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Column 286who write headlines condemning veal are actually damaging the cause of humane rearing for a British veal trade.
I welcome today's debate, which has highlighted the current frustration about what are felt to be limitations when there is real progress to be made. I must, however, put the other side of the case, which has already been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton. While the trade is legal, it is incumbent on the Government to defend it via the police, who do not always find that a very happy task.
As I said at the beginning, this is the easiest of all causes in Britain to stir up and campaign for--although that does not mean that it is wrong. The farmers' argument is more difficult to put, and it is easier to arouse emotional opposition to it. Having myself received hundreds of threats, I must say that some of the threats and so forth that ordinary farmers are receiving are not satisfactory in a civilised society. We must be a rule- based, law-based society, especially if we want to protect the weak--and the weakest of all are the animals.
If we are saying that we want a stronger law on animals, what is the point of applauding those who break the law because they feel strongly? I urge the House to be careful about judging causes by the strength of feeling that lies behind them: those who persecute Salman Rushdie feel at least as strongly as others feel about animals, if not more strongly. The strength of feeling does not justify the cause; what justifies the cause is rational and dispassionate debate such as that with which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton so eloquently opened today's discussion.
My hon. Friend has shown that there are things to be done, and I hope and believe that the Government are doing them. They will take time, but they are worth doing. I commit Conservative Members--with, I think, a good deal of support from the Opposition--to doing those things, with, I hope, the full-hearted consent of the House. 11.31 am
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) in calling for the debate--and, indeed, the decision to allot three hours to it. I commend the hon. Gentleman on his constructive and sensible speech. Until now, the House has been slow to respond to the widening debate on the live export of animals and the welfare of farm animals in general. One can sympathise with the exasperation of some of the protesters at the apparent failure of the national political system to take action; but perhaps it is an indication of the strength of our democracy that so many people have exercised their right to argue and protest about the issue. This morning's debate is a mechanism for the representation of the public's views.
The protesters, many of whom are Liberal Democrats, have clearly done us all a service. They have raised awareness among the whole population-- including politicians--of the animal welfare implications of our farming industry; they have shown a strength of commitment, and they have highlighted how much politics is changing and how much hon. Members must change with it.
Column 287demonstrate, or is it the party's official spokesman on agricultural matters, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who condemned the demonstrators in the language quoted by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson)? Who speaks for the Liberal party-- those who condemn the protesters, or the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey)?
Mr. Harvey: I have heard the hon. Gentleman mumbling about that all morning, so I am grateful for the opportunity to respond. While the language used by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) on the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman refers was perhaps rather more florid than the language that I might have chosen in the circumstances, two points should be made. First, his remarks should be taken in context: they were made after the protests had turned violent, and at a time when those who had initiated them, like Compassion in World Farming, were disowning the violence. Secondly, his points struck me as eminently sensible. My hon. Friend said that, if the British took unilateral action, it would be found to be invalid within days; that if we went off on our own, we would lose influence in Europe; and that, if we replaced cruelty to British animals with cruelty to foreign animals, no overall benefit would be achieved. Clearly the protesters would feel that those urging them on had misled them if they proceeded with such a course and ended up disappointed. It seems to me that, whatever my hon. Friend's language, the points that he made were perfectly valid.
I am sure that most hon. Members support the motives of the peaceful protesters of Shoreham, Brightlingsea, Coventry, Plymouth and elsewhere, and want--at the very least--improvements in the welfare of animals that are exported and more exports on the hook rather than on the hoof. The House should, however, move beyond
sentiment--important and powerful though that is--to discussing the practical measures that can be taken to alleviate the pain and suffering of animals.
What, then, are the options? First, the Government could respond to demands from hon. Members and others, and introduce a ban on the export of live animals. Secondly, we could allow an effective ban on live exports through ports and airports simply refusing to take the trade. Thirdly, we could tighten existing British regulations on live transport, and enforce them more rigorously. Fourthly, we could campaign for tough Europewide regulations to be effectively implemented.
