With permission, I should like to make a statement about the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers which started on Monday and finished after an all-night sitting at 9.20 this morning.
First, I am delighted to announce that agreement was reached for the first time on a comprehensive framework of law covering the welfare of animals transported throughout the European Community. Community rules have been set for the first time on the length of time for which animals can be transported and when journeys must be broken for food, water and rest. There will be maximum limits on travel time for all journeys and, most important of all, a clear definition of a journey's end. Animals will have to be held in one place for at least 24 hours to recover before they can be moved again.
If animals are to he transported for more than eight hours, vehicles will have to provide specified equipment such as proper ventilation and temperature control. For vehicles that do not meet those standards, eight hours will be the maximum travel time. There will also be specific rules on the space allowance that animals must be given in the different types of transport.
For the first time, therefore, we have a proper framework of rules, but equally important—or perhaps even more important—there are now European-wide powers to enforce the rules. Hauliers will have to be licensed and, if they fail to observe the rules, licences will be removed. In addition, those engaged in the trade will have to be properly trained. Journey plans will be needed for all substantial journeys across borders. The European Commission will have the role of ensuring that member states are applying the rules correctly and its veterinary inspectorate will be strengthened so that it can do so.
The chairman of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who was present throughout the long negotiations, gave me permission to quote his views:
A great step forward. Not the end of the road but a good beginning".
I agree with him. The agreement represents a huge advance over what has previously been on offer, let alone over the position as it exists now. For those reasons I had no hesitation in voting for the measures. We have established journey limits and journey times; agreed a rigorous system of enforcement; and given a spur to higher standards of treatment and equipment to the livestock haulage industry. We also have an agreement to review the directive in three years' time. The Government will, of course, want further improvements then.
I should like to pay tribute to my officials, in particular the chief veterinary officer, and those in the Commission and elsewhere with whom we worked most closely on the way to this breakthrough.
On other matters, I am glad to report that the Council at last agreed our proposal that arable land taken out of production for forestry or environmental purposes can count against the set-aside obligation of the farmer concerned. This is something for which I have long been pressing, with the full support of environmental and farming organisations. It should boost farmers' participation in forestry and environmental schemes.
As regards the 1995 price fixing, the Council decided to maintain almost all support prices and aid rates unchanged for 1995–96. There will be some reductions in seasonal price increments for cereals and sugar storage payments, which will result in some modest cuts in expenditure.
Overall, this is a wasted opportunity. The proposals originally made by the Commission would have been a bit better. However, the Commission, in the face of pressure from other member states, amended those during the negotiations. I made it clear throughout that there would be no question of increasing the existing ceiling on common agricultural policy expenditure. Some useful items were agreed as part of the deal. For example, the Council agreed on changes to the support system for cotton aimed at stopping the sharp increases in expenditure seen in recent years.
In addition, the Commission undertook to make a proposal, before 31 July, on the rate of set-aside for arable crops sown for harvest next year. This will he an improvement on last year's timetable, when the proposal came too late. At my insistence, the Commission promised to take full account of the interests of users of cereals, particularly pig and poultry producers, who are having to pay too much.
On the so-called green currencies and the agri-monetary system, the Council agreed to changes in the ridiculously expensive and inflationary system which I voted against last December. What was agreed today was an improvement in budgetary terms. However, I still voted against it. First, I am opposed to distorting the system so as to pay farmers in some countries more than is justified by the market rate for the national currency concerned. Secondly, any arrangements must be time-limited. It was proposed to link these arrangements to the date of the introduction of a single currency. In my opinion that might well mean no time limit at all, and I could not agree to it.
This was an enormously complex and important Council. Overall the United Kingdom can be well satisfied with the outcome.
We welcome the fact that there has been some progress towards a European-wide structure for animal welfare and journey times. We particularly welcome the fact that the Council of Ministers has accepted proposals, for which the Opposition have been arguing for some time, to have a licence scheme so that exporters who break the law constantly can have the licence withdrawn and be removed from the trade. Despite our welcome for that progress, we are disappointed that in many cases the maximum time for European journeys has been increased compared with the standards laid down in our law.
