HC Deb 23 February 1995 vol 255 cc467-8
1. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the marketing and exporting of humanely produced veal.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave):

I hope that marketing of humanely produced veal can increase, which is why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is opening a Ministry seminar on that subject tomorrow.

Mr. Home Robertson

As we have been exporting 500,000 calves a year into veal crates and the like on mainland Europe, and as we import the equivalent of 8,000 of them back again as anaemic veal each year, while only 4,000 calves are reared in humane loose-house veal units in Britain, does the Minister accept that our urgent and massive task is to develop the market for welfare-labelled veal not only in Britain but throughout the single European market? That will not simply happen; it will take more than seminars. What resources and what action are the Minister and the Meat and Livestock Commission devoting to promoting that market?

Mr. Waldegrave

As a distinguished producer of high-quality Scottish beef—that is a good product, too—the hon. Gentleman speaks with knowledge. The figures that he gives are correct: about 80 per cent. of our present very small market, which is mostly within the catering trade, is imported. That amount could be replaced, which would be a start. But the hon. Gentleman should not undervalue the importance of getting the retailers, including the supermarkets, and the producers all on side and working together. That is why the seminar tomorrow will be important in terms of promoting a national movement working together. We shall back that with our marketing grants, if good candidates are put forward to help develop the market.

Mr. Knapman

My right hon. Friend has made clear the Government's opposition to a unilateral ban on the export of veal calves, but who now supports the Protection of Calves (Export) Bill, other than its promoter, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)?

Mr. Waldegrave

As I read it, the Labour party's policy as set out in its policy statement is to do what the Government are doing—to seek a ban through the Commission and the Council of Ministers. That must be the right thing to do. Even if a unilateral ban were legal, which I fear it is not, it is extremely difficult to see how it would work. As soon as the animals were across the channel they would be out of our jurisdiction, and whatever happened to them we could not do much about it.

Dr. Strang

But surely the Minister accepts that the majority of the British people regard it as utterly unacceptable for us to export calves into a system of production so cruel that we have banned it in this country. As he has undertaken to resolve the problem by eliminating veal crates in Europe, can he give the House any idea of a date by which he could reasonably expect to secure that aim?

Mr. Waldegrave

I could give the House good news yesterday, in that on either Monday or Tuesday—I forget at exactly which point during the Council of Ministers' meeting—Commissioner Franz Fischler told us that he had been able to respond more quickly than he originally expected to our request to bring forward the review, and that the report that will have to precede any action across Europe will now be available well before the end of the year. As the scientific committee doing the work is chaired by a distinguished Cambridge veterinarian of great reputation, I believe that its work and its recommendations will carry much weight.

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