HL Deb 21 January 1971 vol 314 cc654-75

6.28 p.m.

LORD SOMERS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider the possibility of a carcase trade for meat export in place of live animals. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I should like to thank in advance the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who is kindly giving his support, and also particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, who I am sure we are all delighted to see back in her place after her very serious illness. I shall not thank my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, or the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, until I have heard what they have to say, but I am hoping that I may do so very warmly afterwards.

I should like to ask this Question in two halves. First, is what I suggest desirable, and secondly, is it practicable? As to the first half, I hope that I am well enough known in your Lordships' House now for nobody to be under the impression that I am a sentimentalist as regards animals. I can assure your Lordships that I am not, but I am very keen to avoid causing unnecessary suffering—and I stress the word "unnecessary".

I should like to deal first with the question of the actual transport of the animals from this country to the Continent. The observations which have been made on the condition of the animals when they arrive on the Continent have not shown that they have suffered any visible harm. They seem in fairly fit physical condition. One R.S.P.C.A. inspector said that some were sweating a little, but that may have been purely from fear. And of course, there is this other side: animals are living creatures, and are quite capable of suffering extreme fear and terror from an experience which is quite new to them. I think that that element should be considered.

Also there is the question of whether in very bad weather the animals may suffer considerably. British ships refuse to take animals when the weather is really bad, but foreign ships will sometimes take them when our own ships have refused to do so. And once the animals are on board a foreign ship we have no further control over them. Then there is the question of the preliminary inspection. Before they are embarked, animals are supposed to be inspected at the ports by the veterinary inspector. He cannot possibly get more than a general impression of them. If he is confronted by a pen of 100 sheep, how can he possibly go through each one and examine it individually to see whether it is sound in foot and limb? He cannot do that; he can only get a general impression. Therefore, it seems that this inspection requirement does not convey any real assurance that some animals do not suffer a great deal.

When they get to the other side, of course the story is rather different. Most of the countries to which we export animals are signatories to the Balfour assurances. One of these lays down that the animals shall not travel more than 60 miles from the port of disembarkation, that they shall not be re-exported, and that they shall be humanely killed. I should like to quote from a report which was made by two R.S.P.C.A. veterinary inspectors who went over to Belgium and followed the course of two loads of young calves which had gone there from England. I do not want to quote at too great length, but there are several paragraphs which are very significant. One says: This investigation was carried out by Superintendent Butfield and the Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer as a result of complaints from a number of sources about the transportation of live calves to the Continent for both immediate slaughter and onward fattening. The report describes how the calves arrived at the port and what they were like when they arrived; and it continues: We were unable to establish what happened to the British Friesian calves. The replies to our questions on this were polite but evasive and there is a strong suspicion that these calves stay only for a short time in Belgium or Holland, and then go to various other countries, notably Italy. This, of course, is a breach of the Assurance.

The report goes on to describe something of the conditions at the slaughterhouse where the calves arrived in Belgium: The veal calves arrived at the Ostend lairage from Zeebrugge at midnight on Friday, 23rd; they were in good condition, having travelled well. One was blind in one eye and it was noticed that they seemed very out of breath with the exertion of loading and unloading. Also, their vision seemed to be defective as one could go right up to them before they appeared to see you. The owner of these calves had accompanied the lorry from England …. The slaughterhouse at Putte is 186 kilometres from Zeebrugge and where the calves disembarked. My Lords, 186 kilometres is, of course, a good deal over the 60-miles limit. The calves would arrive at Putte at 5 a.m. and the owner of the calves told us that he insisted that they were given something to drink on arrival. We ourselves arrived at Putte at 9.30 a.m. the following morning, by which time about half of the calves had been slaughtered. Slaughtering methods and the slaughterhouse itself can only be described as barbaric. The method of stunning used was to hit the animal over the head with an ordinary carpenter's claw hammer. I examined some of the heads of the killed calves and found no bullet holes but in one or two cases fractured frontal bones. The calves may, or may not, have been stunned by this method. The calf was then hoisted by the hind leg by a travelling hoist and its throat was cut. Out of deference to us, the slaughterman was requested by the Manager to use a Cash pistol while we were there, but he resented having to use it and was not proficient in its use. The pistol had not been greased for some time and was not working satisfactorily. The calves were crowded into a killing pen about 6'×12', one end of which was the bleeding area. When a calf had been stunned it was shackled to the hoist and dragged through other living calves which were sometimes actually thrown into the blood bath by the unconscious calf on its way up the hoist. There was only a galvanised pipe preventing the live calves going into the rest of the slaughter-house and these calves were all killed within sight of each other, and also could see only 2' from them, their fellows' throats cut and could see the pile of decapitated heads in one corner. The floors and walls of the killing area were covered with blood. The carcases of the calves were inspected for their whiteness and I was also able to examine the digestive organs and the livers of these calves, which proved beyond doubt that they had been fed on a wholly liquid diet.

