asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if there is sufficient capacity in the United Kingdom export-approved abattoirs to slaughter all animals at present exported live for slaughter.
The total number of cattle and sheep exported for slaughter in 1976 represented 1 per cent. of total slaughterings in the United Kingdom. I have little doubt that they could have been handled by export-approved abattoirs if the trade had so determined.
In that case, will the Minister announce that he will ban live exports? If not, will he say in whose interest the trade is being carried on, because it certainly is not in the animals' interest?
I know that the hon. Lady recognises that our policy on this matter derives from the motion passed in the House at the beginning of 1975. I make this point to her. Surely in these matters it is important to secure progress on a basis wider than the United Kingdom—and great progress is being made in Europe partly as a result of the British Government's stance.
Who are the people who justify this horrible export trade? Who is making money out of it? If it is only a small section of the community, is there not a very strong case for cutting out this export trade altogether?
I fully share my hon. Friend's objective, which I presume is to avoid any cruelty to animals in transportation. But if we can secure adequate standards—and we must remember that there is transportation of animals within the United Kingdom to the islands off Scotland—I think that the important thing is to see that the animals are transported according to high standards. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are absolutely insistent—and we refuse many applications—that no animals should be allowed to travel to any countries where we feel that the transport arrangements are inadequate or that they are likely to be slaughtered in a cruel way.
But will the Minister actively encourage the export of meat on a deadweight basis? Will he bear in mind that that allows customers to have the meat cut and dealt with in the way they wish? Finally, will he join with me in congratulating North Devon Meat Ltd. of Torrington, which has been in the forefront of exporting on a deadweight basis and has just received the Queen's Award?
I am glad to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing precisely as he requests in this regard. It is only a few months since my right hon. Friend announced a very generous scheme of grants to encourage export slaughter-houses to improve their standards.