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The campaign against veal crating is overwhelming. No one should delude himself that it will disappear into the bureaucracy of Europe. The vast majority of the people I have met at various ports are good, honest citizens--many of them have never demonstrated before, and most of them are former Tory voters.
These people are looking for a parliamentary solution. Many of the demonstrators are rather bemused by the antics of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He condemns the demonstrators in the same way as the hooligans at the Dublin football match are condemned--he calls them the hooligan element. But when they demonstrate in Brussels, he shakes hands with them and
Column 274tells them what a splendid job they are doing--even though they are often the same people who demonstrated at our air and sea ports. It is nonsense to condemn them at home and congratulate them abroad. We are, however, used to the Minister being somewhat two-faced --
Mr. Martlew: I am grateful. We are used to seeing the Minister deploying double standards. He says that he hates and opposes the veal crate system, yet until a few months ago he was allowing calves from his own farm to go to market to be sent on to veal crates.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave): As the hon. Gentleman has lowered the tone of this debate by his personal abuse, I remind him that the management of my farm is in the hands of his--not yet right hon.--Friend, the spokesman on agriculture in the House of Lords. He might like to address his question to him.
Let us take a look at the exporters, and in particular at the leader of the exporters, Mr. Richard Otley. He was recently described to me by a senior police officer at Brightlingsea as a right-wing fascist. The man has a record of cruelty to animals, he claims to have personal influence with the Prime Minister, and I understand that he has been asked by a Welsh Conservative association to stand as a parliamentary candidate.
There are good legal arguments on which the Government can rely if they want to prohibit the exporting of calves to veal crates. There is strong veterinary evidence that the EC calves directive is wholly inadequate in the protection it affords calves--it sanctions the continued use of crates, for instance. As such, it could be argued that the directive fails properly to occupy the field, and is thus no bar to a United Kingdom export ban.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud): A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman said that his Bill seeks the imposition of a unilateral ban, but he seemed a little less sure whether he had the support of his Front Benchers on that matter--no doubt they will clarify that later. Labour's policy paper on animal transportation suggests that the hon. Gentleman does not have their support:
"We will seek a ban through the European Commission and the Council of Ministers".
If that is Labour's policy, surely it makes the Front Benchers' attitude to the hon. Gentleman's Bill crystal clear?
Column 275Secondly, unusually for an EC directive, the calves directive imposes only minimum standards, and expressly allows a member state to maintain stricter standards. The "occupied field" principle notwithstanding, it could be argued that, when a member state lawfully maintains stricter rearing requirements under a minimum directive, as Britain has done, it is then entitled to rely on article 36 in declining to send animals to other parts of the EU for rearing in the very system that has been declared unlawful in its own country.
A minimum standards directive should not be viewed as occupying a field in the same way as a normal directive. Unlike the more usual kind of directive, a minimum standards directive does not purport to say all that can be said on a particular matter. It does not fully occupy the field; rather, it recognises the legitimate right of member states to establish stricter provisions.
Surely this is a matter of political will, not of law alone. I am convinced, however, from my experience, that there is no political will. When I introduced my Bill, I expected all-party support. There was a problem in my constituency at the airport, and the local councillors, from one end of the political spectrum to the other, voted against the export of calves for veal. Unfortunately, the Minister was opposed to that approach from the outset.
I wrote to the Minister on 3 January asking for an urgent meeting to discuss my Bill. I wanted to talk things through, and to ascertain whether it would be possible to get the Bill into Committee. There would then have been discussions with the farming lobby.
The Minister did not reply. Eventually, I phoned his office. I made the call a fortnight after writing. I was told that the right hon. Gentleman was too busy to see me. He could not see me, but I was told that the Parliamentary Secretary could. On two occasions, the hon. Lady cancelled meetings with me. One of the cancellations was at short notice. I was told by a member of her private office that she was in Europe on the day when she was to meet me. She was due to meet me at 6 pm. At 6.20 pm, the hon. Lady walked into the House and said that she was going to a meeting.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Angela Browning): As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, we had, unfortunately, to cancel the meeting. When I saw him in the evening of the day when we were to meet, I had been in Europe. He will know that one can travel to Europe and back within a day these days. When he saw me, I was in the middle of a meeting in the House. I went to the Members' Entrance to collect some documents. I offered the hon. Gentleman an appointment before his Bill was due to be heard. He declined to see me.
