I am delighted to have secured this important Adjournment debate on the transportation of live animals, but before I begin my speech, I am sure that the whole House would join me in sending our best wishes to our Prime Minister in Belfast this morning as he takes part in that vital initiative.
Animal welfare is of great concern to many of our citizens, who have been genuinely distressed by some of the scenes of cruelty to animals in the process of live transportation that they have witnessed. It is therefore important that this matter be discussed in detail in Parliament, so that the facts may be clearly presented and argued.
Although it is an emotive and complex issue, I hope that we can debate the matter in a dispassionate and reasonable manner; in a broadsheet rather than a tabloid fashion. I hope that we can reach a clear view of the way forward, and that we can balance the understandable desires of our farmers to supply a real demand for live meat on the continent with the need to have the highest possible levels of animal welfare; that we can balance our needs as a meat-eating species to raise animals for slaughter with our responsibility to be wise and caring stewards of all other creatures; and, finally, that we can balance the need to support the dairy industry and the livelihoods of our farmers with widespread public concern about animal welfare.
On Saturday night, at Millbay docks in Plymouth, two cattle lorries arrived and boarded a privately chartered ferry bound for the continent. The lorries carried calves and sheep, and came from farms throughout the south of England. Standing at the gates of Millbay docks with banners, 200 to 300 people were shouting and screaming their protests as the lorries swept through. The police were there in force to ensure that the protesters did not prevent the lorries from entering the docks.
Once inside the docks, the cattle and sheep were inspected by the vet who accompanied them on their entire journey. They were inspected by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food officials, and by representatives of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, all of whom gave the cattle and sheep a clean bill of health. Once inspected, the lorries boarded the ship, and the ship left.
I recently visited Millbay docks, and spoke to the vet and RSPCA representatives, who confirmed their opinion that the sheep and cattle were not in distress. Yet many of the protesters were in tears; many were simply angry. They are an embodiment of an outpouring of concern that has grown from all corners of our society.
Is my hon. Friend able to assist me by reconciling the view of the chairman of the Sussex police authority in my area, who calls this trade barbaric, and thinks that it should be stopped, with the view expressed by his colleague, the Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman in this place, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who described the activities of protesters as "naive, hysterical and counterproductive"?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is important that we approach this issue from a consistent position, and that, wherever possible, we say the same thing.
I ask myself, who are the demonstrators? Some are retired civil servants, some are teachers, some are housewives, some are students. Most of them care genuinely about the welfare of animals, and are prepared to stand in the cold and the rain night after night to make their protests. That picture is repeated almost daily all over the country. Many people want to stop the export of live animals from the United Kingdom to the continent for slaughter. They believe it to be a cruel and unnecessary practice. They care, they are committed and they are to be respected for their compassion and their concern.
Some of the people at the demonstrations have a different motivation. They are members of Class War or the Animal Liberation Front, and are there to cause trouble and pursue their own agenda, whatever that might be. I shall say more about them later, but the first question that I want to explore this morning is: why do we not ban the export of live animals, which causes so much distress to some many people?
The first reason is a legal one. Article 36 of the treaty of Rome—with its clause allowing restrictions on imports and exports on the grounds of public morality, public policy or the protection of the life and health of animals—is not applicable, because there is an existing EC directive on animal welfare standards. That EC directive does not deal adequately with the provision for feeding, watering, journey times and other matters, but it exists, and it prevents any member state from taking unilateral national action.
The hon. Gentleman is making an eminently sensible contribution to the debate, and I am sure that many of us support what he has said. Will he condemn the actions of his hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), who deliberately set out to destroy the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)? Will the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) condemn the actions of his hon. Friend, who prevented Parliament from dealing with an issue that the great majority of people in this country wanted to be addressed?
I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's comments. At the beginning of my speech, I said that we should address the issues, not in tabloid terms, but objectively and sensibly. I refute what the hon. Gentleman said.
If we were to proceed with a ban on exports, the European Commission would take the United Kingdom Government to the European Court of Justice to have such a unilateral ban swiftly reversed. In the meantime, UK farmers would rightly claim for compensation against our Government for damages suffered as a consequence of unlawful action. It is simply not an option.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I apologise for missing the opening moments of his speech.
Surely, if the Government were prepared, unilaterally, to institute a ban, it could be tested in the European Court. There is a body of opinion which says that, as European law is untested in many spheres, that would be a worthwhile step. At least the Government could then say that they had done their best, but were overturned by the European Court. At present, the Government seem to stand between the people and the European Court, frustrating the wishes of the people of this country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The Government have had the benefit of legal advice from the best legal minds in the country. Were I asked to choose between the hon. Gentleman's legal opinion and that of the best legal minds in the country, I would go with the latter every time.
The same is true of veal crates as of banning exports. We fought hard in 1990 and 1991 to impose a Communitywide ban on veal crates when formulating the EC directive on the subject. However, the European Union adopted a lesser measure in 1991. Our Government secured a provision allowing member states to adopt stricter standards.
We chose to adopt stricter standards, and effectively—and rightly—banned veal crates from our shores. It is cruel and unacceptable to keep a calf in a crate in which it cannot turn around or groom itself. But it is not possible to ban the export from the UK of calves that end up in veal crates. An existing EC directive covers the matter, and such a measure would be doomed to failure. It is simply not possible to ignore the legal realities and seek a unilateral ban, however much Opposition Members might object.
Was my hon. Friend encouraged to see Brigitte Bardot demonstrating in Paris and attacking the French Government for their poor, but improving, attitude? Would it not help the important cause of animal welfare if Brigitte Bardot or her equivalents did the same in Greece, Spain and other countries, thus providing better support for the excellent attitudes of this country and our Government?
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has anticipated later sections of my speech on the importance of approaching the problem Europewide, and mobilising public opinion throughout Europe, so that standards of animal welfare throughout Europe become as high as they are in this country.
It is likely that measures banning or restricting the export of calves would constitute an unacceptable interference with the operation of the common agricultural policy as it affects the market for beef and veal.
The hon. Gentleman is discussing the legality of a ban. Perhaps he will support me in asking the Minister to place the legal advice in the House of Commons Library so that we can look at it. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) asked the Minister to do that, but the Minister refused.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister has heard the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a long-standing convention that the Government do not disclose their legal advice, or even whether they have taken legal advice from a certain source. I see no reason to change that convention in this case.
My first question was whether it would be possible, legally, to ban the export of live animals and veal calves. It is not. My second question is: even if the ban of the export of live animals were legal and possible, would it be desirable? What would be the result of such a ban? Surely our concern should be for animals everywhere, not just restricted to our shores.
If our farmers, employing decent standards, were not able to supply the demand in southern European states, someone else would. Let us be under no illusions—it would almost certainly be the east European nations, which raise animals in far worse conditions than we do. That would set back the cause of animal welfare by decades. Fewer sheep and cattle would be produced in the United Kingdom, where we have decent standards and transport animals in humane conditions. More sheep and cattle would be produced elsewhere, in poorer conditions, and transported under lower welfare standards.
Such a ban would not help the cause of animal welfare, but diminish it. There is nothing intrinsically cruel about transporting animals in a lorry. I draw upon my experience of being brought up on a dairy farm. I have been surrounded by sheep and cattle all my life—nothing changes.
I hope that, as the hon. Gentleman develops his interesting speech, he will comment on the air transport of live animals. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, an animal rights campaigner in my constituency was recently killed. It is an emotive subject. The vast majority of animal rights campaigners are decent people, but there is always a minority of troublemakers. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on air transport, particularly in relation to noise levels and how they affect residents living in areas such as mine in Willenhall in Coventry?
I shall talk about the demonstrators in a moment. I see no significant difference between transporting cattle and sheep in a lorry and other forms of transportation, provided the same standards apply. I have not inspected the aeroplanes in which those cattle are transported, so I have less knowledge of that. I am satisfied by what at I see at Millbay docks in Plymouth that such transportation is not intrinsically cruel.
The hon. Gentleman says that we should participate in the trade because, if we do not, others—perhaps from eastern Europe—may do so, and do so cruelly. But the reason that we have a law banning veal crates in this country is because they are cruel, immoral and unacceptable.
If the hon. Gentleman says that we should transport animals to a state that is cruel, immoral and unacceptable because we want to make profits rather than let others do so, does not his argument undermine the basis of law in this country, which bans that cruelty? The hon. Gentleman cannot say that we should allow animals to enter such a state simply because we would rather make the profits rather than allow someone else to do so.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me in his long speech. If he will be patient, I shall deal with that precise point in a moment.
Provided that the appropriate conditions are in place and are monitored effectively, the journey to the slaughterhouse need not cause distress. In January, the Government introduced even tougher restrictions on our farmers, which require each exporter to comply with an approved journey plan. If we withdraw from the debate and seek to impose a unilateral ban, irrespective of the legal consequences that would follow, we would surely lose our voice in Europe on the issue just when people are beginning to listen to us about animal welfare.
I believe that the decision by the Council of Ministers last night to discuss the issue again in a month shows that people are beginning to fall in behind us on the issue, and that there is a real chance that progress will be made. For those reasons, I simply do not believe that a general ban on exports—if it were legal—would help the cause of animal welfare generally, and it would not be desirable.
I am bound to ask what impact a general ban on live exports would have on the dairy industry. Male calves are an unavoidable by-product of the dairy industry. We cannot ignore the laws of nature: a dairy cow will produce the milk from which we derive our dairy products only if she has a calf each year. Farmers must do something with male calves.
It would be convenient to believe that they could be sold for veal in the United Kingdom, but the domestic market is simply too limited. If farmers are left to fatten calves for beef, a huge increase in the amount of beef on the market would destabilise the farming industry and the common agricultural policy.
Farmers could be forced to slaughter calves within days of their birth—I think that that is a strange argument to come from people who are concerned about animal welfare—but that would be an unaffordable expense for farmers unless they were subsidised by public money for every calf slaughtered. There is no doubt that an immediate ban would threaten the economic viability of our dairy industry, to no avail. UK farmers would pay the price, animals would not benefit and eastern European farmers would laugh all the way to the bank.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As I said earlier, it is important that hon. Members do not play to the gallery, but have the courage of their convictions on the issue.
Some of those who are protesting at Millbay docks and elsewhere are vegans and vegetarians. They do not eat meat themselves, and they do not wish to see others eat meat. They represent about 5 per cent. of the population of this country. Joyce DeSilva and Peter Stevenson of Compassion In World Farming are strong vegans. I respect that, but it is not right that people who have such an unnatural agenda should seek to impose their views on the rest of us.
I do not need to debate the morality of eating meat. I have no moral qualms about it and I am joined in that view by more than 90 per cent. of the population. If the vegans and vegetarians had their way, there would be no dairy industry at all in this country, which would devastate our economic and rural landscape. It is a dangerous agenda, and we should firmly reject it.
I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being present to hear the earlier part of his speech. On his last point, it is true that the vast majority of those who are demonstrating against the export of veal calves eat meat themselves. I see nothing wrong with that. Surely my hon. Friend agrees that we have a responsibility to treat animals decently while they are being prepared for the table, and to kill them painlessly, instead of allowing them to spend six months of living hell in a veal crate?
Obviously my hon. Friend did not hear the first part of my speech, which was devoted entirely to that very point.
I have dealt with the fact that the vast majority of demonstrators are genuine, decent people, and I have paid a great tribute to them. However, some of the protesters are not nice people. Some extremists, whose primary concern is to disrupt society, have jumped on the bandwagon. Some of that group claim to care about animal welfare, but they show a complete disregard for human life, which gives the lie to their claims.
I shall refer to some brief extracts from recent newspaper reports. An article by Emma Wilkins, which appeared in The Times of 4 February 1995, said:
Animal-rights demonstrations at ports and airports are being infiltrated by violent militants intent on criminal activity, a senior police officer said yesterday.
Mick Brewer, acting Deputy Chief Constable of Warwickshire Police, said that the peaceful protests at Coventry airport against the export of veal calves had been sabotaged by activists who had their own aims.
'I think it is clear that we are seeing an influx of criminally minded people who are operating off the back of a peaceful demonstration,' Mr. Brewer said. `After the tragic accident, our officers began to notice new faces in the crowd at the airport. Their technique is often to hide behind the peaceful demonstrators and egg them on'.
Mr. Brewer has discussed the policing of demonstrations with his opposite number at Devon and Cornwall Police. Violence has broken out at Plymouth docks. 'I think we are being targeted by the same type of individuals,' Mr. Brewer said".
