HL Deb 25 July 1978 vol 395 cc825-47

4.59 p.m.

Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what conclusions they have now reached on the export of live farm animals for slaughter. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this matter has been dragging on for a very long time. I raised it on the eve of the Easter Recess, four months ago, when the report of the interdepartmental committee became available, and obviously a little further time was needed for consideration and consultation. But all the summer has gone by and no further Statement has been made on behalf of the Government.

When I tabled my Question some days ago the prospect of getting a debate on the subject in another place, or indeed a ministerial announcement in another place, seemed unhopeful. No undertaking could be given by the Leader of the House that time would be available for a debate in another place before the House rose for the Recess. I therefore thought that this was not an inappropriate time and place to ask a Question which might enable the Government to shed further light upon their position.

In the meantime, however, in the other place there were exchanges between the Minister and Members on both sides of the House of Commons on 20th July. To some extent, therefore, the matter was advanced further by what the Minister said. Nevertheless, on that occasion there were ambiguities, there were statements made of less than adequate clarity or firmness, which I think make my Question very relevant today. There were two things about the Minister's statement in reply to questions in another place on 20th July which caused me some concern. One was that it appeared that the Minister was now waiting for developments in the EEC on the transportation of live animals between one EEC country and another before carrying his own consideration of the matter further. Another suggestion he made was that, while the EEC were considering the matter, perhaps some interim measure might he taken by Her Majesty's Government to deal with the growing concern and anxiety about this traffic in the public mind here. Altogether, I think the Minister's replies left quite a number of questions unanswered.

One thing I think I might draw to your Lordships' attention is the Minister's statement in column 762 of the Official Report, when he said: … when I come to make my decision it will, I hope, be the right decision and it will be made without fear and without favour". That does not sound very much like a Minister with any fire in his belly, and I thought my right honourable friend had convictions on this matter. He supported them by vote in another place on a crucial occasion in 1973. My Lords, "without fear and without favour". Fear of who? Favour towards whom? This is a matter relating to the welfare of living animals; this is not merchandise—inanimate, unfeeling. This is a growing traffic in live animals, being bundled across the Channel into Europe for slaughter or so-called further fattening. The traffic has been increasing because the profits in it have been rising. Let there be no mistake about it: what we are talking about are the profits of the agricultural industry related to the exploitation of living animals.

It may be that Her Majesty's Government have no policy in the matter; that all they have is a desire to reach a decision "without fear and without favour". All the more reason, then, perhaps, why I should mention to my noble friend that tomorrow morning, if indications arc fulfilled, the National Executive of the Labour Party will be meeting and will be considering a report from their Home Policy Committee on a comprehensive set of proposals dealing with animal welfare and protection. One of the features of this report, which has received wide publicity, relates to the abolition of cruel sports; hut this report is very much more wide-ranging than that, and contains important proposals to go into the policy of the Labour Party, with the hope, indeed, of putting something along these lines in the Manifesto. It says: Animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the point of production". Export of live food animals should be replaced by a carcass trade". Consideration should be given to compensating dairy farmers for any rapid drop in calf prices". Those are the three summary heads of recommendations made in this particular matter. There are other proposals made regarding the transportation of live animals within this country, quite distinct from the export of live food animals.

If anything like this is approved by the Labour Party, if anything of this appears in the Manifesto of the Labour Party at the next General Election, this will be the most significant political document on animal welfare protection ever published in this country. At last a political Party looks like taking up animal protection and welfare as a national issue, as an issue which must engage the attention of Government and of Parliament and be backed by the consent and approval of large sections of supporters of a political Party. In other words, what it does is to bring animals into politics, which in my opinion is where they should be, and not left to the hazards of the Private Member's Bill procedure, to Private Members' Motions and to the other frustrating experiences one can have of Parliamentary procedure on these matters. So I offer to my noble friend that guidance as to what the policy of Her Majesty's Government should be.

