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Draft Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Debated on Monday 18 March 2019

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mike Gapes

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Davies, Glyn (Montgomeryshire) (Con)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Drew, Dr David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

Ellman, Dame Louise (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op)

† Johnson, Gareth (Dartford) (Con)

† Kyle, Peter (Hove) (Lab)

† Monaghan, Carol (Glasgow North West) (SNP)

† Murray, Ian (Edinburgh South) (Lab)

† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)

† Rutley, David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Seely, Mr Bob (Isle of Wight) (Con)

† Soames, Sir Nicholas (Mid Sussex) (Con)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Thomson, Ross (Aberdeen South) (Con)

† Warman, Matt (Boston and Skegness) (Con)

Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Yohanna Sallberg, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 18 March 2019

[Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Draft Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Gapes. This statutory instrument applies to the UK, and is made under the enabling power in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to transfer powers currently held by the European Commission to the appropriate UK Ministers. The instrument is technical in nature, and is to ensure a smooth transfer of powers from the EU to the UK. I first make it clear that this instrument does not make any change to policy, except in relation to the recognition of EU-authorised slaughterers; I will set out those changes later.

Secondly, I also make it clear that this instrument in no way diminishes our controls in the critical area of animal welfare. The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, which will continue to apply through existing UK legislation and, indeed, retained EU law. There is no intention to use any powers transferred through this instrument from the EU to appropriate Ministers in the UK to reduce animal welfare standards. In fact, that transfer of powers will enable animal welfare regulation in the UK to be further strengthened as new research and evidence emerges.

Can the Minister give me some reassurance—he may have gone some way towards doing so in his opening comments—that post Brexit, his Department will carry out a review of animal welfare protections, giving consideration to how we can improve this country’s animal welfare standards where it is practical and correct to do so?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know he has a keen interest in this issue, and I assure him that through the statutory instruments we have been debating over recent weeks, we will make sure that current EU law is brought into the UK. We are committed to going further: we will address the issue of animal sentience, increase sentences for animal cruelty and ban wild animals in circuses, all through primary legislation. We will also ban third-party puppy and kitten sales, which I know is an issue of real interest, not least to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes. We have a very full agenda.

Could the Minister tell us in his opening remarks how much his Department has spent on these statutory instruments in this week alone, let alone the past few months?

I will seek some inspiration during the course of my opening speech. It will be difficult to give specific details, but obviously this SI is part of a broader package of preparing for all eventualities, whether a no-deal scenario or a deal. Of course, within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, bringing environmental, agricultural and fisheries legislation into the UK represents a huge, transformational change.

I also assure members of the Committee that, in transferring powers over animal welfare from the EU, we have the expertise and capability within agencies such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency and the Food Standards Agency to robustly enforce animal welfare requirements and ensure that the regulations are strengthened sustainably over time. Animal welfare is a devolved policy area, and frameworks are in place to ensure close collaboration with devolved Administrations in this area, including a consensus that high standards should be retained as we leave the EU.

The instrument primarily makes minor operability changes to three pieces of legislation to ensure that retained direct EU legislation protecting the welfare of animals kept at control posts, while being transported, and at the time of their killing will continue to operate effectively once the UK has left the EU. The first piece of legislation, EC regulation 1255/97, relates to control posts—that is, approved areas for animals to be unloaded, fed, watered and rested for at least 12 hours during long journeys. There are currently 11 designated control posts in the UK, and the EC regulation sets out the health and hygiene requirements for control posts and details how they should be constructed, operated and approved. The SI makes a number of minor operability changes, including updating references and definitions. As is currently the case, the power to designate or suspend control posts will remain devolved to the relevant Ministers in the devolved Administrations. The SI will not alter the current requirements or standards for control posts; those will be maintained after exit.

