HL Deb 22 January 1991 vol 525 cc198-220

10.12 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to maintain the present restrictions on the export of horses for slaughter and to reduce the long distance and cross-channel export of farm animals.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I must first apologise to noble Lords who put down their names to speak in the debate for the confusion that arose about whether it was to go ahead or be postponed. Apology is due especially to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, who has chosen this occasion on which to make her maiden speech. I apologise to her most sincerely for the unnecessary strain to which she was put, first in getting geared up to make her maiden speech, then being told that the debate was postponed, and then learning that it would take place after all. Such confusions arise from time to time but I assure the noble Baroness that I bear no responsibility for the situation. More than one noble Lord who put his name to the list of speakers will say that he has been cheated of the opportunity of taking part in the debate. Therefore, my apologies must also extend to them.

I am in an abject mood because of the misunderstandings. I do not like the situation, especially when the Chief Whip feels distressed about what has happened and shows that so obviously. It has made me distressed too, but we must let it pass. Because of the hour and the matters to which I have referred I shall be brief in order to give other noble Lords and the Minister the maximum amount of time in which to deal with the subject.

We know what the Question is about. Noble Lords taking part in the debate fully understand the issues concerned. They stem from the biggest decision of all; that is, the decision of this country to join the European Economic Community. I am reminded of what is the root of the matter when I see the stickers on my envelopes from day to day, which say, "Do not let Europe rule Britannia".

That is not my starting point. I shall not turn my back on the Common Market because of such difficulties. We must overcome them. It is in an attempt to obtain a basis for overcoming the problems that I raise the matter this evening.

We are dealing with horses in a special category. We are dealing too with other farm animals; but although important, they are not quite as distinctive in the complications of the situation. Over 30 years ago we erected a barrier to prevent people coming from the Continent to buy our horses, donkeys and ponies for shipment back to Europe for slaughter for meat. That transportation was stopped a long time ago. If the ideas of the Common Market for uniformity throughout the EC prevail it is possible that such special protection may be regarded as a restraint of trade that must be removed.

However, trade must take second place to the welfare of animals. Frequently in debates Ministers have said, regarding, for example, poultry conditions prior to slaughter that the welfare of the birds must come first. I say that the welfare of the animals must come first. There cannot be trade in animals if that trade brings about conditions of hardship or cruelty that we find intolerable. In that respect we must have regard to what we are doing if we lift the barrier against the export of horses.

Sheep and other animals are in a different category. Sheep are being shipped all over the world. The sheep, I believe, is now the most ill-treated animal in the world. Thousands travel from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East. I have seen them being loaded on to ships by the tens of thousands; we also export a great many. There is a special need to protect animals in transit.

One may ask why, given the high state of technology in refrigeration, there should be this movement of animals. We want to know from the Minister—I hope that she is fully informed—where we now stand in discussions with the EC on the future arrangements affecting our horses and the export of our other farm animals. After all, they cross the Channel, which is a more difficult journey than most other animals in Europe travelling overland undertake.

I ask whether regulations are in existence. If so, who has seen them? Have they been approved? Where does Parliament come in to the review of the situation? Will protection come out as a directive or in the form of regulations? I have done my best to find out where the matter now stands. I am told that it is awaiting the Council of Ministers. Others say that it has not yet reached even that stage. I hope that the Minister will be able to say where we are; what attitude the Government are taking on matters arising from the subject; and what hope we have of an amicable settlement or compromise on the Question.

I leave the matter there to enable noble Lords to make their own contributions to the debate. We await with great interest and understanding the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton.

10.20 p.m.

Baroness Wharton

My Lords, before I begin I should like to express my gratitude and appreciation to all noble Lords who have made me feel so welcome in this House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for once again raising the issue of live horses being exported for slaughter after 1992, thereby giving me this opportunity to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House.

Most of us in this country have a love of horses and would consider it abhorrent to think of them as part of our diet. But since I accept that that is not a universally-held view, I believe that we must retain the right to maintain our standards of animal welfare rather than have different standards imposed on us. Our own agriculture Minister has publicly stated the Government's commitment to arguing for the UK to retain the minimum values order, which has for the past 40 years successfully prevented the export of live horses.

Horses—in fact, all food animals—should be spared the horrors of live export; the prolonged transport to distant abattoirs; the inadequacy of being fed and watered en route; and in some cases the less than humane dispatch meted out to them at journey's end in certain countries because of insufficient resources and manpower to supervise proper methods of slaughter.

For such reasons I heartily endorse the plea of the RSPCA and the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation that the maximum journey time for live animals, including loading, should be no longer than eight hours. Were we able to secure that we could in practice stop most of the current export of live food from this country and thus end the misery the animals have to suffer at present. It is often argued that French and Italian housewives demand fresh, locally-killed meat. However, the facts do not support that assertion. The European Community imported approximately 750,000 live horses for slaughter in 1981, mostly from Eastern Europe. By 1989 that figure had dropped to approximately 140,000.

Admittedly there has been a slight decline in the consumption of horse meat in Europe, but not that much. What has happened is that more and more carcasses have been imported, mostly from the USA. This trend towards a carcass trade in all forms of meat should be encouraged rather than discouraged. It is worth noting here that our own abattoir industry could benefit from the increased employment were we ever to find ourselves in a position where we cease exporting all live animals. I believe that farmers receive the same payment irrespective of the animals' final destination.

It is heartening to know that under the Animal Health Act 1981 orders have been made which will come into force on 1st March this year laying down conditions for the welfare, comfort and safety of animals in transit, with special controls for horses. Even so, we in this country take a slightly different view of what is cruel and what is not cruel. I sometimes feel that greater care is taken in the transportation of fruit and vegetables since we, the consumers, would not consider buying the produce if it were bruised and battered. I wonder why animals destined for European dinner tables are treated so casually.

For my own part, I should like to see some sort of veterinary inspection agency, with enough power to enforce the regulations which ensure the welfare of our animals. After all, there was one petition recently appealing for the special protection which our horses already have under the minimum values order to continue after 1992. Some 250,000 people, including myself, signed it. That surely indicates the strength of feeling in the country.

