Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I am very pleased to introduce these important regulations on the mandatory use of closed circuit television in slaughterhouses in England. These regulations meet the Government’s manifesto commitment to make CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory. Our manifesto commitment reflected widespread public concern over animal welfare in slaughterhouses. They are made under powers in Section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The Government have encouraged the voluntary uptake of CCTV in slaughterhouses, but the number of slaughterhouses with CCTV has stalled in recent years, with only 50% of red meat slaughterhouses and 70% of white meat slaughterhouses having some CCTV for animal welfare purposes in 2016. Those slaughterhouses which had installed CCTV had not always done so comprehensively. In 2016, only 46% of those slaughterhouses with CCTV had coverage in the unloading area. The level of CCTV coverage was even lower in the stun area, with less than 40% of slaughterhouses having CCTV in this area or in the bleed area. So even in slaughterhouses where CCTV is installed, key areas are not currently covered by cameras.
The Farm Animal Welfare Committee, FAWC, produced an independent assessment of the benefits of CCTV in slaughterhouses in February 2015. It identified CCTV as offering real benefits as an important complement to official inspection of slaughterhouse practices and as an evidential method of recording animal welfare abuses.
I will of course address that. I am grateful to my noble friend.
FAWC also identified the significant benefits of CCTV systems to slaughterhouse operators, from in-house review of their operations and effective staff training to providing evidence of due diligence, which can increase public confidence in the meat industry and its adherence to the UK’s high animal welfare standards. FAWC’s report provided a useful basis for the Government’s proposals on mandatory CCTV which we published last summer. We received nearly 4,000 responses to this public consultation, with more than 99% in favour of mandatory CCTV recording in all slaughterhouses.
These regulations will require all slaughterhouse operators to install and operate a CCTV system that provides a clear and complete picture of areas where live animals are present. This will include where animals are unloaded, lairaged, handled, restrained, stunned and killed. We would expect CCTV installations and their use to be proportionate to the size of premises and their throughput. Slaughterhouse operators will be required to provide access to CCTV recordings for the official veterinarian of the Food Standards Agency and other authorised inspectors. An official veterinarian is required in every slaughterhouse when in operation. Access to CCTV recordings for monitoring, verification and enforcement purposes is essential and will be especially useful where the official veterinarian is undertaking other duties in the slaughterhouse and does not directly witness an incident.
We would expect official veterinarians to carry out a timely review of CCTV to address any immediate welfare incidents and take advisory or enforcement action. Nevertheless, the slaughterhouse operator will need to retain recorded images and information for 90 days. This is in line with the requirements of some farm assurance schemes. While CCTV should not replace, reduce or be considered a substitute for the current inspection and control of slaughterhouse practices by official veterinarians, access to CCTV recordings will provide more opportunities to assess compliance with animal welfare requirements on a proactive and reactive basis. Requirements for mandatory CCTV recording should be applied to all approved slaughterhouses on the basis that all animals should be offered the same level of protection at the time of killing.
Ninety-five per cent of our meat is killed in abattoirs which have CCTV in some form. The regulations ensure that all slaughterhouses of whatever size must now have CCTV at all stages of the process.
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but I want to clarify something at the beginning of the debate. The Minister said that the Government expected the arrangements to be “proportionate”. Can he explain what “proportionate” means, because it might worry some of us?
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if the Minister introduces the regulations. I can then put a Question to the Committee and we can have a debate.
My Lords, I would like the opportunity of finishing these remarks. I am afraid that I am not acquainted with the practice of not permitting a Minister to introduce regulations. I will be more than pleased to receive comments when I have unfolded the argument. That helps the flow for the Minister. My task is to give a respectable introduction, deploying all the points of the regulation. I will then of course be very pleased to answer the questions that come from it.
We are conscious that some of the businesses that will be affected by this legislation are small, so we thought it appropriate that the regulations should allow six months for them to become compliant. In view of the considerable gains to animal welfare and the many other benefits identified, particularly for the slaughterhouse operator, the Government consider that the benefits justify the costs involved and do not deem financial support to the sector to be borne by the taxpayer.
This legislation will introduce mandatory CCTV recording in all 270 slaughterhouses in England as an additional monitoring and enforcement measure to ensure that animals are spared avoidable pain, distress or suffering during the slaughter process in all approved slaughterhouses. These regulations form part of an important package of reforms that the Government are delivering to improve animal welfare, such as the new system of local authority licensing of activities involving animals and the publication of updated animal welfare codes of practice. The regulations are proportionate and targeted, and will help to improve animal welfare at slaughter.
These regulations have been widely welcomed. Indeed, following our recent announcements, I have heard from a number of farmers who are pleased that we have ensured a respectful end for the animals they have cared for throughout their lives. These regulations will also assist the Food Standards Agency, which has been most supportive, as has the British Veterinary Association as well as a large number of other interested parties. I want to emphasise once more that the regulations will work in the interests of the slaughterhouse operator. It is the case that many people will be reassured that with the enforcement of these regulations, animals are much more likely to reach the end of their lives in a manner which shows them respect.
