Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): The House of Commons Library note on the personal independence payment has a large section on how seriously injured armed forces personnel and veterans will be affected. The Minister’s statement was silent on that. Will she outline how that group will be affected and,

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most importantly, will she define what is meant by “seriously injured”, because unless that is clearly defined they could simply be weasel words?

Esther McVey: I thank the hon. Lady for her question. That was not in my statement because it will come under a separate system under the Ministry of Defence. The support will be there and it will come through a different system.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I, like everyone in this House, have tremendous respect for the work done by carers. For the sake of clarity, will the Minister confirm that the rules linking carers allowance to PIP will be exactly the same as those for the DLA?

Esther McVey: I can indeed confirm that.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Given the Minister’s announcement that, although 230,000 will get the same or more support, 330,000 people will get no or less support, I assume that there will be a large number of appeals. At the moment, people who are appealing against rulings on the employment and support allowance in my constituency—80% of them are successful—are waiting for more than a year for their appeals to be heard. Is the Minister able to give any guarantee on how long the appeals against refusal of DLA will take? Will she set a maximum length of time and tell us that there will be enough staff to open the envelopes from people who make appeals, let alone administer them, which is not what is happening at present with ESA appeals?

Esther McVey: I recognise the points made by the hon. Lady. We will speed up the process. We have commitments from the Justice Department that it will have enough staff in place, and we will do this as best we can.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I will follow on from the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), because she raised a real issue. Every Member in this House will have had that problem in their constituency. Although the whole House welcomes what the Government are trying to do, there is a practical problem with appeals. Will the Minister at least look into that a little further?

Esther McVey: My hon. Friend is correct that that is a priority for us. However, I reiterate that this is a completely different system. PIP is a brand-new system and a brand-new benefit. It has new localised systems and it will be delivered locally. Therefore, it has been created in a much better format.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): What is the Minister’s estimate of the number of people on carer’s allowance who will lose out after this statement?

Esther McVey: As it stands, the same number of people will be on carer’s allowance, although they might be different people. As at the moment, people will be assessed and reassessed, and some people will move from having carer’s allowance to not having it, but the overall number will stay roughly the same.

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Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I welcome the Minister’s statement. Clearly, the Government have listened to the concerns of disabled people and made the appropriate changes. I particularly welcome the new timetable, which I hope will ensure that PIP is delivered correctly. Of course, an extended timetable also leads to anxiety and uncertainty among the recipients of the benefit. Will she assure me that everything possible will be done to ensure that individuals, through the various agencies and support groups, know exactly what their situation is?

Esther McVey: I can confirm that. What we are doing is all about a smooth transition and getting the implementation correct.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): When my right hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) and for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) and I met members of the disability community in Scotland recently in my constituency, they expressed concerns that tens of thousands of disabled people in Scotland might lose their access to passported benefits and their ability to get to work under the new system. With disabled unemployment at a record high, would it not be wrong to create new barriers to disabled people keeping their jobs? Will the Minister guarantee that no disabled person who is currently in work will be worse off as a result of these reforms?

Esther McVey: As the hon. Gentleman will know, it has always been the case under DLA that when people are reassessed, some people stay on the same benefit, some people get more and some people get less. That will be exactly the same under PIP. The difference is that there was no systematic review under DLA, but there will be under PIP.

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): An answer that I received to a recent parliamentary question indicated that between October 2008 and May 2012, 59% of initial work capability assessments for employment and support allowance resulted in those being assessed being awarded no points at all. Will the Minister assure me and the many recipients of DLA in Edinburgh West that all possible efforts are being made to ensure that the design and delivery of the assessments for PIPs will ensure that more decisions are correct the first time around?

Esther McVey: Let me reiterate once again that this is a totally different system to ESA. It is a totally different benefit altogether. In fact, we inherited ESA from the previous Government. It was wrong in 2009 and we have put in place many steps to improve the system, including putting it through three reviews. I assure my hon. Friend that we have listened to the various disability groups and organisations, and that we will get this right.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): We have put men on the moon, so I do not understand it when the Minister says that it is impossible to do a cumulative impact assessment. Surely that is not beyond the wit of the hundreds of civil servants sitting in her Department.

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Esther McVey: The hon. Lady is right that we have put men on the moon. However, she will also know that her Government never did such an impact assessment, and for good reason. On such wide-ranging reforms, it is impossible to make an accurate assessment. That is particularly the case with these reforms because they will not be in place until 2017-18 and there is such a dynamic case load. Even the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that it would be near impossible.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): I am glad the Minister was able to confirm that we have put a man on the moon.

