We shall improve the training of slaughtermen, implement outstanding Farm Animal Welfare Council recommendations as soon as possible and make sure that Britain's high standards are adopted throughout the rest of the Community.
I thank the new Minister for his helpful answer and I hope that he will continue to give such answers. What advice has the Ministry sought on the slaughter of animals according to religious custom so that those customs are respected while cruelty to the animals is avoided? Will he seek advice from any religious bodies that consider it helpful to offer such advice?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The law on the welfare of animals at slaughter applies equally to religiously slaughtered animals, apart from the requirement for pre-stunning. In 1990, the Government introduced new legal safeguards on religious slaughter. In particular, the use of casting pens for cattle is being phased out and, from July this year, cattle will be required to be slaughtered in an upright, specially approved restraining pen. In expressing their concern, the hon. Lady and her constituents speak for many, and I hope that my reply reassures them.
Does my hon. Friend accept that improving welfare standards at slaughter should embrace the transportation of animals to the place of slaughter? Will he and my right hon. Friend the Minister do all that they can during my right hon. Friend's presidency to ensure that European practices and behaviour are raised to the levels that obtain in Britain? Quite frankly, far too often standards in Europe are totally unacceptable.
Yes, we shall do just that. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to raise that point. We shall seek to raise the standards observed by our partners in the European Community to the same high levels that apply in this country.
On behalf of my hon. Friends, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. We all welcome the Government's efforts to ensure the welfare of animals at slaughter. Does the Minister agree that of equal, if not greater, importance is the welfare of the consumers of the end products? What assurance can he give that adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that even the minimum use of illegal substances for growth promotion can be detected at abattoirs?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we run the most extensive and vigorous checks in this country. We are always alert to any possible dangers. Despite regular testing, illegal substances have never been found in this country—but we will continue vigorously to police that aspect.
Does my hon. Friend accept that great cruelty occurs not only at slaughter on the continent but in the transportation of animals to slaughter on the continent? Does he agree that animals in this country and in continental countries should be slaughtered as closely as possible to their place of origin?
Yes, my hon. Friend is perfectly correct. As I said earlier, we seek to raise standards in the rest of the European Community to the high levels that prevail in this country.
Is the Minister aware that because of the high standards in slaughterhouses in this country, the poultry sector in particular is disadvantaged? Because the standards observed by European competitors do not reach the same level, they enjoy a cost advantage on imports. If the Government accept that some slaughterhouses on the continent do not meet our high standards, what will the Minister do about British producers that drag animals many hundreds of miles over long periods of time, to be slaughtered in poor-quality slaughterhouses abroad?
My right hon. Friend the Minister dealt earlier with the question of cost. We intend to raise the question of standards and costs with the Community, to ensure that our producers are in no way disadvantaged. Transport is a matter to which we attach the highest importance. During our presidency, we shall seek to raise it to the top of the agenda.