Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I have no desire to detain the House but, as the representative not only of my constituents but of the all -party group for animal welfare, I must say how we appreciate the robust line that is being taken by my hon. Friend and the Ministry within the Council of Ministers on this vital issue, and the Government's determination to ensure that our high standards are maintained.

Having said that, on both sides of the House there is grave concern that our advantages as an island may be dissipated and that the considerable standards of animal welfare, health and care that have been established over the centuries, and especially in recent years--not only through good husbandry, but through high standards of veterinary care--may be swallowed up in a rush towards a unified European market, when others are prepared to settle for far lower standards.

The documents before us show that the measures are but the first of some more than 20 animal health measures--whether they are animal welfare measures is a moot point--to which we are likely to be subject. I hope that my

Column 304

hon. Friend will not take it amiss when I say that, as one who is considerably concerned with animal welfare generally, I see this as the potential thin end of a very dangerous wedge.

On occasions, this Parliament and this country have been accused of being little Englanders. However, one of our certain advantages as an island is that not only do we have legislative measures--which, as the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) said, are of small value--designed to promote animal health and to protect the environment of the United Kingdom, but we have a natural boundary of which we have been able to take advantage.

The word "rabies", which is highly emotive in the House and throughout the country, has been mentioned several times. I feel that it is incumbent on me, if no one else, to say that the measures before us, which deal mostly in the rabies context with sheep and goats, are not likely--even were they implemented in the Commissioner's wildest dreams--greatly to increase the risk of rabies throughout the United Kingdom, because sheep and goats are regarded as end-of-the-infection-line animals. They do not infect other animals, but they could, under certain circumstances, infect humans with rabies. Nevertheless, it is potentially the thin edge of a wedge.

If we rush towards the single market without due care for animal health and animal welfare, the advantages that we have accrued in this country and the protections that our vets and farmers have built up over the years will undoubtedly be threatened.

Therefore, I must advise my hon. Friend the Minister that I agree entirely with the hon. Member for East Lothian and share his hope that, if the unelected Commission sees fit to pursue these matters without due regard to the high standards in this country in its move towards the single market, and if it adopts the lowest rather than the highest common denominator, we in this House will have the opportunity fully to debate these matters. I hope and believe that this is an all-party issue and one that we all take seriously. Hon. Members of all parties will, I am sure, reject any measures suggested by Europe that do not seek to promote, maintain and even improve upon the high standards that we have come to expect and enjoy in this country.

I should like my hon. Friend and his colleagues to take a clear message to Europe : we in the United Kingdom are not prepared to settle for second best. At the moment, we enjoy high standards and should like to achieve even higher standards, and in this context we expect the rest of Europe to follow us.

9.20 pm

Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : We are united in our deliberations tonight on safeguarding the interests of the public and looking after the interests of our animals. I congratulate the Minister on being frank with us on his stand in Brussels on this important issue. Hon. Members may not know this, but I am aware that the Minister is well used to animals and knows about their best interests and the health risks facing them. Therefore, he is in the right position to discuss the problems of animal health tonight. I wish him well in his further negotiations on behalf of industry and the public in Brussels when the opportune time arrives.

Column 305

The documents that we are debating relate to trade in bovine embryos ; in eggs--poultry and otherwise--and in sheep and goats. With respect, I believe that the reason for all these moves is simply to standardise rules and procedures across the EC. However, in its determination to bring every member state into line, the Community is in danger of reducing public health standards and increasing the risk of disease. Indeed, these are not animal health regulations ; they are animal ill-health regulations, unless we can improve them. The EC is attempting to round down to the lowest common denominator. It is refusing to recognise the traditions of individual countries and Britain's special nature as an island. I know that the Minister and everyone else involved in animal health is proud of this country's record. I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade others to change their minds and to improve the standards of animal health in the Community.