An article from The Sunday Times of 8 January 1995 by Mark Christy and Andrew Alderson, contains an interview with Michelle Ratcliffe, 27. She is
a self-styled black Boadicea of the anarchist movement, is typical of the hard-core elements who have hijacked the demonstration for political motives and who have left respectable protesters"—
the people about whom my hon. Friend is concerned—
questioning their own involvement. 'These animals are being tortured,' she said. 'We are tooled up with baseball bats and other weapons and are prepared to defend them'.
Ratcliffe conceded, however, that she and her companions from the Justice Department, the anarchic group, were 'not particularly concerned about the animals. We are here to fight for social justice … I'm so angry with what's happening here I would kill the police to achieve our ends'.
Ratcliffe, who travelled from her home in Brixton, south London, with Stu Johnson, 24, her white, dread-locked boyfriend, has protested previously"—
this will be no great surprise to my hon. Friends—
against the poll tax, the Criminal Justice Bill and new roads. Many of the protests have culminated in violence. 'We like to steam in and sabotage a bit. The police are indiscriminately beating people up, and we are not just going to stand there and take it. We fight back,' says Ratcliffe … 'There are more of us now so the police will get trashed'".
They are not nice people. A very sinister picture is beginning to emerge from some of the demonstrations. We must not be deflected by violent extremists who are seeking to hijack the issue. The rule of law, not mob rule, must prevail in this nation.
I pay tribute to the police, who have done a tremendous job in protecting those who seek to go about their lawful trade. In so doing, the police express no opinion about the export of animals. Individual officers may be for or against it, but the police will protect any person equally against any assailant. I find it deeply reassuring that in this country, even in the face of the most ferocious attack, one person will always come forward to help—the uniformed policeman.
Some irresponsible voices have said that the police should not prevent the demonstrators from stopping the export of animals, or that farmers should pay the cost of deploying the police. But that is a very dangerous road to tread. If law-abiding citizens must pay the police for protection in going about their lawful business, the police force will become nothing more than a privatised security force which protects the interests of the highest bidder.
The police are a neutral force, who look to preserve public peace by safeguarding the laws of this country. If demonstrations were peaceful and non-threatening, there would be no need for such a heavy police presence. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the export of live animals, the outcome must be determined according to the rule of law.
What can we do? I hope that I have shown that it is neither possible nor wholly desirable to ban the export of live animals from the United Kingdom. It would not improve the cause of animal welfare as a whole. It is also clear that it is simply not possible to ban the export of calves to the veal crate trade, much though I would like to see that happen.
Nonetheless, there is a clear way forward. We must shift the focus of attention away from unilateral action in the United Kingdom, and mobilise public opinion throughout Europe in favour of wider measures in support of animals. That is the greater prize that is within our grasp: to see standards of animal welfare in Spain, Greece, Italy and elsewhere throughout the Community brought up to the high standards of animal welfare here.
We must do two things to achieve that aim. First, we must maintain and increase pressure on member states through the institutions of the European Union. That is why I welcome the diplomatic mission upon which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has recently embarked. She is going from capital to capital throughout the continent, seeking to persuade her European colleagues that the veal crate trade should be abolished. I can think of no one more persuasive or better qualified to lead that charge than my hon. Friend.
I would ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to state what progress my hon. Friend has made in her challenging and worthwhile mission.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is not just doing that. She is also calling a conference on Friday of farmers and retailers of veal to encourage the development of a new market for veal in this country, so that our farmers can get the added value, instead of those involved in transport and foreign rearers.
There is no limit to the initiatives being produced my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in support of British farmers and the cause of animal welfare throughout the EU. She deserves our congratulations, as does my right hon. Friend the Minister on his success in moving the question of veal crates up the Euro-agenda. Whereas the matter was due to be discussed in 1997 by the Council of Ministers, it is very much to my right hon. Friend's credit that the matter has been discussed this year, and that positive steps are being taken.
I understand that the Commission has already started work on a scientific report on the directive on the welfare of calves, which is the first stage of the Council's veal crate provisions. Let us hope that that scientific report recommends the banning of this trade. It would be an enormous tribute to my right hon. Friend's efforts if the veal crate trade could be abolished throughout Europe in the next 12 months.
It is also vital that the Government continue to press our European colleagues to adopt stricter feeding and watering intervals, the licensing of hauliers—with provisions for disqualificatvion—and a journey limit for animals travelling to slaughter. While it was disappointing that no resolution could be found on the matter at the Council this week, I would be interested to hear from my right hon. Friend what progress has been made.
Is it not a fact that, if the shadow spokesman for agriculture, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), held the position of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods, he would find himself in an identical situation to that of my right hon. Friend? At least the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East understands that position, having been—unlike many of his colleagues, including those on the Front Bench—in both government and opposition.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) says in his speech that he entirely accepts my right hon. Friend's position.
It may well be that the introduction of proper welfare standards in the transportation of animals throughout Europe will not be achieved in the short term, but it is a much more valuable prize than any unilateral action could ever be. I am certain that it is the right way forward. One of the reasons why a pan-European approach would be so effective is that, as more countries join the European Union in the future, so they will have to comply in full with the stringent requirements on animal welfare. That means that an ever-increasing number of animals would be brought within the better conditions.
The enforcement of EC directives—we in the south-west know that that is difficult—is only achievable on a Communitywide basis. We have all been horrified by the videos of what goes on in some slaughterhouses in Spain and Greece, and those are already in contravention of EC directives. A far greater emphasis on enforcement must he given by the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. My right hon. Friend might mention in his speech the question of enforcement.
Many of us criticise the institutions of the European Union—I think, often with good cause—but here is a situation where the machinery of state of the European Union can be put to good use to produce a Communitywide solution which we could not possibly achieve on our own.
In preparing my speech, I have recognised how restricted we are in taking our own decisions in agricultural policy; but this is perhaps one of the areas in which membership of the European Union can be used to our advantage. Who knows—we might even be able to use qualified majority voting to force the southern European nations to come to heel.
The final way to tackle the issue is by an extension of people power. Attention drawn to the issue of animal exports by demonstrators has unleashed a powerful surge of public concern in this country. It is now time for that concern and energy to be harnessed in the most effective way. It is time to take the protests to Europe. I call on the lobby groups involved in the battle to mobilise public concern throughout Europe, and to take the arguments to Europe in a lawful and peaceful way.
If there are to be demonstrations, let them be in Brussels and Strasbourg, or outside the slaughterhouses of Greece and Spain. Let letters of protest be written to the Italian and Portuguese Members of Parliament. It is time that the European Parliament, and its ruling party, took a closer interest in this subject, and started applying pressure wherever it can. Let it be a voice for change within Europe. Here is an issue on which the European Parliament can make a positive name for itself.
In conclusion, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all he has done in furthering the cause of animal welfare. I seek assurances that he will continue his crusade to improve welfare and standards throughout Europe by putting pressure on other Council Ministers and institutions.
I call upon all those who are genuinely interested in the subject of animal welfare—not the extremists and anarchists, but genuine people—to lift their sights and take their arguments to Europe. They must seize the greater prize which lies within our grasp; not a unilateral action, which would be so unproductive, but a secure future for the welfare of animals across the whole of Europe, once and for all.
Order. There is obviously a great deal of interest in this subject, and that is very good. May I appeal to Members now to speak for about 10 or 12 minutes, so I may call as many as possible?
May I first declare that I am not a vegetarian? I worked for 21 years in the dairy industry, and I am qualified as a dairying chemist, so I do know a little about the industry.
I was a little disturbed by the speech of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), because he seemed to be saying that there is nothing we can do about the matter, that it is all to do with Europe. The first person to say something like that was Pontius Pilate.
I am glad at last to have the opportunity to speak on the transportation of calves, because I want to talk about calves which are sent to the veal crates. I believe that that needs to be stopped, and I believe that this country could do it.
Unfortunately, the only thing which has been stopped so far is my Protection of Calves (Export) Bill, which was due to be given Second Reading on 3 February. The Bill was blocked by the cynical methods of the hon. Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), whom I am glad to see in his place, and for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), whom I am glad to see sitting behind the Minister of Agriculture. It is my understanding that the hon. Gentleman is the Minister's parliamentary private secretary. I do not wish to dwell on that matter.
My view is that there is a clear argument for this country to institute a unilateral ban on the transportation of calves, and we have a legal right to do that. It would be more difficult to do that with regard to sheep or other cattle.
Hon. Members should realise that we have taken unilateral action in the past. Four years ago, there was an outcry about the transportation of horses for slaughter, and some 250,000 letters were written to the then Minister of Agriculture. The outcry was such that we banned the transportation. No one said that it was illegal, but we found an excuse, and we banned it. That went against all the concepts of free trade.
I am sure that they will reply to that. My understanding is that their views are similar to mine. Doubtless they are in favour of banning the transportation of calves destined for veal crates.
I shall not dwell on the behaviour of certain Members of Parliament on the occasion in question—[Interruption.]—or on the antics of the Tory yob element today. It is enough to say that their behaviour did no credit to this House.
As for my reasons for wanting to ban exports of calves to the continent: in 1994 we exported 500,000 calves, mainly to the veal crate system.
I think that temperatures in this House are rising too high at this time of the morning. This is an important issue; I want it to be debated properly. If there are a lot of interventions, hon. Members will not be called—it is as simple as that. Hon. Members should therefore use a little common sense and allow Members to speak for 10 or 12 minutes. That way, they will all be called.
Thank you, Madam Speaker. Most of the calves that we exported in 1994 were destined for veal crates, a system banned in this country in 1990, although the regulations went through the House in 1987.
The fact is that this is a relatively new trade, and the idea that the dairy industry would be devastated without it is incorrect. In 1986, we exported fewer than 200,000 calves. The dairy industry has simply taken advantage of the high prices on the continent.
We banned the trade in 1990 because it was cruel. We decided that it cannot be right to incarcerate young calves for five months in a system that does not allow them to turn around or lie down. They are fed an unnatural diet, kept in semi-darkness and often tethered, before being slaughtered, because the continentals prefer white veal.
This whole House is greatly opposed to the rearing of calves in crates. That is why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is trying to convert her colleagues on the continent to pink veal, which is not cruelly produced.
The hon. Gentleman referred earlier to unilateral action on the export of horses. In fact, we imposed a minimum price. That was not illegal; it was accepted by others and it had the same effect. The current proposals could be illegal and are likely to be reversed immediately, thus offering only a short-term solution, whereas we want a long-term solution.
I appreciate the hon. Lady's point that the banning of exports of veal calves may or may not be legal. In the case of live horse exports, the action taken was merely a pretext. The fact is that it has never been challenged in the European Court, because the Europeans know that we will not stand for the exporting of horses for slaughter.
I am afraid that I must move on.
The campaign against veal crating is overwhelming. No one should delude himself that it will disappear into the bureaucracy of Europe. The vast majority of the people I have met at various ports are good, honest citizens—many of them have never demonstrated before, and most of them are former Tory voters.
These people are looking for a parliamentary solution. Many of the demonstrators are rather bemused by the antics of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He condemns the demonstrators in the same way as the hooligans at the Dublin football match are condemned—he calls them the hooligan element. But when they demonstrate in Brussels, he shakes hands with them and tells them what a splendid job they are doing—even though they are often the same people who demonstrated at our air and sea ports.
It is nonsense to condemn them at home and congratulate them abroad. We are, however, used to the Minister being somewhat two-faced—
As the hon. Gentleman has lowered the tone of this debate by his personal abuse, I remind him that the management of my farm is in the hands of his—not yet right hon.—Friend, the spokesman on agriculture in the House of Lords. He might like to address his question to him.
Once again, the Minister seems to be saying that he owns the calves but that what happens to them has nothing to do with him. I do not accept that.
Let us take a look at the exporters, and in particular at the leader of the exporters, Mr. Richard Otley. He was recently described to me by a senior police officer at Brightlingsea as a right-wing fascist. The man has a record of cruelty to animals, he claims to have personal influence with the Prime Minister, and I understand that he has been asked by a Welsh Conservative association to stand as a parliamentary candidate.
There are good legal arguments on which the Government can rely if they want to prohibit the exporting of calves to veal crates. There is strong veterinary evidence that the EC calves directive is wholly inadequate in the protection it affords calves—it sanctions the continued use of crates, for instance. As such, it could be argued that the directive fails properly to occupy the field, and is thus no bar to a United Kingdom export ban.
A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman said that his Bill seeks the imposition of a unilateral ban, but he seemed a little less sure whether he had the support of his Front Benchers on that matter—no doubt they will clarify that later. Labour's policy paper on animal transportation suggests that the hon. Gentleman does not have their support:
We will seek a ban through the European Commission and the Council of Ministers".
If that is Labour's policy, surely it makes the Front Benchers' attitude to the hon. Gentleman's Bill crystal clear?
I have said that I cannot give way any more.
