Non-stun Slaughter of Animals Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: HM Treasury

Non-stun Slaughter of Animals

David Rutley Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd April 2019

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Mr Laurence Robertson Portrait Mr Robertson - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:17 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it could make a difference. I have cut short my speech considerably to allow other hon. Members to join in, which I certainly do not object to doing, but I could have provided more evidence for my points if I had had time—never mind.

There is a divergence of opinion on the issue, so I ask the Minister to consider holding a number of roundtable meetings with stakeholders, such as religious groups, farmers, vets and anybody else who has something useful to contribute, including perhaps hon. Members. I ask him to engage in the discussions about the process —I am sure he is already taking it seriously—to see whether we can find a way forward. No matter what people’s backgrounds, religions, or anything else, they do not want to see the unnecessary suffering of animals. I am sure he will engage with the subject, and I hope he will get people round a table to talk about it in great detail and see what progress we can make.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley) - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:19 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. It is good to be involved in another well-attended animal welfare debate. I am mindful that I am spending more time with hon. Members—if not on Brexit, then on animal welfare—than with members of my family, but I would like to put it on the record that it is my daughter Jenny’s 13th birthday. I had to do it somehow; I called her this morning as well.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on securing the debate and on the tone with which he discussed the topic. It is an emotive issue, as we know, and I am grateful for the way in which hon. Members have sought to talk about it in an evidence-based way, whether raising opinions from a welfare or a religious perspective. That is to be welcomed.

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab) - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:19 p.m.

I thank the Minister for giving way and I also thank the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), who secured the debate, especially for his explicit and helpful statement at the outset that he did not intend in any way to impact on religious freedom or expression. Will the Minister confirm that, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, the rights of the Jewish and Muslim faiths to have meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs will always be protected?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:20 p.m.

Yes, I can confirm that, but it is important that we have a discussion about these issues and I will come on to say how we can do that. However, since the 1930s we have had a tradition of respecting the religious rights of both the Jewish community and the Muslim community, and we will honour that tradition.

Let me try to make some progress, because I have heard a lot of people’s points and I want to respond. Of course, if there are interventions I will take them, but there is quite a lot to come back on from the interventions that have already been made. Perhaps I can try to rattle through and answer as many questions as possible.

Of course, the focus here is animal welfare concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) contributed, and although I do not think that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) said anything, I know that she is here with the hat on of concern about animal welfare. I am very proud that we have so many MPs who are interested in this issue, but the fact is that we have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world, and as we leave the EU we will improve them further.

The Government are taking action in a number of areas to further protect and ensure the welfare of animals, for example by increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty tenfold, from six months’ imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment. We are also banning the use of electronic shock collars and third-party puppy and kitten sales, and we have already banned the online sale of puppies.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns - Hansard

Will my hon. Friend give way?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard

This will be the last one, because I want to get on to the substantive issues.

Andrea Jenkyns Portrait Andrea Jenkyns - Hansard

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I will be very brief. I just want to commend the Government for what they have done regarding animal rights over the last few years. The Minister himself came to the Dogs Trust event that I organised last year. I am proud to be a Conservative because of the way the Government champion animal rights, and I thank them for that.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:22 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am really pleased that the Conservative party is interested in this issue, and I am really pleased that the Labour party and the Scottish National party are taking an active interest too. This is a cross-party issue. We are trying to push through so much legislation and I know that there is frustration about just when we will be able to make it happen. I share that frustration, but hopefully hon. Members know, after all the debates that we have had in recent days, that we are working very hard to try to make these things happen.

Let me come back to the point about religious slaughter. On non-stun slaughter in particular, I restate that it is the Government’s preference that all animals are stunned before slaughter. However, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain)—this relates to the comments made by the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah)—the Government respect the rights of Jews and Muslims to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs. Therefore, we allow religious slaughter of animals by Muslims and Jews intended for consumption by Muslim and Jewish communities, in keeping with their traditions.

The Government believe that this is an important religious freedom. There is a long history of upholding it in legislation, dating back to the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933. We remember from our history books what was going on at that time in the ’30s. Important decisions were made in relation to that Act, which contained an exception from stunning for religious slaughter for Jews and Muslims. Since then, the rules governing religious slaughter have developed to provide additional protections to animals that are slaughtered in accordance with religious rites, while still permitting non-stun slaughter for Jews and Muslims.