My specific complaint is that the rules relating to certain diseases would be relaxed. Contagious agalactia--an udder infection--is currently subject to an official certification of three years' freedom from the disease, plus pre-export testing. This would now be limited to six months. It would thus require the United Kingdom to seek derogation to retain its higher standards. I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade his counterparts in Europe to accept again the certification of three years' freedom from the disease.

Other diseases are rare in Britain but are more common on mainland Europe. I am thinking of caprine viral arthritis-cae and maedi visna. The relaxation of existing rules could prove a threat to unaffected livestock in this country.

The sheep and goats proposals would reduce to 30 days the present six months period during which animals must be free from rabies before being allowed in. That period of 30 days would be less than the incubation time. I was surprised to read that rabies in sheep and goats represents 14 per cent. of all cases in the Community. The Minister will have to press that point forcibly at the opportune time. Other wind-borne diseases would be less well controlled. There is, therefore, the risk of a significant reduction in the United Kingdom's "animal status," as the Select Committee put it. Checks would be made mainly at points of origin and destination. That would be madness for an island such as Britain, for our spot checks and quarantine arrangements would be seriously undermined. Post-import quarantine would not be permitted for imports from third countries unless disease was specifically suspected. Animal health criteria would have to be certified by the exporting country. The EC wants an expansion of intra- Community trade in poultry and in hatching eggs. Only recently there arose the problem of cracked and dirty eggs originating in Europe. What steps do the British Government and the EC propose to take to prevent a recurrence of that state of affairs?

In relation to the important issue of foot and mouth disease, will the Minister give an assurance that we in Britain will retain our present slaughtering policy? It would be a retrograde step if that policy were discarded.

Column 306

If matters concerning animal health went wrong, it would be a sad day for our sheep industry if that meant that we could not export live lambs and carcases to Community countries. Our sheep farmers would never forgive the Government if they did not ensure that our policy of exporting was able to continue for many years to come. On behalf of all concerned, I wish the Minister well in his discussions. Producers and those who look after and breed animals look to him to ensure that, for many years to come, the interests of all concerned are safeguarded and that the economy of sheep farmers, dairy farmers and all producers in Britain-- not forgetting the public--are safeguarded.

9.28 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Hon. Members on both sides of the House have canvassed most of the issues with which we are concerned today. There are serious dangers in the proposals before us. The Minister has conducted the negotiations so far with the determination and skill that we expect of him. There is all-party, cross-party, parliamentary determination not to allow Britain to be taken down a route which would not serve the nation's requirements. I do not know how Ireland is facing up to these issues--it, too, is an island--but perhaps the Minister will be able to enlighten us on that. In view of the strong agreement in all parts of the House and the views that have been expressed about the dangers which lie ahead, I suggest, in view of the record that we have established, that it boils down to one main point. If we are satisfied that it is not simply a matter of trying to negotiate away something that cannot be negotiated away because we have reached rock bottom, only one course remains. If there is a persistent determination to continue down a route that we find unacceptable, we must say clearly, "We cannot accept it."

The time is coming when we must face up to the fact that we cannot negotiate about the face of the Cheshire cat. If there is nothing there, there is no point in trying to negotiate about it. We must simply veto it. Exactly how we do that raises important matters of Government policy. I shall not elaborate on that now, but I make the general proposition that we should say that enough is enough. The arcane argument that somehow the Luxembourg accord has been dispensed with is not true. Those who are familiar with the nuts and bolts of the Single European Act know that when our vital interests are affected we can exercise the veto. I hope that it will not come to that, but if it does, I hope that we shall do just that.

9.31 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On 18 May the Minister gave me a most courteous and helpful hearing at the MAFF about imports of tropical birds from rain forests. He said tonight that he was not in a position to reply to the points that I put to him and I await his letter with considerable interest. I am heartened that a Minister should request further action on a letter from an Opposition Member. That is the sign of a good Minister. When I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Dick Crossman, he did that on several occasions so that even an Opposition Member could get a better answer. This is a difficult subject and certainly not one of party conflict.