Over the weeks that I have been privileged to be part of this House I have spoken with many of your Lordships on this subject. Thankfully, we all agree that the horse deserves to retain the protection it now enjoys, at least for sufficient time to enable us to judge whether the new regulations for animal welfare in transit are being effectively enforced. Enforcement is the problem in Europe. Finally, may I thank your Lordships for listening to my views on what is for many of us an extremely emotive subject.

10.25 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, how fortunate the House is that the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, succeeded in taking her barony out of abeyance in her favour. It is a pleasure for the House to hear her. It is an even greater pleasure for us to have her in our midst. She spoke of the number of signatures on the petition. It was her charm and ability that succeeded in getting so many of your Lordships' signatures on that petition.

It is always very difficult for someone coming into the House to choose the subject for a maiden speech. I am certain that noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree that the noble Baroness has chosen a moment to make her maiden speech which shows that she really believes in the subject. She has the subject at heart. I can imagine no better reason than that for making a maiden speech. We are all grateful to her for the way in which she has spoken to us.

The noble Baroness has spoken with knowledge of and feeling for this subject. We all hope that this is the first of many such speeches she will make in this vein, which I know all noble Lords find so attractive. I hope that the demands of bringing up four children, of looking after her composer husband and of pursuing her career as a famous and much in demand portrait photographer will not reduce her attendance in the House. We all appreciate it.

The whole House is rightly concerned about the subject raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in his Unstarred Question. In 1992 we lose the minimum value protection for the export of horses. We lose it because within the European Community there will be no exports. There is no problem over bloodstock. There will be no problem over the performance horse being exported because by 1992 one hopes and trusts that all performance horses will be registered. We shall know whether they are going abroad for show jumping, for showing or for some other purpose. There is not a problem about the knackers' trade. A horse which has broken his leg and has to be put down is sent to the knackers. The problem we are considering at the moment concerns the large number of horses in the middle.

I am thinking in particular of the 16-hand horse which is worth about £500 if it is slaughtered for human consumption. There is no reason why horses should not be humanely slaughtered and go for human consumption. The best protection any animal has is a good price at the end of its life. If it fetches a good price at the end of its life it means that it has been well handled and looked after. This is the category of horses with which the House is concerned tonight.

Within the United Kingdom at the moment only three or perhaps four slaughterhouses meet the requirements of EC regulations for the slaughtering of horses for human consumption. Someone thinking of building a slaughterhouse to slaughter horses for human consumption must consider demand, throught-put and how many horses will come forward. We have no knowledge of what the extent of the trade may be. Farmers are asked how many horses they have on their farm. However, there are many breeders of horses. I refer in particular to the verderers of the New Forest and to people in the Welsh Hills, to whom I suspect my noble friend Lord Swansea will refer. They breed an enormous number of what I call scrub ponies which do not go for riding, for pleasure or for the bloodstock industry. It is commercially sensible to breed them for slaughter. The important point is that they should be slaughtered in this country.

The horse world as a whole must dissociate itself from the campaign being run by the RSPCA. The RSPCA, as many noble Lords will know, has discredited itself by the pictures it has used in this campaign and by the way it is trying to involve the muscle of the horse lobby, which within the English constituency is fairly substantial, in the problems of sheep, pigs and cattle for export. The horse world would be very ill-advised to get involved in a general overall campaign.

In my view, the horse world ought to concentrate upon one problem. Quite simply, the only safeguard you have for your horse when it goes to slaughter for human consumption—because you want to get the best price for it—is that it should only go abroad on the hook. I do not believe that there is any safeguard in transport regulations. For example, can you imagine a Frenchman abiding by such regulations? Can you imagine what a lorry driver would do with a horse suffering from a broken leg in the back of his truck? How would he know what to do with it? Further, can you imagine lorry drivers letting horses out of the vehicles in order to water them? It is not feasible. It must be stipulated quite firmly that any horse leaving this country must do so only on the hook. In those circumstances, everyone who breeds horses will have a clear conscience on the matter.

There are one or two breeders of horses to whom it may be difficult to say, "You must send your horses for slaughter in this country." There are 40 different breed societies in this country today. The bulk of them —I dare say my noble friend Lord Soulsby will deal with this point—receive a grant from the Betting Levy Board in some form or another. We should say quite clearly that if your horse has a service from a stallion that is subsidised by the board, then, in exchange for that service—whether it is from the Hunters' Improvement Society or from any of the other breed societies —you should undertake, in the event of your horse not becoming a performance horse, to send it for slaughter in this country. That will enable the slaughterers to have some idea of what the throughput will be and what the number of horses coming forward is likely to be.

I conclude not only by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, for her contribution to the debate but also by adding that I believe all of us who love our horses only wish them to leave this country on the hook. Anything else is just not on.

10.32 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for instigating this debate tonight. I have the greatest admiration for his energy and zest. He has a splendid fighting spirit which adds strength to any campaign that he undertakes. The noble Lord and I live in Marsham Street. When our local shops were knocked down, we protested. It is to be hoped that there will be some shops among the new buildings which are to be built under the new scheme. I do not always support all the noble Lord's campaigns. But on this one, which deals with the export of horses for slaughter and the cross-channel export of farm animals, I am an equal supporter.

At this point I feel that I must declare an interest in that I have a stud of Highland ponies. I believe that it is the biggest Highland pony stud in the UK and Europe. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has stayed with my family. She has visited the ponies. I even named one of them after her; he was a colt called "Trumps". He might have been a stallion but was wanted for riding for the disabled. He is now a very popular pony doing a very worthwhile job, giving pleasure and benefit to many disabled people.

I believe that many people worked hard to achieve the present regulations for the protection of horses. It would be horrifying if we were to let them disappear in 1992. After last summer, when the French demonstrated by setting light to carriers containing living sheep, there is no doubt in my mind that all travel arrangements for animals need strengthening and policing. I also breed sheep. Of course, sheep may not be as intelligent as horses; but they still need to be treated humanely.