When we discuss religious slaughter, it is worth bearing in mind that often in the case of halal meat the relevant Muslim authorities are content that the animal is stunned. Although we produce a significant amount of halal sheepmeat in this country, two thirds of it is from sheep that are stunned before slaughter.

Today there are both EU and domestic regulations that protect the welfare of animals at the time of killing. Within that legislation, there are additional rules for those animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites, specifically for the production of halal or kosher meat. The primary aim of the welfare at slaughter regulations, which are based on a body of scientific evidence and advice from the European Food Safety Authority, is to ensure that animals are spared avoidable pain, distress or suffering at the time of killing, which was one of the key points that my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury made in his very important speech.

The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015— WATOK—imposed stricter national rules for religious slaughter and provided greater protections than those contained in the EU regulation, which sets baseline Europe-wide standards. For instance, we prohibit the inversion of cattle for religious slaughter, which some member states, such as France, still allow. This ban followed the 1985 report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which recommended that inversion be banned.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) raised concerns about mis-stunning. The official veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency will take enforcement action against mis-stunning.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

Will the Minister allow me to intervene on that point?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:25 p.m.

It will have to be a really quick intervention.

Sir Henry Bellingham (in the Chair) Hansard

One last one.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

I thank the Minister for mentioning mis-stunning. Will he ensure that if there is going to be labelling, we are told on the label exactly the methodology adopted in the stunning?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:25 p.m.

That is an important point. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, there are so many things that I would like to talk about to try to reassure people here. I will skim through them and then come back to that point about labelling. If I may, I will make that the last intervention, then I think I will be able to answer the other points that have been made.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab) - Hansard

Will the Minister give way?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard

Yes, of course, but that will have to be the last intervention.

Mary Glindon Portrait Mary Glindon - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:25 p.m.

My brother is a meat inspector; I will just make that clear. There is CCTV in all slaughterhouses now. Is that eliminating cruelty? Are the Government monitoring the footage?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
3 Apr 2019, 4:26 p.m.

That is spooky, because the next point in my speech was to say that one of the key things we have done in recent years—adding to the list of things that we have talked about already—is to add CCTV in slaughterhouses. That is a major step forward and it helps to deal with all the welfare issues that we have talked about today. It was introduced in May last year and I think that it is now effective in all slaughterhouses.

Let me just try to get to the most important part of my response to the debate. The hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) talked about animals being imported into the UK and asked whether they should be slaughtered to UK standards. Yes, they should; it is a legal requirement.

The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) talked about blockchain technology and whether we could use it to improve traceability. Yes, I think the industry should consider that; indeed, it probably will consider it, as it considers how to move things forward.

The heart of the discussion today has been about labelling. [Interruption.] I know, but I am just trying to answer the question, so I do not lose track of that point. We know that concerns have been voiced about meat from animal slaughter without stunning being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in that way. The Government are clear that we want people to have the information they need to make informed choices about the food that they buy. The Government believe that consumers should have the necessary information available to them to make an informed choice about their food, and the issue of revised labelling is something that the Government are considering in the context of the UK’s exit from the EU, as I set out in a speech at the annual dinner for the BVA back in February.

It is important to note that there are other groups that want to know not only whether the meat is from a stunned or non-stunned animal, but what method of slaughter has been used. That will need to be considered in the wider review of labelling.

As I begin to wind up, it is important to recognise that the labelling of meat is something that we want to take a closer look at. I set out earlier that that will be part of a much wider review of labelling, which will include consideration of welfare standards, sustainability and, of course, safety for consumers. I also highlight that we want to go on respecting the rights of Jews and Muslims to eat meat that is prepared in accordance with their beliefs. However, in seeking to address the welfare standards and issues that have been discussed today, we will continue to explore ways to further improve the welfare standards for all animals, including when they are slaughtered.

Our next step—this relates to an important point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury—will be further discussion with a range of interested parties across the debate at a forthcoming roundtable meeting to talk through many of the issues that have been raised today. I think that that is the way we need to do things: talk about the issues and see what we can do to improve welfare, but at the same time respect religious rights. Labelling will be key, but we will continue to encourage an active dialogue with all interested parties as part of our wider objective to enhance our already world-leading animal welfare standards.

I will leave it at that, but I thank hon. Members for their important contributions to this vital debate.

Question put and agreed to.