Let me return to the point about appeals, which is crucial. Surely if we get the assessment process right and it is fair, there will be no need for appeals and we will not see so many disabled people coming to my surgery—and those of Members across the House—who are worried about their financial futures.

Esther McVey: All sides of the House wanted reform. Everybody said that reform was right, but the difference is that this Government are making that reform to ensure we have a benefit that is fair and correct, right for the 21st century, and that has rigour put into it.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Last, but certainly not least, Julie Hilling.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I, too, am really shocked that the Minister is not going to carry out an impact assessment, and I wonder whether she will answer the question this time. Will blind people get the equivalent of the higher-rate mobility component of DLA?

Esther McVey: Every individual will be assessed on their individual needs. We have taken significant soundings and listened to all the various groups. Each person will get the benefit that they require.

Bill presented

Succession to the Crown Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

The Deputy Prime Minister, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary William Hague, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Moore, Danny Alexander and Miss Chloe Smith, presented a Bill to make succession to the Crown not depend on gender; to make provision about Royal Marriages; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 17 December 2012, and to be printed (Bill 110) with explanatory notes (Bill 110-EN).

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Committee on Standards (Lay Members)

[Relevant document: the Report from the House of Commons Commission, HC 709]

11.51 am

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I beg to move,

That, in accordance with Standing Order No. 149A, Mr Peter Jinman, Mr Walter Rader and Ms Sharon Darcy be appointed lay members of the Committee on Standards.

In December 2012, the House endorsed a recommendation from the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the Committee on Standards and Privileges should include at least two lay members who have never been parliamentarians. The proposal was supported by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, whose then Chair, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), suggested it to the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The Procedure Committee was asked to consider how that recommendation might be best implemented. It recommended that the Committee on Standards and Privileges should be divided into two, and that the lay members should sit only on the Committee responsible for standards. If the House accepts the nominations today, the two new Committees will come into existence on the first sitting day in January, following on from Kathryn Hudson taking up her appointment as the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on 1 January.

The lay members will not be co-opted as full voting members of the Select Committee. There was some doubt over whether a committee partly composed of non-members with equal voting rights would in law be a parliamentary Committee and thus entitled to the normal protections of parliamentary privilege. Draft legislation to permit the House to give lay members of the Committee on Standards the power to vote is included in the Government’s Green Paper on Parliamentary Privilege, which has been referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses and is due to report in April next year.

The lay members will participate fully in evidence taking and the consideration of draft reports, although they will not be able formally to move amendments or take part in any votes. There will be two specific protections for their position. The first is that the Committee cannot conduct any business unless at least one lay member is present. The second is the requirement that any written opinion of a lay member present at the relevant meeting on a report agreed by the Committee must be published as part of that report.

The process of recruiting the lay members fell to the House of Commons Commission. The posts were advertised on the parliamentary website through the outreach service, with a search by recruitment consultants and through Twitter. There were 86 applicants for the post, reduced through sifts and interviews to a short list of 12 for interview. The interviews were undertaken in September 2012 by a board that included the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, John Horam, who is now a member of the Electoral Commission, an external assessor and senior officials.

That board put forward six candidates for final interview in October 2012 by three members of the Commission: the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Aberdeen

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North (Mr Doran) and me. On the basis of our assessment, the Commission agreed to make the following three nominations to the House this afternoon: Sharon Darcy, who is a member of the national board of Consumer Focus and a board member of the National Employment Savings Trust; Peter Jinman OBE, who is a former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; and Walter Rader OBE, who is independent chair of the Youth Council for Northern Ireland appeals panel.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a clear statement. However, will he tell the House what sort of hours those people will be expected to work and what their remuneration will be?

John Thurso: My hon. Friend anticipates my next two points. Let me deal with them in order, and if he is not satisfied, he can have another go.

Brief CVs of the candidates are set out in the paper that is available in the Vote Office. The Commission believes that, together, the three candidates represent a combination of experience and qualities that should increase public confidence in the robustness and independence of the House’s disciplinary process. The appointments will initially run until the dissolution of Parliament at the next general election, but they can be extended for up to two years in the new Parliament. Once appointed, a lay member could be dismissed only following a resolution of the House.

