§ 2. Mr. John Townend
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the recent announcement by EU Agriculture Ministers concerning abattoirs.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning)
The December Council of Agriculture Ministers agreed in principle to a package of amendments to the Fresh Meat Directive 64/433/EEC, but adoption has been delayed because of a procedural difficulty with the European Parliament. The House may wish to know that the derogation increasing the low throughput limit has now been extended to 30 June.
§ Mr. Townend
I welcome those small concessions, but does my hon. Friend agree that if they had come earlier they might have prevented some of the country abattoirs. such as the excellent one at Kilham, in my constituency, from being closed? Where does she put the blame for the 469 fact that so many of our excellent country abattoirs have been closed? Was it the fault of European regulations, or was it British bureaucrats showing excessive zeal?
§ Mrs. Browning
Neither, because—as my hon. Friend will know—the number of abattoirs in this country has been on a consistently downward trend during the past 15 years. In 1980 there were 1,231 abattoirs in Great Britain, while in 1992 there were 647. The regulations to which my hon. Friend referred were not applied until 1993.
§ Mr. Hardy
Since this country complies with European requirements in regard to the export of animals, could we not have a greater insistence from the Government that other member states comply with the supposed requirements from Brussels which deal with the welfare and humane slaughter of animals and the conditions of abattoirs?
§ Mrs. Browning
Absolutely. I have great sympathy and agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He will be aware that when the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently produced documentary evidence of the most disgusting and appalling conditions in Greek abattoirs, my right hon. Friend immediately informed the Commission and asked that it be investigated, and that is currently being done.
§ Mr. Alexander
Is my hon. Friend assuring the House that the directive is being uniformly introduced over the whole of Europe, and that it is being uniformly introduced in this country? Bearing in mind the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), can my hon. Friend give some assurance as to the way in which Members of Parliament will be advised in the future on problems with abattoirs in their constituencies?
§ Mrs. Browning
We shall be vigilant where we have evidence that the rules are not being kept uniformly throughout the EC. That is important not just from the point of view of the welfare of animals but because of the commercial inequalities which could be created. I am happy to be able to tell the House that, as of September last year, I have implemented a policy whereby when I am asked to sign a closure order for an abattoir, the Member of Parliament concerned is immediately notified in writing and—providing that the abattoir owner gives written permission—the Member of Parliament is invited to come to my Department to examine fully the evidence which is being given to me.