HC Deb 02 July 1992 vol 210 cc946-7
1. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to improve the welfare of animals transported from the United Kingdom to the rest of the European Community.

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

During the United Kingdom presidency of the Community, we will be seeking agreement on further rules to safeguard the welfare of animals during transport. These will apply to all journeys in the Community.

Mr. Cunningham

Will the Minister recognise that transporting British calves in veal crates across Europe over many hours, often for the rest of their lives, is an obscene practice? As it was banned in this country two and a half years ago, will he consider welfare labelling so that when animals are recycled and returned to Britain in the form of food, the public will be aware of exactly what they are buying and the cruel practice involved?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is a principal aim of the Government during our presidency of the Community to press very hard on all animal welfare issues. Further, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue this case, he should encourage his constituents to buy British veal, which is reared to very high standards and in good welfare conditions.

Mr. Jessel

Will my hon. Friend keep up the pressure, because it is monstrous and offensive to British public opinion that hundreds of calves should be cramped and without water on five-hour crossings to Cherbourg and Le Havre and something must be done?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend will know that very strict rules apply to the welfare of animals in transport. We are expecting new Community rules on 1 January 1993. Until then, the whole Community is to consider further questions on journey times, rest periods, loading densities and vehicle standards. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall bear his views in mind and that we are conscious of the need to ensure that the high standards that apply in this country apply across the Community.

Mr. Ron Davies

Hundreds of thousands of animals of all species are transported from these shores in unacceptable conditions and for intolerable distances for slaughter overseas, often in the most appalling circumstan-ces. The Minister is fully aware of the strength of public opinion, and I assure him that we shall give him all the support we can in his endeavours in the European negotiations. However, the single most effective measure would be to limit journey times to eight hours, as is recognised by many welfare bodies outside the Government. Will the Minister give a guarantee now that when the new transport directive is finalised, he personally will insist on a maximum journey time of eight hours?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman rightly raised a very important issue. We are in discussion at the moment, and a great deal of work is being done on journey times and on other suitable transport arrangements for animals which will be enforceable across the Community. He will know that it would be impossible for us to ban exports of farm animals under article 34 of the treaty of Rome. He should also be aware that this is an important export trade for British farmers, and the reason so many people abroad wish to buy British products is that those goods are produced to such a very high standard.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Does my hon. Friend agree that border controls throughout Europe are absolutely vital so that checks can be made on animal welfare and when journey times are eventually agreed throughout Europe, they can also be changed?

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Our aim is to be much tougher than that, and to have checks throughout Europe so that travelling animals may be continually and regularly inspected to ensure that they are transported in proper conditions.