With just two short weeks before the Christmas recess, may I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all the staff of the House, who do such a superb job, a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous new year?
We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. The Government are making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years, banning microbeads that harm marine life, and banning the ivory trade. On leaving the European Union we will go even further.
The Secretary of State has done more for animal welfare in recent months than was achieved in many years previously, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for that. Will he assure the House that as we will be leaving the EU, the customs union and the single market in 2019, we are making preparations now to ensure that, for example, the banning of live animal exports and the import of foie gras can be achieved?
My hon. Friend has been a passionate and successful campaigner for animal welfare during his entire career in the House of Commons, and he is right to say that there are now opportunities to take steps to improve the treatment of live exports—or potentially to ban them—as we leave the European Union. The steps that we take when we put animal welfare at the heart of all we do must be consistent with our broader negotiating objectives as we leave the EU.
On animal welfare standards, whether we are in the EU or outside it, will the Secretary of State consider the importance of labelling so that people know what they are buying? When a label says that a chicken has been reared outside or been stunned or not stunned, people must be able to trust that they know what has happened.
The hon. Gentleman is right: there is confusion and uncertainty in the minds of some consumers as a result of current labelling. Already, farmer-led schemes such as the Red Tractor scheme ensure that people know that animals have been kept to the highest welfare standards, but we can go further and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that.
My hon. Friend makes a very acute point. It is in the nature of single market rules and the European Union that some animal husbandry practices, which we would not tolerate in this country, apply to things that we sometimes import. We must consider how we can improve animal welfare standards all round.
Will the Secretary of State set out what discussions he has had with the Welsh Government about moving forward on animal welfare once we leave the EU, regarding both that Government’s responsibilities and the responsibilities that will come back from Europe to the Secretary of State?
I commend Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Labour Minister who is responsible for this area in the Welsh Assembly Government, for the constructive way in which she has engaged with DEFRA over the past six months. I hope to see her next week to carry forward discussions on this and other areas.
I very much welcome higher welfare standards, cameras in slaughterhouses, and tougher sentencing, but as we enhance our welfare, we will also add cost to production. We want to ensure that our consumers eat high-quality product with high welfare standards, and that we do not import inferior quality meat with lower welfare standards.
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee makes an excellent point—I know that the Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the impact of leaving the European Union on food standards overall. Critical to high food standards is the viability and improved productivity of our farmers who do such a wonderful job.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed more stringent legislation on animal cruelty than the UK mainland. What discussions has the Secretary of State’s Department had with the Northern Ireland Assembly about bringing similar measures into operation in England and Wales?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are many ways in which Northern Ireland sets higher standards than we do in the rest of the UK, and I have always taken the view that we can learn a great deal from every part of the United Kingdom, not least the cherished Province which I love so much.