The second piece of legislation, EC regulation 12005, relates to the welfare of animals during transport and sets out the standards to be applied when moving live vertebrate animals for commercial purposes, as well as the necessary documentation to accompany the journey and the checks to be carried out on consignments leaving or entering the EU. The regulation also sets out the requirement for transporters, drivers and vehicles to be authorised. The regulations before us will enable such authorisation, issued by an EU member state, to continue to be recognised in the UK, an approach that will help to minimise friction at the border and prevent potential animal welfare issues arising from delays in animals entering the UK from the EU.

Finally, the instrument makes technical changes to EC regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, to ensure that it remains operable after the UK exits the EU. The regulation requires that animals shall be spared any avoidable pain, distress or suffering during both their killing and any related operations. It sets out detailed rules on the accepted methods of stunning and killing, as well as the layout, construction, equipment, handling and restraining operations at slaughterhouses. The draft instrument will not alter the current requirements or standards, maintaining them after exit.

I draw the attention of hon. Members to one policy change in the regulations. EC regulation 1099/2009 requires all slaughterers to be trained and competent in the task they undertake, with certificates of competence issued by a competent authority. Currently, a certificate of competence issued by an EU member state must be recognised in the UK. The regulations will end that requirement because the continued recognition of certificates issued by other member states would open up potential enforcement issues. We would be unable to suspend or revoke a certificate if a slaughterer breached the requirements of the retained EU, or domestic, legislation.

The impact on businesses in all parts of the UK will be minimal. By not continuing to recognise certificates of competence from EU member states, a limited number of slaughterhouse employees will need to apply for a certificate from a competent authority in the UK to continue to work here after exit. Applying will cost about £225, and we expect fewer than 200 individuals in the UK to be affected—about 3% of all slaughterers.

The Minister will know from other Statutory Instrument Committees that I pay close attention to impact assessments, and on page 6 of the explanatory memorandum, it states:

“An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument as there are limited impacts on business”.

However, the Minister just told us that the measure will have an impact on 200 people. What confidence can we have that it will be only 200, if no impact assessment has been prepared? This sounds like a severe and important change, and I would expect an impact assessment to have been prepared. Does the Minister not agree?

I agree that it is an important issue, but on whether there should be a fully scaled-up impact assessment, clear criteria are set out under the Treasury’s better regulation guidance. Because the measure affects only a small number of slaughterers, and the amount of money is small—£225, which, as I was about to say, is often picked up by employers—it falls well below the requirement for a full impact assessment. What I have wanted to do with this statutory instrument, as I know the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members have been keen to see, is, where possible, to set out what the costs could be, even if they are small.

I want to reiterate that in many cases employers pick up the costs. In line with the better regulation framework and in accordance with the Treasury Green Book guidance on impact assessments, an assessment was not required for this statutory instrument. Although there was no formal duty to consult because the changes are so minimal, we have engaged directly with industry representative bodies, and more widely, and have received no expressions of concern. The devolved Administrations have been consulted on the instrument and they support this approach.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions so far. The functions are vital if UK Ministers are to carry on their functions relating to animal welfare. Without those powers in UK law, respective UK Ministers would be unable to introduce measures that the EU Commission currently has the authority to introduce on behalf of member states.

It is therefore necessary for the operability of our animal welfare regulations, and to ensure that we can further strengthen those regulations sustainably over time, that we pass the statutory instrument. For the reasons that I have set out, I commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. As always, I thank the Minister for his remarks.

I will start with the usual caveat. At one level, this is one of those Committees where we are merely nodding through something that may, in due course, become just a series of technical changes. However, this SI includes live exports, the pre-stunning of animals, journey times and other things that—if my postbag is anything to go by—people care passionately about in their own right, so we are nodding through something very important.

The Minister will come back with the usual proviso that the Government are not making any changes to the legislation—I will come on later to people who wish that the Government had made some changes to the legislation, particularly given their commitments to issues such as the banning of live exports—but as the Opposition, we have to do our best to ensure that what is passed is fit for purpose and gives us confidence that the situation will not change for the worse.