Secondly, unusually for an EC directive, the calves directive imposes only minimum standards, and expressly allows a member state to maintain stricter standards. The "occupied field" principle notwithstanding, it could be argued that, when a member state lawfully maintains stricter rearing requirements under a minimum directive, as Britain has done, it is then entitled to rely on article 36 in declining to send animals to other parts of the EU for rearing in the very system that has been declared unlawful in its own country.
A minimum standards directive should not be viewed as occupying a field in the same way as a normal directive. Unlike the more usual kind of directive, a minimum standards directive does not purport to say all that can be said on a particular matter. It does not fully occupy the field; rather, it recognises the legitimate right of member states to establish stricter provisions.
Surely this is a matter of political will, not of law alone. I am convinced, however, from my experience, that there is no political will. When I introduced my Bill, I expected all-party support. There was a problem in my constituency at the airport, and the local councillors, from one end of the political spectrum to the other, voted against the export of calves for veal. Unfortunately, the Minister was opposed to that approach from the outset.
I wrote to the Minister on 3 January asking for an urgent meeting to discuss my Bill. I wanted to talk things through, and to ascertain whether it would be possible to get the Bill into Committee. There would then have been discussions with the farming lobby.
The Minister did not reply. Eventually, I phoned his office. I made the call a fortnight after writing. I was told that the right hon. Gentleman was too busy to see me. He could not see me, but I was told that the Parliamentary Secretary could. On two occasions, the hon. Lady cancelled meetings with me. One of the cancellations was at short notice. I was told by a member of her private office that she was in Europe on the day when she was to meet me. She was due to meet me at 6 pm. At 6.20 pm, the hon. Lady walked into the House and said that she was going to a meeting.
As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we had, unfortunately, to cancel the meeting. When I saw him in the evening of the day when we were to meet, I had been in Europe. He will know that one can travel to Europe and back within a day these days. When he saw me, I was in the middle of a meeting in the House. I went to the Members' Entrance to collect some documents. I offered the hon. Gentleman an appointment before his Bill was due to be heard. He declined to see me.
It is strange that the hon. Lady had a meeting a 6.20 pm when she was due to meet me at 6 pm. It is obvious that something was going on.
As I have said, the Minister refused to see me. The Parliamentary Secretary cancelled two meetings. On the day when my Bill was debated, they sent the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chamber to run the filibuster to block my Bill. It is obvious that that was done with the knowledge—
Members are responsible for their comments.
The House will appreciate that I provided three hours for the debate. A number of Members had written to me because of the seriousness of the subject. I felt it was one that deserved the full three hours that the House allows me to give for such a debate. I hope that we shall debate the subject, and not personalities, with the seriousness that the House should adopt when approaching extremely important matters in which all our constituents are interested.
If there are no more interruptions, Madam Speaker, I shall come to a conclusion quickly.
The argument is whether we can ban calves going to the veal crates in Europe. In my opinion, we can. The Minister has never said that it would be illegal to introduce a ban. He said in his letter of 1 February that it was likely to be illegal. The Parliamentary Secretary stated in a letter to The Times that it was likely to be illegal. But they are not prepared to say categorically that such a ban would be illegal. The transportation of live animals raises difficulties, but it is my view that we could take unilateral action.
The idea that we shall lose our way in the bureaucracy of Brussels and that the demonstrators will go away is nonsense. We have seen the Minister's failure over the past two days to get any movement in Brussels. The idea that the southern Europeans will suddenly change their minds and allow the European Community to ban veal crates is nonsense. We all know that. We must take action soon. We must have debates with the farming industry to ascertain how we can help it. At the end of the day, the cruel trade that we are debating must stop.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on securing the debate and on a sensible and level-headed speech in introducing it. I associate myself with a good deal of what he said.
I think that we all recognise the width and depth of concern in the United Kingdom about these issues. They are famously, I guess, the easiest subjects on which to stir the British people. If a Member wants to increase his mailbag, the answer is to raise the subject of animal welfare. In one sense, it is a tribute to our country. When emotions are so easily stirred, however, it is incumbent on us to try to tell people clearly what the situation is and not to play on emotions. These are emotions easier to stir than to calm.
Some of my criticisms of one or two of those who have offered their advice on these matters do not mean that I doubt their intentions, which I am sure are good. I merely say that it lies on us all in the House and outside to direct energies in a way that does not lead to frustration.
I am surprised that the Minister has intervened at this stage. I hoped that he would listen to the debate and then respond to the various points raised by hon. Members. Will the Parliamentary Secretary respond to the debate? We want some ministerial responses on points that are likely to be made during it.
I thought that it would be helpful to the House if I were to intervene relatively early in the debate. After about six months of argument about these matters, we are reasonably clear about the principal lines of argument. It seemed that it would be helpful if the Government were to give a reasonably authoritative answer. Many hon. Members will seek to catch your eye, Madam Speaker. If I am allowed a short intervention at a later stage on any particular point with which I do not deal properly now, I shall seek to make it.
The hon. Gentleman says from his great wisdom that what I have suggested is not the way in which these debates are conducted. I have spoken in a good many such debates over the years. It is often of help to the House for a Minister to speak at a relatively early stage, and I shall do so this morning.
Let us deal with the history of the matter, but not too much. It goes back quite a long way. Concern about the export of live animals goes right back to the 1950s. Lord Balfour of Burleigh was asked to undertake a report in the 1950s. The result was the setting up of a system of mutual agreements between this country—this was long before we were in the Community—and others. The system was aimed at satisfying people in Britain that, when live animals were exported, welfare standards would be satisfactory. There was a series of bilateral agreements.
In the early 1970s, when a Conservative Government were in office, there was concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the continuing trade of live animals. There was an occasion when Conservative Back-Bench Members joined Opposition Members and overruled the advice of the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not think that there was a vote, but there was great pressure on the Minister. As a result, he agreed that he would stop the trade and call for a report. The result was Lord O'Brien's report. In those days, the Minister was fully entitled to take that course in the absence of Community law.
Lord O'Brien reported. He found that there was no reason why the trade, properly regulated, should not continue. He observed that there were being put in place a number of Europewide controls—not as many as are in place today, but some were being introduced. The trade restarted after a free vote in the House. Many Conservative Members and some Opposition Members, including the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on agriculture, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), voted to reopen the trade, as did the present Commissioner with responsibilities for transport in the European Community. I think that it was perfectly sensible of them to do so.
It behoves Opposition Members, however, if they are serious about putting themselves forward for government, to remember what it feels like when in government. The point has already been made. They will be subject to exactly the same constraints. They will be having exactly the same arguments, probably, with their own troublesome Back-Bench Members. We all have them. [Interruption.] I apologise for that slip. I cannot think what I was talking about.
Labour Members would sometimes have to say some unwelcome things to well-intentioned and powerfully motivated Back Benchers on their own side. One of the things that they would have to say—
However much sympathy the House may have with the objectives of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) to ban calve exports, is it not the case that, even if it became law, my right hon. Friend would not be able to act, because if he acted contrary to European Community law he could be prosecuted and sued by those who had suffered financial loss as a result of obeying that Bill instead of Community law, as Community law overrides Acts of Parliament that have been passed by the United Kingdom Parliament?
I do not know whether it would be me who would be personally sued, but if we passed law that laid us open to damages in the European Court, the Government would have to pay damages. My hon. Friend points that out as though it were something new and astonishing. When we signed the Single European Act, with support from both sides of the House—including many who are known as Euro-sceptics—we were establishing, for the great benefit of this country, a single market. In certain areas, we said that, if the single market is to be maintained, there must be European law to maintain it. That is how we have harried European airlines and European steel companies to get rid of illegal subsidies. That is how we have just managed to get illegal pig support systems in France and illegal mushroom subsidies in Ireland stopped. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander—if I may make an agricultural analogy.
On this matter, I make no apology whatever for saying that the House and, I believe, the majority of those within my party, understood that, when we established the single market, there would be some common European rules, and sometimes they would not always be convenient to us. The judgment was—I think that it is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that, over all, the maintenance of the single market is immensely in the benefit of the United Kingdom, as it is in the benefit of Europe as a whole. I do not think that on this occasion my hon. Friend points to anything particularly new. We knew that there would be rules.
Let us come further forward in history. The decision was taken at the time of the establishment of the single market that we must have better welfare rules for the transportation of animals. That subject was addressed. It was particularly important to us because our licensing arrangements, which involved inspection at the national borders, and so on, had to end because we were moving into the single market. The Community quite rightly said that we could not just dismantle all that and do nothing; we had to have proper standards of transport.
That argument is continuing. Although the Commission made proposals in, I think, 1992 or 1993, they have not yet been agreed. We came near to an agreement last summer, when my predecessor who is now the Secretary of State for Education was Minister, but we rightly judged that the compromise offer—known in the trade as the Greek compromise—was not satisfactory, because it did not contain the concept of journey limits. There must be a definition of when a journey ends. One cannot just say that there will be a limit of five, 10 or 15 hours. One must define it. There must be a time scale after which it is a new journey, and it must be a long time scale to be meaningful.
The French compromise, which we have been discussing in the past two days, was 12 hours. I do not believe that that is a satisfactory compromise. I do not believe that the House would regard a journey that had been restarted again after 12 hours as a separate journey. I judged that it would be a continuation of the same journey. There must be a longer gap than that.
I have said that three days is a proper gap between journeys, because by then the stress level of the animals has gone right down again, and it probably is a new journey. The Dutch have said that it should be a little bit less than that. One must have a definition of what one means by a journey limit. No journey limit is allowed at present in European law.
That is why, incidentally, the Germans, who have passed in their Parliament an eight-hour journey limit, will find that they will be struck down. They have already been challenged by other countries and have had to suspend it.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) did not hit the tone of the House quite right today, because we are trying to discuss important and emotional issues in, I hope, a reasonably objective way. If he thinks that this is all Tory villainy on this side, he has not studied the history of the matter. He would be in precisely the same position. It is quite dangerous, if the hon. Gentleman is serious about seeking to win the next election, to build up expectations that he cannot meet. He should think a little bit that his party might conceivably be in power—I hope that it will not be—but if he has pinned it to saying all sorts of things that are then shown to be false, he will make the situation much worse.
It is perfectly clear that one cannot unilaterally introduce journey limits. There is no capacity in European law at present to do that. That is why we must introduce that principle. It is also clear, as I think the hon. Member for Carlisle made clear in his speech, that he knows very well that we could not have a unilateral ban on live exports. He accepted that, because he said that it may well be a bit more difficult to do that—which, I think, is parliamentary language for saying that it would be completely impossible in this circumstance; otherwise, he would be pushing on that as well.
The legal argument is hardly worth entering into, because no one who has looked at it—certainly not Opposition Front-Bench Members, I believe, having read their document—thinks that the extent of interference with the single market and the common agricultural policy would survive for a moment as a legal judgment. It would not be a matter of long argument in the European Court. It would simply be prevented straight away.
We have acted to prevent the illegal German ban on the importation of British beef under the bovine spongiform encephalopathy rules. The scientific evidence in the Community has been translated into rational law and the German Government have had to abandon their unilateral objection to it, quite rightly. That is another example of where the same kind of legal pressures, which, sometimes, we complain about here, work greatly to our advantage.
I hope that I need not detain the House for long on the legal cases that prevent us from having a total ban on the export of livestock. That really is not conceivable, but I will not hide behind that. What is more, I do not think that it would be right to argue that even if we could do it. I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, who opened the debate, and with many other hon. Members and people outside, who say that we must take action to maximise exports of meat, as opposed to live animals. It is already 80 per cent. of the trade by value and it can go up—in sheepmeat, perhaps, most easily.
I know that some of the livestock slaughterers who deal with sheep are hiring French butchers and bringing them over so that French purchasers get the precise cuts they want. That is very intelligent work to do, and we shall be promoting that with the Meat and Livestock Commission and thinking of further things that we can do. We have some money available, in marketing grants, and so on, to help that to develop.
Even if we can do so—I am sure that we can—I do not think that it would be rational or responsible to say to British farmers, "You are going to be the only farmers in Europe who are not allowed to transport any animals across your boundaries." That would be madness. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton said, quoting perfectly correctly the advice of vets—and, by the sound of it, a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals vet or official—that is not based on any science, either. It is perfectly possible to move animals across 25 miles of water, as long as the conditions are proper, the trucks are right and the people are trained properly.
We must not drift into a position of saying that, if we could, we would ban the export of all animals. We would not. No Government would. It would be crazy to do that. What is more, it would create acute difficulties for Northern Ireland, Scotland and internally in Britain. If one says that animals cannot be moved more than a few miles without stopping, I do not know how sheep farmers—for example, in Cumbria—will carry out their winter pasturing, and so on. We must be a little careful in saying that.