I will not weary your Lordships with any more from this report, but I have read enough to show pretty convincingly that humane slaughter as we know it is not practised on the Continent. Of course, I admit at once that what I have quoted relates to only one slaughterhouse, and that that is no proof that the same conditions obtain in others. But I should have thought it unlikely, if they can obtain in one, that the others were a great deal better. They may be slightly better, but not a great deal.

We now come to the question of whether the proposal in my Question is practicable. The trade is a very large one. I have some figures here. For the year ended December 31, we exported 59,000-odd calves and bulls; nearly 46,000 calves; 54,000 heifers; 33,000 bullocks; 387,000 sheep and 86,000 pigs. And the trade is growing. I had a very interesting talk with Mr. Forder, the General Secretary of the Meat Trade Association, and he told me some interesting facts. He said the method the Continental buyers use is to come over to our cattle markets on the East Coast, where they run the prices for these calves up to such an extent that our own people cannot buy them back. The result is that the National Farmers' Union, I gather, is practically split in half over this subject. The dairy farmers are naturally only too glad to get very high prices for the bull calves they want to get rid of, but the meat breeding side of the farming trade are naturally annoyed that they cannot afford to buy their own calves back. Therefore, it seems to be a 50/50 situation so far as the farmers are concerned. And I hope your Lordships will not be under any impression that I do not realise the importance of considering the farmers' point of view in this whole subject.

So far as the mechanical side is concerned, it is perfectly simple. We have quite enough slaughterhouses to deal with the traffic. We have enormous refrigerated transport. I have an illustration here of some of these enormous 10-wheel trucks which are refrigerated, which act on the drive-on, drive-off principle, so that the Continental buyers could have what is to all intents and purposes fresh meat. That is one of the objections which Mr. Forder said they raised, that they like fresh meat rather than chilled or frozen. But it would be fresh meat; quite as fresh as anything we ever buy in London.

There are other aspects of the economic situation. As I have no right of reply perhaps I had better anticipate a few points which my noble friend may possibly raise. One is this. No doubt the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food feel that the trade brings in foreign currency and is a valuable contribution to the balance of payments. I do not deny that for a moment; but there is an answer to it. Imports of meat and meat preparations are now running at something like one million pounds per day. Every pound of meat exported, whether it be alive or dead, must be replaced by imports, many of which come from the very countries to which we export. Each year we get less meat for greater foreign currency outlay, while each pound of imported meat brings with it the risk of disease, such as foot-and-mouth disease and others.

Another point which may be raised is one that I have already mentioned; namely, that our Continental buyers prefer fresh meat. My Lords, so do we. Why should we he deprived of it? We also prefer to benefit from our investment via taxes in the production of the animals which provide home-killed meat, and we resent such benefits going to foreigners who have contributed nothing.

There is another point that may be raised. The Ministry may say, "We are asking our Embassy staffs to investigate recent allegations of cruel treatment in foreign countries". My Lords, that is worse than useless. The Embassy staff in a foreign country can do nothing. They have no power as to how the animals are going to be treated once they are within the boundaries of a foreign country. All they can do is to protest and to point out that the Balfour assurances are not being observed. What can we do, my Lords? The only solution seems to be to ban altogether the export of live animals for slaughter. Naturally, there would have to be some exception in respect of animals exported for breeding purposes, but that could be overcome in exactly the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, introduced into his Ponies Bill——by raising the price. It seems to me that would be perfectly practicable. I am not, of course, asking for any decision to-night, but I sincerely hope that the Government will think over this proposal very sincerely, and I am quite sure that my noble friend who is to reply will convey to the proper quarters everything I have said.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, as briefly as I can, to support the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in everything that he has said this afternoon. I have been a member of this House for a great many years, and in my membership the point I am most proud about is the humane approach which this House takes, regardless of Party, to matters of this kind. One can be quite sure that when one raises a question on the sufferings of animals or their wellbeing one will get a sympathetic House. That is partly illustrated by the fact that in spite of the momentous debates we have had this week, on the European Common Market and the Disestablishment of the Church of England, we can still find time to discuss a matter of this kind, and even find a respectable number of speakers.