I wonder whether the Minister can give us some detail about the standards that will obtain in the new vehicles that can exceed the new eight-hour limit. Does it mean that many vehicles can simply be upgraded? Will the vehicles really be of a higher standard than they are now?
Is not it true that live exports export not only the misery of the animals but jobs from this country? Should we not be concentrating within the European Commission on trying to maximise our carcase trade and the potential of our meat trade rather than exporting animals?
We are also concerned about the fact that the new proposal will not be reviewed for a further three years. That is not acceptable. The Minister should accept that the agreement that he has achieved in Europe is only his first step on a very long path that must be travelled before he improves the position and before the standard of welfare meets the quite legitimate concerns of people who have been protesting about it at ports in Britain.
We welcome the changes—as does the Minister—to set-aside regulations, which will allow the planting of trees and count against set-aside in conservation practices. We very much hope that the Minister will continue to press for reform of the CAP. It is certainly too expensive. It is far more constructive to move towards environmental support and away from the wastage that we have seen so often in the past.
It is not too controversial to say that we all want fundamental reform of the CAP. I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. I am grateful for his welcome—it was a little grudging, but it was a welcome. The licensing scheme is the key to the whole matter. The Labour party was arguing only a few weeks ago that we should introduce a licensing scheme on a national basis because it did not believe that we could get one in Europe. A national scheme would have been useless. The licensing scheme on which we have agreed will enable us to take licences away from foreign hauliers if they break the rules when they come here. That is what matters.
There is a fundamental misconception in one point made by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). I am surprised because he is learned about such matters and has a long record of concern about them. There is no journey limit in our present legislation, although I have heard Compassion in World Farming saying that. There is a rule that animals are supposed to be fed and watered after 15 hours. That is not what I call a journey limit because hauliers can continue for another 15 hours and another 15 hours, and so on. For the first time—and this is the key—we have a proper break, which is based on the advice of vets that after 24 hours the state and stress levels of the animal are the same as they were before it was moved.
Of course we must maximise the carcase trade. We have been taking practical steps. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been in the lead on that. Already, 80 per cent. of the trade is in carcase form, but animals will always be moved across our borders as they always have been. British farmers cannot be put at the disadvantage of being the only farmers in Europe who cannot move animals across their borders.
I am grateful for the somewhat grudging welcome of the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe. The agreement is in fact a major step forward, as all those who have been engaged in the negotiations for more than two and half years—before my time in office—will realise. There is now a framework of law on which to build for the future. That is a complete revolution.
My right hon. Friend will recall that the Select Committee on Agriculture studied the transport of live animals some three years ago. While I acknowledge that the details of its recommendations and his agreement are not precisely the same, does he accept that the philosophy of what he has agreed is in line with the recommendations, which were agreed unanimously by an all-party Committee? Does he also accept that the agreement is a prime example of how we can lead the way in Europe? As far as I am concerned, this is a red-letter day for farm animal welfare.
My hon. Friend the chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture is quite right. I pay tribute to the Select Committee's work, which was very important in helping to build a consensus among responsible farmers and responsible people in the welfare organisations who wanted real progress. I have to say that the only people for whom I have had rather little time in the past few weeks were those whose insistence on a maximalist position played into the hands—as they always do in such circumstances—of those who wanted no change at all. I got the feeling finally that some of them would have been happier with no agreement at all so that they could have said that no progress was being made.
It was our duty to make a real step forward. I pay tribute to, for example, those in the RSPCA who have helped us and have said that this agreement marks real progress—it does and, in retrospect, it will be seen as a watershed in the subject.
May I too welcome the Minister's statement as a step in the right direction? I certainly hope that it will lead to further agreement on Europe-wide animal welfare. Agreements on transport may have significant consequences for farmers in Scotland, especially for the island farmers in my constituency and those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). The Minister rightly congratulated his officials. Which Scottish Office Minister was with him during the talks and how many officials from the Agricultural Department at the Scottish Office were there to advise him?
What is meant by a sea journey, considering that a journey from Shetland to Aberdeen takes 18 hours? There seems to be a question about animals taken in floats and animals taken on the hoof. Are one lot considered to be resting and the others not? Who will bear the cost of the extra lairage and the upgrading of the lorries, bearing in mind the fact that my island farmers already bear high ferry costs? If extra costs are put on them, it will make life difficult.