It is always best, when one does not know the answer to a question, to say so. Therefore, I say that I do not know what the unsurmountable difficulties are. I note that, right from the beginning, the channel tunnel prevented the transport of animals. I should seek veterinary advice before pushing on that point, but I shall look into it. It is slightly frustrating to some that we have the tunnel and cannot use it. I take the hon. Gentleman's point; I suspect that there is a history to the matter which I do not know, so I shall come back to him on it.
My right hon. Friend might find that, were animals of any kind transported in open lorries on freight trains with open sides through the channel tunnel—the only way in which they could be transported—the force of the wind would be such that they would suffer from severe windburn.
I suspect that the matter has been looked into, which is why I say that I shall write to the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones).
That brings me to a further point which I shall take out of order in my speech. A way forward may be radically to raise the standard of the transportation vehicles, both ships and lorries, over time. The Irish have what are called pullman lorries, which are of a high standard, with air-conditioning and the capacity to feed and water animals on board. They are used particularly for pigs and for thoroughbred and breeding animals. In the longer term—it cannot be done overnight—we should be focusing attention Europewide on the radical improvement of vehicles and ships. Whether such vehicles could go on trains would have to be considered when the time came.
I return to the subject of veal crates. No one who has seriously considered the matter doubts that a ban on the export of all live animals is out of the question; nor would it be right, although we want to minimise that and maximise the exportation of meat because that is sensible and minimises such problems as exist.
I represent an area with a substantial number of sheep. The right hon. Gentleman will know that farmers in my constituency will share his disappointment that he was unable to secure agreement at the Council meeting during the past two days. However, I wish to impress on him the urgency of reaching agreement in March in particular. We are now coming up to the lambing season in April, May and June, which will be a critical time for farmers in my constituency. Will the Minister ensure that he and his colleagues are in a position to try to secure agreement in March?
The hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in ensuring that we have sensible rules for the carriage of animals across water and that we do not put ourselves in the position where we cannot do that. He is living proof of the nonsense that would result from that.
I shall return to what happened yesterday. I apologise to the House if I am not as eloquent as the House is used to hearing. I returned late last night and I have not had much sleep. What happened yesterday had some good and some bad elements, to which I shall return because they are the basis of the crucial next step.
However, I want to deal with veal crates. I beg the House to remember that the stoking up of frustration outside by saying that something can easily be done unilaterally is not a sensible way to proceed. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said from a sedentary position that most of the people protesting are Tories. I do not know whether that is true or not.
If so, and if they are peacefully protesting, I am proud of them. I am grateful for the endorsement from such a source that Tories lead in concern in these matters. It is helpful of the hon. Gentleman to make that point.
When I talk to such people, to the decent people who are really worried—not the extremists; I am sorry to say that there are some, and dangerous people they are, too—they cannot get over the fact that they have been told again and again that there is something simple that I can do that I am not doing.
There are two reasons why there is not something simple that can be done. First, there is the legal position on veal crates. I have taken legal advice on the matter. There is a long-standing convention that the Government do not publish the detailed legal advice that they receive, and for good reason. The Government will appear in court next week in the case of Lomas, in which we are defending the ban that we imposed on exports to Spain because its slaughterhouse standards were not good. We made a bilateral deal with Spain on that, on which we are being challenged.
We do not want to set out all our advice in detail, because that would be a gift to the other side, who would seek to pick holes in it. However, with the permission of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, I have set out unusually fully the range of arguments that lead us to conclude that it would be irresponsible for a Government of either party to seek to introduce unilaterally a veal crate ban.
The reason is a matter of common sense and law, which sometimes point in the same direction. The Community has passed a legal instrument which defines veal crates, although unsatisfactorily. We were outvoted on the matter. It says what a veal crate is and its exact dimensions. In certain circumstances, where the Community has not put its mind to an issue, the court could say that article 36 could be used because it was claimed that there was a welfare issue.
But where the Community has debated the matter at length and has had all the points put to it before the decision is reached—as they were put by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment—and the Community, through all its instruments, endorsed by the European Parliament and the Commission, comes to a conclusion, the court is bound to take the view that the matters were taken into account at the time and cannot be brought up subsequently. That is sensible legal doctrine, and common sense.
That is not a fair way of putting it. Ministers, of whatever party is in power, have to advise the House on what is a responsible and reasonable way to proceed. For us to introduce a law which we know will be challenged instantly and which may produce a period when the law is completely unclear because rival laws overlap would not be responsible, because it would raise expectations. [Interruption.] I shall return to the point made wrongly by the hon. Member for Carlisle about horses. Such a step would simply stoke up anger and confusion. I assure the House that all the advice that I have been given is that it would fail.
Two further points were made which have nothing to do with the situation concerning horses. We have carefully preserved the legal base for our extra ban on the export of horses for slaughter. That is based on an article in a directive, which includes solipeds, sea mammals and birds, which allows us to take further measures. That is the basis of our legal action on that matter. It has nothing to do with the articles to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I am determined that that legal basis for our ban on the export of horses will survive. We are making sure that its legal basis remains in any directive that is passed. However, it is wholly misleading to use that special case for additional bans. They would not work at all.
Is not the conclusion to be drawn from what the Minister is saying that, at the end of the argument, it is the states of southern Europe that will determine the animal welfare policies of the United Kingdom Government? In so far as many of us believe that they will never change their position, because they have no history of understanding the issues in the way that people do in the United Kingdom, and they do not want to do so for commercial reasons and climatic conditions, surely the Government are saying that they must throw in the towel.
The hon. Gentleman must not despair. The last two days have been the third occasion in the Council in which I have been involved in the debate. It is perfectly clear that opinion is slowly but steadily swinging in the right direction. It would be misleading to tell the House that the battle is over and the problem will be resolved quickly. A hard, pounding battle faces us, like the battles on, for example, air pollution or environmental standards in the early 1980s when the British Government were initially a bit of a laggard.
That took time and caused great frustration. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned Mrs. Thatcher and said it was her great speech that shifted the whole policy so that progress was made.
It is hopeless to assume that we will always lose the argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton made an important point. Italy imports about 6 million animals a year on the hoof, including sheep, goats, horses and cattle. Many of those already come from eastern Europe, Russia and Poland. I am told by vets that the animals are arriving at the end of intolerably long journeys in very poor conditions.
If the House is so pessimistic that it thinks we will lose the battles before we start, it is saying that nothing in Europe will be improved in order to address the issues in those countries and to raise the standard of welfare for millions of animals—not just the few thousand from here—all over Europe. That would be a counsel of despair. It would not be the advice to our people based on animal welfare. It would be the wrong kind of little England attitude—if I may apologise to the Irish, Scots and Welsh who are present—to say let us take our hat away, look at our own corner and give up on the rest.
There is a great prize involved, and we now have a majority in terms of votes and in term of numbers of countries on our side. We are working as a team alongside the biggest and most powerful country in the community—Germany. People from the Scandinavian countries—the Swedes, Danes and Fins—are working closely with us and are concerned about the issues. The Austrians—new entrants to the Community—are also closely with us. The Dutch are closely with us and there are one or two countries that will agree to anything.
The four groups who remain are the Spanish, the Italians, the Greeks and the Portuguese. There is a very big economic interest for Italy and a biggish one for Spain. They have to be shown that real journey limits and journeys that are not too long will not put an overnight stop to the importation of animals. They will get their animals, perhaps at a slightly higher price, although those countries have great skill in extracting from those who pay for the Community certain subsidies to pay for any additional costs that fall on them, and I do not suppose that they would lose that skill. Nor would it be wrong to sugar the pill with some mixture of funds to make it possible, particularly for poorer countries such as Portugal and Greece, to meet the new standards. It would be a better use of funds than some of the uses to which they are put at present.
If we stick to our guns—the issue will not be solved in March—it will be hard pounding. I hope that we will return to the matter in March, but it may be June before that happens. It is not, however, a hopeless task. There is the idea of higher quality transportation and various other ideas that can be put on the table and shoved through.
If, however, the House says to Europe and the Commission that we shall take our bat away, pass illegal laws and give up, we shall be out of the game and we will not be thanked by those in Europe who are serious about raising animal welfare expectations and the strength of the animal welfare movement around Europe. We would be thought to have been pretty irresponsible; we would be locked in battle with the Commission and all those who are our friends would become our enemies. That would be a stupid piece of negotiation.
My right hon. Friend has been at the forefront of bringing the issue to the centre of attention in Europe. He has gone a long way towards persuading other countries to come on side and building a serious consensus whereby we can achieve some sensible regulation. How would we be perceived in Europe if we were to turn around, say that we would act unilaterally and walk away from the issue? We would lose influence and our leadership role.
On the same point, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I spend much time in the Council of Europe with people from those countries that want to join the Economic Union. The Ukraine is one of those, and throughout this century until the war, thousands of horses were transported in those now notorious cattle trucks. Countries wanting to join the Economic Union sign up to all its decrees before they are allowed in. We were discussing the matter only yesterday. The representatives arrive with lists of lists. The Baltic and eastern European countries are eager to show that they are as civilised as the rest of us, and it is a civilising measure. If we stop, they will have nothing to sign.
My hon. Friend is right. What is more, there is a danger of doing real damage—if we could get away with it, and I suspect that we could not. If we did that, we could damage British farming, where welfare standards are probably higher than elsewhere in Europe, and deliver the whole trade—the 6 million animals that go to Italy and the large number of animals that go to France and Spain—to eastern European countries; we would have lost the influence to raise the standards before those countries join. We must make proper rules before they join: otherwise, we shall drive the trade away to places where the standards are worse.
Let me give one piece of evidence that the battle is not the forgone defeat which some people seem almost to hope it is. I remember being told we would get no interest in the veal crate story. I remember being warned that when I raised it in the Council there would be an embarrassed silence and people would say that the English were eccentric. That is not what happened.
I raised the matter in the January Council and I had no idea what the response would be. Eight other countries came in behind me at once and the Commission said that the review of the veal crates which was to be carried out in 1997 would be brought forward to this year. We raised the issue again last night and the Commissioner, Franz Fischler, said that he was now able to strengthen his earlier undertaking that the report would be available by the end of the year; having talked to the relevant experts, he was now able to say that the report would be ready considerably earlier. In terms of getting law through, that is not too bad.
We are concerned not only about the veal crates but about the animals' diet, which is also important. It is no good having calves fed no iron so that they are deliberately brought up anaemic. There are things that we can do: those who think that nothing can be done by persuasion and by raising issues in Europe are too defeatist.
There are also things we can do at home. That is why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has been doing such good work. She has also done good work in diplomacy, in getting people around Europe to see how important the subject is. I also pay tribute to the RSPCA, which revealed by an operation it carried out last week the appalling situation in two Greek slaughterhouses. Experts went to Athens and did the work where it mattered; they got a big response in Athens, as this has now become a real issue there. I helped them by writing to the Commissioner, and they received an instant response from the Commission, which sent inspectors to see what was going on and to put the matter right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) asked what would happen if we took away our bat and ball and gave up. A large part of the steam would go out of the issue.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is leading various measures we are taking to expand exports on the hook and to try to re-establish a British-based veal industry. Rose veal is perfectly satisfactory. The meat tastes nicer than insipid white meat, and it is far better that those male calves should be used for proper food which is humanely reared than that we should go down the route followed by the New Zealanders and knock them all on the head at birth. The farmers and the public would not like that, and it is wasteful and unpleasant. I am strongly against that; therefore, if I possibly can, I shall not introduce the subsidy premium to do that.
We have a difficult but serious set of policies. We need to win the argument in Europe and I believe that we are already winning the veal crate argument. We have a difficult, but not impossible, task on transportation. We have a set of policies for exports on a hook which we can develop further. I would be happy to receive sensible suggestions from the House and the country on what we can do, as we have a little money to spend on that aspect. We must not blackguard the name of meat in general or of veal in general. That would simply make the market collapse and would be extremely short-sighted. All the sub-editors who write headlines condemning veal are actually damaging the cause of humane rearing for a British veal trade.
I welcome today's debate, which has highlighted the current frustration about what are felt to be limitations when there is real progress to be made. I must, however, put the other side of the case, which has already been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton. While the trade is legal, it is incumbent on the Government to defend it via the police, who do not always find that a very happy task.
As I said at the beginning, this is the easiest of all causes in Britain to stir up and campaign for—although that does not mean that it is wrong. The farmers' argument is more difficult to put, and it is easier to arouse emotional opposition to it. Having myself received hundreds of threats, I must say that some of the threats and so forth that ordinary farmers are receiving are not satisfactory in a civilised society. We must be a rule-based, law-based society, especially if we want to protect the weak—and the weakest of all are the animals.