I have drawn the attention of the Minister to an article which appeared in a magazine called Veterinary Practice as recently as 19th June 1978, where there is the most scathing professional condemnation of this traffic that I have ever read. It calls it "An unjustifiable trade", and it concludes: Nothing can justify this despicable trade. It causes distress to the animals, anguish to those concerned members of society forced to witness its enactment, and degradation to those who ply it. Above all else, the trade is an affront to commonsense". The truth is that this trade is the gravy train of the agricultural industry in Britain which goes where the money is—and where the money is, the animals go. We have had many confusing opinions about the economics of this matter—whether it is beneficial to the balance of payments, whether it is adding to our export trade figures, or what. But one thing is pretty clear, and that is that if the young animals which are being shipped to Europe for slaughter or further fattening remained in this country to come to full killing weight, the amount of meat we should have available would be out of all proportion to that which is exported to other countries. This traffic is not feeding any people better, it is not providing any more meat for anybody; it is merely pushing it across the boundaries of countries according to the marginal advantage of so doing.

When France puts a levy on the import of sheep to France because prices there are so much higher than in Britain and are attracting a good deal of trade from this country, undermining the economics of the French agriculture industry; when that levy is imposed, the animals are shunted via Holland or another EEC country where the French cannot, under the rules of the EEC, impose a levy on the import of these live animals. I think we should follow one firm rule that animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the point of sale. The idea that these animals are shipped around in order to get marginal profit without regard to the effect on the economics of the industry in this country, without regard to the effect on the level of prices of meat in this country, seems to me to be quite abhorrent.

I am not blaming any farmers who want to maximise their profits. That is what they are in business for. The National Farmers' Union is a trade union. It is looking after the interests of its members which it is their proper duty to do. But they must not pose as the custodians of the social conscience or, indeed, of the wider aspects of agricultural policy. It is for society, it is for Parliament, to safeguard the minimum standards of behaviour towards animals which is consistent with a compassionate and civilised society.

Therefore, my Lords, I hope that we are going to get something more positive from my noble friend this afternoon than we have had so far. Do the Government really intend to do anything or are they shillyshallying? Are they just holding all this off until the Recess—because if the Government do nothing, nothing is done. They could make orders tomorrow which will suspend this traffic, wholly or in part and, indeed, on a previous occasion without coming to the House of Commons at all, the Government suspended all orders enabling live sheep to be shipped across the Channel. When the vote was eventually taken in the House of Commons, it disposed of this traffic at least for a time. But inaction, I think, is the cruellest form of dealing with any problem of emotional content and anxiety of this kind. Will the Government respond to their own supporters?

Will the Government respond to those who have Motions down in another place asking for an opportunity to debate? Sir Harold Wilson said that the Labour Party is nothing if it is not a crusade. Let us have a crusade about something! Heaven knows, we need it! —not only in the Labour Party but in the country generally. Let us have some conviction about something. Let us feel there are principles we should apply and not submit all the time, to the squalid considerations of the profit and loss account, especially when dealing with living things!

The danger in this country is that we shall reduce animal welfare, animal protection, to a matter of economics, a matter of industrial and financial advantage. It is our duty in both Houses of Parliament, to raise this matter above that level. Therefore, I invite my noble friend to be as full and frank as he can. Let us know where we stand. Let us know whether the Government have any intention of saying anything; and, if so, when. How are we to march towards a General Election in this state of indecision, this state of inaction, when a very large section of the Labour Party will be demanding between now and the General Election a positive assurance of action in this field?

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for having put down this Unstarred Question and for coming to the House, as I understand, on the first day after his recent indisposition. We hope that his good health will continue and increase as the days go by. This subject is one of great concern to many of us; and those who are taking part this afternoon in the debate on the Unstarred Question have demonstrated over a period of years their interest in this field. In opening one's remarks, I think one must inevitably refer back to the last time this matter was discussed. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, reminded the House, that was the Adjournment debate on 23rd March. The Working Party report, the yellow document we have before us, was first published on that very morning. Since that day, we have had ample opportunity to look at it in greater detail and also to take into consideration what has been said in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to the Minister's statement in another place in reply to a Question. I think it would be valuable both for the purposes of the record and for some noble Lords who have not had an opportunity of reading what he said on that occasion if I referred to the Minister's Answer. He said: I am considering representations on the report by officials of the Agriculture Departments and, pending a decision, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has told the Council of EEC Ministers of our concern and asked if it proposes to take any action. The Commission confirmed that new proposals concerning intra-Community trade in live food animals will be put forward shortly."—[Official Report (Commons) col. 762; 20/7/78] The issue, of course, is the whole question of animal welfare. Today, the 25th July, is within a week of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals during International Transport becoming effective. This document, which was initiated by the Council of Europe as long ago as December 1968 and open for signature ten years ago, is about to take effect. Many of the signatories to this Convention have been observing for many years past particular articles set out in the Convention; but there have been disquieting reports which give rise to public concern.