As I have said, the Minister refused to see me. The Parliamentary Secretary cancelled two meetings. On the day when my Bill was debated, they sent the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chamber to run the filibuster to block my Bill. It is obvious that that was done with the knowledge--
Column 276engaged in filibustering. You ruled that I had not, Madam Speaker, and that nothing untoward had occurred. Is it acceptable for such suggestions to continue?
Madam Speaker: Members are responsible for their comments. The House will appreciate that I provided three hours for the debate. A number of Members had written to me because of the seriousness of the subject. I felt it was one that deserved the full three hours that the House allows me to give for such a debate. I hope that we shall debate the subject, and not personalities, with the seriousness that the House should adopt when approaching extremely important matters in which all our constituents are interested.
The argument is whether we can ban calves going to the veal crates in Europe. In my opinion, we can. The Minister has never said that it would be illegal to introduce a ban. He said in his letter of 1 February that it was likely to be illegal. The Parliamentary Secretary stated in a letter to The Times that it was likely to be illegal. But they are not prepared to say categorically that such a ban would be illegal. The transportation of live animals raises difficulties, but it is my view that we could take unilateral action.
The idea that we shall lose our way in the bureaucracy of Brussels and that the demonstrators will go away is nonsense. We have seen the Minister's failure over the past two days to get any movement in Brussels. The idea that the southern Europeans will suddenly change their minds and allow the European Community to ban veal crates is nonsense. We all know that. We must take action soon. We must have debates with the farming industry to ascertain how we can help it. At the end of the day, the cruel trade that we are debating must stop. 10.53 am
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. William Waldegrave): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth,Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on securing the debate and on a sensible and level-headed speech in introducing it. I associate myself with a good deal of what he said.
I think that we all recognise the width and depth of concern in the United Kingdom about these issues. They are famously, I guess, the easiest subjects on which to stir the British people. If a Member wants to increase his mailbag, the answer is to raise the subject of animal welfare. In one sense, it is a tribute to our country. When emotions are so easily stirred, however, it is incumbent on us to try to tell people clearly what the situation is and not to play on emotions. These are emotions easier to stir than to calm. Some of my criticisms of one or two of those who have offered their advice on these matters do not mean that I doubt their intentions, which I am sure are good. I merely say that it lies on us all in the House and outside to direct energies in a way that does not lead to frustration.
Column 277debate and then respond to the various points raised by hon. Members. Will the Parliamentary Secretary respond to the debate? We want some ministerial responses on points that are likely to be made during it.
Mr. Waldegrave: I thought that it would be helpful to the House if I were to intervene relatively early in the debate. After about six months of argument about these matters, we are reasonably clear about the principal lines of argument. It seemed that it would be helpful if the Government were to give a reasonably authoritative answer. Many hon. Members will seek to catch your eye, Madam Speaker. If I am allowed a short intervention at a later stage on any particular point with which I do not deal properly now, I shall seek to make it.
Mr. Waldegrave: The hon. Gentleman says from his great wisdom that what I have suggested is not the way in which these debates are conducted. I have spoken in a good many such debates over the years. It is often of help to the House for a Minister to speak at a relatively early stage, and I shall do so this morning.
Let us deal with the history of the matter, but not too much. It goes back quite a long way. Concern about the export of live animals goes right back to the 1950s. Lord Balfour of Burleigh was asked to undertake a report in the 1950s. The result was the setting up of a system of mutual agreements between this country--this was long before we were in the Community--and others. The system was aimed at satisfying people in Britain that, when live animals were exported, welfare standards would be satisfactory. There was a series of bilateral agreements.