I was brought up during the war. After the war, I visited a concentration camp in Germany. I feel a shudder every time I see a film about people being transported in cattle trucks to the camps. I get the same sick feeling when I think of the animals being transported across the Channel. They are hurded together, pushed, beaten and poked with sticks.

I have exported ponies to France and Germany to be used as family ponies and for breeding. They have travelled under careful regulations. The last pony went to Germany in a splendid, padded, modernised box. At Christmas I received a card and photograph of the pony in her new, happy home. I shall be sending a copy of Hansard of this debate to Germany asking for their help through the European Parliament to protect horses.

I am uneasy about what goes on at some horse sales. Not long ago I visited one, and several groups of horses and ponies never appeared in the ring. They just disappeared. I had a feeling that they were going for meat without having a chance of being bought in the ring. It seems almost as though there is an underground movement.

Donkeys can be very abused. I bought a donkey and foal at a sale after bidding against the roughest dealers I have ever seen. When I got the animals home, I found that the donkey had a stake through her hoof, a huge infected sore on her buttocks and was covered in lice. She had arrived in a lot from Ireland. Britain and Ireland are said to be horse-loving nations. Among their populations there are many cruel and callous people who are interested only in what can be made out of the poor, unfortunate animals. We need throughout Europe to have more than minimum standards. We need a foolproof system to ensure that those standards are observed. We must also remember that barriers between countries are to come down. That will make inspections much more difficult.

As a breeder, when I sell ponies I have to be careful about where they go in case they fall into bad hands. However careful one is, one cannot be sure what will happen when animals change hands.

It is splendid that we have had a maiden speaker today. That adds importance to the debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, and I look forward to tackling this problem with her. This may be only the beginning of a long, hard slog. All of us here tonight are aware of how strongly people feel about what might happen in 1992 unless something is done.

I had my back broken while riding in a point-to-point. Some people might think that I had had enough of horses. No, that was an accident. Accidents happen in all sorts of ways. I still love most animals. The horse is an intelligent and sensitive animal. It seems to sense what is going on. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will remember when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food sold and dispersed the Highland ponies from its stud in Inverness; he spoke about that matter in your Lordships' House. I bought one of the stallions, an intelligent pony with a great spirit. There is no doubt that he had been mistreated in Scotland by the men who may have been frightened of him. He never forgot. Whenever a strange man appeared, he would show fear. Horses form an historic part of our heritage.

Recently I had a meeting with the right honourable Sir Leon Brittan, one of the European Commissioners. I urged him to help in this matter. The problem seems to be that the man responsible for dealing with the transportation of animals to Europe is an Irish Commissioner. He just might be a Pontius Pilate, and find it easier to wash his hands of any responsibility which might complicate European free trade.

Last year, I asked a supplementary question to a Starred Question in your Lordships' House. It was answered by the noble Earl, Lord Strathmore and Kinghorne. I asked whether it would not be better and more humane if horses which went for meat to Europe went as carcasses. The noble Earl gave what I call a rather Pontius Pilate answer. He said that the Europeans preferred fresh meat. But his conscience, or somebody told him otherwise and afterwards he wrote a letter to me. He was not happy; I think several Ministers are not happy.

We cannot simply give way over this, we must stand up for what is just and humane. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has had a great amount of pleasure out of horses. Could she meet the Irish Commissioner and tell him what every animal-loving person wants? We do not want horses and other animals to suffer; the noble Baroness is not one to be overridden.

The British Government represent the British people. I hope that they will clearly make known to Europe the wish of the majority of our population. I hope that the noble Baroness will have a satisfactory and clear answer for us tonight.

10.40 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, on her maiden speech. Her perceptive analysis of the situation of horses and the welfare of animals during transport has assisted us considerably. As she said, this is an emotive issue and all have seen, read or heard of the horrific situations both in this country and overseas in the transport of animals. I wish to refer tonight not only to horses but also to other animals.

As a horse doctor—which is what people would have called me many years ago—I believe that two issues come up when one is concerned about the transport of animals. The first is the gross offence to human sensibility that animals should be treated in this way. I believe that the way a nation treats its animals is a mark of the civilisation of that nation.

The second issue is to make an objective assessment of animal welfare in transport. Important scientific data are now beginning to emerge and all indications are that the transport of animals considerably affects their physiology and welfare. Welfare might be defined as the attempts by which an animal copes with its environment. There are a number of measures of that: the ability to survive; the health; the growth; the reproductive physiology, and the behaviour of the animal.

Stress is where the animal makes an abnormal effort physiologically to cope with its environment. It may do this in a variety of ways, some of which can be measured chemically by taking blood or saliva samples and others by observing the behaviour of the animal. We now know that all animals are affected in one way or another during transport; so much so that in regard to the animals to which my noble friend Lord Kimball referred—thoroughbreds and performance horses—guidelines are produced by the veterinary committee of the International Equestrian Federation for the transport of these first-class passengers. They are treated to food and water every six to eight hours and arrive at their destination ready to work in the sense that they are performance animals.

However, this evening we are concerned not with the first-class Concorde passenger animals but with the more lowly horses that are sent for slaughter. At present they are adequately attended to and transport is controlled under the Animal Health Act 1981 where the minimum value system operates. The danger is that the European Commission will abolish that.

I must say that I am attracted to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, that those breed societies that have a subsidy provided to them through, for example, the Horse Race Betting Levy Board, might provide some sort of covenant that their animals will not be subject to export for meat purposes. That might well be explored further.

Unfortunately, all the evidence that we have from the Commissioner for Agriculture in Brussels is that he is not too helpful in his consideration of the minimal value system at present operating in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, some amendments are being proposed to the directives. But the whole issue must be based on the scientific evidence of the effect of transport across a wide range of species which are transported both in this country and elsewhere, the ages of the animals concerned, and the rearing that these animals have had prior to their transport.

