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Column 298For the past two years under my chairmanship, and before that under your distinguished chairmanship in another incarnation, Madam Deputy Speaker, the all-party animal welfare group has sought European solutions to animal welfare problems. In recent years we have had to recognise that, if we are to provide genuine solutions to animal welfare problems as opposed to populist tabloid newspaper headlines, we will have to do it on a Europewide basis. If there was ever need of the proof of that pudding, the veal crate problem undoubtedly provides it.
I concede immediately that I was one of those who welcomed the ban on veal crates in the United Kingdom. Shortly after that it became apparent, to some of us at least, that that was a pyrrhic victory. We did not ban the use of veal crates, we simply promoted the trade in other parts of the European Community. We moved the problem from A to B and some of us tried to pretend that we had solved it. That was not the case.
I do not believe that there is any merit in seeking a unilateral ban on anything if the practice continues on mainland Europe. If, by damaging our own trade, we simply create circumstances in which hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of cattle, sheep and pigs are imported into the European Union under infinitely worse conditions and over much longer distances from the eastern bloc, that is not contributing to the cause of animal welfare that I wish to promote as chairman of the all-party group.
As painstaking and unpopular as it may be on occasions--it is certainly not populist--my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary are correct to seek to press the cause within the European Union. I endorse entirely the actions of those, particularly the RSPCA, who have sought to take the battle, not to the tabloid headlines in the United Kingdom, but to the Ministers and the streets of Europe where the hearts and minds will have to be won.
My right hon. Friend currently has most of the northern states with him. That is a tremendous achievement and we should not gainsay it. Unfortunately, the southern states--Spain, Italy and Greece in particular-- are less helpful. Millions of those who have been applauding what they have seen on television and some of those who have been demonstrating on the streets go to Spain, Italy and Greece for their holidays and eat the meat that comes from the animals about whose transport and slaughter they are complaining. Perhaps it behoves us now to remind our Spanish, Italian and Greek colleagues that those of us in the United Kingdom who use their holiday facilities do not approve of some of their practices and that we look to them for support to end once and for all the need for a trade that most of us find abhorrent.
I should like to see an end to the transport of live animals for slaughter in its entirety. It is not necessary in this day and age. My right hon. Friend said that he would welcome suggestions about ways in which we might achieve the export of more meat on the hook. I concur with those who have said this morning that our abattoir facilities are, for some very good reasons and some less good reasons, inadequate.
We have high-quality abattoirs, but they are not necessarily in the places where they are most needed by the farming community. Associated British Ports has told me that it has land at ports which, under the right circumstances, it might be prepared to make available for
Column 299abattoir facilities. I urge my right hon. Friend urgently to seek ways of investing in new and better abattoir facilities and in the cutting of meat specifically for the European market so that we can have the added value in this country and export our meat on the hook almost in its entirety. I should like to see the lot on the hook, not on the hoof. If we could do that, we would have brought about a major achievement. It could not happen overnight, but within months we could obviate much of the problem.
I must come back to the European solution. I have had to accept--I understand that not everybody in the House accepts this, but I do not believe that this is a party political issue--that the legal position does not allow us to pursue a unilateral ban. More than that, I genuinely believe that if my right hon. Friend, with support from both sides of the House, can win this battle, win the hearts and minds of his colleagues in the Council of Ministers and carry the sort of European directive that we want on this issue, we will have taken an enormous leap forward in European animal welfare. If we can win this battle, it will help us to win battles over the use of animals in medical experiments Europewide, in the import of wild-caught birds into Europe and in fiesta sports. That would be a major achievement.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East): The House can be in no doubt that the British people care a great deal about animal welfare, and today's debate has demonstrated that the House welcomes that concern. Many would argue that one of the hallmarks of a civilised society is the way in which it treats its animals.
When considering what legislation should be in place and what measures we should implement to avoid animal cruelty as far as possible, we must be objective. We must recognise that animals experience pain and strain, but it is wrong to assume that they think in the same way as humans and that what is comfortable for a human being would also be comfortable for an animal and vice versa. We must base our discussions and our decisions on the most objective scientific criteria available, but it must certainly be our objective to achieve legislation which ensures that animals are well looked after on the farms and that the opportunity for their ill-treatment in transportation and, of course, through methods of slaughter is absolutely minimal.
Mr. Duncan rose --
Dr. Strang: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall give way rarely because I am keen to allow a number of hon. Members to speak.