After all, one has to realise that the number of domestic animals in this country approaches the number of human beings. The number of animals which we use for human consumption is something approaching 20 million, but in addition we have our horses, our dogs and our donkeys which, thank God!, we do not use for human consumption, although I would not say that they are not so used in other parts of the world. Therefore we have a moral responsibility for the welfare of these animals. I think that we in this country have accepted that responsibility to a far greater extent than have the people in any other land. So when the noble Lord, Lord Somers, to whom I am grateful for having asked this Question, deals at length with the economic side of the matter, I regard that as being of minor importance. I am sure there is nobody in this House who would wish to make a profit out of the sufferings of the animals that are being exported.

However, since we have spoken about economics, let me put the matter in its proper perspective. The total receipts for the sale of animals in 1969 was something of the order of £16 million; the total purchases of animals from abroad amounted to £450 million. So this is not a vital trade from the point of view of the balance of trade. But are we to assume that if we prohibit the export of live animals abroad we should not be able to sell those animals on the Continent in the form of carcases? What is the objection? After all, practically the whole of the £450 million worth that we imported last year arrived in this country in the form of carcases; it certainly did not come as live animals. There is no reason at all why we should send live animals abroad—animals for which, incidentally, the British taxpayer has contributed by way of subsidy.

From a humane point of view it is quite wrong to send these animals abroad, assuming that the conditions are anything like the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has described. He is quite right; the experience that he described is of a very limited nature and it may be argued that there is no evidence that it prevails throughout the whole of our exports. That may be so. All we are asking of the Government is that they should find out. They have the moral responsibility for the welfare of all the animals we have in this country, and it is their duty to find out the conditions under which these animals are slaughtered abroad; and if those conditions are anything like what has been described, beyond all doubt the export should be prohibited.

I am sure that the Government will be in agreement so far. I should like to pay a tribute to them for the way in which they have been handling the Ponies Act. I admit that in the first instance they were very much opposed to it, and I had a certain amount of difficulty in persuading some noble Lords, including members of my own Party, because it was a non-Party matter, to give it support. But now that it is an Act of Parliament I must pay a tribute to the way in which it is being implemented. I think the Government and all the officials concerned are doing everything possible to carry out the spirit and the letter of that legislation, and I have no doubt at all that if we were to pass a measure prohibiting the export of live animals abroad it would receive the same kind of consideration and be implemented in the same spirit as the Ponies Act.

I do not think that I need say any more. I hope that the Government will be willing to investigate this matter and satisfy the minds of enormous numbers of people in this country who are very disturbed about this trade. If they can give a satisfactory answer, that the noble Lord's description of the conditions is inaccurate and not true, even then I should be very doubtful whether it was a right thing to export live animals, but at any rate my mind would be very much eased, and so would the minds of many others. So I hope the noble Lord who is going to reply will be able to give us a sympathetic answer to the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has put.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, as the only agriculturist who has so far spoken in this debate, I should like first of all to say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that on humane grounds there is a strong case for slaughter before export of animals destined for slaughter abroad. But the case really rests on how far we, as a nation, are prepared to sacrifice financial advantage in the interests of humanity. No animal enjoys being taken out of its environment, crammed into a lorry and racketed about all over the country, put into a railway truck and loaded into a ship. It hears strange noises that are foreign to it, and it often gets extremely rough handling. There is therefore bound to be an element of cruelty.