There are a number of examples which give an idea of the issues that we must note. For example, acclimatisation prior to transport greatly reduces the stress of transport itself. Probably that is why performance horses of all kinds can stand up to transport more effectively than animals that are transported for the first time.

There is also the social grouping of animals. Animals develop a hierarchical structure and if transported in that single hierarchical structure they are better enabled to withstand transport than if hierarchical groups are mixed, because when the mixing takes place aggression naturally develops as the hierarchical groups sort themselves out to discover a new top animal. It is the animals in the lower scale of the social structure that suffer most. Similarly, animals reared in isolation are under great stress in sorting out their hierarchical structure when put together in groups.

A very critical time for animals under transport is that of loading and unloading. The physical exertion of loading, the noise, the physical contact with humans, and often at times the physical damage, are great stress factors. There is an opportunity there for the physical improvement of transport, trucks, lorries, and other means of transport in order to minimise this very stressful period of loading and unloading.

Then, of course, there is the stress that we have heard about caused by lack of food and water, lack of ventilation, and so on. Animals undergo great physiological stresses which can be measured. Nevertheless, it is important to assess it in relationship to what we believe on a subjective basis. For example, contrary to what one might think, young calves aged one to three weeks suffer less from transport than those aged from three to four months. The calves that suffer most during transport are those of six months of age or more. Much of this is related to animal behaviour and the social structure.

There is also an economic effect of poor welfare. It has been shown with poultry, calves and sheep that poor transport associated with poor welfare ends up in a poorer value of carcass or animal at the other end of the line. Livestock owners and rearers of livestock should be made aware of the fact that the more they look after the welfare of their animals while they are in transit, the better it will be for their own pockets.

Much of the evidence on the effects of transport on animal welfare has been summarised by the British Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association. They have made firm recommendations on these issues in Brussels and elsewhere. Those recommendations are based on the scientific evidence which accords with the general theme —this is certainly true of horses—that it is far better to export meat on the hook than in living form. Those bodies have also produced well thought-out guidelines which make strong recommendations.

Let us hope that new legislation, if that be needed in this country—and we cannot convince the Commission to stay with the concept of minimum value—is based on the sound evidence of scientific facts as they are uncovered. I hope the Minister will ensure that legislation so enacted will take account of the increasing amount of excellent scientific information that is being uncovered, especially in the United Kingdom. I suggest that some of the work currently being carried out in this country on animal welfare in transport is the best in Europe. That work must surely be a strong guide to the way that we should transport animals in the future.

10.52 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, we are indeed most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for introducing this subject yet again in your Lordships' House. That move reflects the growing concern that is felt throughout the country over the export of live horses for slaughter. That concern has been amply demonstrated both in your Lordships' House and in another place by no fewer than 25 Questions and two Early Day Motions that have been tabled during the past year alone.

Generally the Government's response has been sympathetic and it is clear that pressure is being brought on our EC partners to introduce more practical regulations to safeguard the welfare of horses. Sadly, it has to be said that not all our partners share the same concern about the treatment of our animals.

In general, I shall confine my remarks to equines. I shall not cloud the issue by referring to other animals. Already a great deal has been said about minimum values. But surely the bottom line is that people in this country do not want to allow our horses and ponies to be exported for slaughter. The minimum value regulations were never intended as anything more than a means to that end.

I wish to comment on one word only in the Question before us and that is "export". It is worth reminding noble Lords that after 1992 there will be no export trade because we shall all be in the same market. We have always thought of ourselves as great exporters of horses and ponies for breeding and racing, but the word "export" will no longer exist.

So, where do we stand? We are a country with some 50,000 horses and more than 100,000 people connected with horses, many of whom are dependent on horses for their livelihoods. Those people will see horses transported by greedy and uncaring entrepreneurs and continental butchers. They know there is financial gain in the export of live horses to the Continent where they can be slaughtered for human consumption on demand. Profit can be made from using hides, offal and horn to manufacture other items such as glue and fertilisers. We would consider such practices unacceptable in this country. They are carried out purely for profit and greed.

The draft EC regulations tell us that frontier checks will take place only at external frontiers of the Community, with a new system of control added to replace the internal frontier checks. The draft regulations provide for staging posts and veterinary inspections. It is all very fine for the legislators at Brussels to say this and that will happen, but it is very easy to see real loopholes. I shall try briefly to draw attention to some of them.

The EC regulations say that an animal, irrespective of type and breed, shall not be left for more than 24 hours without being watered or fed. Our present United Kingdom regulations provide for food and water every 12 hours, and it is well known that different types of animal suffer from stress to different degrees, as so aptly described by the noble Baroness in her excellent speech.

Some of us may have seen the recent QED television documentary on flying horses, which showed the airlift of horses from this country to Australia by the long route through Canada. One could not but be impressed by the expert handling of the horses and the precautions taken by the veterinary surgeon on board, but one had little difficulty in realising the stress on those horses, in particular the young horse that tried to escape in flight somewhere over the North Pole. It had all become too much for him, and he tried to get out. There was also the bureaucratic delay in not allowing the relief crew on board, and the delay in landing at Sydney—all the sort of things that happen on the ground.

One has only to reflect on the additional suffering of the horses in question if those animals had been couped up in large trucks without partitions, trundled across Europe at high speed destined for a slaughterhouse in France or Italy, some journeys lasting nearly two days, or probably much longer with delays caused by strikes, the weather and transport breakdowns.

I question the effectiveness of staging posts. One wonders how hey are to be co-ordinated to stop the spread of disease. I believe that there is a very real threat of disease resulting from the transportation and staging of horses, and most farm animals. One wonders whether competition, demonstration and breeding animals will have to use those staging posts, and under what conditions.

Animal transport is an extremely expensive form of transport. The EC regulations will provide that such vehicles are marked with a symbol indicating the presence of live animals, but will they provide the appropriate type of transport for the particular type of animal being carried, and ensure that the accepted stocking densities as laid down in the EC regulations are not exceeded?

