HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc397-9
3. Mr. Flynn

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 EC.

8. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the transportation of live animals.

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

We shall continue to demand the highest possible welfare standards for all animals during transport. We are imminently expecting further proposals from the Commission.

Mr. Flynn

Why has the Minister not demanded publication of the amendments to article 13 of the European Community transport directive? The amendments will improve the watering stops, and the feeding and resting arrangements for animals in transit, and will go a long way to ensuring that the terrible cruelty suffered by animals transported throughout the Community will be reduced. Britain is in the driving seat as it has the presidency, so why have the amendments not been published? Is this another example of the failing British presidency of the EC?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman should know that the directive to which he refers establishes a good framework of controls. It is incomplete as it stands and we await further proposals from the Commission, which we shall address. We are intent on demanding the same high standards abroad that we have in this country. The hon. Gentleman should know that tonight my right hon. Friend the Minister, in his capacity as President of the Agriculture Council, is attending the annual dinner of the Federation of Veterinarians in the European Community in Brussels. He will once again stress the Government's determination and commitment to achieving the very highest standards of animal welfare throughout the Community.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Has the Minister personally observed the conditions in which some live animals are transported in this country? I recently witnessed the death of a terrified sheep which jumped off the top of a lorry on the M1 motorway and was killed. Has the Minister seen the conditions in which live poultry are crammed into crates and taken around parts of the country? Before we lecture people in Europe about their treatment of animals, should we not get our own act together in this country?

Mr. Soames

We believe that, by and large, we have high standards of animal welfare in this country. From time to time, however, there are regrettable accidents and incidents. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any such incidents he should give me the details and evidence so that I can have them investigated with great vigour forthwith.

Mr. Marland

Is my hon. Friend aware that a large number of people in this country are immensely grateful to him and to the Department for the steps that they have taken to improve animal welfare and the conditions of animals in transit? Will he use his influence to ensure that those standards spread throughout Europe? Is there any possibility under the Maastricht treaty—and the regulations whereby all member states must operate under the same conditions—of enforcing better animal welfare conditions throughout Europe?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a most important point. The enforcement of the rules is essential to their integrity and to the confidence of people in this country and elsewhere that these high standards of animal welfare will be enforced. My hon. Friend should be aware that in the Maastricht agreement there was a valuable declaration on animal welfare which was promoted by the British Government. We very much hope that those details will be taken up by overseas Governments.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his robust defence of our measures of minimum value for the export of horses. Will he assure the House that he will continue to fight the threat to this important animal welfare measure in the European Community?

Mr. Soames

I am more than grateful to my hon. Friend. The minimum values have stood this country in good stead. It is our firm intention to fight with great vigour to ensure that they remain.

Mr. Morley

Does the Minister agree that it is best to slaughter animals as near as possible to the point of production and not to take them long distances? Is he not concerned about the number of abattoirs that fail to meet EC standards? At present only 98 out of 686 abattoirs in the United Kingdom meet the new EC standards, and many rural jobs are being lost as abattoirs are forced to close down. That has implications for increased animal transportation.

Does the Minister agree that we need equality in Europe? While some member states are receiving grants to improve their small rural abattoirs, our small businesses are apparently not getting the support from the Government that they deserve.

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman stayed well clear of the question; I will confine myself to dealing with the part of his remarks that dealt with animal welfare. He raised an important point about abattoirs and animal welfare. There is no reason why animals should not travel, provided that they are humanely and properly handled, but an animal that is not fit to travel should not be transported any distance at all. The question of abattoirs exercises us greatly at the moment and we are giving it a great deal of attention.