The first two options may seem superficially attractive. They would ensure that British animals did not suffer the indignities of long-distance transportation or end up in systems that have been banned in the United Kingdom. As I have said, however, they would not reduce the sum of animal suffering in the European Union. British farmers are responding to a demand for locally slaughtered meat in exporting lambs and veal calves, and I see no reason to suppose that demand would not be met if we stopped supplying them via other producers in Europe.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): I am a little confused by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Before coming to the House today, I read the Liberal animal welfare policy document, "A Matter of Conscience", which clearly states:
Column 288"until such time as acceptable and enforceable EC-wide standards are in place, Liberal Democrats advocate an end to the live export of animals."
That is not what is being argued by the hon. Gentleman, or by the Liberal Democrat spokesman. What is the Liberal Democrats' policy on the issue?
Mr. Harvey: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I shall continue to build the argument as I proceed, but, for reasons that I have already explained, a Europewide solution must be found.
Mr. Harvey: I will not debate that point further. The Liberal policy document is exactly the same as the Labour policy document, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will clarify that policy later. A range of legal opinion --not least that of the legal director of the RSPCA, who has taken expert advice--has concluded that a ban introduced by the Government could not be sustained after the passing of a unilateral British law. It might not have mattered in 1973, when we entered the European Community, but our obligations under the single market and the general agreement on tariffs and trade make it extremely unlikely that we would not face a challenge.
Some have argued--it has been argued again this morning--that we should press ahead with such a ban in any case, and battle it out in the European Court. The loss of such a battle, however, would return us to square one. All the time, energy and effort put into lobbying for a Bill and pushing it through Parliament would be wasted; as has been said this morning, that time, energy and effort would be better expended on taking the argument to the countries that are delaying progress at a European level. It would probably also force the Government to allow the trade to pass through the ports that have decided, on their own initiative, not to take it.
The problem with the second suggested solution--an ad hoc ban allowing ports that have banned the trade to continue that ban--is that, while it would be effective in the short term, it would not provide a longer-term solution. The fear is that unilateral action by the United Kingdom, whatever its nature, will reduce pressure on the European Union to take action. Surely none of us wants the issue to fall down the agenda of the Council of Ministers, after the progress that has been made.
To some extent, the third option--the tightening of UK regulations--has already been followed by the Government, in response to some of the demands for change from the protesters. I join those who argue that the recent regulations do not go far enough. There have been many suggestions of further action, including those made by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), and I hope that the Government will continue to listen and implement some of them; but there are clearly limits to the effectiveness of regulation in the United Kingdom on its own, especially given the failure to enforce existing European regulations adequately in many other European countries.
How are we to achieve effective and enforceable EU-wide standards? The protesters themselves are clearly playing an important part in keeping the issue at the top of the political agenda. As I have said, more of their protests should be directed at countries whose animal welfare standards are lower than our own. The
Column 289Government and the House must continue to exert pressure on the Council of Ministers. I commend the Minister on the progress that he has made in that, and I hope that further progress will be made at next months's meeting.
In fairness, the Minister has taken a more robust attitude on this matter than his predecessor, who was persuaded only late in the day last year to support the German proposal for a 15-hour limit on live transport. The Government have now seen the error of their ways. It is a pity that they did not take advantage of the British presidency in 1992. Their report on their achievements during the presidency makes no mention of any action to improve the welfare of animals during transport.
A problem exists on both sides of the issue: the failure to think through the consequences of the actions that have been taken. The Ministry and the Meat and Livestock Commission are thinking only now about how to develop a humane veal industry in the United Kingdom. Why did not that happen at the time of, if not before, the introduction of the veal crate ban in 1990?