I think it proper that we should put to the Government the Unstarred Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. This problem has been of long standing. Your Lordships have discussed the Balfour Committee report, and I should like to refer to that report because the Balfour Committee was discussing this very issue some ten or more years ago. I refer to paragraph 13 of the Balfour Committee report, where they said: The Committee have obtained first-hand evidence that cattle exported to France from Great Britain have been travelling for long journeys through France to places as far away as Marseilles and Bordeaux. Some of these journeys may take more than 48 hours from the point of disembarkation and there are no Government regulations requiring animals to be fed and watered. The Balfour Committee was speaking at a time when the French Government had neither signed the European Convention not had they drafted their own regulations. Of course since those days M. Michel Debre has signed the Convention and I understand that the French have taken appropriate action.

The situation, however, is not as easy as that because animal welfare bodies, including the RSPCA, have been very anxious about this field. I will quote from a report which came to me as recently as this morning from that body: It might have been thought that the widespread public concern over the export of live food animals would have led to a reduction in the distances travelled by United Kingdom livestock to their destinations abroad. However, as recently as July 1978 substantial consignments of British calves have been carried to the veal rearing units in France and close to the Spanish border and sheep have been observed in the Spring of 1978 travelling to lairages in West Germany for periods over 24 hours—and for onward transit to more distant parts, and in both cases the stock were not fed, watered or rested within the journey times. Clearly exporters are not concerned that these journeys are considered to be excessive. That is an important charge to raise only a week before the European Convention becomes effective. If we turn to this document, which is a very important one, Article 6, paragraph 4, on page 7 says: During transport animals shall be offered water and appropriate food at suitable intervals. Animals shall not be left more than 24 hours without being fed and watered. This period may, however, be extended but only if the journey to the destination where the animals are to be unloaded can be completed within a reasonable period. It must be very apparent to all those who read the Convention what a very elastic part to Article 6 this is. It emphasises this point: This period may, however, be extended but only if the journey to the destination where the animals are to be unloaded can be completed within a reasonable period. What is reasonable in this context, my Lords? Clearly, the reasonableness is interpreted in a quite different way from one area to another. It may be applied with greater vigour in our country and with less vigour in another.

But what is the value of the Convention on this particular point? I believe that it is an attempt: a sincere attempt, a prudent attempt and a timely attempt. If this Convention can be made to work, it can he made to work by all those official bodies working together in a constructive manner. It is a welcome fact that the British Veterinary Association, the National Farmers' Union and the RSPCA have formed themselves into a working party to look at this subject over quite a considerable period in recent years.

I also believe that our colleagues on the Continent, both the official and the voluntary bodies, have been looking at this with great care. When the Convention is only just about to start in operation, is it really for us to say that it will not work in advance of the experiment? I believe the official and unofficial bodies will bring a great influence to bear upon the use and value of the Convention. I believe that it is the beginning of a European experience in animal welfare. I hope that we carry the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, with us in this event.

I return to the main problem. We are looking at the whole remit of animal welfare. I have concentrated on one particular aspect. I should like to pursue this because the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to calves. He referred to this trade in some detail. I should also like to refer to what he said on 23rd March because it was specially relevant and was also particularly enlightening. The Minister has referred in his Statement to the increase in the carcase trade, and this has been a very welcome increase. We understand that by weight—not by value—the beef and veal trade in carcases has risen 16 times since 1970.

For the current situation so far as calves are concerned, I would refer to the Meat and Livestock Commission figures referred to most helpfully by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, at column 1947 of Hansard in the debate of 23rd March. This is what he said: The numbers have risen significantly, the export of calves going up from 249,000 in 1976 to 394,000 in 1977. Further down he quotes the Meat and Livestock Commission: … the numbers of live sheep went up from 32,000 to 356,000 whereas Appendix B gives 200,000, so there is a big difference there. We must consider the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred. He asked his noble friend Lord Strabolgi to comment in his reply on whether the export of calves was a real need and of benefit in our agricultural export field. I have given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, of a question in very much the same terms because it will be of value to those concerned with this trade as to whether we could have a comparison of the benefit to exports by retaining those calves and exporting them as fattened cattle at a later date.

