HC Deb 01 February 1996 vol 270 cc1107-8
3. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received in the last 12 months on the abolition of the current veal crate system as used in the rest of the EU. [11267]

Mr. Douglas Hogg

There has been clear support for our initiative to bring about the end of the veal crate system throughout the European Union. As a result of sustained pressure from the United Kingdom Government, we now have proposals for revision of the EU legislation, well before the date specified in the directive.

In welcoming those proposals, we have made it clear that we shall continue to press in negotiations for the early adoption and implementation of measures which fully meet the welfare needs of the calf.

Mr. Martlew

Will the Minister accept that the representations made in Parliament and in demonstrations throughout the land in the past 12 months have had the effect of bringing forward the Commission's proposals? Will he accept also that phasing in over 12 years is far too long?

The Minister's predecessor used to tell the House that, if he could, he would ban the export of veal calves, but he did not think that such action would be legal. The Minister is reported to have told the Devon branch of the National Farmers Union that, even if he had the power to introduce such a ban, he would not use it. Has there been a policy change?

Mr. Hogg

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question. He has failed to give any credit to the Government's activities. Those activities within the European Union brought about the decision of the Council and the Commission to consider the matter earlier than would otherwise have been done. On many occasions, I have pressed the Commissioner, and the Council, to bring forward proposals. I did so most recently in December and January. We shall press for early implementation of regulations that will match the regulations that the Government introduced many years ago.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

Is it not a fact that the Labour Government reintroduced the export of live animals? Is it not sheer hypocrisy for the Opposition Front-Bench team—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) was a Labour Minister—to oppose what the Government are doing? Is it not another example of double standards?

Mr. Hogg

It is worse than that. I have read a Hansard report of a debate on 16 January 1975, when the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) was a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister. In a free vote, he supported the resumption of live animal exports.

Dr. Strang

That matter has been explained in the past. The vote took place on the basis of the strict conditions that were recommended.

Surely the Minister recognises that rearing calves in relative darkness, keeping them deliberately malnourished and in crates in which they cannot turn round, is cruel. Will he now answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)? Surely he recalls that the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), who is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said that he would not ban the export of calves in veal crates because he believed that by doing so he would put the United Kingdom in breach of European law. Is the Minister saying that, even if he could halt the trade without breaking European law, he would not do so?

Mr. Hogg

In explaining his vote of 16 January 1975, the hon. Gentleman has given no answer whatever, because many of his Government colleagues in that Division voted the other way, as the Division list shows. The difference between what the hon. Gentleman says today and what he said when he had a free vote merely demonstrates the truth of the proposition: Labour says one thing and does another.