Many noble Lords along with many Members of the other place have been extremely supportive of these measures. For all those reasons, I endorse the regulations. Again, they are proportionate. I have mentioned specifically that for smaller slaughterhouses, the extent and cost of their installations will clearly be less than those for larger enterprises with no CCTV provision. Again, 95% of our meat is killed in abattoirs that already have CCTV in some form. For those operations, the regulations may be about updating or if necessary upgrading their systems so that all the stages of the process are covered. For those with no CCTV provision, it will be a cost, but the Government believe that this measure is in the interests of the sector. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, the Minister has already said why the voluntary take-up of CCTV has been disappointing. I am certain that this regulation will satisfy customers, consumers, retailers, certification/assurance scheme operators, NGOs and animal welfare organisations who have been pressing for CCTV in 100% of slaughterhouses. I should probably declare that I farm in Norfolk and we have livestock. We like to give all the livestock a really good life while they are with us on our farm, and when they go to meet their maker, we want that to be to the best possible standards, stress-free and humane. If that does not happen in slaughterhouses, perhaps CCTV will help.
I want to concentrate on two areas. The first is the cost and the second is the effective viewing or reviewing of the CCTV footage. I know that the Government think that the installation will cost only about £2,500 per slaughterhouse, but I think that is way too low. Even a small slaughterhouse needs about five CCTV cameras to ensure that all areas are covered. At £1,000 per camera, that alone will come to £5,000. I have been told that it will cost between £5,000 and £10,000 per slaughterhouse to install.
In 2012, it was reported in the Scottish Parliament that the cost of installing CCTV in a slaughterhouse in Scotland varied between £6,000 and £25,000. Whatever the cost, it will be considerably more than the Government’s £2,500. For small plants, that cost may be prohibitive, and that is not the only cost. There is also the annual cost of maintenance, which will vary according to the number of CCTV cameras and could be between £500 and £1,000 per annum. Then there is the cost of a secure, locked cabinet to store the 90 days of footage per camera to prevent tampering with the evidence. Then there is the cost of training and employing CCTV monitoring staff.
That brings me neatly to my second point: who, if anyone, will be viewing or reviewing the CCTV footage? Obviously where there is a known incident the relevant footage can be pulled out and looked at, but CCTV is really effective only if it is viewed or reviewed, and here is the rub. One of the limitations of CCTV is that it is rarely viewed or reviewed in a systematic, consistent and effective manner by the slaughterhouse operator, enforcement agencies or the official vet. If it were, considerable costs would be incurred in training the staff required to view the footage in real time—that is, as it is happening—or to review large amounts of footage from multiple cameras. Whether this is done by the slaughterhouse operator or the official vet, ultimately the cost will be borne by the slaughterhouse, which already balks at the hourly rate charged by the official vet—£70 to £80 an hour or around £600 for an eight-hour day.
Twenty years or so ago, there were probably six or eight slaughterhouses near my farm in Norfolk; now there is one large one quite near me. In the past 20 years, about 100 small slaughterhouses have shut down, as have a further 100 medium-sized ones. This does no good at all for the welfare of animals as they must now travel further to their final destination. I can understand the need for this regulation, but I hope that an unintended consequence will not be that more slaughterhouses have to close down.
My Lords, first, I will deal with the issue of cost. The costs of the CCTV equipment have dropped dramatically over the past seven or eight years. In many areas, they are a quarter of what they were. So it is quite probable that the estimates that have been given by the Government are not accurate, even though the ones that were given in Scotland will have been accurate at the time.
What drew me to this issue was paragraph 42 of the FAWC report of February 2015, where it says:
“Where examples of animal abuse have been brought to light … FBOs, AWOs and OVs”—
that is, food business operators, animal welfare officers and official veterinarians—
“have consistently asserted that they were unaware of such abusive practices”.
That is a shocking statement. Professionals went into slaughterhouses where the law was being breached, yet they were unaware of what was going on. I congratulate the Government on bringing in this extremely important measure, which I warmly welcome. I also welcome the policy position of my own party on this matter: the document produced by Sue Hayman, our spokesperson in the other place, which has come up with some fairly radical measures to deal with this problem in slaughterhouses.
In addition to that concern, I noticed in the Explanatory Memorandum the following statement, in paragraph 8.1, under the heading “Consultation outcome”:
“The responses from slaughter industry bodies and abattoirs were more balanced”—
when I hear those words, I always think, “Oh yes, here it comes”—
“with a number arguing against the proposal on the basis of proportionality of application of the requirements to all slaughterhouses regardless of size or record of compliance and the length of time records should be retained for”;
in other words, there was opposition. I would like to know what the scale of the opposition was. Perhaps it is reflected in the fact that, as we were told before, only 50% of slaughterhouses have even introduced these cameras. In the case of the ones that have introduced them, we are told, as I think the Minister alluded to, in paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum:
“Moreover, those slaughterhouses that have installed CCTV have not generally installed cameras in all areas where live animals are kept and where animal welfare could be compromised”;
in other words, there is a real problem out there and I regard these regulations as a good attempt to deal with it.
