HC Deb 23 March 1995 vol 257 cc467-8
1. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many representations he has received over the past 12 months about the export of live animals; and if he will make a statement. [13874]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning)

Over the past 12 months we have received approximately 90,000 items of correspondence on the transport of live animals.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Minister aware of reports that English farmers have been using the Scottish port of Cairnryan as a back door for the export of veal calves to the continent via the Irish Republic? The animals are apparently transported by road from the south of England to Cairnryan, shipped over to Northern Ireland, smuggled across the border into the Irish Republic, then shipped to the continent so that, by the time they reach their eventual destination, some of them have travelled more than 2,500 miles. Will the Minister consult the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Northern Ireland and the Irish Minister for Agriculture to try to put a stop to that barbaric practice?

Mrs. Browning

I certainly will, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will provide me with evidence to help me look into the matter.

Sir Roger Moate

Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) voted in 1975, when the last Labour Government reintroduced the export of live animals? Is it not important to understand that we are discussing not exports as such, but the importance, pursued by the Government, of ensuring the maximum welfare of animals in all forms of transit?

Mrs. Browning

Indeed, my hon. Friend is right. The welfare of animals is our prime concern, which is why we take seriously claims that the rules are being violated. However, my hon. Friend is right: it is a legal trade and, under good welfare conditions, we believe that it should continue. That is why we are working actively to ensure that not only do we have good standards but that standards in the rest of Europe are improved to our level.

Mr. Morley

The Minister will be aware that one of the problems of the live animal trade is the definition of animals in the treaty of Rome as "agricultural products". At the forthcoming intergovernmental conference in 1996, will she argue for redefining animals as "sentient beings" as a matter of principle at this stage?

Mrs. Browning

At this stage, we are prepared to look at reasoned arguments about the definition of live animals, but I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance on that today.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while the welfare of animals is important, the livelihoods of farmers should come first? Would not it be a good thing if the House showed the same concern for farmers and farm workers, many of whom in my constituency are now losing their jobs as a result of demonstrations, as was shown recently in the case of fishermen?

Mrs. Browning

I hope that the House and my hon. Friend agree that the majority of farmers are the very people who care about animal welfare. They not only look after them well on farms but they, too, are concerned when welfare standards are violated in transporting animals. I agree with my hon. Friend that we all deplore violence and I hope that those who wish to make their views known—I know that some of them hold them passionately—will do so in a law-abiding and peaceful way.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister agree that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and others should not make allegations in the House which they cannot substantiate? Will she take it from me that the Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department faxes to me the records of live cattle that move from Scotland to my constituency and the port of Larne? This is the first time that I have ever heard of the falsehood which I nail in the House today.

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the need for proof, which is why I invited the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who mentioned the matter this afternoon, to supply me with evidence. We take very seriously falsification of documentation or other matters that are not legal in connection with animal transport. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West can substantiate what he has said today, because my officials are kept very busy with that matter, and I do not want their time to be wasted on a wild goose chase.

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