Theft of horses and ponies is a regular occurrence, and often one sees in agricultural markets throughout the country old and tired horses being sold when their owners either have no further use for them or are unable to afford to keep them. I recently bought a horse out of a knacker's yard in Liverpool, and he is a fine animal. Increasingly the market is beginning to appreciate that there are more horses available for slaughter. These animals go for slaughter together with those specifically bred for the slaughter trade.

Freeze-branding has done a great deal to reduce the theft of animals, but unfortunately we have too many horses in this country that are neither freeze-branded nor have papers. Many of the breed societies, in particular the Thoroughbred Breed Society, have excellent registration systems, but the time has arrived when all horses need to be registered nationally on a central system so that every horse and pony will have an internationally recognised set of papers. It is to be hoped that this will prevent the illegal movement and sale of horses. I am led to believe that the Government would welcome such a scheme provided that it is self-financing. I also understand that a great deal of work and money has already been put into computer hardware and software for such a scheme, but there is a reluctance to proceed further on the grounds of cost. That is understandable, but I would urge the Government to show leadership in helping the various societies come together to get a centralised registration certificate under way. I believe that that is an essential link in the welfare of our horse population for the future and I hope that the Government will respond to that point.

Frankly, I do not have much confidence in the new Community regulations. We know from such organisations as the RSPCA and the International League for the Protection of Horses and their inspectors in Europe that the existing regulations are frequently flouted. With the removal of frontier and border checks after 1993 abuses will be easier and detection much more difficult. What value are the regulations without proper policing and enforcement to ensure their effectiveness?

I believe that we should continue to press our EC partners for horses for slaughter to be slaughtered in the country of origin and only sent to other countries either frozen or chilled. It is essential that there are proper safeguards. That will also save a great deal of trouble, money and policing of the regulations. We also need realistically to safeguard the welfare of our animals while they are being transported, as the EC draft regulation sets out to do. We need to influence our EC partners regarding maximum journey times, the effectiveness of staging posts, stocking densities and an approval system for vehicles for the transport of livestock.

The loss of protection for our horses, which has been so effective in recent years, would be a retrograde step. In particular, as drafted in the EC regulations the rules governing travel times and the period between watering and feeding are clearly unsatisfactory. There remain doubts about whether there will be effective prevention of the free movement of stolen horses and effective policing of the welfare of horses in transport for slaughter under the proposed EC regulations.

The threat of importation of disease to Community-based horses resulting from the transport of horses for slaughter between EC countries and from countries outside the EC is very real. It could affect not only the well-being of horses at risk but also the very livelihood of all those associated with the valuable and important horse-based industry.

I very much hope that some of our partners within the EC, especially the Germans and the Irish, will show willing in trying to help us find a humane solution to this emotive issue against a background of growing concern.

11.2 p.m.

Lord Swansea

My Lords, it is late and I shall try to be brief.

First, I must congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, on her excellent maiden speech. As earlier this evening she was nearly frustrated and denied the opportunity to give it, she must be feeling very relieved that it is now over. We all look forward to hearing her speak again.

I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has said. For generations we have regarded ourselves as a caring nation and have led the way in promoting animal welfare. Some of your Lordships may have seen a print dating from the beginning of the last century which shows someone who is obviously a gentleman leading with a straight left and knocking down a carter who has been ill-treating and over-loading his horse. It reflects the tradition that we like to think that we have in this country. For hundreds of years the horse has had a very special place in our affections. It is a noble animal which was described by Kipling as one of man's first friends.

Some years ago I bred Welsh mountain ponies on a small scale. I remember how much I was impressed by them as a breed. They are very affectionate and intelligent and have a temperament which is ideally suited to a child's first pony. When the mares foaled one hoped that the foal would be a filly. If it was a colt and, as generally happened, not worth breeding from, it was gelded and frequently it was sold. I have often been saddened by the sight of unwanted foals at sales being taken off to an unknown destination. As my noble friend Lord Kimball said, there may be some Welsh farmers who make a business out of breeding ponies for sale for meat.

There was evidence that many of those foals were going overseas for slaughter so the breed society imposed a minimum value rule to reduce the trade. That rule, or something very like it, was later incorporated in the Animal Health Act 1981.

Much of the public objections to the slaughter of horses arises from sentiment. Many people just cannot bear the thought of dear old Pickles being turned into dog meat, still less the thought that some people would have such depraved tastes that they actually liked horse meat. Yet the fact remains that there are such people. The objectors can console themselves with the reflection that there is no accounting for the tastes of foreigners. We must acknowledge the tastes of other people much as we may feel they are repugnant to us. The main point at issue is to avoid unnecessary suffering to animals being exported.

There is a body called Compassion in World Farming which has been diligently pursuing the question of cruelty to farm animals, and in this context farm animals include horses. It has compiled horrifying accounts of the conditions under which horses have to travel on their way to abattoirs abroad. It has been collecting signatures to a petition which has now reached the splendid total of 960,000, and it hopes before long to make it a million. Some of your Lordships may have seen these accounts. For those of us who still have any hair, those accounts may well make it stand on end. They paint a picture of animals having to endure hours of crowded travelling without room to move, often falling, being trampled under foot and having legs broken. In hot weather they have to spend hours without food and water, and many arrive at their journey's end barely able to stand. Some die on the way: they are the lucky ones.

What can be done to eliminate suffering? Assuming it is necessary in the first place for this trade to continue, the most desirable course would be to slaughter the animals in this country under controlled conditions in our abattoirs and transport the carcases oversees. Surely, the sheer economics of this method should be enough, instead of transporting frightened and crowded animals on the hoof. Although transport by refrigerated ship would at first sight probably look more expensive, such a ship would be able to carry more carcases and the final cost would be much the same.

When my noble friend comes to reply to the debate, I hope she will be able to assure your Lordships that the Government are alive to the deeply-felt opinions which have been expressed. We must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for his persistence in bringing this matter to your Lordships' attention. If, as some of us fear, the Government do not intend to take any action, we no longer have the right to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers.