However, I have one or two concerns. One is about the retention of documentation. The committee recommended three months. In this measure, is it nine months?
Oh, it is 90 days. So basically we are talking about three months. So the Government followed that recommendation. But I wonder why not five years? We are talking about equipment which produces a tiny disk, I presume—why not keep it long term, unless it deteriorates? If we are talking about prosecutions, we may need more evidence than simply one or two occasions. It might be that consistent breaches can be revealed only in the event that there is far longer retention of the tapes in question. So I suggest not 90 days but five years—let us really retain this in case we have to prosecute.
Another issue that interests me is the question of visits. I heard someone refer earlier to a charge of £80 an hour for veterinarians to visit. I presume that there must be many slaughterhouses that rarely get a visit, if visits are charged up to them. Why do we not have more impromptu visits? So many visits in such areas are never impromptu. I remember when I was dealing with nursing homes some years ago, we found out that the managers were often informed in advance of when the so-called impromptu visits by the Care Quality Commission, or its predecessor, would be made. I presume that in these cases, too, information may well be provided to a slaughterhouse that there will be a visit by a veterinarian officer, charging for his services at £80 or £90 an hour. I would like more impromptu visits to these places. Then they would be more on guard against potential abuses.
Under “notices”, the regulations say:
“Any notice required or authorised to be served under these Regulations on any person may be served by … delivering it to the person; … leaving it at the person’s proper address; or … sending it by post to the person at that address”.
Can we presume that there are no options? In the case of slaughterhouses, a number of routes could be used to ensure that they actually received the notice. If the attitude of slaughterhouses is as my earlier quotation from paragraph 42 of the report suggests, it seems that there will still be some resistance in the industry.
As in all such cases, even with the presence of cameras, people will try to find their way round the regulations in some way. They may perhaps even position the cameras in such a way that they do not fully reveal what is happening in that slaughterhouse. Who decides where the cameras will be? Who decides whether a certain camera is going to point here or there? At the moment, this comes out only in the enforcement proceedings. I could not find anything in the proposed arrangement that said that the authorities—I presume that would be the veterinarians—would tell people where to put the cameras to ensure maximum coverage. There was one reference to requiring,
“any person to produce or make available for inspection any images or information retained and stored”,
“any enquiries, and take recordings or photographs”.
There is nothing really, although there is something about requiring,
“any person to provide such assistance, information, facilities or equipment as is reasonable, without delay”.
There is nothing about directing slaughterhouse owners to use the equipment in a particular way so that it will reveal fully what is going on. That is a bit loose in the regulations.
Perhaps, in winding up, the Minister can give us an assurance that that will be dealt with, and that more than guidance will be given. There should be requirements; there should be some sort of arrangement whereby, at the beginning of this process, people are required to place the cameras in a particular position so that there is no avoidance of what is intended under the law.
I have the FAWC recommendations here. They start in paragraphs 90 to 94, and there is then more detail. I want to go through them briefly. I am sorry if I am delaying the Committee. I normally speak quite briefly in such Committees, but I want assurances that all this is being implemented—that there has not been a selective acceptance of what is required. They say:
“CCTV systems should be installed in all live animal areas within the slaughterhouse including those used for unloading, lairage, moving live animals through the facilities, stunning and killing”.
I think the Minister said that before, but I was not absolutely sure whether a word or two had been missed. I would like an assurance that that will be the case—that that recommendation has been accepted. The recommendations continue:
“CCTV … should be recorded at all times when animals are present in the areas listed above … CCTV … should be installed so as to permit a clear and uninterrupted view of the processes being recorded at all times … Cameras should be installed in a manner that facilitates easy access and repair … CCTV cameras should record continuous visual images but, if audio is captured, should not record conversations between slaughterhouse personnel … footage should be viewed, whether in real-time or from recording, from designated areas that permit detailed review”.
I will stop at that point.
Can I assume that civil servants, in reviewing the debate, will go through that list of FAWC recommendations as a checklist from paragraph 90 right through to paragraph 101 and give us an assurance that they intend to implement every one of those recommendations fully? We will know then if any of the FAWC recommendations have not been accepted and that they will be subject to further scrutiny, perhaps at a later stage.
Finally, I repeat that I thoroughly welcome this. I think it will be one of the big changes from this Government. To some people it might not seem important but for people outside, animal welfare is a huge issue, as we know. I believe that if this policy is managed, organised and implemented properly, it will be a feather in the Government’s cap.
My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, because getting this right is hugely important. I do not know whether anybody happened to see the response to the Question that I tabled the other day on the number of abattoirs, because this reflects and follows on from some of the concerns that have been expressed. I asked what the number of small and medium-sized abattoirs was between 2001 and 2017. The data provided for that—if I go through it—was that back in 2001 there were 32 large abattoirs but 463 small ones. Looking at the last ones—I will not go through them all for the Committee; that would not be fair—the change that has taken place is that the number of large abattoirs has gone up from 32 to 44 but small and medium-sized abattoirs have declined from 463 to 276. As far as I am concerned that rings huge bells for animal welfare.