If we are saying that we want a stronger law on animals, what is the point of applauding those who break the law because they feel strongly? I urge the House to be careful about judging causes by the strength of feeling that lies behind them: those who persecute Salman Rushdie feel at least as strongly as others feel about animals, if not more strongly. The strength of feeling does not justify the cause; what justifies the cause is rational and dispassionate debate such as that with which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton so eloquently opened today's discussion.
My hon. Friend has shown that there are things to be done, and I hope and believe that the Government are doing them. They will take time, but they are worth doing. I commit Conservative Members—with, I think, a good deal of support from the Opposition—to doing those things, with, I hope, the full-hearted consent of the House.
I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) in calling for the debate—and, indeed, the decision to allot three hours to it. I commend the hon. Gentleman on his constructive and sensible speech.
Until now, the House has been slow to respond to the widening debate on the live export of animals and the welfare of farm animals in general. One can sympathise with the exasperation of some of the protesters at the apparent failure of the national political system to take action; but perhaps it is an indication of the strength of our democracy that so many people have exercised their right to argue and protest about the issue. This morning's debate is a mechanism for the representation of the public's views.
The protesters, many of whom are Liberal Democrats, have clearly done us all a service. They have raised awareness among the whole population—including politicians—of the animal welfare implications of our farming industry; they have shown a strength of commitment, and they have highlighted how much politics is changing and how much hon. Members must change with it.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us who speaks for the Liberal party? Is it the hon. Gentleman, who expresses sympathy for those who demonstrate, or is it the party's official spokesman on agricultural matters, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who condemned the demonstrators in the language quoted by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson)? Who speaks for the Liberal party—those who condemn the protesters, or the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey)?
I have heard the hon. Gentleman mumbling about that all morning, so I am grateful for the opportunity to respond.
While the language used by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman refers was perhaps rather more florid than the language that I might have chosen in the circumstances, two points should be made. First, his remarks should be taken in context: they were made after the protests had turned violent, and at a time when those who had initiated them, like Compassion in World Farming, were disowning the violence. Secondly, his points struck me as eminently sensible.
My hon. Friend said that, if the British took unilateral action, it would be found to be invalid within days; that if we went off on our own, we would lose influence in Europe; and that, if we replaced cruelty to British animals with cruelty to foreign animals, no overall benefit would be achieved. Clearly the protesters would feel that those urging them on had misled them if they proceeded with such a course and ended up disappointed. It seems to me that, whatever my hon. Friend's language, the points that he made were perfectly valid.
I am sure that most hon. Members support the motives of the peaceful protesters of Shoreham, Brightlingsea, Coventry, Plymouth and elsewhere, and want—at the very least—improvements in the welfare of animals that are exported and more exports on the hook rather than on the hoof. The House should, however, move beyond sentiment—important and powerful though that is—to discussing the practical measures that can be taken to alleviate the pain and suffering of animals.
What, then, are the options? First, the Government could respond to demands from hon. Members and others, and introduce a ban on the export of live animals. Secondly, we could allow an effective ban on live exports through ports and airports simply refusing to take the trade. Thirdly, we could tighten existing British regulations on live transport, and enforce them more rigorously. Fourthly, we could campaign for tough Europewide regulations to be effectively implemented.
The first two options may seem superficially attractive. They would ensure that British animals did not suffer the indignities of long-distance transportation or end up in systems that have been banned in the United Kingdom. As I have said, however, they would not reduce the sum of animal suffering in the European Union. British farmers are responding to a demand for locally slaughtered meat in exporting lambs and veal calves, and I see no reason to suppose that demand would not be met if we stopped supplying them via other producers in Europe.
I am a little confused by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Before coming to the House today, I read the Liberal animal welfare policy document, "A Matter of Conscience", which clearly states:
until such time as acceptable and enforceable EC-wide standards are in place, Liberal Democrats advocate an end to the live export of animals.
That is not what is being argued by the hon. Gentleman, or by the Liberal Democrat spokesman. What is the Liberal Democrats' policy on the issue?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I shall continue to build the argument as I proceed, but, for reasons that I have already explained, a Europewide solution must be found.
I will not debate that point further. The Liberal policy document is exactly the same as the Labour policy document, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will clarify that policy later.
A range of legal opinion—not least that of the legal director of the RSPCA, who has taken expert advice—has concluded that a ban introduced by the Government could not be sustained after the passing of a unilateral British law. It might not have mattered in 1973, when we entered the European Community, but our obligations under the single market and the general agreement on tariffs and trade make it extremely unlikely that we would not face a challenge.
Some have argued—it has been argued again this morning—that we should press ahead with such a ban in any case, and battle it out in the European Court. The loss of such a battle, however, would return us to square one. All the time, energy and effort put into lobbying for a Bill and pushing it through Parliament would be wasted; as has been said this morning, that time, energy and effort would be better expended on taking the argument to the countries that are delaying progress at a European level. It would probably also force the Government to allow the trade to pass through the ports that have decided, on their own initiative, not to take it.
The problem with the second suggested solution—an ad hoc ban allowing ports that have banned the trade to continue that ban—is that, while it would be effective in the short term, it would not provide a longer-term solution. The fear is that unilateral action by the United Kingdom, whatever its nature, will reduce pressure on the European Union to take action. Surely none of us wants the issue to fall down the agenda of the Council of Ministers, after the progress that has been made.
To some extent, the third option—the tightening of UK regulations—has already been followed by the Government, in response to some of the demands for change from the protesters. I join those who argue that the recent regulations do not go far enough. There have been many suggestions of further action, including those made by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), and I hope that the Government will continue to listen and implement some of them; but there are clearly limits to the effectiveness of regulation in the United Kingdom on its own, especially given the failurc to enforce existing European regulations adequately in many other European countries.
How are we to achieve effective and enforceable EU-wide standards? The protesters themselves are clearly playing an important part in keeping the issue at the top of the political agenda. As I have said, more of their protests should be directed at countries whose animal welfare standards are lower than our own. The Government and the House must continue to exert pressure on the Council of Ministers. I commend the Minister on the progress that he has made in that, and I hope that further progress will be made at next months's meeting.
In fairness, the Minister has taken a more robust attitude on this matter than his predecessor, who was persuaded only late in the day last year to support the German proposal for a 15-hour limit on live transport. The Government have now seen the error of their ways. It is a pity that they did not take advantage of the British presidency in 1992. Their report on their achievements during the presidency makes no mention of any action to improve the welfare of animals during transport.
A problem exists on both sides of the issue: the failure to think through the consequences of the actions that have been taken. The Ministry and the Meat and Livestock Commission are thinking only now about how to develop a humane veal industry in the United Kingdom. Why did not that happen at the time of, if not before, the introduction of the veal crate ban in 1990?
Another problem has been the decline in the abattoir industry, where unprecedented centralisation has taken place. The number of abattoirs in this country has fallen to less than half the number in 1979. That has not happened elsewhere in Europe—or even in Northern Ireland—because the relevant Governments have found ways of getting around the problem and requested derogations.
As a result, Wales, for example, no longer has the abattoir capacity to deal with all its lambs, which have to be transported further away for slaughter. Farmers in the constituencies of, for example, my hon. Friends the Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) are simply not able to get animals to a slaughterhouse within eight hours, which we, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and many others would want to see.
Proposals from people who continue to advocate a ban for dealing with the large number of bull calves must be considered closely. I agree with the Minister that the public, farmers or anyone else would not welcome the suggestion that those animals should all be killed at birth. Even if they are, the cost implications of compensating farmers through some mechanism or other will be considerable. Similarly, people say cheerfully that bull calves could go off into the beef herd, but it is clear that most of those animals are not suitable for that purpose. In any event, that would cause immense disruption to the market in beef cattle and beef calves. Neither of those solutions is satisfactory.
In the longer term, we need far more radical change than has yet been considered. The whole thrust of the common agricultural policy needs to be changed. Rather than merely acknowledging the role of farmers and of rural areas, we need to acknowledge the much wider role of maintaining the countryside and protecting animal welfare. That is why we have called for the replacement of the common agricultural policy with a common rural policy; a call that has been echoed by many others, including Professor John Webster, head of Bristol university's veterinary school. With the National Farmers Union, he has argued that European Union funding should be redirected from food production to humane treatment of animals.
All that, however, would take time to implement. We must acknowledge that no magical solution and no quick fix exist. If we fail to acknowledge that, we may be pushed into accepting the wider use of bovine somatotropin in this country and elsewhere, which would increase the cows' milk yield without increasing the number of calves born. We could even get into the realms of genetic engineering to reduce the number of male calves that are born. We would not want either of those options to be embraced. All the options would require a great deal of discussion in the House and beyond.
The Government can and, to some extent, have introduced a series of policies to limit the suffering of animals in transport. More work needs to be done. Today's debate is a welcome start, but it is only a first step. I hope that the Minister will succeed in his efforts to keep this issue at the top of the agenda at the Council of Ministers, that he will keep the House informed of its deliberations, and that he will use the ideas and experience of many hon. Members in developing the necessary policies.
I hope that he will harness the energy of the pressure groups and of the public to work for change at EU level. If the campaign can be taken across the continent, the legitimate demands of protesters, the needs of farmers and the requirement to produce food that is affordable to the public can all be met.
This matter has been in the public eye for many months. During that time, and during this debate, I do not think that many people have recalled that the Select Committee on Agriculture, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, examined the matter of animals in transit way back in 1991. Our report, which was unanimously approved by all members of my Committee, treated the matter with common sense and should be a source of reference. I hope that commentators will take the opportunity to study some of the things that we said.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who was a member of the Committee at that time, has now left the Chamber. He was not enthusiastic then about banning anything except the importation of exotic birds and other special species. The Committee confirmed the necessity for free trade in animals and went into the matter in some depth. It is a bit inconsistent of him to wish to ban the export of calves, but not of sheep. I suspect that that is because there are not too many dairy herds in Carlisle, but there are plenty of sheep. The hon. Gentleman's speech was seriously inconsistent.
My right hon. Friend the Minister set out the matter in common-sense terms. I strongly support the general direction of the Government's attitude to this problem. It is divided into two halves—the transport of animals, and the welfare of those animals once they have left our shores. I shall not go too much into the second point, in case my Committee resolves to examine the matter. I would not wish to anticipate the position. However, it went into the transport issue closely. I should like to remind the House of three important point that we made.
The report states:
it would be desirable in principle for animals to be slaughtered at the nearest available point.
I think that the House agrees on that. The report continues:
the Commission should frame legislation which expressly discourages the transportation of slaughter animals over long distances.
The report also urged the then Minister
to be vigilant in holding the Commission to the spirit of the preamble in any new proposals with which they may come forward.
In other words, British standards are the highest and the best, and we should seek to impose them, rather than be prepared to allow derogation of our standards for the continental ones, which are not as good.
It is easy to say that animals should be slaughtered as near to the point of production as possible, but An many parts of the United Kingdom, slaughterhouses arc a great distance away. The islands of Scotland would not be able to produce meat animals if they did not first bring them across on ferries and on other transport. I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) says on that subject.
The Minister's decision to continue to block the export of live food animals to countries that fail to meet the new European Community directive gains unanimous support on both sides of the House. Even though the Community has subsequently removed the legality of some of the actions that we have taken, we understand that chief vets in the countries concerned are co-operating. We are moving towards EC-approved slaughterhouses, the standards of which are much higher than those of many of the slaughterhouses that, I am sad to say, we have been using in this country.
I am being diverted down a different road from the subject under discussion. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister uses the support that the Committee gave him when he presses these matters in Brussels. We made it clear that Community safeguards should be consistent with British statutes. The Government used just that phrase in their response to our Committee's report.
The maximum period of travel without rest is a contentious issue, but, having taken expert evidence, the Committee concluded that one of the most stressful factors in animal transport is the loading and unloading of those animals. When a properly equipped lorry is properly loaded with the right size of animal and in the right density, conditions are less stressful than when animals are taken on and off. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is nodding in agreement. As an experienced livestock man, he will concur that it is the stress that we want to avoid.
We did not go along with the RSPCA and others who have sought an eight-hour limit. We thought that the general limit should be 12 hours for any species, with the possible exception of horses, but with a 15-hour limit if that was to be the termination of the journey. That would be in line with Britain's existing legislation, although the Community has yet to adopt such figures. My right hon. Friend the Minister has the Committee's support in trying to achieve a lower limit on the continent.
The Committee recommended that vehicles should be certified. There is no question about the Dutch having a very high standard. It is quite wrong to think that all continental animal transport is cruel; it is not. During our inquiry, we learned that Holland is the second largest exporter of food in the world. It would be no use a Dutch exporter sending his pigs to southern Italy only for them to arrive in a poor condition. It does no good to any farmer or transporter if the product does not arrive in good condition.