From the agricultural point of view, there are a number of factors which must be stressed. First, there is the undeniable influence that monetary compensatory amounts have upon the trade as a whole. Secondly—and most important—there is the cost of farm feed. I do not think that this has been shown more clearly than in the year of the great drought, 1976. In that year the cost of a ton of hay rose from approximately £40 a ton—of course there are regional variations—at the beginning of the year, to well over £80 a ton—and again, there are regional variations, and some were very much higher—at the end of the year after the drought had taken full effect. This affected the whole range of farm feeds.

Naturally, the farmer must consider very seriously whether it is going to be possible to retain the animals on his farm; whether it is possible that he will be able to continue fattening those beasts over an extended period; and whether the whole of his plans for doing so are not going to he thrown out totally. Of course, in the background—and this applies over a much longer period—is the very beneficial situation with which we are faced in this country so far as grassland is concerned.

I should like to stress this because in the longer term the whole question of Food From Our Own Resources, the Government White Paper which, alas!, has not been fulfilled as rapidly as the Government or ourselves would have wished, has brought out the real benefits which we can attain by emphasising and developing our grassland potential. I believe that in this field we are placed by nature very favourably ahead of many of our European competitors. This may well have its own influence on our trade.

I have spoken for quite a long time on this issue. Other noble Lords will be bringing out other aspects of the matter; but before the noble Lord, Lord Somers, rises to speak I should like to say that I did support him on the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Bill as long ago as January 1972. Since then 6½ years have passed and a great deal of water has passed under the bridge. I believe that the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, may well have been brought into effect, partially, but only partially, through this European Convention. I believe that the anxieties expressed by all of us who took part in the debates on that Bill may to some extent have been allayed, but I look forward to hearing what the rest of your Lordships have to say in this connection.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I must first of all declare an interest: I am a farmer and I actually buy calves to rear. It would be very much in my interest if the trade to the Continent were stopped, because the price would fall substantially in this country. I do declare my interest, but that is not how I regard the whole problem.

First, I should like to say I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has raised this matter again—he has a tremendous interest in it—but I must really defend my fellow farmers from his attacks. They appear to me to be attacks; perhaps he may correct that later, but they sound very like it. I remember that I was stupid enough to rise during a debate on dogs and say that I thought there were too many dogs who are not looked after by their owners and that there were too many useless dogs about the country; whereupon I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that I was "talking as a farmer". My Lords, I still shiver when I recollect the contempt he put into his voice when he said that I was talking as a farmer.

I am concerned mainly with the calf trade and I should like to speak about that, but I should like also to speak about the calf trade inside this country, because it is very relevant to the problem. For many years, farmers in Aberdeenshire and further north have bought calves out of England for rearing. They have taken them from Devon up to Aberdeenshire, which is a distance of 600 miles or more. I have seen those calves arrive in Aberdeenshire in bad condition, but I have also seen them arrive in very good condition. I have seen such calves reared and put on weight and grow to slaughter weight very quickly, very efficiently and very happily. That can happen only with very contented and well-looked-after animals. The farmers who rear them know perfectly well that the end of the trade is slaughter and beef for the population, but they care for these animals a great deal more than many of the people who make a tremendous noise about it and then tuck into their escalope of veal with an enjoyment wholly unrelated to anything concerning the animal.

The farmers do care for their animals and they do not like to see them badly used, from both a humane and an economic point of view. I agree with the noble Lord that there have been many dealers who have shot animals around this country, let alone the Continent, in a manner which is wholly reprehensible and should be stopped. The NFU agree with this and they want to see the welfare code implemented and, above all perhaps, with more inspection. But it is a fact that if you are exporting animals for slaughter they must be well looked after on the way there, otherwise you will suffer economic loss. Certainly it is in the interests of both the welfare of the animal and the susceptibilities of those who are rightly concerned about cruelty to see that that is done.

I think it can be done if we have a proper set-up of inspection over these animals. It is not all in farming—and here I quote from the noble Lord— Profit in the agricultural industry being related to the exploitation of living animals and squalid considerations of profit and loss". The concern that is felt over the animals themselves is very, very strong in very large sections of the agricultural industry. One thing I should like to see is exactly the same as in human affairs connected with crime: that is, more police. We need more inspections of the vehicles, the lairage and the general conditions in which animals, and particularly young animals, travel to their destinations.

