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Animal Welfare (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 796: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2019

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, this instrument makes primarily 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. Control posts are approved areas for animals to be unloaded, fed, watered and rested for at least 12 hours or more during long journeys. There are currently 11 control posts designated in the UK. The regulation sets out the health and hygiene requirements for control posts and details how they should be constructed, operated and approved. It makes a number of minor operability changes, including updating references and definitions. The power to designate or suspend control posts will remain devolved to the relevant Ministers in the devolved Administrations, as is currently the case. These regulations will not alter the current requirements or standards for control posts, which will be maintained after exit.

The second piece of legislation relates to the welfare of animals during transport. EC Regulation 1/2005 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 requirements for transporters, drivers and vehicles to be authorised. These regulations will continue to enable authorisations for transporters, drivers and vehicles issued by an EU member state to be recognised within the UK. This approach will help to minimise friction at the border and prevent potential animal welfare issues arising from delays of animals coming from the European Union entering the UK.

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

However, I want to draw noble Lords’ attention to one policy change contained in these regulations. EC Regulation 1099/2009 requires all slaughterers to be trained and competent in the tasks they undertake, with certificates of competence issued by a competent authority. Currently, a certificate of competence issued by any member state must be recognised in the UK. These regulations will end that requirement. Continued recognition of certificates issued in other member states would open up potential enforcement issues. We would be unable to suspend or revoke a certificate issued in another member state if a slaughterer breached the requirements of the retained EU legislation or domestic legislation. The impact on businesses will be minimal. A very limited number of slaughterhouse employees will need to apply for a certificate of competence issued by a competent authority in the UK to be able to continue to work in the UK after exit. Applying will carry a cost of around £225 and we expect that fewer than 200 individuals out of a total population of 6,000 people with this certificate will be affected. This is around 3% of all slaughterers.

While there was no formal duty to consult, we have engaged directly with industry representative bodies on this issue and more widely, and we have not received any expressions of concern. The devolved Administrations have been consulted on this instrument and they are content. The purpose of the instrument is to ensure that the three pieces of EU legislation relating to animal welfare will be fully operable after exit. For the reasons I have set out, I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I have a link with the British Veterinary Association. I should draw that to the attention of the Committee, although it is not a financial interest. This order provides significant recognition of the variation between the devolved authorities. That is right, and it already exists to a large extent. However, it requires effective co-ordination between the devolved authorities to ensure that where there are matters of common interest, they are brought together. Can the Minister give us some assurance that those mechanisms are in place or, to the extent that they need to be strengthened, they can be put into place in good time?

The second point I want to raise is with regard to the certificate of competence issued to slaughterers by other member states. As things stand, they must be recognised in the UK, but that will end for the reasons the Minister has mentioned. Such certificates of competence are required by slaughterhouses in the EU to show that individuals have been trained to the necessary standard to undertake animal stunning and killing. If these changes occur in the UK and there is a reciprocal change in the EU 27, will that affect the number of competent people who will be available to undertake the work? We are aware of the number of people from European countries who are working in these areas in the UK. If there is a danger of us losing some of the supply of these essential people, what proposals do the Government have to ensure that there is not a lapse in this area that could have an impact on animal welfare?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comprehensive introduction and I thank her and her officials for the briefing we had earlier this week. This is a very important statutory instrument that will move into UK law aspects of EU law pertaining to the welfare of animals while they are being transported, when they are at control posts and at the time of killing in slaughterhouses. Much of the SI refers to the need for those involved at all three stages to have a level of competence which ensures that animals do not suffer unnecessarily. I am sure we all want to ensure that that does not happen.

This SI gives the Government power to set their own standards on live transport and control posts once we leave the EU. The UK Government have always said that they will manage live exports once we leave the EU. The public are extremely interested in the issue of the live export of animals and it frequently comes up as one of the important Brexit matters. Can the Minister say whether the Government are likely to decide soon on this subject and what evidence they will consider when they make this decision?