In the early 1970s, when a Conservative Government were in office, there was concern among hon. Members on both sides of the House about the continuing trade of live animals. There was an occasion when Conservative Back-Bench Members joined Opposition Members and overruled the advice of the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not think that there was a vote, but there was great pressure on the Minister. As a result, he agreed that he would stop the trade and call for a report. The result was Lord O'Brien's report. In those days, the Minister was fully entitled to take that course in the absence of Community law.
Lord O'Brien reported. He found that there was no reason why the trade, properly regulated, should not continue. He observed that there were being put in place a number of Europewide controls--not as many as are in place today, but some were being introduced. The trade restarted after a free vote in the House. Many Conservative Members and some Opposition Members, including the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on agriculture, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), voted to reopen the trade, as did the present Commissioner with responsibilities for transport in the European Community. I think that it was perfectly sensible of them to do so.
It behoves Opposition Members, however, if they are serious about putting themselves forward for government, to remember what it feels like when in government. The point has already been made. They will be subject to exactly the same constraints. They will be having exactly the same arguments, probably, with their own troublesome
Column 278Back-Bench Members. We all have them. [Interruption.] I apologise for that slip. I cannot think what I was talking about.
Labour Members would sometimes have to say some unwelcome things to well- intentioned and powerfully motivated Back Benchers on their own side. One of the things that they would have to say--
Mr. Jenkin: However much sympathy the House may have with the objectives of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) to ban calve exports, is it not the case that, even if it became law, my right hon. Friend would not be able to act, because if he acted contrary to European Community law he could be prosecuted and sued by those who had suffered financial loss as a result of obeying that Bill instead of Community law, as Community law overrides Acts of Parliament that have been passed by the United Kingdom Parliament?
Mr. Waldegrave: I do not know whether it would be me who would be personally sued, but if we passed law that laid us open to damages in the European Court, the Government would have to pay damages. My hon. Friend points that out as though it were something new and astonishing. When we signed the Single European Act, with support from both sides of the House-- including many who are known as Euro-sceptics--we were establishing, for the great benefit of this country, a single market. In certain areas, we said that, if the single market is to be maintained, there must be European law to maintain it. That is how we have harried European airlines and European steel companies to get rid of illegal subsidies. That is how we have just managed to get illegal pig support systems in France and illegal mushroom subsidies in Ireland stopped. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander--if I may make an agricultural analogy. On this matter, I make no apology whatever for saying that the House and, I believe, the majority of those within my party, understood that, when we established the single market, there would be some common European rules, and sometimes they would not always be convenient to us. The judgment was--I think that it is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House--that, over all, the maintenance of the single market is immensely in the benefit of the United Kingdom, as it is in the benefit of Europe as a whole. I do not think that on this occasion my hon. Friend points to anything particularly new. We knew that there would be rules.
Let us come further forward in history. The decision was taken at the time of the establishment of the single market that we must have better welfare rules for the transportation of animals. That subject was addressed. It was particularly important to us because our licensing arrangements, which involved inspection at the national borders, and so on, had to end because we were moving into the single market. The Community quite rightly said that we could not just dismantle all that and do nothing; we had to have proper standards of transport.
That argument is continuing. Although the Commission made proposals in, I think, 1992 or 1993, they have not yet been agreed. We came near to an agreement last summer, when my predecessor who is now the Secretary of State for
Column 279Education was Minister, but we rightly judged that the compromise offer--known in the trade as the Greek compromise--was not satisfactory, because it did not contain the concept of journey limits. There must be a definition of when a journey ends. One cannot just say that there will be a limit of five, 10 or 15 hours. One must define it. There must be a time scale after which it is a new journey, and it must be a long time scale to be meaningful.
The French compromise, which we have been discussing in the past two days, was 12 hours. I do not believe that that is a satisfactory compromise. I do not believe that the House would regard a journey that had been restarted again after 12 hours as a separate journey. I judged that it would be a continuation of the same journey. There must be a longer gap than that.
