your Lordships' House to stop a Private Member's Bill on Second Reading. That just is not true. I admit, perhaps with guilt, perhaps not, to having done just that in the past. However, of much more importance is the fact that this Bill is causing very considerable concern not just to the pig industry but also to farmers generally. If the Bill is given a Second Reading today, they will think that your Lordships approve of the Bill and that it will eventually pass into law.

Parliamentary procedure is not a matter that features very strongly in Watson and More's Science of British Agriculture, neither do farmers like to see time and money wasted, even if it is only your Lordships' time. However, as a Member of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, perhaps I should like to see the Government's time wasted.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 69

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I happen, probably wrongly, to believe in compassion towards human beings; in this case the farmers. Noble Lords will have listened to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, last Wednesday and will be aware that--I say this with sadness--we have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. I shall leave dealing with Professor Broom until I sum up and move the amendment later on. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, to withdraw his Bill. If he does not do so, whether he likes it or not, it will be seen as yet another attack on farmers and others who live and work in the countryside.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, That the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at end insert ("this day six months").--(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)

6.53 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I cannot claim to be an expert on pigs; nor do I think it right for those who are not experts to lecture those who are on the right way or the wrong way to rear pigs. I am all too conscious of how easy it is for those who are genuinely concerned about animal welfare, but without first hand knowledge, to get it wrong. So I speak with some temerity on the Bill. My only qualification for doing so is that I like pigs. As a child, I grew up with them on a smallholding, not the mass production variety but three sows who slept in deep beds of straw of their own construction, foraged in the orchard and reared their piglets without sow crates or tail-docking or, indeed, antibiotics. They were also Socialist pigs because they came originally from a herd owned by Nye Bevan.

Looking back, I realise that it cannot have been a very commercial enterprise because they were rather more pets. But in childhood I clearly remember lying in the straw with an arm around a large recumbent sow while she listened with every appearance of intelligence and sympathy as I told her my childhood problems, to which she responded with reassuring grunts. I also like to eat pigs. I see no contradiction in that. If the more militant vegetarians had their way, pigs would all but cease to exist. For both those reasons pigs deserve the best life and the best death that we can give them.

In the years since then I have twice come face to face with the unpleasant reality of commercial pig production. Some years back, on a very hot day at the Royal Show at Stoneleigh, I wandered, looking I believe for somewhere cool, into a large building which was then part of a showcase pig unit on the edge of the site. Inside, row upon row of sows stood on concrete floors chained to iron bars. Those intelligent creatures had a simple choice: to stand up or lie down, nothing else. However, what I remember most about that hot afternoon in that unit was the total absence of pig communication, which was a constant feature of our pigs. Those pigs stood in total silence. That unit has gone, and, as we have just been told, sow stalls will also go in January 1999--and a good thing too! However, I have no doubt that other and different problems will replace them because pigs, as those of us who have had anything to do with them will know, do like to fight on occasions.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 70

My second encounter was at a local abattoir, which is now closed like so many others. This was some years ago. I had gone to collect some lambs which I had sent in some days before. I stress that that was before the 1995 regulations came into force. They were killing pigs. Whether the electric current was inadequate, the slaughtermen inefficient or the interval of time between stunning and sticking too long, I do not know. But the results were inadequate stunning and the sights and sounds of suffering were such that I hope I never experience them again. A farmer standing next to me said, as we both watched, "No pig of mine will ever come here".

I very much hope that pig slaughter has vastly improved since those days, in particular since the appalling results of a survey that was carried out by the Bristol University scientists on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1993 became known. But further improvements are still needed and are possible. This Bill does not deal with slaughter. If your Lordships do give it a Second Reading today, I give notice that I shall table amendments on those aspects in Committee.

I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising these issues. I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, said. What troubles me is that this issue is raised by way of a Bill which will, inevitably, be strongly opposed. I would much rather have seen such issues raised in your Lordships' House by way of a short debate.

In reality, no animal welfare legislation can reach the statute book and be effective without the co-operation of those who are directly concerned with the animals. It must be right that we should listen carefully to those who know what they are talking about--the pig farmers themselves. But they, too, must listen because animal husbandry is not static; it must be able to change and improve to take account of our better understanding of animals and their needs. There is no place for complacency and we must always aim to make improvements.

Tail biting is, I suspect, a symptom of stress. Routine tail-docking has been prohibited since 1994, yet 70 per cent. of piglets are still tail-docked. That should not be necessary. The fact that so many farmers consider that to be necessary shows just how far we have to go to tackle the underlying problems of stress. The measures proposed in the Bill, whether or not this particular Bill goes forward, point at least to some of the ways forward in that respect. As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, farmers at present are particularly defensive and that is not surprising. Jobs and incomes, communities, and a way of life, seem to many to be under threat from an unsympathetic urban and suburban majority as never before.

Sadly, few people today have any direct contact whatsoever with farm animals, yet many have strong views about how they should be treated and feel qualified to dictate to those who have their day-to-day care and management. I believe that public concern for animals is open to both exploitation and misdirection. It is an irony that organisations which spend their money on practical animal welfare and try to alleviate suffering, such as the Humane Slaughter Association, the Blue Cross and the

26 Jan 1998 : Column 71

International League for the Protection of Horses, often struggle for funds to carry out their excellent work, while other organisations which spend vast sums on sensational advertising, public relations and political lobbying--and make a great deal of noise--seem to have money to spare. But those who shout the loudest and most acrimoniously are not necessarily the best friends of the animals themselves; sometimes quite the reverse is true.

Those who rear animals for food would be wise to take note of public concern about the methods which some of them employ, and make changes themselves where they are merited. Whatever the outcome of this Bill--I am bound to say that if this amendment is put to the vote, I shall abstain--pigs will still be looked after by pig farmers. Without their active co-operation this legislation could not work. Animal welfare, it seems to me, is not best served by confrontation but by education, informed debate and consensus. Those who introduced this Bill and support it and those who oppose it might do well to remember that.

7.1 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I like pigs. They are immensely intelligent and attractive animals and I have serious concern for their health and welfare. I also have a high regard for the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I, too, thank him for introducing this subject to the House. I agreed with everything he said in the debate last week--I was sorry that I was not able to be in the House--and I have read his book with pleasure and edification.

I thoroughly agree with the importance of trying to maintain family farms. I also agree with the principle of modulation of subsidies. I believe that those issues are related--particularly the family farm issue--to the subject before us now. This is not a frivolous Bill but I fear that it is a misguided Bill, proposing the wrong measures at the wrong time. Like other speakers, I am conscious of the severe pressures bearing down on farmers at present. This year farm incomes of all kinds are substantially down. I think that that is the first time that has ever been the case. Measures such as these proposals which would add in any way to the cost of farming will be strongly resisted--and I believe rightly resisted--unless it can be shown that they are absolutely essential beyond any shadow of doubt and of proven importance. I question whether that is the case in the proposals before us now.

I come from the most rural diocese in the Church of England where a significant number of the population are still engaged in farming and an even larger number depend on it for their livelihood. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, that these proposals would not improve the lot of pigs and in some important respects might well make their conditions worse. Like the noble Baroness I have happy childhood memories of pigs. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, had similar memories at the back of his mind in drawing up the terms of this Bill. I refer to small groups of pigs each in a traditional brick built sty with plenty of shelter at the back, masses of straw and a trough in front. It was picturesque and the pigs were happy. I think they were Conservative

26 Jan 1998 : Column 72

pigs as my uncle was a staunch Tory! However, that system was enormously extravagant in terms of the capital cost of constructing such piggeries and it was labour intensive. Such methods are simply not realistic in terms of contemporary farming where people have to make a living in a highly competitive environment.

