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Abattoirs: CCTV

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will encourage or require the installation of closed circuit television cameras in abattoirs.

My Lords, we recognise that CCTV can play a role in helping slaughterhouse operators monitor welfare and we welcome recent industry-led initiatives to install CCTV on a voluntary basis. We have no powers to require CCTV installation in abattoirs.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that half-helpful Answer. Has he seen the appalling CCTV images which have been put on to the internet by the charity Animal Aid, and does he agree with Tim Smith, chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, that they are,

“sickening … It doesn’t really matter how this footage was obtained or how it came into our presence”?

He went on to make it clear that what is important is that something should be done about it. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Morrisons on agreeing to install CCTV in the three abattoirs it owns and controls, including the Woodhead Bros abattoir, which is a major employer in the Lancashire town of Colne where I live.

My Lords, obviously I offer my congratulations to Morrisons because we would encourage all owners of abattoirs to install CCTV if that is necessary. However, I stress to my noble friend that although I have not seen the film, we do not condone animal cruelty of any sort. We will ensure that all allegations of the ill treatment of animals are fully investigated and, where necessary, prosecutions are made.

My Lords, if that is so, should not those of us of the Christian culture, with our attendant laws for animal welfare, understand the practice of halal slaughter, and also be told when we may be eating that meat and therefore supporting the practice?

My Lords, I believe that that is another Question, but I can say that we have no plans whatever to make the practice of halal or kosher killing illegal. However, we think that it is worth considering the appropriate labelling of all meat so that people know exactly what it is that they are eating and how the meat has been killed.

My Lords, given that Defra recently refused to prosecute practices which seemed to be contrary to the law on the grounds that the evidence had been illegally obtained, can the Minister inform the House how, without mandatory CCTV, slaughterhouse enforcement can be improved?

My Lords, there are many factors other than compulsory CCTV; it is important to have vets working in all abattoirs and for inspections to take place at an appropriate level. I can assure my noble friend that any decision on whether to prosecute will be taken by independent prosecution lawyers; Ministers have no say in it. In the case that my noble friend refers to, the independent prosecution lawyer took into account previous court decisions which make it clear that evidence which has been unlawfully obtained cannot be used and will be excluded in such cases.

My Lords, given the alarming footage referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the disturbing report in the Independent last Friday, can we have an assurance that despite the decision made on court proceedings, not only will Defra’s commitment to animal welfare be reinforced rather than weakened, but the cuts imposed by the Department for Communities and Local Government will not impact on the ability of local authorities to carry out their important animal welfare role in monitoring abattoirs and markets?

My Lords, of course they will not affect the role of local authorities in that regard. What is important is that Defra, through the Food Standards Agency, will continue to make sure that abattoirs are operating carefully, and we will make sure that appropriate funds are available for that. We are also going to consult on whether we should look to a full costs recovery scheme for the costs of monitoring what goes on in abattoirs, but obviously that is something which has to be discussed with the industry.

My Lords, given that the coalition Government have made it quite clear that the noble Lord’s department in particular wishes to cut red tape, insisting that every abattoir has CCTV would surely go against its principles.

My Lords, we have no power to insist that every abattoir should have CCTV, and that will be made even clearer when the latest EU regulation, Regulation 1099/2009, comes into effect. We will continue to encourage all abattoirs to install CCTV, but that is only one method of ensuring that appropriate monitoring takes place. There are other tools that can be used.

My Lords, given the evidence that CCTV prevents and detects crime on the streets, can the Minister explain why the coalition intends to reduce coverage on the streets by CCTV?

My Lords, that is a completely different question from the one on the Order Paper and has nothing whatever to do with slaughterhouses.

My Lords, my understanding is that the new regulation to which I referred—EU Regulation 1099/2009, which was agreed under the previous Government’s administration and came into force in 2009—constrains the use of national rules and would prohibit government action to require compulsory installation of CCTV in the future.

Can the Minister enlighten the House by saying how many prosecutions of abattoir operators there have been in the past five years?

I cannot give a precise figure. However, I can assure my noble friend that there have been prosecutions since the current Government came into office.