Mr. Duncan: To that end, is it or it is not official Labour party policy to support the private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew)?
Dr. Strang: I shall come to that point. We do not accept that the Minister is necessarily correct in his interpretation of the legal position with regard to calves, although we certainly accept the position with regard to sheep. Some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) may turn out to be germane to the final assessment of the legal position, but let me move on.
I appreciate the Minister's contribution to the debate. It is excellent that he is putting forward the Government's position in this Adjournment debate. I especially
Column 300appreciate his presence in view of the tremendous pressure that he has been under in the past two days, involving, I understand, many hours of negotiation into the early hours of this morning. The House very much appreciates the Minister being able to give us the very latest position and explain why the negotiations failed in Brussels. The Minister commented on the history of the matter and it is worth adding to it. It should be recalled that we extended the maximum journey time of animals in legislation passed by the House of Commons. Before 1 January 1993, animals were allowed to travel for a maximum of 12 hours before they were fed, watered and rested, unless the journey could be completed in 15 hours. The Welfare Animal Transport Order 1992 increased the maximum interval from 12 to 15 hours. The requirement for animals to be fed and rested for 10 hours and inspected near the port of export was also scrapped on 1 January 1993.
Then, the Greek presidency compromise, as the Minister rightly described it, was discussed in June. That proposal stipulated 22 hours of transport before animals should have to be fed, watered and rested. There is no question that the British Government were minded to support that. Indeed, the then Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), said on 16 June that the Greek proposals were
"a great step forward for animal welfare in the Community". He went on to indicate the Government's support of them. When the Minister's predecessor- -I make no apology for putting this on the record--the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard), got over to Brussels, she discovered that, notwithstanding the British Government's support, since Belgium was joining Germany and the other opponents to the proposal, the proposal was to be defeated. So rather than vote for the proposal, lose the vote on the basis of qualified majority voting and have to justify that position, the Government flipped over and voted against it.
The Government's stance has been transformed since then, which we applaud and welcome. The stand now being taken by the Minister, which goes back to earlier in the year--he can now claim, along with the Germans, to be leading on the issue and seeking to drive it forward--is a mile away from what previously prevailed. We strongly support that new stance, and certainly think that the Minister was right not to go along with the final compromise put forward by the French presidency, which is rather technical, as some of us will have read in the quality newspapers, or heard on the wireless and seen on the television this morning.
The Minister has tried very hard to get a satisfactory agreement on journey times, which we applaud. He was right not to accept what was on offer, and we wish him well in the discussions next month. He has warned us--I am not criticising him, far from it--that it may not be as easy as some people think to bridge the huge gulf that still exists between the southern states and the more northern states of the Community, where the electorate feel strongly and, let us be honest, have much higher standards of animal welfare.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the RSPCA special operations unit trailed 21 vehicles during their journey from the United Kingdom to European destinations and that 14 of those exceeded the
Column 30115-hour limit without providing food, drink and rest for the animals? What action does he think that the British Government should take to prevent such practice?
Dr. Strang: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that point. I add my congratulations to the compliments paid by the Minister to the work of the RSPCA in that area.
That brings me to a point that I want to develop. For some time, the Labour party has advocated a licensing scheme for lorry drivers and hauliers. Of course, we were very pleased when subsequently the European Commission included among its package of proposals last year a European licensing scheme. Unfortunately, its implementation is not likely to be achieved in the short run, so we would like the British Government to go ahead with a national licensing scheme. That would stipulate that if a haulier were to move animals over a substantial distance--obviously it would not apply to normal, short journeys--such as the distances involved in cross-channel journeys, the haulier and its and driver would require a licence.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture, say that the Committee was interested in such an approach, although it was not identical to what we are advocating. The scheme would require high standards of hauliers and drivers and provide some training, advice and guidance for drivers. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, those of us with some experience of farming, as he has, know that the most stressful time for animals is when they are loaded on and unloaded off vehicles. It is perfectly possible for animals to be transported in reasonable conditions, although, sadly, it is also possible for them to be transported in appalling conditions, and we have seen some disgraceful examples of that which we want to eliminate.
Mr. Waldegrave rose --
Dr. Strang: I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman soon, as I am keen to hear his view.
Although the Labour party advocates a national licensing scheme, we would prefer a European scheme. Before the Minister intervenes, I would like to put to him the grounds on which he criticises the scheme, so that I may better understand it.
