[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered CCTV in equine slaughterhouses.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.
Believe me, like many horse-obsessed women, I could happily entertain Members with an equine monologue for at least an hour and a half, but although I would rather be taking about the brilliant exploits of horses I have known, the welfare of horses at the end of their life none the less remains an unavoidable issue requiring much greater scrutiny and action. Sadly, if someone keeps livestock, sooner or later they will have to dispose of deadstock. Those of us who care about horses would prefer to convince ourselves that every animal will either meet a natural, pain-free death or be euthanised by a vet. The reality for thousands of horses and ponies is, of course, very different. If we are concerned about their welfare, it is our duty not to be blinded by sentimentality, but rather to improve reality as we find it.
Protecting animal welfare at slaughterhouses is an emotive topic at the best of times. I am proud that as a matter of policy, Plaid Cymru believes that CCTV systems are the best means to monitor, and so protect, the welfare of animals in slaughterhouses. Smaller slaughterhouses should be supported so that they can install CCTV, as it should be borne in mind that small slaughterhouses often have welfare advantages in terms of the time and distance travelled by animals.
Although the use of CCTV in Welsh slaughterhouses falls within the competence of the Welsh Government, the specialised nature and geographical spread of equine slaughterhouses makes this a cross-border issue. Due to the lack of local facilities, horses kept in north Wales may well be taken to slaughter in the north of England. This is a particularly relevant issue to Wales, where the 2013 mislabelling of red meat scandal resulted in the discovery of horse meat in supermarkets, and also resulted in raids at a number of slaughterhouses, including one near Aberystwyth in the constituency next to mine.
As with almost any contemporary legislative or regulatory issue, Brexit has created questions on equine slaughter and broader animal welfare laws. Minimum standards for the protection of animals at the time of slaughter are set out in 2009 EU regulations. If—and I use the word knowingly in this context—one day the Government’s great repeal Bill does what is promised and transposes all EU law into UK statute, decisions on minimum standards in slaughterhouses will have to be made once again. Making CCTV mandatory in equine slaughterhouses, as well as in other slaughterhouses, must be a top priority.
Nowadays we no longer regard horses as working animals, but treat them as companions or pets, so the idea of horse slaughter is something that many people feel uncomfortable about. Sending a horse to an abattoir is far less common than it used to be. There are alternatives to abattoirs for horse owners wishing to provide a compassionate end of life for their animal, such as euthanasia by a vet or taking the horse to an experienced knackerman or to hunt kennels. However, the costs of those options have risen in recent years, making them unaffordable for some horse owners. Euthanasia by a vet and carcase disposal can cost more than £500, while a knackerman may charge around £150. In contrast, an abattoir will pay for the horse, so affordability never has to impact on the horse owner’s decision. It is important that all horse owners can afford to provide a humane death for their animals.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she agree that one of the things that holds horse owners back from sending their horses to an abattoir is their lack of confidence? The World Horse Welfare survey shows that over half of respondents would consider using an abattoir if CCTV was in place.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that point and will go into it in further detail. The fact that people lack confidence in the potential of abattoirs, and feel that they will be criticised by fellow horse owners for resorting to them is, in effect, a welfare issue itself. It may well be causing some horse owners to delay euthanasia and that causes welfare problems and distress. Addressing that is one of the key horse welfare challenges identified in a four-year study on the welfare status of horses in England and Wales. As mentioned, the results of that research, which was conducted by the University of Bristol and funded by World Horse Welfare, were published in a report called “Horses in Our Hands”, which was launched at Parliament this summer. It cited how emotional attachment to the animal played a role in delaying euthanasia, as did negative attitudes to killing, financial considerations and peer pressure.
Old, sick and unmanageable horses are too often sold or given away when owners should be taking responsible steps to end their life humanely. What happens to horses that are sold or given away when they are no longer wanted or useful? Very often they will be sent to horse sales and markets, passed between owners and shipped from pillar to post only to end up in the meat trade anyway. In Wales, the sight of unwanted and worthless ponies filling the pens at markets and being shunted from lorry to lorry is depressing. However, the distress caused to those animals is unnecessary, and if the public had greater confidence that horse welfare would be protected at slaughter, fewer horses might suffer prolonged misery.
According to the Food Standards Agency, the latest public attitudes tracker from May 2016 shows animal welfare as equal third when it comes to concern for our food, alongside salt and behind sugar and food waste. That lack of confidence is especially evident among horse owners. A high-profile exposé on the practices of a now defunct UK slaughterhouse in 2013 showed an appalling disregard for horse welfare, with horses beaten, stunned in sight of each other and some appearing to regain consciousness before they were finally killed. Those practices were revealed only through covert CCTV footage; had CCTV been in place, with access to the footage given to authorities such as the FSA, the proprietor, or the regulator, could have stopped the malpractice much sooner. That clearly would have been in everyone’s interest and particularly that of the horses that were undergoing the experience.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Is she saying that there is a reluctance in equine slaughter facilities to put in CCTV? I know that in the red meat sector, although it is not compulsory, some have voluntarily done so. Is there is a reluctance in slaughter plants to do that?
The issue is that it is not compulsory; that is particularly pertinent in relation to horse behaviour and the behaviour of horse owners. CCTV is not necessarily present—its use is voluntary—in every slaughterhouse. It appears to have reached a certain point and be going no further—a plateau.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech, which I am following closely. Does she agree that the cost of installing CCTV has fallen rapidly in recent years and should not in any way be a barrier to good abattoirs installing CCTV without being required to do so?
Indeed, I understand that many larger-scale slaughterhouses already have CCTV installed externally; to all intents and purposes, including the internal installation as well would not be prohibitively expensive. I think that is an issue for smaller slaughterhouses, and that they need to be supported.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and congratulate her on securing this debate. She is being most generous in taking so many interventions. Does she think, as I do, that another flaw in the current arrangement is that in those slaughterhouses where there is CCTV, the owner has the option of not allowing the FSA to see the footage? In fact, not only is the CCTV voluntary, but access to the footage is voluntary.
It would indeed seem that if CCTV were present, we should be making full use of it. This is another aspect—given that CCTV itself is not compulsory—that should be mandatory; there should be access to the footage gained through those means.
It is important to emphasise that although we are having this debate today, that does not in any way presume that there is poor treatment in the UK’s five equine slaughterhouses, all of which also take species other than horses. However, horse owners have not forgotten that incident from 2013. A Facebook survey carried out by World Horse Welfare in September provided some interesting insights. Around 90% of more than 900 horse owners who responded did not consider the abattoir as an option for their horse, but 40% agreed that horse slaughter should remain an option within the UK as the costs of euthanasia are so high. More than 70% said that they would not use a slaughterhouse for their own horses because they did not have confidence that their welfare would be protected through the process or that the horse would have a humane death.
