HC Deb 23 October 1990 vol 178 cc192-4 3.34 pm
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the welfare of animals being exported alive from the United Kingdom; to require adequate periods of rest, sufficient food and water, and regular veterinary inspection during transit; and for connected purposes. The House will be aware that until now United Kingdom law has been sufficient to provide significantly for the welfare of farm animals transported alive. Right hon. and hon. Members will know also that EEC regulations will shortly take the place of our own legislation, which will have enormous consequences for exported animals—unless the Commission and Council of Ministers can be persuaded to adopt a more humane approach.

That approach should be based on practices recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. By 1 January 1993, frontier controls between member states of the Community will be lifted and it will become a free trade area. The directive on international transport will be replaced by new legislation covering the transportation in Europe of all animals, whether within national boundaries or between one member state and another.

The new regulations impose requirements relating to the transport of all animals. Instead of customs checks, inspections of animals and of vehicles will take place at markets, staging, transfer and assembly points and slaughterhouses rather than at the point of departure. Random checks will also be made by the competent authorities on vehicles in transit.

Under the previous European regulations, veterinary inspection of all animals was required prior to their transportation from one member state to another. Such inspections will in future be required only if the animals are to travel for a longer time than is specified before they must be rested, fed and watered. In the case of cattle, sheep, pigs and horses, that will be 24 hours.

There is growing concern about the impact that 1992 and the abolition of tariff barriers between EEC member states will have on the live food animals export trade. There are fears that the creation of a free market will result in diminishing standards of welfare for all the animals caught up in that trade. The worry is that new European transport regulations will not only take the place of existing directives but supersede national legislation so that trade between member states will no longer be known as exporting or importing.

The transportation of live sheep over long distances to slaughterhouses in France, Italy, Germany and other member states is of particular concern. As I said, many journeys can take more than 24 hours, and one can have little confidence that other member states will enforce transport legislation as strictly as does the United Kingdom.

Under present United Kingdom law, animals that are being transported must be fed and watered every 12 hours unless the journey can completed within 15 hours. That legislation will disappear, so theoretically it will be possible for sheep to be bought at market in Scotland and transported to Dover and then over the channel into France—but one must doubt whether feeding and watering will take place when it should, because of the French Government's known inability properly to enforce transport regulations. Who will ever forget the disgraceful images on our television screens this summer of French farmers abusing innocent animals in such a scandalous and uncivilised way? Despite the regulations, was that not a uniquely French form of protection, and will not it arise again in other forms after 1992?

Foremost in the campaign to secure post-1992 standards compatible with those of the United Kingdom is the RSPCA. Through its European organisation, Eurogroup for Animal Welfare, it is attempting to ensure that the new regulation, which has yet to be finally agreed by the Council of Ministers, is as detailed and as strict as possible. It has also been trying to ensure that the provision is properly implemented and enforced throughout the Community.

The campaign has been based on the policy that food animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the point of production. The recent problems caused by French farmers—to which I have already referred—and their willingness to perpetrate outrages on lorry loads of live sheep coming from the United Kingdom and other countries have shown, yet again, that it is impossible properly to protect the welfare of live animals being transported through the Community.

Moreover, I would argue that there is absolutely no need to transport animals long distances to slaughterhouses. British farmers get the same price for their lamb whether the sheep are taken to a slaughterhouse in the United Kingdom and the carcases transported to France or to other markets or are transported live to a French slaughterhouse. One consequence of an increasing trade in live animals being transported to slaughterhouses on the continent would be the loss of business in abattoirs in the United Kingdom.

It seems logical, therefore. that the distances that animals travel to slaughterhouses should be limited in the new European legislation and that we should follow the principle that United Kingdom animals should be slaughtered in United Kingdom slaughterhouses, French animals in French slaughterhouses, and so on. To that end, we should insist on the introduction of a provision in the new transport regulations that would limit to a maximum of eight hours the journey times of animals destined for slaughter. That is a practical and logical proposal, as it would allow farmers the choice of several suitable abattoirs as well as reducing the possibility that animals will suffer unnecessarily. The regulations will also apply to animals originating in France, Germany, Holland and so on, which will all have to limit the journey time to eight hours.

The fact that the amendments have been passed by the European Parliament does not guarantee that they will be accepted by the Commission or the Council of Ministers. The Commission has stated that it is prepared to accept the principle of limiting the journey time of animals destined for slaughter, but so far it has not suggested that the journey time should be anything other than the period after which feeding and watering are due, which is 24 hours.

We in the House and our colleagues in Europe must therefore bring pressure to bear on Ministers of Agriculture to accept the eight-hour limit on the journey time of animals going to slaughter. Such a rule would go a long way towards dissuading people from re-establishing the trade to the continent in live horses for meat. Many people have been worried about that, because the United Kingdom is having to drop its existing legislation prohibiting trade in live horses and ponies.

An eight-hour limit on the journey time of animals going to slaughter will not harm British farmers in any way. It will assist the United Kingdom slaughtering industry and, more important, it will be of great benefit to the animals. It seems illogical that we can export sheep to a slaughterhouse in the south of France, which will then make a profit on that transportation, only to export the majority of the carcases to Italy. Why cannot British sheep be slaughtered close to the point at which they were reared and why cannot the carcases then undertake the long journey from the United Kingdom to Italy? There is already a substantial trade in meat—in lamb, beef and pig carcases—from this country to other member states. At present, for every live sheep that is exported, seven lamb carcases travel the same route. It does not seem such a big step to make that eight carcases and no live sheep.

I fully recognise the unfortunate balance of power problem in this matter between the United Kingdom Government and the European Community, but I believe that the passage of my Bill—I hope, with Ministers' blessing—will serve to demonstrate our determination to prevent the dilution of our more humane procedures.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Terry Lewis, M r. Don Dixon, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Ron Davies, Mr. Peter Hardy, Sir David Steel, Dame Janet Fookes, Mr. Nigel Spearing, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Alan Meale and Mr. Doug Hoyle.