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Horses (Export And Slaughter)

Volume 462: debated on Monday 7 March 1949

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asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that a recent consignment of horses to Belgium left Goole at 4 p.m. on Saturday, 12th February,1949, and were not disembarked at Antwerp until the morning of Tuesday, 15th February, 1949, the ship having meanwhile travelled through the canal to Ghent; whether partitions were provided separately for each horse; and, in view of the cramped conditions of the sea journey, whether such delay can be avoided in the future.

According to my information, each horse on this vessel had a stall to itself, and every stall was separated from others by division boards in accordance with the requirements of the Exportation and Transit of Horses, Asses and Mules Order, 1921. It would not be practicable for me to control the routes taken by ships carrying livestock or the length of voyage, which may be effected by various factors, such as the weather.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two inspectors of the R.S.P.C.A. were present on the boat; that they were sure there were no divisions between the horses, and that there were a large number of them in one hold? Is he also aware that it took three days to get to Belgium, and very great harm was caused to the horses?

My information is that this boat was recently inspected by the Ministry's Marine Superintendent and was stated by him to be very suitable for the carrying of horses.

In view of this conflict of evidence, will the right hon. Gentleman make special inquiries, because it is quite clearly undesirable that officials of these bodies should be making statements in direct contradiction to those made by the responsible authorities?

I could not agree more with the right hon. Gentleman, and that is why the Ministry's Marine Superintendent did make an inspection of this particular boat.

Would my right hon. Friend extend such an inquiry to other ports, including Tilbury? Is he aware that similar allegations are being made about the export of horses from Tilbury, and that this is really a serious problem?

If my hon. Friend will provide me with any information about any particular boat at any specific dock, I shall be glad to look into the case.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that the majority of the 28 horses arriving at Antwerp on the s.s. "Aire" on 15th February, 1949, had to be supplied with new halters by the Belgian authorities; and if he will see that horses are furnished with serviceable halters on leaving this country.

I was not aware that the shippers did not provide the horses with serviceable halters, but halters are carried on the s.s. "Aire" to replace, for the boat journey, any unsuitable ones supplied by the shippers. Consequently, no question seems to arise of unnecessary suffering being caused on this account to the horses during the journey.

May I repeat what I said previously—that on this occasion an inadequate number of halters were provided and that a number of halters had to be supplied when the horses arrived on the other side?

My hon. Friend will be aware that I am in no way responsible for what happens after the horses have landed.

In view of the widespread worry in the country about this trade in old horses to the Continent, and in view also of the points which have been raised, would the right hon. Gentleman consider setting up some form of thorough inquiry to see what is really going on?


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he will appoint a commission of inquiry into the question of the unregulated slaughter and trade in horses.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the public anxiety aroused by the large-scale slaughter of horses for human consumption, he will cause a public inquiry to be held at an early date.

In view of the Questions which have already been asked this afternoon, and the obvious conflict of information between articles in the Press and views which my right hon. Friend has expressed, does he not agree that a commission of inquiry into this matter might lay at rest a great deal of public uneasiness in this matter? Therefore, will he reconsider the question?

If hon. Members will provide evidence of any specific case of unnecessary cruelty or pain, I shall be very glad to look at it at any time. It is obvious, since we started the war with 50,000 tractors and now have over 250,000 tractors on our farms, that the need for horses is not what is was. There is also the fact, of course, that the younger generation of farmers prefer mechanisation to horses and seven-days-a-week feeding.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, in common with other hon. Members, am constantly getting letters from constituents who are clearly genuinely disturbed by various things appearing in the newspapers? Would it not be a good thing to have an authoritative inquiry now, which would definitely bring out the facts and, if there is anything wrong, would recommend ways in which it could be obviated?

I will look at the matter again, but, so far as my knowledge goes at the moment, I do not see any real reason for an inquiry. However, I will gladly look at the question again.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a widespread public demand for more information on this subject? When my right hon. Friend is reconsidering the matter, will he do it sympathetically and not doubtfully, in the way in which he has just spoken?

I can assure my hon. Friend that I am as kindly disposed towards horses as she ever was or will be.


asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the fact that there is at the present time a surplus of working horses in Belgium. and that horses exported from this country to Belgium are almost exclusively slaughtered on arrival for food for human consumption, the Government will arrange for horses exported from this country to be slaughtered before being exported so as to avoid the unnecessary suffering of these aged animals from exposure to the sea voyage in stormy weather.

If these horses have to be slaughtered at all, is it not very desirable that they should be slaughtered humanely at home instead of undergoing great suffering on these voyages to Belgium, which are taking place today? Is it not becoming more and more clear that we must have a proper comprehensive inquiry into this matter?

I have already informed the House that no horse is exported to Belgium except under licence, when it goes there to work and not for slaughter.

Has not the right hon. Gentleman already informed the House that he has no control over what takes place in Belgium? Therefore, what does that assurance mean?

That is perfectly true. When horses are exported from this country, they are exported, on the basis of a certificate, for work purposes and not for slaughter.

Is not the Minister aware that this rule does not work in that way at all; and that it never has the effect which it is designed to have, namely, to prevent horses from being slaughtered very soon after their arrival—which is invariably what happens?

Since the case was brought to my notice a week or two ago, I undertook to have inquiries made into the specific case which was referred to in the Question. Those inquiries are now proceeding.

Does my right hon. Friend mean that so long as he gets a statement that a horse is required for work and not for slaughter, he issues the licence and washes his hands of the whole matter?

There are some forms of international arrangement by which one must obviously abide. If a certificate is given to the effect that horses exported from this country are for working purposes and not for slaughter, then one must obviously accept the certificate.

Having issued the certificate, is not my right hon. Friend under the same obligation to see that its conditions are complied with, wherever the horse goes?

I have already informed the House that one case has been brought to my notice. Inquiries are taking place at this moment with the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade

If in a case such as this the right hon. Gentleman finds that, in fact, the certificate has been abused, has he any power to take action?

The only power I have is to prevent the same person from importing any more horses from this country.

This is a matter which cannot be lightly dismissed; indeed, it cannot be dismissed at all.