11.8 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I join in expressing thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for having raised this important and urgent topic. Of one thing there is no doubt. Every noble Lady and noble Lord who has spoken is very much better informed about the subject than I am. It was a great pleasure to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, make so valuable a contribution. We look forward to hearing her further contributions in this place so as appropriately to raise the standard of debate upon whatever topic we may be discussing.

The noble Lord's motion covers not only horses but other farm livestock. It is true to say, I believe, that lengthy journeys by livestock of any sort are not only arduous but in many cases downright cruel. It is repugnant to any right thinking person.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, horses are intelligent and sensitive creatures. I am no expert but I am told that they develop a tremendous sense of trust in their owners. Therefore, distressing though the circumstances of a long journey may be to any form of livestock, it is more particularly distressing to horses which are so sensitive.

Quite apart from the mental stress, there is the physical damage that they can sustain. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Swansea, was referring to an exceptionally horrific video which showed the condition of horses after they had endured a long journey. It showed them being unloaded and the way in which they were treated and slaughtered. I am very glad that I did not see the video. Apparently it was shown to a group of journalists. Although journalists, by the nature of the profession that they pursue, are hardened to unpleasant things and have to assimilate distasteful sights, quite a number of them had to leave the room during the showing. It was not just that they did not care to look at it. The scenes were so horrible that they had to go out and vomit. They were physically sick. That was the extent of it. Most of us are fortunate enough not to have had to endure anything so physically sickening.

Therefore, contrary to some of the advice that I have received, I continue to believe that it is essential to exert every pressure to ensure that British minimum values are maintained when we enter the single European market next year. I am told that this is unacceptable to the European Parliament. But the European Parliament should be persuaded to change its mind. So far as I can see that is the only way that a proper safeguard can be provided.

The fallback position is that each member state in the European Community should be entitled and authorised to designate the place of slaughter for its own equines. That would certainly be of help. But how are we to guard against people who export horses or ponies under the guise of sending them away to be ridden or for breeding purposes when in fact they go for slaughter? I cannot see any better means than the minimum values measure that in past years has prevented so much abuse.

All livestock, whether horses or other animals, should only have to travel the minimum distance from the place where they have been reared or kept to the point of slaughter. I agree that eight hours is probably the maximum period that ought to be enforced. I tend to agree that both the drivers and the vehicles which convey the animals should be certified as being fit for the purpose. Personnel and drivers should be competent and certified as being trained to look after the animals.

I am not sure of the position in Great Britain. If I correctly understood the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, he said that there was no particular problem so far as concerned knackers. I hope that is right. Unfortunately, it is not the case where I come from in Northern Ireland. The certified renderers will not accept an injured animal as a result of the scare of BSE. Farmers and breeders are up against a real problem.

While the means of disposal of fallen animals is a major problem, advertisements continue to appear in the press offering roughly £50 per animal. That compares with about £150 which one must pay to have a fallen animal disposed of in an authorised dump. From the point of view of the farmer, it is obviously more attractive to receive £50 and to have the animal taken away than to have to pay £150 to get rid of it. I am sure that for the most part horse owners would be more sensitive. But the problem exists.

What happens to the fallen animals which are sold to those who advertise for them in the press? I am sorry to say that I suspect they find their way through illicit means to the Continent or elsewhere and are transported live. On the Continent there is a premium on horse meat which is labelled as being home killed. It is terrifying to think of an injured animal, perhaps with a broken leg, being transported live to the Continent. I understand that even in this country there are shady means of introducing unfit meat into the butcher's trade. "Super glue" is an expression that has been used to describe portions of meat which have been stuck together with blood plasma. It is not at all pleasant.

Not only do we in Northern Ireland have the problem that the renderers will not take fallen animals. There is also the additional distance that must be travelled by live animals being exported. They must make either two sea journeys or a longer sea and road journey. All the arguments put forward by noble Lords about exporting animals from Great Britain apply even more strongly to those exported from the other side of the Irish channel.

The Government should rigorously investigate whether there exist the illicit means of exporting animals I have suggested. They should bring maximum pressure to bear on the European Council of Agricultural Ministers to agree safeguards—the minimum values being the most watertight —so that past and present cruelties can never be repeated.

11.19 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, on her maiden speech, and particularly for her good sense in sitting down inside five minutes. That will endear her to the House and enable her to speak for longer at her next offering which we eagerly await.

The Minister must assure the House that with regard to the export of horses, live or dead, the susceptibilities and the long-held traditions of this country will be respected by derogation, or simply by insistence on the part of our Government, to ensure that we do not experience the scenes described by other noble Lords in the debate. I am not familiar with the export of horses; but I know a little about the transport of sheep over long distances.

I was the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, and I fought and re-fought that seat for a long time. I bought sheep and lambs at the sales in Lairg and in Caithness. Indeed on one occasion I bought some sheep from the noble Lord, Lord Kimball. I am happy to inform him that they did very well. However, it was well over 200 miles from Caithness to my farm in Angus. Initially I had some unfortunate experiences.

The sheep were collected from all over Sutherland —distances of 50 to 100 miles—in the morning or the day before and penned-up in Lairg. They were sold the next day and distributed all over Scotland and even down to England. They were under considerable stress in a double journey to the mart, being driven through the sale ring and back to their pens; the buyer—in my case myself—then had to find a contractor to transport them a further 200 miles.

My experience was that it was not the length of the journey that was the problem; it was the capacity of the contractor. If he was a good man and understood how to load the sheep; how to pack them in not too loosely and not too tightly; and ensured that there was adequate ventilation—and some carriers had roofs which allowed ventilation in hot weather and cover in bad weather—he could deliver my sheep to my farm in good order sometimes within and sometimes a little beyond 12 hours. It depended on the capacity of the float, the skill of the driver and his desire to please the customer.

The period suggested in the proposed regulations for Europe is 24 hours. There is no question but that that is too long. However, if the regulations insist on proper machinery, proper floats and inspectors to keep people up to the mark, then we can accept the NFU recommendations—a period of 12 hours with a derogation from that in special or emergency circumstances. That will be a great improvement on the present proposal and on many of the present appalling circumstances in which sheep are transported.