I welcome the move to have CCTV in all abattoirs. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, identified some of the things that I would have done. Cameras need to be in the right place, at the right time and they need to be consistent. My query would be: what happens if you get a power cut? Do they automatically keep going? The power cut could happen naturally or could be from deliberate tampering. I do not think there is anything in these regulations that would cover that. I am afraid in this instance I am very concerned about some of the staff operating in our abattoirs and the way they have been dealt with.
I look back to a shocking case where halal abattoir staff taunted sheep before they were slaughtered. Halal and the way stunning is done or not done is not addressed here—and I know there are good reasons for that—but I think on this occasion it should be raised. It is crucial that we get right the whole question of how we deal with animals, how we look after them—we are not livestock producers—and how the end of life comes.
Bearing in mind my early comments I have a couple of queries. I draw the Committee’s notice to page 5 of the regulations before us. I am very keen that where penalties can be legally introduced they should be really strong. At the end of the awful case that I brought to the mind of the Committee, two halal slaughtermen were found guilty of causing suffering and were given,
“16 weeks and 18 weeks imprisonment—both suspended for 12 months”.
Alongside that, they had to do 250 hours of unpaid work. Both were disqualified from control over sheep and ordered to pay £500 costs. I would have preferred to see something much stronger there. I hope that other noble Lords will reinforce the idea that we have an opportunity here to make sure that the correct fines are in place where they are clearly needed.
I apologise—I have deviated a little. I come back to Regulation 12, which concerns penalties. The footnote to this regulation states:
“Section 12(4) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides that the power in subsection (1) does not include power to create an offence punishable with a fine exceeding level 5 on the standard scale. Section 85(2) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (c. 10) allows the power to be exercised to create an offence punishable by a fine of any amount”.
I do not quite understand what is going on here. With one piece of legislation the fines are limited, whereas another gives the option to create an offence punishable by a fine of any amount. I seek clarification on this because it is hugely important. We have the opportunity today to try to improve animal welfare. CCTV plays a part in that but it is important that we have a chance to debate fines and the way that we deal with people who are proved to be guilty of unacceptable behaviour, whether that involves halal slaughter or the way that animals are stunned—sometimes stunning is not done in the best way possible. I suspect that noble Lords who follow me will be able to clarify that.
Going back to an earlier comment, my understanding is that veterinarians have to be present at all times. It is not a question of making unexpected visits; veterinarians should be there all the while. If it is suggested that veterinarians are not doing a good job and that, in addition, experts should be brought in, that is another matter, but for the benefit of the Committee I seek confirmation that a veterinarian has to be present when abattoirs operate.
I hope that what I have said will prompt others to comment because we are at a crossroads in dealing with end-of-life issues. There are certain things that I would love to have seen in the regulations but we want to make sure that what is in them will be enforced and will work properly.
My Lords, I welcome these regulations, which, as other noble Lords have said, are hugely important. My one question is this: why has it taken so long? That is a rhetorical question, not a criticism of the Government, whom I congratulate.
We live in a country that is hugely surveilled. I understand that there is one CCTV camera for every 13 of us. By my calculations, that amounts to 5 million CCTV cameras throughout the country. Every day we see how important they are in investigating and solving all sorts of wrongdoing, yet we have failed to get them introduced into every corner of every abattoir. It is great that 95% of animals are under surveillance but surely it is the other 5% that we should worry about because, if malpractice is likely to happen, it will surely happen in the places where people do not volunteer to have surveillance.
Therefore, this measure is very important in ensuring compliance with the rigorous regulations that, rightly, are in place to ensure the welfare of animals in our abattoirs through the inspection of their health and well-being, both in the lairages where animals are often kept overnight or for 12 hours and more, and then throughout the killing process. Your Lordships may not have been in an abattoir—they are not very nice places—but the killing lines often move very fast and it is very difficult for a veterinarian to be everywhere at once. With things moving so fast, things can happen that can go unseen. I would suggest, and it has been mentioned, that CCTV is also useful to aid training and management by those who own the abattoirs. So there are two benefits, but the benefit to animal welfare is obviously the major one.
Stunning and non-stun has come up. I do not want to labour the point, but there are breaches of regulations that can happen in both situations. These rules will be extremely important in helping us to ensure that the regulations in both types of killing process are observed. There are some particularly stringent regulations pertaining to non-stun such as standstill times after the neck cut, which must be 30 seconds in the case of cattle beasts and 20 seconds in the case of sheep. That is a long time to hold a killing line, but it is essential for the welfare of the animals, if we are to permit non-stun, that those standstill times are honoured. CCTV will help us to ensure that that is happening because it is sometimes difficult to supervise.