I have a small number of minor questions to ask. In paragraph 2.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum, reference is made to the protection of animals during transport and related operations within the EU. However, it applies to the transport of animals which does not take place in connection with an economic activity. Would the transportation of racehorses to take part in a race—for instance, le Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France—come under the heading of an economic activity or would it would be classed as a sport? This is important as racehorses are a valuable commodity and their safety and well-being are paramount to their owners. I mention, just for interest, that the prize money for winning that race is €2,857,000.

The movement of animals to and from slaughter is a particular issue on the island of Ireland where consignments of animals can move from Ireland across the border to Northern Ireland for slaughter and then back again, and vice versa. This is something that needs to be addressed before Irish farmers find that they can no longer move their livestock.

On assembly centres, paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to animals being grouped together to form consignments. Domestic equidae—that is, donkeys—are specifically mentioned, and I wonder how often and how many donkeys are moved around either in the EU or in the UK.

There is reference in paragraphs 2.17, 2.18 and 12.2 to certificates of competence. After exit day the UK will not recognise certificates issued in the EU, and for its part the EU will not recognise those issued in the UK. As the noble Baroness has said, this is particularly in relation to the protection of animals at the time of killing. The change will result in a number of slaughterhouse employees who work in this country having to apply and be reassessed for their competency. The estimated cost of this per employee is around £225. We do not know exactly how many employees will be affected but that is not an insignificant sum of money and it could lead to some employees deciding to look for more conducive work. This will have an impact on the running of our slaughterhouses, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has indicated.

As a result of a freedom of information request, we can see that the Government have failed to consider the impact of Brexit on sheep farmers. Sheep farmers are not wealthy people but their farms, especially hill farms, are the backbone of many of our remote rural communities. To run their businesses, farmers need certainty and the ability to plan far ahead, not just to next year but for five and 10 years ahead. They need to know what funding is available, what standards must be met and what tariffs need to be paid. There is a rumour that vast numbers of sheep will have to be slaughtered if they cannot be transported for export. This would have a catastrophic effect on sheep farmers in this country. Can the Minister comment on this issue?

Lastly, I understand that the report by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, the Government’s independent science advisers, is likely to be presented this week. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case? As the Government have said that they would announce what they intend to do in England following that report, can the Minister give an indication of when there will be announcement and what it is likely to contain?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and for the courtesy of arranging a helpful meeting with officials beforehand. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, the live export of animals is a very sensitive subject about which there is considerable public concern; there have been some shameful public images of animals suffering or dying in transit that have highlighted the fact that in many cases the current rules are simply not being respected in practice. This is why I am pleased that my party is committed to banning most exports of live animals for slaughter or fattening, with exemptions for those crossing the Northern Ireland border.

At the current time, more than 50,000 cattle and some 500,000 sheep are exported live annually for further production or slaughter in other regions of the UK and to EU member states. I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about the effect on sheep farmers of not having clarity over these rules at a very early stage. We must ensure that those markets are still open and available for business.

The 2017 Conservative manifesto stated that the UK could take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter once it left the EU. Since then, Defra has stated that a ban is one of the options being considered, and it launched a consultation in April 2018. Do the Government intend to introduce meat-carcass only export so that animals do not have to endure inhumane conditions to be slaughtered? Can the Minister confirm whether a ban on live animal exports would be compatible with the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, often referred to as the World Trade Organization rules, which prohibit countries imposing quantitative bans or restrictions on imports or exports?

Livestock legislation has been the same for 12 years now, despite European scientists calling for improvements on conditions and a reduction in journey times. Meanwhile, paragraph 2.14 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:

“The controls on control posts in the UK will remain identical to those in the EU (at least initially) after EU Exit”.

Can the Minister confirm whether, following Brexit, the Government will introduce better animal welfare provision at control posts? Is that what the phrase “at least initially” is meant to capture?

There is also concern about the lengthy delays that are common at the border, and we can all agree that there is a risk that this can only be exacerbated during or post-Brexit. There is also concern that we will not have enough vets to check on animal welfare and approve export licences at the UK border. What steps are the Government taking to reduce delays and cut maximum journey times for live animal exports? What discussions have taken place with veterinary bodies to ensure sufficient staff are in place? Will the Government introduce a “fit for travel” provision to ensure that animals are of an appropriate age, not in certain stages of pregnancy and do not have pre-existing injuries?