However, I have also seen conspicuously healthy and happy pigs in a different environment. It was one of the unexpected pleasures of a link which I was able to establish, when I worked in the diocese of Salisbury, with the Roman Catholic diocese of Evreux in Normandy. On several occasions I visited a rural farm college run by a brotherhood of lay and ordained brothers who combined their missionary and pastoral work in the parishes with introducing young men and women to the rudiments of farming and particularly animal husbandry. One of the priest brothers was an international expert on pigs. That pig unit was intensive and alarmingly so to our sensitive consciences as we went round it. There were sows in stalls and crates and all the pigs were fairly closely confined; a system much disliked by animal welfare activists. But the evidence was unmistakeable of clean, healthy and contented pigs. There was communication and there was no distress. There were good litters of piglets and little perinatal mortality. There was a constant temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit which compared extremely favourably with the cold and austere conditions in which the members of the human community lived, and which we, their guests, had to share.

"Bonjour mesdames, ne vous derangez pas", said our priest pig expert every morning as he went into the unit. It was intensive farming but it was done with great skill and real affection. I believe that it represented excellent husbandry. However, I do not advocate the intensive character of the unit, although I advocate that kind of care and affection that was obviously shown to the animals. I welcome the forthcoming abolition of stalls and tethers in the United Kingdom, but that will not happen in the rest of the European Union at the moment. I welcome the new regulations about stocking densities which came into force at the beginning of this year which will, I believe, prevent serious overcrowding and allow enough space for comfort.

I turn briefly to the specific provisions of the Bill which I believe are mistaken. The reference to bedding in Clause 1(2) sounds desirable but it can in practice threaten the health of pigs. There is further risk of pneumonia which can be contracted from the bedding itself. I believe there is evidence that slatted flooring is healthier and cleaner and is widely used in the most modern units. I turn to the matter of weaning to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, gave a good deal of attention. Every farmer wants healthy sows and healthy piglets. The present normal practice of weaning at about three and a half weeks allows the piglets to achieve good body weight and full viability. The leanness of modern sows is quite properly required by a public conscious of the dangers of consuming large quantities of animal fat. The whole of our pig herds are infinitely leaner than they used to be. Those pigs of my childhood were so fat when they went to market that no one would buy them today. However, that leanness means that the sows cannot continue to lactate for the full six weeks required by this proposal.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 73

I am grateful for the concession made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in his opening speech suggesting that perhaps there is room for manoeuvre here and for further amendment and that perhaps four weeks would be an appropriate minimum period.

I turn to tail docking. It is not desirable in itself but it is much better than tail biting. It seems to be an effective way of preventing outbreaks of tail biting which are unpredictable, unpleasant, and, as has already been said, cause great distress. Tail biting occurs also among open air, free range pigs as well as among those housed or raised more intensively. It is a phenomenon which does not seem to be properly understood. Tail docking is a quick and effective process carried out on young piglets. Although it is briefly painful, the animals continue to suckle while it is being done and I believe there is little evidence of long-term distress. My press officer is a former farmer who has carried out the operation and he has assured me that he has described it to me accurately and faithfully.

For all those reasons, and because the European Union Scientific Committee has made a list of pig farming recommendations which will be translated later this year into Commission proposals so that legislation on the subject is likely, I believe that the Bill is untimely as well as mistaken in its proposals. If there is to be legislation on pig welfare, I hope very much that it will address other matters, not just slaughter--on which subject the noble Baroness spoke--but also concerns about open air pig farming. One cannot help but feel that such farming looks right: that those are happy pigs rootling about in the field. But the shelter provided is quite inadequate. In very cold weather, in periods of persistent rain, and, even more importantly, in times of great heat the pigs suffer seriously. Pigs are by nature woodland animals. They need shelter. They burn easily in the sun. Those are areas of real concern in terms of the health and welfare of pigs, and, sadly, the Bill does not address them.

I believe that it would be right to vote for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, which would enable these issues to be dealt with more comprehensively at a later date when we shall know more about proposed European legislation. I do not believe that we shall be doing pigs a disservice if we do not give the Bill a Second Reading. We shall certainly be doing pig farmers a disservice if we do; and their cause is very close to my heart, as is the cause of the pigs themselves.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: My Lords, I much enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. Like the noble Baroness, I cannot claim to be an expert on pigs. But I do not come into the category which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, rightly illustrated of the vast majority of people who do not understand farming, food production and the handling of animals on farms. In my time I have managed two farms totalling 733 acres on which were fattened every year 350 head of beef cattle. There was a breeding flock of 380 ewes. Like the noble Baroness, I, too, am not a vegetarian. I eat meat, with one exception to which I shall come.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 74

I so often had a conscience, in particular about lambs in the months of June and July going to slaughter straight from their mothers. However, I always had the satisfaction and comfort of knowing that when the animals were on the farm they were well and truly looked after. Beef cattle with meadows in the summer and straw yards in the winter were happy creatures. I believe that that still appertains in the vast majority of farming today. It does not apply to what is usually now called intensive farming.

Fifteen years ago in another place, as chairman of the Agriculture and Food Select Committee, I presided over a lengthy inquiry into intensive methods of food production. It was a period of my parliamentary experience which I shall never forget; it greatly distressed me. At that time, as a committee, we became extremely concerned when examining production methods used in the spheres of veal calves, poultry, in particular hens, and pigs. At the end of our inquiry, in a report which I signed, we made a number of strong recommendations all of which had the aim of introducing more humane systems into so-called factory farming. I very much regret that after all these years--it is 16 years since I signed that report--few of our recommendations have been implemented, although veal crates, which were dreadful, are now, thankfully, illegal in the United Kingdom. I wish that they were illegal in the area of the Community. I understand that they are being phased out, but how long that will take is anyone's guess.

As has already been mentioned, at long last sow stalls and tethers, which horrified us 15 years ago, will become illegal in the UK. That welcome piece of legislation, which will come into force in a year's time, is largely due to the pressure campaign by Compassion in World Farming which should be much commended. Sadly, and cruelly, hens are still kept in battery cages.

The Bill has highly desirable aims. While several points can be made against the Bill--there is a case against its timing and its being unilateral and not European--much can be said for it. Its aims are to make production of young pigs more humane. We are told that 13 million are reared for slaughter at present. The Bill gives those 13 million pigs increased space and the provision of bedding, and will end cruel early weaning. It is easy to talk of scientific modern farming. The right reverend Prelate stated that he has seen an intensive pig unit which he thought humane. With my committee, I saw many which were not humane; and we travelled a great deal on our inquiry. I saw many young pigs housed in darkness on cold concrete floors in inadequate buildings. I did not much like what I saw. So all the objectives of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, are excellent, however impractical its implementation may be.

I congratulate the noble Lord on introducing the Bill. Having presided over that inquiry all those years ago, I welcome anything and everything which seeks to ease the still prevalent cruelty involved in intensive farming. I thank the noble Lord for introducing the Bill; and I support it.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 75

7.18 p.m.

