HC Deb 26 January 1995 vol 253 cc455-7
2. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to improve the welfare of animals prior to slaughter.

Mr. Waldegrave

We are consulting on improved standards and are introducing on 1 April 1995 the national meat hygiene service, which will result in uniform standards and lower costs.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Despite what the Minister said a few moments ago about the veal crate system, was not an answer given in the European Parliament, after his meeting in Europe, to the effect that the review will not start until at least two years hence? By that time, at least 1 million more British calves—including calves from the right hon. Gentleman's farm—will have suffered under this appalling system.

Will the Minister tell me and the British people what justification there is for any exports of live animals for slaughter—quite apart from veal calves—given modern refrigeration techniques? Is it not the will of the British people completely to ban live exports for slaughter?

Mr. Waldegrave

Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. I know that a Labour Member of the European Parliament told him what he has just reported about the French Minister's remarks, but I have been in touch with the French Minister's cabinet—

Mr. Skinner

What does that mean?

Mr. Waldegrave

It means Cabinet in French.

I was assured that the French Minister, Mr. Puech, had been misquoted. That can only be right, as I was present at the Council meeting where he, as president, welcomed the fact that the Commission had said that it was bringing forward the review to this year and had already spoken to the relevant committee and asked for the review to begin.

Mr. Gale

Will my right hon. Friend continue his robust efforts to achieve a Europe-wide solution to the problems of veal crates and of the transportation of live animals for slaughter to prevent English exports from being replaced by a flood of imports from former Iron Curtain countries, with animals travelling longer distances under worse conditions? What steps does he intend to take to encourage the slaughter of animals in British abattoirs and the export of meat on the hook, not on the hoof?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is right. There is a bigger prize than securing the improvement that we secured by banning the use of veal creates in our own very small veal trade—securing a ban right across Europe. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that if we do not do so the animals will turn up from somewhere and these practices will continue. That surely is not what we want.

I will have more to say next week on my hon. Friend's second point, but he is perfectly right to say that we can take further steps to encourage trade on the hook and to develop a humane veal trade, including the British rose veal trade. We should not seek to demonise the idea of veal eating, because humane British-raised veal is good and it avoids the need or the demand for exports.

Mr. Tyler

May I press the Minister on the latter part of his answer? In the light of recent figures given to me by the Ministry showing that the number of abattoirs in this country has halved in the past 15 years because so many small and local abattoirs have been forced out of business, what steps does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind to try to reduce livestock journeys within the United Kingdom? What steps does he propose to take to assist the industry to encourage home slaughter and home market development?

Mr. Waldegrave

We can take a range of steps, and I shall announce some more next week. Nowhere in the United Kingdom is there not a slaughterhouse within a satisfactory distance of farms in the neighbourhood. I know that there are problems in some areas of the south-west, but if one draws circles on the graph one finds that there is no need for excessive journey times to those slaughterhouses. There are further measures that we can take—support for marketing and so on—to develop a humane trade here and alternative uses for those calves.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

As the matter has recently been raised in the House, will my right hon. Friend put on record and clarify the position concerning the restarting of the live animal export trade in 1975?

Mr. Waldegrave

With your indulgence, Madam Speaker, I should like to correct one point. On 19 January, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) accused me of misleading the House. He said: The House was thus misled by the allegation made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West".—[Official Report, 19 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 865.]— that is me.

The hon. Gentleman said that I misled the House by accusing the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), a former Minister, of voting to restart live animal exports, which had been stopped in 1973. [Interruption.] That is what he said—read Hansard.

Three things are wrong with that. First, the hon. Gentleman did not—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The Minister should be given every opportunity to answer the question that he was asked, and he is now doing so.

Mr. Waldegrave

First, the hon. Gentleman did not do me the normal courtesy of warning me that he intended to raise the point and accuse me of misleading the House, but I shall let that pass. Secondly, I said no such thing. Hansard does not report me as saying anything about the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, so he is wrong on that point. Thirdly, if I had said that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East had voted to restart the trade, I would have been right.