HC Deb 16 February 1978 vol 944 cc642-3
4. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many live calves were exported from the United Kingdom in the month of January 1978; and to which countries they went.

Mr. Strang

The number of calves examined by Ministry veterinary officers and passed fit for export overseas during the four weeks from 1st to 28th January was 30,740. These animals all went to France, Italy. Belgium or Holland and were intended for further rearing.

Mr. Ross

I thank the Minister for that reply. Do those figures not cause concern to the Minister, not only on welfare grounds but in relation to the future of our home meat production? Does the Minister have to wait for the report from the committee that he has set up before taking action? I should like to see a ban placed on those exports.

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that this is a complicated issue, as many calves are slaughtered in this country every year. Even last year, when many calves were exported, about 500,000 were slaughtered. One has to consider whether it is better that the calves should be slaughtered or that some should be exported, in proper conditions of transport, for further rearing on the Continent.

Mr. Costain

In the course of collecting those statistics, can the Minister give any indication of the condition in which those calves are shipped? Does he realise that there is much concern, particularly in areas such as mine, where they are shipped under gale conditions? Does the veterinary service have any say about the sea conditions under which the ships are allowed to sail? There is a great deal of confusion about it.

Mr. Strang

I agree that there is a very great deal of concern on this issue. That is precisely why my right hon. Friend set up the present inquiry.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend be more open about the matter with the Liberals—I know that the Government have to consult these people about all those various matters—and tell them the truth? The fact is that the Common Market, which the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) supports, along with his colleagues, prevents us from carrying out the measures that he would like to see.

Mr. Strang

Certainly my hon. Friend has a point, in that there are EEC implications in this area. These will be brought out in the report that we are having prepared on the subject.

Mr. Wm. Ross

Did the hon. Gentleman note that the original Question referred to the export of calves from the United Kingdom rather than from Great Britain? Did he take into account in his reply the number of calves exported from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and from thence to elsewhere?

Mr. Strang

No. The hon. Gentleman has raised a very fair point. In general, the concern expressed about the export of food animals relates to exports to Common Market countries other than the Irish Republic.