Lord Runcie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for the expectations he raised about my speech without knowing its content. It reminds me of the days when I was bishop of a diocese and was known to keep a herd of pedigree Berkshire pigs. When a vicar was informed that I was going to visit his parish, he rang my chaplain and asked whether I was coming as shepherd or swineherd.

As someone who has kept a pedigree herd of black Berkshire pigs for 25 years, I may be regarded as unacceptably amateur for this debate because to keep a small number of free-range pigs under privileged conditions with an eye on a rare breed trophy rather than a competitive market is bound to create a romantic view. However, that experience has convinced me that my pigs were not always without distress, and that the pigs in a well-ordered intensive unit beside which I now live are not the constant object of human cruelty.

My own pigs are now looked after by mentally handicapped young people and an amazingly fruitful partnership is struck up for the good health of them both. So, prompted by real affection and care about the welfare of pigs, I am moved to say a few words about the Bill.

The good intentions of the noble Lord are unquestionable. This is the third in a series of Bills that are avowedly aimed at the worst excesses of factory farming. In each case the organisation, Compassion in World Farming, has provided much evidence. We owe them a debt. Now at the end of September a report of the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Union has produced a substantial document on the welfare of intensively kept pigs. It was referred to by the noble Lord as Professor Broom's work; he is the chairman of the committee.

However, my anxiety at the thought of legislation springs from several reasons. Legislation calls for agreed facts and should not be hasty. There is still a wide range of differing views on what constitutes good welfare and how to measure it in this matter. Codes and conventions can be more appropriate than laws when ideas on what is best for animals change in the light of research. We used to think that mice should be kept in large cages. If you offer a mouse the choice between a large cage and a small one, it chooses the small one. We used to think that the castration of calves by surgical methods was less painful than by a method that crushes the spermatic cord. Recent research shows that calves are more distressed by the surgical method. In both cases, if legislation had been enacted we should have found ourselves unable to reduce distress in animals.

Secondly, there is the question as to how far major legislation on animal welfare should now be at the European level. The Animal Welfare and Human Animal Interaction Group of the EU has produced a great deal of sophisticated evidence. But, if we ban undesirable procedures only in Britain, the welfare of animals in Europe may be worse. An obvious example is the ban in the UK on keeping veal calves in crates and feeding diets short of fibre and iron. The result was that calves were exported to other European countries for the production of white veal. So they suffered that method of husbandry and a long journey beforehand.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 76

Legislation needs to be based on sound science. It must be easy to interpret and enforce. While offering protection for animals, it must not be so restrictive as to prevent an honest, caring farmer from making an honest, reasonable living. If the legislation does add constraints to the profitability of food production, then producers have a right to expect society to contribute to the increased costs involved. Society demands cheap food but is reluctant to meet the costs to the farmer, and if cheap food cannot be produced at home, then it will be imported. Retailers are notoriously fickle in that regard.

But the suspicion that I have of fresh laws is not simply based on commercial anxiety. There has been considerable progress by way of code and practice in the pig industry. I know it is the opinion of the RSPCA that pig farmers have been more proactive and inventive than almost any other farming group in response to welfare pressures. At the present time nearly 80 per cent. of pig farmers belong to the Farm Assured British Pig Scheme (Fabpig). That means a quarterly inspection by a veterinary surgeon, with a long check-list which is regularly tightened up in the light of experience and new research. Supermarkets and purchasers demand this standard care, and it is improving the welfare of pigs. It is an example of co-operation between producer, commercial operatives and welfare pressure.

Another example is found in the co-operation between the RSPCA, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the Humane Slaughter Association. They put limits on production practice through the Freedom Food scheme. Meat produced in an approved way by the scheme can be purchased in many of the major retail outlets. Another good example is afforded by Cambac PSA, which places a strong emphasis on research sponsored by the RSPCA. It has the confidence of producers and is in a good position to lead welfare reforms.

But issues which appear to be clear in the Bill reveal limited common ground among those groups of which I have spoken. Regarding space allowance, the Bill carefully calls for a doubling of the allowances recommended in the Welfare Code for Pigs, as well as an increase in those recently proposed by the European group. It may seem humane to provide more space; but is that what the pig really needs? Pigs are group living animals and tend to huddle when resting, except when the ambient temperatures are very high. In the wild they may live in "nests". Good insulation, temperature control and constant water supply are the norm. There are times when too much space can be a real disadvantage, as has already been illustrated.

In regard to the provision of appropriate bedding, though the term is a vague one for a law, it is agreed that pigs have a strong preference to root in the ground. They are active, exploratory animals. They like to manipulate material such as straw, and all that reduces the incidence of abnormal behaviour. However, certain forms of bedding can be a source of infection for sow and piglets, and this clause, if accepted, might immediately preclude the use of houses with slatted floors. That may be the intention; some reports claim that slatted floors lead to lameness and injuries. Not so, say others. Some compromise is necessary here. In many stalls you can find

26 Jan 1998 : Column 77

the pigs well able to combine bedding in one area and slats or concrete floors for cleanliness. Pigs are intelligent enough to know how to use the combinations within reasonable space. They are recognisably the same animals as we know from raw, romantic settings.

Weaning is an unnatural procedure; but farming is unnatural. Although natural weaning takes place much later than four weeks, the demand for lean meat excludes the fat sow and the milk production needed for the fast-growing piglets of today's breeds is very great. Sows start to lose weight in the second week after parturition and some sows become severely emaciated if piglets are left with them after four weeks. A more realistic regulation would be: "Routine weaning earlier than 28 days is not permitted but individual litters may be weaned early if the welfare of that sow or those piglets would otherwise be very poor".

Tail docking is as much debated as anything. Perhaps the RSPCA puts the case accurately:

    "The RSPCA accepts that tail docking may be necessary to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by tail biting; but Freedom Food will not permit this practice once enough information is available regarding the husbandry methods which prevent tail biting outbreaks".
Clearly, the RSPCA is not convinced that we know enough about tail biting to allow it to prohibit docking in its welfare standards.

Tail biting is certainly not unknown among free range pigs. Hence, the rightness of the simple suggestion that it is created only by bad management and poor housing or by early weaning is not so obvious. Nor is the operation of docking within a few hours of birth quite so fearsome as its opponents seem to suggest.

The Bill attempts to improve the welfare of pigs by prescription of husbandry methods. An important omission is inevitable. By far the most important influence on animal welfare is the ability of the person looking after the animals. Research reveals that the knowledge, training and awareness of farmers are all closely associated with the reduction of disease and discomfort. Britain used to have an outstanding agricultural training board, the ATB. This laid on excellent courses for farmers and stockmen. It has been emasculated as a means of saving money. I believe that better funding of the ATB (which could be achieved by using levy money) would greatly help animal and particularly pig welfare.

The key figure in that wonderful classic by PG Wodehouse, The Empress of Blandings (a black Berkshire pig), was Lord Emsworth's long-standing pigman Wellbeloved. When he, the dedicated stockman, went missing things went downhill. It is a parable from another world. Contented, well-cared-for, regularly inspected pigs will alone produce the goods. The villains or cowboys of factory farming will not. I do not believe, alas, that this legislation is urgent for the well-being of pigs. I know that it is certainly not timely for the morale of those who look after them.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 78

7.31 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, as a veterinary surgeon I welcome any legislation which improves the welfare of animals, especially those that are kept under intensive systems. Hence the House should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing the Bill into your Lordships' House. As this is the Second Reading, it provides an opportunity to put forth comments on the provisions of the Bill in the hope that, should it go further, modifications might occur to some of its proposals. It is particularly welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said that he would accept any amendment if it improved the Bill.

