Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this statutory instrument makes simple and technical amendments to domestic legislation so that we meet our obligations under the UK-Ireland common travel area with regard to certificates of competence for slaughterers upon exit. After exit day, a slaughterer will have to have a UK certificate of competence in order to work in the UK. This means that slaughterers operating in the UK after we leave the EU must hold a certificate of competence issued by a UK competent authority. This will ensure that any changes we want to make to the regime in the future will apply equally to all slaughterers operating in the UK. It will also enable us to take effective enforcement action in the UK, as currently only the member state that issued a certificate of competence can suspend or revoke it.
It is, however, the case that we continue to have reciprocal arrangements with the Republic of Ireland under the UK-Ireland common travel area, which provides a right for Irish citizens to work in the UK and have qualifications recognised, and vice versa. This instrument ensures that we will continue to recognise training and examinations carried out in the Republic of Ireland after we leave. It does this by amending the definition of “evidence of training and examination” contained in Regulation 3(1) of the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2014 and the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015. This means that, when applying for a certificate of competence from the competent authority in England and Northern Ireland, the applicant may refer to any training and examination undertaken in the Republic of Ireland to support their application. The applicant will not need to undergo further training or take an exam if they have already passed the relevant modules in the Republic of Ireland.
The Food Standards Agency and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs—DAERA–which are the competent authorities in England and Northern Ireland respectively, consider that very few applications are likely to rely on evidence of training or examination from the Republic of Ireland: the estimate is two applications per year, and any impact would be positive insofar as the applicant would not be required to undergo additional training or examination and would not incur the additional costs, which would be approximately £225.
Animal welfare is a devolved issue. Each devolved Administration is responsible for their own regulations in this area, but, as noble Lords are probably aware, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have made similar amendments to ensure consistency across the UK. We have decided that, in the interests of legal certainty in Northern Ireland, the UK Government may take through the necessary secondary legislation for Northern Ireland in some circumstances.
I will answer the noble Lord in just a second.
In the interests of legal certainty in Northern Ireland, the UK Government may take through the necessary secondary legislation for Northern Ireland in some circumstances, in close consultation with the Northern Ireland departments. This is one such instrument.
The answer to the noble Lord’s question is that the common travel area has been in force since 1922—so quite a long time.
The Government have taken care to avoid using the urgency procedure, but they considered the use of this procedure to be appropriate in this instance to ensure the continued application of our obligations under the common travel area at the point of exit. I beg to move.
My Lords, while it was unfortunate that the original SI was not drafted to recognise certificates of competence issued in the Republic of Ireland, it is surely right that this is put right now. The consequence of a large number of people currently working in our abattoirs suddenly being unable to continue to do so legally, upon our departure from the EU, could clearly be adverse for the welfare of animals immediately before slaughter.
I am delighted that the Prime Minister has identified animal welfare standards as one of the areas that we can improve on after leaving the EU. I ask my noble friend the Minister to pass on to him that the All-Party Group for Animal Welfare has recently undertaken an inquiry into small abattoir provision, specifically arising from concerns at the alarming rate of closure of small abattoirs over the last few years. There is a strong view that welfare standards are good across the production landscape, but small abattoirs are able to limit transport distances and times, ensure swift processing and avoid mixing unfamiliar animals and collecting points during lairage—all of which would suggest that they can improve welfare outcomes.
I understand that the Government are looking at wider improvements to animal welfare, and that one of the objectives is to reduce travel time from point of production to slaughter. The recent objective announced by the Government that farm animals should be sent to the closest available abattoir, alongside the intention to address live transport, could mean that, ultimately, we would need more small abattoirs.
A thriving rural economy which ensures that local farming is profitable will also help to ensure good animal welfare. Anecdotal evidence would imply that livestock passing through small-scale abattoirs is more likely to be destined for local markets. Given an increased demand and commitment by many consumers to purchase from a high-welfare husbandry system, shorter and therefore more easily transparent food supply chains are, I would argue, desirable.
Small-scale farmers selling premium, high-welfare products can often increase profitability by being both producer and retailer of their products. This demands small-scale and sometimes specialist slaughter facilities to accommodate more varied breeds and seasonal supply. Private kill is often fundamental to the business model, and this is rarely offered at large-scale abattoirs.