According to the Sustainable Food Trust, one in three small abattoirs in the UK has closed in the past decade. There are now just 249 red-meat abattoirs in the UK, down from 320 in 2003. The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers acknowledged that there are now black spots in the country where no abattoir provision exists. Is the Minister concerned about this? What action are the Government taking to reduce abattoir black spots and ensure that slaughter can take place close to areas where cattle, sheep and poultry are raised, and achieve the objective of travelling no longer than eight hours, as recommended by the BVA.

Turning to authorisation documents for the transport of animals, paragraph 2.15 of the EM states:

“The standard forms that are contained in the legislation will be removed and a power is given to each constituent nation of the UK to make their own versions of the authorisations and documents”.

Can the Minister advise whether the forms need to be changed in the event of a deal and/or no deal? If so, is the Minister confident that the required amendments to these forms will have been made in time for day one, if necessary, or can there be a period of grace while the old forms are still used? Will there be accompanying guidance ready in the event of no deal? Why was the EM worded in that way? What changes to the forms were envisaged? Will the detail required on the forms be on a par with the information currently required by the EU? Since it is proposed that the devolved Administrations will be responsible for amendments to those authorisations and documents, what impact will different versions have on businesses which export live animals through ports in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and across the borders between the devolved Administrations?

Currently, all drivers and attendants must hold certificates of competence evidencing their training in animal welfare during transport. This instrument amends the legislation to allow authorisation and certificates of competence issued by member states to those involved in transport to be recognised in the UK after EU exit. However, paragraph 2.16 of the Explanatory Memorandum advises that enforcement action,

“will not be possible after EU Exit”.

As that is now in the public domain, people may begin to realise that there will be no enforcement action. Does the Minister share my concern that without that enforcement mechanism, and with the knowledge that no action is going to be taken, unscrupulous traders may employ drivers and attendants who do not hold that certificate of competence in transporting animals and that that may lead to more breaches of animal welfare and worsening conditions for animals being transported?

What action are the Government taking to improve enforcement? Can the Minister assure the Committee that we have the appropriate resources and staff in place at border control posts to ensure that animal welfare standards are enforced? Can she confirm that the recognition of transporters’ certificates of competence is not reciprocal and that certificates issued in the UK will not be recognised by the EU 27 after the UK has left the EU? If that is the case, how many transporters will be affected and what costs will they incur if they are required to appoint a representative and seek authorisation in each EU country through which they will travel?

As the Minister said, the SI also sets out a change in policy on the certification of slaughterhouse staff. It removes the recognition of certificates of competence issued to slaughterers by other member states. Paragraph 2.18 of the EM states:

“Continued recognition of certificates issued in other Member States would open up potential enforcement issues as we would be unable to suspend or revoke a certificate issued in another Member State in the event a slaughterer breached the requirements of the retained EU legislation or domestic legislation”.

As a result, a number of slaughterhouse employees who gained their qualification in an EU member state will need to apply for a certificate of competence in the UK to continue to work in the UK after exit.

As the Minister also said, Defra estimates that applying and being assessed for a certificate of competence in the UK will carry a cost of around £225 and will affect fewer than 200 individuals, which comes to around 3% of slaughterers. The EM suggests that £225 is not a large sum of money, but it could put some people off. Has there been any discussion with the industry about whether it could pay for that extra certification and whether that would be good practice, rather than individual staff members having to pay for it? What other discussions have taken place with the industry to ensure that those affected are aware of and understand the policy change and those new requirements which could come on stream very quickly?

When will affected slaughterers need to apply for a new certificate of competence? Will it be literally from exit day? How long will the process of getting the new certificate take? Will their applications be expedited, given that they hold existing EU qualifications? Given that the EU has already confirmed that it will not recognise UK certificates of competence, do we know how many UK-qualified staff will be affected by that decision if they try to work in the EU? I do not know whether that information is available.

