House of Commons
Thursday 26 January 1995

Oral answers to Questions


Rural White Paper

1. Mr. Tredinnick: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to learn about the view of organisations with rural interests as part of the rural White Paper exercise.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave): My Department and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to a wide range of organisations in November inviting them to submit their views. Officials are also conducting meetings with a wide range of organisations, which will include a series of regional seminars involving Ministers from both Departments. The first of these will take place next month.

Mr. Tredinnick: Has my right hon. Friend heard views expressed similar to those expressed to me by farmers in my constituency, to the effect that they are very much against the veal crate system but feel that the blame lies fairly and squarely with nations on the continent? What has he done to persuade those nations to abolish the veal crate system, which is damaging the image of British farmers?

Mr. Waldegrave: I attended the Agriculture Council meeting on Monday, where I put on the agenda the proposal that the review of the veal crate system-- proposed for review in 1997--should be brought forward immediately. I am happy to say that I had widespread support for that in the Council, and the Commission will now bring forward the review.

If there had been a vote there and then in the Council I believe that the veal crate system would have been abolished on the spot--not a single Council member spoke up for it. I am not so naive as to think that there will not now be a rearguard action from those who use the system, but we have started well. We must maintain the momentum to achieve this prize--the real prize of banning a practice that is unacceptable to farmers here and in many other parts of the European Union. It must be banned right across Europe.

Animal Welfare

2. Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to improve the welfare of animals prior to slaughter.

Mr. Waldegrave: We are consulting on improved standards and are introducing on I April 199S the national meat hygiene service, which will result in uniform standards and lower costs.

Mr. Hinchliffe: Despite what the Minister said a few moments ago about the veal crate system, was not an answer given in the European Parliament, after his meeting in Europe, to the effect that the review will not start until at least two years hence? By that time, at least 1 million more British calves--including calves from the right hon. Gentleman's farm--will have suffered under this appalling system.

Will the Minister tell me and the British people what justification there is for any exports of live animals for slaughter--quite apart from veal calves--given modern refrigeration techniques? Is it not the will of the British people completely to ban live exports for slaughter?

Mr. Waldegrave: Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. I know that a Labour Member of the European Parliament told him what he has just reported about the French Minister's remarks, but I have been in touch with the French Minister's cabinet--

Mr. Skinner: What does that mean?

Mr. Waldegrave: It means Cabinet in French.

I was assured that the French Minister, Mr. Puech, had been misquoted. That can only be right, as I was present at the Council meeting where he, as president, welcomed the fact that the Commission had said that it was bringing forward the review to this year and had already spoken to the relevant committee and asked for the review to begin.

Mr. Gale: Will my right hon. Friend continue his robust efforts to achieve a Europe-wide solution to the problems of veal crates and of the transportation of live animals for slaughter to prevent English exports from being replaced by a flood of imports from former Iron Curtain countries, with animals travelling longer distances under worse condition ? What steps does he intend to take to encourage the slaughter of animals in British abattoirs and the export of meat on the hook, not on the hoof?

Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is right. There is a bigger prize than securing the improvement that we secured by banning the use of veal creates in our own very small veal trade--securing a ban right across Europe. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that if we do not do so the animals will turn up from somewhere and these practices will continue. That surely is not what we want. I will have more to say next week on my hon. Friend's second point, but he is perfectly right to say that we can take further steps to encourage trade on the hook and to develop a humane veal trade, including the British rose veal trade. We should not seek to demonise the idea of veal eating, because humane British-raised veal is good and it avoids the need or the demand for exports.

Mr. Tyler: May I press the Minister on the latter part of his answer? In the light of recent figures given to me by the Ministry showing that the number of abattoirs in this country has halved in the past 15 years because so many small and local abattoirs have been forced out of business, what steps does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind to try to reduce livestock journeys within the United Kingdom? What steps does he propose to take to assist the industry to encourage home slaughter and home market development?

Mr. Waldegrave: We can take a range of steps, and I shall announce some more next week. Nowhere in the United Kingdom is there not a slaughterhouse within a satisfactory distance of farms in the neighbourhood. I know that there are problems in some areas of the south-west, but if one draws circles on the graph one finds that there is no need for excessive journey times to those slaughterhouses. There are further measures that we can take--support for marketing and so on--to develop a humane trade here and alternative uses for those calves.

Sir Jerry Wiggin: As the matter has recently been raised in the House, will my right hon. Friend put on record and clarify the position concerning the restarting of the live animal export trade in 1975?