I have said that three days is a proper gap between journeys, because by then the stress level of the animals has gone right down again, and it probably is a new journey. The Dutch have said that it should be a little bit less than that. One must have a definition of what one means by a journey limit. No journey limit is allowed at present in European law.
Mr. Waldegrave: That is why, incidentally, the Germans, who have passed in their Parliament an eight-hour journey limit, will find that they will be struck down. They have already been challenged by other countries and have had to suspend it.
The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) did not hit the tone of the House quite right today, because we are trying to discuss important and emotional issues in, I hope, a reasonably objective way. If he thinks that this is all Tory villainy on this side, he has not studied the history of the matter. He would be in precisely the same position. It is quite dangerous, if the hon. Gentleman is serious about seeking to win the next election, to build up expectations that he cannot meet. He should think a little bit that his party might conceivably be in power--I hope that it will not be--but if he has pinned it to saying all sorts of things that are then shown to be false, he will make the situation much worse. It is perfectly clear that one cannot unilaterally introduce journey limits. There is no capacity in European law at present to do that. That is why we must introduce that principle. It is also clear, as I think the hon. Member for Carlisle made clear in his speech, that he knows very well that we could not have a unilateral ban on live exports. He accepted that, because he said that it may well be a bit more difficult to do that--which, I think, is parliamentary language for saying that it would be completely impossible in this circumstance; otherwise, he would be pushing on that as well. The legal argument is hardly worth entering into, because no one who has looked at it--certainly not Opposition Front-Bench Members, I believe, having read their document--thinks that the extent of interference with the single market and the common agricultural policy would survive for a moment as a legal judgment. It would not be a matter of long argument in the European Court. It would simply be prevented straight away.
We have acted to prevent the illegal German ban on the importation of British beef under the bovine spongiform encephalopathy rules. The scientific evidence in the Community has been translated into rational law and the
Column 280German Government have had to abandon their unilateral objection to it, quite rightly. That is another example of where the same kind of legal pressures, which, sometimes, we complain about here, work greatly to our advantage.
I hope that I need not detain the House for long on the legal cases that prevent us from having a total ban on the export of livestock. That really is not conceivable, but I will not hide behind that. What is more, I do not think that it would be right to argue that even if we could do it. I am entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, who opened the debate, and with many other hon. Members and people outside, who say that we must take action to maximise exports of meat, as opposed to live animals. It is already 80 per cent. of the trade by value and it can go up--in sheepmeat, perhaps, most easily.
I know that some of the livestock slaughterers who deal with sheep are hiring French butchers and bringing them over so that French purchasers get the precise cuts they want. That is very intelligent work to do, and we shall be promoting that with the Meat and Livestock Commission and thinking of further things that we can do. We have some money available, in marketing grants, and so on, to help that to develop.
Even if we can do so--I am sure that we can--I do not think that it would be rational or responsible to say to British farmers, "You are going to be the only farmers in Europe who are not allowed to transport any animals across your boundaries." That would be madness. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton said, quoting perfectly correctly the advice of vets-- and, by the sound of it, a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals vet or official--that is not based on any science, either. It is perfectly possible to move animals across 25 miles of water, as long as the conditions are proper, the trucks are right and the people are trained properly. We must not drift into a position of saying that, if we could, we would ban the export of all animals. We would not. No Government would. It would be crazy to do that. What is more, it would create acute difficulties for Northern Ireland, Scotland and internally in Britain. If one says that animals cannot be moved more than a few miles without stopping, I do not know how sheep farmers--for example, in Cumbria--will carry out their winter pasturing, and so on. We must be a little careful in saying that.
Mr. Waldegrave: It is always best, when one does not know the answer to a question, to say so. Therefore, I say that I do not know what the unsurmountable difficulties are. I note that, right from the beginning, the channel tunnel prevented the transport of animals. I should seek veterinary advice before pushing on that point, but I shall look into it. It is slightly frustrating to some that we have the tunnel and cannot use it. I take the hon. Gentleman's point; I suspect that there is a history to the matter which I do not know, so I shall come back to him on it.