I had the position of the highlands and islands, and of Orkney and Shetland above all, very much in mind. I was accompanied throughout by a senior official from the Scottish Office Agriculture and Fisheries Department. The rules on sea transport are quite complex. As is common sense, it makes a difference if the animal is in a roll on/roll off lorry; that must count as part of a lorry journey. If the animal is in a pen and is being fed and watered, the time need not count towards the journey time. There is also a power in the directive to deal with the exceptional difficulties of very remote places which may, in certain circumstances, have to be triggered carefully.
I believe that it is right that the livestock hauliers should carry the costs; I make no bones about that. The agreement will raise costs for the livestock hauliers. I believe that, on balance, the House, and farmers, will think that that is right. In some places, the industry may be under pressure from costs; that matter is probably best addressed through objective I and objective 5b grants and things of that kind, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be much better able than I to deploy in the hon. Lady's part of the world.
Is it not clear that what the interests of agriculture and of animal welfare required was a comprehensive European agreement—and an early one? May I congratulate, in a totally ungrudging way, my right hon. Friend? We are at the end of the French presidency. If the matter had gone into other presidencies, it could have lingered for a long time. My right hon. Friend is entitled to the fullest and totally ungrudging support of the whole House and of all those who have an interest in the subject.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who knows about these matters in real detail. He is perfectly right to say that we had to get a deal under the French presidency. I do not believe that the Spanish, the Italians and the Irish would have been able to put such an agreement through. There was a moment when we could get a proper agreement and we got it. It was not always in the bag and it would have been perfectly possible for there to have been no agreement. It might well then have been beyond the end of the century before we got a proper legal framework. On this agreement, we can build for the future, although the House should not make the mistake of thinking that it is all about building for the future. This deal will put an end now, as Mr. Kirkby of the RSPCA said on the radio this morning, to the 40-hour and 60-hour journeys which we know scandalously take place across Europe at present. It will bring in the licensing system to enable us really to get rid of the cowboys, and it will involve training and higher-standard lorries. The start date for the directive is 1996 and the start date for the provisions affecting lorries is 1997 because people will have to equip themselves properly. The agreement will be the beginning of a completely new world in this aspect of animal welfare.
May I too ask about the Scottish island communities? Does the Minister appreciate that the live transport trade there is different from that elsewhere? It is an essential trade for Scottish island communities; it is not an optional trade. The animals have to be got to the mainland so that they can be finished for subsequent marketing. There should be no real complaint from welfare bodies about live transport from the Scottish island communities. Will the Minister, therefore, ask his friends in the Scottish Office to write to those of us who represent the island communities, spelling out in detail the implications of the agreement and, in particular, the provisions for exceptional circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible suggestion and I will pass it on to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. There will now be much complex implementation to do and those most closely concerned with the island communities should be involved. I am very familiar with the western isles and the transport problems. Indeed, I well remember the time when the Locheil ran on to the rocks in west Loch Tarbert and all the sheep escaped to the hills. They were in good shape when they did so.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the tremendous efforts that he has made in Europe on behalf of animal welfare. Is this not a victory for those of us who believe in making progress through the democratic process rather than by lawbreaking, smashing people's property and obstructing the highway? I hope that my right hon. Friend will not relax his efforts but will continue to work on behalf of animal welfare to secure proper treatment for the calves that are exported to veal crates.
To widen the debate for a moment, I believe that my hon. Friend is right. This was an important test of the democratic process, and it was certainly an important test of European decision-making powers that we should be able to make real progress on that issue. That we have done so may show some of my hon. Friends that it is possible to seek and win practical European agreements in which we are the demander and have to push other countries. In response to my hon. Friend's second important point, I emphasise the fact that we have further work to do this year, and yesterday's agreement gives me good hope that we shall be successful and that veal crates will be banned. We await the report of the Community's veterinary committee, which I have every hope will say that veal crates should be banned. On the basis of the kind of coalition that worked last night, I hope that we shall achieve that ban this year.