Specific examples of premium products requiring specialist slaughter facilities are rare and native breed animals. Polled cattle breeds, for example, are often catered for only by small abattoirs because of the need to adapt the facilities to suit their specific requirements. Outdoor-reared pigs, which tend to have a thicker coat than indoor-reared animals, are unsuitable for some larger-scale abattoirs. At this stage, I simply ask my noble friend the Minister to take this back to her department.
My Lords, one lesson I learned in 1974, when there was no induction system, came from the late Willie Hamilton MP, who noble Lords will remember. He used to do his own little bit for Members, and one thing he always told us was, “Never ask a question unless you know the answer, because you might be surprised”.
The common travel area has been in place for almost 100 years. The Government, in their headlong rush to Brexit, forget that it includes work, and work includes professional qualifications and mutual recognition. That has always been the case. It has nothing to do with the EU. It is part of the system we have of living in the British Isles.
It beggars belief. I remember this being raised in Committee B—I think it was—when we were split for the statutory instruments. The question arises: what else is affected? If the Government forget about slaughtermen and slaughterwomen in the killing of animals, what other jobs have been affected across Ireland and the UK, where we plan—because we have not left yet—to charge, or to abandon mutual recognition?
This is not something that nobody thought about. As the second report of the scrutiny committee makes clear, the earlier instrument ended the recognition of the certificates of competence. So it was a positive act of the Government to end mutual recognition. It has not just slipped through; they forgot that it included work. This beggars belief. I am certainly not blaming the civil servants in Defra; some of the finest civil servants I have worked with were in Defra—Dame Glenys Stacey, Jill Rutter and of course all my private office staff, who are busy climbing their way up at the present time.
However, the fact is that in Paterson, Leadsom, Truss and Villiers we have had four absolute duds as Secretaries of State. I do not expect the Minister to respond to that, but it is a fact. They are all hard-line Brexiteers not looking at or even thinking about any detail. It almost beggars belief that this would not have been put in a brief at some point if they were attending to matters of mutual respect with the island of Ireland in the normal day-to-day work of Defra—the department that, above all others in Whitehall, probably still has, for obvious reasons, the most day-to-day contact with the EU.
Has any other work been done on this? Why is it only this narrow bit? I assume that, if it was remembered in other departments, someone would quite clearly have said something to Defra two years ago, because obviously this has taken quite a while, even after it was alerted. And there is an attempt in the instrument itself—I really find this very sad—almost to blame the non-sitting of Stormont. It has nothing to do with the non-sitting of Stormont. I consider it outrageous to effectively blame the local politicians who should be getting together but are not. This is something central government forgot about in Brexit—and we are going to end up charging people over £200. All right, it is not many people, but numbers do not count here; it is the principle of the issue. What other professions and departments have been dealing with work under the common travel area? I assume there ought to be an answer to that.
I certainly do not hold the present Minister responsible for any of this whatever—I meant to say that earlier. No, it is the dud top dogs in Defra who are to blame for this.
My Lords, I will bring up something different. There is a lot of ritual slaughter in this country, and I have no idea whether those who perform it are in any way regulated. Those who know anything about slaughter for halal meat will know that it is not the way animals should be treated—a prayer has to be said while the neck is being separated from the body. It is just going on, and we do nothing about it.
The other thing is that some halal meat—the majority, some say—is, I cannot remember the word—
I thank the noble Lord. I said to the last Secretary of State that meat that is available as halal or pre-stunned should be labelled. He said that that might reflect badly on Muslims. But they too want it to be labelled because the very conservative Muslims will not eat pre-stunned halal. They will eat only halal meat where the neck was cut off while prayers were being said. It is time we looked at that, as it certainly goes against animal welfare.
Really, everything should be labelled. We have always labelled everything in this country; why do we not label halal? Everyone says that all the takeaways now serve halal because they want Muslims to buy it. That is fine, but we should know. Everybody should know what they are eating. People like me who will not buy halal because of the ritual slaughter should also know whether we are eating halal. I would very much like the Minister to look at this issue, which has just been brushed under the carpet: “Oh, we do not want to upset the Muslims”. Why not? They are living in this country; they should conform to our standards.