Column 281channel tunnel--the only way in which they could be transported--the force of the wind would be such that they would suffer from severe windburn.
That brings me to a further point which I shall take out of order in my speech. A way forward may be radically to raise the standard of the transportation vehicles, both ships and lorries, over time. The Irish have what are called pullman lorries, which are of a high standard, with air- conditioning and the capacity to feed and water animals on board. They are used particularly for pigs and for thoroughbred and breeding animals. In the longer term--it cannot be done overnight--we should be focusing attention Europewide on the radical improvement of vehicles and ships. Whether such vehicles could go on trains would have to be considered when the time came. I return to the subject of veal crates. No one who has seriously considered the matter doubts that a ban on the export of all live animals is out of the question; nor would it be right, although we want to minimise that and maximise the exportation of meat because that is sensible and minimises such problems as exist.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n): I represent an area with a substantial number of sheep. The right hon. Gentleman will know that farmers in my constituency will share his disappointment that he was unable to secure agreement at the Council meeting during the past two days. However, I wish to impress on him the urgency of reaching agreement in March in particular. We are now coming up to the lambing season in April, May and June, which will be a critical time for farmers in my constituency. Will the Minister ensure that he and his colleagues are in a position to try to secure agreement in March?
Mr. Waldegrave: The hon. Gentleman has a particular interest in ensuring that we have sensible rules for the carriage of animals across water and that we do not put ourselves in the position where we cannot do that. He is living proof of the nonsense that would result from that.
I shall return to what happened yesterday. I apologise to the House if I am not as eloquent as the House is used to hearing. I returned late last night and I have not had much sleep. What happened yesterday had some good and some bad elements, to which I shall return because they are the basis of the crucial next step. However, I want to deal with veal crates. I beg the House to remember that the stoking up of frustration outside by saying that something can easily be done unilaterally is not a sensible way to proceed. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said from a sedentary position that most of the people protesting are Tories. I do not know whether that is true or not.
Mr. Waldegrave: If so, and if they are peacefully protesting, I am proud of them. I am grateful for the endorsement from such a source that Tories lead in concern in these matters. It is helpful of the hon. Gentleman to make that point.
Column 282When I talk to such people, to the decent people who are really worried--not the extremists; I am sorry to say that there are some, and dangerous people they are, too--they cannot get over the fact that they have been told again and again that there is something simple that I can do that I am not doing.
There are two reasons why there is not something simple that can be done. First, there is the legal position on veal crates. I have taken legal advice on the matter. There is a long-standing convention that the Government do not publish the detailed legal advice that they receive, and for good reason. The Government will appear in court next week in the case of Lomas, in which we are defending the ban that we imposed on exports to Spain because its slaughterhouse standards were not good. We made a bilateral deal with Spain on that, on which we are being challenged.
We do not want to set out all our advice in detail, because that would be a gift to the other side, who would seek to pick holes in it. However, with the permission of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, I have set out unusually fully the range of arguments that lead us to conclude that it would be irresponsible for a Government of either party to seek to introduce unilaterally a veal crate ban.
The reason is a matter of common sense and law, which sometimes point in the same direction. The Community has passed a legal instrument which defines veal crates, although unsatisfactorily. We were outvoted on the matter. It says what a veal crate is and its exact dimensions. In certain circumstances, where the Community has not put its mind to an issue, the court could say that article 36 could be used because it was claimed that there was a welfare issue. But where the Community has debated the matter at length and has had all the points put to it before the decision is reached--as they were put by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Environment--and the Community, through all its instruments, endorsed by the European Parliament and the Commission, comes to a conclusion, the court is bound to take the view that the matters were taken into account at the time and cannot be brought up subsequently. That is sensible legal doctrine, and common sense.
