HC Deb 09 May 1991 vol 190 cc817-9
9. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects final decisions to be taken regarding the future of minimum values on the export of live horses and ponies; and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Burns

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects the draft directive on the transportation of live animals to be next discussed at a meeting of the European Community Council.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean)

EC discussions have recently resumed on the welfare of animals during transport, but we will resist most strongly any proposals to resume the export of live horses and ponies.

Mr. Greenway

Is my hon. Friend aware of the passionate concern that exists across the country about the continued pressure on the Commissioners to end minimum values in 1992 on the export of live horses and ponies? Animals would end up being brutally and viciously slaughtered if they were exported in that way. Will he shake up the EC and seek an early assurance that if the EC's present plans go forward, horses and ponies will not be exported from this country after 1992 in such an inhumane way?

Mr. Maclean

The only good thing about the present proposals is that they unite the Government and all the welfare organisations, including excellent bodies such as the International League for the Protection of Horses. I assure my hon. Friend that we are in harness on this issue, along with all the British people, in arguing to keep our specific minimum value proposals. I am not interested in getting an early decision from Brussels. I am determined to get the right one and that should be that we do not have to resume the export of live horses and ponies.

Mr. Burns

Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituents in Chelmsford warmly welcome the efforts that are being made by him and his Department on minimum values, but are disgusted and dismayed at the prospect of the live exportation of animals across the continent as a result of EC measures? In view of the improvements in refrigeration in the 30 years since the signing of the treaty of Rome, why must animals be subjected to such inhumane transportation practices, despite the efforts that are being made by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food improve the arrangements? We beg the Minister to fight hard in Europe to put an end to this Euro-nonsense.

Mr. Maclean

Animals have been and can be transported safely across international boundaries. Britain has had the most comprehensive detailed regulations on the safe transport of animals for many years. We take as our starting point in EC negotiations the excellent British regulations and we suggest that they should be the basis on which the EC comes up with proposals on the movement of animals to apply to the whole of Europe. We are also keen to encourage an EC-wide inspectorate so that the high standards of animal welfare that we enforce in this country will be enforced throughout Europe.

Mr. Corbett

I welcome the fact that the Minister is so firmly opposed to the export of ponies and horses, but why does not he apply his opposition to the transport of calves and sheep? Will he acknowledge that it is impossible for this country to ensure that the arrangements and regulations in place in the rest of Europe are enforced? Would not it be sensible to promote a policy of slaughter as near to the point of production as possible?

Mr. Maclean

We have always transported cattle and sheep safely and believe that it can be done. The hon. Gentleman should realise the conditions of the EC treaty, under which we have no power unilaterally to ban the transport of live animals. We make a distinction in the case of horses and ponies, however, because we believe that, from a welfare point of view, they are quite distinct. The sad, sordid history of their export shows that they cannot be transported safely but only at great risk of damage. Cattle and sheep can be moved safely round the country and are moved safely from Ireland and the Scottish islands to the mainland. We must be very careful before seeking a unilateral ban on the safe movement of animals which would severely disadvantage many parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that, although he has widespread support in resisting moves to transport horses and ponies, it is essential that he makes no concessions in securing the best possible transport of animals or with regard to ponies and horses? The House will accept no concessions. Should not the Government be doing more to encourage the transportation of meat by hook rather than on the hoof?

Mr. Maclean

I cannot dictate to consumers, particularly European consumers, in what form they should eat their food. Although I sympathise with the view that much more meat could be safely transported in carcase rather than live form, it is a fact of life that Europeans want a live meat trade and the EC treaty protects that wish. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall not enter negotiations with the view that we must start off with concessions, as that would not be sensible. Rather, we shall enter those negotiations on the basis that the excellent British rules have served us well, that they should be extended to the rest of Europe and that we do not intend to give way on the issue of the export of live horses and ponies.

Dame Janet Fookes

May I encourage my hon. Friend in his insistence on an international inspectorate for the export of animals throughout Europe? However, does he agree that unless those inspectors are given real powers, their existence will be useless?

Mr. Maclean

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. Our experience of the EC international inspectorate for abattoirs suggests that those inspectors have considerable powers and that their powers work. We would wish for no less on the animal welfare front. Britain has nothing to be ashamed of and is among the countries with the best record on animal welfare in Europe. We would welcome an EC-wide inspectorate to enforce our high standards in other parts of the EC.