Mr. Waldegrave: With your indulgence, Madam Speaker, I should like to correct one point. On 19 January, the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) accused me of misleading the House. He said:

“ The House was thus misled by the allegation made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West . . . “- [Official Report, 19 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 865.]
--that is me

The hon. Gentleman said that I misled the House by accusing the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), a former Minister, of voting to restart live animal exports, which had been stopped in 1973. [interruption.] That is what he said--read Hansard.

'Three things are wrong with that. First, the hon. Gentleman did not--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The Minister should be given every opportunity to answer the question that he was asked, and he is now doing so.

Mr. Waldegrave: First, the hon. Gentleman did not do me the normal courtesy of warning me that he intended to raise the point and accuse me of misleading the House, but I shall let that pass. Secondly, I said no such thing. Hansard does not report me as saying anything about the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, so he is wrong on that point. Thirdly, if I had said that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East had voted to restart the trade, I would have been right.-

Animal Exports

6. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food what plans he has to end live animal exports from Britain.

12. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has for further regulating the export of calves for veal.

Mr. Waldegrave: At the meeting of the Agriculture Council on Monday, I succeeded in getting the Commission to bring forward a review of the directive that legalises veal crates from 1997 to this year. I was also delighted to hear the presidency say that the Council would return to the subject of improvements in the rules of live animal transportations in general at the next meeting. I hope the Council makes as good animals could not be moved at all, some of those who are campaigning on the issue--although not the great mass of concerned people--would simply move to the next target, while farming in this country, Scotland and Wales would become impossible. A few miles of water do not mean that an animal cannot be moved safely if the proper standards are applied.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Does the Minister agree with the Liberal spokesman on these matters, who viciously condemned the actions of protesters at British ports when all that they were doing was advocating what the majority of British people believe in?

Mr. Waldegrave: I believe that the Liberal spokesman described the welfare protesters as "naive. hysterical and counter-productive". There is a fringe attached to this movement, as to many other sensible movements, which ruins the cause by using violence and going much too far. It would be unwise of the House and of the Liberal spokesman not to recognise that there is widespread, genuine concern about this matter, but that should not mean, as has sometimes happened in the House in the past, that we over-react and completely ruin the conditions for farming in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We must ensure proper welfare and proper enforcement. That is what we need.

Mr. Brooke: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in their latter stages, the previous Labour Government sought to impede debate on a private Member's Bill on live animal exports--a fact that I mention incidentally because of the indignation generated in the last Session about progress on private Member's Bills?

Mr. Waldegrave: Some such rows are fairly synthetic because I suspect that they depend on which side of the House one is on at the time. I do not think that this is a party issue, and it would be unwise for one party to claim that it has the monopoly of wisdom on it. Hon. Members on both sides of the House care about the issue. We must not be pushed by that genuine concern into such extreme measures that we make farming in Britain completely impossible.

Mr. Stephen: Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), is my right hon. Friend aware that at the same time as the Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman was telling farmers that his party was not in favour of the ban on animal exports, Liberal Democrat councillors in my constituency were telling the townspeople that they were in favour of it?

Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is perfectly right. Mr. David Bellotti, who was briefly a Member of the House, took a very different line from the Liberal Democrat spokesman. That is the joy of being a Liberal: one can say anything one likes in any part of the country and it does not matter at all if all the others say something different.

Dr. Strang: May I return to the right hon. Gentleman’s reference to the Official Report of 19 January and explain that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) was referring to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), who intervened during Prime Minister's Questions? May I set the record straight by explaining that in 1973, on a Labour motion, which was opposed by the then Conservative Government, live animal exports ware banned. I voted for that motion. When the Labour Government took office, the O'Brien committee, which the Conservative party set up, recommended the resumption of the trade, which at that time was in live cattle and some pigs and was a very small trade. The committee recommended the resumption of the trade on the basis of increased safeguards. That was accepted not only by the Labour Government but by Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen.

Mr. Waldegrave: I have never sought to attack the hon. Gentleman on this. He seems to have taken a perfectly sensible position throughout and it is generous of him to try to protect the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). However, it would have been decent of his hon. Friend to apologise. He said:

"The House was thus misled by the allegation made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave).” -- Official Report, 19 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 865.

Mr. Morley: I did not say that.

Mr. Waldegrave: That is what Hansard records. We should be making a little progress if the hon. Gentleman said that Hansard had made up and printed a whole speech for no reason that is obvious to me.

Mr. Knapman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best scenario for calves is for them to be slaughtered in British abattoirs, thereby increasing employment prospects and adding value? The worst scenario would be an immediate and unilateral ban because that would reduce the price of small Holstein calves to nil and they would be knocked on the head straight after birth.