If the scheme were implemented, a haulier would lose its licence in the UK if it did not comply with it and was found to be treating animals cruelly. It is galling to see on television an individual driving lorries on to vessels going across the channel when most people involved know that that person had been convicted of animal cruelty. That upsets and angers people. Obviously, it would never happen under our proposal.
I may be putting it too strongly, but I understand the Minister's objection. He thinks that the scheme could be applied in the UK--remember we are talking not only about the movement of animals across the channel but through the United Kingdom and across long distances in Scotland and the animals being looked after well during that transportation--but that there would be nothing to stop hauliers taking animals across the channel and immediately moving the animals to another vehicle.
Column 302My response to that criticism is that it would be bound to increase the costs of transporting animals such as sheep. We are not advocating a ban on the movement of live sheep across the channel, although we want the number of live sheep transported to decrease as quickly as possible because we are not happy about it. That would enormously increase the cost of the operation. It would be a financial penalty if, once across the channel, the animals had to be unloaded and put on a second vehicle. Therefore that in itself would be a positive factor.
Secondly, would it not provide a tremendous focus for people on the continent if they understood the extent of the cruelty? It would provide a focus if it was known that the British people had laid down conditions to be met by the lorry drivers when transporting animals, but that, on the continent, rather than meeting the conditions, those involved were unloading the animals and placing them on an unlicensed vehicle. I put that argument to the Minister and shall be happy to hear what he says.
Mr. Waldegrave: I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening, but this is an important point. The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech, and it will perhaps be helpful to the House to debate such issues, including that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), which is similar.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point said, we believed that some people were not following the journey plan that they had given to our vets, and were running over the limit--the RSPCA had shown that to be so. Therefore, we introduced a recent amendment to the transport order so that anyone not adhering to the journey plan could be prosecuted here. That is as far as we can go in making the provision stick. The trouble is that I am told that people are doing what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) and I feared that they might--changing to foreign hauliers as soon as they have crossed the channel.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: They switch contractors.
Mr. Waldegrave: As the hon. Gentleman says, they switch contractors.
Although I have introduced that amendment, and I think that it was a sensible thing to have done--anything that we can do, we shall do--it does not solve the problem. I do not rule out the suggestion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East. If we do not achieve in reasonable time a European licensing system--which the hon. Gentleman and I agree would be much better --we shall have to consider all the options again. I fear that the provision has not solved the problem, for the reason that I gave. It may put up the costs, but unfortunately people seem to be willing to accept that.
Dr. Strang: That has been a helpful exchange. The first sentence of the Minister's press release states:
"Britain is to introduce national measures to improve welfare protection for animals during transport following the failure of the EC Agricultural Council to reach an agreement."
That was the point raised by the Minister. I cannot recall where it is stated in the press release, but the Minister certainly said that one of the pluses of the system was that authorities of the member states on the continent were to help the Government to police it. The Minister was effectively saying that Governments of the member states were not delivering their undertaking.
Mr. Waldegrave: The point is not that those Governments are not helping, but that they can only help us to provide evidence against British -originating hauliers, which they are doing.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: There is another way.
Mr. Waldegrave: If there is another method, as the hon. Member for Workington has suggested, I shall look at it. We shall not rule out anything. I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East--if we can achieve a Europewide system, it will be far better.
Dr. Strang: The Minister's intervention was constructive and helpful.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: The options that we are currently considering are whether to have a pan-European or a domestic licensing system. There is no reason why the Minister should not ask French Governments and other Governments bordering the channel to introduce licensing systems unilaterally. If they were to do that, we might--by tying up the licensing system with pre-transport arrangements for animals going into the mainland Community--be able to resolve the problem with licences rather than have a pan-European arrangement.
Dr. Strang: That is an interesting point. If we introduced a licensing scheme, perhaps the Germans, and even the French, might follow.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Strang: I shall not give way, as I want to allow time for at least two more speeches before the end of the debate. I am sorry, but I have given way repeatedly.
It is surely accepted that the transportation of veal calves to crates is cruel. The House of Commons legislated because it is cruel. It is indefensible that, having deemed the system to be cruel--having said that it is wrong to put calves in narrow crates, raise them in relative darkness and feed them an artificial and unbalanced diet--we should transport our calves across the channel into precisely that system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, not only are we doing that, but we are buying back the veal from the continental producer. That cannot be defended. Of course, we support the Minister's efforts at a European level. We are not persuaded of the Minister's legal advice. Much work is being done on the subject and I believe that there could well be a different legal position. That has nothing to do with transport, but is based on whether the--
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Dr. Strang: No, I have said that I shall not give way again. The legal position is based on whether the calf directive is sufficient to block national action here. There are other arguments that I shall not develop this morning.
