The Government have successfully negotiated in the Agriculture Council the retention of our controls designed to prevent the export of horses and ponies for slaughter. The Council also agreed to return to the issue at a later stage with a view to setting special welfare conditions for all transport of horses in the Community.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that splendid achievement. Will he assure the House that in future he will repel attacks on traditional British practices?
In fact, we have been defending a traditional British non-practice. I should like to extend our attitude towards all animals, especially horses, to other countries in the Community. We have much to learn from them about a number of matters—not least, for example, the way some of them treat children. However, they could learn a great deal from us about how to treat animals, and I intend to take that line continually in the Council.
My right hon. Friend will know that there is still grave concern about how our European Community partners treat animals in their husbandry and farming. Will he ensure that the best practices that are common in this country become European Community policy and enforceable in other European countries?
I am very much encouraged by the number of other countries in the European Community that are beginning to accept our views on those matters. In the meantime, we shall continue to set the example. I hope that those people who press me for higher welfare standards in this country will remember that it costs money. When they buy veal or pigmeat products, I hope that they will remember that they should buy them from the country where standards are the highest.
I congratulate the Minister on his stand and achievements. I am sure that he has read the latest survey from Europe, according to which British farmers are farming at a loss while their counterparts in Holland and Greece are farming at a profit. Why does that happen?
First, it is characteristically kind of the hon. Gentleman to offer his congratulations when they are in order. I much appreciate that. The second half of his question is not necessarily connected with the first. British farming is under considerable pressure at the moment, which is why I am fighting hard against the suggestion that we should discriminate in some way against British farmers, who are characterised in the rest of Europe as being better off than their European partners. That is not so and we must show that family farms in Britain need the same support as family farms elsewhere in Europe.
The Minister will be aware of the excellent resolution that came out of European Standing Committee A, saying that the Government should stand by legislation on the transport of animals. There are 15 pieces of such legislation. Will the Minister assure us that the resolution, as adopted by the House, is being pursued rigorously in the Council of Ministers? Is the current deal temporary or permanent?
I much appreciate the support that has been given by that Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, on this specific question, we have managed to get the Community to accept much higher standards on the transport of live animals—much closer to what we stand for—than it ever has. There are still additional points to be discussed before those decisions can be reached, including specific hours, for which we must press. I undertake to the House that I shall continue to make that a very high priority.
I am as yet the only Minister in the Community who takes animal welfare matters seriously. I am increasingly gaining support from our Dutch and German friends and I hope ultimately to have everyone's support. [Laughter.] Those who think the subject amusing should remember that animal welfare is of considerable importance to the House, not something about which to make jokes.
Man also loves other animals, but his best friend is the horse.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Commission's action is not final? Will he promise the House and the nation that he will not rest until it is guaranteed that minimum values on horses dedicated for export from this country will be preserved and our excellent attitude towards horses and other animals is spread throughout the rest of the Community?
I thank my hon. Friend. I hope that he knows that I have fought hard on the issue and shall continue to do so, not only to defend our attitude towards animals in Britain, but to spread those attitudes to other countries. I find the nationalistic view that we should defend animals only in this country somewhat odd. As a strong supporter of our membership of the Community, I want to use the basis of our membership to spread more widely our general attitude to animal welfare, which is supported by Conservatives and giggled at by the Opposition.