The Committee’s work load is variable and it is not yet known what exactly it will be. The lay members will therefore be remunerated on a daily rate for each day worked. That rate is to be £300 per day plus any modest travelling expenses.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentions the work load. Surely that depends on the behaviour of the House rather than on what the Committee wishes to do?

John Thurso: Absolutely. That is the point that I was trying to make, albeit not very succinctly. The work load is variable, consequent on our behaviour. We therefore hope that the lay members will be very modestly rewarded. However, we will have to see.

The Commission has recognised that the role will be challenging and has asked officials to provide a comprehensive induction programme to familiarise the lay members with the culture, roles and key players across Parliament, as well as the procedures and working practices of the Committee on Standards.

I commend the nominees to the House.

11.57 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) for the terms in which he moved the motion. I am looking forward to the contributions to what I think will be a short and uncontroversial debate from fellow members of the House of the Commons Commission, including the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron)

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and the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I look forward to what will probably be variations on a similar theme.

On behalf of the Opposition and, I believe, of all Members who intend to speak, I support the principle of the changes. Appointing lay members to the Committee on Standards was a suggestion of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2009 in the aftermath of the expenses issues and scandals in the previous Parliament. The recommendation was aimed at further improving public confidence in the House’s ability to regulate itself, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said.

The subsequent Third Special Report on Standards and Privileges accepted the proposals and, on 12 March, the now Patronage Secretary and I, as shadow Leader of the House, took part in the debate that effected them by creating Standing Orders Nos. 148A and 149A, and modifying Standing Order No. 149. Since that time, the process of appointment has been thorough, as is usual with such procedures, and I have no doubt that the candidates for inclusion as lay members of the Committee, which, once we have made the decision, will split into two, are more than worthy of the roles. I am sure that, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, Sharon Darcy, Peter Jinman OBE and Walter Rader OBE will bring a breadth of knowledge and experience that will be of benefit to the Committee.

The Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, of which I am a member, also contains lay members, and their contribution is of great value. I look forward to having my suspicions confirmed that the work of the newly appointed members of the Committee on Standards will also be of great value.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley will want to say something about how he sees the new arrangement working when the Committee splits at the beginning of next year, as he will be at the forefront of that work. I look forward to hearing the comments of other hon. Members too. The Opposition endorse the principle of the change, and look forward to the development of the Committee in its new form.

12.1 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) has set out the rules that will apply, and a few technicalities have been added by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) from the Opposition Front Bench.

I rise briefly to support the motion more as a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee than of the House of Commons Commission. As motions 4 and 5 on the Order Paper indicate, subject to the motion being agreed we will have a new standards Committee, a separate privileges Committee, and at least two new members starting in the new year. This is interesting timing, as the new Commissioner and the three new lay members will be commencing in their roles. There will be an interesting learning curve for the lay members and for the Commissioner.

As hon. Members are aware, the Committee will meet in private to consider reports from the Commissioner following her investigation of complaints that are felt to

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be appropriate to the Committee. I hope that having lay members will bring some reassurance to those outside our peculiar bubble, and that it might even calm the odd strident reporter from the odd strident newspaper. It will be interesting for the new lay members to learn what life as an MP entails and the various and considerable pressures under which MPs work.

The rules on standards have been reviewed in the light of the Committee’s recent experiences. We have had more such experiences than we should. The report has been published and will be considered by the House in due course. In some areas the rules have been tightened, but efforts have been made to clarify the rules so that hon. Members understand them more easily. Complicated rules and an ignorance of them have been a source of minor apparent transgressions. The new lay members will need to appreciate the combination of the rules and the pressures faced by hon. Members. The Commissioner receives a steady trickle of complaints. Fortunately, most relate to matters that are not relevant, and, sadly, there are sometimes personal or political attacks. Now that a spate of cases from the expenses scandal have been through the mill, I hope that the work of the Committee on Standards will become minuscule.

Compared with the scandals of most other countries, I believe that with rare exceptions, the UK and the House do not have a real problem. Having our robust system certainly helps us to keep it that way and the rules will tighten that even more. I expect and sincerely hope that this will continue, and be supplemented by our new lay members.

12.4 pm

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): I am delighted to add my support to the motion and have no hesitation in commending the three names before the House—Sharon Darcy, Peter Jinman and Walter Rader.