In a single market, it is one thing to export an inanimate object that is to be finished or a food ingredient such as grain or flour to be turned into bread, but we are not talking about that. We are talking about sentient creatures and have to adopt a different approach. That issue must appear on the agenda--it is not just a matter of the single market.
Column 304Mr. Clappison rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) must resume his seat. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) has made it clear that he is not giving way.
Dr. Strang: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am certainly not giving way.
We support the Minister's efforts to achieve progress at a European level. That will be better for all the reasons that he gave--there are so many more animals involved and so much more cruelty and abuse will be eliminated if we act on a European level, not just a British one. However, that must not become an excuse for not doing everything that we can nationally. We must consider the subject in its entirety and take every possible action. It is the responsibility of all of us--Members of Parliament, farmers, transporters, slaughterers and the community--to prevent unnecessary cruelty to animals.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on securing the Adjournment debate, which is very well-attended. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his speech. We have come to expect good speeches from him, but today's was particularly commendable as he has spent two trying days in Brussels. It is deliciously ironic that Opposition Members who are first in the Lobby to vote for ever-closer union and single institutional frameworks suddenly discover the logic of their own voting records and are surprised to realise that they have largely succeeded in neutering the mother of Parliaments--assuming that a mother can be neutered--through the consequences of their actions.
My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned some of the protesters--a subject on which there has been much discussion. Many of the protesters are well-meaning people, but, sadly, those who represent rent-a-mob are not well-meaning and a number of them have been travelling around the countryside. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think that the protesters have a lot of time on their hands. They tour the countryside picking up the dole wherever they happen to be--demonstrating against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, committing mass trespass on my right hon. Friend's farm, travelling down to the docks. The only danger is that they may exceed the 48-hour directive.
I know from 30 years' experience just what an organisation the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was in days gone by. There were sometimes 5,000 animals at market in a single day. The RSPCA inspectors were always present, and the relationship between them and the auctioneers was close. If an inspector came to us and said that an animal in the market was unfit to be there, it immediately went home or to the slaughterhouse.
I wish that I could say that I have had the same high respect for the RSPCA in recent years. Although it still performs much good work, it has become just another political lobby group. That is a very sad development, because I think that the RSPCA could have played a vital part in the hours question. I have listened to the arguments about whether there should be an eight, 10 or 15-hour limit on journeys, but I am not sure that that is the point.
Column 305We could decide upon a maximum journey length of 10 hours, but what if a journey takes only 11 hours? My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) mentioned the process of unloading and reloading and my right hon. Friend referred to the three-day rest which would have to be taken for the sake of an extra hour's journey, perhaps on a major motorway. I believe that there should be some discretion in this area and the RSPCA could play a role in enforcing that discretion. I hope that that organisation will get politics out of its system before we reach any more agreements with it.
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West): Is my hon. Friend aware that Professor Jeffcote at the veterinary school in Cambridge has undertaken scientific research with regard to stress on animals in transit and has collected substantial data about it? Does my hon. Friend agree that, rather than plucking figures for journey times out of the air-- whether it be eight hours, 10 hours or whatever--we should try to use scientific evidence as a basis for reaching decisions about the correct length of journey time for different animals?
Mr. Knapman: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend; I think that a lot more work should be done in that area. There is no "right" number of hours that animals should spend in transit. It may be highly convenient for parliamentary draftsmen and others to mention a number of hours as the basis of an agreement, but we should press for a certain amount of flexibility in the system. I suspect that Professor Jeffcote would find that the animals who were subjected to the activities of rent-a-mob as they passed through the ports suffered quite a bit of stress.
Once we have moved away from the views of the hon. Member for Newham, North -West (Mr. Banks) and others, the reality is that farmers thrive if their animals thrive. They want to sell their animals and by looking after them properly they increase the value of their stock. That point must not be overlooked. What would happen if there was a unilateral ban?
Mr. Duncan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) the hon. Gentleman undertook to answer later in his speech my question whether it was official Labour party policy to support the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew). However, he failed to do that in his speech. Although he addressed the ambiguity of the law--a problem that we are all wrestling with--he did not come off the fence about that matter. Therefore, the House is entitled to conclude that Labour party Front Benchers do not support the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlisle.