We are considering some difficult issues; I will mainly refer to what different groups have said about the regulations. When the Minister responds, it would be helpful for him to put on the record at an early stage where the Government are on their policy of banning live exports. They campaigned on the issue, and many Conservative MPs strongly support it, as stated in the 2017 manifesto, but there has been a rolling-back of the belief that it can be easily done.

We have not really touched on the difficulty that the different territorial Administrations have different views about the issue. For example, the Scottish Government feel that it should not be interfered with, because live exports into England, Northern Ireland and the south of Ireland are important for Scotland. We have to make sure, however, that when we pass the measure, at least the people responsible for undertaking those activities know exactly what the law says, and that the law is being enforced.

We as a Parliament have made many statements about how we want to ensure that journey times are kept to a minimum, and that animals are properly fed and watered—that word “lairage” appears—so they are taken out when appropriate and allowed to stretch their legs. It is the case that we cannot then control what happens in the EU, but we certainly must control what happens in the UK, so it is important that we get the regulations right.

As the Minister rightly said—hon. Members will be pleased to know that I will not say much about it—the statutory instrument refers to the regime for slaughterers’ certificates of competence. It sounds straightforward, but I ask the Minister which body will oversee that in the UK, because it will obviously have to comment on the suitability of other nationalities to do the type of work that they will be doing, which will depend on their qualifications in their own countries. We are losing the commonality of the EU, which was one of its great advantages, and which meant that there was at least some standardisation of qualifications.

As an introductory point, it is also worth noting the issue of third-country health certificates. Unless I am wrong, the draft regulations will permit meat produced in EU member states and in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland to be accepted without a third-country health certificate. I would be interested to know whether such a certificate will be required of those countries with which we intend to sign trade deals, because there needs to be some consistency in what we put in place with countries that we deal with as members of the EU and those with which we would normally expect some form of import and export relationship. If and when such trade deals are passed in due course, depending on what happens on 29 March, will DEFRA have a say over the third-country health certificates?

I will not rehearse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South about cost, but it would be interesting to know to what extent DEFRA has factored in the additional environmental impact and who will pay for it. Those costs will include collecting data, monitoring the effectiveness of the regulations and reporting regularly. We will lose access to the TRACES—trade control and expert system—database, which presumably we had particular access to in regard to such activities, so it would be interesting to know how far DEFRA has got in finding an alternative, running it and ensuring that it actually works.

No doubt the Minister has considered input from stakeholders, as I have. I make my usual declaration that I am an associate of the British Veterinary Association, which is reasonably happy with the draft regulations, bar the issue of certificates of competence. It is important that it be clearly spelled out how those certificates will operate, because—as I have said on numerous occasions—95% of our vets on the line in abattoirs come from outside the UK, and most of them come from within the EU. Without a vet on the line, it has to shut down. It would be interesting to know how the system will operate, at least in the short run; if we do not get it right in the short run, it will not work in the longer run. It would be useful if the Minister explained exactly how the one thing links into the other.

I have been reflecting on the Minister’s remarks about the number of people affected. I wonder whether it would be helpful for the Committee to be given the geographical breakdown of those figures, so that we know which regions of our country will be most affected by these changes and whether any of them are in the south-west, which my hon. Friend and I represent. That would help us to understand the impact on our regional economies as a result of the additional regulatory burdens for people continuing to do their job.

That would certainly be very helpful. There are three abattoirs in my constituency; I could not say how many of them are personed by EU vets, but I know that that is common across the terrain, so I imagine that they are.

Compassion in World Farming sees the draft regulations as a missed opportunity. It would like the Government to go much further on tightening up pre-stunning, live exports, movements and other matters that we have discussed. It would be interesting to know by what process we will ensure that if and when we leave the EU, what we do in this country—hopefully we will at least maintain the same standards—will happen in the rest of the EU. One would not want to see any diminution of standards here, but if animals are being exported into the EU, clearly we need to ensure that standards there remain the same. It would be useful to hear from the Minister how we will continue negotiating with our colleagues—or, after March, our former colleagues—to ensure that standards do not decline anywhere. We pride ourselves on our approach to animal welfare; that is one of our arguments for not signing free trade deals with certain parts of the world.

