I fully support Animal Aid’s campaign to ban the cruel cages used to confine breeding pheasants and partridges. I believe we have a moral duty to treat animals in a humane and compassionate way. As a vegetarian I do not approve of shooting birds for “sport”, but I do not think it is realistic to attempt to ban the activity at this stage. However, these birds should not suffer unnecessarily or be kept in inappropriate conditions.
In addition to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, in March 2010 the then Labour Government published a Code of Practice that would have led to the removal of battery cages and the introduction of minimum cage sizes to protect the welfare of game birds. It is disappointing that the Coalition Government chose not to introduce this Code but instead brought in a less stringent code that allows the use of so-called ‘enriched’ cages to house game birds, with no minimum requirements on cage sizes.
In 2009, a study was commissioned on whether cage-based breeding for pheasants and partridges can fully meet birds’ welfare needs. The Coalition Government failed to publish its findings before the 2015 General Election but the report was finally released in August 2015 and concluded that cage enrichment has little impact on animal welfare.
During the last Parliament, the Government committed to review the statutory Code of Practice for the welfare of game birds reared for sporting purposes. Unfortunately, however, this review remains outstanding.
I have long supported action to reduce animal cruelty. At the 2017 General Election I stood on a manifesto which committed us to lead the world with high animal welfare standards, and to promote cruelty-free animal husbandry. It also pledged to consult on ways to ensure better enforcement of agreed standards.
I hope that the current Government will listen and respond to the concerns that continue to be raised by animal welfare groups about the welfare of game birds reared for shooting. I will follow this problem closely and I can assure you that I will continue to press for the highest possible standards of animal welfare.