HC Deb 14 December 1978 vol 960 cc887-9
4. Mr. Ron Thomas

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made with his EEC partners in reviewing the export of live food animals.

17. Mr. Corbett

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has had on the export of live animals for slaughter.

Mr. John Silkin

We raised this matter at the June meeting of the Council. Since then, the Commission has been working on proposals to implement EEC directive 77/489. I understand that these proposals may be put to the Council before the end of the year.

In the past month I have received a considerable number of letters opposing the export of live food animals, including one from my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett) in his capacity as chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Co-ordinating Executive.

Mr. Thomas

We are all aware of the skilled negotiations which my right hon. Friend carries out, but may I ask whether he is aware that a large majority of Labour Members would like to see this country stop the export of live food animals immediately, thus setting an example to the other Common Market countries, rather than have this delay while other countries are seemingly dragging their feet?

Mr. Silkin

I sympathise with the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend. The question I put to him, in answer to his supplementary question, is: is it not better that we should deal with this on an all-Europe basis? I do not mean a Common Market-only basis. The committee of experts advising the Council of Europe, which embraces most of the countries in Western Europe, came to this conclusion some time ago. That is what we should be aiming at.

Mr. Corbett

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when he intends to respond to recent, and earlier, representations which have overwhelmingly reflected the sustained and growing public demand for this vile trade to be ended? Is he aware that it is now nine months since the departmental review was published? Would he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) that Britain is in a unique position to give a lead to the rest of the Common Market?

Mr. Silkin

I have not always found that leads given by us in the Common Market are necessarily followed by immediate action. Perhaps the best way to deal with this is to decide our policy very clearly—I have already said what my view is—and try to push it as hard as we can inside the Community. I agree that this nine-month period of gestation since the publication of the departmental inquiry seems a long time. My hon. Friend will remember, however, that there was a period for consultation once the document was published. I believe that he had some criticisms of the document.

Mr. Burden

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is considerable feeling about this matter on both sides of the House? In view of what he has just said, does he not further agree that the time has arrived when the House should have the opportunity to debate the whole issue? Will he, therefore. give an undertaking that he will arrange for a debate early in the new year?

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does not combine with that post the leadership of the House. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I have no objection to a debate and I shall tell my right hon. Friend of the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Litterick

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it might help to concentrate the minds of our European "partners" if we unilaterally imposed a levy on the export of all live beef and veal animals from this country to the European continent, particularly bearing in mind the crucifying levies mentioned in the reply to Question no. 3 on the Order Paper today, which we have to pay because of the Community?

Mr. Silkin

We are talking about two different types of levy. A levy such as my hon. Friend suggests might be considered to be illegal. There is one point which has some importance. How does it help to prevent cruelty to animals if we stop this trade but it is merely taken over by another of our Community partners?

Mr. Litterick

Make it too expensive and then it will stop.

Mr. Farr

Before the right hon. Gentleman brings any recommendation to the House, will he bear in mind that many thousands of farmers, particularly in the Midlands, are dependent upon the import of live Irish store cattle? Is he aware that any ban on the export of live animals from this country could have a serious effect upon the living of such farmers?

Mr. Silkin

I have thought about this very closely. I see a distinction between animals for slaughter, which in my view should be slaughtered as near to the point of production as possible, and animals for store.