There is no will to transport animals cruelly. There can be no advantage in doing so. From reading some of the articles in the press and seeing some of the advertisements placed by animal welfare societies, one might think that there were some advantages to transporting animals cruelly.
The Committee would like animal transport to be more rigidly checked. We were not convinced that, even in this country, checks were as rigid as they should be—and we were far from convinced that on the continent checks were even carried out. We hope that something can he clone about that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one point that should be firmly stressed is the fact that, year after year, exports of bloodstock and of pedigree livestock for breeding purposes are carried out to the most humane standards possible? There is no reason why exports of livestock for slaughter should not reach the same high standards.
I agree with my hon. Friend. It simply does not pay the farmer or the transporter to produce animals, even those for slaughter, in poor condition.
The Committee suggested that there should be more official training for the drivers of vehicles. Unfortunately, the Government rather ran away from that idea, and took the view that more regulation was unnecessary. I was rather sorry about that, because it would be helpful if a training scheme were to be introduced for the drivers of vehicles carrying livestock.
The Government have now accepted the Committee's advice. Included in the parts of the European directive that are agreed—although the key bits are not agreed—is a training scheme for drivers.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The Committee has not considered the matter for a year or two, so I was not fully up to date with the current position. I welcome what he has said.
I shall deal now with documentation. Much of the key to the welfare of animals in transport is ensuring that we know where the animals have come from, when they left there and where they are going. One problem raised by those who want a selective ban on veal calves—for example, those going for veal production—is how we can find out what will happen to those animals when they leave our shores and we no longer have any direct control over them. Therefore, the idea of a selective ban is ludicrous.
The Committee strongly supported the Government's view on the export of horses. The way we solved that problem was extremely clever, and I am sure that it is supported on both sides of the House.
I realise that time is short. It is regrettable that the procedures of the House do not permit the debating of Select Committee reports in greater detail and sooner after they are published. Had we had an opportunity to debate our report at the time, a few lessons would have been learnt and people would remember the interest that a Select Committee of the House had taken in such an important subject.
I endorse what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) said about debating reports from Select Committees. It is silly that hon. Members should serve on these Committees and produce reports after considerable deliberation, only for them never to be discussed on the Floor of the House. One could say it was almost time wasting. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for this work as Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a Christian gentleman—[Interruption.] He endorses that accusation. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) were here, he would defend himself. If, over the years, he has changed his position on the export of veal calves, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a Christian gentleman, would welcome his conversion. A sinner repentant is welcome in heaven, even if, in this case, heaven is the Agriculture Select Committee.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on choosing this subject for debate, which is named "Export of live animals". I believe that we should avoid the export of animals for slaughter as much as possible. I should prefer a complete ban; animals for consumption should be on the hook, not the hoof.
The RSPCA position on maximum journey times is quite clear—eight hours from wherever the journey starts to the abattoir. Of course I understand that there are implications for Britain because of its geographical position. Nevertheless, I believe the RSPCA demand to he reasonable. The Germans adopted a similar view within their law. They may now be moving away from that position, but that is another matter. At least they decided, in their wisdom, to adopt such a law.
The hon. Member for Sutton mentioned the European Parliament. In December 1993, it took a specific vote on the issue and, by 271 votes to six, decided to impose a maximum eight-hour journey time. If there is to be progress in journey times and animal welfare in Europe, it is important to try to achieve that during the French presidency. However much I endorse what the Minister said, he should never go into negotiations pessimistically—he should always go in intent on winning. Certainly Lady Thatcher always took that attitude in Europe, even if she did not always emerge as successfully as she thought she had. If we wait for the Spanish, Italian and Irish presidencies, which follow the French, we will have even more difficulties than we are experiencing now.
The hon. Member for Sutton spoke about taking the protest to Brussels—into Europe. I agree, but that does not mean that we should stop protests here. We must protest in all the countries of Europe, although I accept that in particular we should protest in Brussels. I understand that on Monday the Minister received a petition organised by the RSPCA, which had been signed by 2.5 million people. They were not all people from this country; European nationals signed the petition. It called for a maximum eight-hour journey time and other animal welfare measures such as the training of drivers.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that the RSPCA has been campaigning in other European countries—for example, France, Greece and Spain. It is not something specific to eccentric English people. Many people are protesting in European capitals and countries. That is right thing to do.
The Government have often spoken about leading Europe on this issue. I give credit to the Minister for doing more than his predecessor did. When the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) entered into the negotiations last year, she was lagging far behind the Germans, the Dutch, the Belgians and the Danes on the issues of journey times and animal welfare. Perhaps we should be grateful that we have a new Secretary of State—[HON. MEMBERS: "Minister."] I am sorry, I have promoted the right hon. Gentleman—obviously something that will never happen to me.
I shall now discuss veal calves. Everyone who understands or knows anything about the way in which the veal calf is produced in the veal crate will be repelled by the concept of placing a young calf for six months in conditions that one would only describe as inhuman, barbaric and abominable. That is why the Government rightly banned the production of veal in veal crates. However, we thereby reach the absurd and, at times, hypocritical position, as many understand it, of banning the production of veal in veal crates in this country but exporting the same calves to be produced in veal crates and re-importing the product. It appears illogical.
The hon. Gentleman's speech is extremely interesting. Stepping aside from the hypocrisy for a moment, I understand that about 1.25 million unwanted male calves are born to the British dairy herd each year. What does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we do with those?
I accept that. It is fully understood that those calves are unsuitable for the beef trade. Perhaps people who are tucking into their cheese and drinking their milk should think a little more about the implications of what they are doing.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a question, and I shall answer him. One of the ways of solving the problem is to stop eating cheese and drinking milk. [Interruption.] Yes, the hon. Gentleman asked me my opinion, but I am an eccentric and a total loony. I accept that, so let not anyone else shout that out before I have admitted it.
If we were to ban the export of veal calves, it would give greater impetus to our own veal-producing industry, but I accept that demand for veal in this country has never been especially significant, and indeed is declining. However, those matters must be considered. If we find it necessary to move to a position in which male calves are killed at birth, that would have to be accepted. It is easy for me to say that, because I am not a veal calf. I should not like to be exterminated at birth, although I am sure that a few Conservative Members think that it would have been a good idea.
We must accept that implication, if need be; we must consider all the options, but I accept that that is one of the problems.
No; but I shall in a moment.
It appears absurd that, although we have banned the method of production, we re-import the product that comes from the same method of production somewhere else. The same is true of paté de foie gras. One could not produce paté de foie gras in this country, force-feeding geese as the French do, because it would be illegal, but we are nevertheless prepared to import it into the country. Many people feel that that is an illogical position, which should he rectified.
The hon. Gentleman's speech is interesting and powerful.
Some people, led by some supermarkets, are selling veal that may be imported but take great care to ensure that it comes from humane rearing sources in Holland and elsewhere. I hope that nothing that we say today will diminish our commitment to that type of effort, because, every time that a supermarket does that, it helps us to ensure that animals are reared humanely before we manage to change the law to ensure that they are reared humanely.
The right hon. Gentleman is reading my notes, because that is precisely what I intended to say. Sainsbury's is one of the supermarkets that does that voluntarily. It would be helpful—we have asked Ministers questions about it—to make it compulsory to declare the method of production on goods, so that the consumer can exercise choice. If the consumer does not have the choice of deciding, "I do not want that veal because I do not like the method of production," we are not empowering the consumer as we should. Naturally, I welcome the fact that some supermarkets do so. I regret the fact that many others do not.
Some of us find it confusing that some of the most enthusiastic proponents of European union do not support my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his efforts to achieve what we need to achieve on a European basis, and that they are the first to argue for a unilateral ban, which would appear to put the hon. Gentleman on to the Euro-sceptic side of the argument.
Is it not interesting that the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) is one of the most fervent Euro-phobes in this place, and continually pushes his colleagues to opt out, not to accept, to stand up and fight and so on, yet on that issue he is not prepared to urge his colleagues to do precisely that?
My position is absolutely clear. I believe that the House should have, and ultimately has, the authority to decide what goes across our frontiers. I do not accept that this Parliament has lost its sovereignty. The policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would have more authority if he acknowledged that the House had the power to ban live exports.
The Minister is arguing completely the opposite, but on this occasion I will join hands with the hon. Member for Colchester, North. It is a strange alliance. We make odd bedfellows—metaphorically, of course, not literally. Under the circumstances, I welcome what he has said.
Let me say something to the hon. Member for Sutton, who unfortunately is not in his place at the moment. The hon. Gentleman spoke with all the certainty of ignorance about the protesters who have been standing outside the harbour at Shoreham and at various other places throughout the country. I am a vegetarian, but I know that not all those protesters are militant vegetarians or vegans. Some are likely to be, but I suspect that most are meat-eaters.
I know, as a result of having perhaps the heaviest correspondence of any Member in the House about animal welfare issues, that many of the letters that I receive start, "I write as a lifelong Conservative supporter" and they often continue, "and I am not going to vote Tory again." It is not for me to help the Conservative party win back its lost support, but I shall make those letters freely available to Ministers so that they realise that those protesters, in many respects, are not militant vegetarians or vegans. Some protestors are vegetarians, like me, but many are middle-aged, middle-class Tory supporters, who are repelled by the trade.
No one doubts the hon. Gentleman's commitment or concern, so it would be helpful if he would join me in unequivocally condemning those who use threats. We have all probably received such threats. I have received hundreds of very sick letters indeed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that farmers, parliamentarians and so on should not receive such letters, and that that way of persuading people is utterly wrong.
I have no difficulty in saying that I agree, because such behaviour is diversionary. The media seize on those isolated examples—as did the hon. Member for Sutton, reading extracts from The Times—as a way of suggesting that the great mass of public opinion and the great mass of protesters are not genuine, decent, law-abiding people, many of whom have never been out on a protest before but who are moved to protest because they find that trade so abhorrent.
The Minister shakes his head. There is conflicting legal advice about it. It is often said that, if one does not like the advice that one receives from one lawyer, one should go and buy another lawyer. That might not be what the Government want to do, but I believe that it is worth imposing a ban under article 36.
If we ban the export of veal calves and the import of veal, we cannot be said to be interfering in trade in terms of giving preference to our domestic industry, because it is true that the farmers of this country will receive the greatest impact of the ban. It is difficult to imagine a way in which that could be challenged from outside these shores. If it is not challenged, we have won; if it is challenged, I hope that the Minister would show more enthusiasm to defend it than he is now doing by shaking his head. He has already spoken about the minimum value order for horses. I know for a fact that he has said that, if that were challenged in the European Court, it would probably be lost, but he stands by that position and is ready to defend it in the European Court. We want some political will from the Government.
I am prepared to support the Government in their negotiations on improvements in animal welfare when they negotiate in the interests of animals and public opinion, but not when they are in thrall, acting as the lickspittles of the National Farmers Union.
It is a pleasure to be able to follow my friend, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is a regular contributor to the debates that we hold internally in the all-party animal welfare group. The hon. Gentleman referred to his eccentricity on some of these matters, but nobody would gainsay his commitment to the cause of animal welfare or the sincerity with which he holds his views.
Sadly, I must almost immediately differ from the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He knows me well enough to understand that if I thought that there was a snowball's chance in hell of achieving a legitimate ban on the export of veal calves or, in general, of live animals for slaughter, I would be going for it hell for leather.
From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned the situation facing Germany. Where one country has tried to introduce a unilateral ban—Germany is the only one that has—it has immediately been taken before the European courts by other countries. Were we to go down that road, I fear that the transporters, the farmers and others involved in the trade on both sides of the channel would immediately sue for large sums of money.
Also from a sedentary position, I heard the hon. Member for Newham, North-West say earlier, "Go for it. It's our money." I am not entirely certain that those who elect us would take that view once the bills started to come in.
I hope to be brief, if only because my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) covered so much of the ground in his excellent opening speech. I pay tribute to him for raising the issue and giving us an opportunity to debate it on such a relevant day, given my right honourable and bleary-eyed Friend's labours in Brussels over the past couple of days. It is immensely helpful to have this early opportunity to hear the present position from the Front Bench, whether we like it or not.
On behalf of the all-party group—I can probably speak for most if not all of its members—I must say that we respect the fact that my right hon. Friend has gone into bat very hard on this issue and has taken a robust line. I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the tireless work that she has done at grass-roots level with Ministers throughout the European Community, going round and trying to win hearts and minds. That is how the battle will be won, and I believe that it will be won.