I should like also to say a little about the economics of the matter as regards this country and the EEC. The fact is that the calculation of the export levy on live animals is quite ludicrous, in terms of the calf. A calf is always reckoned at 50 kilograms and in fact it pays about £8 of export levy. These calves are going abroad for veal and for further fattening—indeed, to full beef-weight slaughter in some cases—but they only pay an export levy of £8, and in fact the price of beef and veal generally on the Continent is something like 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. higher than it is here. A levy of £8 for a calf is nothing at all; it is not a realistic levy for that calf going abroad. The levy should be at least £18 to £20 before it will do anything like bring the economics into line as between the EEC and this country.

That is an enormous factor in the very large increase in the export trade. I have not got the exact figures—I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, ask for them—but I do know that, whereas in former days a large number of dealers went down to England to buy calves to be sent up for rearing in Scotland, we now have large numbers of dealers in the Scottish markets buying up calves to be exported to the Continent. It is a very much longer distance from Scotland over to the Continent than it is from the markets of the South. So, my Lords, I think this is a case of economic nonsense and of course it has everything to do with not properly applying the Common Agricultural Policy.

I have never felt that the CAP was wrong: it is the lack of application of proper principles of the CAP that is wrong. The fact is that the price on the Continent should come down quite substantially and here—and of course I again declare an interest—the price should go up quite a lot in order to make the CAP work. It is not the actual policy which is wrong, but the application of it; and the payment of an £80 levy, in or out, in the case of a 10 cwt. Full-grown beast and of £8 for a calf that goes out from here is a perfect illustration of the sort of nonsense we are making of the Common Agricultural Policy under the present system. Therefore I think we have to look to that.

I should like to end by saying that I hope the Minister can assure us that he is going to see that the welfare code is applied properly throughout the EEC. I should like to stress again that the farmers are as concerned—in fact, with more knowledge, more concerned—about the welfare of the animals they handle as those who are rightly concerned from outside the industry. I hope that we shall get a satisfactory answer from the Minister.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, this is not the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has raised this subject in the House, and I agree with him that it is much too long to have to wait to see any definite steps taken on this subject. The possibilities of doing so are all there. The slaughter houses are available, they are not working up to full capacity and there is nothing, in a practical way, to forbid the adoption of a carcase trade—and that only—at once. The evidence for what we are complaining of in the treatment that our animals get on the Continent is available for anybody who wants to look at it. It is available from my own society, the Council of Justice to Animals, it is available from ISPA, the International Society for the Protection of Animals, and it is available from the RSPCA. It is all, to my mind, unquestionable, because in matters of that description we make a point of seeing to it that we do not provide evidence that is doubtful. So that we are waiting anxiously to see some steps taken.

Of course, there is always an objection from the farming community, but let me say at once to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that I shall not attack farmers, because I have the greatest respect for them. Many have been in my own family and I know what a hard life it is. But surely their problem could be solved in some way by the Government. Could not the Government provide a subsidy for any loss that farmers might suffer by this step? They provide subsidies for many other things that are, to some of us, far less essential.

The EEC regulations have been mentioned a good deal tonight. They are, of course, very satisfactory, but the trouble is that they are simply not observed. The French society, the OABA, the oeuvre d'assistance aux bëtes d'abattoir, has done splendid work not only in observing but in bringing to legal action many cases of blatant disregard of these principles. One of the problems is that they are extremely difficult to enforce. You cannot have somebody watching or trailing every shipment of animals that is taken from the coast, but more could be done. One must also remember that certain races—in particular, the Latin races—arc not given to looking upon the treatment of animals as of any great importance. A little education in that direction might be a good thing. Whether or not they will accept it is another question.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, that these provisions are too elastic. The proviso which he quoted should certainly be eliminated. Incidentally, may I say how grateful I am to him for saying what he did about the Bill which I tried to introduce some years ago. It is very nice to know that what one has said in your Lordships' Chamber is remembered. This is an important subject and I sincerely hope that the Government will realise that feeling is running very high about it, and that something really ought to be done and done soon.