We should examine a number of other regulations. Some are a little silly; for example, the putting of ramps onto pick-ups with which a farmer might collect a sick sheep from the field and transport it to the farm. A little commonsense is needed in that situation. But in the main, in regard to the animals with which I am familiar, we should insist that the rules are good as regards the equipment; that the timing, loading and arrival of the animals is subject to the regulations; and that the regulations are adhered to.

11.25 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, we on this side of the House strongly support my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby in asking Her Majesty's Government this evening about steps being taken to maintain the present restrictions on the export from the United Kingdom of horses for slaughter. We should also like to express our appreciation for the maiden speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton.

We are especially anxious about the European Community proposals which will abolish British welfare regulations, including the minimum welfare clause in the Animal Health Act. We appreciate that Her Majesty's Government have been seeking to retain present legislation. We see no necessity for the live export of horses intended for slaughter. Can the Minister say whether the Commission's proposals are based on those articles of the Treaty of Rome which were amended by the Single European Act? If so, are Her Majesty's Government satisfied with this legal basis? Does it provide for derogation by a member state on humanitarian grounds? Public opinion in Britain will be outraged if horses are sent live for slaughter in EC member states. The Community's image here will be badly affected especially if the justification for such a policy is the completion of the internal market.

My noble friend Lord Houghton also asked for a reduction in the long distance and cross-channel export of live farm animals other than horses. I think it is necessary to set the British export trade into perspective. The Meat and Livestock Commission's 23rd annual report records that the value of United Kingdom meat exports in 1989 were £597 million, representing an increase over 1988 of 19 per cent. by value. One in every four tonnes of lamb and one in every six tonnes of beef went for export while 7 per cent. of our pork production also went overseas. In the case of beef and lamb, much of this trade consists of live animals. That is regrettable and we should seek to change it. But buyers at the present time require it because in some cases animals are bought for fattening and in other cases because they prefer their own methods of slaughtering and presentation. These markets are vital for British producers. The Meat and Livestock Commission is active in promoting exhibitions, trade missions and seminars not only in the European Community but in other markets. For the record it can be said that the Meat and Livestock Commission now has marketing offices in Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.

The conditions under which live exports from Britain go abroad are of much concern as also are the conditions of slaughter in certain countries. Quite rightly, that has been touched on by several speakers this evening. We appreciate that Her Majesty's Government are anxious to ensure that the treatment of sheep and cattle in transit and at point of slaughter is no less favourable than it would be in Britain. Pressure is being applied by Britain for Community legislation in these areas as well as proper enforcement. Can the Minister say what progress has been made concerning the welfare of live sheep and cattle for export? Can the noble Baroness also say whether such live exports after leaving Britain, (where regulations exist and are in force) are handled in transit by those engaged in this trade to the same standard as they are handled in transit at home?

We quite rightly require that humane conditions are observed throughout the journey regardless of the length of time which that journey may take. For example, are firms in the trade vetted for their suitability to be in it? Are the drivers engaged in the trade trained not merely in driving but in handling animals? Can a disparate group of traders continuously maintain the standards that are required in transit? These aspects of the problem are not much discussed; yet, in our view, they are basic to solving the problems. I finish by asking the Minister to say whether she will consider as a practical step inviting the Meat and Livestock Commission to review the position concerning transport both now and in the post-1992 period.

11.29 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has worked long and tirelessly on behalf of animals, whose cause has certainly been enhanced by having him as their champion. Indeed all speakers in today's interesting debate deserve credit for their concern for animal welfare. The noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, emphasised this concern by choosing this debate for her compassionate maiden speech. I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords. The proceedings have also reflected the strength of public feeling for animals to be properly protected, in law and also in practice. I shall deal first with the important question of horse exports for slaughter. This subject has touched the hearts of literally thousands, including my own.

It may be helpful if I place the issue into context. The minimum value controls relating to export of horses from this country are laid down in the Animal Health Act 1981, yet they date back much further; from the last century for horses, while controls on ponies originated in 1969. The arrangements are actually rather complicated since they include export licensing, pre-export rest and veterinary inspection in various circumstances. But essentially the export of ponies and certain types of horse, including donkeys, is prohibited if their value is less than that laid down in the 1981 Act. The agriculture departments require a valuation from an approved valuer before such animals can be exported. The aim has been to make it uneconomic to buy horses and ponies in Britain and export them for slaughter. The system has stood the test of time in fulfilling the desired objective. I honestly think that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has no reason to suppose that an illicit trade is going on. If he has any information and proper evidence on this matter I hope he will send it to me.

In the summer of 1989 the Commission tabled proposals for a Community regulation on the protection of animals during transport. Since the minimum values system is purely a national arrangement it was inevitable that it would be called into question in the context of the completion of the single market by the end of 1992. I find it extraordinary that there are still many people outside this House who seem unaware of the Government's position. I am not sure why that should be so because we have consistently made our position clear. I must therefore reassure my noble friend Lord Swansea that we do not intend to allow an export trade in horses and ponies for slaughter to resume. I hope that I have made myself clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, felt that the Government cared more for exports than welfare. That is not true. All animal transporters should know that we shall take whatever measures are necessary to deal with offenders. Matters are, however, complicat-ed when events occur outside the United Kingdom. That in a way answers a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher. Pressure from the public—and from groups such as the International League for the Protection of Horses—on Ministers, Members of Parliament and of the European Parliament and the European Commission has been massive. The Government continue to receive hundreds of letters as well as petitions of varying sizes. The depth of feeling has therefore been abundantly demonstrated. We do not intend to disappoint all those people.

At this point I should like to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and to my noble friend Lord Kimball, who are playing a strong part in the co-ordination of the campaign. And celebrities in the horse world, such as Peter O'Sullevan, the incomparable race commentator, are keeping the issue in the public eye. We are on their side. I mention in passing that I was thrilled when the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, named her beautiful pony after me. I have to tell her that I cannot claim to be a stallion, but I was once a mayor.