For the past two years under my chairmanship, and before that under your distinguished chairmanship in another incarnation, Madam Deputy Speaker, the all-party animal welfare group has sought European solutions to animal welfare problems. In recent years we have had to recognise that, if we are to provide genuine solutions to animal welfare problems as opposed to populist tabloid newspaper headlines, we will have to do it on a Europewide basis. If there was ever need of the proof of that pudding, the veal crate problem undoubtedly provides it.
I concede immediately that I was one of those who welcomed the ban on veal crates in the United Kingdom. Shortly after that it became apparent, to some of us at least, that that was a pyrrhic victory. We did not ban the use of veal crates, we simply promoted the trade in other parts of the European Community. We moved the problem from A to B and some of us tried to pretend that we had solved it. That was not the case.
I do not believe that there is any merit in seeking a unilateral ban on anything if the practice continues on mainland Europe. If, by damaging our own trade, we simply create circumstances in which hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of cattle, sheep and pigs are imported into the European Union under infinitely worse conditions and over much longer distances from the eastern bloc, that is not contributing to the cause of animal welfare that I wish to promote as chairman of the all-party group.
As painstaking and unpopular as it may he on occasions—it is certainly not populist—my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary are correct to seek to press the cause within the European Union. I endorse entirely the actions of those, particularly the RSPCA, who have sought to take the battle, not to the tabloid headlines in the United Kingdom, but to the Ministers and the streets of Europe where the hearts and minds will have to be won.
My right hon. Friend currently has most of the northern states with him. That is a tremendous achievement and we should not gainsay it. Unfortunately, the southern states—Spain, Italy and Greece in particular—are less helpful. Millions of those who have been applauding what they have seen on television and some of those who have been demonstrating on the streets go to Spain, Italy and Greece for their holidays and eat the meat that comes from the animals about whose transport and slaughter they are complaining. Perhaps it behoves us now to remind our Spanish, Italian and Greek colleagues that those of us in the United Kingdom who use their holiday facilities do not approve of some of their practices and that we look to them for support to end once and for all the need for a trade that most of us find abhorrent.
I should like to see an end to the transport of live animals for slaughter in its entirety. It is not necessary in this day and age. My right hon. Friend said that he would welcome suggestions about ways in which we might achieve the export of more meat on the hook. I concur with those who have said this morning that our abattoir facilities are, for some very good reasons and some less good reasons, inadequate.
We have high-quality abattoirs, but they are not necessarily in the places where they are most needed by the farming community. Associated British Ports has told me that it has land at ports which, under the right circumstances, it might be prepared to make available for abattoir facilities. I urge my right hon. Friend urgently to seek ways of investing in new and better abattoir facilities and in the cutting of meat specifically for the European market so that we can have the added value in this country and export our meat on the hook almost in its entirety. I should like to see the lot on the hook, not on the hoof. If we could do that, we would have brought about a major achievement. It could not happen overnight, but within months we could obviate much of the problem.
I must come back to the European solution. I have had to accept—I understand that not everybody in the House accepts this, but I do not believe that this is a party political issue—that the legal position does not allow us to pursue a unilateral ban. More than that, I genuinely believe that if my right hon. Friend, with support from both sides of the House, can win this battle, win the hearts and minds of his colleagues in the Council of Ministers and carry the sort of European directive that we want on this issue, we will have taken an enormous leap forward in European animal welfare. If we can win this battle, it will help us to win battles over the use of animals in medical experiments Europewide, in the import of wild-caught birds into Europe and in fiesta sports. That would be a major achievement.
The House can be in no doubt that the British people care a great deal about animal welfare, and today's debate has demonstrated that the House welcomes that concern. Many would argue that one of the hallmarks of a civilised society is the way in which it treats its animals.
When considering what legislation should be in place and what measures we should implement to avoid animal cruelty as far as possible, we must be objective. We must recognise that animals experience pain and strain, but it is wrong to assume that they think in the same way as humans and that what is comfortable for a human being would also be comfortable for an animal and vice versa. We must base our discussions and our decisions on the most objective scientific criteria available, but it must certainly be our objective to achieve legislation which ensures that animals are well looked after on the farms and that the opportunity for their ill-treatment in transportation and, of course, through methods of slaughter is absolutely minimal.
I shall come to that point. We do not accept that the Minister is necessarily correct in his interpretation of the legal position with regard to calves, although we certainly accept the position with regard to sheep. Some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) may turn out to be germane to the final assessment of the legal position, but let me move on.
I appreciate the Minister's contribution to the debate. It is excellent that he is putting forward the Government's position in this Adjournment debate. I especially appreciate his presence in view of the tremendous pressure that he has been under in the past two days, involving, I understand, many hours of negotiation into the early hours of this morning. The House very much appreciates the Minister being able to give us the very latest position and explain why the negotiations failed in Brussels.
The Minister commented on the history of the matter and it is worth adding to it. It should be recalled that we extended the maximum journey time of animals in legislation passed by the House of Commons. Before I January 1993, animals were allowed to travel for a maximum of 12 hours before they were fed, watered and rested, unless the journey could be completed in 15 hours. The Welfare Animal Transport Order 1992 increased the maximum interval from 12 to 15 hours. The requirement for animals to be fed and rested for 10 hours and inspected near the port of export was also scrapped on 1 January 1993.
Then, the Greek presidency compromise, as the Minister rightly described it, was discussed in June. That proposal stipulated 22 hours of transport before animals should have to be fed, watered and rested. There is no question that the British Government were minded to support that. Indeed, the then Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), said on 16 June that the Greek proposals were
a great step forward for animal welfare in the Community".
He went on to indicate the Government's support of them.
When the Minister's predecessor—I make no apology for putting this on the record—the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard), got over to Brussels, she discovered that, notwithstanding the British Government's support, since Belgium was joining Germany and the other opponents to the proposal, the proposal was to be defeated. So rather than vote for the proposal, lose the vote on the basis of qualified majority voting and have to justify that position, the Government flipped over and voted against it.
The Government's stance has been transformed since then, which we applaud and welcome. The stand now being taken by the Minister, which goes back to earlier in the year—he can now claim, along with the Germans, to be leading on the issue and seeking to drive it forward—is a mile away from what previously prevailed. We strongly support that new stance, and certainly think that the Minister was right not to go along with the final compromise put forward by the French presidency, which is rather technical, as some of us will have read in the quality newspapers, or heard on the wireless and seen on the television this morning.
The Minister has tried very hard to get a satisfactory agreement on journey times, which we applaud. He was right not to accept what was on offer, and we wish him well in the discussions next month. He has warned us—I am not criticising him, far from it—that it may not be as easy as some people think to bridge the huge gulf that still exists between the southern states and the more northern states of the Community, where the electorate feel strongly and, let us be honest, have much higher standards of animal welfare.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the RSPCA special operations unit trailed 21 vehicles during their journey from the United Kingdom to European destinations and that 14 of those exceeded the 15-hour limit without providing food, drink and rest for the animals? What action does he think that the British Government should take to prevent such practice?
That brings me to a point that I want to develop. For some time, the Labour party has advocated a licensing scheme for lorry drivers and hauliers. Of course, we were very pleased when subsequently the European Commission included among its package of proposals last year a European licensing scheme. Unfortunately, its implementation is not likely to be achieved in the short run, so we would like the British Government to go ahead with a national licensing scheme. That would stipulate that if a haulier were to move animals over a substantial distance—obviously it would not apply to normal, short journeys—such as the distances involved in cross-channel journeys, the haulier and its and driver would require a licence.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, say that the Committee was interested in such an approach, although it was not identical to what we are advocating. The scheme would require high standards of hauliers and drivers and provide some training, advice and guidance for drivers. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, those of us with some experience of farming, as he has, know that the most stressful time for animals is when they are loaded on and unloaded off vehicles. It is perfectly possible for animals to be transported in reasonable conditions, although, sadly, it is also possible for them to be transported in appalling conditions, and we have seen some disgraceful examples of that which we want to eliminate.
I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman soon, as I am keen to hear his view.
Although the Labour party advocates a national licensing scheme, we would prefer a European scheme. Before the Minister intervenes, I would like to put to him the grounds on which he criticises the scheme, so that I may better understand it.
If the scheme were implemented, a haulier would lose its licence in the UK if it did not comply with it and was found to be treating animals cruelly. It is galling to see on television an individual driving lorries on to vessels going across the channel when most people involved know that that person had been convicted of animal cruelty. That upsets and angers people. Obviously, it would never happen under our proposal.
I may be putting it too strongly, but I understand the Minister's objection. He thinks that the scheme could be applied in the UK—remember we are talking not only about the movement of animals across the channel but through the United Kingdom and across long distances in Scotland and the animals being looked after well during that transportation—but that there would be nothing to stop hauliers taking animals across the channel and immediately moving the animals to another vehicle.
My response to that criticism is that it would be bound to increase the costs of transporting animals such as sheep. We are not advocating a ban on the movement of live sheep across the channel, although we want the number of live sheep transported to decrease as quickly as possible because we are not happy about it. That would enormously increase the cost of the operation. It would be a financial penalty if, once across the channel, the animals had to be unloaded and put on a second vehicle. Therefore that in itself would be a positive factor.
Secondly, would it not provide a tremendous focus for people on the continent if they understood the extent of the cruelty? It would provide a focus if it was known that the British people had laid down conditions to be met by the lorry drivers when transporting animals, but that, on the continent, rather than meeting the conditions, those involved were unloading the animals and placing them on an unlicensed vehicle. I put that argument to the Minister and shall be happy to hear what he says.
I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening, but this is an important point. The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech, and it will perhaps be helpful to the House to debate such issues, including that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), which is similar.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said, we believed that some people were not following the journey plan that they had given to our vets, and were running over the limit—the RSPCA had shown that to be so. Therefore, we introduced a recent amendment to the transport order so that anyone not adhering to the journey plan could be prosecuted here. That is as far as we can go in making the provision stick. The trouble is that I am told that people are doing what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) and I feared that they might—changing to foreign hauliers as soon as they have crossed the channel.
As the hon. Gentleman says, they switch contractors.
Although I have introduced that amendment, and I think that it was a sensible thing to have done—anything that we can do, we shall do—it does not solve the problem. I do not rule out the suggestion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. If we do not achieve in reasonable time a European licensing system—which the hon. Gentleman and I agree would be much better—we shall have to consider all the options again. I fear that the provision has not solved the problem, for the reason that I gave. It may put up the costs, but unfortunately people seem to be willing to accept that.
That has been a helpful exchange. The first sentence of the Minister's press release states:
Britain is to introduce national measures to improve welfare protection for animals during transport following the failure of the EC Agricultural Council to reach an agreement.
That was the point raised by the Minister. I cannot recall where it is stated in the press release, but the Minister certainly said that one of the pluses of the system was that authorities of the member states on the continent were to help the Government to police it. The Minister was effectively saying that Governments of the member states were not delivering their undertaking.
The point is not that those Governments are not helping, but that they can only help us to provide evidence against British-originating hauliers, which they are doing.
If there is another method, as the hon. Member for Workington has suggested, I shall look at it. We shall not rule out anything. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East—if we can achieve a Europewide system, it will be far better.
The options that vie are currently considering are whether to have a pan-European or a domestic licensing system. There is no reason why the Minister should not ask French Governments and other Governments bordering the channel to introduce licensing systems unilaterally. If they were to do that, we might—by tying up the licensing system with pre-transport arrangements for animals going into the mainland Community—be able to resolve the problem with licences rather than have a pan-European arrangement.
I shall not give way, as I want to allow time for at least two more speeches before the end of the debate. I am sorry, but I have given way repeatedly.
It is surely accepted that the transportation of veal calves to crates is cruel. The House of Commons legislated because it is cruel. It is indefensible that, having deemed the system to be cruel—having said that it is wrong to put calves in narrow crates, raise them in relative darkness and feed them an artificial and unbalanced diet—we should transport our calves across the channel into precisely that system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, not only are we doing that, but we are buying back the veal from the continental producer. That cannot be defended.
Of course, we support the Minister's efforts at a European level. We are not persuaded of the Minister's legal advice. Much work is being done on the subject and I believe that there could well be a different legal position. That has nothing to do with transport, but is based on whether the—
No, I have said that I shall not give way again.
The legal position is based on whether the calf directive is sufficient to block national action here. There are other arguments that I shall not develop this morning.
In a single market, it is one thing to export an inanimate object that is to be finished or a food ingredient such as grain or flour to be turned into bread, but we are not talking about that. We are talking about sentient creatures and have to adopt a different approach. That issue must appear on the agenda—it is not just a matter of the single market.
Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) must resume his seat. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) has made it clear that he is not giving way.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am certainly not giving way.
