HC Deb 23 February 1995 vol 255 cc469-71
3. Ms Glenda Jackson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent representations he has received concerning the export of veal calves to other EU member states.

Mrs. Browning

We continue to receive many representations both from organisations and individuals.

Ms Jackson

Does the Minister agree that public opinion is increasing, not only in this country but across Europe, against the particularly abhorrent form of food production that is veal crates? Does she attribute the Minister's failure to convince our European partners to adopt the British ban on this form of food production to his own powers of argument or to the anti-European campaign which is being unceasingly waged by his senior colleagues in the Cabinet?

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Lady seems to be remarkably ill-informed on this subject. My right hon. Friend the Minister, in conjunction with Franz Fischler, was instrumental in making sure that there was an early response from the Council of Ministers to the directive which currently makes veal crates legal in the rest of Europe. In negotiations with all of our EC partners, we have not had one voice raised from any country—regardless of either commercial interests or the fact that a country perhaps does not consider the measure to be something it wishes to adopt—in support of the raising of veal calves in crates.

We believe that the report will come forward quickly, and even Italy, which has a vast commercial interest in the matter, has assured me that if the report has not been brought forward by the time it holds the presidency, it will put the matter at the top of the agenda. I hope that the report will be out before then. That shows the spirit and influence of my right hon. Friend.

Sir Terence Higgins

The Minister has said that we are unable to impose a unilateral ban on the export of live animals for slaughter, as it would be contrary to European law. In a debate yesterday, my right hon. Friend said that the legal arguments were scarcely worth looking at, but the replies that he has given to questions have not answered in detail the case put forward by Compassion in World Farming. Has the matter been referred to the Law Officers, and will my right hon. Friend publish the legal opinion which he has received in dealing with the particular cases quoted in the representations to which I have referred?

Mrs. Browning

My right hon. Friend made it very clear in a three-hour debate yesterday that we have taken legal advice from more than one source, and it would be highly irregular and unusual for any Minister to disclose whether the Law Officers have been consulted. My right hon. Friend has been very open about the advice that we have received. It is quite conclusive—this country would be open to charge in the courts if we applied a unilateral ban to the blanket export of live animals or to certain species destined for certain types of rearing.

Mr. Barnes

Yesterday morning, during the debate, we received a great deal of information from the Minister about what discussions had occurred within the European Union at an earlier stage and about developments and possibilities for changes, as the aim was generally to change European Union regulations. Is it not a pity that there has to be a great deal of trouble over an issue before that type of information is supplied to the House?

I have never heard of an attempt to provide information about any other item that affects the European Union on such a basis. If we are sending Ministers to act on our behalf in such matters, we need them to report back on what has occurred, so that we know that what we want is being pursued. That is not occurring generally—

Madam Speaker

Order. I need a question, not a speech.

Mrs. Browning

My right hon. Friend arrived back in this country from a two-day Council meeting at 3 am.

By 10.30 am yesterday, he was sharing with the House information about that Council and its procedures. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman feels that he should have been telegrammed at 4 am, 5 am or 6 am, but if he writes to us on that basis we will look into it.