HC Deb 07 February 1957 vol 564 cc610-4

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

56. Mr. DYE

To ask the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food what further reports he has received from his inspectors investigating conditions under which fat cattle are exported to the Continent and subsequently slaughtered.

58. Mr. E. JOHNSON

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his attention has been drawn to the considerable increase in recent months in the export of live cattle from this country to the Continent; and if he is still satisfied about the arrangements made for their care on the journey, to provide adequate food and water and to avoid unnecessary suffering; and what information he has about their ultimate destination.


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether his attention has been drawn to new evidence, details of which have been sent to him, of cruelty in the export of cattle to Europe; and what immediate steps he is taking to end this cruelty.

64. Mr. G. JEGER

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that cattle are being shipped from Hull to continental ports under distressing conditions; what action he proposes to take; and whether he will make a statement.

71. Mr. FELL

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the ill-treatment of cattle being exported to Europe during their journey by sea, and by rail on the Continent; and what action he is taking.

73. Mr. HURD

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, to allay public anxiety about the 'treatment of cattle sent to the Continent for slaughter, he will arrange for an immediate inquiry to establish the facts and advise on the desirability of this trade; and if, at the same time, he will enforce strict measures to ensure that these cattle in transit here and on ship do not suffer any avoidable hardship.


To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will confer with other appropriate Departments in respect of the shipment of live cattle from this country to continental slaughter-houses with a view to securing that carcases and not live cattle should be shipped; and what objection to this has been advanced by those who raise cattle for export from this country.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)

I will, with permission Sir, answer Questions Nos. 56, 58, 62, 64, 71, 73 and 75 together.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have appointed a Committee to inquire into the export of live cattle and to make recommendations. Lord Balfour of Burleigh has kindly agreed to act as Chairman and the other members are my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), Mr. G. N. Gould, M.R.C.V.S., and Mr. Clyde Higgs, M.C. I am circulating the Committee's terms of reference in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The Committee appreciates the need for urgency in carrying out its tasks and will start its inquiry forthwith.

In the meantime, my right hon. Friend and I have made an Order under the Diseases of Animals Act requiring cattle to be rested for 10 hours and to be provided with food and water at or near the place of embarkation.

Mr. Dye

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply and for the action that he has taken, may I ask whether he is aware that there is a feeling throughout the country that this traffic in live animals to the Continent has developed? Would he see that the latter part of his reply is carried out to the best of his ability, not only in this country, but also on the Continent?

Mr. Amory

Yes, Sir. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said about public concern on this matter and I fully share it. My right hon. Friend and I will certainly not countenance the continuance of this trade unless we are satisfied that no inhumanity is involved. Therefore, I am anxious that prompt action should be taken. I am making this Order to close what I have found to be a gap in our provisions in this country. I am in touch with the French Government about conditions on the other side of the water, and I am glad to say that I understand the Committee will hold its first meeting on Tuesday of next week.

Mr. E. Johnson

If my right hon. Friend is not able to be completely satisfied that there is no cruelty on the other side of the water, will he seriously consider banning this trade altogether and having the cattle slaughtered in this country and shipped as carcase meat?

Mr. Amory

My hon. Friend will note what I said earlier in reply to the first point in his Question. The substitution of a trade in carcase meat for live animals is one of the problems involved. I understand that it is by no means an easy one to solve, but it is one on which I hope that the Committee will give us some advice.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Jeger.

Mr. G. Jeger

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, but my question has already been answered.

Mr. Sorensen

While thanking the Minister for the action he is proposing to take, may I ask him approximately how long the inquiry is likely to last and, therefore, when its report will be published? Do we take it that as a result of the report the right hon. Gentleman will himself embody the proposals in appropriate legislation?

Mr. Amory

I hope that the Committee will find it possible to report within about three months, but, of course, it would be open to it to make an interim report earlier, if it wished to do so. The Committee is fully conscious of the urgency of the matter.

As regards what action my right hon. Friend and I would think it right to take after the report has been presented, I think we must wait and see what are the recommendations.

Mr. Fell

While being very grateful to my right hon. Friend, as I am sure the whole country will be, for setting up this Committee, I cannot view with complete equanimity the fact that it may take three months to report. This trade has been going on now for some time, and such disturbing aspects of it as have been reported suggest that the French importer had given instructions that the animals were not to be watered as this would increase their weight, and that they went without water from the Thursday evening of one week until the following Tuesday, as stated by the veterinary officer who went with them. If these practices are being agreed to by exporters in this country on the instructions of French importers, it seems disgraceful that the trade should be allowed to continue any longer.

Mr. Amory

I assure my hon. Friend that there will not be inaction in the meantime. I mentioned that we have made representations to the French Government, and I have already had assurances from the French authorities that animals will be watered and fed on disembarkation. I am in further touch with them, and I can assure my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members of the House that I have not been inactive in this matter in the last two months. My veterinary inspectors have been doing everything possible. There are still some difficulties, notably in the lairage accommodation, because the numbers have been so much greater than were expected, but they have now gone down substantially. I can promise hon. Members that every step I can take will be taken to improve the position pending receipt of the report.

Mr. Royle

Is it good economic policy to export fat cattle to the Continent when we have to buy so much beef from the Argentine and other sources?

Mr. Amory

It is difficult to explain these matters, because one can argue about them a great deal, but on the purely economic point I am satisfied that the trade is of advantage to this country. I would add that however advantageous it is to us, if an element of inhumanity is involved I think that all hon. Members will agree that it is trade we could do without. I am hopeful that we shall succeed in eliminating all inhumanity in this trade.

Mr. Hurd

Would my right hon. Friend consider setting a limit to the number of cattle to be shipped during the next three months while the Committee is establishing the facts, so that there is no unnecessary cruelty or hardship caused through congestion at the markets and ports?

Mr. Amory

I am hopeful that there will not be congestion, but I shall keep a close watch on the progress of this trade during the coming two or three months.

Following are the terms of reference: To inquire into the export trade in live cattle from Great Britain to the Continent for slaughter, the considerations affecting the continuance of this trade, and steps to avoid any unnecessary suffering of the cattle at all stages of their journey; to consider whether slaughter before export would be a desirable and feasible alternative; and to make recommendations.