Column 307

I raise under the third measure the importation of parrots. It would be unfair to go over my interview with the Minister. Since then, the matter has been raised twice in the media. On Sunday evening, 16 July, there was a radio 4 programme by Jessica Holm in the "Nature" series specifically on that subject. Arising out of that programme, there are three important points among many for the Ministry to consider. First, the statistic was quoted on the programme that for every parrot bought at a pet shop in the United Kingdom, perhaps four die on their way here, either in dreadful truckloads travelling to market across countries such as Senegal or, from my personal observation, on rough journeys in the eastern Amazon.

In our interview I explained to the Minister that I had been to the Altamira conference with the Amerindians of the Xingu river and seen at first hand the destruction of mile after mile of rain forest. We must acknowledge the major problem of the destruction of habitats, followed by importation.

Can the Minister tell us, without being out of order, about the number and proportion of parrots the Government estimate die in transit, compared with the number that arrive? In the programme the trade representative disputed the figure and said that 25 per cent. was a more realistic figure than 80 per cent. Whatever it is, we are talking about some increasingly rare birds. In fact, many species are in peril. I hope that the Minister will tell the House of any thoughts that he may have on this matter.

Secondly, the programme emphasised that anyone who thought that we could justify the taking of parrots to breed them so that they could return to the wild was stretching an ecological point a little far. Sometimes it might be a success, but breeding in captivity by no means ensures that stock can be returned to the wild.

Thirdly, the programme demonstrated that the trade in parrots is quite unlike the ivory trade. Those who sell the parrots to the traders get only the proverbial peanuts for them. It is pathetic that they get so little for the capture of those birds. The species are endangered, and for what? It is for pence rather than for pounds. That is the great sadness. I shall not go into detail about the ivory trade, but ivory is at least valuable whereas the trade in parrots is not to needy people who catch the birds. That is an important point. Four days after my interview with the Minister, on 22 May, there was a striking programme in the "Wildlife on One" series, which featured the capture of parrots in Senegal. One live bird was used as a lure to entrap others. It was suggested that up to 20,000 parrots were legally imported to the United Kingdom from Senegal every year and that they were subjected to cruel treatment in captivity and during transportation to this country.

International trade in endangered species is subject to the provisions of the convention on international trade in endangered species, which is implemented in the United Kingdom and other EC countries by EC regulation 3626/82, as amended. The convention regulates the import and export of threatened species. Those listed in appendix 1 to the convention are considered to be under immediate threat of extinction and, for the most part, are subject to a complete trade ban. Is that complete trade ban actually effective, first, in the United Kingdom and, as far as the Government can estimate, in other European Community countries?

Column 308

Those species included in appendix 2, of which the African grey parrot was featured in "Wildlife on One", are not considered to be under immediate threat, but trade is limited to a level that is not detrimental to their survival. The difficulty is that, because of the destruction of habitat, which can happen very quickly, parrots that we thought safe five years ago are now, in some cases, teetering on the borders of extinction. Very close monitoring is necessary if we are serious about dealing with that problem.

The convention requires only that traders in the country of origin should have an export licence--Senegal is a party to the convention--but the United Kingdom also insists that an import licence is issued for trade in appendix 2 species. Licences are issued by the endangered species branch of the Department of the Environment, the management authority of the convention, and our main concern is for the conservation of the threatened species. I would in no way want to embarrass this Minister, who has been so kind and helpful. If he does not have all the information available tonight, he can send it to me in writing. It is important that Parliament has the necessary information on the record so that hon. Members can refer to it. He might put his letter in the Library, whose staff have been so helpful to me.

We Members of Parliament receive an increasing number of letters, particularly from young people asking what we are doing about this. CITES is advised by one or two scientific authorities--the Nature Conservancy Council in the case of animals and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the case of plant species. The other day, I was Ghillean Prance's guest at Kew when we discussed this, and there is a problem. He is a distinguished menage botanist and knows better than most the problems of rare species of birds. I hope that the Department will contact Kew and that its officials will play a video of the "Wildlife on One" programme of May 22 and of Jessica Holm's programme last Sunday.