I wish to address three of the main issues in the Bill: space and bedding; weaning and tail-docking. In doing so, may I say that I, like other noble Lords, have consulted a number of experts in pig welfare. Several of them are veterinarians, a number are on the European Scientific Veterinary Committee on the welfare of intensively kept pigs. I wish to state at once that everyone recognises that good farming, good pig production and good welfare go together, hand in hand. I recognise that intensive farming is not necessarily inimical to the welfare of animals. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the majority of intensive pig-producing units in this country are, in addition, good welfare units and even more so, in view of the now recognised sentient nature of the animals.

Perhaps I may deal with space requirements, first, as laid out in the schedule to the Bill. It is my understanding that they are somewhat in excess of those recognised by the experts. One problem is that they are founded on a stepwise requirement based on the weight of the animal. That is difficult to judge because in any group or litter of pigs there is a difference in weight between the piglets in the litter. A more acceptable criterion promoted by the European Union and ADAS is that it should be based on the growth curve rather than a weight curve.

The question of bedding has come up in various speeches by noble Lords and the requirement for bedding is acceptable to everyone. It provides occupational activity for the piglets in the form of rooting and so on. Of course, the bedding must be kept clean otherwise disease may occur. In that context, we all recognise that pigs are naturally clean animals and, given space, will separate an area into a sleeping area with straw, one for rooting and one for defecation for which the slatted floors are quite acceptable.

The subject that has caused particular concern to a number of noble Lords and others in the field of pig welfare is weaning. I regret that I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, on the need to keep piglets up to six weeks on the sow. The modern cross-bred sow has been developed to wean her piglets at three to four weeks. Beyond that time, as has been mentioned, if the piglets are still on the sow she will retain nutrients for herself rather than for her litter. She will thus compromise the piglets, to the detriment of their welfare.

With the older breeds of pigs, the sows may well carry on feeding the rapidly growing litter--and at that time they grow rapidly--to the sows' detriment which may become markedly emaciated, lessening their welfare. The practice of weaning at three to three-and-a-half weeks

26 Jan 1998 : Column 79

with a mean of 26 days is the norm in this country. If it is extended to four weeks, 28 days, an acceptable time to the welfarist and adopted in Germany and Denmark, I understand it would not compromise the production costs in intensive pig-rearing.

Finally, as regards tail-docking, I consider the docking of any animal's tail as an unnecessary mutilation. In another area, I have chaired committees on mutilation of animals where docking has been considered to be totally unnecessary unless an undocked situation is to the detriment of the animal. In the pig-rearing field, we see docking taking place for the purpose of preventing or reducing tail-biting. We should assess the reasons for the tail-biting rather than attempting merely to ban tail-docking in order to correct the problem.

To associate tail-biting with early weaning is, I am afraid, an over-simplification of the problem. It is a complex problem and there is increasing evidence that there may be genetic aspects, certainly nutritional and environmental aspects, as well as atmospheric overtones.

I wish to quote from a letter from Dr. Guise and Professor Penny, formerly of the Royal Veterinary College, on the issue of tail-biting. The letter states that:

    "The provision of straw bedding had no influence on levels of tail biting. Pigs on liquid feed had higher levels of tail-biting than those fed pellets or meal. Floor and trough feeding resulted in higher levels of mild tail biting, compared with feeding via single or double space feeders. Ad libitum feeding resulted in much lower levels of mild tail biting compared with restricted feeding or feeding to appetite. Units with artificial ventilation had higher levels of tail biting when compared with units with natural ventilation".

Therefore, I hope your Lordships will see that it is not a simple issue and that much more work is necessary on the question of tail biting. Much more research is being undertaken in this country by ADAS, by Cambac, which has been referred to, and by the Scottish agricultural colleges. One of my fears is that if a Bill on animal welfare such as this is enacted, it may be doubly difficult to undertake the research that is necessary so we can reach the stage that we all wish to reach; namely, the best welfare conditions in which to breed and rear pigs.

7.41 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, the Bill has little chance of reaching the statute book even without the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. Nevertheless, I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss some of these issues. I think my noble friend Lady Mallalieu was right and a debate might have sufficed. On the other hand, if we should be fortunate enough to get the Bill to the Committee stage, a number of points have been raised on all sides of the House which would be worthy of much more discussion than we can achieve today.

We should not allow our consideration of the Bill to be influenced either by the rush of sentiment about pigs created by the exploits of the Tamworth Two or by the

26 Jan 1998 : Column 80

sentiment about farmers which has been aroused by their present economic difficulties. I am genuinely sympathetic to the present difficulties being experienced by farmers. They are real. I was sorry not to be able to take part in last Wednesday's debate but I could not be here all day. I believe that help must be found to alleviate their current difficulties.

Support for the principles underlying the Bill should come for more permanent reasons. Legislation, I hope, will outlast the rush of sentiment to which I referred. The long-term economic health of the industry and the duty of care towards farm animals are the basis of good husbandry. That can be achieved only by persuasion and to a certain extent by regulation. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu was right to say that the industry must be involved in any decisions that are made and must be persuaded to look at some of its present methods.

Quite separately from the interest aroused from recent events, there is among the consumers of farm produce a growing revulsion against the darker side of food production. Whether it be over meddling with genetics or the unnatural conditions meted out to factory farmed animals, public interest is increasing and opinion is hardening against too many deviations being practised in the so-called "interests of the consumer". The economic effects of this are not yet obvious, but there is a considerable growth in vegetarianism among young people--I am not a vegetarian: I enjoy a bacon and egg breakfast as much as anyone--and a demand for organic products which the farmers of this country are so far unable to satisfy.

Perhaps I may mention at this stage that I was foolish enough to start buying a good deal of organic produce. It costs a lot of money. Pig farmers present may be interested to hear that I was offered organic bacon at £13.49 per kilo. I am not sure how that compares with the live weight but it is probably a great deal more than farmers would expect the end product to fetch. So perhaps they should look a little more closely at the possibilities of organic pig rearing.

The noble Lord's Bill would go some way towards improving the image of pig producers and would meet a good deal of the unease of conscience caused by present practices. In tackling the major causes of tail biting--I understand from the debate so far that the causes are arguable--there is no doubt among many people involved in pig rearing that boredom is at the heart of at least some of the difficulties. The Bill might discourage the abuse of the 1994 Welfare of Livestock Regulations which is currently taking place. Paragraph 20 of the regulations states:

    "In order to satisfy their behavioural needs, all pigs, taking into account environment and stocking density, must have access to straw or other material or object suitable to satisfy those needs".
I wonder how many of the farms we were discussing earlier obey that paragraph of the regulations. I have been given to understand that pigs reared in the open air tail bite far less than pigs reared under more crowded conditions.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 81

The practice of tail docking without anaesthetic is painful and that it should be done routinely and unnecessarily is unacceptable. It is not encouraged in the regulations. In September 1997 the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Union stressed that tail docking was painful when it was carried out and that it could lead to prolonged pain. Even if we do not want fresh laws, as the noble Lord, Lord Runcie, does not, we should ensure that the present laws are obeyed.