There is even an element of cruelty in transporting animals in our own country. Legislation is so devised that for all practical purposes we could not do it better: but if animals are put into a lorry and driven two or three hundred miles, there is obviously an element of cruelty. I do not suppose any of us likes being taken out of our environment. For instance, sometimes when I go home from this House I have to travel in a rush-hour train, and compared with the environment of this House I find it extremely disagreeable. But I have the advantage that to a certain extent I do it voluntarily, and I know that my agony is going to be short lived. If am desperate, and provided the noble Lord, Lord Soper, whom I see in his place, is not on the train, I can fight my way through to the bar and indulge in the evils of alcohol to help lessen my suffering. Of course, animals do not have that advantage.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, has spoken about the Balfour assurances. He is quite right in saying that we export only to the countries that have signed those assurances. We have passed a lot of legislation in this House, but much of it does not always get put into practice as we should like, and once animals have left these shores, even if we do export to countries that have signed the Balfour assurances, we have no control to see that those assurances are kept. The noble Lord pointed to the instance of calves being re-exported to Italy. Of course, that is completely illegal under the Balfour assurances; but what can we do about it? There is also the question of sheep. Take the export of sheep to France. I have exported sheep to France and I did not know this: I thought they came under the Balfour assurances, but apparently they do not; they have no protection at all. You can export animals for slaughter. You think they are going to be slaughtered on arrival, but the importer can evade the issue by saying he wants them for growing on or fattening up a bit more. That obviously depends on the types of animals and the age.

It is an extraordinary thing that as one travels South and gets nearer the sun, nearer the Equator, the callousness, the cruelty, to animals appears to increase. I should think that would be a very good subject for one of the more donnish of your Lordships—we have plenty of them—or noble Baronesses to write a thesis on: why, when you get nearer the sun, nearer the Equator, cruelty to animals increases. It would make a very interesting study, I am sure. We have some theses on the most absurd things, such as if you throw a cat out of building why does it land on four legs? Why cruelty to animals increases the nearer you get to the Equator would be a far more interesting thesis to write than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, asked one or two questions. I do not want to forestall my noble friend on the Front Bench. The noble Lord appeared very mystified as to why we export meat when we are probably the greatest meat importers in the world. Of course, the reason is financial advantage. I agree that the trade is not very big—only £16 million—but the price of beef and mutton in the Common Market countries is three times the price here. We can export animals to the Common Market and get a far better price, even having to pay the Common Market tariff. At the same time we can buy far more cheaply from the Argentine. So the reason for this situation is financial. We can sell to the Continent far more expensively and for our own interests, and buy cheaply in South America.

The real difficulty about the actual banning of the export of livestock is how to differentiate between those animals which are to be used for breeding and fattening. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, suggested that, as in the Ponies Act, an increase in price would be appropriate. That is a possibility. But such a scheme would be difficult to operate. As I have said, while you may be exporting animals for slaughter, the person buying them may not slaughter them but will re-export them. This is a difficult problem. However, a great deal of this trade, especially that which goes through to the Kent ports, is in old cows which really could be slaughtered in this country, because no importer could excuse himself by saying that he wanted them for growing on. These cows are useful only for processing, and certainly they should be slaughtered in this country.

Serious allegations have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in regard to cruelty to live calves during transport to the Continent. I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture is inquiring into these allegations. If they are proved correct, then I consider that this trade should be banned. I do not think that this allegation applies to pedigree stock. No slaughterhouse is a nice sight, not even those in this country. The noble Lord is quite correct in saying that slaughterhouses on the Continent are horrible places, although they vary.

I would end as I began, by saying that the case rests on the question of how far we are prepared to sacrifice financial advantage in the interests of humanity. This is a question that the Government must answer. They must take a decision on it. In research into human diseases apparently there is no depth to which we will not go in torturing animals. I suppose there is some excuse here, as it is to help human beings. Yet I think it is degrading of human beings to force dogs to smoke in order to see whether they get cancer of the lungs. When our only excuse is financial advantage, as in the export of live animals for slaughter, the excuse wears very thin indeed. Although it will be to the disadvantage of farmers who deal in this trade, I should certainly ban it if the allegations of cruelty in transit are proved. I have no doubt that they are correct, and therefore I sincerely hope that the Government will introduce legislation to stop this trade.

7.6 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that nobody will suggest that the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, should be slaughtered before he endures the horrors of public transport. It might be better if he could be covered by the Balfour assurances, but I fear that he cannot. What is interesting is the history of this particular trade. In history there have been occasions when profitable interests have been subjected to considerations of humanity. A great example was the abolition of the slave trade, under pressure from Clarkson and Wilberforce, which caused a Mr. William Rathbone, of Liverpool, a prominent citizen, to be hissed on 'Change because he opposed a trade that was profitable to some of his fellow citizens.