I thank the hon. Lady for securing the debate. I am unsure whether hon. Members are aware of this, but there are no abattoirs in Scotland licensed for the slaughter of horses. None the less, the wider issue of animal welfare at abattoirs is important to many people north of the border. At the SNP conference in the autumn—
Order. Will the hon. Lady sit down when she is being brought to order? “I am coming to my question” is not an adequate response. She is taking too much time from the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). She should ask a brief question.
I believe that CCTV protects animals and workers in slaughterhouses and public confidence in the meat produced there. All those things are important. We have a real issue in relation to CCTV and public confidence. There is concern at present that horse welfare is not protected during the process, perhaps because of the particularly sensitive nature of horses. Specific characteristics of equines can make them vulnerable. For instance, they are “fight or flight” animals; when frightened, they seek to flee, and they become panicked or aggressive if they are not handled competently. They are sensitive and highly social herd creatures, and it is a legal requirement for them not to be killed in sight of other horses. Let us not forget that horses, unlike agricultural livestock, have been bred for hundreds of generations to interact with people. That is part of their behaviour pattern and is one of the reasons why we love them—those of us who keep them.
It can be the horse owners themselves who take their horse to slaughter, and that horse may have been a companion to them for many years. Society expects horse owners to feel an emotional attachment to their animals. The horse owner will want—perhaps more than most—a guarantee that the welfare of their horse will be protected at the abattoir, and they will want other horse owners not to judge them for ending their horse’s life in this way, which means that we need to ensure that the abattoir is, and is seen to be, a humane end-of-life option.
Will CCTV provide such a guarantee? On its own, of course it will not, as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the FSA, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, the British Meat Processors Association and many others have said. CCTV is but one of many tools to help safeguard welfare. It should be seen not as a replacement for on-site monitoring, but as support for it. Official veterinarians work in every slaughterhouse across England and Wales and make regular unannounced checks on live animals at slaughter to ensure that their welfare is safeguarded.
The FSA’s veterinary audit team checks compliance. However, no single person can monitor the whole slaughter process—from animals held in lairage, through to being led to the stun box or slaughter area, through to the actual killing. CCTV that is in constant operation, placed to cover all live horse areas, such as the unloading, lairage and so forth, provides a record of the entire process and of the animals’ experience throughout.
As I have said, CCTV could have great benefits for the slaughterhouse operator, who is responsible for ensuring the welfare of animals while on the premises. Operators would be able to monitor and assess whether their staff were complying with the law. They would also have evidence to disprove spurious allegations of malpractice. In that respect, CCTV protects slaughterhouse workers and owners, and furthermore, it can be used for staff training and development. A European slaughterhouse told World Horse Welfare that CCTV was invaluable for staff training purposes.
The most common rebuttal of mandatory CCTV is cost. However, the costs, as the Minister explained in a debate on the issue last year, are “relatively modest”. CCTV systems can be purchased for less than £1,000 and many slaughterhouses already have the systems in place to monitor the exterior of their premises for security reasons, so why not inside as well?
To provide genuine transparency and engender confidence, the footage should be available to authorities. No law currently requires CCTV footage from slaughterhouses to be shared with official vets or the FSA, whose role is to monitor welfare at slaughter. For the use of CCTV to be effective, that must change. Mandatory CCTV in equine slaughterhouses must be legislated for in tandem with a requirement for footage to be made available to those authorities. Only that will truly deliver the transparency that the public need and expect.
What is the state of play? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that it wishes to encourage a voluntary approach to installing CCTV. The Welsh Government have also indicated that they support the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses in Wales, but have failed to legislate to make it mandatory. It is clear that that approach is not working. The FSA, in its board report of 21 September this year, confirmed that take-up of CCTV had “plateaued” at 49% in red meat slaughterhouses. When slaughterhouses have CCTV, it might not be placed in areas which allow them to monitor horse welfare. We need a mandatory approach.
No horse lover could possibly disagree with the general thrust of the hon. Lady’s arguments; of course it is right that we should have CCTV where that can be done. However, only 5,000 horses a year are killed in abattoirs, of the 75,000 or 100,000 that are killed. Is there not a risk that if she focuses all her attention on persuading the Government to introduce primary legislation—an extremely difficult thing to do—she would be ignoring the horse welfare issues associated with the other 95,000?
I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s arguments but perhaps the fact that, at present, so few horses travel through slaughterhouses to the end of their lives is, in itself, a welfare issue. If more horse owners, and the horse-keeping society as a whole, were more confident that that approach was appropriate, perhaps the number of horses doing that, in turn, would increase.
Let me return to the state of play. Another DEFRA approach has been to say that consumer and retailer pressure, as opposed to legislation, should be the means used to encourage the greater use of CCTV. DEFRA cites the fact that most major food retailers—I will not list them, but it is all the major supermarkets—now insist on the use of CCTV in supply chain slaughterhouses, and there are many assurance schemes, such as RSPCA Assured. However—this is pertinent—that consumer-pressure approach will not work for horses, because horse meat is rarely sold or eaten in the United Kingdom. Most of the horse meat that we produce is sold on the continent, mostly to wholesalers, so consumer and retailer pressure is not applicable.
In conclusion, I hope that the case for making CCTV mandatory in the UK’s equine slaughterhouses is clear. The current voluntary approach will not deliver that. Horse owners do not have confidence that abattoirs will protect horse welfare throughout the process. There is neither transparency nor accountability in the system for horses—just the memory of the horrific covert footage from 2013. The losers in this state of affairs are not just the horses, but horse owners, retailers and the general public, who all suffer from the negative consequences of bad practice and low confidence in equine slaughterhouses. I therefore urge the Minister to do all that he can to provide a system that ensures high standards of welfare and instils greater confidence in the sector by exploring a mandatory requirement for CCTV in equine slaughterhouses.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing this debate. This is a highly emotive subject, which has to be approached, as the hon. Lady said, with practicality rather than sentimentality.
I should start by declaring an interest as a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and as an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association. In that context, I would like to quote immediately from a letter from a constituent of mine, Diana Stark. She said:
“As a horse owner and veterinary surgeon I am most concerned about possible harsh handling of horses at the end of their lives when everything should be…calm and quiet…I feel strongly that if all those working in slaughterhouses knew they were being monitored they would be more likely to be considerate towards the horses in their care.”
My son and daughter-in-law are both qualified veterinary surgeons and they both own horses, so I know at fairly close quarters that one of the hardest things for any horse owner—indeed, for the owner of any animal at the end of its life, but particularly for a horse owner—to have to deal with is that end-of-life process.