To go back to the subject of farmers, let me say at once that many farmers arc very much in sympathy with those of us who wish to revert to a carcase trade only. I hope that the Government will not merely take the opinion of the National Farmers' Union. They represent a good many of their members, but they do not represent them all and there is a very sizeable number of farmers who feel very strongly in the opposite direction. I hope that our debate tonight will have some effect.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be very brief in addressing your Lordships, whom I have addressed on a number of occasions on this matter. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for raising this subject. The question on the Order Paper is quite clear: what will the Government do about this matter? A number of us in this country feel very strongly about the complete loss of control, once an animal crosses the Channel. This is the basis of everything that we want to know.

The noble Lord, Lord Somers, said that in a number of Latin countries, and other places, they are surprised at our attitude towards animals, which is different from their own. We are just as surprised about them, and if we accept the fact that their views on the treatment of animals are not the same as those of the vast majority in this country, then my submission to your Lordships and the Government is that we should stop the provision of animals which can be treated in this way.

I get rather alarmed when I hear that the EEC, which has issued Directives on the subject of humane slaughtering, has started to take proceedings against Member countries, because they have not carried them out. If that is so, why should we continue to export our animals, when the EEC cannot ensure that humane slaughtering is universally carried out within the Community?

I am further extremely surprised—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, can give me some enlightenment—to hear that we not only export animals to the EEC but re-import them as meat. That is a report which was recently made in another place. If that takes place, what quantities are involved? It appears to me that, if we are re-importing meat from stock which has been exported, it is far better to keep the stock and slaughter it here. In view of everything that noble Lords have said this afternoon, I ask the Government to see whether they can take firm steps to stop this trade in live animals to the Continent.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for just a moment? I had not realised that this debate was on, but this is a subject in which I am very interested and I am also a farmer. I should, first, like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, on what he said. He was quite right. It is obviously more humane to kill an animal where he has been bred or in his home environment at the nearest slaughterhouse. I also have a great deal of agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said, regarding farmers and the trade. But may I answer my noble friend behind me? He said that it is extraordinary that we export this meat on the hoof and then re-import it as beef.

With due respect to my noble friend, he is not quite correct. We do not re-import the beef that we export on the hoof. We import a great deal of cheaper beef that has come from the Argentine, or even from Russia through Europe. It is cheaper than our beef. We export beef on the hoof, which is very expensive beef, certainly as regards fat stock. That is the answer to my noble friend who sits behind me.

I sometimes take livestock from North to South. I also take livestock across country. When one does so, one makes absolutely certain that the stock is taken either in one's own lorries or by transporters who have a high reputation. With regard to our own country, if cruelty takes place during transportation—and I am afraid that in certain instances it does—the answer is to employ far more inspectors and police. We have far too few police, but if we had more of them to carry out checks on livestock lorries and to ask the drivers when the livestock was watered or fed last and to check whether they were telling the truth, it would, I think, solve the problem. That is the answer in our own country. So far as what happens abroad is concerned, it is quite true that there are the EEC regulations, the Balfour regulations and all the other regulations, but they are not adhered to. We can make very strong representations about this in the EEC, but at the moment it is almost impossible for this country to ensure that those regulations are adhered to. As one noble Lord said, the Latins in particular—although not so much the Germans—have very little feeling for animals, and I do not think that we shall ever alter that state of affairs. It is impossible; it is human nature.

What interests me is that if one is exporting valuable pedigree stock, there is never any complaint of ill-treatment when it reaches and travels on the Continent. The only conclusion that I can reach is that if the stock is valuable enough the Frenchman, the Italian, or whoever he may be treats the animals well, simply because they are valuable. But there again that is human nature.

Our only hope is to keep on pressing for improvements in the EEC and to make all the representations that eve can to ensure that when we export animals on the hoof these regulations are adhered to. If, however, it transpires that year after year, or month after month, the regulations are not adhered to and if we keep on getting evidence of ill-treatment, then the only honourable thing to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has said, is to stop the trade.