I want to come to two items which are not covered by the Bill but which, if the Bill reaches Committee stage, I should like to consider in a little more detail. The Bill does not cover the mutilations of castration and teeth clipping. At one time castration was routinely carried out to avoid boar taint of the meat. Nowadays most piglets are slaughtered before the age of sexual maturity so the problem of boar taint does not arise. But some 10 per cent. of piglets are still castrated. It would be interesting if the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, or the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, could give some indication of why that should happen. In 1992 the Farm Animal Welfare Council condemned the practice as a "largely unnecessary mutilation" which should be avoided. Surely the time has come for pig castration to be prohibited altogether.

The clipping of piglets' teeth was prohibited under the 1994 Act except where there is evidence of injury to sows or other piglets by not doing so. But on some farms piglets' teeth are clipped to gum level before such evidence could have emerged. I agree with Compassion in World Farming that it is time this loophole was closed and I regret that the Bill does not allow for this. The problems of tearing of sows' teats and injury to other piglets which the clipping is carried out to prevent is largely due to the breeding of sows to produce too large a litter and the remedy is in the hands of the breeders.

I genuinely believe that it is in the long-term interests of the farming industry to remedy some of the excesses which are beginning to worry consumers as well as animal welfare organisations. In the end, good husbandry is good business. I support the principles underlying the Bill and I hope that its provisions and some of the other points raised will be picked up by the Ministry in the not too distant future.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Middleton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Emsworth, had he been here tonight, would have reminded your Lordships that the requirements of pigs for warmth, clean surroundings and good ventilation are virtually the same as those for human beings. Without a comfortable environment--here I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Stanley--pigs simply do not thrive. Their welfare is not just a matter of compassionate husbandry; it is a commercial necessity. Rapid growth and efficient conversion of feeding stuffs into meat will not take place if pigs are not reared, housed and fed correctly. Any pig farmer failing in this respect will very quickly go out of business.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 82

Practices which fall short of the best standards of pig husbandry are prohibited--we have been reminded about that tonight--by the Welfare of Livestock regulations which came into force on 10th August 1994. There are two matters outstanding--tethering and stalls--as we have been reminded. They have another year to run. The sooner they come in the better.

Schedule 3 to the regulations contains no fewer than 34 paragraphs covering every possible aspect of pig husbandry. These regulations implement the 1976 European convention for the protection of animals and three other European Council directives. So they apply throughout the Community. This Bill would apply only in the UK.

Clearly, the promoters of the Bill think that existing legislation is inadequate. Clause 1 of the Bill would provide, as we have heard, for double the space that is provided under the welfare regulations, with no obvious practical justification. The provision of straw is covered in paragraph 20 of the schedule to the regulations but, as we have heard, there is a question mark over straw. These matters, together with Clause 2, which is concerned with early weaning, have been dealt with by many noble Lords and certainly by my noble friend Lord Soulsby.

Perhaps I may enlarge on Clause 3, which deals with tails. As we have heard from many noble Lords, for reasons that are not clearly understood pigs have developed the objectionable habit of biting each other's tails, causing suffering and infection. This is a serious health and welfare problem, which can be largely avoided by clipping off, as we heard, the greater part of their tails when the piglets are a few hours old.

This practice is already regulated under the instrument that I have quoted and specifically under paragraph 3 of Part IV of the third schedule to those regulations which says:

    "Tail docking shall be carried out routinely only when there is evidence on the farm that injuries are likely to occur as a result of not carrying out this procedure".
My noble friend Lord Soulsby has given us a most interesting professional view on the subject.

I am grateful for the advice that I have received from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons which is as follows:

    "The RCVS classifies tail docking of piglets as a technique to prevent the disease and suffering caused by tail biting. Transitory pain is inevitable, but tail docking is a useful and acceptable procedure in the light of the unpredictability of tail biting and its harmful consequences".
Further veterinary advice is that both picking up a piglet and sticking a needle into it (which may or may not de-sensitise the tail) can cause more stress than one simple snip. This month's Veterinary Record describes a study showing that un-docked pigs showed three times the incidence of tail biting at slaughter compared with pigs that had been docked at birth.

My grandchildren may ask what useful work, if any, I performed here when I was threatened with the sack for being the 12th Baron and not the first and

26 Jan 1998 : Column 83

last. When I tell them that one of the things I did was to argue about pigs' tails, my usefulness may be queried. My reply to them would be that it was not just about pigs' tails and whether they had 0.15 or 0.3 square metres to lie down in when they weigh 10 kilogrammes or less. I would say that it was about doing something to limit the already overburdened statute book with unnecessary legislation.

If Parliament is to be asked to agree to additional animal welfare legislation--and I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Runcie--it must be satisfied, first, that it will prevent unnecessary suffering; secondly, that it adds to the health and welfare of animals; thirdly, that it is acceptable to, and seen to be necessary by, those people affected; fourthly, that it applies throughout the Community; and, lastly, that it is soundly based in science. I support my noble friend because in my view this Bill fails all those five tests.

7.56 p.m.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this Bill for us tonight. For this Second Reading I have sought information from Compassion in World Farming, the British Veterinary Association, an RSPCA farm animals vet and a FAWC and BVA past president, Bob Stevenson, who is a pig veterinarian in Gwent. I have also read the NFU briefing paper kindly given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994, and many other papers relating to pigs, their welfare requirements and the methods of rearing them. So I hope that I have armed myself sufficiently in order to take part in tonight's debate.

I am also mindful of the fact that much of our agriculture, particularly the livestock sector, is in a state of crisis. I listened to much of the timely debate in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, last Wednesday. I read all of it before starting on my contribution tonight. Many speakers in that debate referred to animal welfare issues highlighted by media attention and thereby causing changes to be made in the way that we farm our animals.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I mention yet another speaker in that debate. The noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, reminded the House that some 40,000 Dutch died of starvation in the last 18 months of the war and also of food riots in France and Italy. Europe decided that never again would such a tragedy occur. For that reason, I believe that factory, or intensive farming, came into being. Surely, good farming methods and animal husbandry must go hand in hand. By their very nature, higher standards involve higher costs. Welfare does not come cheaply during the process of change. But I believe that change we must if we want to consider ourselves a compassionate society.

Ever since I have been in your Lordships' House I have pleaded the case for improved animal welfare standards, and I do so again tonight. I support this

26 Jan 1998 : Column 84

Bill. It is a beginning. I admit to having reservations about certain aspects of it and I shall refer to them in a minute. I truly believe that this Government are committed to improving the welfare of all animals, whether they are intensively reared or not.

My formative years were spent on a farm, albeit not in this country. It was an extremely large one. Factory farming methods did not play a part in our lives. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and other speakers, we also kept pigs, not thousands but certainly up to 100. They were fascinating and intelligent creatures; clean, good housekeepers in their resting quarters; playful and curious about everything around them. As a child I enjoyed watching them.