The Department of the Environment review of the EC CITES regulations of 1986 observed that there was a presumption to recommend approval for species in appendix 2, provided that the trade is monitored under licence and that the Nature Conservancy Council recommends refusal only where there is evidence that

"there are likely to be negative conservation implications" That is probably the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, although I saw a Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I realise that there is an interface between the two. I do not complain about that, and I do not think that there should be a different civil service departmental allocation. Where there's a will, there's a way and the system seems to work perfectly well. However, I recognise that another Department is involved.

The African grey parrot is considered to exist in sufficient numbers in the wild not to be under immediate threat. Well, it may not yet be under threat. Powers to regulate the conditions in which birds and animals are transported are vested in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under the Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973, which places a duty of care on the carriers of livestock. The order provides for the carriage of all animals in suitable containers of adequate dimensions, which are properly labelled and stowed to ensure no risk of injury or unnecessary suffering. Other provisions deal with the feeding and watering of animals in transit.

Column 309

Jessica Holm's nature programme emphasised that sometimes aircraft passengers could be unaware that animals were dying all around and that there were few survivors among a number of dead bodies. What kind of checks are carried out at Stansted, Heathrow, Gatwick or the other airports at which these planes arrive to ensure that this does not happen?

The assertion in the BBC programme was that massive abuse took place. I hope that a recording of the programme giving exactly what was said will be made and be taken into account. I have to confess that on Sunday I was picking blackcurrants and listening to the programme at the same time and did not take notes. I am not sure exactly what was said, but I hope that the Department will check it out.

Carriers, including foreign carriers arriving in British jurisdiction, can be prosecuted for failing to comply with any of these provisions. However, the Ministry has no powers to deal with the means of capture or keeping of the creatures in the country of origin before their dispatch. That must be a matter of international arrangement and possibly, either in writing or in person tonight, the Minister will say what is being done, particularly with the Senegal, but also with the Brazilian and other authorities, to try to obtain a better understanding of dispatch, if we must have importation. The Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979 contains provisions relating to the hygiene and quarantine of imported birds, and a veterinary inspector may require the slaughter of any that are found to be diseased. Over 500 species of birds from 30 countries were brought into the United Kingdom during 1988 and many birds died during quarantine. I understand that quite often birds are in quarantine and the people looking after them may have total goodwill, but not the expertise.

I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that if we are to have proper regulations, we need more vets with expertise in this matter. That means paying vets. Will the Minister say something about the provision of vets and whether he is satisfied that there is proper scrutiny of the quarantine facilities?

As I understand it, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is conducting a survey into the mortality rate of these birds, which it hopes to publish in about three or four weeks. Is that true? The Minister probably knows about this, and if not, his officials, who have struggled through the traffic to be here today--good on them for doing so--will know about it. Such a survey would be of wide interest.

The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 contains further powers whereby the Secretary of State for the Environment may extend the list of species protected under the CITES regulations and restrict the sale of exotic species. Several species of parrot are scheduled by the 1976 Act, but I understand that it does not cover many more birds. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) who is a Whip, has a good record on wildlife and countryside matters. We both served on the long Committee considering the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, when he was a Back Bencher. I hope that he will use his influence