Another problem has been the decline in the abattoir industry, where unprecedented centralisation has taken place. The number of abattoirs in this country has fallen to less than half the number in 1979. That has not happened elsewhere in Europe--or even in Northern Ireland--because the relevant Governments have found ways of getting around the problem and requested derogations.
As a result, Wales, for example, no longer has the abattoir capacity to deal with all its lambs, which have to be transported further away for slaughter. Farmers in the constituencies of, for example, my hon. Friends the Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) are simply not able to get animals to a slaughterhouse within eight hours, which we, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and many others would want to see.
Proposals from people who continue to advocate a ban for dealing with the large number of bull calves must be considered closely. I agree with the Minister that the public, farmers or anyone else would not welcome the suggestion that those animals should all be killed at birth. Even if they are, the cost implications of compensating farmers through some mechanism or other will be considerable. Similarly, people say cheerfully that bull calves could go off into the beef herd, but it is clear that most of those animals are not suitable for that purpose. In any event, that would cause immense disruption to the market in beef cattle and beef calves. Neither of those solutions is satisfactory.
In the longer term, we need far more radical change than has yet been considered. The whole thrust of the common agricultural policy needs to be changed. Rather than merely acknowledging the role of farmers and of rural areas, we need to acknowledge the much wider role of maintaining the countryside and protecting animal welfare. That is why we have called for the replacement of the common agricultural policy with a common rural policy; a call that has been echoed by many others, including Professor John Webster, head of Bristol university's veterinary school. With the National Farmers Union, he has argued that European Union funding should be redirected from food production to humane treatment of animals.
Column 290All that, however, would take time to implement. We must acknowledge that no magical solution and no quick fix exist. If we fail to acknowledge that, we may be pushed into accepting the wider use of bovine somatotropin in this country and elsewhere, which would increase the cows' milk yield without increasing the number of calves born. We could even get into the realms of genetic engineering to reduce the number of male calves that are born. We would not want either of those options to be embraced. All the options would require a great deal of discussion in the House and beyond.
The Government can and, to some extent, have introduced a series of policies to limit the suffering of animals in transport. More work needs to be done. Today's debate is a welcome start, but it is only a first step. I hope that the Minister will succeed in his efforts to keep this issue at the top of the agenda at the Council of Ministers, that he will keep the House informed of its deliberations, and that he will use the ideas and experience of many hon. Members in developing the necessary policies.
I hope that he will harness the energy of the pressure groups and of the public to work for change at EU level. If the campaign can be taken across the continent, the legitimate demands of protesters, the needs of farmers and the requirement to produce food that is affordable to the public can all be met.
Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare): This matter has been in the public eye for many months. During that time, and during this debate, I do not think that many people have recalled that the Select Committee on Agriculture, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, examined the matter of animals in transit way back in 1991. Our report, which was unanimously approved by all members of my Committee, treated the matter with common sense and should be a source of reference. I hope that commentators will take the opportunity to study some of the things that we said.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who was a member of the Committee at that time, has now left the Chamber. He was not enthusiastic then about banning anything except the importation of exotic birds and other special species. The Committee confirmed the necessity for free trade in animals and went into the matter in some depth. It is a bit inconsistent of him to wish to ban the export of calves, but not of sheep. I suspect that that is because there are not too many dairy herds in Carlisle, but there are plenty of sheep. The hon. Gentleman's speech was seriously inconsistent.
My right hon. Friend the Minister set out the matter in common-sense terms. I strongly support the general direction of the Government's attitude to this problem. It is divided into two halves--the transport of animals, and the welfare of those animals once they have left our shores. I shall not go too much into the second point, in case my Committee resolves to examine the matter. I would not wish to anticipate the position. However, it went into the transport issue closely. I should like to remind the House of three important point that we made.
The report states:
"it would be desirable in principle for animals to be slaughtered at the nearest available point."
Column 291I think that the House agrees on that. The report continues: "the Commission should frame legislation which expressly discourages the transportation of slaughter animals over long distances."
