HC Deb 22 May 1995 vol 260 cc455-7W
Sir Terence Higgins

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pursuant to his answer of 18 April, Official Report, columns 103–104, regarding the conformity of the vessel Northern Star to the provisions of the Welfare of Animals during Transport Order 1994, by what authority his Department takes the view that point 18 of schedule 3 to the order, which implements EC directive 91/628, does not apply to roll-on roll-off ferries. [24441]

Mrs. Browning

My previous answer to which my right hon. Friend refers gave the view which the Department takes when assessing roll-on roll-off ferries for compliance with the law.

Mr. Olner

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pursuant to his answer of 11 May,Official Report, column 581, when he expects his Department's consideration of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' latest legal advice on the export of live animals to be completed. [24779]

Mr. Waldegrave

I have now received advice from lawyers on the opinion from Mr. Gerald Barling QC entitled "Welfare of Calves: Lawfulness of Export Restrictions".

My legal advice in the light of that opinion remains: namely, that a ban on calf exports—whether a blanket ban or a selective ban on exports to certain countries or to rearing units using veal crates—would be at serious risk of successful challenge under European law.

There are also policy considerations. By far the best outcome, which I believe is achievable, would be EU measures to prohibit the use of the veal crate across Europe. That, I am sure all would agree, would be the best way of achieving a real increase in the sum of animal welfare. A unilateral restriction on exports from the UK—if it could be made to stick—would be only a gesture in terms of animal welfare: continental rearers would carry on using veal crates, and would obtain calves from alternative, more distant, sources from which they would probably be transported in conditions less humane than those we impose on our own exports. There would be no net gain across Europe in animal welfare terms.

In addition, to attempt to introduce a unilateral ban would be counter-productive in relation not only to the chances of getting a Euro-wide ban, but to the very delicate negotiations on welfare in transit in general. We would have antagonised other member states, some of them at present our allies, and might indeed give them a pretext for declining to take matters further, pending resolution of the legal issues. These are strong reasons for not introducing a ban, even if I thought—as I do not—that I had discretion to do so in legal terms. The fact is that I am still being advised that I do not have that discretion.

Mr. Barling's opinion does, however, raise an interesting new point in highlighting the fact that the provisions of Community directive 91/629 on the welfare of calves fail to reflect those of appendix C to the recommendation on cattle which the Council of Europe adopted under the European convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. As I have said, this does not alter the legal position in respect of a unilateral ban on calf exports. However, I am, as the House will know, already pressing the Council of Ministers to revise directive 91/629 so as to prohibit the use of the veal crate throughout the Community. In support of this aim, I intend drawing Mr. Barling's argumentation over the Council of Europe texts to the Commission's attention. I hope it will see this as a powerful reason for it to make proposals to the Council for the Community's own rules to be brought into line with the rules to which the Community has subscribed in the Council of Europe.

I believe that the RSPCA—and other animal welfare organisations—can play an important role in our efforts to achieve changes in the Community rules. I am today conveying to it my views in the light of Mr. Barling's opinion, and inviting it to meet me to discuss how matters can now be taken forward.