House of Commons
London SW1 0AA
Saturday 21 January 1995
I am writing to you as a resident of Brightlingsea about the export of live animals. There is huge public concern about this issue. This letter describes the present situation and what I am seeking to achieve. The matter is however complex since it is tied to our membership of the European Union. I hope therefore that you will forgive my sending you rather a long letter.
I am absolutely against unnecessary cruelty in farming and I would much prefer the large scale transport of live animals to cease altogether. It should be replaced by a carcass trade. I therefore support the vast majority of campaigners on this issue. The government should do all it can to respond quickly and effectively. Live animals should travel the shortest possible distance to slaughter. Long journeys overseas should be unnecessary. Furthermore, there should be no question of sending live animals abroad to suffer in conditions that have been outlawed in this country. This is the current situation with veal calves.
The government has improved conditions for farm animals in Britain and is trying, with some success, to persuade our European partners to do likewise. The UK has the toughest laws on animal welfare in Europe, with the most stringent controls on pig rearing, for example. Veal crates have been banned. We have rigorous controls on slaughterhouses. What's more, we have the toughest laws to protect animals being transported.
The export of live animals is very much a European issue. The UK did not have a massive trade in live exports before the single market. Indeed, the Conservatives banned live exports in 1970's but this was overturned by the subsequent Labour government. Since then, the single European market, which makes no distinction between live animals and other produce, has opened up. Furthermore, our slaughterhouses have been over- burdened by regulations originating from Europe. This has driven many of them out of business and made the remainder more expensive. On the continent, the same regulations are not enforced with the same rigour. Unfortunately, few of our European partners share our caring attitude towards animals. They have neither as stringent laws on animal welfare, nor do they enforce the laws they do have. We have all seen on television or video what some of their slaughterhouses are like. It has therefore become more and more commercially advantageous to export animals live for slaughter overseas.
When the single European market was being set up, it was clear that there was a need at least for Europe-wide rules on maximum journey times and safeguards for the transport of live animals. A Directive was brought in to allow such rules to be made, but no agreement has been reached about the actual rules. France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece blocked William Waldegrave's attempts to make much tighter laws on animal welfare across Europe. It seems unlikely that adequate safeguards for animals will be implemented in the foreseeable future.
I support the government's actions to require hauliers to submit a plan for each journey which must be approved by a vet. This comes into force on 23 January. It will then be a criminal offence to depart from the plan. It will however be very difficult to enforce on the continent. Other European countries fail to enforce even their own animal welfare laws, it is unlikely that our extra requirements will be enforced. This can clearly be little substitute for a ban.
Some claim that ministers should be able to act under article 36 of the Treaty on European Union. This says exports could be stopped “on grounds of public morality” for “the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants”. The government says that they are not allowed to use article 36 to restrict the trade because the transport of live animals is already part of the single market. Ministers could however ask Parliament for the power to invoke this article. It is a question of the government finding the will to do so. They keep telling us that the UK Parliament is sovereign. Governments must obey the law, but they could ask Parliament to change it.
I am preparing a Bill to make the necessary changes to the law. I hope to present this to Parliament on Wednesday 15 March. There are two other Bills on live exports which the House of Commons may consider. I will consider supporting them, but I do not believe that either deals with the conflict with European law. They would be overruled by the European Court. My Bill would empower Ministers to act in accordance with our own interpretation of article 36 and it would specifically exempt Ministers from prosecution under European law.
I have already asked the Leader of the House of Commons, Tony Newton, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Braintree, if he will provide time for a proper debate on this topic. In addition, following the presentation of the protesters’ petition to William Waldegrave at MAFF on Thursday (- I'm afraid it was too short notice for him to receive it in person -) I will be taking a delegation from Brightlingsea Against Live Exports (BALE) to meet the responsible minister, Mrs. Angela Browning MP. I have also given the necessary information to BALE so they can prepare a second petition on the proper forms which I can then present to Parliament, on the floor of the House of Commons.
I am only able to present your case and apply appropriate pressure. Sensible protest is a help, but defiance of the police carrying out their duties is not. Nevertheless, I am aware people in Brightlingsea have reacted calmly for the most part, despite some most unpleasant provocation. I am grateful for that. This enables me to press the police to respond in a measured way.
Britain is still a democracy. Protesters naturally want to make a strong stand, but the police have a duty to uphold the law. I very much regret conflict between protesters and the police. Peaceful cooperation is preferable. I have questioned Deputy Chief Constable Markham about police tactics. If there are complaints about the police, they must be directed through the proper channels. I am also anxious to know about them. However, local officials, the Town Council, the Brightlingsea Harbour authorities and the police must have my unqualified confidence and support. The public has a right to protest, but those in public services are not allowed to express their views. They deserve our cooperation. Your freedom of speech depends upon the rule of law. There are democratic means to change the law. In the meantime, the law must be respected.
There is no question of ministers or anyone other than the Essex Police being responsible for the conduct of Policing. Suggestions made by people who claim to have 'friends in high places' is nothing but bravado and an attempt to provoke. These should be ignored.
I gather that the cost of policing the demonstrations is around £50,000 per day. The police are funded by government grant which is topped up by the Essex County Council. Overspending on policing is therefore a burden on the Essex Council Tax payer.
Even if there is a very substantial overspend, there is no guarantee of extra funds from the government. Ordinary Essex policing will inevitably be affected. Nevertheless, the police have no option but to incur these costs.
In the meantime, I speak to ministers almost every day. I know that our MEP Anne MacIntosh has also been active on the issue. I am stressing that the Brightlingsea protest is almost entirely local people and that few have taken part in any similar demonstrations before. (I now understand that to date there has been almost no “professional” element from outside the town). Brightlingsea people are virtually united against this trade going through the town.
I do not know how or when this nightmare for Brightlingsea will end. I have spoken to the wharf owner but, like others, I was unable to persuade him to cease the trade. I am visiting Brightlingsea again today and remain in close touch with events. There is however a limit to what I can effectively achieve, but continuing public pressure has ended live exports on ferries and it seems that the exporters are to give up in Shoreham. I hope that the wishes of the people of Brightlingsea will be respected in due course and large scale live exports will end here too.
With Best wishes.
Bernard Jenkin MP