HC Deb 26 January 1995 vol 253 cc460-2
6. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to end live animal exports from Britain.

12. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has for further regulating the export of calves for veal.

Mr. Waldegrave

At the meeting of the Agriculture Council on Monday, I succeeded in getting the Commission to bring forward a review of the directive that legalises veal crates from 1997 to this year. I was also delighted to hear the presidency say that the Council would return to the subject of improvements in the rules of live animal transportations in general at the next meeting. I hope the Council makes as good progress on the latter point as on the former.

Mr. Corbyn

Does the Minister recognise that that simply is not good enough? The subject is being debated now because millions of people in this country and throughout Europe are appalled by the treatment of live animals during export, and want the practice to be stopped. Is it Government policy to stop the process by which live animals are exported in conditions of great cruelty and stress, and treated inhumanely?

Mr. Waldegrave

I will take the same position—a brave and sensible position—as was taken by the previous Labour Government. It would be mad to say that no animals could be exported from this country; what is necessary is to ensure that the animals that are exported are exported under tight welfare controls. If animals could not be moved at all, some of those who are campaigning on the issue—although not the great mass of concerned people—would simply move to the next target, while farming in this country, Scotland and Wales would become impossible. A few miles of water do not mean that an animal cannot be moved safely if the proper standards are applied.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the Minister agree with the Liberal spokesman on these matters, who viciously condemned the actions of protesters at British ports when all that they were doing was advocating what the majority of British people believe in?

Mr. Waldegrave

I believe that the Liberal spokesman described the welfare protesters as "naive, hysterical and counter-productive". There is a fringe attached to this movement, as to many other sensible movements, which ruins the cause by using violence and going much too far. It would be unwise of the House and of the Liberal spokesman not to recognise that there is widespread, genuine concern about this matter, but that should not mean, as has sometimes happened in the House in the past, that we over-react and completely ruin the conditions for farming in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We must ensure proper welfare and proper enforcement. That is what we need.

Mr. Brooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in their latter stages, the previous Labour Government sought to impede debate on a private Member's Bill on live animal exports—a fact that I mention incidentally because of the indignation generated in the last Session about progress on private Member's Bills?

Mr. Waldegrave

Some such rows are fairly synthetic because I suspect that they depend on which side of the House one is on at the time. I do not think that this is a party issue, and it would be unwise for one party to claim that it has the monopoly of wisdom on it. Hon. Members on both sides of the House care about the issue. We must not be pushed by that genuine concern into such extreme measures that we make farming in Britain completely impossible.

Mr. Stephen

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), is my right hon. Friend aware that, at the same time as the Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman was telling farmers that his party was not in favour of the ban on animal exports, Liberal Democrat councillors in my constituency were telling the townspeople that they were in favour of it?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. Mr. David Bellotti, who was briefly a Member of the House, took a very different line from the Liberal Democrat spokesman. That is the joy of being a Liberal: one can say anything one likes in any part of the country and it does not matter at all if all the others say something different.

Dr. Strang

May I return to the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the Official Report of 19 January and explain that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) was referring to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire,. West (Mr. Marland), who intervened during Prime Minister's Questions? May I set the record straight by explaining that in 1973, on a Labour motion, which was opposed by the then Conservative Government, live animal exports were banned. I voted for that motion.

When the Labour Government took office, the O'Brien committee, which the Conservative party set up, recommended the resumption of the trade, which at that time was in live cattle and some pigs and was a very small trade. The committee recommended the resumption of the trade on the basis of increased safeguards. That was accepted not only by the Labour Government but by Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen.

Mr. Waldegrave

I have never sought to attack the hon. Gentleman on this. He seems to have taken a perfectly sensible position throughout and it is generous of him to try to protect the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). However, it would have been decent of his hon. Friend to apologise. He said: The House was thus misled by the allegation made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)."—[Official Report, 19 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 865.]

Mr. Morley

I did not say that.

Mr. Waldegrave

That is what Hansard records. We should be making a little progress if the hon. Gentleman said that Hansard had made up and printed a whole speech for no reason that is obvious to me.

Mr. Knapman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best scenario for calves is for them to be slaughtered in British abattoirs, thereby increasing employment prospects and adding value? The worst scenario would be an immediate and unilateral ban because that would reduce the price of small Holstein calves to nil and they would be knocked on the head straight after birth.

Mr. Waldegrave

I believe that my hon. Friend is right. To change a trade such as this, which has become established, will take some time. We must, first, secure a veal crate ban. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we want to encourage the export of meat on the hook. That would create jobs and would be better in welfare terms. If we were to kill small calves on the farm immediately they were born, it would not be satisfactory in welfare terms, and would not be acceptable to the British public or to the great majority of British farmers.