Mr. Knapman: To be fair to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East, I think that he said that he agreed with certain points that the hon. Member for Carlisle made, but that he could not attend the debate on Friday, probably because he was busy elsewhere. The Labour party's paper on animal transport says:
"we will seek a ban through the European Commission and Council of Ministers."
If that is what the Labour party intends to do, the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Carlisle cannot be
Column 306Labour party policy. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has not addressed that point, although he has been invited to do so several times this morning.
Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. On the point about the legal advice to which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East referred, is my hon. Friend aware that when the Labour party was in power it received the O'Brien report, which contained legal advice that a unilateral ban of the sort that the hon. Member for Carlisle favours was not clearly justified? It is even less likely to be justified now because, under the Community's directives on calf production, the ground has been occupied. If a unilateral ban were imposed, this country would face a legal mess and the Commission may have warned the Government to that effect.
Mr. Knapman: That is a fair point. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has forgotten his own voting record, he may also have forgotten some of the finer points of the O'Brien report.
Mr. Waldegrave: I apologise for intervening in the debate once again, but I wish to assist the House. When a similar Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Commission wrote to the British Government and said that such legislation would be contested. It is not simply a matter of my receiving legal advice; the Commission is extremely equivocal when it wants to be, but it knew that it would win any such case.
Mr. Knapman: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making the position clear. I understand that the hon. Member for Carlisle is seeking a unilateral ban on live exports. What would that achieve? What would happen to small calves? They will be born on the farm and killed on the farm, and not all farmers have suitable equipment for stunning and killing small calves on their farms. It would lead to immense cruelty, which is most unsatisfactory.
I thought that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East made more constructive points on the subject this morning than he has for some time. As the hon. Gentleman said, the best scenario is for a maximum number of calves to be slaughtered in British abattoirs. It will add on value--as the hon. Gentleman said, if an animal kills out at 50 per cent., it is better to transport a ton of carcass than two tons of live animals. It may also prove a boost to employment in this country. It is the best scenario for all those reasons.
I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend's speech and it seems that there are four main lines of attack. First, we are seeking a ban on veal crates throughout Europe; secondly, we are pressing the Commission for stronger enforcement of animal transport rules; thirdly, we are pressing for the licensing of hauliers; and, fourthly, we are seeking the co- operation of the meat industry in promoting meat exports and the development of British veal.
British farmers currently produce pink veal, but white veal is preferred on the continent. However, people used to prefer white bread until there was a campaign to persuade them to buy brown bread. We must make people understand that pink veal has been reared more humanely.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all his activities, which are extremely practical--unlike the suggestions offered by Labour Members, even assuming that they know what Labour party policy is.
Column 30712.47 pm
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): I am conscious of the time, so I will try to progress quickly with my speech and perhaps another hon. Member will be able to speak as well. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) on introducing what has generally been a good and constructive debate--with the exception of the speech by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), which I think lowered the tone of the debate on occasion.
I think that the call by the hon. Member for Sutton for a broadsheet rather than a tabloid approach to the issue has been heeded. However, I believe that the hon. Gentleman lapsed into tabloid-speak twice in his own speech. On one occasion he described vegans as "unnatural", which I think was slightly pejorative. I will return to his other point later. However, he made an important speech which deserves a response.
I come from north Warwickshire, which is largely an agricultural area. Many of my farming constituents are unhappy about the veal trade and about many practices in other areas of agriculture. They prefer to send their animals to the nearest abattoir rather than transport them longer distances, even though they could make more money that way. It is not a matter of city and rural people having different views on the issue, as many of those in rural areas feel strongly about animal rights.
Mr. Marland: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. O'Brien: No, I am trying to make quick progress.
Transporting animals in conditions which we define as cruel is wrong. We have a moral basis in the law that has been passed here which says that we will ban veal crates. Allowing animals to be transported and put in veal crates in other countries and seeking to reap profits from that undermines the basis of the law. That is why it is very important for the Government, not only to carry on the work they are doing to try to get a European ban on veal crates, but to ensure that there is the strongest condemnation of those who seek to make profits from what we have decided is wrong, cruel and immoral.
Exporting live animals in that way damages our good abattoirs. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) recently tried to introduce a private Member's Bill on the export of live animals, and my hon. Friend has a long-term interest in the subject. He has drawn to my attention the closure of an abattoir in Nuneaton, with the loss of about 70 jobs which have now been exported. We must ensure that those jobs remain in this country.