Mr. Waldegrave: I believe that my hon. Friend is right. To change a trade such as this, which has become established, will take some time. We must, first, secure a veal crate ban. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we want to encourage the export of meat on the hook. That would create jobs and would be better in welfare terms. If we were to kill small calves on the farm immediately they were born, it would not be satisfactory in welfare terms, and would not be acceptable to the British public or to the great majority of British farmers.

Animal Welfare

8. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what new proposals he has to improve animal welfare.

Mr. Waldegrave: We have a very wide range of measures in place.

Mr. Flynn: Will the right hon. Gentleman congratulate the demonstrators at the three sites for their great courage and foresight? They are in advance of public opinion and have roused the Government's conscience. Had the Government listened to Compassion in World Farming 10 years ago, the changes could have been made in an orderly way, thus avoiding the problems of sudden change now faced by farmers.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman is claiming one prize, will he go for the triple crown and move on other fonts where sentient living creatures are treated as though they have no feelings and no nervous system? Will he respond to the campaigns on other animal abuse and stop hunting for sport and unnecessary experiments on animals?

Madam Speaker: Order. That is a total abuse of Question Time.

Mr. Waldegrave: Action was under way before I arrived at the Department. My right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State for Education was leading the way with a shift in the Government's position and a move to the vanguard of the campaign to improve transportation. That proves that action was genuinely under way.

I do not believe that anyone in the country is not now behind the movement to ban veal crates and to achieve higher standards. I am sorry to say, however--the vets are telling us this--that animals in lorries surrounded by the uproar of a demonstration suffer and often have to be put down there and then. Animal welfare is suffering from the methods being used. I say to the demonstrators that they should go to Brussels. This may sound odd, but I was sorry to find that there were no demonstrators in Brussels on Monday. It would have been better to have support from the very powerful British non-governmental organisations to press for change where it is needed, which is in Brussels.

Sir Peter Emery: Will my right hon. Friend point out to many of those people that there is a considerable movement of animals between Scotland and the west country, and between Scotland and other parts of country, and that that movement has been undertaken sensibly for many years, with full protection for animals although those journeys are often much longer than those taken by animals exported across the channel?

Mr. Waldegrave: I do not believe that the occasional abuse that takes place in this country is the source of all the concern. We have reasonable rules, which are policed. The concern is not that one cannot move an animal humanely a reasonable distance--one can. The concern is to achieve better welfare standards in Europe. That must be done by changing European law. Otherwise, as I said earlier, the whole of British farming will come to a halt. If that happened, the same people who are campaigning and complaining now would be asking what we are doing to support British farming.

Mr. Morley: Does the Minister agree that one of the steps that could be taken to improve animal welfare would be to introduce a licensing scheme for animal hauliers and exporters? Does he think it acceptable that exporters such as Phoenix Aviation from Coventry should operate cargo planes without proper export permits, that Hall Farms of York should continue to export animals after being prosecuted for breaking journey time regulations, or that people like Richard Otley, who is exporting sheep through Brightlingsea, who has criminal convictions for animal cruelty, and who was arrested last week for deliberately provoking and abusing local people, deliberately flouted agreements with Brittany Ferries and is associated with people convicted for violence? Incidentally, he claims to have been approached to be a Tory candidate and to have the ear of the Prime Minister. Does the Minister agree that such people bring the livestock industry into disrepute?

Mr. Waldegrave: I am slightly disappointed that the hon. Gentleman, who is a decent man, did not take the opportunity to apologise. Last week he said a range of things which turned out to be not quite right, so I should like to check all his allegations closely before I comment on them.


9. Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food what representations he has received on the European rules relating to abattoirs in England and Wales; with whom he or his subordinates last discussed these at the European Commission; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Browning: In the last few months of 1994, a number of discussions took place between the Commission and member states about the fresh meat directive. Organisations representing the industry were kept fully informed. Last month’s Agriculture Council agreed, in principle, a number of amendments to the directive which will give small abattoirs more flexibility in their throughput.

Mr. Llwyd: I am sure that I speak for everyone when I say that it is highly desirable that animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the point of production. With that in mind, may I urge the Minister to press for a further upward derogation of livestock units for smaller abattoirs at the next Agriculture Council?

Mrs. Browning: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we have made considerable progress on behalf of small abattoirs. We shall obviously continue to consider how the new changes proceed. There are new abattoirs being built, as well as abattoirs that are having to close.

Sir Donald Thompson: Will my hon. Friend continue to encourage the building of the new abattoirs? Will she remind Opposition Members that if the codes of practice for the rearing and slaughter of animals were introduced across Europe there would be a great advance throughout?

Mrs. Browning: Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend on that: we all want high standards on an even playing field throughout the European Community.