My Lords, I support the point made by the noble Baroness about stunning animals before slaughter, but perhaps I may ask my noble friend a different question. I understand that the vast majority of vets at slaughterhouses are from the EU. Is she confident that we will have enough vets to protect animal welfare to the highest standards once we leave the EU?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction and for her time in producing a briefing. This SI is a tidying-up exercise and, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, many aspects have been missed out in previous SIs. This SI covers the certificate of competence which those working in slaughterhouses will need in order to continue to be employed. The certificate is awarded after training has been completed. However, due to existing regulations, those working in Northern Ireland will not need any additional training, but they will need to register as an EU slaughterer. The FSA issues the certificates to work.
Defra expects around two applications per year to be affected by the changes, saving each applicant approximately £225 for additional training or examination which would otherwise be required. The department says that both Scotland and Wales are making similar changes to ensure consistency across the UK.
UK workers can work in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, so the movement of animals across the border will not be affected—not that this SI deals with the movement of animals. It is only about what occurs within the confines of the abattoir and about the welfare of the animal at the point of killing, as other noble Lords referenced. This is a very important point.
As the Minister said at the briefing, most of those who receive training at an abattoir tend to remain and work in that location for some considerable time and do not move around. I shall be very interested in the answer she gives to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about whether we have enough qualified people working in abattoirs to meet our needs.
This instrument is needed to ensure that the UK meets its obligations under the UK-Ireland common travel area, which provides for the right of Irish citizens to work in the UK and have professional qualifications recognised. For me—but probably not for others—it is non-controversial, and I am happy to support it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing this SI and for the helpful briefing that she organised beforehand. We have debated the more detailed SI—which this SI now seeks to amend—on a previous occasion, and I do not intend to repeat the original issues we raised at that time.
To echo my noble friend Lord Rooker, it does raise the question of why the obligations under the UK-Ireland common travel area were not picked up and incorporated at that time. I agree with my noble friend that, to use his words, it “beggars belief” that this was not picked up beforehand. I also agree that it is possible that other professions covered by other SIs might similarly have been missed out, given that we are dealing here with a pretty fundamental agreement.
When we originally discussed this issue in March, the Government estimated that around 200 EU nationals working here as slaughterers would have to apply for a new UK certificate of competence, at the cost of £225. Have these figures been updated and is there an increased danger of UK slaughterhouses not having sufficient staff to deal with the throughput of animals? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that there is a particular concern about the future of smaller abattoirs—only one part of which is the issue of staffing. Nevertheless, I should be interested to have confirmation from the Minister that the Government are alive to this issue and that it is being addressed. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that halal meal should be properly labelled. She has raised important issues there.
I want to ask about a separate relatively small point. In the letter to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the Government said that there were only about two applications a year from the Republic; the noble Baroness repeated that figure today. How was that figure calculated? It seems particularly low, given that we are led to believe there is a relatively free flow of work across the border, for example. How was the figure estimated and might it change in the future?
Finally, I will address the issue of devolved interests. Paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“Animal welfare is a devolved matter”—
which we know, while the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report said that Scotland and Wales were making similar changes to those proposed here to ensure consistency. Again, the Minister repeated that, so why does it say in the Explanatory Memorandum, at paragraph 4.1:
“The territorial extent of this instrument is England, Wales and Northern Ireland”,
whereas at paragraph 4.2 it says:
“The territorial application … is England and Northern Ireland”,
only? Can I have clarification of the status of Wales in how this SI will be applied? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short and interesting debate. They have brought up many interesting issues that are not part of this SI, but I will still try to answer some of them.
I could not agree more with my noble friend Lord De Mauley: our welfare standards are very important. I think he said that he was involved in an APPG on small abattoirs. That is fascinating and a very important part of this. As we know, in England small abattoirs are so important to local farmers, as they do not have to travel a long way with their animals. It also means that they know the slaughterers in the abattoirs. In fact, when I take my sheep to our local abattoir, I am absolutely thrilled that I know everybody working there. I have known them for a long time and am absolutely sure that the welfare of the animals is tip-tip-top. I will certainly take that back to the department.
My noble friend also mentioned the travel of live animals, which again is a concern, as we know. I cannot say too much about that at the moment because we are in consultation on it, but we certainly feel that the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter needs to be looked into. We believe that it is possible to send animals on long journeys while simultaneously respecting the need for good animal husbandry. Sometimes they may travel for 30 or 40 hours, as we know, and in some cases 50 hours, which is not compatible with animal welfare. So it is certainly being looked into at the moment. In fact, when this SI was considered at the other end, my right honourable friend the Minister, Zac Goldsmith, mentioned that he was very involved in several round tables going on at the moment. He is talking to stakeholders and finding out the standards that might be changed as far as that is concerned.