The procedure to appoint lay members was modelled on that for the independent external members of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. As the Procedure Committee recommended, I took part in the appointment process to ensure access to the experience of the Speaker’s Committee, although the final decision was a matter for the House of Commons Commission. We had a strong field and were able to put forward several names for the Commission to choose from, and as Members will see from the Commission’s report, the three candidates bring a range of valuable experience. I am confident in their sound judgment.

I welcome the fact that we are at last appointing lay members. Indeed, the previous Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, now the Government Chief Whip, commended the idea to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It is one of the manifestations of his incomparable good judgement that his recent return to the Back Benches must have been one of the shortest on record; the Front Bench simply could not do without him. It is a pleasure to implement a recommendation in the House with such a history of Committee support.

I am particularly pleased that we are appointing three lay members. As we all know, parliamentary business can be unpredictable and in the past the Committee on Standards and Privileges has had to meet at short notice. The Committee on Standards will be able to

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meet only if a lay member is present, and appointing three lay members from the outset will reduce the danger of Committee business being disrupted. I have been a lay member myself. As colleagues will know, it was a role I played on the General Medical Council for several years. It is all too easy for any expert group to look inward and to lose a sense of perspective, which is why many professional disciplinary bodies, not just the GMC, contain lay members.

Even when professional judgements are perfect, there is a case for an independent element to ensure that all angles are considered and, most importantly, to provide as much reassurance as possible that regulation is conducted in the public interest. It will never be possible to convince everyone, but if an independent element in regulation works for doctors and solicitors, it should work for us as well. I hope that the lay members will not operate as outsiders riding shotgun to ensure the Committee behaves. I would like them to be an integral part of the Committee, and every one of those whose name is before the House has had experience of this sort of collective working. With the help of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the Committee on Standards and Privileges has done its utmost to act rigorously, fairly and impartially. I hope that the participation of lay members will make it easier for the new Committee on Standards to demonstrate that it operates in such a way.

As I have said in previous debates, I regret that the lay members will not have a vote at this stage, although there is at least a mechanism that allows them to place their views formally on the record if they feel it necessary to do so. Although I look forward to legislation allowing lay members voting rights, we must remember that the current Committee on Standards and Privileges does not normally decide matters on division. In my time on the Committee, I can recollect only one vote, but even then the Committee went on to agree a unanimous report. If the new Committee follows that pattern, which I hope it will, any difference between lay members and others will be minimal, if not non-existent. In agreeing the motion, the House will take a step that should improve public perception of our disciplinary processes. I am confident that it will do more than that and will produce a better, fairer system. I am happy to support the motion.

12.8 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) for moving the motion and for how he explained the process of appointment, the merits of the candidates and their future responsibilities. It was very helpful and clear.

I also pay tribute to the work of the Procedure Committee in shaping the proposals that have brought us to this point. I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) for their contributions. I say to my hon. Friend that, although some might think this will modify the behaviour of the press, I am not expecting it to achieve that. We can be confident, however, that it will assist us not only in setting and enforcing high standards of conduct in this place, but in ensuring that we are seen to do so. It is the public we want to focus on. We want them to understand and appreciate that.

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What we are doing today is further to the House agreeing on 2 December 2010 to the principle of lay members on the Committee on Standards. The House invited the Procedure Committee to make proposals to implement that. Those proposals, with minor modifications, were given effect by the House on 12 March 2012, when Standing Order Nos. 148A and 149A were made and Standing Order No. 149 was amended. I am sure that Members do not need to be reminded of the detailed background; suffice it to say that having lay members on the Committee on Standards was a recommendation in the 2009 report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It therefore represents part of a wider package of rebuilding trust following the expenses scandal. In practice as well as in perception, robust independent scrutiny and regulation have come to the determination and administration of our expenses, pay and pensions. They will now also play an important part in our internal disciplinary processes.

With that in mind, the Government, and I am sure the whole House, support the appointment of lay members to the Committee on Standards. Their participation in our standards processes will provide a most valuable addition to the work of the Committee on Standards and, if necessary, a challenge to its work—I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Rother Valley for illustrating how that might be possible in practice. That will increase public confidence in the work of the Committee.

As someone who participated in the selection process, which my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross described, may I also say that I can recommend the candidates to the House? I was impressed by the evident time and trouble they had taken in preparing for and participating in the selection process. I believe the House will find in them the right balance of experience, judgment and integrity. The

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candidates were also clear about their need and wish to undertake necessary training and induction in preparation for their role. I know that the Committee and House service will want to ensure that that is available.