The Minister is of course to be congratulated on his statement. The vehicles will now have to be converted, so can he tell us how long a transitional period will be allowed before the conversion must be completed? My second question is about licences for transport hauliers within the United Kingdom operating in an area close to an international border. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the licenses will not be allocated on a national basis, which would discriminate against hauliers based near an international border? Thirdly, although we understand the problems of the islands of Scotland, may I remind the Minister that in another part of the United Kingdom there is an even longer sea crossing? I hope that he will hear that problem in mind as the details are worked out. Otherwise there could be a burden on farmers in Northern Ireland. Finally, I also welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about forestry.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I had the special circumstances of Northern Ireland much in mind, having visited and talked to farmers there recently, In particular, we have said that the journey plans, which will inevitably involve a certain amount of necessary bureaucracy, should not be involved unless the journey is both eight hours long and crosses a border. One will not have to go through the whole rigmarole for short journeys across borders, and I believe that that is sensible. There will be no question of handing out the licences on a limited basis; anyone who is properly trained and has the proper equipment will get a licence. The start date for the directive is next year, and for the lorries the year after. I wanted the process to be a little quicker, but on balance it is probably fair to give people time to make the investment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and on the great work that he has done this week for British agriculture and for animal welfare. Can he tell the House what he thinks should now happen with the various protests that still take place at farm gates and ports? Does he agree that those who had a genuine concern about animal welfare should be satisfied that their voices have been heard and acted upon? But, sadly, some people will never be satisfied because they wish to destroy the livestock industry. Should there not now be an end to all those demonstrations?
It is a free country and people must demonstrate if they wish to. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many disparate groups among the demonstrators, and clearly some of them are demonstrating not against the export or movement of animals but against the livestock industry and the eating of meat. There is nothing that I can do to satisfy those people, because we are not about to ban the eating of meat. Another group—I regard it as much the largest group, because that was the burden of the many thousands of letters and the printed post cards that we received—was not worried about the movement of animals in this country, but asked, "How can we be sure that there are any standards of enforcement once the animals have been moved abroad?" We have been fighting to answer those legitimate anxieties, and it is a major step that we now have a proper framework of European law enforcement to meet those concerns.
This is a victory for the animal rights protesters but only a partial one, because there will still be a lot of cruelty to animals under this scheme. May I ask the Minister about the agreement in respect of inspections? Will he restore the inspections at British ports which the present Government removed? What about inspections in those countries which do not give a jot about animal welfare? Under this agreement, will they not be inspecting themselves? What use is that?
It is wonderful to hear the authentic voice of the Labour party's views on internationalism. Talk of the Socialist International is clearly dead—they are all foreigners with no standards at all nowadays. We now have proper inspections and checks before the journey plans are agreed. We set up that scheme under our local initiative, but—as I always made plain—it was far too weak and was bound to be full of loopholes. Now we have proper journey plans which are inspected across Europe as a whole.
The Commission is being strengthened and, while it is not often that we argue for additional resources for the Commission, we did so in this instance to fund the policing of the scheme and to ensure that local authorities in this country and in most parts of Europe do their job in inspecting the framework of rules.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a fair balance between the need on the one hand to protect animals—especially young animals—while in transit and the need on the other hand to ensure that our agriculture industry is not burdened unnecessarily or made uncompetitive? Is my right hon. Friend encouraged that bodies as diverse as the Farmers Union of Wales and the RSPCA have welcomed the agreement?
I welcome the broad coalition that has taken this work forward. I am not a bit surprised that some of the maximalists on one side have joined with the minimalists on the other side to say that no progress would have been much better. That has been the experience of almost anybody who has tried to make any practical reform of anything since the beginning of time. While I believe that the agreement gives a reasonable balance, I am not disguising from the farming and livestock industries that there will be higher costs. I believe that the industries can pay those costs, and they will have to pay them. It is the responsibility of the industries to accept proper standards, as the huge majority of British farmers are willing to do. The few who are taking the other view are unwise to do so.