It is fondly believed that people who own horses are rich, but there are huge numbers of people right across the country hacking with little ponies often bought for their children and enjoying equestrian sports. Many of them are not rich and the costs of disposal of a much-loved animal can often be a real burden. As the hon. Lady said, veterinary costs can be quite high. I do not think that many horse owners would want, given an alternative, to pass their animals to the knacker man. Even then, there is a cost.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) said, this comes down to a question of confidence. If the horse-owning public do not have confidence in the work of the abattoir and the slaughtermen, where do they turn? We know only too well—from the footage, from anecdotal evidence and, in some cases, privately from veterinary surgeons who witness things that they would sooner not witness as observers of slaughterhouse procedure—that there are things going on in slaughterhouses that any reasonable person would abhor. I commend the World Horse Welfare campaign for the introduction of closed circuit television cameras in slaughterhouses that deal with horses. Actually, I would go much further. I would like to see mandatory CCTV cameras in all slaughterhouses, and a mandatory requirement to provide footage on demand when required by a Ministry inspector or a veterinary surgeon dealing with that practice. The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation also throws its weight behind the call for mandatory CCTV.
We are continually told—quite often by Ministers—that we do not want to burden rural business with additional costs but, as has been said, the cost of CCTV cameras and recording equipment has fallen so dramatically that it is practically available for anybody in this room to purchase. Indeed, my suspicion is that some probably have done, simply for their own security purposes. If it can been done in those circumstances, it can certainly be done in a slaughterhouse.
The object of the campaign is very straightforward. It is to seek to deliver, at the end of a working or entertaining life, a decent end for a much-loved and dedicated animal. I do not think that is too much to ask. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) said, but primary legislation does not have to be lengthy or difficult. A private Member’s Bill with a couple of clauses, given a fair wind from Government and Opposition—I cannot believe that either would oppose such a measure—could almost go through on the nod. That is really all we are talking about.
The idea that this is somehow difficult is nonsense. It is not difficult. If the will is there, it can be done. That is what Parliament is here for and what we are here for, and I suspect it is what so many colleagues in the Chamber this afternoon are here to support. Let’s not duck it. Let’s get on with it. Let’s seek to ensure that every working or domestic animal in the land is given a decent end and a right to a decent end. That is a very simple request. I would like the Minister, in his closing remarks, to endorse this call to get on and do it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts)—my Welsh is getting better all the time—on securing this important debate. I declare an interest as an honorary life member of the British Veterinary Association. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who has a long history of promoting animal welfare interests in Parliament. Before going into the detail of the topic, I want to pay tribute to the campaign launched by World Horse Welfare to secure mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses as part of its drive to raise the profile of what the charity calls the invisible horse.
The invisible horse is an imaginative way of recognising that the welfare needs of many horses go unheeded because people do not always see these wonderful creatures from the perspective of whether their needs are being met. Sometimes, of course, that means that the horse is perfectly visible in a literal sense. Nevertheless, its needs are not properly recognised. In the case of the horse in the slaughterhouse, it is the risk of real invisibility that needs tackling with changes in the law. Let me be clear: the mandatory use of CCTV in slaughterhouses should, as the hon. Member for North Thanet has just pointed out, apply in all circumstances and in relation to all animals.
With your good will, Mrs Main, I would like to spend a few moments outlining the more general case for mandatory CCTV before focusing on the issue as it relates to equine welfare. There has been progress. The Food Standards Agency estimates that in 2016, some 92% of cattle in England and Wales were monitored using CCTV, with figures in that range also applying to pigs, sheep and poultry. Looked at another way, the percentage of abattoirs with CCTV has grown to 49.3% for red meat and 70.4% for white meat. However, there is some evidence that this growth in the use of CCTV has plateaued, as the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd pointed out, as the figures for 2016 are barely different from those for 2015. Coverage is not only incomplete; it is frequently not comprehensive, very often failing to cover the five principal areas in a slaughterhouse. There is no requirement for the footage to be independently monitored, with unfettered access for official vets and other enforcement officers.
In answer to a recent written parliamentary question in the House of Lords, Lord Gardiner stated:
“The vast majority of animals are slaughtered in slaughterhouses which have CCTV present, so the Government is not currently persuaded of the case for introducing regulation which would require all abattoirs to have CCTV, but we are keeping the issue under review.”
There are two problems with that response. First, it gives the impression that the welfare needs of a small minority can be compromised, although I am absolutely sure that the Minister did not mean that. Secondly, and most importantly, it overlooks the fact that, for some species, CCTV coverage is nowhere near as comprehensive as it should be. Equines stand as a good example of that.
In the equine sector, only five abattoirs are licensed to slaughter horses and all of those premises slaughter other animals as well. Indeed, in one case, 10 other species are slaughtered in the same abattoir. The latest figures suggest that around 4,000 horses per annum are slaughtered at those five establishments. The key point is not so much the number killed; rather, although the majority of horses were killed at abattoirs offering CCTV coverage—three of the five—the coverage was only partial. In other words, very few of the abattoir areas were monitored by the technology, even when it was present in some form or another. In fact, only a very small—and I do mean very small—number of horses were slaughtered under the scrutiny of comprehensive CCTV coverage in 2015-16.
Something therefore needs to be done. The situation is not acceptable. It is even more unacceptable when one considers the special circumstances that apply when slaughtering horses. The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing Regulations 2014 stipulate that horses must be killed in a separate room, or in a bay that is kept specifically for that purpose, and that a person must not kill a horse in sight of another horse or in a room where there are the remains of another horse or animal. That heightens the case for comprehensive CCTV coverage.
Additionally, World Horse Welfare believes that horses’ unique social and physiological needs make CCTV scrutiny even more critical, as the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd said earlier. Horses have a strong “fight or flight” instinct, which can make them panicked or aggressive when stressed. Competent handling is therefore required at all times.
CCTV must therefore be comprehensively applied and accessible to relevant authorities in order to support them in undertaking their duty of monitoring welfare throughout the slaughter process. Such technology would improve transparency and would not involve the relaxation of other rules relating to the direct oversight of the process or the need for other checks by officials, but it would be an important addition to the process.
There is another reason for our making CCTV coverage in slaughterhouses mandatory, and once again it relates to equine welfare in particular. For many owners of horses, this method of disposal of a well-loved animal would not be acceptable, with euthanasia carried out by a vet being the preferred option. Of course, that latter choice is rather expensive, with euthanasia costing some £500.
The recent “Horses in Our Hands” report for World Horse Welfare, which the hon. Lady mentioned, examined the problem and established, through research at the University of Bristol, that one of the four key priorities for equine welfare is addressing delayed death. In other words, some horses are kept alive for longer than is humane, and cost is often a factor in that decision. The risk is that the animal gets passed around, losing value and frequently ending up in the meat trade anyway. World Horse Welfare therefore views slaughter as an important option in that context.
When asked, more than 40% of horse owners agreed that slaughterhouses must remain available, and nearly two thirds agreed that sending a horse to a slaughterhouse is better than allowing a horse to suffer. CCTV makes an interesting difference to the perception of the acceptability of using equine slaughterhouses. More than 90% of horse owners asked would not use a slaughterhouse to end their horse’s life, but the figure reduces significantly if measures such as CCTV are made available.