I absolutely share the noble Baroness’s concerns about the loss of our abattoirs. There is very much an animal welfare issue in terms of the distance animals have to go between the point of rearing and the point of slaughter. That distance should be minimised as much as possible. We are all therefore keen to ensure the financial sustainability of abattoirs, big and small, but I remain to be convinced that these costs would be the last straw. If they are critical, we must find other ways in which to address that problem, not simply give up on enforcing these regulations. As has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the technical costs of cameras these days are incredibly low; people are putting these sorts of cameras in birds’ nest boxes, and so on. I understand that the observation of the stored material, to which the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, referred, is going to be done by the official veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency who are already employed. I would have thought that they would incorporate that observation as part of their working day.
In conclusion, this is a long overdue and extremely welcome innovation that we should all endorse.
My Lords, I understand why Her Majesty's Government are following this course of action and I am aware of some fairly horrible cases, which means that CCTV is prima facie desirable in slaughterhouses. We are all on the same side in trying to ensure the least suffering for animals. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just said, there is nothing nice about slaughterhouses or what animals have to go through. I take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—he made a number of strong points. But I would just point out that not so long ago almost every rural town of a reasonable size had a slaughterhouse. From figures produced by my noble friend the Minister for my noble friend Lady Byford I can say that in 2001, Great Britain had 495 slaughterhouses. By last year that number had fallen to 320, which is a drop of 35%. The adverse effect on the welfare of animals which have to travel long distances to slaughter have been well aired. Those slaughterhouses closed down because they became commercially unviable. In many cases, it does not take much additional cost to tip any commercial operation from the black into the red. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. CCTV of the standard required is not inexpensive. You cannot just buy it on eBay. The system needs to be robust, built to last, operated in quite demanding circumstances and positioned carefully, out of reach of tampering and so on. In addition, as my noble friend Lord Cathcart said, it has to be watched, which costs money. I would therefore like to hear from the Minister what research has been done into how many of the remaining 320 slaughterhouses are on the margin of commercial viability. The crunch point for me is whether they will be tipped over the edge.
We all want a better outcome and less suffering for animals. I just hope that the Government have done enough homework to ensure that animals will not end up having to travel much further in what are often, to say the least, uncomfortable conditions, and perhaps even to countries with less rigorous rules than our own.
My Lords, I have had some experience of this subject over the last 20 years. I declare an interest in that I farm in Northumberland and have livestock. During the 1990s I chaired the Meat and Livestock Commission for eight years, during which time we had the outbreaks of BSE and foot and mouth disease. Noble Lords might be interested to know that when I took over there were about 750 abattoirs, and I presided over the decline of a large number during that period.
Noble Lords have quite rightly highlighted concern about the geographic positioning of abattoirs and their importance to local and regional food production. I continue to monitor this as chair of the Prince’s Countryside Fund because we have been requested to assist where abattoirs appear to be under threat. The most recent case was in Orkney where the abattoir was closed, although it is crucial to the economy of Orkney. Work has been taking place to try to assist in the retention of critical small abattoirs. However, according to the association, over the last two years the decline has stabilised and the number of closures has been matched largely by new abattoirs opening. I am quite encouraged by that recent data.
I will ask the Minister four questions and then make a final comment. First, I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that inspections should be unannounced and made at random. I assume and hope that the Food Standards Agency will adopt the practice. Secondly, I hope that the CCTV system will include views of the lairages so that the standard of animal welfare there is also monitored by the cameras. Thirdly, I hope that if CCTV footage is not retained for 90 days, and there is evidence, it would fall under a penalty. I know that mistakes can be made and footage can be lost, but it is often too easy to lose the CCTV footage to cover up potential breaches in regulations. I hope that that will also be regarded as attracting a penalty.
Fourthly and finally, on the issue of proportionate penalties, like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I was horrified to read of these suspended sentences. If that is an example of how penalties will be applied under this legislation, it is not good enough. We need to make sure that the penalties are penalties and that they are meaningful so that businesses are stopped if it is proved that their animal welfare standards have fallen short of what is desirable.
My final comment is that the Secretary of State has made it very clear that he wants Britain to be seen, post Brexit, as a nation with very high animal welfare standards. We should be trading in a world where animal welfare standards are recognised and provide us with a potential commercial advantage. It is essential that that happens and that we use this regulation to help present ourselves as having very high animal welfare standards. I remember only too well through the 1990s how confidence in our abattoirs and our meat processing was at an all-time low. That was because of bad practice. We must never let that happen again.
My Lords, again I thank the Minister and his officials for their time and extensive briefing ahead of today’s debate, and for the Minister’s introduction. We welcome these regulations. I declare my interest as a district councillor.