Finally, this SI will permit meat produced in member states, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland to be accepted in the UK without a third-country health certificate. Can the Minister confirm whether this is the case in both a deal and no-deal situation? Is this a reciprocal arrangement? Do we have the same opportunities to trade with those additional countries that are not member states? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today. This has been an interesting debate and we have covered all the key elements of what I hope is a fairly simple SI that largely leaves everything exactly as it was. I shall spend a few minutes answering questions raised by noble Lords. There has been a variety of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, brought up the issue of divergence with the devolved authorities. I reassure him that, as a department, we have been working closely with the devolved authorities on a wide range of areas and on this area in particular. We are working on developing common frameworks. One was agreed in October 2017 with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and further frameworks were agreed in April 2018 to deepen and broaden the relationship. We are very clear that the Scottish and Welsh Governments are committed to not diverging in ways that would cut across future frameworks where it has been agreed that they are necessary and where discussions continue. We would expect, for example, the forms issue that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to be one of those issues; it makes no sense whatever to have different forms in different countries.

I turn to the issue of slaughterers. I completely understand that this issue has been highlighted because it is clear that fewer than 200 people will be affected by this issue; we expect it to be about 170. That is the number that we got when we asked the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland and DAERA to provide the information. The noble Lord was concerned about whether there would be a shortage. I feel that 170 people out of a total of 6,000 definitely do not make for a shortage, but they would be able to get retrained pretty much immediately. That is usually carried out in-house by slaughterhouse operators and there is certification by a private assessor provided by the UKAS-accredited body, which is FDQ.

I thank the Minister for responding to the points that I raised. Does she appreciate that, although the numbers may be some 200 or fewer, there can be a diversity of intensity of those? In some slaughterhouses, as we know in Wales, there is a quite disproportionate number of European-originated workers, so there could potentially be points of difficulty even though the overall situation is okay.

I completely accept the noble Lord’s point. He is right, and I did not mean to denigrate their contribution. Certainly we have been in communication with the industry—we communicated in August 2018 and then with other groups more broadly in January 2019—so there has been time to think about this. We believe that, as was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, a number of people are offering to pay the £225. It is important to understand that these individuals would still be able to work under supervision anyway. If they are within that sort of environment, they would be okay. It seems that the training and accreditation is not measured in years; it is much shorter than that.

I turn to the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. The point about the banning of live exports was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I know, having been in your Lordships’ House for a little while now, how important this issue is, because it comes up frequently. Our manifesto commitment made it absolutely clear that we would take early steps to control the export of live animals for slaughter once we leave the EU. Last year, as noble Lords will know, we sought evidence on how we could achieve that, including through a possible ban. A number of noble Lords mentioned that we are awaiting advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee on this issue, as well as advice on how we can more generally improve welfare for all animals in transport, which I believe will address some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.

I cannot confirm that the report will be published this week. I very much hope that it is, but I have a note saying that it will be published by the end of March. I hope that is acceptable to the noble Baroness. We will consider all the options, in line with the commitment that we made in our manifesto, and we will ensure that any measures introduced are consistent with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

I confess that the issue of economic activity was something that confused me, too, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for asking her question. I will try to be helpful here, but I am not sure that I will be very helpful. The regulation states:

“Transport for commercial purposes is not limited to transport where an immediate exchange of money, goods or services takes place. Transport for commercial purposes includes, in particular, transport which directly or indirectly involves or aims at a financial gain”.

So I think the €2.5 million-odd at the Arc de Triomphe would fall within that. Indeed, the note says that it includes transporting horses to race abroad.

Noble Lords touched on the issue of the Irish border and movement over it. We have been clear that there will be no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls at the border. It will be a key part of our ongoing relationship with the EU and with our friends and neighbours in the Republic of Ireland. If we leave the EU without a deal, we will be treated as a third country. At this time, there is no reciprocity being offered by the EU, but one might imagine that it might at least be open some conversations if the worst comes to the worst—certainly from my perspective—and we leave with no deal.

The question of donkeys is one that I asked myself. I reassure the noble Baroness that, although we do not have figures for how many exports may involve donkeys, mules or hinnies, no equines were exported for slaughter. That is pretty much all I can do with that one, I am afraid. I think it is a minority sport, so to speak; I do not think that there are donkeys heading anywhere to be killed for meat.

