HC Deb 09 August 1966 vol 733 cc1411-4

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restrict the export of cattle, sheep and pigs, and for purposes connected therewith. The purpose of my proposed Bill is to prohibit the export of live animals—to wit, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs—for slaughter overseas. As the House will know, the export of horses for slaughter has been banned, and rightly so, and the Bill is aimed at a further extension of the ban. Where cruelty and suffering are involved, there is no logic in protecting one class of animal and not others. I believe that that principle will be generally agreed.

Before giving the reasons for asking leave to introduce the Bill, I should like to explain that it will not apply to animals going overseas for breeding or exhibition purposes. The production of a certificate from the appropriate and registered breeders' or exhibitors' organisation is all that will be required in cases of that nature.

The reasons for the Bill rest on two grounds, the first of which is cruelty and distress to the animals concerned. Any reasonable person and all good farmers agree that animals should be slaughtered as near to their homes as possible and that they should not have to journey about the country or overseas before slaughter.

At the moment, animals going for slaughter overseas go to West Germany, Holland, Belgium and France. There are agreements, known as the Balfour agreements, which aim to reduce, suffering. Animals must be slaughtered within 100 kilometres of the point of landing, for example. But these assurances are not stated in any international treaty or convention. They are merely set out in letters between embassies. There are several gaps and weaknesses.

For example, some of the cattle boats are under foreign flags. We have no control when the animals leave these shores. There is no time limit by which the animals have to be slaughtered. There is nothing to prevent the animals being taken to continental markets before slaughter, because it is impossible to keep track of them once they are embarked, and we have no inspectors on the Continent.

I leave it to the imagination of hon. Members what can happen. The animals may have a long journey in this country before being loaded on the ships, and there are difficulties of getting on board by means of steep and narrow gangways. Storms and rough seas can blow up, making watering and feeding impossible. Damage can occur when animals have horns. Then there are difficulties of unloading and entraining on the Continent. Thereafter, the animals face the unknown.

I was very much struck by a leading article in the Veterinary Record of October last year. That article has never been contradicted, and I quote a few extracts: Those who practise medicine should use their knowledge and authority to see that suffering is not brought about by thoughtlessness, indifference or greed, and should be prepared to speak out plainly against abuses. The transport overseas of live animals for slaughter is a case in point. The article also makes the point that, even if conditions were ideal, the existing knowledge of animal psychology makes it certain that the transport of livestock by road or rail followed by loading into ships, unloading and further transport for slaughter can hardly be justified in terms of humanity. Finally, the article says that Since it is virtually impossible to ensure that live animals intended for slaughter abroad will always be treated humanely it is our duty to say that such traffic should stop. I now turn to the economics of the trade. They are complex, but the idea that it is valuable to the nation is faulty. Claims made on this ground are not based on good evidence. About 700,000 animals were exported for slaughter in 1965 to the countries that I have mentioned, but their value is almost exactly equivalent to the value of meat, canned meat and meat extracts which we import from those countries—so there is no gain. Over and above this, Britain is a huge importer of meat.

In addition, exporting on the hoof is uneconomic in terms of space, besides being wasteful and slow. Not only that; the leather trade suffers. The United Kingdom is heavily dependent on imported supplies of hides and skins, and the trade has sometimes been placed in the absurd position of having to buy back the hides and skins of animals exported from this country.

It is quite definite that this process costs the trade more, and also that the hides and skins reach the buyers late. This adds to the prices, which, in turn, makes the leather dearer and affects our export trade. The answer to this problem, if there it to be the export of meat from this country for any good reason, is that it should be in carcase form. This was recommended by the Balfour Committee. I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of the advantages of exporting meat in carcase form and that he wishes to encourage it. Ireland is having great success in this matter.

I know that at one time it was considered by certain authorities abroad and by the American forces in Europe which bought our animals that British slaughterhouses were not of a high enough standard. This led to an increase in the live trade. But this position has now changed. In England 56 slaughterhouses are approved for the export of meat, and 13 slaughterhouses in Scotland are so approved. Quite apart from air traffic, I have evidence that the road haulage industry can meet any transport demands for refrigerated vehicles or trailers. There are no real difficulties here.

During the seamen's strike the Government imposed a ban, which has only just been lifted. According to a recent report, butchers feared that the lifting of the ban might lead to higher prices, but there have been no such ill effects. I believe that hon. Members will support the Bill. It is sponsored by Members on both sides of the House, and I know that many thousands of people outside the House favour it.

Many respected and powerful organisations wish it well. I have had much help from the R.S.P.C.A. and the Scottish S.P.C.A. Other bodies which favour it, and which have expressed opposition to the export of animals for slaughter, include the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, the British Leather Federation, the National Council of Women of Great Britain, the National Association of Meat Traders, the Scottish Housewives' Association——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member, but this Motion is being introduced under the Ten Minute Rule.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

I have just about finished, Mr. Speaker.

The National Federation of Women's Institutes also favours the Bill, as does the Church of Scotland. I have no reason to believe that other Churches take a different view.

Mr. John Rankinrose——

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member seek to oppose the Bill?

Mr. Rankin

I am supporting it, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is not in order in seeking to speak in support of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Clark Hutchison, Mr. Bence, Mr. Bessell, Mr. Burden, Sir Beresford Craddock, Mr. Dance, Mr. Goodhew, Mr. John Hall, Mr. Oswald, Mr. Rankin, Sir John Rodgers, and Mr. Edward M. Taylor.