HC Deb 20 October 1994 vol 248 cc414-5
7. Mr. Luff

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he has taken to improve the conditions of farm animals in transit; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Waldegrave

I announced on 14 September a new measure to improve protection of the welfare of animals in transit, in particular those for export. This would give us the capacity, if evidence was available, to prosecute in Britain hauliers who had not looked after their animals properly on journeys, even though those journeys were abroad.

Mr. Luff

I welcome that answer, but will my right hon. Friend continue to press for an effective Europe-wide animal transport licensing and enforcement system? Can he give us any assessment of when our European partners, particularly the French, are going to take the matter as seriously as he clearly does?

Mr. Waldegrave

The measures that I have proposed go as far as we can on a national basis within the treaty of Rome. Incidentally, they will enable us to prosecute some of those frightful cases which were investigated—for example, by ITN—if evidence is brought in this country. However, the real task is to obtain Europe-wide licensing of the kind that my hon. Friend mentioned. A group of countries—I am sorry to say a minority—in the Council is in favour and we are a firm part of that group. However, others, including France, have not taken that view. It would be most helpful if they would.

Mr. Beggs

I welcome the steps that the Ministry has already taken to improve the welfare of animals in transit but does the Minister agree that it is preferable that animals be transported to the nearest meat plant for processing and slaughter, but that a blanket ban on the export of livestock could seriously damage our successful trade in exporting pedigree breeding stock?

Mr. Waldegrave

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right. The greater part of our trade is already in carcase meat. I believe that the steps that are now being taken to ensure that the trade expands are the right steps. They bring jobs, apart from anything else, to the United Kingdom. However, it would be very unfair to British farmers—who already, in most cases, have the highest standards in Europe—if unilateral action against them led to damage to them from pressure groups legitimately targeting standards in other parts of Europe which are very much lower. That is quite apart from the long-standing trade in thoroughbred exports and racehorses, for example, with which nobody is proposing to interfere.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

Is not it a fact that if, for whatever reason, customers are deprived of supplies of live animals from United Kingdom sources, they are likely to turn to other countries whose animal welfare standards are infinitely worse, and that there will be much more suffering for live animals?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point. It would be paradoxical if, in order to express anxiety about the subject here, steps were taken that led to a net loss in the standards of animal welfare because of the importation into our previous markets of animals from central Europe. I fear that the conditions in which such animals would have been reared and transported would be likely to be much lower.

Mr. Morley

I add my congratulations to the Minister on his new post. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is widespread public concern about live animal exports for slaughter? Indeed, live animal exports are also exporting British jobs from the meat industry as well. Will the right hon. Gentleman look carefully at some of the more dodgy schemes to beat the ferry ban, such as flying live cows from a Humberside airport in old eastern bloc military transport planes? I hope that the Minister will make available to the House his vets' report on those trial flights.

Given that lamb and calf prices since the ferry ban demonstrate that we can have a viable trade in carcases, will the Minister do what he can to support the export of meat from this country, based on quality and price rather than on the misery of live animals?

Mr. Waldegrave

The greater part of our trade, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, is already in carcases. It is wise that that trade should expand. However, I have no power to ban live exports. I have power to ensure that any live exports take place under strict welfare conditions. As for the Hull flight to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I am very happy to send to him, or to place in the Library of the House, the account of the vets from my Department who travelled with it. It was, I am advised, satisfactory. I will not allow—not that I would be able to persuade them to do it—vets in my Department to cut any corners whatsoever in the maintenance of proper standards, but if they are proper standards, that is a legal trade.

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