Column 310

on the Government if need be to ensure that these matters are taken seriously, and to back up the Minister in his best endeavours. You have been patient with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I think that these points are in order. I ask for nothing tonight other than what is convenient for the Minister, but I look forward first to a reply to the letter following my interview of 18 May and secondly to a reply to the rather detailed points that I have raised tonight. 9.46 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : This is an important debate, but its importance is not reflected in the level of attendance in the Chamber. The order represents a potential shift away from maintaining a long- standing policy of scrutiny of, and protection from, animal diseases. I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and spoke about Mr. Ray MacSharry. While the debate has been going on, I have confirmed my memory from The Rainbow of the Common Market Assembly, which meets in Strasbourg. I share the reservations expressed by my hon. Friend, although he supports the Common Market and I do not. I think that it has been a burden on this country, and I continue to be a critic of it. Nothing that has happened recently has removed the point of any of my criticisms. It is interesting to see that people from both points of view are expressing concern that the Common Market seems intent on pursuing a policy that is daft to the point of lunacy, and which might conceivably allow the spread of diseases such as rabies. The solution often put forward by the Common Market Commission is that of a certificate of origin, which would certify that animals were free from rabies or other diseases. That would not be acceptable because we would have no guarantee about the quality of the inspection, the qualifications of the inspectors, or the diligence with which the inspections were carried out, which is vital. If the inspections are done in a slap-happy way, and the inspectors are not adequately qualified, the result will be rabies entering a hitherto rabies-free zone. It is important that that should not happen, so the Common Market solution is not a solution.

Numerous people in the Common Market Assembly, the Commission and the Council of Ministers are obsessed with a concept of federalism which overrides the sense and sensibility of allowing member states an element of individual scrutiny at borders to ensure standards of animal hygiene. That is of major concern.

Members of this Parliament simply do not understand the strength and ferocity of the federalist movement within the institutions of the Common Market. Those people intend to override our objections. I press the Minister to make it clear in his reply whether we shall use our veto by declaring this to be a matter of vital national interest or whether we shall simply be outvoted on a majority vote and find ourselves unwillingly acquiescing in rules imposed by the Common Market with which we go along because the Cabinet feel that it must make some sort of gesture of solidarity in the light of 1992. That would be a grave mistake. I am sure that many people who support the Common Market would have strong reservations about such a solution, saying that we can work within the Common Market but we do not have to accept the abolition of our right of scrutiny of animals

Column 311

and birds coming into Britain. I press the Minister to tell the House that, if necessary, the Government will use their veto by declaring the matter to be one of vital national interest. We are debating a motion to take note of the EC documents and supporting

"the Government's intention to negotiate satisfactory arrangements to ensure effective safeguards against the introduction of animal disease."

I am happy to support that motion, provided that the Minister can assure us that it will be carried out with a degree of dedication that will involve using every right that this nation state has within the Common Market to prevent the institution of rules which would be inimical to the maintenance and development of good agricultural animal hygiene and consumer standards in Britain.

During the week beginning 22 May this year, I attended my last Strasbourg Assembly. Curiously enough, the last word that I uttered as a member of that Assembly was on this very issue. I am delighted to think that many members of that Assembly were pleased to see the back of me. I was an unremitting critic and they do not like critics in their gathering.

One question for the Commission was entitled "Contr ol de la rage." The French language shows the power of rabies. I cannot translate the original question, which was in French, because it is too long. People often do not realise that the English version of the record of the Strasbourg Assembly takes about three or four months to produce. A verbatim report called The Rainbow is produced the following day which is not terribly helpful if one cannot read Greek, Danish, French, German or whatever language happens to have been used. However, the essence of the question in French was, "How will rabies be controlled by the Commission?"

Mr. MacSharry, who signed one of the documents that we are considering today, said :

"As the hon. Member is aware, rabies is the subject of a special Commission report which is accompanied by proposals to eradicate this disease. The report and proposals demonstrate that rabies has been treated as a special case and that the Commission's policy is to eradicate rabies from the Community thus obviating the necessity for quarantine."

The questioner, Dr. Caroline Jackson of the European Democratic Group, asked :

"I appreciate that the Commission has a programme to eradicate rabies but until rabies has in fact been 100 per cent. eradicated will the Commissioner not agree that the British Government is within its rights under Community law to apply the quarantine period?" Ray MacSharry answered :

"All I would like to say is that the provisions that will operate after 1992 will totally depend on the eradication proposals that are now in place and these, hopefully, will be successful and thus obviate after 1992 the necessity for quarantine."