We support the Minister's efforts to achieve progress at a European level. That will be better for all the reasons that he gave—there are so many more animals involved and so much more cruelty and abuse will be eliminated if we act on a European level, not just a British one. However, that must not become an excuse for not doing everything that we can nationally. We must consider the subject in its entirety and take every possible action. It is the responsibility of all of us—Members of Parliament, farmers, transporters, slaughterers and the community—to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on securing the Adjournment debate, which is very well-attended. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his speech. We have come to expect good speeches from him, but today's was particularly commendable as he has spent two trying days in Brussels. It is deliciously ironic that Opposition Members who are first in the Lobby to vote for ever-closer union and single institutional frameworks suddenly discover the logic of their own voting records and are surprised to realise that they have largely succeeded in neutering the mother of Parliaments—assuming that a mother can be neutered—through the consequences of their actions.
My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned some of the protesters—a subject on which there has been much discussion. Many of the protesters are well-meaning people, but, sadly, those who represent rent-a-mob are not well-meaning and a number of them have been travelling around the countryside. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think that the protesters have a lot of time on their hands. They tour the countryside picking up the dole wherever they happen to be—demonstrating against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, committing mass trespass on my right hon. Friend's farm, travelling down to the docks. The only danger is that they may exceed the 48-hour directive.
I know from 30 years' experience just what an organisation the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was in days gone by. There were sometimes 5,000 animals at market in a single day. The RSPCA inspectors were always present, and the relationship between them and the auctioneers was close. If an inspector came to us and said that an animal in the market was unfit to be there, it immediately went home or to the slaughterhouse.
I wish that I could say that I have had the same high respect for the RSPCA in recent years. Although it still performs much good work, it has become just another political lobby group. That is a very sad development, because I think that the RSPCA could have played a vital part in the hours question. I have listened to the arguments about whether there should be an eight, 10 or 15-hour limit on journeys, but I am not sure that that is the point.
We could decide upon a maximum journey length of 10 hours, but what if a journey takes only 11 hours? My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) mentioned the process of unloading and reloading and my right hon. Friend referred to the three-day rest which would have to be taken for the sake of an extra hour's journey, perhaps on a major motorway. I believe that there should be some discretion in this area and the RSPCA could play a role in enforcing that discretion. I hope that that organisation will get politics out of its system before we reach any more agreements with it.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Professor Jeffcote at the veterinary school in Cambridge has undertaken scientific research with regard to stress on animals in transit and has collected substantial data about it? Does my hon. Friend agree that, rather than plucking figures for journey times out of the air—whether it be eight hours, 10 hours or whatever—we should try to use scientific evidence as a basis for reaching decisions about the correct length of journey time for different animals?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend; I think that a lot more work should be done in that area. There is no "right" number of hours that animals should spend in transit. It may be highly convenient for parliamentary draftsmen and others to mention a number of hours as the basis of an agreement, but we should press for a certain amount of flexibility in the system. I suspect that Professor Jeffcote would find that the animals who were subjected to the activities of rent-a-mob as they passed through the ports suffered quite a bit of stress.
Once we have moved away from the views of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and others, the reality is that farmers thrive if their animals thrive. They want to sell their animals and by looking after them properly they increase the value of their stock. That point must not be overlooked. What would happen if there was a unilateral ban?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) the hon. Gentleman undertook to answer later in his speech my question whether it was official Labour party policy to support the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew). However, he failed to do that in his speech. Although he addressed the ambiguity of the law—a problem that we are all wrestling with—he did not come off the fence about that matter. Therefore, the House is entitled to conclude that Labour party Front Benchers do not support the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlisle.
To be fair to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, I think that he said that he agreed with certain points that the hon. Member for Carlisle made, but that he could not attend the debate on Friday, probably because he was busy elsewhere. The Labour party's paper on animal transport says:
we will seek a ban through the European Commission and Council of Ministers.
If that is what the Labour party intends to do, the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Carlisle cannot be
Labour party policy. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has not addressed that point, although he has been invited to do so several times this morning.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. On the point about the legal advice to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred, is my hon. Friend aware that when the Labour party was in power it received the O'Brien report, which contained legal advice that a unilateral ban of the sort that the hon. Member for Carlisle favours was not clearly justified? It is even less likely to be justified now because, under the Community's directives on calf production, the ground has been occupied. If a unilateral ban were imposed, this country would face a legal mess and the Commission may have warned the Government to that effect.
I apologise for intervening in the debate once again, but I wish to assist the House. When a similar Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Commission wrote to the British Government and said that such legislation would be contested. It is not simply a matter of my receiving legal advice; the Commission is extremely equivocal when it wants to be, but it knew that it would win any such case.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making the position clear. I understand that the hon. Member for Carlisle is seeking a unilateral ban on live exports. What would that achieve? What would happen to small calves? They will be born on the farm and killed on the farm, and not all farmers have suitable equipment for stunning and killing small calves on their farms. It would lead to immense cruelty, which is most unsatisfactory.
I thought that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East made more constructive points on the subject this morning than he has for some time. As the hon. Gentleman said, the best scenario is for a maximum number of calves to be slaughtered in British abattoirs. It will add on value—as the hon. Gentleman said, if an animal kills out at 50 per cent., it is better to transport a ton of carcass than two tons of live animals. It may also prove a boost to employment in this country. It is the best scenario for all those reasons.
I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend's speech and it seems that there are four main lines of attack. First, we are seeking a ban on veal crates throughout Europe; secondly, we are pressing the Commission for stronger enforcement of animal transport rules; thirdly, we are pressing for the licensing of hauliers; and, fourthly, we are seeking the co-operation of the meat industry in promoting meat exports and the development of British veal.
British farmers currently produce pink veal, but white veal is preferred on the continent. However, people used to prefer white bread until there was a campaign to persuade them to buy brown bread. We must make people understand that pink veal has been reared more humanely.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all his activities, which are extremely practical—unlike the suggestions offered by Labour Members, even assuming that they know what Labour party policy is.
I am conscious of the time, so I will try to progress quickly with my speech and perhaps another hon. Member will be able to speak as well. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on introducing what has generally been a good and constructive debate—with the exception of the speech by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), which I think lowered the tone of the debate on occasion.
I think that the call by the hon. Member for Sutton for a broadsheet rather than a tabloid approach to the issue has been heeded. However, I believe that the hon. Gentleman lapsed into tabloid-speak twice in his own speech. On one occasion he described vegans as "unnatural", which I think was slightly pejorative. I will return to his other point later. However, he made an important speech which deserves a response.
I come from north Warwickshire, which is largely an agricultural area. Many of my farming constituents are unhappy about the veal trade and about many practices in other areas of agriculture. They prefer to send their animals to the nearest abattoir rather than transport them longer distances, even though they could make more money that way. It is not a matter of city and rural people having different views on the issue, as many of those in rural areas feel strongly about animal rights.
No, I am trying to make quick progress.
Transporting animals in conditions which we define as cruel is wrong. We have a moral basis in the law that has been passed here which says that we will ban veal crates. Allowing animals to be transported and put in veal crates in other countries and seeking to reap profits from that undermines the basis of the law. That is why it is very important for the Government, not only to carry on the work they are doing to try to get a European ban on veal crates, but to ensure that there is the strongest condemnation of those who seek to make profits from what we have decided is wrong, cruel and immoral.
Exporting live animals in that way damages our good abattoirs. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) recently tried to introduce a private Member's Bill on the export of live animals, and my hon. Friend has a long-term interest in the subject. He has drawn to my attention the closure of an abattoir in Nuneaton, with the loss of about 70 jobs which have now been exported. We must ensure that those jobs remain in this country.
Let us be clear that there is a real problem with EC law, but that legal opinion is, to some extent, divided. After all, legal opinion is often divided as lawyers, such as myself, make our money by arguing the different sides of a case. There is a strong argument for testing the law. There was a ban on exports in 1973, and there is an argument that that ban could be sustained, at least for a period, perhaps under article 36 of the treaty of Rome or article 20 of GATT. That could provide the basis for such a challenge to the law.
If they tested the law, the Government would show the strength of their opposition to the trade, and they would also put pressure on the southern European countries to change their views. Even if we lost the court case, it would give a strong discouragement to business men in the UK who are trying to make a profit out of this trade.
I welcome the Minister's convincing efforts to try to change the law in relation to veal crates. But if that European law requires some sweetening—perhaps for Greece or Portugal—let us ensure that we make some bilateral contacts soon to discuss that and to ensure that they understand that we are prepared to go in that direction. In the mean time, we should promote a system of licensing for hauliers and introduce tough regulations, high standards of training and vehicle supervision in which the licences can be withdrawn for any breach. Perhaps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) suggested, we can make bilateral contacts with France and other countries to try to ensure that they introduce high standards. That is important and urgent.
I shall now refer to the position in Warwickshire. In my county and in neighbouring Coventry, six people have died as a result of the veal trade. Five people died in the air crash, while a demonstrator died under the wheels of a lorry. There is anger in my area about that, and it has had a significant impact upon local people. It is right at this point to declare an interest, in that I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. I hold no brief for them on this matter, and I have not discussed it with them.
There have been long-term demonstrations at Coventry airport which are putting enormous pressures on the local constabulary. If the trade is not banned, the implications must be looked into. I ask the Minister to approach the Home Office with regard to the considerable concerns felt in Warwickshire about the impact of the trade on the police force. There are enormous pressures on the police, as 50 officers are likely to be lost during the next year. There can be no recruitment within a two-year period and, at the end of this year, 16 per cent. of community beats will not be covered.
There is an immediate financial crisis as a result of the financial settlement upon the police this year. If the protest continues as a result of the veal trade, the implications for Warwickshire police are, if not disastrous, enormously serious. Police stations could be shut and officer posts lost. That could lead to a lack of policing in Warwickshire. Will the Minister approach the Home Secretary, not just on behalf of Warwickshire but on behalf of Essex, where there have been problems with policing at Brightlingsea?
There have been confrontations with the police at Brightlingsea. In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, will he join me in pleading with the protesters—who, after all, want to keep public support and are in danger of losing that support by confronting the police—to stop sitting down in front of lorries and confronting the police? It is not the veal trade which is causing the police to be at Brightlingsea in large numbers, it is the protesters. If they took a more responsible attitude, they would gain more public support, and they would not be costing our constabularies money and threatening the police activities to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
I shall come to that in a moment, as it is important. Those issues must be addressed and, as a result, I may go up to my time limit.
I shall finish the point that I was I making. As a result of difficulties in the negotiations about the trade, police forces face long-term public order problems in the areas concerned. There is a need for those funding difficulties to be addressed by the Government. There are unexpected difficulties, and there has been a high settlement on some police forces this year.
The position in Warwickshire is worrying. The Home Office needs to create a fund which ensures that those forces which have extraordinary public order problems can call upon it to provide the resources which they need. Otherwise, there will be severe dangers of police forces being unable to carry out their duties effectively at the end of the year. I ask the Minister to make representations to the Home Office.
I come now to the point raised by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and others in relation to the policing of protests. I agreed with some of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), although I disagreed with others. I entirely agree with his important point that the police are neutral in the matter. Some officers may support the veal trade, while others may disagree. That is not the point. They are paid by the citizens of this country to enforce the law, and that means doing two things—ensuring that the roads are clear for the lorries to pass and ensuring that people can exercise their civil right to protest. It is important for the police to observe both of those, and they know that.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he was "proud" of the peaceful protesters who exercised their civil liberty to demonstrate their real concerns. I welcome that statement by the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Sutton read out a number of press cuttings, one of which referred to a senior officer in Warwickshire. Extremists do get involved in many events and can often inflict great damage to the cause, but causes such as this do not depend solely on what happens during a protest. The strength of the arguments is what matters, and many decent and honourable people involved in the protest—whether they are Conservatives, Labour supporters or Liberal Democrats—properly want to peacefully protest their interest in raising the issue, and that should be welcomed. They have a strong argument, and are exercising their right to protest.
This trade is, in my view, immoral. While it is not breaching the law, it breaches the spirit of the law by seeking to make a profit out of something which we accept is cruel and unjust. I very much hope that the efforts of the Government to try to ensure that we have an EC ban on veal crates, and also a licensing system not only in this country and neighbouring countries but throughout Europe will be sustained. That will effectively ensure that animals will be transported and kept in the best conditions. That is what we are looking for, and that is what we can get.
I have little time, but I wish to speak in the debate because a great many of my constituents object vehemently to this trade. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, many people who object to the trade are Tory voters. What outrages them most is learning from the television and the radio that we have given up the power to do anything about it. I do not accept that. I regard this as a sovereign House, and I am not prepared to be lectured by MAFF officials about what the House can and cannot legislate for.
I am fortunate enough, I hope, to have secured an opportunity to present a Bill under the 10-minute rule which will restore to the Minister the powers that he needs to apply a ban, if he considers that appropriate, and I urge Opposition Members to support it—