I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that, despite all the activity I have described, there has been little progress to report. Our case must be made during negotiations on the EC proposals on animal welfare during transport. There has, however, been only one Brussels meeting so far to discuss these proposals, and that was almost a year ago. So no one should expect an early solution. I am therefore unable to answer the noble Lord's point on the legality.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asked whether EC controls will be as regulation or as a directive. The proposals are in the form of regulation but final decisions rest with the Council of Ministers. Majority opinion appears to favour a directive and the United Kingdom could go along with this. That would need detailed implementing of legislation in this country but would not provide the latitude to adjust the controls as some people may imagine.

When discussions resume we shall need allies. I therefore welcome efforts which are being directed towards opinion in other countries. I am playing my own part in ministerial contacts with member states, for the ultimate decisions lie with the Council of Ministers rather than the Commission. Nevertheless, Commissioner MacSharry has said that when it comes to welfare all animals, whatever their value, must be given the necessary protection. We agree with those sentiments, but experience has shown that relatively low value equines, such as old working horses and moorland ponies, may not always be treated as carefully as more valuable animals.

The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, referred to the recent QED programme on BBC Television. I also saw the broadcast. Both he and I are aware of the lengths to which people will go to ensure that valuable horses reach a distant destination in good condition. Yet in that case, as the noble Viscount said—where racehorses were being flown to Australia—there were problems, despite the best laid plans. Not nearly so much care and attention will be lavished on the horse bound for the meat man.

I agree with the noble Baroness on the question of enforcement, or lack of it, in other countries. Observance of the rules will be absolutely vital to their success. That is why we support the proposal for a Community inspectorate which can mount on-the-spot inspections and keep national authorities up to the mark. We also support the principle of journey limits for slaughter animals but this must be linked to their feeding and watering needs, rather than a catch-all eight-hour limit. Both the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and the noble Baroness mentioned that point in their speeches.

My noble friend Lord Kimball asked whether there should be more abattoirs for the slaughter of horses. Any licensed abattoir wishing to slaughter horses is able to do so on application to the appropriate enforcement authority. Provided that the specific requirements in legislation regarding horse slaughter are met, it is for individual abattoir operators to make a commercial decision about whether to slaughter horses. The small number of premises approved for the slaughter of horses would seem to indicate that many abattoir operators do not consider such slaughter to be commercially viable.

My noble friend also mentioned the fact that there would not be a problem with the performance horse in the future because he hoped that, by the end of 1992, they would be registered. I very much agree with him about the importance of registration of these horses. I actually have an important meeting with concerned parties tomorrow afternoon on that matter.

I have carefully avoided mention of our negotiating tactics and the precise methods of controlling trade which may be discussed in the Community. It is certainly difficult to envisage all other member states agreeing to a Community-wide system of minimum values—and it is of course the basic objective of the new regulation to bring in common standards which are uniformly enforced throughout the Community. Where special considerations apply to one or two member states however—such as the sea journey for our exports, and those of Ireland, to the Continent —it is only right that these should be recognised. At the same time we must not overlook the need for sensible, practical safeguards for all horse transport. For example, the Community measures must acknowledge the special needs of horses for frequent access to water in particular. We also believe that the proposals are incorrect in saying that horses in all cases should be allowed to lie down in their horse boxes or other means of transport. In their case short tethers should be preferred.

The debate has covered the long distance transport of all farm animals and especially the export trade. Our starting point here is rather different from that for horses. We permit the export of farm livestock for further fattening or slaughter but only after each animal has been rested, fed, watered and inspected for fitness to travel at one of the approved export lairages near the ports. Their loading is also officially supervised. To have introduced a general unilateral ban of food animal exports would undoubtedly have led to the United Kingdom Government appearing before the European Court. That is not our way.

I was most interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Soulsby arising from his long experience and expertise. Farm livestock can be, and is, transported satisfactorily over long distances provided that proper welfare safeguards are followed. I am thinking here primarily, but not solely, about meeting the animals' feeding and watering needs. Those vary of course depending upon the type and category of animal and can be affected by factors such as temperature and ventilation. The Commission's proposals envisage that there should be different maximum intervals for resting, feeding and watering for different species and that those periods should become journey limits for slaughter animals. The Government agree with that approach rather than the introduction of a blanket limit for all animals destined for slaughter; but whatever the mandatory limitation, the arrangements must make practical sense; for example, in relation to animals destined for fattening or breeding. They must also be enforceable.

In that connection we are encouraged by the proposal for a Community inspectorate to help ensure uniform application of all the rules and we shall encourage the Commission in that area. We do not want the authorities in other Community countries merely to pay lip service to the controls. Those must be observed by all.

My noble friend Lord Soulsby mentioned the BVA recommendations. It has submitted its proposals to the FAWC. Its contribution will be valuable in the veterinary context. I understand that on this occasion it may be re-evaluating some aspects of its advice.

The Commission's transport proposals envisage establishing special rules, not just for resting, feeding and watering animals during journeys, but also for staging points, stocking densities and vehicle design and approval. The Government look forward to being guided in those areas by advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Council. The rules themselves will be drafted after the Commission has consulted its appointed experts. We shall therefore decide our detailed positions nearer the time; but we intend to make it clear that a maximum feeding and watering interval is just that. It must not be regarded as the norm, especially during hot, humid weather.

I very much agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, especially as we are not entirely satisfied that a simple set of stocking density figures should apply in all circumstances. We want to avoid the problems of overcrowding on livestock lorries. At the same time, account must be taken of variables such as the age and condition of the animals, expected temperatures and humidity, the length of the journey and the characteristics of the vehicle, including ventilation.

I should like to finish by emphasising the Government's commitment to establishing high welfare standards throughout the Community. This remains a major priority for my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He announced an initiative last February to bring about tighter controls in the Community on many issues of welfare concern.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said that I was not one to be overridden and suggested that I should go to see Commissioner MacSharry. I can assure her that when these matters come to be discussed in the Council of Ministers, the British Government's view will be put by my right honourable friend the Minister. He is not one to be overridden either.