Horse Exports

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 31st March 2004.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 3:08 pm, 31st March 2004

It is a pleasure, as always, to follow Andrew George. It is nice to know that the Liberal Democrats are with us on this. I join him in congratulating the Western Morning News in particular, and my local paper, the Western Daily Press, both of which have campaigned long and hard on the issue. There is strong feeling about it throughout the west country. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has taken part in the debate, and I was glad to hear his words of support.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have made useful contributions to the debate; in particular my hon. Friend Gregory Barker, whose timing was, as always, immaculate, and who introduced the debate eloquently and elegantly. It is also nice to have the expertise of my hon. Friends the Members for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and for Witney (Mr. Cameron), each of whom contributed to developing today's arguments.

I was pleased to exercise the age-old right of a Member of Parliament and come to Parliament today on a horse. I believe that that has not happened since 1920 and the last person to do it was a Conservative MP called Sir Arthur Samuel. I was delighted to be escorted by two outriders from the International League for the Protection of Horses, and I join the hon. Member for St. Ives in paying tribute to that organisation, which has done a fantastic job on campaigning on the issue and changing minds in all parts of the House, in the European Parliament, the Commission and elsewhere. This debate is a tribute to its determination to ensure that the issue is properly aired.

It was a great treat to ride a 23-year-old ex-police horse called ILPH Pascal—three times a winner of the police horse of the year award in the early 1990s. That is exactly the kind of animal that, if we cannot change the Government's mind, will be piled on to lorries, carted off to the continent and turned into sausages. It was an important piece of symbolism that we arrived on horses to show what animals we are seeking to protect.

As several hon. Members have commented, the debate is timely because the European Parliament yesterday agreed to two amendments to which I shall refer shortly. The purpose of the debate is to persuade the Government that their proposals are insufficient and that the vast bulk of the British population are opposed to the proposals, and, in a positive way, to suggest a solution to the difficult problem—a way out of this nasty hole. I hope that, contrary to what the Minister said on the farming programme on which he appeared this morning, he is ready to listen constructively and act on some of our suggestions.

As we have heard, here in Great Britain, we do not eat horses; we never have. Their export to abattoirs on the continent has been banned for some 70 years thanks to the so-called minimum value regulations introduced in 1937 by a Conservative MP, Sir George Cockerill. Those regulations have been extremely effective; they were introduced to prevent the export of live horses, and no horses have been exported from the UK to be eaten. Whatever one might say about the regulations, they work. At this moment, no horses are being exported to the European Union or elsewhere to be eaten.

I accept the Minister's point that it may be time to reconsider those regulations, and that the introduction of the EU transport regulations may make that need more urgent. The purpose of the debate is to try to find an alternative solution to the proposed export of live horses and to replace and replicate the protection of horses afforded by the minimum value regulations.

It is worrying that the Minister seemed to suggest that he could see no moral justification for a ban. He seemed to be saying that, as far as he was concerned, it would be morally legitimate for us to export horses to the continent. No doubt he will say that that will not happen and that he will put in place measures to ensure that it does not. However, his comments suggested to me that he sees no moral justification for banning the export of live horses to be turned into sausages. When he said that, he was alone among the 55 million people in Britain. I suspect that the people of Britain, to a man, woman and child, believe that there is an overwhelmingly strong moral objection to the export of live horses to be turned into sausages—the people of Britain do not want it. If the Minister believes that it is morally acceptable for horses to be exported to Italy to be made into salami, he is on his own.

The Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle a moment to intervene. If he now wants to tell us that we, on this side of the House, have the moral case and that he disagrees with us, he should do so.