The matter was pursued by Mr. Provan of the European Democrats, who asked the Commissioner :

"Is he satisfied himself that the Commission's programme is well enough funded to actually eradicate rabies within the foreseeable future or does he feel that we must enhance that programme to make progress a little more rapidly so that we can achieve the abolition of rabies in the Community as quickly as possible?"

Commissioner MacSharry replied :

"I am satisfied and hopeful that the proposals that are in place and the resources that are available will lead to that situation." I then asked the Commissioner the following question :

"Does that not mean, in effect, that since rabies is advancing in Europe at the rate of about 25 miles a year, as

Column 312

stated in a report submitted to this Assembly, that by 1992 it will be impossible for the United Kingdom to have completely open borders if they are going to maintain their existing strict quarantine scrutiny of animals coming into the United Kingdom? Is that not an important reservation for the United Kingdom, in order to stop the spread of rabies into the United Kingdom which is rabies-free at the moment?"

Commissioner MacSharry replied :

"Yes, I know the situation that has been raised by the hon. Member and by Mr. Provan and Mrs. Jackson. It is, of course, a concern of both the UK and the Irish authorities. Our effort on a Community-wide basis is to eradicate this disease and, therefore, obviate the necessity for any quarantine. I have to say that it is hypothetical at the moment what situation might exist after 1992, but if there is to be any consideration for quarantine subsequent to 1992, then it can, or could be, become considered at the point of origin and not at the point of destination and thereby overcome any difficulties that may arise."

Commissioner MacSharry clearly stated that after 1992 checks for rabies should be at the point of origin and not at the point of destination.

Mr. Cash : As Commissioner MacSharry is an Irish Commissioner, has the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), in all his research into the situation in Ireland, established the extent to which the Irish Government are enthusiastic about importing various diseases into that country?

Mr. Cryer : Of course the Irish Government are not enthusiastic about that prospect. The truth is that Commissioners are, by and large, politicians who have been put out to grass. They are not experts who have been appointed because of their commitment to sense and sensibility or to the development of good rules. They are the political friends of their sponsors. In Commissioner MacSharry's case, the Taoiseach wanted to find a safe place for a Finance Minister who had imposed a number of harsh economic policies in Ireland. Once appointed, a Commissioner is secure and has no accountability for the policies that he advocates, other than to the College of Commissioners.

It is worth remembering, in respect of imports of live animals into the United Kingdom, that the only loyalty that a Commissioner owes is to the College of Commissioners. When Sir Leon Brittan left this House to become a Commissioner, he said that he would look after British interests, but the truth is that he was obliged to swear an oath of allegiance to the College of Commissioners.

Mr. Home Robertson : My hon. Friend has said a little about rabies, presumably referring to the farm animal categories mentioned in the documents. He has echoed points raised by other hon. Members, including myself. Clearly, however, a far greater risk of rabies being introduced into this country would be posed by any relaxation of the quarantine regulations affecting cats and dogs. A separate document, not included in the group with which we are dealing, specifically recognises the right of the British authorities to maintain quarantine regulations affecting cats and dogs because we are uniquely free of the disease. My hon. Friend should be thankful for small mercies. He is, however, right to put his finger on the fact that there is still the rather remote risk of rabies being introduced by goats or sheep.

Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right to raise that point. Some people in Common Market institutions, however, want to remove those restrictions. They want certificates of

Column 313

origin to be provided for cats and dogs, and any other domestic animals which may be affected. That has been the subject of press releases from members of the Assembly.

