Henry Smith MP introduces Beatrice's Bill in the House of Commons

Henry Smith MP has spoken in Parliament (on Wednesday, 22nd September) to introduce the Hen Caging (Prohibition) Bill, which seeks to extend the ban which started in 2012 to ban battery cages for hens, to so-called enriched cages.

While larger, these cages still do not allow enough space for hens’ natural behaviours.

The legislation is also known as Beatrice’s Bill, named after a hen rescued from a life in a cage by the Humane League UK.

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Henry’s Bill seeks to introduce a number of benefits to animal welfare, including:

Henry Smith MP has spoken in Parliament to introduce the Hen Caging (Prohibition) Bill, which seeks to extend the ban which started in 2012 to ban battery cages for hens, to so-called enriched cages. Picture by Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament

- Higher welfare standards through ensuring hens have more space to perform natural behaviours such as nesting, foraging and dust bathing.

- Greater consumer confidence through lowering food safety risk.

- Closer alignment with the sentiment of British business. All major retailers have now committed to going cage-free by at least 2025 and many have already made this transition.

Commenting after speaking in the House of Commons, Henry said: "I’m pleased to be introducing this important Bill in Parliament.

"The Government was right to ban conventional battery cages in 2012, and I hope that ministers will take further action to transition the UK to a cage-free future.

"An increasing number of companies are calling for further progress to phase out the use of cages for egg-laying hens.

"I’m proud that Nestlé UK, who are based in Crawley, are standing alongside the likes of Greggs, Nando’s and Premier Foods in wanting this to happen.

"We are, of course, a nation of animal lovers, and my inbox is proof that a great many of us are from Crawley.

"It’s unacceptable that almost half the eggs on the shelves of our supermarkets were laid by hens raised in such terrible conditions.

"I’m grateful for the support of colleagues in Parliament and we call on the Government to build on its Action Plan for Animal Welfare and take this opportunity to realign our farming practices with the people’s high regard for animal welfare.

"My thanks to Humane League UK and the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation for their support for Beatrice and this Bill.

"I look forward to continuing to work with these assiduous animal welfare campaigners as we seek to progress the Bill through Parliament.”

The scheduled date for the second reading of the Hen Caging (Prohibition) Bill is Friday, October 22.

Speaking in the debate; on why he is introducing this Bill, Henry said: "The UK banned the use of battery cages for hens in 2012, but the ban did not extend to so-called enriched cages.

"Those cages are larger than conventional battery cages but still do not allow adequate space for the hens’ natural behaviours.

"When these behaviours cannot be performed, or are severely restricted, it can lead to frustration that is extremely detrimental to their wellbeing.

"That is why enriched cages have been condemned by animal welfare bodies."

On Beatrice, Henry said: "One such hen, Beatrice, was just a few days old when she was put into a cage. With every day she spent there, she became more and more frail.

"She lost most of her feathers and became underweight, and her bones grew brittle. For two years she woke up to the same noisy, crowded misery.

"Luckily, Beatrice was rescued by a kind individual, but millions of hens around the world remain in cages that severely impact their welfare."

On companies calling for improved standards, Henry said: "Several major companies, including Nestlé — which is headquartered in my constituency — Greggs and Premier Foods are now calling for the backing of legislation to ensure that no eggs come from caged hens.

"For example, Nestlé stated: 'Farm animals deserve decent welfare standards. Nestlé supports a phasing out of caged systems for all egg laying hens, building on industry efforts to date. We’re proud to source 100 per cent cage free eggs for all our food products in the UK'.”

On action already taken by the Government to improve animal welfare standards, Henry said: "To conclude, I congratulate the Government on the many steps they are taking to promote animal welfare.

"I am proud that my party is leading the way on a range of new laws, including the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

"Such laws will introduce profound changes that will positively affect the lives of countless vulnerable animals.

"The purpose of my Bill is to continue that great work through a ban on cages for hens in the UK."

Concluding the first reading of the Bill, Henry said: "My Bill will end the needless suffering of millions of caged hens like Beatrice in the UK. It is economically viable and will bring our laws into line with the strength of public feeling about this issue.

"It will also prevent companies from being undercut by businesses with lower animal welfare standards and help to confirm Britain’s position as a world leader in animal welfare.

"As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: 'The way we treat animals reflects our values and the kind of people we are'.

"I could not agree more, which is why I urge the Government and this House to support the Bill."