As we know, Clause 1 deals with space allowance and the need for bedding. This Bill doubles the amount of space suggested by the livestock regulations 1994. As I understand it, the 1994 regulations appear to refer only to the lying down area whereas this Bill includes space for dunging, exercise and feeding. Pigs, by their very nature, keep those areas separate. When provided, straw occupies the pigs by allowing them to root, forage and generally explore their surroundings. It is not surprising that pigs kept in a barren environment, closely confined and with nothing to do, will become extremely aggressive towards one another. I suspect that human beings, kept in the same way, might behave similarly. I am also aware that the 1994 regulations regarding space have just come into force, at the beginning of this year, and that farmers have to comply with the regulations. Many noble Lords have referred to pigs' huddling instincts; but surely they also need space in which to move around.

Clause 3, dealing with tail docking, is very much intertwined with the space and bedding requirements of Clause 1. It is already illegal, but it is circumvented by a get-out clause. Dr. Dale Arey, in a review of the scientific literature on pigs, said last year:

    "the prevention of tail biting should be approached by improving the conditions in which the pigs are kept. The first measures which should be taken are the provision of bedding and more space to prevent overcrowding".
He went on to say,

    "Tail biting is a sign that something is wrong with the system, whether it is due to boredom, overcrowding, ventilation or diet".
The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the RSPCA funded research into this problem. They also found that natural ventilation rather than artificial ventilation substantially lowered the incidence of tail biting, as did the supply of straw and, surprisingly, changing from restricted and time-regulated feeding, to one of feeding on demand, or when the pigs wanted it. All of these suggestions add substantially to the quality of life for the short-lived intensively reared pig. The message here seems to be environmental enrichment, by alleviating boredom, and providing materials for the pigs to chew and play with. True, like many animals, pigs are attracted to blood and, should one bite occur, it will spread. That is why aggressive pigs are removed quickly from communal housing. I accept that tail docking may be necessary in

26 Jan 1998 : Column 85

some cases, but it should cease to be used routinely. It is illegal and, in many instances, causes great damage of one sort or another to the pig.

I admit to having a problem with Clause 2, mainly because modern sows are bred to produce and suckle up to 14 piglets and I am not convinced that increasing the weaning period to six weeks would be in the best interests of the sow, particularly as she will continue to be restricted in a farrowing crate. Piglets produced by these hybrid sows gain weight more quickly than the breeds of yesteryear. The pigs of my youth were smaller and had litters of only up to seven or eight. If early weaning does contribute to the problem of tail biting, perhaps a return to the breeding of sows with larger fat reserves and smaller litters could help to solve the problem as these sows were able to suckle their young for longer. This is not an ideal world so I know that is hardly likely to happen. Like many other speakers, I am grateful that sow stalls and tethers will be illegal from 1st January 1999. I understand that the majority of sows in this country go into the farrowing stalls only a couple of days before giving birth whereas in the past they had to be tethered and contained in the sow stall for the whole of their pregnancy.

Finally, I should like to hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, will not press his amendment--I suspect that he will--but if the Bill is given the opportunity to go into Committee, it can be amended. As it is a Private Member's Bill, and is not government-sponsored, it has a very long way to travel. I believe that animal welfare needs to be kept on the political agenda and, for that reason, I cannot support the noble Lord's amendment.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me, but I simply cannot stay until the end of the debate. My noble friend Lord Stanley is looking at me very crossly. However, I rise to speak because I was a pig farmer for 13 years from 1968 to 1981. I had 70 sows and fattened the progeny to baking weight. I recognise the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in introducing this Bill. I knew the noble Lord at Oxford nearly 50 years ago. We have spent quite a lot of time with each other, chasing a drag line across the country.

However, I am afraid that I oppose the Bill and support my noble friend Lord Stanley in his amendment. I oppose Clauses 2 and 3 particularly. They prohibit early weaning and tail docking respectively. Seventeen years ago I routinely weaned pigs at three weeks when, although it was not the norm to do so, many people did that. I am not quite sure of my facts because I am out of date but, to be quite honest, I do not think that all modern pig producers routinely wean their pigs so early. Of course, I may be wrong. I can assure the House from my own experience that the piglets did not suffer from being weaned so early; nor did the sows.

As other noble Lords have said, even 17 years ago sows were bred in order to breed lean meat in their progeny when they went to pork and bacon. If piglets

26 Jan 1998 : Column 86

were not weaned until six weeks or later, they would undoubtedly lose a lot of weight. Obviously, during the past 17 years the breeds have got even leaner. The large white cross is now the norm in pig breeding and this country, incidentally, is in the lead in pig breeding. We imported Landrace from Denmark 40 years ago, much against the will of the then Minister of Agriculture. There was strong opposition to the importation of Landrace. Thank goodness that the people concerned were very determined because, as a result, this country's pig breeding industry is world renowned. We export breeding pigs all over the world.

I strongly oppose Clause 3, which prohibits tail docking. I once did not have the tails docked of a particular group of pigs and there was blood everywhere in the fattening house. The pigs suffered very much more from that than they would from having their tails docked. I routinely tail docked at three days-old. The pigs did not appear to suffer at all. They would squeal if you held them tightly, but the actual snip, which was carried out with sharp scissors or clippers, did not appear to hurt them in the least. There was no blood.

We cut the pigs' teeth at the same time. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has referred to this point. At the time, I was told that we had to cut their teeth--not so much because the pigs hurt each other or the sow (although that might happen during suckling); but because the pigs' mouths swelled up. One had to cut eight teeth--two on the top on each side; the permanent teeth--and if that was not done, the mouths would swell up and the pigs would suffer tremendously. I agree that this practice hurts the pigs--they do not like it at all--but I do not think that the pain lasts for more than a day or so.

As with animal husbandry in general, pig farmers must have contented animals. They would not carry out these practices which take time and are not very pleasant if they were unnecessary. Unlike my noble friend Lord Elliot of Morpeth, I have not had experience of the piggeries that he saw. I do not doubt his word as to that. In my day pig farmers were well advised by ADAS and feed companies, although obviously they benefit from selling feed. I saw many piggeries but only the high-class ones with slats and different methods of keeping pigs. In those piggeries I never saw pigs suffer. Although pigs are perhaps happier on straw I believe that they are content on slats.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, one must welcome the recent statement this month by the animal welfare Minister, Mr. Elliot Morley. Further, one must hope that during the Government's presidency of the EU they will be able to rectify the problems caused by the absence of common minimum standards for animal welfare across Europe. I have spent much of my working life in animal production. Although I no longer have a suckler cow or sheep enterprise due to the poor economic climate in the UK livestock

26 Jan 1998 : Column 87

industry, I still have a deer enterprise whose EU-licensed larder has an annual throughput of 500 carcasses a year.

I have a great love for all animals especially competition horses. Sadly, I miss being able to work with a suckler herd. Although I have not been personally involved in pig production, I have seen it in many forms and feel able to speak to this amendment today. It is comforting and right that the animal production management of farmed pigs has developed and changed rapidly in recent years, but the conditions for the welfare of pigs provided for in this Bill are not laudable and would detract and not add to the health and welfare of pigs. There seems to be no scientific or practical justification for this Bill.

If the conditions in this Bill were implemented unilaterally in the UK pig industry, I question whether there would be a serious UK pig industry, left. Unlike the rest of Europe, shortly the UK will rightly be improving the welfare of its pigs by the banning of sow stalls and tethers. However, this Bill will greatly increase the cost of production, resulting in the vulnerability of our market not only to our other EU markets but also world markets. For example, last year's fixed cost for pigs in a fully insulated farrowing house, complete with partitions and all services, with weaning between three and six weeks, is between £1,560 and £2,845 per sow, as listed in the Agricultural Budgeting and Costings Book. To provide the space allowance in the noble Lord's Bill, which has no scientific or practical justification, will very nearly double the new spacing allowance per sow which came into effect on 1st January 1998. Thus, it would go a long way to doubling fixed costs, making this type of production in the UK not feasible.