Another person who intervened in the discussion to which I have referred was a man called Dieter Rogalla, a member of the Socialist group and--if I may use such an enticing expression--a rabid pro-marketeer. On his desk is a Customs barrier which is permanently lifted, as a symbol of his devotion to the removal of all barriers. He seeks every opportunity to argue that barriers of every kind must be removed. In the report, he asked the Commissioner, in effect, to counter my comments by asking when quarantine would be abandoned by Great Britain. Mr. Rogalla, by the way, is also a member of the "kangaroo group", a powerful and influential group in the Assembly, the kangaroo symbol representing the ability to jump over barriers at each country border. I mention that merely to demonstrate that there is strong pressure to remove the barriers that we are discussing. In reply to Mr. Rogalla's question, Ray MacSharry replied, in effect, that he hoped that quarantine would be ended :

"I hope in the not too distant future and definitely after 1992." I have the document here, and it will be quoted in Hansard tomorrow. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that today's motion means something, and that the Government will negotiate satisfactory arrangements to ensure

"effective safeguards against the introduction of animal disease." I hope that we shall not be fobbed off and find in six or 12 months' time that a document has been produced saying, "We have discovered that quarantine is not all that valuable--inoculations have been used on a widespread basis in the Common Market and rabies is no longer important as a disease transmittable to humans and animals." I hope that the reference to effective safeguards means that the Government will ensure that we do not depend on certificates of origin from other Common Market countries or from third countries importing into the Common Market, and that we shall use our right of national interest to veto any such proposals. It is vital that the Government should take a firm stand and not capitulate as they have done on so many other Common Market issues.

10.4 pm

Mr. Donald Thompson : I shall answer the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) immediately by reading out again what I said earlier :

"The Government naturally support action at a Community level for the eradication of rabies. But we would resist any suggestion that the Community should commit itself to any particular date for the elimination of quarantine. The Government's position is that the elimination of quarantine can be considered only when quarantine is no longer necessary to exclude the disease. Whilst the Government support the Commisson's revised proposal that member states should implement the eradication programmes before the end of 1989, we believe that eradication will take longer to achieve than the three years originally provided for. It is therefore likely that quarantine will remain necessary beyond 1992."

Before I came to the debate I read with interest the exchanges to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred.

Column 314

That exchange of views was vital. I place as serious an interpretation upon it as does the hon. Member for Bradford, South.

Mr. Home Robertson : I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Government's position about the maintenance of provisions to protect the United Kingdom against the importation of rabies. However, there were one or two weasel words in the statement that he has just read out again. He said that the Government would resist the lifting of quarantine under the circumstances that he described and that he thought it unlikely that those circumstances would arise. What does the word "resist" mean in that context? Do the Government acknowledge that this is a matter of vital national interest, which ought to warrant the use of the veto?

Mr. Thompson : I do not intend to turn this into a drafting session on a paragraph that is perfectly plain and that can be understood by the whole House. "Resist" means resist, oppose and all the rest. The hon. Gentleman went to nearly as good a school as I did, so he can put his own interpretation on it.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) put his argument at a most opportune time. On 27 July, there is to be a meeting of the international committee on these matters. I shall ensure that my officials read his words as they compose the Government's answer to him and that they bear them in mind when they attend the meeting on 27 July. It is a pity that the wife of the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is to reply to the Adjournment debate, is not sitting next to him. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) has a great deal to do with these matters in the Department of the Environment. I assure the hon. Member for Linlithgow that both the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West and I are very concerned about the importation of parrots and other animals that have to rely upon our support and protection. As he kindly suggested I do, I shall write to him further about the matter.

Mr. Dalyell : I hope that officials will listen to the programme on Sunday by Jessica Holm and that they watched the "Wildlife on One" programme that was broadcast on 22 May.

Mr. Thompson : I shall do that, and I shall ensure that my officials do so, too.

It is clear from the debate that the whole House agrees that we should work as hard as possible to ensure that the United Kingdom's animal status is well protected. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) made that point very well. He also made the point that BSE is now unfortunately endemic in this country. Continental countries must now realise that, for the first time in many ways, there is a two-way argument.

I do not intend to be drawn into the debate on eggs. We are talking not about eggs for breakfast but about eggs for hatching. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) was right to emphasise the fact that animal welfare goes hand in hand with animal health. He drew to our attention the serious matter of rabies. He can be assured that I and the Farm Animal Welfare Council will ensure that the twin protections of welfare and proper standards for animals are maintained and kept in mind.