The public are extremely concerned about animal welfare in slaughterhouses, regardless of whether they eat meat or are vegetarian, as everybody has demonstrated. Currently, CCTV is in place in some slaughterhouses but the coverage is not comprehensive and the cameras may not be in the right places. CCTV is present, as the noble Lord has said, in 50% of red meat and 70% of poultry slaughterhouses. Making it compulsory in all slaughterhouses regardless of size will reassure the public and, we hope, ensure that animal distress is kept to a minimum. We note that the CCTV film has to be kept for 90 days and be available for inspectors to scrutinise at all times. The film and equipment will be owned by the slaughterhouses but they are still required to conform to the regulations. Enforcement for slaughterhouses with no CCTV is to be welcomed, as is making it an offence to obstruct an inspector in his or her duty.
We are concerned about the cost of installation for smaller slaughterhouses, and I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, about this. We understand that installation can cost about £2,500, although there seems to be some debate about the actual cost. Obviously systems will be proportional and therefore smaller outfits will need smaller installations, but we do not want smaller slaughterhouses to be put out of business, resulting in animals having to travel further to the next nearest slaughterhouse. The transportation of live animals is in itself a stressful process for them, as has already been said by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I attempted to find a map of the slaughterhouses in England on the Food Standards Agency website, but I was not successful. We would be grateful if the Minister could provide such a map so that it is possible to see just what kind of coverage there is, especially in deeply rural areas.
There has been a lot of debate about the reduction in the number of slaughterhouses. Since 2001, many slaughterhouses have fallen victim to the catastrophic foot and mouth outbreak in that year. I have not seen the figures on the reduction but I suspect that quite a number will have closed as a result of that outbreak. There are 290 slaughterhouses in England—or 270, depending on your maths—and it is of some concern that there may not be enough staff and vets to oversee what is going on. Other Members have made that comment. Many vets are EU migrants. Is the Minister confident that there are currently sufficient numbers to ensure animal welfare at the point of slaughter? What are the arrangements for overseeing vets? As well as the issue of the sufficiency of overseeing vets, is he confident that the current numbers can be retained, given the impact of the impending Brexit Bill? Official veterinarians are currently partly paid for by the slaughterhouses themselves, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has said, and partly by the Food Standards Agency—that is, by the taxpayer—so we need to ensure that there are sufficient OVs.
As well as CCTV monitoring, there are also meat hygiene responsibilities. We understand that 80% of the slaughterhouses in England are owned by two companies—although that is not what the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, so there may be some discrepancy in the figure. This has led to larger rather than smaller operations. In the larger plants, meat inspectors will also be needed on site. Given their current budget constraints, are local authorities able to fulfil their requirement to provide meat hygiene inspectors for those larger plants?
We fully support the introduction of this statutory instrument, which comes into place in May, with enforcement coming in six months later. I thank the Minister for his time and effort in explaining the processes.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the details of these regulations today. I should say at the outset that we support the regulations, which have been a manifesto commitment of our party and are long overdue. More importantly, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and others, it is something that vets themselves have been calling for and will undoubtedly help them in driving up animal welfare standards in slaughterhouses. The introduction of the regulations is important, as more than 4,000 serious breaches of animal welfare laws in British slaughterhouses were reported by the Food Standards Agency in the two years to August 2016. Indeed, its audit report showed that not one UK slaughterhouse was in full compliance when the data was analysed in June 2016.
We welcome the measure today, but of course it is only one tool in tackling the problem. The vets, the RSPCA and indeed the Minister have made it clear that access to CCTV footage should not replace physical observations by the official veterinarians, and we agree with that. The vets on the ground still have to have the ultimate responsibility for upholding welfare standards and prosecuting when necessary.
My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, clarified that vets are expected to be on the site the whole time when killing is taking place. However, that raises the question of why all these animal welfare issues are still arising. It has to be a matter of real concern that so many incidents of animal cruelty have come to light only because of covert filming on the premises by whistleblowers and so on rather than by the vets themselves, even when a vet has been in attendance. This is an ongoing problem that we have to address. Hopefully, the added deterrence of CCTV in all quarters of the animal’s journey—from arrival to slaughter, as the Minister spelled out—will prevent further abuse.
I listened carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. Of course there is concern about the cost and about small abattoirs, but I did not really hear from the noble Lords what the alternative is. If the alternative is the status quo then I think that is unacceptable. We should be tightening up on these standards, and if that means we have to make unpalatable decisions, then we should do so. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that, if anything, we should be looking at higher penalties. We need to clarify what the penalties are in the proposals before us.
In giving these measures broad support, I have a few questions of clarification for the Minister. First, how will the department ensure that the CCTV cameras are installed and used correctly to avoid blind spots? Can he confirm that the requirements for storing the CCTV records once they have been taken will be such that they cannot be tampered with or have times and dates changed after the event? I have some sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, said: although 90 days is a start, I can well see that there is a case for a longer period of storage because these cases might unfold over time rather than happen in a short period. There is a case for longer storage, and perhaps the Minister can reflect on that.