Does the Minister accept that while this is a welcome first step forward, there is a great deal further to go as regards the treatment of farm animals not only abroad, but at home? Many people in this country—of whom I am one—can no longer bring themselves to eat meat because they cannot justify the way in which farm animals are treated. Will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon the meat industry that—as the number of people who no longer eat meat is growing—it is in its interests to deal not only with this issue but others such as the welfare of calves exported to veal crates, as was mentioned a moment ago by his hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen)?
As I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, he has not given up meat for absolute reasons, but because he thinks that the treatment of animals is not right. I think that he goes too far. The majority of our people accept that the standards on British farms are very high. I was brought up among farmers, and I believe that to be true. There are occasional lapses, and therefore there are occasional prosecutions, fines and even gaolings. The Community's achievement last night enables us to spread those standards from here and from other countries in northern Europe—there are other countries in northern Europe which have high standards—right across the Community, and that surely is the real prize.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that his announcement represents a step change in the treatment of animals which are being exported? Is it not a tribute to him and to the Government for their persistence in Europe? Is not it also a tribute to British agriculture, whose ideas have been recognised yet again in Europe as leading the way in animal welfare?
That is fair. I mentioned the chief veterinary officer in my statement because the reputation and standards of our veterinary profession have been helpful. When British veterinarians say that something should be done, their professional colleagues abroad tend to listen to them, and that is a great strength to us. This is a major step. I am the last person to say that it gets rid of all the problems, but we must take one step at a time, and this is a very big step. As Mr. Kirkby of the RSPCA said, it is not the end of the road, but it is the beginning of the road. Before this we were not on the road at all.
The Minister mentioned two votes that he had exercised. One was in support of animal welfare provision and the other opposed a budgetary measure. He mentioned other issues, such as the cotton regime. How many decisions were made at meetings of the Council of Ministers, and how was the Minister's vote exercised in each case? It is supposed to be agreed that such information is supplied to the House when statements are made, although such statements are normally written and it might be easier for that information to be produced in that form.
That is a perfectly fair question. Perhaps the best thing would be for me to write to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman or his Front-Bench spokesman will table a question on that subject. It was a complex package of deals and there were a number of separate decisions. As I have not been to bed for a long time, I am not certain that I would remember every item of every package.
One matter of considerable importance, which for some reason makes people laugh, is that the British knacker industry—I am glad to note that no one laughed—faced a directive that would have caused it severe problems. The directive related to additional investment, but there was permission to continue for only two years after the investment had been made. I got that changed for that industry, which is necessary in many rural areas and particularly in some of the more remote areas. It is now secure.
As chairman of the all-party animal welfare group, I have to accept that those who honourably pursue a vegan agenda, together with others who less honourably use such causes only for fund-raising purposes, will not find my right hon. Friend's achievements acceptable. I share the RSPCA's view that this is a major step. Will my right hon. Friend, together with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), who has worked so hard around Europe to take a lead in Europe, move forward by regarding this as a first step and seek to secure, ultimately, a ban on the transport of meat on the hoof, and most certainly the ending of the use of veal crates throughout the European Community? We have proved that we can achieve much: we can achieve much more.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who spent much time travelling in Europe and persuading some of our more recalcitrant colleagues to take this subject more seriously. If we get a veal crate ban in due course, and I hope we will, it will be largely due to her work. I will not commit myself to a ban on meat on the hoof. It would not be right for British agriculture to be the only one in Europe that could not export live animals across borders. In Northern Ireland, for example, that would be absurd. That is not a sensible objective, but it is sensible to export as much in meat form as possible. We are taking steps such as marketing grants and publicity, and adopting various other measures to try to build up that trade even further. We should not get ourselves yet again into the position of shackling British farming, as has happened in the House in the past, with the result that there are more imports of animals, which were probably brought up with much lower welfare standards than ours. That is what happened over pigs.
I realise that the Minister has lost much sleep recently for more than one reason. I can give him only two out of 10 for this agreement. Calves will still face 11-hour journeys, cattle and sheep will face anything up to 33 hours and pigs will face 26 hours. Irrespective of what Conservative Members say, the good people at Brightlingsea, Dover, Shoreham and Coventry will continue to protest because large numbers of people in this country will never rest until we have banned the export of animals for slaughter.