Column 315

I have answered most of what the hon. Member for Bradford, South said. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) stressed that we should use every method and every device possible in Europe. Both hon. Gentlemen should remember that I voted against the last beef premium, and that it is unusual to vote against anything in the Council of Ministers. We shall keep that resolution in this most important matter of animal health. The hon. Gentleman on the Liberal Bench, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells)--

Mr. Home Robertson : Before the Minister moves on to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), may I bring him back to the important issue that he has just covered? He has just admitted that the best he can do in the Council of Ministers is to vote against something. That may be unusual, but he voted against the new beef premium. However, we have the new beef premium, regardless of that vote. We are discussing something of more fundamental importance than the beef premium--the possible introduction of deadly diseases into Britain--so may I press the Minister further for an undertaking that it is the Government's intention that the House should have the opportunity to debate the issue further when negotiations in Europe have been concluded?

Mr. Thompson : The usual channels sit on each side of me. It may be that by the time that happens I shall be Leader of the House and will be able to decide that myself. However, that is unlikely and I can go no further.

The hon. Gentleman on the Liberal Bench was kind enough to call me a round peg in a round hole. I have spent all my life with animals and I can assure the Opposition and my right hon. and hon. Friends that we take the matter extremely seriously. I am sure it is not the last we have heard on it.

Mr. Cryer rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. The Minister is not giving way ; he has finished his speech.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 4183/89, 4839/89 and 5057/89 relating to the animal health aspects of trade in certain animals and animal products ; and supports the Government's intention to negotiate satisfactory arrangements to ensure effective safeguards against the introduction of animal disease.

Column 316

Airport Congestion

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]

10.12 pm

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : For the past few months, just about everyone in the air travel industry has been warning that 1989 will see more congestion in the skies than ever before. Already the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers believes that it will be a disastrous summer. The majority of the delays will almost certainly be at Gatwick airport, the most popular starting point for charter flights to the Mediterranean, which are most vulnerable to delays than other flights. Many of those flights will be bound for Greece and Spain, where the air traffic control systems are even more overstretched than ours. With the French air traffic controllers permitting six rather than 54 flights per hour through their air space, as they did last Saturday, an outrageous, unacceptable and miserable situation for holidaymakers and travellers is certain. Something will have to be done about it.

Last summer and the summer before, the chaos at Gatwick made headlines for weeks on end. In 1987 the cause of the chaos was industrial action by the French, the Spanish, and at one point the British air traffic controllers. In 1988 the Spanish air traffic controllers' strike caused the initial backlog. After their weekend action, the Greeks then went on strike, the result being delays of up to five hours. The problems were worsened at Gatwick by the breakdown of the main air traffic control computer at West Drayton, repairs to the Gatwick runway, the combined police-military operation to test airport security, and fog.

As the issue of delays comes increasingly into focus, there is a need for a major new initiative to provoke greater Government and aviation industry action to solve the growing crisis affecting airports in the south-east. In considering airport congestion, it is important to distinguish between the delays caused by air traffic controllers through industrial disputes, when they deliberately perform below their best, and those due to traffic volumes being in excess of system capacity. In the United Kingdom, delays for any reason can concertina flights into later periods when congested runways and airspace are already fully committed. That causes knock-on delays, increasing inconvenience and hardship to users and additional costs to airlines and airports.

One solution which is often suggested for easing the problems of delays is night flights. The relaxing of restrictions is still seen by some as a viable method of overcoming delays. It has been anticipated that over the next five years there will be a 20 per cent. increase in the night flight quota at Gatwick. It has been argued that the increase will be brought about by the use of new super-quiet aircraft of the NNA category, which will be phased in at the expense of noisier aircraft.

The use of night flights however, is an intolerable, unacceptable and unnecessary method of relieving congestion at airports. The bottom line of the argument is that any aircraft is noisy and will seriously affect the quality of life of residents in the location of airports. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) in his place agreeing with me. Night flights are a significant part of the environmental

Next Section

  Home Page