5.53 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I say a word? I agree that there is a great deal of concern about this subject. It is proper to say that this concern has imposed a degree of improvement which I think shows that a considerable reaction is taking place. In fairness, however, I have to say that there was a great deal of room for improvement. I do not doubt, as the noble Lord has said, that that improvement is continuing, but I find it a little shaking that calves on the bottle can, apparently, still be exported. Whatever the regulations are, that seems to me to be going rather far. I have no doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has said, that we have done much to initiate improvement in the way in which things are done on the Continent, but there is a very considerable margin for improvement to take place. I do not doubt that it is quite likely that the convention would not now be taking place if it had not been very strongly supported —I shall not say initiated entirely—by this country. If my information is correct, I believe that the convention comes into operation next week, but it will be years before it has a very profound effect upon what happens.

The crux of the issue is economics. I read with great interest the Yellow Book. This is a most complicated economic formula which they have produced, and I am very far from believing that it is anything like convincing. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made a very interesting point when he said—and I dare say this is perfectly true —that the CAP plays a very substantial part in the way that this works out and that there is a substantial element of subsidy in various places. These are matters which are well within the Government's control. With great respect, I think that it is extraordinary that we import a great deal more meat than we export. I know that the quality is different, but one wonders whether this kind of export is really as valuable as it is made out to be. I thought that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was unanswerable. He asked whether it is really necessary to export live animals for slaughter and whether one can really make out an economic case for it. In the case of almost all raw materials, it is better to produce the finished product near to the raw material than it is to transport it before finishing it. This is a very simple, straightforward economic proposition. I find it very hard to believe, in terms of true economics, that when one takes away subsidy and goodness knows what else it is justifiable to do the slaughtering after a long and what must be quite expensive journey of several hundred miles.

I hope that the Government will look very hard at this matter. Let us be quite clear that nobody is accusing farmers in this country of not looking after their animals properly. There are a few exceptions, of course, but farmers have a very real regard for their property. That is not, however, the point. There is always a strain involved during a long journey, whatever form it takes, and extra care is needed, particularly if part of the journey takes place out of our own country. This postulates an enormous amount of supervision, with all the expense that that involves. It is a difficult traffic to run, and somebody has got to pay for the inspection which takes place. I think that we must measure carefully how far this trade is really worthwhile.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, if I may make two points, first I have to declare an interest. I rear livestock, both sheep and cattle. No matter how they twist it up with fine words about individual farmers, I still think that a huge attack on farmers is taking place. I do not believe that people realise what happens in the case of most farmers. I sell my sheep and cattle either in the market or to the FMC. The farmers are not responsible for what happens when their cattle are taken abroad or when they are taken from Devon to Scotland. It is the dealers who are responsible. Therefore, the implied attack on farmers in most of these cases is absolutely unwarranted.

Secondly, when one is trying to obtain a price for one's sheep, lambs, calves or whatever it may be, time and time again these dealers say, if you deal with them direct and not through the market, "If I don't deliver these animals in good condition, they they will not come back to me and I shall not get any more orders from them". So I do not see why this attack on farmers is taking place.

The only other point that I wish to make is that in my part of the world there has been an increased trade in live animals across the sea ever since the opening of the Plymouth to Roscoff ferry. I was speaking to a carrier only the other day who frequently makes that journey. I know very well that he takes the utmost care over the feeding and watering of his livestock. He says, "If I don't do so, and if I deliver the livestock at the other end in bad condition, whether for slaughter, or for fattening, or for whatever it may be, I shall not get orders to come back and buy livestock off you again". I do not see, therefore, why there should be this unnecessary attack on the farmers, for in 99 cases out of 100 it has got nothing to do with them. The fault lies with the people who transport the livestock. That is where the problem lies and that is what has got to be dealt with.

6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to join with the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, in saying how glad I am to see my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby back in the House after his illness and to find him so full of vigour. I have listened with great interest to what my noble friend has said on the subject of the export of live food animals and to all the speeches made by your Lordships in this short debate.

Of course, animal welfare in its various aspects is not an unfamiliar topic in your Lordships' House, and it is right that this should he so. I consider it entirely appropriate that we should devote time to discussing these matters which are of interest and concern to so many people in this country. Over the years, whenever the subject of live animal exports has been discussed, there have been those who have argued with conviction that the trade should be stopped, and that, of course, has been argued today; and there have been others who, with equal conviction, have felt that it would be wrong to impose such a sanction.