This is not an animal rights issue. I deplore and condemn the concept of aggressive picketing and intimidation of slaughterhouse establishments and their staff. Rather, this is an important animal welfare issue. It is about raising welfare standards at slaughter, and it is about transparency and understanding that the humane slaughter of our horses is important for a range of reasons. Not least, it is important because surely we believe that the highest possible animal welfare standards must be maintained in a civilized society.
Mahatma Gandhi is often quoted as saying: “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I do not know whether that quote is accurate, but it does not really matter because the sentiment is good and sound. This debate is important because we judge ourselves by how we look after those more vulnerable than ourselves.
I am reluctant to intervene on the hon. Lady, who is making a very good speech. I commend the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for securing this debate.
Will the hon. Lady reflect on the statistic that, according to the most recent figures from 2014, where CCTV is compulsory in slaughterhouses, only six cases have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the Food Standards Agency? I strongly support the compulsory introduction of CCTV, but does it make a difference? Is she reassured that animal welfare is better with CCTV if only six cases have gone to the CPS?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I have made the point throughout my speech that we need comprehensive CCTV coverage. Some equine slaughterhouses have CCTV in only two of the five key areas, which is part of the problem. This is not just about having some form of CCTV in the slaughterhouse; it is about having comprehensive coverage of the process in the slaughterhouse.
I was trying to finish on the point that we judge ourselves by how we look after those more vulnerable than ourselves, which includes our equine friends. I therefore call on the Minister—I repeatedly say that he is a reasonable man—to proceed with mandatory installation of comprehensive CCTV in equine slaughterhouses and, in fact, in all slaughterhouses. I look forward to his response.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on introducing this extremely important debate in such a professional and sensible way. It might seem odd, but I have not disagreed with a single word that she or any other speaker has said in this debate. Incidentally, before I forget, I declare that I, too, am an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association. I am also a member of the Countryside Alliance and I own a variety of horses, and have done so for many years. It is true to say that there is no correlation between richness and owning horses. Indeed, I have discovered over the years that owning horses is what makes one poor. I have had a rather large number of horses at one time or another.
I have also had the experience of taking horses to slaughter, and there can be no more terrible event in one’s life than to take to its death an animal with which one has had a day-to-day working relationship for many, many years—I am sure the same applies to dogs and cats, too. I strongly support the thrust of what has been said by all the speakers, especially the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) a moment ago. Their points are absolutely correct, and I strongly support World Horse Welfare’s campaign to introduce compulsory CCTV in abattoirs, of which there can be no doubt.
I hope that those who feel strongly about this subject will forgive me if I raise a couple of issues that I hope will not detract from the strength of the campaign, but that none the less need careful consideration. The first, which was touched on by the hon. Lady for Northern Ireland (Lady Hermon), is that there have been remarkably few prosecutions, even where there is compulsory CCTV. I am ashamed to say that one of the biggest prosecutions was of that dreadful man from west London called James Gray. I assure the House that he is absolutely no relation; none the less, it was an appalling case.
The question is whether introducing compulsory CCTV in the small number of abattoirs that kill horses would necessarily have a significant effect. My concern is that this might be one of those occasions where we make a huge effort to introduce regulation or new legislation that has little effect and might, on the contrary, assuage our concerns and make us feel that we have done something when what we have done is actually relatively inconsequential.
That is possible, of course, but it is hard to work out the cause and effect. In the case of horses, I suspect that it is probably because, depending on the statistics we use, only 4,000 or 5,000 are slaughtered each year in up to five abattoirs—there are none in Wales or Scotland. In other words, something in the order of 1,000 horses are slaughtered per equine abattoir spread over 50 weeks. A very small number of horses are being killed in licensed abattoirs today, and therefore there is no presumption that any of them is carrying out anything other than the highest possible standards of slaughter.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way, given that I have just delivered my speech. It is a mistake to assume that the five abattoirs kill an equal number of horses, because they do not. The numbers are very uneven. The FSA’s figures show that the best records and CCTV coverage are sometimes to be found in smaller abattoirs.
The statistical point that I was making was not whether the same number were killed in each of the five abattoirs; it was that a relatively small number are killed across the whole of England. As far as I am aware, there is also little evidence of anything other than high standards in the abattoirs that do kill horses. We must not start by presuming that they are all bad people doing wicked things. They are not, necessarily; many of them are extremely professional abattoirs doing good things, so let us not start from the presumption that they are bad.
There is a bigger gap in the campaign that we are discussing. I think I am right in saying that the only horses that go to abattoirs are those going into the food chain, which in the UK is a relatively small number. If we presume that there are between 1 million and 1.5 million horses in the UK today, that means that 75,000 or 100,000 die every year in one way or another. Of those, only a tiny proportion go into the food chain. Again, my concern about the campaign is that we would be assuring ourselves that we were doing something terribly important about the euthanising of horses, whereas in fact we would be dealing with an extremely small proportion of those that are killed or die every year, and there may well be other abuses elsewhere that we could more usefully spend our time addressing.
That brings us to the question of horse passports. It must be remembered that the only horses that can be presented at an abattoir are those with up-to-date horse passports, in which no veterinary medicine appears. Nearly all horses, especially low-grade horses, will have had some form of veterinary medicine during the course of their life, particularly bute, which rules them out for presentation at an equine slaughterhouse.
My hon. Friend tempts me down a corridor that is not directly relevant to this debate. I take exactly the opposite view, which is that we should abolish passports and the database, relying only on some form of documentation for those horses presented to be eaten, to prove that they are fit for human consumption. All other horses and equines need no form of documentation to prove that. At the moment, of course, every zebra and vicar’s donkey is required to have a horse passport, merely in order to allow that small number of horses to go through abattoirs every year. That is a disproportionate bureaucratic solution to a very small problem.
The point that I am making is this. An extraordinarily small number of horses go through the abattoir. The only ones allowed to do so are those that have never had any form of medication. Therefore, many of the worst horses, in welfare terms—wilder, cheaper or less valued ponies—are unable to get into the abattoir, even supposing that it does have CCTV. We in this place often do things to make ourselves feel better. We are concerned about the end of life for horses; of course we are worried about it, and quite right too. Of course we are concerned that abattoirs should apply the highest possible standards, and it is absolutely right that we should take steps to ensure that they do.
However, my concern is that in concentrating solely on that, we are concentrating on a tiny part of the problem of horse welfare. A far bigger problem is the number of dumped horses and wild horses; we do not know where they are or what to do about them. This is a tiny problem, and we do not even know that it really is one. If we were to use our primary legislation to solve something that might or might not really be a problem, we would be fooling ourselves that we had done something useful.
CCTV has a dual purpose. First, it ensures that the slaughter of animals is done correctly. Secondly, it also ensures that slaughterhouse personnel have done it correctly—the proof is in the CCTV footage. Is there not a dual purpose? It protects both the slaughterhouse and the staff.