Secondly, apart from the official veterinarians, who else will be entitled to view the tapes? For example, if there are allegations of cruelty that have not been addressed by the OVs, will the police and other enforcement agencies be entitled to view the tapes? On the other side of that, can we be assured that the tapes will be used only for animal welfare purposes and not, for example, for staff to be observed by immigration officers or other people who are not concerned with animal welfare? Also, many animal welfare organisations have called for additional independent monitoring of CCTV footage. Has the Minister given any consideration to introducing that extra layer of oversight? That might go some way to addressing the issue of impromptu inspections, which was raised this afternoon. Maybe that is where that extra intervention could come from.
Thirdly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, the vast majority of slaughterhouse vets are EU nationals, so how can we be assured that sufficient vets will be available to oversee the 290 slaughterhouses post Brexit? If those vets are asked to leave because of new migration rules, can we be assured that their places will be taken only by other qualified vets and that there will be no attempt to deskill the role?
The internal impact assessment states that the costs to Government are assumed to be broadly neutral, even though there will now be additional duties on the shoulders of the official veterinarians. This does not seem to make sense: if the vets are expected not only to staff the premises in real time while killing is taking place but to inspect the tapes, surely that will bring additional hours and costs. Will the Minister comment on how he intends to keep those costs under review?
Finally, what support and training will be offered to smaller abattoirs on how to install and secure the CCTV tapes—this is obviously not their primary skill function—so that they cannot use a lack of skills as a reason for not complying with the new regulations?
We have had a wide-ranging discussion and I know that there are many other questions about slaughterhouse practice and slaughter that remain to be addressed, not least stunning before slaughter, which several noble Lords touched on. However, I realise that this strays beyond the confines of this SI. Therefore, with that in mind, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, this has been a really worthwhile debate. I have learned a great deal about the intricacies of this matter from some of the experiences of noble Lords, but I repeat that we are absolutely clear that these regulations require all slaughterhouse operators to install and operate a CCTV system that provides a clear and complete picture of areas where live animals are present. To directly reply and reaffirm to the noble Lord, Lord Curry, this will include where animals are unloaded, lairaged, handled, restrained, stunned and killed. It is the complete operation within the slaughterhouse.
Some really fascinating questions have been asked and I will take them in the order they were asked. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, encapsulated that this is a matter of zero tolerance, in which nothing can be as important as ensuring that welfare during the operation at a slaughterhouse is of the top order. I will not go into the other questions associated with this because they are not directly germane to the CCTV issue, but this is precisely the point that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, spoke about and that noble Lords alluded to. If this country wishes to have a recognition and a reputation for high animal welfare standards, this is precisely the sort of area where we can say to consumers at home and abroad that we are doing everything possible to assure them that the meat they consume is of the top animal welfare quality through our farm assurance schemes, that it is produced and lives a life to good animal welfare standards—in fact, above the norm of animal welfare standards—and that the animal has met its end in a proper and dignified and respectful manner. The contribution that these regulations make is that it will be absolutely clear to everyone, from the operators and everyone engaged through to the official veterinarian, and indeed to the person undertaking the work, that this really is of prime importance.
For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked who would decide about the positioning of the cameras. FSA official vets will discuss with operators where the cameras should be sited in order to meet the requirements set out in Regulation 3(1) which states that the CCTV system must provide,
“a complete and clear image of killing and related operations”.
That is essential. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, also talked about the FAWC recommendations being implemented. Those which were directed to the Government are precisely what is set out in the regulations and the guidance. They all address the challenges which have been posed to Government, which is why we are dealing with them today. I do not have in front of me the precise wording of the recommendations, but I identify what the noble Lord has said as being the very essence of the creation of these regulations. Let us remember that some of the FAWC recommendations were directed at the industry as well.
My noble friend Lord Cathcart asked about who will be viewing and reviewing. As a part of normal duties, official veterinarians will view about 10 minutes to 20 minutes of the footage, but I emphasise that the moment they think something needs to be looked at, they will be able to do so. The point of keeping these records is that they will be able to go back and review the situation. The FSA welfare assurance scheme will also review footage as part of any audit process, and the number of audits depends on the size of the operation.
The noble Lord is talking about viewing and reviewing the operation. There may be a dozen slaughtermen of whom just one has been identified as being at risk of bad practice. Surely a far more extensive backlog of material will be needed to nail that one slaughterman. You need to look at this selectively over a long period of time. That is the argument behind the 90-day period. It is not sufficient to gather enough material to identify one particular abuser of the law.
I understand the essence of what the noble Lord is saying. The FSA feels that 90 days is sufficient for its enforcement purposes. However, because I believe in zero tolerance in these issues, I contend that with all the CCTV provision, I expect that the official veterinarian will be able to identify someone who is not behaving properly very much earlier. The point about the 90-day period is that we are looking at the official veterinarian and the other means which I will come on to.
I am sorry to come back on this again, but I go back to my opening comments where I quoted from paragraph 42 of the FAWC recommendations which points out that in many cases the officials were unaware of what was happening in terms of animal abuse.
