HL Deb 08 February 1995 vol 561 cc214-6

2.55 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I have to report to the House that owing to an error which is entirely mine, and for which I apologise, the Question that appears on the Order Paper differs materially from the one that I thought I had asked Her Majesty's Government.

The Question on the Order Paper refer; to a proposal, providing for the rearing of calves in narrow boxes". My Question was intended to refer to, prohibiting the rearing of calves in narrow boxes". I have already tendered my apologies to Her Majesty's Government, who must have been put to some inconvenience. I was able to tell them only about three hours ago. I apologise, too, for any inconvenience I may have caused the House.

In the hope that the House will forgive me, I beg leave to ask the following Question: To ask Her Majesty's Government at which meeting of the Council of Ministers in 1989 a proposal was considered prohibiting the rearing of calves in narrow boxes; and whether they will provide particulars of the votes of the Member States on the proposal".

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's apologies, which are well received, and for the correct version of the Question.

In June 1989 a proposal laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves was presented to the Council of Ministers. However, the Council did not discuss the proposal until October 1991. Although the UK opposed the directive because it dill not ban the system of veal crates, the Council recorded its agreement by a qualified majority.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply and for the Government's indulgence in the matter. Is the noble Earl aware that the Commission has a different story to tell? According to the Commission, it made a proposal in 1989 for a regulation which would have ended the rearing of calves in narrow boxes. That was blocked by France, Spain and Italy. Is the noble Earl in a position to confirm or to correct the statement made to me by the Commission? Will he give the House an assurance that when the matter is discussed on 20th February at a meeting of the Agricultural Ministers in Brussels, he will this time register the United Kingdom's support for the Commission's proposal to stop the practice of rearing calves in narrow boxes, no matter how many objections come from France, Spain and Italy?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first question, Council minutes from 1989 and 1991 are not made publicly available. We are not allowed to refer in public to the way in which other member states voted in Council. However, I can state to the House that the United Kingdom Government opposed that directive. The rules have since been changed but the change does not apply retrospectively.

In reply to the noble Lord's second question, I remind him that the agenda for the February meeting of the Council of Agricultural Ministers will specifically deal with the revision of the 1991 directive on welfare of animals during transport. That is one of the measures that my right honourable friend sought to bring to the Commission's attention.

The review of intensive production systems for calves under the EC directive has been brought forward to this year, but because of the preparation work involved, it will not be ready for discussion at the February Council meeting.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, can my noble friend explain how it is that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, apparently has access to information which the Government are forbidden to tell the House?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has ways with the Commission that others of us do not have. If the noble Lord received that information and it is correct, it was in fact confidential.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the belief that the basic problem in this whole question of veal crates arises from the fact that animals are regarded under European rules as agricultural goods, which presumably puts them on the same trading basis as a tractor or a bag of fertiliser? Do the Government support the suggestion that farm animals should be redefined under the Treaty of Rome as sentient beings? They would thus be recognised under European law as having the ability to suffer from pain, fear or stress.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, the Government are definitely prepared to examine the proposal in advance of next year's negotiations on the treaty amendments. However, as the noble Lord will know, achieving a treaty amendment is no small matter. Therefore we need to consider most carefully the precise implications of a change in definition before pressing it.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that despite any activity in regard to Community legislation, there is nothing to stop any member state bringing in its own legislation in order to abolish the rearing of calves in boxes, as we have done in this country?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, if the other countries of the Community persist in refusing to ban the rearing of calves in narrow crates, is there any time at all at which the Government will engage on a unilateral ban on the export of calves, and perhaps other live animals for slaughter, where the slaughtering procedures are in our view cruel and beastly?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, the Government share the sentiment behind the noble Lord's question. My right honourable friend has already considered the best case which can be made out to support the legality of such measures as the noble Lord suggested. However, the conclusion was that any such measures could not be justified in law.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why it takes a year for the fate of these unfortunate animals to be decided? Surely if anyone was really concerned about them, a discussion could be held well before that.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I should be grateful if the noble Viscount will tell me which animals we are talking about now.

Noble Lords

Next question!

Lord Geraint

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that those police authorities that are affected by the demonstrations at ports and airports will be able to recoup their extra financial costs?

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have that information with me to provide to the noble Lord.

Noble Lords

Next Question!