That is, of course, correct, but it applies only to the tiny proportion of horses that go to the slaughterhouse. That is the point that I am making; only a very small number are killed in equine slaughterhouses. There is no protection whatever for horses killed by the knackerman, although contrary to what somebody said a moment ago, most of the knackermen that I have met are extremely professional animal lovers; the notion that they are bloodthirsty murderers is incorrect. By far the biggest professionals of all in terms of killing horses are at local hunt kennels, where people feel strongly about horses and know more about them than almost anybody else. Hunt kennels provide a fantastic resource for the countryside by slaughtering horses at the end of their lives.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s argument that many horses might not be reached by a scheme, as they are not passported, but I refer him to my speech, in which I mentioned that horse owners who are concerned about the welfare of their horses, who have passports and who know whether bute has been used or not are a particular cohort of people whom we should address by making slaughterhouses as accessible to them as possible as an alternative.
I agree. Of course there are responsible, sensible, grown-up horse owners who would prefer their horse to go into the food chain, although I must say that I am not certain that I want my horse to be eaten. I would much prefer my horses to be burned, or buried in some instances. I am not certain that taking them to the abattoir to be turned into horse meat and sold in supermarkets across the continent is what I personally would want to happen, even though I believe that I am a reasonably responsible horse owner. However, my concern is not so much the people like us who are responsible and who understand about veterinary medicines and all that; it is about the hundreds of thousands of other horses that are not owned by responsible owners, that would not be taken to abattoirs and that have had veterinary medicines. They are the horses towards which we must address our concerns.
All I am saying is that the minimum—proper standards in the abattoir—must not be the enemy of the best. Although I support this particular campaign—it is a good idea, and we must find a way to ensure that there are no abuses in our equine slaughterhouses—I ask the Minister not to use it as an excuse for not doing something about the much bigger problem of the large number of horses that are unwanted, dumped on other people’s land or used in the extremely inhumane horse trade. There are a whole variety of welfare problems that this small matter would not necessarily solve.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to correct the record by clarifying one point. He referred to me as “the hon. Lady for Northern Ireland”—I am the hon. Member for North Down—and quoted me as apparently supporting the idea that the low number of prosecutions was evidence that CCTV was not working. Quite the opposite: I think that CCTV should be comprehensive throughout the entire slaughterhouse, and that Food Standards Agency staff should have compulsory and easy access to all the footage. That was my point. That would make horse slaughterhouses much more effective.
I know that the hon. Member for North Down will forgive me if I inadvertently misquoted her; of course we understood that she meant that we prefer to have CCTV in all slaughterhouses. If some remark of mine made her feel that I had not understood that point, I apologise. My concern is simply that by introducing legislation that is the least we can—
I definitely do not want the hon. Gentleman’s horses to be eaten. I watched a TV documentary on slaughterhouses as a teenager, and it turned me into a vegan; I have not eaten meat all my life. I support the campaign, because I think that any exposure of slaughterhouses would be beneficial, and I support CCTV cameras in—
I accept what the hon. Lady says. A couple of experiences that I have had in slaughterhouses over the years have nearly made me, the biggest beef-eater in Parliament, a vegan. It is a revolting sight, and I would certainly not want to see my horse taken there and slaughtered. However, she makes an extremely good point, which is that the only horses that go to horse slaughterhouses are those destined for the food chain. Other horses do not. Ninety-five per cent of horses are not destined for the food chain, and could not go there. There is a bigger issue. I always argue that we ought to abolish equine slaughterhouses in the UK altogether, thereby sending no meat at all into the human food chain, although I accept the animal welfare downside to that as well: where would those ponies and horses then go?
My message to the Minister is that we must avoid making one thing that we do—introducing compulsory CCTV into slaughterhouses—the enemy of the best. We must address the huge animal welfare concerns about horses, particularly about the large number of unwanted horses abandoned across our land, which is growing as we speak. Those horses will never go anywhere near an equine slaughterhouse, and the provision of CCTV in such slaughterhouses will therefore not help them even slightly at the end of their lives.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say, and congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd on obtaining the debate. I hope that she does not feel that I have in any way lessened the thrust of her argument, which was very powerful. None the less, I hope that one result of this afternoon’s debate will be that the Government begin to listen and think more carefully about the wider welfare issues that affect horses across our nation.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to consider the use of closed circuit television in equine slaughterhouses and to present the views of the Scottish National party. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing the debate, which clearly has strong cross-party support, and Kate Fowler of Animal Aid on her tireless work to bring many of the issues that have been presented today to the attention of MPs; I also congratulate colleagues in World Horse Welfare and Blue Cross.
Undercover filming of poor welfare practices in slaughterhouses has, as we have heard, led to campaigns by a number of animal welfare groups to make it a legal requirement for all slaughterhouses to install CCTV—including those that slaughter horses. It is worth reminding ourselves why we are debating the issue today. The investigations that have been conducted have highlighted cruelty and regulatory breaches in no fewer than nine of the 10 randomly chosen English slaughterhouses that were filmed. The abuses included animals being punched and kicked in the head, burned with cigarettes, and beaten with paddles and broom handles, as well as sheep being picked up by their fleeces and thrown across rooms or smashed head first into solid structures, and animals being attacked with shackle hooks or being deliberately given powerful electric shocks through their ears, tails, abdomens and open mouths. That state of affairs is unacceptable.
Currently both the Food Standards Agency and the UK Government support the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses to prevent cruelty; but neither has yet taken the step of arguing that it should be made a legislative requirement. Five abattoirs in England are licensed to slaughter horses. The public would undoubtedly be surprised to learn that a total of 12,431 horses have been slaughtered in those abattoirs over the past three years. Indeed, according to World Horse Welfare, 4,515 UK horses were killed in slaughterhouses in 2014 alone.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for my late arrival.
I come from the Scottish borders, where there is a rich equestrian tradition. There may be five such slaughterhouses in England, but there are none in Scotland, which adds impetus and interest to our interest in this issue south of the border. Does my hon. Friend agree with what we heard—that although CCTV is important it should be just one of a package of measures to ensure the appropriate welfare of all animals sent to slaughter?
I agree with my hon. Friend. CCTV is an important initiative that will contribute to animal welfare across all the nations of the UK.
The practice of slaughtering horses in abattoirs is clearly relatively common, as is the gratuitous cruelty. That is a vital consideration, particularly given that 40% of horse owners state that the cost of euthanasia is too high, which leaves slaughterhouses as the only affordable alternative for their companion animals. As my hon. Friend has said, no abattoir in Scotland is currently licensed to slaughter horses. Nevertheless, the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Scotland) Regulations 2012 highlight the relevant standards. The regulations pertaining to horses provide that where
“a slaughterhouse is one in which horses are killed, the business operator must ensure that…a separate room or bay is provided for the killing of horses and no person may kill a horse except in that separate room or bay”
“a lairage in which a horse is confined must contain at least one loose box which is so constructed as to minimise the danger of any horse injuring itself or any other animal confined in that lairage.”