CIWF has also looked quite hard at some of the slaughtering methods. It is not happy with the current methodology for pigs, sheep or broiler chickens, which it felt should have been tightened up. It is not necessarily about just the method of slaughter, but the mechanism behind it. I have the figures here. A recent survey by the Food Standards Agency reports that in England and Wales 86% of pigs are slaughtered with high concentrations of carbon dioxide. CIWF argues that that is incredibly environmentally damaging, and something that should gradually be run down and replaced. It will be interesting to see whether the Government have that as part of their agenda. Likewise, the non-stunning of sheep is a problem that we have never really got into, because of the normal arguments about halal and shechita methods of slaughter—sheep tend to have been left out of that.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is disappointed that this SI does not go further, certainly in terms of managing live exports. It has asked, what happens in terms of additional border inspections posts? I have asked the Minister that on previous occasions. We have to be aware that at the very least, as an independent nation, we will have to have more independent border inspection posts. It will be interesting to see what contingencies the Government put in place to ensure that that is the case. If the exports go through even the existing ports, such as Dover, we will need to do more checking.

The Dogs Trust—interestingly—said that it did not have time to respond, because the consultation period was so short, but it is a pretty important organisation. It is worried about the transport of adult dogs. I had not realised how many dogs get picked up, literally because the method of transport is so poor that they are seized as part of that transit. The Dogs Trust regularly rehouses adult dogs and puppies that are taken in that way. It felt that this was an opportunity to look at the way in which we transport these animals, and to raise awareness about the diseases that animals can acquire. I am told that leishmaniasis and babesiosis are both rife among puppies—something which the Dogs Trust has to deal with when rehoming those animals. What mechanisms are the Government putting in place to try to bear down on disease, when things are clearly not right at the moment?

I think this is a missed opportunity. Although SIs are coming round with such regularity that none of us knows what we are doing, but we do the best we can, there are some reasons why we should set a standard—not necessarily a gold standard—at which we can feel confident that our animal welfare is the best in the world. If we are saying that we will not diminish that, we have to be confident that it is the best in the world, so when and if we sign these wonderful trade deals, we have to set that as the standard. If other countries cannot meet those standards, we cannot sign the deals.

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that if we reduce our standards in any way, we will potentially cut off trade with the entire European Union? Furthermore, does he agree that any delays at the border, as we have seen this week, could be hugely detrimental to animal welfare and could actually increase the incidence of disease outbreaks?

I agree, and that is why I am saying that we have to ensure that our standards not only stay high, but get higher. Therefore, we will find, hopefully, that countries that we trade with will want to reach those standards.

In conclusion, this is another piece of legislation that, at one level, is nothing other than the usual cut-and-paste job. However, it covers a number of hugely controversial areas, and if we do not get this right, we will have missed an opportunity. More particularly, if we get it wrong, we will all come to rue the day when we sat in this very interesting room—not one that I have been in before, but one that is no doubt fit for purpose, as we have seen today.

I thank the hon. Member for Stroud for—as always—his thoughtful contributions on a number of issues, and I will do all I can to address his points. There may be one or two issues on which I will need to get back to him in writing after this meeting; I hope he will understand, given everything we are trying to deal with today.

Again, I will pick that up afterwards, but I understand.

The hon. Gentleman’s first question, which has come up several times, is why we are not doing more within this SI. It is important for me to say at the beginning that under the withdrawal Act, we do not have the power to make changes to the current legal regime for live exports, welfare at slaughter, journey times, and the other things we have talked about. This SI is not the place to make those changes. However, the hon. Gentleman regularly holds my feet—and those of other Ministers—to the fire on those topics, and he is aware that we have made commitments to bring about changes and are absolutely committed to moving those things forward.