The interesting part of this trade is that it is comparatively new. If your Lordships take the Report of the Balfour Committee on the Export of Live Cattle, which was published in 1957, you will realise how comparatively new the trade is. That Committee was appointed because of public disquiet about the nature and importance of this trade. The members of the Balfour Committee worked like beavers, with great devotion. They went to the ports; they went across the Channel; they inspected slaughterhouses. They did a great deal of work personally. Among those who did this work was the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.

The general opinion of the Committee was that this trade was undesirable. They decided that slaughter before export would be desirable, but they came to the conclusion that the alternative of the carcase trade was not feasible. They reported in 1957. Their reasons for that decision were, among others, that we could not then provide suitable containers, we had no slaughterhouse facilities for slaughtering on this side of the North Sea, and we could not produce the right kind of Interfrigo wagons which are necessary for the traffic in carcases, as an alternative to live cattle. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, has pointed out to-day that all those possible objections raised by the Balfour Committee are not now relevant, because we have the slaughtering facilities, we have the refrigerator wagons and we have all the requirements which precluded the Balfour Committee from condemning the trade outright.

Having examined the trade and shown some disquiet at what they saw, the Committee produced a complicated and careful scale of regulations for the prevention of abuses. I will not go into the details of the regulations: they can be found in the Report of the Balfour Committee. They are most complicated. They involve conditions of transport, the types of boat in which the animals should be shipped and the kind of weather conditions in which they should be transported. They also regulate the kind of food that should be provided. There is a great deal of detail concerning the conditions under which this trade should be carried on.

But, my Lords, the Committee did not like the trade. And they are not the only people who have not liked it—because, after all, our Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Soames, did not like it either. He said in the House of Commons in 1964 that undoubtedly the best way, from all points of view, of exporting meat is in carcase form, and the trend from live exports towards this was what the Government hoped to see develop as far as possible and as soon as possible. I rather believe that Mr. Prior has said something, perhaps less committal, but indicating that he himself dislikes this particular trade. I only hope that the present Government will try to live up to what the former Government hoped to live up to in regard to the abolition of this trade.

From what has been said, I think that our hearts bleed for the conditions of these animals in the process of transport; and, as we know, from time to time scandals occur and deaths occur. There was one occasion which excited a lot of attention in November when a number of calves were killed, and a Question was raised in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. There have been other cases since then. But my heart is beginning to bleed a little for the Minister of Agriculture, because he is now faced with an awkward dilemma. We have this intricate code of regulations, not to mention the Balfour assurances; and we have, I suppose, a small Inspectorate attached to the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for seeing that these regulations are operated. But if they are to be operated effectively—and they are not now operated effectively—the Ministry of Agriculture will require an army of inspectors, just at the moment when Mr. Prior says that he wishes to diminish the personnel of his Department. It will need as many inspectors to administer these complicated regulations as it would require extra police to administer our speed limits if we chose to enforce them, which unfortunately we do not.

That is one side of the Minister's dilemma. The other side is that if this is not done, if these regulations are not effectively enforced, he will "catch it" from the animal welfare societies. I used to regard welfare societies, on the whole, as rather starry-eyed humanitarians, unduly concerned with attacks on hunting foxes and stags. But to-day they are very different: they include highly expert and dedicated people who are on the go all the time, following trains, inspecting lair-ages, looking at animals, going across the North Sea to meet them when they come in these cattle ships. They know how to calculate the force of the winds, and if the weather conditions are within the scope of the regulations. They are at it all the time, and they will keep on at it.

Unless the regulations are effectively enforced, the number of Parliamentary Questions which will fall on the Minister of Agriculture, the number of letters which, when the postal strike ends, will reach the Ministry, will require him either to appoint an army of veterinary inspectors, or to increase his secretarial staff to deal with the Parliamentary Questions and the letters. The simplest thing would be for him to stop this squalid, inhuman, and doubtful economic private interest on the part of a relatively few farmers. If it should be suggested that to interfere with this trade might create difficulties if and when we go into the Common Market, then the obvious reply is that if we go into the Common Market we should go with our own moral standards unimpaired.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to go into the humanitarian aspects of this case, but I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Somers. There is only one matter on the humanitarian side that I would mention; that is, that as your Lordships know, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. However many safeguards are provided for animals, such as lairages at the port or at the airport, the animal will be upset and it may take him a week to get over his nervousness. Therefore, I am against all export of animals on the hoof.