The hon. Gentleman misses the fact that there were no journey limits of any kind in European legislation before. We now have them. I would agree that some of the journey times are too long, but we now have a structure and over the years, we will work to get them down. The real achievement is to get the concept of journey limits into law.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is genuine in his feelings, but if he would just occasionally disagree with the most populist movements, his ideas might carry even more weight.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the agreement and his achievement in getting it will be warmly welcomed by the people of Sussex and especially by the people of Hove, where the entrance to Shoreham harbour is located and where most of the demonstrations took place? Many of the people of Hove have taken part in peaceful demonstrations, which I entirely support, but they have all suffered from the demonstrations.
Would my right hon. Friend have been able to achieve this breakthrough if we had unilaterally backed away from existing European rules, imposed bans of our own and ignored the negotiating table?
I am absolutely certain that if we had followed the advice which came intermittently from the Opposition Front Bench and regularly from some on the Opposition Back Benches and pursued the route of gesture politics—which would have led us straight to the European courts—we would not have got the agreement. There would have been no incentive whatsoever for anyone to negotiate with us and we would have become engaged in interminable court cases, first in our courts and then in the courts in Europe. That would have delayed everything.
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on what has been achieved. I was particularly interested in the comment that, at his insistence, the Commission undertook to look at the needs of people who require to use large volumes of cereals, namely pig and poultry producers. The intensive pig and poultry industry in Northern Ireland has been virtually wiped out. Is there any hope in what lies behind his statement that we in Northern Ireland might benefit from intervention store grain at a cheaper rate?
That was certainly the intention of what I was arguing. This is in the context of the decision on probable further cuts in set-aside. There is a division in the Community about the purpose of cuts in set-aside. The French think it is a matter only of keeping up subsidised exports. That seems crazy to us. The purpose of cuts in set-aside should be to release more feed grain into the internal market where the hard-pressed poultry and pig people are struggling with prices that are making their businesses very difficult. I got the Commission to agree that that must be a consideration in its handling of the proposals that it will bring forward on set-aside and also on its handling of market management measures as to how it should release such grain.
We voted against releasing grain to Spain. I know that there is a serious drought in Spain, but there are other ways of helping them. That grain should have been released into the market of the Community to bring the price down.
When will we hear an announcement that the Community is no longer going to spend £700 million a year on tobacco subsidies and that the money has been switched to something more useful?
On the main issue of meat, I join in the welcome for the agreement on food and farm animal welfare. Will my right hon. Friend continue to encourage people to try to specify near-farm slaughter for meat and if, for intervention purposes, we go in for meat mountains, will he try to ensure that welfare considerations are taken into account?
On the first point, it is going to be a long time and a long battle before we persuade the Community to stop subsidising tobacco. Whenever the matter comes up, the British protest against it. We now have one or two allies—I suspect that the Swedes will help us, as on many other items. I do not want to be too optimistic, but I share my hon. Friend's objective whole-heartedly. It is crazy that the Community should go about trying to limit rules on advertising while at the same time subsiding the production of the product.
On the second point, I remind my hon. Friend that there is no intervention buying of beef at the moment. I am not sure that the Intervention Board has the power to do what he wants. It may simply have to exercise its market powers. I shall look into the matter and write to my hon. Friend.
My right hon. Friend will be admired not only in the farming community but elsewhere, and not only for his achievement of the past 24 hours but for standing firm for many months against those who sought not only to demonstrate but to obstruct the highway to legitimate passage. In respect of the financial aspects of his recent discussions, will he assure the House that his determination to retain but reform the common agricultural policy is not abated?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance very easily. The engines that will cause the true reform of the CAP are the GATT agreements and the extension of the Community to the east in due course. We firmly believe that it would be wise for the Agriculture Council—although this is a slightly hopeful remark—to take steps in advance to show the inevitable and correct direction that we shall follow towards the market.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind words. The agreement proves that my predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Education, was entirely right to block the deal last year because the deal that we achieved this year is much better. She was told that last year's deal was the best on offer, but she was right to judge that, if we stuck it out, we would get more—and we have.