The Government’s manifesto made it clear that we will take early steps to control the export of live animals for slaughter once we leave the European Union. Last year, we sought evidence on how we could achieve that, including through a possible ban. We are currently awaiting advice on that issue from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, as well as its advice on how we can improve welfare more generally for animals in transport. That advice will be available shortly, and will address both live exports and the transport issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of which body will authorise the slaughter certificates: the Food Standards Agency will continue to do so post exit. He also understandably raised issues about slaughter, particularly religious slaughter. He and I were both at the BVA’s annual dinner recently—at which he was a welcome guest, given his contribution to that organisation—and he will remember that at that dinner, I was clear that the Government’s long-standing position is that we would prefer to see animals stunned before they are slaughtered. We accept the right of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat slaughtered in accordance with their religious beliefs; however, the Government believe that consumers should have available the information necessary to make an informed choice about their food. We will consider that issue more fully, and actively work on it, once we have left the EU.

Given that so much halal meat, in particular, is exported—it is an important export trade—what additional requirements does that put on the Government to make sure that they effectively deal with this issue?

Clearly, we will need to assess the whole issue of food labelling more fully once we leave. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are already working on allergens, which are an important dimension. While we are in the EU, we are limited in what we can do, but when we have left, we can look at this issue in the round. This is not just about religious slaughter, although that is one key dimension, or the method of slaughter, which could include CO2 concentrations; we need to think more broadly about sustainability and the welfare standards that are involved. All of those things will be reviewed fully once we have left the EU. The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of CO2 concentrations as a method of slaughtering pigs. We are aware of that issue; we will focus on it, and trials are underway on potential alternatives, such as low atmospheric pressure stunning.

I will try to answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s more detailed questions. He asked about the geographic split of slaughterers who might be affected, prompted, I think, by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport—they were an amazing double act today. Unfortunately, at the moment, we do not have a breakdown of that concentration, but I will take a closer look at what information we might be able to provide to the hon. Member for Stroud.

I am interested in the parallel between the fees that the Minister has mentioned and the settled status application. On 21 January, the Prime Minister said:

“I can confirm today that, when we roll out the scheme in full on 30 March, the Government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay”—[Official Report, 21 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 28.]

unless, of course, they work in a slaughterhouse. I would be grateful if the Minister could look at whether now is the right time to waive that fee, so that there is no financial barrier to any EU citizen continuing their employment in the UK. The loss of that £225 times 200 would cost the Department about £45,000 but it would send out an important message. Will the Minister consider waiving the fee, or explain why he disagrees with the Prime Minister about financial impediments to EU nationals continuing to work here?

As always, the hon. Gentleman is a formidable Opposition spokesperson. He seeks to tempt me down paths. All I can say is that I completely agree with the Prime Minister. What the hon. Gentleman mentions is a broader issue about ensuring that EU nationals are welcome and that their contributions are recognised in this country. This is about a technical skill—

If I can finish my answer, we also need to be aware of the fact that the EU has not recognised our certificates either. We have also to bear in mind that we do not have unlimited funds with which to address such issues and that, in most cases, it would be down to the businesses involved to take on the costs. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but our assessment is that it will not be an impediment for the individuals, so he cannot take too far the argument that I am at odds with the Prime Minister—that is a step too far, even though he tempts me down that path.

I think I have addressed most of the other issues that have been raised. As for border inspection posts and the RSPCA’s concerns, they are commercial entities and we are working with commercial bodies to determine what the future requirements might be. The hon. Member for Stroud made an important point about adult dogs, which I will pick up separately as I do not have all the answers. I think he knows, because we share a commitment to doing all we can to tackle illegal puppy smuggling and its disease and welfare implications—not just for the dogs but for humans—that we will make that a priority.

I hope I have answered most of the questions to the satisfaction of members of the Committee. I reiterate that the regulations will not amend current welfare standards but will make operability changes to ensure that existing EU law works appropriately once we leave the EU. I also wish to make it clear that the Government have no intention of reducing animal welfare standards; in fact, we will look to strengthen them, over time, in light of evidence. For the reasons I have set out, I commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the draft Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Committee rose.