I refer to the farming of animals as animal production because that is what it is about. It is the rearing of animals by the use of good quality husbandry techniques in order to produce an end product that can compete with similar products. There will always be a delicate balance between the farmer's wishes to use the best possible code of livestock welfare and what the end product can stand in terms of cost. Statistically, the average family will wish to buy the best quality product for the cheapest price. If the UK cannot better or equal the price of similar foreign products then our farmers will not be able to sell their product. The result will be, first, that the UK consumer will buy pig products from countries that rear pigs under less favourable welfare conditions than our pigs enjoy at present; and, secondly, the UK's total food import deficit will increase.

In conclusion, I believe that the welfare conditions in the Bill are detrimental not only to pigs but to the UK pig industry. Therefore, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley for explaining the reasons for his amendment with such clarity. I recognise, as other noble Lords have recognised this evening, that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of

26 Jan 1998 : Column 88

Whitley, introduces this Bill for the most honest and forthright of reasons because of his commitment to animal welfare reform. We on these Benches have always been committed to the highest possible standards of animal welfare at home and abroad. We have always recognised that it is important to promote higher standards throughout the European Union.

As I understand it, the Bill could threaten the viability of the pig industry in this country by imposing upon it requirements that do not have to be met by the pig industries of other EU countries. Before we approve of such measures surely we must consider the question of proportionality. We need to be convinced that these measures are so vital that we can accept the direct economic consequences to the rural economy with equanimity. This point was made clearly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.

What would be the consequences? We are advised that the proposals could have a devastating financial impact on the UK pig industry, with consequent rural unemployment and job losses in the food processing industry. Are the measures in the Bill so vital to animal welfare that they override the needs of the rural economy? According to a number of my noble friends--this matter has been clearly spelt out by my noble friend Lord Stanley--the answer is no. They have explained how the measures proposed in the Bill would not achieve the stated objective of improving the overall welfare of pigs; rather, they would achieve the reverse. Evidence has been adduced this evening to show that the Bill would work counter to the health and welfare of pigs. That view is supported by the veterinary profession. I listened with great interest to the points made by my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, who is himself an expert in this profession.

Good intentions lie behind this Bill but I believe that the introduction of this Bill to try to achieve those intentions is misguided. The Bill introduces measures in regard to space allowances, bedding, weaning and tail docking. I shall confine my brief remarks to just three of those. I believe that tonight we have heard detailed expert views on those four parts of the Bill. Space allowances would be doubled by the Bill as against the measures which came into effect on 1st January 1998, as my noble friend Lord Rotherwick explained. One wonders why the doubling of space has been plucked out of the air. What is the scientific evidence to support such a proposal? Before inserting such details into a Bill evidence should be to hand to persuade the House that a specific figure should be provided for in the Bill.

As to bedding, the Bill requires that where pigs are kept in a building they should be provided with appropriate bedding. Approaching this from a background in the law, one asks why the Bill does not define in Clause 5 "appropriate bedding". I believe that the omission of that definition is itself a defect of the Bill. We have been informed this evening that many traditional forms of bedding can provide a real risk to a pig's health by raising dust and spore levels which can induce pneumonia.

Finally, much has been said with regard to tail docking. The Bill would make it an offence to dock routinely, although an individual case may be allowed on grounds of health, carried out under anaesthetic, if certified by a vet.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 89

My noble friend Lord Middleton has drawn our attention to the fact that regulations already exist which cover such tail docking prohibition; it is an offence to tail dock routinely. If that ban is being flouted--and some noble Lords have said that it is--the appropriate action is for prosecutions to be brought. It is not the appropriate course to pass yet another legislative measure on exactly the same point. To do that--and I do not seek to be flippant but to give a day-by-day example--would be as time wasting as creating another offence of speeding on the roads just because so many drivers break the speed limit every day of the year.

The more I have listened to the arguments put by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley and others who would reject the Bill at this stage, the more I believe that their arguments are persuasive. I listened with interest to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. It would indeed have been appropriate for the content of this Bill to have been the subject of an Unstarred Question. That would have given us the opportunity to range over a wider subject matter but in greater depth. It is a matter which is a fruitful subject for debate where there can be more of a consensus approach than if we are trying to see whether the Bill should take up further time within the parliamentary calendar.

There are occasions when the House should consider very carefully whether a Bill should take the time of the House in Committee and at other stages. The more I heard noble Lords saying what they thought should be a part of the Bill, the more I felt that my noble friend Lord Stanley had proved his point, that this Bill does not meet the objectives that its proposers say it should. It would work counter to animal welfare and should not perhaps take up the time of this House further.

Having heard all the arguments tonight, I believe that my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley has made a persuasive case and I support his amendment.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, this has been a useful and informative debate. The one thing that we can agree is that all of us are in agreement that we need to ensure the welfare of pigs and that they are kept under the best possible conditions.

Before I arrived I had been given much advice in relation to the Bill and the views that could be expected. The only people who have not been in touch with me are the Tamworth Two, which were referred to earlier. I fully expected Sundance and Butch to give their personal views on tonight's debate, particularly as their tails were undocked. I thought they might have been in touch with us.

What I did not expect was the debate between my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and the right reverend Prelate in which they discussed the political tendencies of their respective pigs. It points to the balance that has been achieved that in one case they voted socialist, having come from Nye Bevan, and in the

26 Jan 1998 : Column 90

other, knowing the ancestors of the right reverend Prelate, he was quite sure that they would have been Conservative had they got to the ballot box.

Returning to the Bill, animal welfare was prominent in the Labour manifesto and ranged over many things. In relation to animals reared for food, it promised better treatment for them. As has been mentioned, we can be very proud in this country that we are ahead in the stance we have taken on pig welfare, perhaps with the exception of Sweden. We have recognised that the lack of freedom for sows in close-confinement stalls and tether systems creates real welfare problems. As we all know, 1st January 1999 is not far off, when all stalls and tethers in the UK will become a thing of the past.

Our task in the forthcoming review of the European directive on pig welfare is to persuade other member states similarly to phase out such systems. The Commission's Scientific Veterinary Committee has recently recommended that this should be the way forward.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that the Government have sympathy with the aims of the Bill. However, the problems that it seeks to address are perhaps best tackled by other means.

We share the concerns that have been expressed about the high level of tail docking of piglets. Too many farmers are still mutilating their animals routinely in this way without properly considering whether they can improve the environment in which the pigs live to avoid the need to tail dock. The Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994 (SI 2126) already provide that tail docking should not be carried out routinely, which it appears to be at the moment, but only where there is evidence on the farm that injuries to other piglets have occurred or are likely to occur. There is a need to remind farmers that legislation already exists and to explore the use of other methods to control aggressive behaviour before resorting to tail docking.

This is already in hand, as is research on this aimed at improving our understanding of the factors that influence aggressive behaviour in pigs. We have heard quite a lot on that particular subject from experts tonight. That is why the Government currently have an awareness and enforcement programme underway to question pig farmers about their policy on tail docking.