Members will also be aware from the Order Paper that there are two motions to be considered later today that seek to implement the previous decisions of the House—of 2 December 2011 and 12 March 2012—to split the Standards and Privileges Committee into two Committees: one on standards, the other on privileges. Should the House agree to the motion before us now and the further two motions on the Order Paper, then according to the Standing Order changes agreed on 12 March this year and with effect from 7 January 2013, as described by the shadow Leader of the House, the Standards and Privileges Committee will divide and lay members will play the role on the Committee on Standards that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross set out earlier.

On behalf of the Government and as Leader of the House, I support the motion, and I look forward to welcoming the lay members to their new and important role in the new year.

Question put and agreed to.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This morning we had the First Reading of the Succession to the Crown Bill. It is my understanding that this is a constitutional Bill, so I was wondering whether there was any way of asking the Leader of the House to confirm whether it would be taken on the Floor of the House.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, that is not a point of order, although I am sure that the Leader of the House has picked up his question.

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Backbench Business

Animal Welfare (Exports)

12.13 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of live animal exports and animal welfare.

It is a great pleasure to open this debate, which was requested by a cross-party group of Members. I want first to thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting us a debate on this extremely important issue. It is an extraordinary thing: Britain can have extreme pride when it comes to animal welfare—we have a strong sense of tradition. This is the country that passed the first piece of legislation on animal welfare—I believe it was in 1635—when we prohibited the pulling of wool off sheep and forbade the attaching of ploughs to horses’ tails.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Can the hon. Lady advise us whether that was in any way gold-plating of EU regulations?

Laura Sandys: I am sure the horses and sheep would have had something to say if it had been. That legislation was not only about animal welfare, but about more effective agriculture—I am concerned about how effective a plough drawn from the end of a horse’s tail would be. Even Cromwell decreed through parish rights that

“No Man shall exercise any Tyranny or Cruelty towards any brute Creature which are usually kept for man’s use.”

We should therefore be proud of our traditions and standards.

It was for that reason that when I became a Member of Parliament, I did not feel that this issue would concern me particularly. I felt we were leading the way—setting the standard. That was most certainly the case until live animal exports started from my local port in Ramsgate. As I started to see the trade first hand, I was extremely surprised that we in this country had so little power or control over the well-being of the animals bred here by UK farmers and exported to the continent. The trade out of Ramsgate shows, for example, how many licensing regimes regulate the industry. The ship that takes the animals across from Ramsgate to France is licensed in Latvia, but was designed as a roll-on, roll-off vessel for river crossings in Russia, not for crossing the channel. The transport licence holder has a licence in Holland. The drivers of the lorries do not need licences at all, but they do need to hold certificates of competence, which can be granted in any country, including those with different animal welfare priorities. They do not have the same tradition as us or the same high standards.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): If I could take the hon. Lady back to the vessel that carries the animals across the channel, does she know why it is used instead of the normal channel ferries on the Dover-Calais routes, which carry lots of goods, travel faster and are in better condition?

Laura Sandys: The trade used to be out of Dover, but there was an issue with berths and some of the animal transport boats. Indeed, there was an issue before I entered this House whereby the ferry operators banned

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the trade on their ferries. As a result, a specific transportation mechanism was needed, but we are talking about a ship that is not equipped to go across the channel, despite our regulators saying that it is. It is equipped for fresh-water river crossings, not channel crossings in the middle of winter. We have already had a major crisis, when animals were taken halfway across the channel but had to return because the boat could not manage the seas.

Let me return to the drivers, the third element in all this. They do not need licences; they need certificates of competence. Certificates of competence can be granted in any country, with any set of standards, and would not necessarily meet the standards of competency in this country, which must reflect not only an ability to deal with animal welfare in a positive sense, but an ability to deal with animals in a crisis. I have seen major problems on my portside when people without the relevant competency have tried to deal with crises and emergencies.

Of course we have to meet EU standards, but others do not have to meet UK standards. When I went to see the commissioner in Brussels, he told me that he was keen for the rest of Europe to raise its welfare standards to match ours, but at the moment we are witnessing a race to the bottom. As a result, lowest common denominator standards are being applied to all the different licensing regimes in the different parts of the live animal export supply chain. Our farmers in this country are not lax about animal welfare. They take huge pride in maintaining standards, but once they start trading in the licensing regime, the EU standards apply. I have been contacted by many farmers who have been appalled by what is going on in my port.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Is this not another example of the UK gold-plating regulations while the rest of Europe ignores them? Is the hon. Lady aware of moves in any other European countries to ensure that at least the minimum standards in the regulations are enforced?