The report also urged the then Minister
"to be vigilant in holding the Commission to the spirit of the preamble in any new proposals with which they may come forward." In other words, British standards are the highest and the best, and we should seek to impose them, rather than be prepared to allow derogation of our standards for the continental ones, which are not as good.
It is easy to say that animals should be slaughtered as near to the point of production as possible, but in many parts of the United Kingdom, slaughterhouses are a great distance away. The islands of Scotland would not be able to produce meat animals if they did not first bring them across on ferries and on other transport. I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) says on that subject.
The Minister's decision to continue to block the export of live food animals to countries that fail to meet the new European Community directive gains unanimous support on both sides of the House. Even though the Community has subsequently removed the legality of some of the actions that we have taken, we understand that chief vets in the countries concerned are co-operating. We are moving towards EC-approved slaughterhouses, the standards of which are much higher than those of many of the slaughterhouses that, I am sad to say, we have been using in this country.
I am being diverted down a different road from the subject under discussion. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister uses the support that the Committee gave him when he presses these matters in Brussels. We made it clear that Community safeguards should be consistent with British statutes. The Government used just that phrase in their response to our Committee's report.
The maximum period of travel without rest is a contentious issue, but, having taken expert evidence, the Committee concluded that one of the most stressful factors in animal transport is the loading and unloading of those animals. When a properly equipped lorry is properly loaded with the right size of animal and in the right density, conditions are less stressful than when animals are taken on and off. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) is nodding in agreement. As an experienced livestock man, he will concur that it is the stress that we want to avoid.
We did not go along with the RSPCA and others who have sought an eight-hour limit. We thought that the general limit should be 12 hours for any species, with the possible exception of horses, but with a 15-hour limit if that was to be the termination of the journey. That would be in line with Britain's existing legislation, although the Community has yet to adopt such figures. My right hon. Friend the Minister has the Committee's support in trying to achieve a lower limit on the continent.
The Committee recommended that vehicles should be certified. There is no question about the Dutch having a very high standard. It is quite wrong to think that all continental animal transport is cruel; it is not. During our inquiry, we learned that Holland is the second largest exporter of food in the world. It would be no use a Dutch exporter sending his pigs to southern Italy only for them
Column 292to arrive in a poor condition. It does no good to any farmer or transporter if the product does not arrive in good condition. There is no will to transport animals cruelly. There can be no advantage in doing so. From reading some of the articles in the press and seeing some of the advertisements placed by animal welfare societies, one might think that there were some advantages to transporting animals cruelly.
The Committee would like animal transport to be more rigidly checked. We were not convinced that, even in this country, checks were as rigid as they should be--and we were far from convinced that on the continent checks were even carried out. We hope that something can be done about that.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West): Does my hon. Friend agree that one point that should be firmly stressed is the fact that, year after year, exports of bloodstock and of pedigree livestock for breeding purposes are carried out to the most humane standards possible? There is no reason why exports of livestock for slaughter should not reach the same high standards.
The Committee suggested that there should be more official training for the drivers of vehicles. Unfortunately, the Government rather ran away from that idea, and took the view that more regulation was unnecessary. I was rather sorry about that, because it would be helpful if a training scheme were to be introduced for the drivers of vehicles carrying livestock.
Mr. Waldegrave: The Government have now accepted the Committee's advice. Included in the parts of the European directive that are agreed-- although the key bits are not agreed--is a training scheme for drivers.
Sir Jerry Wiggin: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The Committee has not considered the matter for a year or two, so I was not fully up to date with the current position. I welcome what he has said.
I shall deal now with documentation. Much of the key to the welfare of animals in transport is ensuring that we know where the animals have come from, when they left there and where they are going. One problem raised by those who want a selective ban on veal calves--for example, those going for veal production--is how we can find out what will happen to those animals when they leave our shores and we no longer have any direct control over them. Therefore, the idea of a selective ban is ludicrous.
