HC Deb 21 November 1972 vol 846 cc1060-5
1. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will institute a review of legislation governing the custody of animals being transported to and being handled at abattoirs and slaughterhouses.

The Under-Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

No, Sir. There is already adequate provision under the common law and under the Animals Act, 1971.

Mr. Huckfield

If the hon. Lady studies the files of her predecessors, she will be aware that there have been referred to her Department a substantial number of cases of people who have been chased by bulls and other animals and who have received no compensation. In my constituency there is the case of a Mrs. Coles. In view of what happened to a relative of the hon. Lady's predecessor, is it not time to re-examine the matter?

Mrs. Fenner

I am aware of the case which the hon. Gentleman has in mind. He will know from the answers which have already been given that the difficulty in that case is one of proof rather than defect of law.

Sir R. Cary

May I be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend on her first appearance at the Dispatch Box to answer Questions. As one who has promoted two measures concerned with the slaughter and transport of horses—the last being the Ponies Act, 1969—may I tell my hon. Friend that much remains to be done in regard to this subject? The conditions in some abattoirs are appalling.

Mrs. Fenner

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I know his views about continuing legislation.

Mr. Molloy

Is the hon. Lady aware that the National Society for the Prevention of Factory Farming has submitted a great deal of evidence to her Department? If, as she so confidently says, she will require proof, will she agree, as her colleagues have agreed previously, to meet a deputation from the society, which would be very pleased to supply the proof which she has requested?

Mrs. Fenner

I should be very pleased to consider any request to meet a deputation. However, I remind the House of the reply given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on 1st May when he pointed out that the whole matter was discussed during consideration of the Animals Act last year.

Mr. R. W. Elliott

Regarding the treatment of animals in abattoirs, will my hon. Friend refer to other legislation than that to which she referred in her original answer, namely, the Slaughterhouses Act, 1958, under the terms of which no animal may be slaughtered within sight of another? Is she satisfied that there is sufficient inspection of slaughterhouses in England and Wales to ensure that that part of the Act is observed?

Mrs. Fenner

I am satisfied that there is sufficient provision for examination and supervision of slaughterhouses.

5. Mr. David Clark

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will seek powers to recover the subsidies paid out of taxation on animals exported for meat.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) on 9th June.—[Vol. 838, c. 211.]

Mr. Clark

Does the Minister realise that in the first six months of 1972 double the number of animals were exported for slaughter compared with 1971? Does he further realise that housewives are becoming fed up with paying ever-increasing prices for meat when they know that they are subsidising meat that is being exported?

Mr. Stodart

The Question deals with whether the subsidies could be recovered. I do not think that is a practical proposition. The subsidy is paid to a farmer who is asked to produce beef in this country, and he has no idea whether it is ultimately to be exported. To go to the trouble of trying to recover from him would be inequitable.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Surely the Minister cannot seriously advocate that there is anything like justice in the British housewife's possibly being forced to pay more for beef as a result of a subsidy for export to a foreign country?

Mr. Stodart

We should get the matter into proportion. Six per cent. of the meat produced in this country is being exported. The House will agree that the subsidies have been of value in stimulating the production of more meat in this country, in a world that is short of meat. The Question deals with recovering the subsidies. I do not believe that it is possible to conceive the administration to do that.

Mr. Marten

In view of the much higher prices the producers are receiving, can my hon. Friend explain what is the difficulty about recovery?

Mr. Stodart

It would take me a very long time to explain, if my hon. Friend really does not understand how difficult it would be to trace an animal back to the calf stage.

10. Mr. John Hall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will introduce regulations prohibiting the export of live animals for slaughter.

27. Miss Fookes

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will now ban the export of live animals for slaughter.

57. Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in the light of the Royal Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' report on the export of food animals, a copy of which is in his possession, he will consider legislation to restrict the export of live animals for slaughter.

Mrs. Fenner

I have considered the RSPCA's report very carefully. I would like to see carcase meat taking the place of exports of live animals for slaughter. But I am not satisfied that a ban on the export of live animals is practicable. We shall continue to rely on the safeguards provided by the Balfour Assurances and are taking steps to emphasise to the Governments concerned the importance we attach to the most careful observation of those assurances.

Mr. Hall

Although I congratulate my hon. Friend on many matters, is she aware that I cannot congratulate her on that answer? Is she right to rely upon the safeguards provided by the Balfour Assurances when palpably they have failed in past years? If my hon. Friend is not moved by the growing evidence of suffering caused to these animals, will she be moved by the fact that British abattoirs are operating below capacity and that if we were to export dead meat it would help our abattoirs considerably.

Mrs. Fenner

I assure my hon. Friend that I was moved by the report, and any infringement of the Balfour Assurances have been investigated by the Ministry. However, if there were a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter it would not appreciably increase operations in British abattoirs and slaughterhouses, as the number of animals exported represents only about 1 per cent. of those slaughtered in the United Kingdom.

Miss Fookes

May I remind my hon. Friend that there is an old saying, "Where there's a will, there's a way"? May I also remind her of some of the evidence of the RSPCA, in the course of which it was stated that one group of sheep went on a 28½-hour journey of 750 miles without being watered and fed, and that they were freshly shorn before travelling in bitterly cold weather? Will my hon. Friend please think again?

Mrs. Fenner

I take my hon. Friend's point. The particular cases to which she refers were fully investigated, and the Belgian Government's co-operation has been secured to prevent a repetition of such cases. I remind my hon. Friend that in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) on Tuesday, 8th August, my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) referred to new procedures which came into operation on 1st November. These will ensure that in future licences issued by the DTI for the export to Belgium of sheep for immediate slaughter will be endorsed with a condition that the exporter must notify each consignment to the export licensing branch. In my view, the new procedures certainly have teeth. I give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Mr. William Price

I should like to ask the Minister a very simple question. Is she aware of the strength of feeling in this country about this appalling trade?

Mrs. Fenner

Yes, Sir, I am well aware of it. As I said, I read and was moved by the report. Action has been taken to prevent a repetition of such cases. We are seeking the close co-operation of all countries which are pledged to the Balfour Assurances. I shall personally watch this matter with great care.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

If these new initiatives fail will my hon. Friend consider legislation enforcing the certification of every live animal exported from the United Kingdom? Would not this effectively combine the export of live animals with those which are destined for pedigree breeding?

Mrs. Fenner

I should like to see how the new procedures go. My hon. Friend can certainly at any time raise any qualms he has about them.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Is the hon. Lady aware that, notwithstanding what she has said in her many answers, the public will be absolutely outraged by her attitude? Is she aware that it is not reasonable to shelter behind phrases like "only 1 per cent."? If only one animal is subject to cruelty, that is a valid reason for stopping the export of live animals.

Mrs. Fenner

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not suggesting that 1 per cent. was an amount that did not matter. The 1 per cent. related to the total number of animals slaughtered in this country. Live animals exported represent only 1 per cent. of that number. I care about any one animal. I am certain that the public will be aware of this. The procedures have been tightened up, and certainly if any infringements are reported we shall have to go from there.

Sir Robin Turton

In reconsidering her decision or conclusion that such a policy would be impracticable, may I ask my hon. Friend to take into account the fact that the Royal Veterinary Society has supported the campaign for prohibition?

Mrs. Fenner

Yes, I am aware of that. I still say that it would not be practicable, because it would not be possible to distinguish between store and fat animals. A ban would have to apply to both.