While many people in Brightlingsea in my constituency are opposed to the live export trade in any circumstances, the vast majority of reasonable people in my constituency will welcome the agreement as progress towards better animal welfare standards in the European Union. However, will my right hon. Friend clarify the enforcement arrangements? Will he confirm that they really do mean that we can withdraw licences from any operator operating out of the United Kingdom who breaches the rules, whether that operator is British, a foreign operator from another member state or, indeed, a foreign-owned operator from outside the European Union?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that his analysis of people's reactions is absolutely right. The issue of enforcement was one of the major points that we won. I insisted on having the power to be able to take licences away from foreign hauliers. I was thinking of other European, Community-based hauliers, but I shall check whether we have the power to take away the licences of hauliers from outside the Community, although I doubt whether any come to this country at the moment. A key point for which I argued was that we must be able to take licences away from German, Dutch, Italian or other hauliers because they come here in considerable numbers.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that today's agreement and announcement should result in more animal welfare jobs in my constituency as a result of the probable increased use of lairage facilities? Will he also confirm that the best way to export live animals humanely is by the short sea route from the port of Dover and that today's agreement means that demonstrators should leave the port of Dover alone because we have secured a major achievement in terms of animal welfare?
It is good news for my hon. Friend's constituency because, although there are other perfectly respectable ways to export animals, it is sensible to use the short routes and modern ports such as Dover which have proper lairage facilities. I can therefore support my hon. Friend in his typical and redoubtable attempt to boost his constituency.
My right hon. Friend will recall from a speech that I made in a recent Adjournment debate that animal transportation was a heated issue in the west country. Is he aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed not only by farmers in Devon and Cornwall but by the citizens of Plymouth? Will he reassure my constituents that enforcement in member states such as Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece will be just as zealous as it will no doubt be in this country?
My hon. Friend is right. The Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), and I are in pretty close touch with west country opinion. Enforcement was one of the big items missing in the deal offered to my predecessor last year under the Greek presidency. The Community has now agreed that every country should produce an annual report on how it is enforcing the measures. There will be a strengthening of the Commission's inspectorate and it will be its duty to check that national authorities are doing their job. It will no doubt be a hard battle to ensure proper enforcement everywhere but we have at last got the proper framework for doing so.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that one of my abiding memories is of seeing a load of horses unloaded after two days and two nights' travel without rest, without water or food—much, anyway—and without exercise and then given a good beating? I welcome his statement today, because I hope that such long journeys will be a thing of the past. May I have his assurance that there will be proper inspection when journeys end, and that there will always be such an inspection, or at least the threat of one?
I can confirm what I have already said about enforcement to my hon. Friend. Of course nothing in the agreement upsets the special arrangements that prevent the export of horses from this country.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he was right to remind the House that the Labour party has consistently advocated a licensing scheme for livestock hauliers? Does he accept that any benefits from the agreement will largely be determined by how effectively those licensing schemes are implemented in this country and other member states?
Does the Minister also accept that the vast majority of the examples of animal cruelty that have worried the British people, and which have sometimes appeared on our television screens, have concerned the long distances that animals are transported to slaughter on the continent?
In that regard, the agreement fails to tackle the major issues. Animals will continue to be transported for as many as 29 hours with only a one-hour break for watering before slaughter; after 24 hours, it will be possible for them to start their journey all over again; and, in the case of even young animals such as calves, it will be allowable to transport them for 19 hours with only one hour's watering.
May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that in relation to that crucial aspect—the very long journeys to slaughterhouses on the continent—the agreement is a disappointment? If it is the case that Agriculture Ministers decided last night that the agreement will not be reviewed for at least three years, does that not make it all the more essential that we ensure that the licensing systems are operated effectively, and that we make fast progress on a range of other aspects of animal welfare, including the continental ban on veal crates?
It would be ridiculous to have a review of a new directive in less than three years. It will take at least three years to gain experience that will be worth reviewing. That is a perfectly sensible time limit.
When the hon. Gentleman was arguing that we should introduce national measures on licensing and so on, he did so, firmly telling the House that we would never get the agreement that we have got today. We have got the agreement that we have today. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he voted himself for the re-establishment of the live animal trade in 1975, when the standards were far lower than those that I have agreed today.