Noble Lords mentioned sheep farming. It is an incredibly important issue. I answered a Question, I think from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, about sheep farming in Wales. We all feel that this is a very important issue. I think it is something that we will be discussing as the Brexit process happens. I certainly hope that we have a deal. However, if we are in a situation where we leave with no deal, the Government will look to do whatever they can to intervene in the event that there is significant market movement in the price of lamb. We do not consider—as was suggested in the Sunday Times, I believe, this weekend—that a mass cull is an option. It is not an option, and we would certainly work very closely with the sheep farming communities on what we can do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, talked about border delays, and she was right. In planning for leaving the EU, we have three objectives: to maintain the current high levels of UK biosecurity; to maintain the flow of goods at the border; and to minimise the impact on businesses. Animals and animal products originating in the EU will continue to enter the UK without needing to be checked at a UK border inspection post. We will continue to have risk-based border import checks for live animals, germinal products and some animal by-products, as are carried out now. The only additional inspections will apply to live animals, animal products and high-risk food and feed not of animal origin that originate from a third country and have travelled through the EU. We believe that we have the resources in place, and we are confident that there will not be significant delays at the border resulting from any changed arrangements as we leave the EU.

The noble Baroness spotted the “at least initially” in the Explanatory Memorandum. I would like to reassure her—because it does look quite suspicious—that we have no intention of lowering any of our current welfare standards after we leave the EU. In fact, we will look to raise standards substantially over time as new research and evidence emerge. So there may well be divergence in future, but we do not expect it to be to the detriment of the welfare of animals in our country.

Another issue that often arises when we discuss animal welfare is the small abattoirs sector. The Government acknowledge the role that small abattoirs play in local economies and in reducing the distance that animals have to travel for slaughter. The decline in the number of small abattoirs is the result of a combination of different factors, including consolidation in the retail sector and greater efficiency, so much of the slaughter is now taking place in larger, more efficient abattoirs. However, officials from Defra and the FSA are working with the Sustainable Food Trust to understand the issues facing small abattoirs and what scope there may be to reduce regulatory burdens that may not be appropriate in those very small settings. The Government will not reduce animal welfare standards, but there may be other things that we can do. We are also aware that the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare has just announced a review of the small abattoir sector and we look forward to seeing that report.

The issue of forms was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. This is extremely important because the forms contain the information and data that go into ensuring that we are able to meet the regulations, et cetera. That is the issue which underpins all of this. We do not envisage that the type of data in the forms will change in the future. However, if it needs to do so, it will be only in order to meet the regulations. Therefore, it is not the case that you could suddenly knock off half the data, because then you would not have the information to prove that you were complying with the regulations. We do not envisage any significant change and we will continue to use the current EU forms after exit day. Over a period of time it may be that we will introduce our own forms, but there is unlikely to be a significant change and the industry is very used to providing this information.

I turn to the issue of transport enforcement. This is indeed critical, and it is the case that we have had to strike a balance. We will not have the powers to suspend or revoke certificates of competence for individual transporters. However, we will be able to make a formal notification to the issuing member state to address issues of non-compliance, and the local authority will have powers to take action against the EU transporter if it commits an offence in the UK under the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 or the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We are clear that this is for an interim period. The purpose here is again about balance. It is to make sure that as little as possible changes, particularly in the very short term. However, over the longer term as the future relationship settles down, particularly in a no-deal situation, we will be looking at the system again to ensure that enforcement is possible. It also could be that a relationship with the EU may develop over time. But we cannot say how it will be affected at this stage, especially on transportation, because the options are so many and varied. Also, there is movement in the area of haulage in general, which I do not think is quite within the scope of this SI.

Almost finally, I turn to consultation, an issue that frequently comes up. I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that we have done our best to provide guidance to all of the affected stakeholders. As I mentioned earlier, we did this in August 2018 and in January 2019.

I shall say a little more about transporter costs and numbers. The cost of acquiring EU 27 authorisation will vary across the different member states. Our understanding is that the direct and administration costs are on average around £300. This could have an impact on around 500 transporters, although some will have the option of using EU-authorised transporters to mitigate some of the impact—as I alluded to earlier.

I believe that I have covered nearly all of the questions put to me by noble Lords, particularly those relating directly to this SI. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.