HC Deb 20 December 1989 vol 164 cc347-8W
Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to bring the live export of domestic animals by sea under the regulations governing farm animals.

Mr. Maclean

The Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973, as amended, will continue to apply to such animals until new EC measures are agreed on the protection of all animals during transport.

Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take urgent steps to improve the conditions under which live animals and birds are transported.

Mr. Maclean

Extensive national legislation is already in place to protect animals and birds in transit. The Commission has submitted proposals for Community measures and we will be seeking to ensure that these lay down high standards of welfare and that the measures are effectively enforced.

Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will place in the Library a copy of the United Kingdom rules which currently provide minimum values designed to prevent the export of horses for slaughter, indicating which rules, if any, would continue under the draft European Community regulation on protection of animals during transportation.

Mr. Maclean

Sections 40 and 41 of the Animal Health Act 1981 provide for minimum values for exports of ponies and certain types of horses. These arrangements cannot be maintained if the proposed EC regulation is adopted as drafted.

Mr. Dalyell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what figures are easily available regarding the importation both of pet birds and captive birds for 1988; and how many birds in each category(a) were dead on arrival and (b) died in quarantine.

Mr. Maclean

[pursuant to his reply 18 December 1989, c. 31]: I have placed in the Library of the House today copies of the results of a survey by my Department into mortalities of imported birds during 1988. The figures cover deaths on arrival at quarantine premises and during the statutory quarantine period. Broadly, the study shows that of 185,000 birds, 5,000 were dead on arrival and a further 21,000 died during post-import quarantine. The average mortality was 13.7 per cent. These losses are in addition to unquantified deaths during capture in the country of origin and subsequent handling and transport.

This study, the first of its kind in Europe, provides a basis for considering what further measures need to be taken. I share the widespread concern about the high level of mortality in this trade.

Our existing arrangements relating to the import of captive birds have been strikingly successful in dealing with the disease risks which such imports would otherwise constitute, but in the light of the results of the survey I will be taking further steps to ensure that our requirements are being fulfilled. My officials will be visiting major exporting countries to determine how effectively they fulfil our certification requirements and impress upon them the importance of following IATA standards for shipment to the United Kingdom. These visits will enable us to decide whether it is necessary to impose additional conditions and whether there are any countries from which imports should no longer be accepted on health grounds. They are an essential prerequisite because action must be seen to be securely founded on proven risk if it is to be compatible with our international obligations regulations.

I will also review the conditions that are imposed after birds reach the United Kingdom, including stocking rates in quarantine premises (which my officials are already examining) and the possibility of requiring post-import prophylactic treatment for certain important diseases. Officials will be meeting representatives of the bird trade to discuss the implications of the results of the survey and the possibility of a code of practice which could for example tackle the question of restricting imports to less vulnerable species. I will be contacting the airlines to emphasise how much importance I attach to compliance with satisfactory practice in transporting birds and will be considering whether any further welfare safeguards are needed.

Measures to deal with the high mortality found among imported birds will not, however, be effective on a national level. I therefore propose to raise this issue in Community discussion at an early opportunity and intend that the United Kingdom should ensure that the Community fully recognises the seriousness of this welfare issue.