The Committee strongly supported the Government's view on the export of horses. The way we solved that problem was extremely clever, and I am sure that it is supported on both sides of the House. I realise that time is short. It is regrettable that the procedures of the House do not permit the debating of Select Committee reports in greater detail and sooner after they are published. Had we had an opportunity to debate our report at the time, a few lessons would have been learnt and people would remember the interest that a Select Committee of the House had taken in such an important subject.
Column 29311.54 am
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I endorse what the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) said about debating reports from Select Committees. It is silly that hon. Members should serve on these Committees and produce reports after considerable deliberation, only for them never to be discussed on the Floor of the House. One could say it was almost time wasting. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for this work as Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a Christian gentleman-- [Interruption.] He endorses that accusation. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) were here, he would defend himself. If, over the years, he has changed his position on the export of veal calves, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a Christian gentleman, would welcome his conversion. A sinner repentant is welcome in heaven, even if, in this case, heaven is the Agriculture Select Committee.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on choosing this subject for debate, which is named "Export of live animals". I believe that we should avoid the export of animals for slaughter as much as possible. I should prefer a complete ban; animals for consumption should be on the hook, not the hoof. The RSPCA position on maximum journey times is quite clear--eight hours from wherever the journey starts to the abattoir. Of course I understand that there are implications for Britain because of its geographical position. Nevertheless, I believe the RSPCA demand to be reasonable. The Germans adopted a similar view within their law. They may now be moving away from that position, but that is another matter. At least they decided, in their wisdom, to adopt such a law. The hon. Member for Sutton mentioned the European Parliament. In December 1993, it took a specific vote on the issue and, by 271 votes to six, decided to impose a maximum eight-hour journey time. If there is to be progress in journey times and animal welfare in Europe, it is important to try to achieve that during the French presidency. However much I endorse what the Minister said, he should never go into negotiations pessimistically--he should always go in intent on winning. Certainly Lady Thatcher always took that attitude in Europe, even if she did not always emerge as successfully as she thought she had. If we wait for the Spanish, Italian and Irish presidencies, which follow the French, we will have even more difficulties than we are experiencing now.
The hon. Member for Sutton spoke about taking the protest to Brussels--into Europe. I agree, but that does not mean that we should stop protests here. We must protest in all the countries of Europe, although I accept that in particular we should protest in Brussels. I understand that on Monday the Minister received a petition organised by the RSPCA, which had been signed by 2.5 million people. They were not all people from this country; European nationals signed the petition. It called for a maximum eight-hour journey time and other animal welfare measures such as the training of drivers.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that the RSPCA has been campaigning in other European countries--for example, France, Greece and Spain. It is
Column 294not something specific to eccentric English people. Many people are protesting in European capitals and countries. That is right thing to do.
The Government have often spoken about leading Europe on this issue. I give credit to the Minister for doing more than his predecessor did. When the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) entered into the negotiations last year, she was lagging far behind the Germans, the Dutch, the Belgians and the Danes on the issues of journey times and animal welfare. Perhaps we should be grateful that we have a new Secretary of State-- [Hon. Members:-- "Minister."] I am sorry, I have promoted the right hon. Gentleman--obviously something that will never happen to me. I shall now discuss veal calves. Everyone who understands or knows anything about the way in which the veal calf is produced in the veal crate will be repelled by the concept of placing a young calf for six months in conditions that one would only describe as inhuman, barbaric and abominable. That is why the Government rightly banned the production of veal in veal crates. However, we thereby reach the absurd and, at times, hypocritical position, as many understand it, of banning the production of veal in veal crates in this country but exporting the same calves to be produced in veal crates and re-importing the product. It appears illogical.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): The hon. Gentleman's speech is extremely interesting. Stepping aside from the hypocrisy for a moment, I understand that about 1.25 million unwanted male calves are born to the British dairy herd each year. What does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we do with those?