Paragraph 13 of schedule 1 to the Scottish regulations makes it clear that
“No person may kill a horse within sight of any other horse.”
That is broadly similar to the regulations that apply in England.
It is right and proper that slaughterhouses should protect against animal abuse. The Scottish Government take the welfare of animals at the time of slaughter seriously, and will continue to do so. They, along with the Food Standards Agency, have already recommended the installation of CCTV as best practice in monitoring the welfare of animals at the time of killing, regardless of the species. At present, the FSA estimates that 95% of animals slaughtered in Scotland are killed in plants where CCTV has already been installed. The Scottish Government continue to monitor its role in promoting animal welfare.
The European Union also plays a role in guaranteeing the welfare of animals across Europe. Approximately 80% of UK animal welfare legislation originates from the EU, with over 40 laws relevant to animal welfare. Those laws cover all four groups of animals—farm, research, wildlife and companion—and have developed over 40 years. In Scotland we place a value on that legislation. Let us hope that animal welfare will be recognised in the promised great repeal Bill and that there will be no attempt to dilute, cancel or repeal animal welfare laws such those I am advocating.
While CCTV will not prevent all welfare breaches, it is an invaluable tool to help vets, slaughterhouse operators and auditors ensure best practice and compliance with welfare laws. There is compelling evidence that properly monitored CCTV cameras work. Footage has been used to cast light on thousands of abuses resulting in slaughterhouse workers’ licences being revoked and abusive workers being successfully prosecuted. Independently monitored CCTV protects animals. Cameras also protect staff from bullying and false allegations, promote health and safety and deter workers from committing acts of cruelty. Where the cameras are properly and independently monitored and robust action is taken where appropriate, they are a powerful deterrent. Where their presence fails to deter abuse, resultant footage provides evidence for prosecutions.
The UK Government argue that voluntary CCTV schemes do not work. If that is so, let us make CCTV mandatory. Independent monitoring and robust action is essential; without them, the presence of cameras is worthless. I am calling for regulations to set out the details of how the footage is gathered and stored, who monitors it, how much they view, and how often. That change can be achieved simply under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which provides for the making of regulations
“for the purpose of promoting the welfare of animals for which a person is responsible”.
Such a change would not be without precedent as the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 were introduced in that way. Israel and India have already taken similar steps.
Sheffield University has calculated that the cost of an independent CCTV monitoring system would be in the region of £370,000 a year for slaughterhouses in England, and substantially less for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In weighing that against the cost of not acting, it is worth noting that the Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said on 3 February 2015 at column 251 that the cost of cameras themselves was “relatively modest”.
The 2016 Rotherham report suggests that the costs be met by placing a levy on each animal killed, so that industry and consumers pay, rather than government and taxpayers. In that scenario, the costs would be negligible—about a penny per animal. One penny per animal to avoid further scandals emanating from the industry and further reputational damage arising from welfare abuses, deaths of workers and horsemeat contamination seems like a good investment. That investment could address inconsistent management practice in slaughterhouses, inconsistency in CCTV usage, and variable retention periods, and challenge the many businesses currently unwilling to share footage with regulators.
Sending a horse to slaughter is clearly not the preferred choice for most horse owners, but it is an alternative to other methods of ending a horse’s life that are prohibitively expensive, and a more humane alternative to leaving a horse to deteriorate. We must ensure that horses and indeed all animals are treated humanely in slaughterhouses, and I urge the Minister to amend section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to mandate independently monitored CCTV in slaughterhouses.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing this really important debate. The excellent speeches that we have heard from hon. Members reflect the strong public opinion that CCTV should be installed in all equine slaughterhouses. Forgive me, but I must declare an interest: a member of my family works in the meat industry.
I support the argument of the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) that there should be CCTV in every slaughterhouse throughout the UK. Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the animal charities, particularly World Horse Welfare, which contacted me about its campaign to make CCTV mandatory and whose work is helping the public campaign to grow. In its recent survey of horse owners, which has already been mentioned, World Horse Welfare found that 90% of those surveyed would not use a slaughterhouse to end their horse’s life, but that if measures such as CCTV were in place, 50% of respondents would change their minds. The fact that owners do not have faith that horse slaughter is humane may well lead to welfare problems as horses are passed through various routes until they meet their death. We have already heard that that is a particular concern for horse owners, who simply cannot afford the costs of veterinary euthanasia and the resulting carcase disposal, which can be well over £500.
I am presuming that the Minister will refer to the fact that under the relevant EU regulation, slaughterhouses are not required to have CCTV in place; that he will point to the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s opinion document, which hon. Members have already mentioned and which was published last year; and that he will reiterate his own statement that he was keeping the issue under review. However, the Government must act to increase the confidence of the public, of horse welfare charities and of horse owners in the slaughter process for these animals.
According to the most recent Food Standards Agency survey of operating slaughterhouses in England and Wales, just over 49% of red meat slaughterhouses and 70% of white meat slaughterhouses use some form of CCTV for the purpose of protecting animal welfare. As hon. Members have said, that number has now plateaued. The British Veterinary Association and the Veterinary Public Health Association have called for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses too. These organisations have gone further, though, and requested legislation that would allow vets unrestricted access to the CCTV footage. The health Minister responsible will not agree to that, even though there are no national records to show how effective the current system is, yet the FSA’s authorised officers can ask the food business officer present for access to relevant footage. Will the Minister look into using legislation to strengthen the powers of vets when a breach is suspected?
The conclusion of the FSA publication is that CCTV can be used by operators as part of their system for monitoring and protecting animal welfare and to complement direct oversight by management and checks by officials. I stress the importance of the industry and the Government in reassuring the public that the welfare of the animal is paramount throughout the whole slaughterhouse process, because even though we are not known to consume horsemeat in this country, the recent horsemeat scandal is well remembered. The cost implications of using CCTV are thought to be manageable for businesses, even smaller companies. Many companies already have CCTV installed for security issues—many hon. Members have made that specific point, and so has the Minister on previous occasions.
It is now time for the Government and the industry to take the opportunity to make their commitment to horse welfare in equine slaughterhouses more transparent and effective and to make CCTV mandatory, as has been called for in this debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing this important debate and articulating an emotive subject so sensitively. As she pointed out, people who have owned a horse all their life are often reluctant to see that horse meet its end. She acknowledged that even if we had CCTV in slaughterhouses, it would get us only so far, because people have a natural reluctance to see the horse that they have lived with for all those years go to a slaughterhouse, with all the uncertainty that they believe that would involve.
I acknowledge the work of World Horse Welfare and other groups on this issue and their long-standing campaign for mandatory CCTV in equine slaughterhouses. I must point out that this is a devolved issue and that my response to this debate applies to England. As hon. Members will know, devolved authorities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are responsible for the welfare of animals at slaughter in their respective Administrations.