I come from Kent, and I have made a careful study of meat for export to the Continent. I am firmly in favour of prohibition of all livestock for immediate slaughter abroad. Before coming to this conclusion I took the opinion of farmers, butchers, and slaughtermen, and they were all in favour of carcase export only, as against cattle and sheep on the hoof. The National Farmers' Union are an exception to this opinion, but they are usually wrong. They think that this might upset our home fatstock market stability in the seasonal glut, when the home market has difficulty in disposing of the supply. With this opinion I disagree.

I admit that the Continent give preference to home-produced meat, home butchered meat from imported fatstock, imported fresh meat butchered abroad to their specifications, imported chilled meat and imported frozen meat, in that order. But if they cannot get the first two—that is, the meat on the hoof—then they will have to buy our carcase meat. Again, carcase meat has the advantage of not being affected by foot-and-mouth disease; and carcase meat is also cheaper to transport.

I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government why we should subsidise the Continental consumer with our meat subsidies? Why not put an export tax of £10 per head on cattle carcases, 10s. on lambs, and £1 per head on sheep carcases? In this way they would recover all the subsidies given to the British farmer in order that our housewives can buy cheaper food.

All British meat sold abroad can be replaced at less cost with frozen meat from our Colonies, the Dominions and also the Argentine, thus helping our balance of payments. I do not think we should take any notice of the National Farmers' Union on this matter. I do not think it will have an appreciable effect on our fatstock market in this country. Northern Ireland used to export nearly all fatstock on the hoof, and they have now come round to the carcase trade. It fell flat for a period, but now I believe it is going ahead well and is liked by everybody. Surely we can educate the Continent to like our meat.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, the Question which has been put by my noble friend Lord Somers is: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider the possibility of a carcase trade for meat export in place of live animals. It is quite obvious that, if that is practicable and there are not overwhelming objections, it has enormous advantages for the avoidance of unnecessary suffering. That suffering can take place either in the transit itself or in what happens to the animal after it has been landed on the Continent.

On March 10 last year I asked an oral Question in this House, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, has referred, about an accident that had been brought to my attention in which, in a ship voyaging between Southampton and Havre, 26 out of 128 calves had died. There was a storm and the cases broke loose and all sorts of horrors occurred. I received a detailed Answer on that occasion from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and I was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, and by various noble Lords in all parts of the House. Perhaps as a consequence of that Question, a good deal of further information has been sent to me.

My noble friend Lord Somers said that, on the whole, our shippers took steps to avoid suffering in transport and I very much hope that he is right. But, of course, accidents will occur. But the serious matter is, of course, what subsequently happens to the animal after it has been landed on the Continent, and over that we have no control whatsoever. The utmost that can be done is to enter into arrangements with various foreign countries. Those arrangements may have good consequences, but, if there are such appalling incidents as were referred to by my noble friend Lord Somers, we have no control whatsoever.

For those reasons, if it is practicable, we should all desire to substitute a trade in carcase meat for the export of these animals alive. The question is: is it practicable? Here, my Lords, I suffer from the disadvantage that does not apply to many Members of this House, that I have no direct experience and knowledge of farming. What decided me to intervene in spite of that disadvantage were two facts. First, my noble friend Lord Selkirk wished very much that he could have been in the House this afternoon in order to support Lord Somers, Lord Silkin and others in this debate. Unfortunately, he has recently been indisposed and his doctor will not let him yet come to this House, though he has every hope that he will be with us next week. He hoped that I would express his view and ask for a sympathetic answer from my noble friend Lord Denham when he comes to reply.

But there is another reason, also, that emboldens me to think that those who express this preference for exporting carcase meat are right, and that is the view of Mr. Christopher Soames when he was Minister of Agriculture—and a very good Minister of Agriculture—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, has referred. I will not quote again what he said. The noble Baroness quoted the important sentences from what was really an interchange in the House of Commons which took up a couple of pages of Hansard, and she quoted the vital passage. That was the view of a very good Conservative Minister of Agriculture expressed as long ago as May 11, 1964. In case there are any noble Lords who want to look up this interchange, they will find it in Volume 695 of the Commons Hansard at column 14.