Mr. Banks: I accept that. It is fully understood that those calves are unsuitable for the beef trade. Perhaps people who are tucking into their cheese and drinking their milk should think a little more about the implications of what they are doing.
Mr. Banks: The hon. Gentleman asked me a question, and I shall answer him. One of the ways of solving the problem is to stop eating cheese and drinking milk. [Interruption.] Yes, the hon. Gentleman asked me my opinion, but I am an eccentric and a total loony. I accept that, so let not anyone else shout that out before I have admitted it.
If we were to ban the export of veal calves, it would give greater impetus to our own veal-producing industry, but I accept that demand for veal in this country has never been especially significant, and indeed is declining. However, those matters must be considered. If we find it necessary to move to a position in which male calves are killed at birth, that would have to be accepted. It is easy for me to say that, because I am not a veal calf. I should not like to be exterminated at birth, although I am sure that a few Conservative Members think that it would have been a good idea.
We must accept that implication, if need be; we must consider all the options, but I accept that that is one of the problems.
Column 295It appears absurd that, although we have banned the method of production, we re-import the product that comes from the same method of production somewhere else. The same is true of pate de foie gras. One could not produce pate de foie gras in this country, force- feeding geese as the French do, because it would be illegal, but we are nevertheless prepared to import it into the country. Many people feel that that is an illogical position, which should be rectified.
Some people, led by some supermarkets, are selling veal that may be imported but take great care to ensure that it comes from humane rearing sources in Holland and elsewhere. I hope that nothing that we say today will diminish our commitment to that type of effort, because, every time that a supermarket does that, it helps us to ensure that animals are reared humanely before we manage to change the law to ensure that they are reared humanely.
Mr. Banks: The right hon. Gentleman is reading my notes, because that is precisely what I intended to say. Sainsbury's is one of the supermarkets that does that voluntarily. It would be helpful--we have asked Ministers questions about it--to make it compulsory to declare the method of production on goods, so that the consumer can exercise choice. If the consumer does not have the choice of deciding, "I do not want that veal because I do not like the method of production," we are not empowering the consumer as we should. Naturally, I welcome the fact that some supermarkets do so. I regret the fact that many others do not.
Mr. Jenkin: Some of us find it confusing that some of the most enthusiastic proponents of European union do not support my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his efforts to achieve what we need to achieve on a European basis, and that they are the first to argue for a unilateral ban, which would appear to put the hon. Gentleman on to the Euro-sceptic side of the argument.
Mr. Banks: Is it not interesting that the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) is one of the most fervent Euro-phobes in this place, and continually pushes his colleagues to opt out, not to accept, to stand up and fight and so on, yet on that issue he is not prepared to urge his colleagues to do precisely that?
Mr. Jenkin rose --
Mr. Banks: I cannot give way. [Interruption.] All right, I will, but Madam Speaker said that speeches should be 10 minutes long and I am trying to stay within that limit, because many Conservative Members want to speak.
Mr. Jenkin: My position is absolutely clear. I believe that the House should have, and ultimately has, the authority to decide what goes across our frontiers. I do not accept that this Parliament has lost its sovereignty. The policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would have more authority if he acknowledged that the House had the power to ban live exports.
Column 296hon. Member for Colchester, North. It is a strange alliance. We make odd bedfellows--metaphorically, of course, not literally. Under the circumstances, I welcome what he has said.
Let me say something to the hon. Member for Sutton, who unfortunately is not in his place at the moment. The hon. Gentleman spoke with all the certainty of ignorance about the protesters who have been standing outside the harbour at Shoreham and at various other places throughout the country. I am a vegetarian, but I know that not all those protesters are militant vegetarians or vegans. Some are likely to be, but I suspect that most are meat-eaters. I know, as a result of having perhaps the heaviest correspondence of any Member in the House about animal welfare issues, that many of the letters that I receive start, "I write as a lifelong Conservative supporter" and they often continue, "and I am not going to vote Tory again." It is not for me to help the Conservative party win back its lost support, but I shall make those letters freely available to Ministers so that they realise that those protesters, in many respects, are not militant vegetarians or vegans. Some protestors are vegetarians, like me, but many are middle-aged, middle-class Tory supporters, who are repelled by the trade.