The Government share the British public’s high regard for the welfare of horses. We take seriously our responsibility to ensure that the right laws are in place to secure our horses’ welfare.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to make an early intervention. He will know well that the lead that is set at Westminster is often followed by the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. If this Government lead the way with compulsory CCTV in slaughterhouses, that will set a very good precedent for the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I understand that; indeed, in many areas we learn from one another when different Administrations trial different pieces of legislation; we share ideas and often work together.
A variety of laws provide protection for the welfare of horses. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 places a clear duty of care on owners and keepers to provide for the welfare needs of their horses. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) discussed abandoned horses and made the important point that there are wider welfare issues that we must not lose sight of. He will be aware that, in recognition of the specific welfare issues that arise with some horses, the Government recently supported the introduction of the Control of Horses Act 2015 to help landowners and local authorities to deal with the problem of horses left on other people’s land without their permission, which can often give rise to animal welfare issues.
The Government are also firmly committed to improving standards of animal welfare at slaughter. At the end of their lives, horses are covered by WATOK—the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015—which sets out requirements pertinent to the protection of animals at slaughter.
I know that the Minister is very keen on animal welfare and does a great deal to promote it. I just wonder why it is not possible to have compulsory cameras for the slaughter of horses, both in the slaughterhouse itself and in the lairage, to ensure that the horses are handled properly all the way through. I feel that that is something that we could do, and it would not be so difficult to make it compulsory.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that I will come on to all those issues, which are so pertinent to the debate.
WATOK sets out protections for all animals, regardless of whether there is CCTV in slaughterhouses. There are clear legal obligations on all operators to have standard operating procedures, including monitoring procedures, in place for all slaughter operations, as well as trained stockmen and trained slaughtermen. Official veterinarians from the Food Standards Agency are present during slaughter operations to monitor and enforce animal health and welfare regulations.
On equine slaughter specifically, several long-standing national requirements in WATOK are relevant to the special needs of horses at the time of killing—the business operator must ensure that a separate room or bay is provided for the killing of horses; no person may kill a horse in a room or a bay where there are the remains of a horse or other animal; and no horse may be killed within sight of another horse.
As several hon. Members have pointed out, there are currently five approved equine slaughterhouses in England and Wales, and they are all located in England. Three of them have CCTV installed in some areas for animal welfare purposes. Some 3,280 horses were slaughtered in the past 12 months, and the two plants without CCTV were responsible for only 32 of those animals. From the perspective of equine slaughter, then, most horses are slaughtered in premises with CCTV—
The feedback we have had from the Food Standards Agency’s official veterinarians and reports is that it has not encountered any particular problems or concerns about the welfare of horses at slaughter. We should also note that the number of horses slaughtered at abattoirs in the UK has been in steady decline since 2012, when 8,426 horses were slaughtered. That fell to 5,000 by 2013, and in this past year it is down to just 3,280. That partly reflects a changing view among owners about the end-of-life choices that they have for their horses. It also reflects, as several hon. Members have said, how people are increasingly choosing to have their horses euthanised.
I want to talk about the meat of this debate, which is CCTV. As many hon. Members have said today, CCTV can and does play a useful role. Last year, the Farm Animal Welfare Committee published an interesting report that detailed the positive benefits of CCTV to slaughterhouse operators and those monitoring and verifying compliance with welfare standards. The benefits go much wider than any deterrent effect, and include, for instance, more accurate ante-mortem inspection in the lairage—for example, sheep often mask lameness if stressed when a stockman or vet is present, but behave normally under remote observation.
Another benefit is that CCTV can be a valuable training tool for operatives to encourage sensitive and sympathetic behaviour towards animals, and it can enable the spotting of any bad practices that could result in incidents or near misses. It can also allow the observation of activities in small or confined spaces that it would otherwise be difficult for the official veterinarian to observe. As the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals briefing for the debate also illustrates, it can be of use to operators and audit schemes in providing assurance that good practice and legal requirements are followed.
The Government understand the desire for the use of CCTV in all slaughterhouses, although we are yet to be convinced that it should be a mandatory requirement. I do, though, understand the calls for the Government to go further by introducing legislation to require slaughterhouses to have CCTV installed, and that official veterinarians should have unfettered access to CCTV footage. As I have made clear previously, the Government have never ruled out further action, and we keep the matter under review. I shall ensure that my noble Friend Lord Gardiner, who now has responsibility for the relevant part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs portfolio, is made aware of the points made today. We will, of course, consider them all carefully.
It is important to highlight one other important point about CCTV made by the FAWC, which is that it is at its most powerful when used as a tool for food business operators to manage their operations and staff and to help with training. There is one area of caution here: CCTV cannot be a substitute for responsible food business operators, and nor can it replace the role of official veterinarians. If it is used, it is preferable that it is used because food business operators really want it and want to use it to improve the management of their operation. In considering legislation, we need to be careful that we do not inadvertently change the culture and thereby lose out on all the benefits from CCTV highlighted by the FAWC. It is for that reason that the Government have encouraged the voluntary take-up of CCTV in slaughterhouses, and will continue to do so.
It might help if I clarify the current situation concerning CCTV in slaughterhouses generally. The latest FSA survey figures show that in Great Britain 92% of cattle, 96% of pig, 88% of sheep and 99% of poultry throughput is currently from premises with CCTV. As the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) pointed out, the number of slaughterhouses with CCTV installed has been at the same level for the past couple of years. The numbers of high-throughput slaughterhouses with CCTV reflects the fact that, although the installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses is currently voluntary, it is also a requirement of many retailers and food assurance schemes. I acknowledge that many of the medium and smaller slaughterhouses have not yet installed CCTV. Many operators who have installed CCTV say that it is a positive training tool, so we would like to consider the issue to ensure that we get greater uptake of CCTV installation.
I shall briefly address some of the issues mentioned by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd talked about EU law. She is right that the initial intention of the great repeal Bill is that existing EU regulations will be put on to a UK legal basis, but I should point out that there is currently nothing in EU law that would prevent us from legislating to introduce mandatory CCTV if we so wished. This also relates to a point made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon). I do not intend to blame the EU and say that we cannot do it because it is not required; it is not required under EU law, but there is nothing in EU law that would prohibit it.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd also mentioned the cost. I have said in previous debates that the cost is indeed modest. She said that it can be under £1,000, and it can be for single cameras, as I have pointed out previously. However, when the FAWC looked into the cost, it estimated that for most abattoirs the cost of installing CCTV in the areas that people would want covered, which would require several cameras and additional monitoring systems, would be £3,000 to £10,000. As I have said previously and will say again, though, that is a relatively modest cost.