Whenever Ministry veterinary officers visit pig farms, for whatever reason, they specifically remind pig farmers that the law does not permit routine tail docking of piglets. They emphasise that the law allows the procedure to be carried out only where there is evidence on the farm that injuries have occurred or are likely to occur as a result of not carrying out the procedure. Where necessary the Government veterinary officers encourage farmers to review their policy with their private veterinary surgeon to determine whether tail docking really is necessary on those farms.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 91

The debate today will, I am sure, have served the purpose of bringing the Ministry's programme that I have outlined to the attention of the British pig industry. The Government's position on mutilation of animals is clear: we are opposed to routine mutilation. Where such procedures are permitted by law, they should be carried out only as a last resort.

We have been talking about tail biting by other pigs. Very serious injuries and suffering can occur when pigs are tail bitten, as has been mentioned by many noble Lords. Tail biting is a problem which needs to be resolved; tail docking is only one of the possible solutions. An improved environment is a necessary solution. I would be delighted if the adoption of the measures proposed in the noble Lord's Bill were certain to prevent tail biting. I regret to say that science is not so robust on this matter.

As has been said, tail biting is a complex, multifactorial problem. At this moment we do not know all the answers. We need more information and I agree with noble Lords who have said that we need more research into it.

The noble Lord has identified in his Bill three factors which may have an influence on tail biting: space allowances, bedding and weaning age. All three may indeed have a bearing on this issue, but I suggest that the answer is not as simple as the Bill would have us believe. Many other factors are relevant in this matter. These include ventilation, weather, diet, water, rooting material and "toys" like foodballs to distract the pig.

In addition, stockmanship has a keen role in all of this. An ill-treated animal will not thrive. Apart from the moral argument regarding cruelty, surely it is not in the farmer's interest to have animals which do not thrive.

Space allowances have been referred to by many noble Lords in relation to the Bill. They are double, as has been pointed out, the minimum areas which only took legal effect throughout Europe from 1st January 1998.

The evidence does not support the view that increasing the space in that way will necessarily reduce or prevent tail biting. We know that substantial investment in the heating and ventilation of pig buildings would need to be made to provide the right thermal and quality conditions for fewer pigs. That was referred to by many noble Lords.

Another point that has proved contentious is the Bill's proposal that the minimum weaning age should be six weeks. UK and EU legislation provides that it should be no fewer than three weeks. In current practice it is normally between 23 and 24 days. It has been pointed out that pigs are prone to disease, particularly when mixing with other litters, and with a changing environment. When pigs are weaned at three weeks they still have significant immunity acquired from the mother. At six weeks--this is a factor we must all bear in mind--that protection is much less. The European Commission's Scientific

26 Jan 1998 : Column 92

Veterinary Committee recently studied the whole subject of pig welfare. At that time it did not associate weaning at three weeks with tail biting.

I turn now to bedding. The Government sympathise with the proposal that all pigs should have appropriate bedding. Again, science is equivocal as to whether that helps to avoid tail biting. The provision of bedding has other welfare benefits for pigs. The Commission's Scientific Veterinary Committee has made a recommendation along those lines. We are currently awaiting the Commission's detailed proposals on how the existing directive should be revised. The codes of recommendations for the welfare of pigs issued by MAFF states:

    "Bedding, and especially straw, contributes towards the need of the pig for thermal and physical comfort and satisfies some of its behavioural requirements".

Ongoing research, some of which is being funded by the Government, is teaching us more about the behavioural needs of pigs, and how to minimise aggression and stress. We need to learn more about the factors that can influence tail biting and to test those on farm situations. There is a need, as I have said, to remind farmers of the existing legislation, and to explain to them that they should explore the use of other measures to control aggressive behaviour before resorting to tail docking. That, as I have said, is in hand, as is research aimed at improving our understanding of the factors which influence aggressive behaviour in pigs.

I shall remark on two points that have been made. The first was by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, who asked what the Government's attitude was to farrowing crates, and whether the Government will ban them. The answer is, "not at present", but we continue to fund research into alternative systems which give more freedom to the sow while providing adequate protection for the piglets. The Scientific Veterinary Committee supports our view that a ban should not be implemented until suitable systems have been developed.

My noble friend Lady Nicol mentioned castration. Our understanding is that that has been practically eliminated in this country. We were surprised when she mentioned the figure of 10 per cent. of piglets. We will look into that, and I shall write to her on that point. That is not consistent with our evidence.

In conclusion, it is clear from what I have said that Her Majesty's Government cannot support the Bill's principles. However, in accordance with the usual practice, in the event of a Division I shall abstain, as will my colleagues on the Front Bench.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and for the kind words that most of them said about me and my motives even if they do not approve of the Bill. My noble friend of longstanding, Lord Harding of Petherton unfortunately had to speak and then leave, which is a practice that your Lordships deprecate. I think that I can say, without being too sanctimonious, that in 30 years in your Lordships' House that is something I have done only twice.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 93

Nevertheless, I am always grateful when someone who would have voted against me had they stayed speaks and leaves.

Your Lordships have produced a great deal of expertise, and made a strong case for taking the Bill to a Committee stage where we can argue out many of the details. Some points were underlying the speeches in favour of the amendment. I shall comment upon one or two of them. First, there is a general theory that if a pig is putting on weight it cannot be suffering or be badly looked after. That is nonsense. It was exposed a long time ago by the then agricultural correspondent of The Times, who pointed out that the only time in his life when he had seriously put on weight was when he was in the trenches in the First World War. It is possible to be in appalling conditions and to put on weight. It becomes a compensation.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, conducted his case with courtesy. I am sorry that he was unable to deal with Professor Broom's evidence in his opening speech and is reserving it for his next speech, when I shall be unable to challenge him seriously. I shall not answer all the arguments that have been put forward. As I said, they are mainly points for the Committee stage. I shall quote the European report on the welfare of intensively kept pigs from the Scientific Veterinary Committee on the subject of tail docking.

It has been suggested that the veterinary profession is in favour of tail docking. The report is a good, up-to-date one. I do not believe that anyone would challenge the expertise of the people involved, although the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, may in his next speech. On tail biting, it states,

    "Tail biting can cause serious welfare and economic problems. Tail docking reduces these, but carries short-term pain when it is carried out, and long-term pain where neuromas form. A procedure which reduces the serious problems associated with tail biting by making the tail painful to touch and painful at other times seems undesirable. Other methods for the reduction of tail biting exist. When pigs with intact tails are fed an adequate diet, provided with sufficient water, provided with straw or other manipulable materials or earth for rooting and kept at a stocking density that is not too high, tail biting is seldom serious".

In answer to those noble Lords who say that more research is needed, the report quotes from five separate reports and pieces of research carried out during the past five years. It continues:

    "Tail biting is an indication of an inadequate environment and indicates that welfare is poor in the animal carrying out the biting".

It has been said that because the change cannot be made on a European level we should not make it on a unilateral level. Our example goes a long way and is useful in moving Europe towards the actions it should be taking. We should not be putting back the cause of reform if we were to act alone.

As regards whether castration or tooth clipping should be involved, or whether the appropriate bedding should be spelt out, those are matters with which we can deal in Committee. I ask your Lordships to reject the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.

26 Jan 1998 : Column 94

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page