If people who know as much about farming as Mr. Christopher Soames and my noble friend Lord Selkirk think that this is practicable, I hope that the Government will also consider further the practicability, and whether we cannot bring about a reform which will avoid so much unnecessary suffering, the avoidance of which is otherwise impossible because we cannot exercise control. I do not wish to say anything further, except how much I admired the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, who came down to the House for a noble purpose in spite of her recent serious indisposition.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, as a farmer I was horrified to hear the description of the slaughter of these calves, and as a stockman it made my blood boil to think of what happens. There are only one or two points I should like to make. The value of the trade to the farmers in this country is that it comes mostly at a time when we are in surplus and when our markets are fairly full. As a farmer I do not like the cruelty, but I wish to keep up the volume of this trade. Every speaker has mentioned the cruelty and has asked how it can be stopped. One way is to kill our animals here. But even then the cruelty will still be present, because we import very much more than we export. One lever we would have would be to say, "We do not like the way you kill your animals. We do not do L in that way, and we will not buy your products which are slaughtered in that way". That would be a very cogent argument to use to persuade the people on the Continent to revise their methods, and it would probably stop this cruelty.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting and wide ranging debate on a subject which I know is of concern not only to those of your Lordships who have taken part in the discussion but also to every noble Lord in the House. Your Lordships will not expect me to make any startling announcement tonight, or to announce any new policies, but everything that has been said in this debate, every suggestion that your Lordships have made for dealing with this matter, will be considered very carefully by my right honourable friend and his advisers. Most of the debate tonight has concerned the welfare of the animals. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that all other considerations were very minor compared to that. But the Question itself has economic implications, and I have to answer the Question on the Order Paper, so I will start with that side of the subject.

I will first give your Lordships some figures about United Kingdom exports of live animals. I am not quite sure whether the figures which I am about to give agree with those which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, gave, because he said them rather quickly and I was not able to check them as he went along. Excluding exports of breeding animals and animals exported to the Irish Republic, our exports to the Continent in 1969 comprised some 66,000 cattle, worth about £3 million; some 260,000 sheep, worth about £2 million, and some 70,000 pigs, worth about £1 million. The total value of the trade in 1969 was, therefore, £6 million. During the months January to October, 1970, we exported some 216,000 animals, also worth about £6 million. The largest importers of our animals were Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Thus we are talking about a sizeable trade. It can offer a profitable outlet for some of our livestock production, particularly at certain times of the year, and it benefits our balance of payments—though, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said, the net benefit while we still need to import meat to satisfy our requirements is less than the export figures may at first suggest.

I know that there are many people—and this includes almost every one of your Lordships who has spoken to-night—who think that it would be preferable from the animal welfare standpoint, and possibly from the commercial standpoint also, if the trade in live animals on the hoof were to be replaced entirely by exports of meat on the hook. The Government would be very happy to see the trade develop in this way, but we must be cautious about attempting to achieve this through Government direction or regulation. The noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, and my noble friend Lord Cones-ford both quoted a statement by my right honourable friend Mr. Soames in another place on May 11, 1964. Merely to set the Record straight, I should just like to quote what he said further on. This is in columns 15 and 16 of the same issue of Hansard—in fact, on the next page. He said: Our arrangements are that we have a free market for foodstuffs, and meat in particular, which, by and large, has enormous advantages for this country, and we would not lightly tamper with the existence of that free market which involves a good deal of importation and some exportation". I quote that further statement merely to set the Record straight.

My Lords, Continental buyers can already buy our carcase meat if they wish, and some of them do. For example, in the first nine months of 1970 we exported some 6,350 tons of mutton and lamb, 4,500 tons of pork and 3,500 tons of beef to France. I am afraid that I must disagree slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, in saying this, but we must recognise that there is a demand on the Continent for our live animals and that it is unlikely to be diverted to a carcase meat trade if we ban live exports. This is because the Continental buyers see advantages in buying our live animals. In the first place, they obtain the whole animal, including the hide and offals; and, secondly—and no doubt more important from the point of view of the buyer—the buyer can control the way the meat is prepared for the consumer in accordance with the traditional practices and requirements. Continental methods of dressing and hanging the carcases are, of course, different from those in the United Kingdom. In addition, so far as store animals are concerned, the buyer can control the way in which the animals are fattened and the time at which they are slaughtered. From the purely economic point of view, therefore, we could not be sure of maintaining our export earnings if we concentrated exclusively on carcase meat.