I understand that. It is why CCTV will cover all areas, and that will provide the extra scrutiny. The FSA and the official veterinarian will be able to enhance animal welfare and, if necessary, identify people in slaughterhouses who are not behaving properly. Obviously the CCTV will need to cover all areas of the operation and the official veterinarian will need to look at the footage. The whole purpose of this is to enable the official veterinarian to see when any elements of the operation are not being undertaken properly.
I think some of this will unfold in a way that I hope will satisfy the noble Lord that we are really keen to get this one properly sorted. As I say, the FSA will be viewing the tapes. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and, I think, my noble friend Lord Cathcart may have raised this in terms of viewing the tapes. The FSA inspectors will include the OVs, meat hygiene inspectors and FSA auditors from the health and welfare angle. In addition, I will be mentioning random visits; it is somewhere in my papers.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry, asked whether it is an offence not to retain footage for 90 days. This is indeed an offence under Regulation 9(1)(b). The penalty for a breach is a fine of unlimited amount. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Campbell-Savours, and a number of your Lordships who have raised this, official veterinarians must be on the premises at all times, but the FSA also undertakes random inspections and risk-based audit visits of slaughterhouses. So with the requirement of the official veterinarian being in place at all times, the random visits, the arrival of this new regulation and the work we will need to undertake in that respect, I believe this advances these points.
Excuse me for coming in at this point. When you were talking about the official veterinarian being there at all times, I presume that means all times when the slaughterhouse is operating officially. Will the cameras run at other times or will the cameras switch off when the official veterinarian leaves?
Again, I may look slightly sideways. The whole purpose of these regulations is so that at all times that the slaughterhouse is in operation—I stress “at all times”—whether at the arrival or at the end, the CCTV has to be on. If no animals are present or if everyone has gone home, the CCTV camera would not be in operation. But when any animal is present, at all the stages that I have outlined, there will be a requirement for CCTV to be in operation so that it can be viewed by the range of people that I have outlined. I think that is very much a positive.
A number of your Lordships, including my noble friend Lady Byford, have raised the level of the fine. The level of fine that can be imposed under these regulations is unlimited. By way of background, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed the cap on level 5 fines, allowing them to be unlimited in amount.
My noble friend Lord Cathcart raised the question of costs. I can only, in this honest venture, set out what I know from the impact assessment. The impact assessment published with the consultation last summer estimated the average cost—I underline “average”—to be £2,500 for installation. The cost of installation in slaughterhouses will clearly be proportionate to the size of premises and whether CCTV is already installed. The costs would be incurred only to cover live animal operations not previously covered. This is estimated to be about £500 per area. Again, in the figures I have, total one-off costs to the English slaughter industry for the installation of CCTV were estimated at £670,000. Ongoing costs, to include staff, maintenance, replacement and electricity, were £250,000, with a view that the cost to the regulator was considered to be minimal. I am going to go on to talk about small slaughterhouses. One knows the benefit of these regulations for animals, but what they mean for the provenance and reputation of British food is also very strong.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned the issue of standstill periods. Animals which are subject to religious slaughter and which are not stunned must not be moved after the neck has been cut until the animal is unconscious—that is at least 20 seconds for sheep and goats and 30 seconds for cattle. We are very clear on that.
My noble friends Lord De Mauley and Lady Byford raised the issue of small slaughterhouses. We appreciate the role of small and medium-sized abattoirs, which meet the needs of producers in more remote areas. We are also aware of their decline. I think it is fair to say that the result of consolidation in the retail sector has a part to play in this; that is, there has been a drive for greater efficiency. The correctly increasing requirements for higher meat hygiene standards in abattoirs has also played a part, and this issue is of the highest order whatever size the abattoir is.
As for the map, we have already asked the FSA for a geographical spread of abattoirs, and I will certainly let the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, have a copy of that.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the sufficiency of OVs. The FSA is working with its delivery contractors on this. As your Lordships will know, the FSA has an arrangement with delivery contractors on plans for the recruitment and retention of sufficient veterinary resources to maintain the necessary oversight of meat hygiene and animal welfare at approved slaughterhouses. The department is also working very strongly with the veterinary profession on capability and resources post Brexit, and I think that veterinary professionals would acknowledge that we are most serious in ensuring that there are sufficient resources.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, also asked a number of questions about storage and tampering. Cleary, any tampering would be in breach of regulations.
I have mentioned the length of time for enforcement: the FSA feels that 90 days is sufficient for its purposes but we do not need to wait 90 days to root out bad behaviour. We need to ensure that bad behaviour does not happen, and that requires the proper training of the people undertaking this task for those of us who wish to eat meat.
I will check Hansard because there have been a considerable number of questions, and I have probably already used far too much of my ration, as it were—the noble Lord opposite and my noble friend probably entirely agree. I hope your Lordships will agree that the whole thrust of these regulations is for the benefit of animal welfare. In addition, I passionately believe that they will put slaughterhouse operators in a position in which they feel much more comfortable that the consumer knows that, at the end of its life, the animal providing their meat has been cared for and had its welfare considered at large. That is why I recommend these regulations. They will be most helpful for all the reasons I have outlined.