HC Deb 08 February 1990 vol 166 cc993-4
1. Mr. Janman

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what policies he is considering further to improve farm animal welfare practices.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer)

Yesterday I announced a major initiative, which aims to achieve significant improvements in the welfare of all farm animals in Europe. The important features are to set proper standards for animals in transit and for export, to achieve high standards on farms and at slaughter and to ensure that Community welfare legislation is rigorously enforced.

Mr. Janman

I welcome my right hon. Friend's initiative. He knows that I have written to him on several occasions about animal welfare. Will he confirm that unless action is taken on a Communitywide basis, we could well be in danger of importing substantial amounts of food from other countries in the Community where the increasingly high standards that we are adopting in the United Kingdom are not being adopted?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. If we do not get Europeanwide standards at least to the level that now applies in Britain, our farmers meeting those higher standards will be undercut by other countries producing foods at standards that we would not tolerate here.

Mr. Duffy

In introducing his charter last night, the Minister accepted that he had a moral duty to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are met. How does he square that with his continued tolerance of ritual slaughter?

Mr. Gummer

I intend to make a statement about ritual slaughter in the not too-distant-future. The hon. Gentleman's religious position is well known. In a civilised society we have to bring together two imperatives: first, the proper care of animals and secondly, the proper rights of individuals with strong religious views to carry out those views.

Mr. Hunter

Bearing in mind the EC directive on battery hens, in which arguably, standards are set too low, will my right hon. Friend ensure that EC harmonisation on animal welfare does not take place at the lowest common denominator?

Mr. Gummer

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The current level of 450 is unacceptable. We fought for a higher level in the original negotiations and discussions in which I took part a couple of years ago. We are now insisting that the Commission brings forward recommendations to raise the level significantly.

Dr. David Clark

Will the Minister confirm that over the past few years there has been no trade in or export from Britain of live horses for slaughter—a practice which British people find particularly abhorrent? In view of that, why in his announcement yesterday did he throw in the towel to the EEC and accept the introduction of that unpalatable trade? Why has not the right hon. Gentleman sought a derogation to stop the trade in live horses for slaughter, on the ground that our horses suffer extra distress due to a sea crossing?

Mr. Gummer

I did not throw in the towel and I would not have dreamt of doing so. I said clearly that we shall fight in the Community to retain the present arrangments to stop the export of horses or for an alternative that meets the same requirements. The hon. Gentleman should read the statements that I make rather than make them up for himself.