The welfare interests, among whom my noble friend Lord Houghton has long been prominent, would like to see the trade brought to an end. They have argued that animals should not be sent on long journeys without food and water, only to be slaughtered when they reach their final destination, and they believe that demand on the Continent could be met by further development of the trade in carcase meat, as has been said today. Against this view are those who point out that many of the journeys to the Continent are no longer than journeys regularly undertaken by livestock in this country. They argue from the economic standpoint that the demand for slaughter stock on the Continent is separate from the demand for carcase meat, and that it would draw in more live animals from other possibly more distant sources such as Eastern Europe if the supply from Britain were stopped. Similar arguments have been advanced for and against the termination of the export trade in animals for further fattening, especially the calf trade, which has been referred to by your Lordships.

My Lords, I believe it is widely recognised that the dairy industry in this country produces many more calves than are required to maintain the size of the dairy herd and that the sale of surplus calves for beef production is an important factor in the dairy farming economy. It is also recognised that the considerable increase in calf exports in recent years—and the figures are given in the Yellow report—has brought a significant rise in market prices for calves.

Those who wish to see the export trade stopped are convinced that the great majority of the calves could and would be reared for beef in this country and exported as carcasses, and they argue, as my noble friend Lord Houghton has argued, that this would be to the ultimate benefit not only of farmers but also of the ancillary slaughtering and hides and skins trades. But the farming and exporting interests disagree with this analysis. They believe that stopping the export trade would result in a serious loss of income to dairy farmers, that beef rearers would not rear all the young calves which would then become available and that there would be a substantial increase in the slaughtering of young calves.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said—and I am sure all noble Lords will agree with him—that farmers have the welfare of their animals at heart, and indeed, as the noble Lord said, it is in their interests that this should be so. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, referred to our great grassland potential, and the noble Lord asks why it is not equally attractive for producers to rear and fatten calves now exported so that they can be exported in carcass form. The ability to export beef and veal depends more on Continental demand for these products than on our ability to supply them, and that demand favours beef and veal killed in the importing countries. The availability of calves on the British market has limited relevance to these facts.

I may remind the House that when the export trade was resumed in January 1975, following the report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord O'Brien of Lothbury, which was followed by a debate in another place, the Government stressed the importance of applying international rules that would curtail excessively long journeys and would generally improve the conditions under which livestock are carried. Here, I fully agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said in this respect. The House will be aware that, last year, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said, the EEC Council of Ministers adopted a Directive which gives the force of Community law to the provisions of the Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of Animals during International Transport.

The Directive takes effect next week, from 1st August, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said. Among its provisions are the requirements that animals shall be given a veterinary examination for fitness to travel before the international journey begins, and that they shall be fed and watered at appropriate intervals, as, of course, has always been the case in the United Kingdom. The Directive also provides a framework within which more detailed implementing rules can he introduced.

There are those who have criticised this Directive as being too generalised—and it has been criticised this afternoon—and have doubted whether it will be properly observed in some Member States of the Community. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that, at a recent meeting of the Council of Ministers, the Commissioner responsible for animal welfare, Mr. Gundelach, announced that the Commission would shortly be issuing proposals for a further implementing Directive. My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has made it clear that the Government will critically examine such proposals to ensure that they advance the cause of animal welfare in a positive way and that they will be properly applied throughout the Community. I think that at this stage we must await the outcome, although I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, said, that we need more supervision and continuing supervision.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who has great knowledge of this subject, referred to the export levy on calves. I do not want to go into this in much detail, but this was answered very fully in paragraphs 102/3 of the Yellow Report. I think they concluded that the French import payment MCA would at present almost entirely offset the United Kingdom export levy MCA, whatever calculations methods were adopted. This is a very interesting and detailed analysis, which I commend to the noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, referred to Lord Houghton's query in March about the discrepancy between statistics in Annex B of the report and those quoted by the Meat and Livestock Commission. The export figures quoted in Annex B exclude trade with the Irish Republic and the Meat and Livestock Commission statistics include such animals.

My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, as he was perfectly entitled to do, asked whether the Government are doing anything. The export trade in live food animals continues to pose many difficult questions, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, conceded. I have not been able today to indicate what conclusions the Government may reach about any part of the trade, but I can assure noble Lords that we are looking very hard at this. I hope that what I have said today is enough to assure the House that the subject is receiving the closest attention and that the welfare of these animals will continue to be a matter of prime concern to the Government.