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Live Exports

Volume 175: debated on Thursday 28 June 1990

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9.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the animal welfare implications of the trade in live exports.

There are detailed controls to ensure that animals leave this country rested, fed and watered, and inspected. We shall seek to maintain proper welfare safeguards under the proposed Community measures on transport of animals.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware that there is a lobby today on this issue and that there is great concern that the new EC rules will remove measures that the House has seen fit to pass to protect animals being transported in terms of where they go and the conditions in which they are transported. Horses are not exported live at present, but they could be in the future.

Will the Secretary of State take every possible step and fight every inch of the way to defend the existing Government protections which apply to animals in Britain and which far exceed the protections in other parts of the EC? If necessary, will he invoke article 36 which allows us to prevent free trade on issues of public morality so that we can protect those animals?

I have already said, some months ago, that I want to increase European Community standards on animal welfare across the board. I notice that today's lobby is led by Compassion in World Farming. I cannot manage matters outside the Community, but we have to solve the problem of animal welfare not only in Britain but throughout the Community. Some of the proposals that have been put forward could harm the welfare of animals in the rest of Europe by raising standards here but not throughout Europe. It is a European matter and I am determined to take the lead in that regard.

The Government will fight all the way along the line for the present system of minimum value for the export of live horses. Other animals are subject to EC rules, so those rules must be of the highest standard. There is no possibility of using article 36. I am advised quite clearly that it would not apply.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about the export of horses, but can I persuade him to accept the view of the British Veterinary Association that animals should be slaughtered as close to the point of production as possible? Will he seek to put that view to his allies in the European Community?

Our purpose is to raise standards throughout the European Community. The problem with the transport of live animals is that many other countries in the European Community do not share the view of the British Veterinary Association. My job is to get the best answer that we can and then to improve on it. My hon. Friend has my wholehearted support in her efforts to bring pressure on my allies in the European Community. On the matter of animal welfare, the number of my allies could do with some augmentation.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State is a voracious carnivore and likely to eat anything with legs other than a table, but is he aware that, despite his assurances to the House, a great deal of suffering is still caused to animals moved out of Britain for slaughter? Would not it be better, and meet the demands of the great majority of people in Britain, if no live animals were allowed to leave our shores for slaughter on the continent?

The fact is that that would be illegal, and this country stands by the law. Under European Community regulations, there has to be the movement of live animals. My job is to improve those regulations. The hon. Gentleman blames the European Community, but at least in the European Community we have a chance to raise standards for all animals in Europe, or perhaps the hon. Gentleman takes such an insular view that he cares only about British animals.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that since, on grounds of animal welfare, we ended the system of rearing calves in veal crates, there has been a massive increase in the number of calves exported to France, Belgium and the Netherlands? About 1,000 calves per day are now exported to those countries. What proportion of those calves does my right hon. Friend believe are being reared in the very crates that we sought to abolish in Britain?

My hon. Friend puts his finger exactly on the point. If we do not raise standards throughout Europe, we shall make changes at home, for estimable reasons, only to find that the situation is worse in the rest of the continent. For that reason, three days ago I took the lead in the European Community Council to press for higher standards which would eliminate the very practices to which my hon. Friend refers. We now have a new programme which will make major changes in the rearing of calves and also the way in which pigs are cared for. I hope that that will be a further earnest of our determination to improve animal welfare throughout the Community.