HC Deb 02 March 1964 vol 690 cc894-7
6. Mr. Burden

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to stop the export of sheep to North Africa, in view of the fact that they are destined for ritual slaughter and have to undergo long sea and rail journeys of up to 43 hours without food or water when closely penned.

10. Commander Kerans

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who many live sheep have been exported to North Africa in the last six months; if he is satisfied that the conditions of transport at all stages are humane; and if he will make a statement.

33. Mr. E. Johnson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has received the report of the veterinary officer who has gone to France to see the conditions of transport of sheep, exported from this country and destined for Algiers, both in France and from there to North Africa; and if he will make a statement.

40. Sir T. Moore

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the conditions revealed by his investigators under which live sheep are exported to North Africa, he will take early steps to ensure that only sheep carcase meat is so exported.

46. Mr. Kitson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make more stringent regulations to control the export of live animals for slaughter, in view of concern about the conditions in which 400 sheep were recently exported to Algiers.

Mr. Soames

15,000 sheep have gone to France recently for export to Algiers. The R.S.P.C.A. have informed me that their investigators who recently examined the conditions of shipment found them good in Northern France, but unsatisfactory from Marseilles onwards. Four days later, by courtesy of the French authorities, one of my veterinary officers examined the transit arrangements up to and including the embarkation of the sheep at Marseilles and conditions on board two ships and found that the sheep were in good condition throughout and that the transit, handling and shipping arrangements were satisfactory.

I understand that shipments from this country ceased at the end of last week and I am not aware of any arrangements for further shipments at the present time. However, I am arranging for discussions with the Algerian authorities on the question of any further trade of this kind and shall consider in the light of these discussions whether any further action is needed.

The best solution to difficulties of this nature would be an effective international agreement on conditions for the transit of animals. This question is at present receiving attention in the Council of Europe, and Her Majesty's Government will do all in its power to encourage progress on these lines.

Mr. Burden

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but is he not aware that these animals were sent on a 1,500 miles journey to be slaughtered in Algeria where it is unlikely that the slaughtering conditions gives them the isolation they would have if they were slaughtered here and that probably terror was the result at the other end? In any case, is he aware that journey is far longer than that which was undertaken by horses, the traffic in which was subsequently banned because of the cruelty involved. Surely the same should be the case here? Is he further aware that lambs and ewes in lamb have actually been shipped, and that on 28th February at Sheerness lambs were actually dropped while ewes were awaiting shipment and that many of the ewes were heavy in lamb? Is this not a tragic trade that should be stopped?

Mr. Soames

My information is that the particular shipment from Sheerness was not destined for Algeria. This shipment from Sheerness was examined by our veterinary office at Sheerness, and those ewes which were found to be in lamb were not allowed to be shipped forward. Concerning the general case of the shipment of these sheep across France, I think the House would agree that we would not tolerate any undue suffering to our animals in shipment abroad. On the other hand, we would not lightly ban any trade in animals unless there was incontrovertible evidence that there was an undue element of suffering. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me when I say that we are taking up the whole question of the future of this trade with the Algerian authorities, and that we are also seeking to get action on these lines on international grounds.

Commander Kerans

Can my right hon. Friend say whereabouts in the United Kingdom these sheep come from? I am glad that he has taken steps to look into this matter. But can he say if the trade is to be continued, why the animals should not be exported as carcases?

Mr. Soames

The latter part of the question is obviously one of the matters which we shall be discussing with the Algerian authorities.

Mr. Johnson

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report of the R.S.P.C.A. and, if so, would he not agree that to say that they were dissatisfied is very much an under-statement? They were shipped under the most appalling conditions. Would he try to press the suggestion made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) that by far the best international solution is to ship these animals as carcases?

Mr. Soames

I have seen the report made by the R.S.P.C.A. inspector. There were some parts of the journey where he was not in any way displeased with what happened to the sheep. It was in Marseilles and after that he was mostly worried. The veterinary surgeon employed by my Department visited Marseilles four days later and a considerable number of improvements had been made there. But I will take note of the point.

Sir T. Moore

I am sorry to probe this matter further, but is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to my information, the Fatstock Marketing Corporation has arranged to ship 27,000 sheep carcases to Algiers after the animals have been slaughtered here under suitable supervision? If this is so, could not the same apply to all sheep for export, thus saving the animals the intolerable four-day journey with a wretched death at the end?

Mr. Soames

I was pleased to note that there was an increase in the shipment of carcases as opposed to live sheep. I cannot say more now than I said earlier in answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans), that this will be one of the matters which we shall be discussing with the Algerian authorities.

Mr. Kitson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that to export sheep and send them on a 1,500-mile journey after they have been shorn is totally unreasonable in February, and ought not he to be able to do something about this in any case?

Mr. Soames

No, Sir, the R.S.P.C.A. report made no mention of anything being wrong in the fact that they had been shorn; concern was expressed because they were in wagons for so long, and there was less discomfort by virtue of the fact that they had been shorn than there would have been if they had not been shorn.