Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England and Northern Ireland) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
Wednesday 30th October 2019

(4 years, 7 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short and interesting debate. They have brought up many interesting issues that are not part of this SI, but I will still try to answer some of them.

I could not agree more with my noble friend Lord De Mauley: our welfare standards are very important. I think he said that he was involved in an APPG on small abattoirs. That is fascinating and a very important part of this. As we know, in England small abattoirs are so important to local farmers, as they do not have to travel a long way with their animals. It also means that they know the slaughterers in the abattoirs. In fact, when I take my sheep to our local abattoir, I am absolutely thrilled that I know everybody working there. I have known them for a long time and am absolutely sure that the welfare of the animals is tip-tip-top. I will certainly take that back to the department.

My noble friend also mentioned the travel of live animals, which again is a concern, as we know. I cannot say too much about that at the moment because we are in consultation on it, but we certainly feel that the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter needs to be looked into. We believe that it is possible to send animals on long journeys while simultaneously respecting the need for good animal husbandry. Sometimes they may travel for 30 or 40 hours, as we know, and in some cases 50 hours, which is not compatible with animal welfare. So it is certainly being looked into at the moment. In fact, when this SI was considered at the other end, my right honourable friend the Minister, Zac Goldsmith, mentioned that he was very involved in several round tables going on at the moment. He is talking to stakeholders and finding out the standards that might be changed as far as that is concerned.

I always love it when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stands up to talk, because when I first came here I was a Defra whip and he was enormously helpful to me. Quite often, I had to stand up and answer questions that I had no idea about, so I used to go to him and he would tell me what I should say and give me the answers. But I do not have him to ask today, because he is asking me the questions; we are slightly changed around.

The noble Lord asked about the common travel area and I hear what he says about it. In fact, the common travel area predates our joint accession to the EU. It offers Irish citizens the right to live and work in the UK and vice versa. The recognition of qualifications is necessary to enable individuals to exercise their right to work. Both Governments have publicly committed to protecting the rights associated with the common travel area. In May 2019, the UK and Irish Governments signed a memorandum of understanding reaffirming their commitment to it, as well as acknowledging that the recognition of professional qualifications was an essential facilitator of the right to work.

The noble Lord also mentioned other people wanting to work in the common travel area and asked how that would be affected. That is a BEIS competence. There is a comprehensive process going on at the moment and Defra is engaging with it.

My noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about vet standards. The Home Office decision to place the veterinary profession on its shortage occupation list means that it will be easier for UK employers to attract international veterinary expertise. It will also help to ensure that the UK can continue to maintain high standards of animal health and welfare, veterinary public health advice and biosecurity. We have already made operability amendments to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 to ensure that the mechanisms are in place to recognise equivalent certificates from anywhere in the world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about halal and kosher labelling. The Government will not accept labelling changes that could put up the cost of food for religious communities. We expect industry to provide consumers with the information to enable them to make informed choices about the food they eat. The Government are aware that there is public concern about meat from animals being slaughtered in accordance with religious beliefs being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in that way. My right honourable friend the Minister, Zac Goldsmith, was asked a similar question when this SI went through in the House of Commons. He said:

“The previous Secretary of State initiated a series of roundtables with stakeholders from across the board. Those discussions continue and I am now involved in them. I have had some very good meetings with stakeholders in the last month. It is not the right time to pre-empt what we will deliver as a consequence of that, but we will deliver steps that I think will satisfy the stakeholders’ concerns and improve animal welfare at the point of slaughter”.—[Official Report, Commons Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee, 29/10/19; col. 6.]

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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Will we be able to know what we are eating? I want to know what I am eating. We have always had that in this country. We always tell people what they are eating. There are many countries where horses are normally eaten, but here there was a big hoo-hah about it. Why should it bother the people for whom the ritual slaughter is done? They should be happy that they know what they are eating.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
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The Government are aware that there is public concern about that. I think that that is part of the round table discussions going on at the moment with my right honourable friend.

Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker
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Are some of the round table discussions about the fact that all New Zealand lamb imported into the UK is halal, and it is all pre-stunned? Is it a fact that the meat used in the National Health Service is all halal and patients are never told and that the meat in prisons is all halal and prisoners are never told? Should they not be?

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Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
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I hear what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord say, and I will certainly take it back to the department. As I said earlier, it is being looked into.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned staff in abattoirs. It is important to remember that a lot of staff come over from eastern Europe or wherever it happens to be to learn the trade in abattoirs in England, and they get their certificate of competence in England, which means that they are trained to English standards. It means that the standards are as good there but, if they come from abroad and they do not have the certificate of competency, obviously they have to get it and undergo training before they are allowed to work in an abattoir.

The noble Baroness also referred to the two applications a year. The reason for that was that they had to come up with a number. It is not likely to be as many as two; it could be none. They felt that that was the mean average; there is no particular meaning to that number otherwise.

The issue of jurisdiction between England and Wales was a legal matter. Normally, when we deal with SIs, the SI refers to England and Wales working together. In this case, Wales is doing its own, so it refers only to England. That is why that was in there.

I think that I have answered everybody’s questions, so unless anybody wants to ask anything else, I thank all noble Lords for taking part.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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There is still the question of whether there is anything to look at the people who practise these ritual killings. Do we know anything about them, such as whether they are in any way competent?

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
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Everybody who works in an abattoir is registered.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I am not talking just about people. Is there something for abattoirs? I do not know.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
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All abattoirs are registered. There certainly are some illegal ones, but they should not be allowed to practise.

I hope that your Lordships are reassured on these points. I reiterate that the regulations do no more than meet our existing obligations under the common travel area.