Mr. Waldegrave: No one doubts the hon. Gentleman's commitment or concern, so it would be helpful if he would join me in unequivocally condemning those who use threats. We have all probably received such threats. I have received hundreds of very sick letters indeed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in saying that farmers, parliamentarians and so on should not receive such letters, and that that way of persuading people is utterly wrong.
Mr. Banks: I have no difficulty in saying that I agree, because such behaviour is diversionary. The media seize on those isolated examples--as did the hon. Member for Sutton, reading extracts from The Times --as a way of suggesting that the great mass of public opinion and the great mass of protesters are not genuine, decent, law-abiding people, many of whom have never been out on a protest before but who are moved to protest because they find that trade so abhorrent.
Mr. Duncan rose --
Article 36 of the treaty of Rome appears to offer the Government a way out.
Mr. Waldegrave indicated dissent .
Mr. Banks: The Minister shakes his head. There is conflicting legal advice about it. It is often said that, if one does not like the advice that one receives from one lawyer, one should go and buy another lawyer. That might not be what the Government want to do, but I believe that it is worth imposing a ban under article 36. If we ban the export of veal calves and the import of veal, we cannot be said to be interfering in trade in terms of giving preference to our domestic industry, because it is true that the farmers of this country will receive the greatest impact of the ban. It is difficult to imagine a way in which that could be challenged from outside these shores. If it is not challenged, we have won; if it is
Column 297challenged, I hope that the Minister would show more enthusiasm to defend it than he is now doing by shaking his head. He has already spoken about the minimum value order for horses. I know for a fact that he has said that, if that were challenged in the European Court, it would probably be lost, but he stands by that position and is ready to defend it in the European Court. We want some political will from the Government.
I am prepared to support the Government in their negotiations on improvements in animal welfare when they negotiate in the interests of animals and public opinion, but not when they are in thrall, acting as the lickspittles of the National Farmers Union.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North): It is a pleasure to be able to follow my friend, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is a regular contributor to the debates that we hold internally in the all- party animal welfare group. The hon. Gentleman referred to his eccentricity on some of these matters, but nobody would gainsay his commitment to the cause of animal welfare or the sincerity with which he holds his views.
Sadly, I must almost immediately differ from the views expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He knows me well enough to understand that if I thought that there was a snowball's chance in hell of achieving a legitimate ban on the export of veal calves or, in general, of live animals for slaughter, I would be going for it hell for leather. From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West mentioned the situation facing Germany. Where one country has tried to introduce a unilateral ban--Germany is the only one that has--it has immediately been taken before the European courts by other countries. Were we to go down that road, I fear that the transporters, the farmers and others involved in the trade on both sides of the channel would immediately sue for large sums of money.
Also from a sedentary position, I heard the hon. Member for Newham, North- West say earlier, "Go for it. It's our money." I am not entirely certain that those who elect us would take that view once the bills started to come in.
I hope to be brief, if only because my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) covered so much of the ground in his excellent opening speech. I pay tribute to him for raising the issue and giving us an opportunity to debate it on such a relevant day, given my right honourable and bleary-eyed Friend's labours in Brussels over the past couple of days. It is immensely helpful to have this early opportunity to hear the present position from the Front Bench, whether we like it or not.
On behalf of the all-party group--I can probably speak for most if not all of its members--I must say that we respect the fact that my right hon. Friend has gone into bat very hard on this issue and has taken a robust line. I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the tireless work that she has done at grass-roots level with Ministers throughout the European Community, going round and trying to win hearts and minds. That is how the battle will be won, and I believe that it will be won.