I always love it when the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stands up to talk, because when I first came here I was a Defra whip and he was enormously helpful to me. Quite often, I had to stand up and answer questions that I had no idea about, so I used to go to him and he would tell me what I should say and give me the answers. But I do not have him to ask today, because he is asking me the questions; we are slightly changed around.
The noble Lord asked about the common travel area and I hear what he says about it. In fact, the common travel area predates our joint accession to the EU. It offers Irish citizens the right to live and work in the UK and vice versa. The recognition of qualifications is necessary to enable individuals to exercise their right to work. Both Governments have publicly committed to protecting the rights associated with the common travel area. In May 2019, the UK and Irish Governments signed a memorandum of understanding reaffirming their commitment to it, as well as acknowledging that the recognition of professional qualifications was an essential facilitator of the right to work.
The noble Lord also mentioned other people wanting to work in the common travel area and asked how that would be affected. That is a BEIS competence. There is a comprehensive process going on at the moment and Defra is engaging with it.
My noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about vet standards. The Home Office decision to place the veterinary profession on its shortage occupation list means that it will be easier for UK employers to attract international veterinary expertise. It will also help to ensure that the UK can continue to maintain high standards of animal health and welfare, veterinary public health advice and biosecurity. We have already made operability amendments to the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 to ensure that the mechanisms are in place to recognise equivalent certificates from anywhere in the world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about halal and kosher labelling. The Government will not accept labelling changes that could put up the cost of food for religious communities. We expect industry to provide consumers with the information to enable them to make informed choices about the food they eat. The Government are aware that there is public concern about meat from animals being slaughtered in accordance with religious beliefs being sold to consumers who do not require their meat to be prepared in that way. My right honourable friend the Minister, Zac Goldsmith, was asked a similar question when this SI went through in the House of Commons. He said:
“The previous Secretary of State initiated a series of roundtables with stakeholders from across the board. Those discussions continue and I am now involved in them. I have had some very good meetings with stakeholders in the last month. It is not the right time to pre-empt what we will deliver as a consequence of that, but we will deliver steps that I think will satisfy the stakeholders’ concerns and improve animal welfare at the point of slaughter”.—[Official Report, Commons Eighth Delegated Legislation Committee, 29/10/19; col. 6.]
Will we be able to know what we are eating? I want to know what I am eating. We have always had that in this country. We always tell people what they are eating. There are many countries where horses are normally eaten, but here there was a big hoo-hah about it. Why should it bother the people for whom the ritual slaughter is done? They should be happy that they know what they are eating.
Are some of the round table discussions about the fact that all New Zealand lamb imported into the UK is halal, and it is all pre-stunned? Is it a fact that the meat used in the National Health Service is all halal and patients are never told and that the meat in prisons is all halal and prisoners are never told? Should they not be?
I hear what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord say, and I will certainly take it back to the department. As I said earlier, it is being looked into.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned staff in abattoirs. It is important to remember that a lot of staff come over from eastern Europe or wherever it happens to be to learn the trade in abattoirs in England, and they get their certificate of competence in England, which means that they are trained to English standards. It means that the standards are as good there but, if they come from abroad and they do not have the certificate of competency, obviously they have to get it and undergo training before they are allowed to work in an abattoir.
The noble Baroness also referred to the two applications a year. The reason for that was that they had to come up with a number. It is not likely to be as many as two; it could be none. They felt that that was the mean average; there is no particular meaning to that number otherwise.
The issue of jurisdiction between England and Wales was a legal matter. Normally, when we deal with SIs, the SI refers to England and Wales working together. In this case, Wales is doing its own, so it refers only to England. That is why that was in there.
I think that I have answered everybody’s questions, so unless anybody wants to ask anything else, I thank all noble Lords for taking part.
All abattoirs are registered. There certainly are some illegal ones, but they should not be allowed to practise.
I hope that your Lordships are reassured on these points. I reiterate that the regulations do no more than meet our existing obligations under the common travel area.