Let us be clear that there is a real problem with EC law, but that legal opinion is, to some extent, divided. After all, legal opinion is often divided as lawyers, such as myself, make our money by arguing the different sides of a case. There is a strong argument for testing the law. There was a ban on exports in 1973, and there is an argument that that ban could be sustained, at least for a period, perhaps under article 36 of the treaty of Rome or article 20 of GATT. That could provide the basis for such a challenge to the law. If they tested the law, the Government would show the strength of their opposition to the trade, and they would also put pressure on the southern European countries to change their views. Even if we lost the court case, it would give a strong discouragement to business men in the UK who are trying to make a profit out of this trade.
Column 308I welcome the Minister's convincing efforts to try to change the law in relation to veal crates. But if that European law requires some sweetening--perhaps for Greece or Portugal--let us ensure that we make some bilateral contacts soon to discuss that and to ensure that they understand that we are prepared to go in that direction. In the mean time, we should promote a system of licensing for hauliers and introduce tough regulations, high standards of training and vehicle supervision in which the licences can be withdrawn for any breach. Perhaps, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) suggested, we can make bilateral contacts with France and other countries to try to ensure that they introduce high standards. That is important and urgent.
I shall now refer to the position in Warwickshire. In my county and in neighbouring Coventry, six people have died as a result of the veal trade. Five people died in the air crash, while a demonstrator died under the wheels of a lorry. There is anger in my area about that, and it has had a significant impact upon local people. It is right at this point to declare an interest, in that I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation. I hold no brief for them on this matter, and I have not discussed it with them. There have been long-term demonstrations at Coventry airport which are putting enormous pressures on the local constabulary. If the trade is not banned, the implications must be looked into. I ask the Minister to approach the Home Office with regard to the considerable concerns felt in Warwickshire about the impact of the trade on the police force. There are enormous pressures on the police, as 50 officers are likely to be lost during the next year. There can be no recruitment within a two-year period and, at the end of this year, 16 per cent. of community beats will not be covered.
There is an immediate financial crisis as a result of the financial settlement upon the police this year. If the protest continues as a result of the veal trade, the implications for Warwickshire police are, if not disastrous, enormously serious. Police stations could be shut and officer posts lost. That could lead to a lack of policing in Warwickshire. Will the Minister approach the Home Secretary, not just on behalf of Warwickshire but on behalf of Essex, where there have been problems with policing at Brightlingsea?
Mr. Jenkin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. O'Brien: I realise that the hon. Gentleman has an interest in the matter, but I am trying to ensure that one of his colleagues has time to make a speech.
Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman is referring to my constituency.
Mr. O'Brien: I shall give way as I have referred to Brightlingsea.
Mr. Jenkin: There have been confrontations with the police at Brightlingsea. In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, will he join me in pleading with the protesters--who, after all, want to keep public support and are in danger of losing that support by confronting the police- -to stop sitting down in front of lorries and confronting the police? It is not the veal trade which is causing the police to be at Brightlingsea in large numbers, it is the protesters. If they took a more responsible attitude, they would gain more public support, and they
Column 309would not be costing our constabularies money and threatening the police activities to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
Mr. O'Brien: I shall come to that in a moment, as it is important. Those issues must be addressed and, as a result, I may go up to my time limit.
I shall finish the point that I was I making. As a result of difficulties in the negotiations about the trade, police forces face long-term public order problems in the areas concerned. There is a need for those funding difficulties to be addressed by the Government. There are unexpected difficulties, and there has been a high settlement on some police forces this year.
The position in Warwickshire is worrying. The Home Office needs to create a fund which ensures that those forces which have extraordinary public order problems can call upon it to provide the resources which they need. Otherwise, there will be severe dangers of police forces being unable to carry out their duties effectively at the end of the year. I ask the Minister to make representations to the Home Office.
I come now to the point raised by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and others in relation to the policing of protests. I agreed with some of the points mentioned by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), although I disagreed with others. I entirely agree with his important point that the police are neutral in the matter. Some officers may support the veal trade, while others may disagree. That is not the point. They are paid by the citizens of this country to enforce the law, and that means doing two things--ensuring that the roads are clear for the lorries to pass and ensuring that people can exercise their civil right to protest. It is important for the police to observe both of those, and they know that.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he was "proud" of the peaceful protesters who exercised their civil liberty to demonstrate their real concerns. I welcome that statement by the right hon. Gentleman.