Does the Minister accept that there is a risk that the number of abattoirs killing horses and the number of horses killed in abattoirs might well decline further if CCTV is made compulsory? Many abattoir owners will simply say, “Why bother with horses?”, because they are a huge hassle anyhow and the carcass value is very low. Is there not at least a risk that the small number of abattoirs will become smaller?
There is another, wider point. This debate is focused specifically on CCTV at the point of horses’ slaughter, but all five of the slaughterhouses that are licensed to slaughter horses also slaughter other animals. The reality is that, were anybody to consider measures on CCTV, I am not sure there would be a specific reason to single out those abattoirs licensed for horses. I think that if someone was going to install CCTV, they would take a broader view, across all species, because the principles involved are broadly the same for each species.
The final point that I will make on the speech of the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd relates to her claim that in the case of horse abattoirs there is not retail pressure. I think she is missing a point here, as all five abattoirs also slaughter other animals—other farm livestock. That is probably why three of the five already have CCTV.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has been a long-standing campaigner on a wide range of animal welfare issues. He made a separate legislative point, saying that if there is not time for primary legislation to address this issue, perhaps the Government should give a fair wind to a private Member’s Bill. Obviously, private Member’s Bills are an issue for the House and for private Members; it is open to anyone at any time to bring one forward. However, I am not sure that we would need primary legislation if we decided to address this issue. Potentially it could be dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which has quite wide provisions to deal with these types of things. Nevertheless, I take on board his point, and if any Back Bencher wanted to introduce such legislation, they could obviously do so.
As I think I explained to my hon. Friend, my belief is that we probably could.
I will move on to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire made. He brought a refreshing sense of balance to this debate; we always need to question ourselves when we consider new measures of this sort. He made the very important point that we have had serious welfare breaches in slaughterhouses where there has been CCTV, so we should not see CCTV as a panacea for these problems. There are strong arguments for CCTV in slaughterhouses, but some of the breaches of animal welfare have been in slaughterhouses that already have CCTV.
Finally, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for North Tyneside, mentioned access to footage. If the Food Standards Agency is conducting an investigation, it already has access to footage where CCTV exists; it can require access to that footage. Also, the British Meat Processors Association and others have developed protocols with their members about how to store, share and use data, where it is available.
We are obviously aware of prosecutions brought by the FSA nationally. So, where there are incidents or breaches, we get involved, and I am often involved in sanctioning the withdrawal of licences and other such sanctions.
In conclusion, I again thank all hon. Members for their contribution to this interesting debate. It is about 18 months since I last responded to a debate on the issue of CCTV in slaughterhouses. While the evidence on the impact of CCTV on animal welfare within slaughterhouses has probably changed a little in that period, I do take on board all the issues that have been raised today. In addition, I note that take-up of CCTV among some of the smaller abattoirs has plateaued over the last two years.
I reiterate that, as well as helping to protect the welfare of animals, many of the benefits of CCTV in slaughterhouses that were identified by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s report also help the slaughterhouse operator. Also, the Government have never ruled out mandatory steps on CCTV in slaughterhouses, although we have always encouraged voluntary uptake.
I assure the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd that this Government remain committed to promoting high animal welfare standards and protecting animal welfare on-farm, in transport and at slaughter, and I hope that I have been able to address some of the concerns that have been raised today.
Diolch yn fawr iawn—thank you very much, Mrs Main, for giving me the opportunity to close this debate.
I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate this afternoon. I think that I need to put on the record, as I have heard everybody else doing so, that I have been an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association for about three weeks or so. It is important that I record that.
Listening to the speeches, the general thrust was to do the best that we can for the welfare of horses, and of domestic and agricultural animals more widely. I particularly welcome the support from the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, and also his comment that the cost of CCTV need not be prohibitive.
I also welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who mentioned the “invisible horse”, referring to the fact that there are many animals out there that are effectively not seen by anybody. It is very easy for an animal that is kept, say, in a field simply to disappear from sight; although we are concerned for its welfare, we are not really in a position to know much about what is happening to them.
I agree with the concern of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) about the wider issue with horse welfare. I understand that there are almost 800,000 horses in the United Kingdom, although we do not know how many there really are, and a great many horses are owned by people who, in all honesty, are not interested in any aspect of their welfare. Although I feel strongly that CCTV would improve the welfare of horses in certain circumstances, we should not fool ourselves that CCTV in itself would resolve all the problems for horses. I share the hon. Gentleman’s discomfort with the idea that horses are meat animals. None the less, the fact that, although they are not meat animals, they are still large herbivores in itself affects their life experience.
Turning to the contribution of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan), of course, Scotland and Wales are in the same situation; we do not have licensed equine slaughterhouses. That means that horse owners in Wales or Scotland have to travel outside our nations if they wish to use those facilities.
It is important that all the nations of the United Kingdom set standards for each other. Wales passed the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014, which dealt with fly-grazing; previous to that being dealt with in England. Interestingly enough, only a certain number of authorities have used those enabling powers. I suspect that is partly because some of them do not want to be seen to be responsible for the death of horses that come under their control, which is part of the irony of our relationship with horses. In welfare terms, we perhaps need to address that irony.
Finally, I turn to the contribution by the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon). She summarised the views of many in this House by saying that the welfare of animals in slaughterhouses is of paramount concern to the public. I very much welcome some of the Minister’s comments. I noted his comments that CCTV has a useful role to play; that it can make evident concealed injuries, such as lameness, which animals conceal when they are under stress and feel that they are being observed; that it can be used for training; and that it can be used in particular when it is difficult to gain access to smaller spaces.
I noticed the subtleties of the Minister’s comment that he perhaps remains to be convinced about CCTV but that he has never ruled out further action. He also said that this issue could be dealt with by a private Member’s Bill or a statutory instrument arising from the Animal Welfare Act 2016, which was certainly an interesting comment. I hope that he will commit to consider that matter further in future.
Of course, CCTV is not a substitute for responsible work practices or the presence of official veterinarians. Nevertheless, there is a strong feeling that it contributes to and enhances welfare. As for making CCTV mandatory, we have been talking about equines today but that could also apply—well, it should apply—to all other agricultural animals. The time has come to deal with this issue, and there are strong feelings about that.
I will close by saying that many little girls aspire to own their first My Little Pony and then to own the real thing—
And little boys, possibly. I am talking for myself and my own daughters; forgive me. However, horses are not necessarily well served if they are regarded an aspirational status symbol. They are neither an agricultural animal nor a visible family pet. They can be dumped, “invisible” and uncared for, in barns or fields. They can be cheap to buy; indeed, they can easily be free to acquire. The costs of worming them and maintaining their feet can be prohibitive for people who might find it easy to acquire them, and their value disappears after they reach a certain age.
Mandatory CCTV and ensuring access to CCTV footage will improve the reality of horse welfare, and indeed that of all animals sent to slaughterhouses, and I hope that we can address this issue further in the future. Thanks very much—diolch yn fawr iawn.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered CCTV in equine slaughterhouses.