Those, my Lords, are the economic considerations, and I should like now to turn to the welfare aspects of the trade. The welfare of animals in transit, both within this country and to destinations abroad, is safeguarded by statutory regulations which make provision, among other things, for proper penning, ventilation and access, and for feeding and watering as necessary. Transport is not permitted if, for any reason, animals cannot be carried without unnecessary suffering. In addition, cattle, sheep and pigs for export must be rested for at least 10 hours in approved lairages, and during that time they are examined by an official veterinary inspector to ensure that they are fit to be shipped. My Lords, I will not go too deeply into the examinations of the inspectors, but in the case of the export of calves, for instance, with which my noble friend Lord Somers dealt at some length, it has been decided from experience that a calf is not really fit to travel unless it is 100 lb. in weight, and to allow a certain safety factor that limit is increased to 110 lb.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt, perhaps I may say that there are very few calves under 100 lb. Most calves are very nearly that at birth. This means a very young calf indeed.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. His knowledge on this subject, I am sure, is greater than my personal knowledge, but I am at the moment speaking for the Government, and I have not the necessary knowledge to refute what he has said. But the theory is that when the inspector comes to the conclusion that a particular calf is below the weight he feels it should be, he then weighs it to find out whether it is all right. I just mention this as one way in which the inspectors work to show that they do go to a great deal of trouble to see that the regulations that are in force here are carried out.

These regulations are effective up to the point of disembarkation, but further safeguards exist in respect of cattle, sheep and pigs for immediate slaughter under the terms of the Balfour assurances about which your Lordships have heard. These place a limitation of 100 kilometres on travel following disembarkation and require that the animals shall not be reexported and shall be adequately fed and watered and sheltered while awaiting slaughter, and that they are slaughtered only after being stunned either electrically or with a captive bolt pistol. Countries which have undertaken to conform to these conditions are Belgium, Holland, Italy and West Germany, and, for cattle only, France. Animals for immediate slaughter are allowed to go to these countries only. It is considered that these regulations and the terms of the assurances provide reasonable welfare safeguards for animals exported from this country.

Noble Lords will have heard that the R.S.P.C.A. submitted a report in November relating to calves exported to Belgium for immediate slaughter. Inquiries have been made with the full co-operation of the Belgian authorities, and they are taking steps to see that the 100 kilometres travel limitation is observed in future. This was one of the points of complaints in the report. Your Lordships will have heard the appalling allegations of conditions in the abattoir at Putte. I should like to repeat what was said in a Statement in another place by my right honourable friend Mr. Stodart, in answer to a Question about the transportation of calves. He circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement in which he said: Belgian law concerning the slaughter of animals is no less stringent than ours. It requites that animals to be slaughtered should be stunned either electrically or by a captive bolt pistol or anaesthetised and it makes provision for the welfare of animals awaiting slaughter. On general hygiene grounds, the Belgian authorities have in the meantime withdrawn their approval of this slaughterhouse. My Lords, this is the one at Putte. My information is that that withdrawal on general hygiene grounds (which includes animal welfare in this respect) is still effective. Investigations are being carried on by the Belgian Government, and Ministry officials are keeping in close touch about this. Investigations into other aspects of this report are also proceeding.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the tribute he paid to Her Majesty's Government and to Ministry officials about the way in which the Ponies Act is being enforced.

To sum up, my Lords, there are benefits from the export trade in live animals which we could by no means be sure of securing if exports were confined to carcase meat. Present requirements safeguard the welfare of our exported animals so long as those requirements are properly observed, and it will continue to be the Government's aim to see that this is being done. My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard said (though I am not sure whether I have it right) that we must always weigh the economic advantage against humanitarian aspects. I think it is the view of us all that the humanitarian aspects must be paramount. The Government recognise the deep concern which is felt over this matter and will continue to co-operate closely and to watch all aspects of this trade. I am sure that the whole House is grateful to my noble friend Lord Somers for having drawn our attention to this matter.

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