HC Deb 01 July 1957 vol 572 cc684-7
33. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the discussions with foreign Governments about the export of live cattle.

34. Mr. Hurd

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the outcome of discussions with Continental Governments on the treatment and slaughter of cattle exported from Great Britain; if he is satisfied that the objects of the Balfour Committee's recommendations will be carried out effectively; and if he will make a statement.

35. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement as to the present position of the export of live cattle for slaughter to the Continent and, in particular, as to the result of his recent approach to the French Government as regards conditions under which cattle were disembarked at Boulogne.

Mr. Amory

This matter has been considered by a working party of experts set up by the Council of the Western European Union. The Council has approved the working party's recommendation that its conclusions should be forwarded to the Governments of the Western European Union for any necessary action. The conclusions are that there should be adequate veterinary inspection at ports in this country to ensure that only those cattle that are fit to travel are exported to the Continent; that there should be no re-export of British cattle imported for slaughter by member countries; that the journey on the Continent should be as short as possible; and that there should be suitable lairages and arrangements for feeding and watering at slaughterhouses. The authorities of the countries concerned will endeavour to ensure that, where it is not already general practice, all British cattle will be slaughtered by electric stunning or by captive bolt pistol.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have decided that the export of cattle for slaughter will be permitted only to those countries which undertake that the conclusions of the working party will be complied with, that the journey after disembarkation will be limited to 100 kilometres and that the cattle will be slaughtered by one of the methods mentioned. These restrictions will have the same effect as those recommended by the Balfour of Burleigh Committee. They will be introduced as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made which I hope will be by about the end of the month.

We are grateful to the European countries which have so willingly co-operated with us in seeking a solution in this difficult matter.

Mr. Willey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will be greatly welcomed in all quarters and that we greatly appreciate the sense of sympathy and expedition that he has shown in this matter? Will these assurances which have been given to the Western European Union be implemented by legislation in the respective countries?

Mr. Amory

I thank the hon. Member for his remarks and I should like once again to pay tribute to the Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Balfour of Burleigh for a Report which has helped us very much in this matter. In reply to the last part of the hon. Member's question, as far as I am aware there is no need for legislation in any of the countries concerned.

Mr. T. Williams

Are we right in assuming from the right hon. Gentleman's reply that, in the nature of things, we depend upon each Government ensuring that the arrangements are fully carried out?

Mr. Amory

We shall depend on an assurance, which I think we shall get, from each country that it will use its best endeavours to police these arrangements satisfactorily. Export licences will depend upon that.

Mr. Hastings

Is the Minister satisfied that the powers of inspection in the various countries concerned will be sufficient to ensure that there is no unnecessary cruelty to these animals?

Mr. Amory

I believe that they will be able to carry out the arrangements that are now proposed.

Captain Pilkington

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to some printed postcards widely circulated by a Liverpool association alleging that he has flagrantly and disgracefully declined to follow the recommendations of the Balfour Committee? Are these comments not very unfair and misleading? Would my right hon. Friend care to comment upon them?

Mr. Amory

I think that the observations on those postcards were unfair, because at no moment did I reject the proposals of the Balfour Committee. What I said was that I should want a little time to find a way of carrying out this particular recommendation. I believe that we have now done so and I wish very much that the association concerned had waited to see what decision was arrived at.

37. Mr. Royle

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the figures given in paragraph 19 of the Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the Export of Live Cattle to the Continent for Slaughter, he will now prohibit the exportation of any cattle which have qualified for the fatstock subsidy.

Mr. Amory

No, Sir.

Mr. Royle

In view of the economic, apart from the humane, considerations of this question, is it not a matter of urgency that 500 cattle a week in the peak period on which subsidy has been paid should be devoted to the home market, for which the subsidy was designed?

Mr. Amory

After studying the matter carefully, my view is that the purely economic arguments, as divorced from the question of humanity, to which I have referred, are in favour of the continuance of this trade, even in cattle on which subsidy has been paid. That proportion is at present under 20 per cent., but even in those cases, I believe, it is economically to the advantage both of the industry and of the Government that this trade should be allowed to continue.

Mr. Royle

Is it not a fact that even if these cattle were used for the home market, however small the proportion, they would save some importation of, say, Argentine beef?

Mr. Amory

No, I do not think so. This trade takes place only when the market in this country is relatively weak. As I say, about 80 per cent. of the trade represents a type of meat for which, in this country, there is no great demand; otherwise, the trade would not take place.