Mr. Waldegrave: That is not a fair way of putting it. Ministers, of whatever party is in power, have to advise the House on what is a responsible and reasonable way to proceed. For us to introduce a law which we know will be challenged instantly and which may produce a period when the law is completely unclear because rival laws overlap would not be responsible, because it would raise expectations. [Interruption.] I shall return to the point made wrongly by the hon. Member for Carlisle about horses. Such a step would simply stoke up anger and confusion. I assure the House that all the advice that I have been given is that it would fail.
Two further points were made which have nothing to do with the situation concerning horses. We have carefully preserved the legal base for our extra ban on the export of horses for slaughter. That is based on an article in a directive, which includes solipeds, sea mammals and birds,
Column 283which allows us to take further measures. That is the basis of our legal action on that matter. It has nothing to do with the articles to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I am determined that that legal basis for our ban on the export of horses will survive. We are making sure that its legal basis remains in any directive that is passed. However, it is wholly misleading to use that special case for additional bans. They would not work at all.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Is not the conclusion to be drawn from what the Minister is saying that, at the end of the argument, it is the states of southern Europe that will determine the animal welfare policies of the United Kingdom Government? In so far as many of us believe that they will never change their position, because they have no history of understanding the issues in the way that people do in the United Kingdom, and they do not want to do so for commercial reasons and climatic conditions, surely the Government are saying that they must throw in the towel.
Mr. Waldegrave: The hon. Gentleman must not despair. The last two days have been the third occasion in the Council in which I have been involved in the debate. It is perfectly clear that opinion is slowly but steadily swinging in the right direction. It would be misleading to tell the House that the battle is over and the problem will be resolved quickly. A hard, pounding battle faces us, like the battles on, for example, air pollution or environmental standards in the early 1980s when the British Government were initially a bit of a laggard.
Mr. Waldegrave: That took time and caused great frustration. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned Mrs. Thatcher and said it was her great speech that shifted the whole policy so that progress was made.
It is hopeless to assume that we will always lose the argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton made an important point. Italy imports about 6 million animals a year on the hoof, including sheep, goats, horses and cattle. Many of those already come from eastern Europe, Russia and Poland. I am told by vets that the animals are arriving at the end of intolerably long journeys in very poor conditions.
If the House is so pessimistic that it thinks we will lose the battles before we start, it is saying that nothing in Europe will be improved in order to address the issues in those countries and to raise the standard of welfare for millions of animals--not just the few thousand from here--all over Europe. That would be a counsel of despair. It would not be the advice to our people based on animal welfare. It would be the wrong kind of little England attitude--if I may apologise to the Irish, Scots and Welsh who are present--to say let us take our bat away, look at our own corner and give up on the rest.
There is a great prize involved, and we now have a majority in terms of votes and in term of numbers of countries on our side. We are working as a team alongside the biggest and most powerful country in the community-- Germany. People from the Scandinavian countries--the Swedes, Danes and Fins --are working closely with us and are concerned about the issues. The Austrians--new entrants to the Community--are also closely with us. The Dutch are closely with us and there are one or two countries that will agree to anything.
The four groups who remain are the Spanish, the Italians, the Greeks and the Portuguese. There is a very big economic interest for Italy and a biggish one for Spain.
Column 284They have to be shown that real journey limits and journeys that are not too long will not put an overnight stop to the importation of animals. They will get their animals, perhaps at a slightly higher price, although those countries have great skill in extracting from those who pay for the Community certain subsidies to pay for any additional costs that fall on them, and I do not suppose that they would lose that skill. Nor would it be wrong to sugar the pill with some mixture of funds to make it possible, particularly for poorer countries such as Portugal and Greece, to meet the new standards. It would be a better use of funds than some of the uses to which they are put at present.
If we stick to our guns--the issue will not be solved in March--it will be hard pounding. I hope that we will return to the matter in March, but it may be June before that happens. It is not, however, a hopeless task. There is the idea of higher quality transportation and various other ideas that can be put on the table and shoved through. If, however, the House says to Europe and the Commission that we shall take our bat away, pass illegal laws and give up, we shall be out of the game and we will not be thanked by those in Europe who are serious about raising animal welfare expectations and the strength of the animal welfare movement around Europe. We would be thought to have been pretty irresponsible; we would be locked in battle with the Commission and all those who are our friends would become our enemies. That would be a stupid piece of negotiation.
Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome): My right hon. Friend has been at the forefront of bringing the issue to the centre of attention in Europe. He has gone a long way towards persuading other countries to come on side and building a serious consensus whereby we can achieve some sensible regulation. How would we be perceived in Europe if we were to turn around, say that we would act unilaterally and walk away from the issue? We would lose influence and our leadership role.
Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley): On the same point, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I spend much time in the Council of Europe with people from those countries that want to join the Economic Union. The Ukraine is one of those, and throughout this century until the war, thousands of horses were transported in those now notorious cattle trucks. Countries wanting to join the Economic Union sign up to all its decrees before they are allowed in. We were discussing the matter only yesterday. The representatives arrive with lists of lists. The Baltic and eastern European countries are eager to show that they are as civilised as the rest of us, and it is a civilising measure. If we stop, they will have nothing to sign.
Mr. Waldegrave: My hon. Friend is right. What is more, there is a danger of doing real damage--if we could get away with it, and I suspect that we could not. If we did that, we could damage British farming, where welfare standards are probably higher than elsewhere in Europe, and deliver the whole trade--the 6 million animals that go to Italy and the large number of animals that go to France and Spain--to eastern European countries; we would have lost the influence to raise the standards before those countries join. We must make proper rules before they join: otherwise, we shall drive the trade away to places where the standards are worse.
Column 285Let me give one piece of evidence that the battle is not the forgone defeat which some people seem almost to hope it is. I remember being told we would get no interest in the veal crate story. I remember being warned that when I raised it in the Council there would be an embarrassed silence and people would say that the English were eccentric. That is not what happened.
I raised the matter in the January Council and I had no idea what the response would be. Eight other countries came in behind me at once and the Commission said that the review of the veal crates which was to be carried out in 1997 would be brought forward to this year. We raised the issue again last night and the Commissioner, Franz Fischler, said that he was now able to strengthen his earlier undertaking that the report would be available by the end of the year; having talked to the relevant experts, he was now able to say that the report would be ready considerably earlier. In terms of getting law through, that is not too bad.
We are concerned not only about the veal crates but about the animals' diet, which is also important. It is no good having calves fed no iron so that they are deliberately brought up anaemic. There are things that we can do: those who think that nothing can be done by persuasion and by raising issues in Europe are too defeatist. There are also things we can do at home. That is why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has been doing such good work. She has also done good work in diplomacy, in getting people around Europe to see how important the subject is. I also pay tribute to the RSPCA, which revealed by an operation it carried out last week the appalling situation in two Greek slaughterhouses. Experts went to Athens and did the work where it mattered; they got a big response in Athens, as this has now become a real issue there. I helped them by writing to the Commissioner, and they received an instant response from the Commission, which sent inspectors to see what was going on and to put the matter right.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) asked what would happen if we took away our bat and ball and gave up. A large part of the steam would go out of the issue.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is leading various measures we are taking to expand exports on the hook and to try to re-establish a British-based veal industry. Rose veal is perfectly satisfactory. The meat tastes nicer than insipid white meat, and it is far better that those male calves should be used for proper food which is humanely reared than that we should go down the route followed by the New Zealanders and knock them all on the head at birth. The farmers and the public would not like that, and it is wasteful and unpleasant. I am strongly against that; therefore, if I possibly can, I shall not introduce the subsidy premium to do that. We have a difficult but serious set of policies. We need to win the argument in Europe and I believe that we are already winning the veal crate argument. We have a difficult, but not impossible, task on transportation. We have a set of policies for exports on a hook which we can develop further. I would be happy to receive sensible suggestions from the House and the country on what we can do, as we have a little money to spend on that aspect. We must not blackguard the name of meat in general or of veal in general. That would simply make the market collapse and would be extremely short-sighted. All the sub-editors