Laura Sandys: That is an important point. The commissioner told me that one of his key priorities was to enforce the existing EU regulations across all of Europe, because there are quite a lot of inconsistencies. Despite my dislike of gold-plated EU regulations, I believe that, in this instance, it is the gold-plating that enables us proudly to maintain our tradition as a country that stands up for animal welfare across the board. However, we need to encourage the Minister of State to be much more forthright towards countries that adopt different standards.

Mr Jones: Is the hon. Lady aware of any countries that are not complying with the minimum standards set out in the current European regulations?

Laura Sandys: I do not have precise knowledge of which countries are not complying with the regulations. Animal welfare can also be a cultural issue, with different countries having different cultural responses to the regulations. I hope other Members will agree that our Minister needs to be absolutely clear with countries that are pursuing the lowest possible level of animal welfare provision or that are not meeting the UK’s standards, which should represent the gold standard.

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Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): On the question of port inspections, I was concerned to note that only 45 out of almost 40,000 animals were deemed unfit to continue their journey when inspected at the port. Does the hon. Lady agree that there might be a lack of decent inspections on our side of the channel as well?

Laura Sandys: There are issues about the EU, and there are issues about the competent authority. The competent authority in this instance is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and it needs to ensure that we have a gold standard for inspections, enforcement and licensing.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): On the point about enforcement, my hon. Friend might be aware that article 26.6 of European Council regulation No. 1/ 2005 gives member states the power temporarily to prohibit the use of transportation in the case of

“repeated or serious infringements of this Regulation…even if the transporter or the means of transport is authorised by another Member State”.

Would she therefore acknowledge that a power exists within the regulation to take unilateral action?

Laura Sandys: I welcome my hon. Friend’s great knowledge of EU regulations. I will come to that point in a moment. It is crucial that the existing powers are aggressively exercised in this trade, and the first challenge that I shall throw to the Minister, which I am sure he will welcome, is that he should use his good offices and his political will to ensure that we raise standards right across Europe.

The second priority for me and my local residents is that we seek to ban live animal exports. The fact that there are few benefits to the trade is illustrated by the significant drop in the number of live animals being traded out. The problem is that our farmers are not being properly paid for the food they produce. My understanding, from talking to representatives of the National Farmers Union, is that this is a marginal trade undertaken by some farmers who can get a better price for their animals on the continent. It is crucial that farmers are properly paid for their work and for their investment in animals. We need to ensure that we are building the right levels of value into the food supply chain, and that we do not undercut certain stages of our food production.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Some farmers in Northern Ireland say that they are at the mercy of the prices that local slaughterhouses are offering. Does the hon. Lady acknowledge the real concern that that could drive prices down even further for farmers?

Laura Sandys: I know that the trade in Ireland is much bigger than it is on the mainland—or certainly than it is in England. I am interested in this issue in a broader sense, right along the food supply chain, and I believe that we have undervalued food across the board. We need to ensure that farmers are getting fair prices, but this trade is not the answer to the fundamental problem of the market not delivering good value to farmers. We need to address the problem comprehensively, and I know that it is the will of my constituents—and of many people around the country—that we should be

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seeking to impose a ban on live animal exports. There is no reason why farmers should not be able to get good value for their animals by exporting them after slaughter, rather than on the hoof.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I, too, would support a ban on live animal exports. Would she acknowledge that the journey of animals being exported for slaughter often starts many miles and many hours from the port from which they exit this country, and that it can continue for many kilometres and many hours before they arrive at their destination on the continent, where they are to be slaughtered?

Laura Sandys: I totally agree. The transportations that go out of Ramsgate can come not only from the north of England but from Ireland, and we can speculate that they are ending up in southern France, Spain and sometimes Greece. I still do not understand how that business model can deliver value, given the time taken to transport the animals from one end of Europe to the other, along with the cost of transportation, licensing costs and lairage. I do not understand the fundamentals of the business of transporting animals that far.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I am glad that my hon. Friend is focusing on the welfare of animals. Does she agree that that is more important than the question of whether they cross a border? Many animals being taken for slaughter within mainland UK experience longer journeys than those being exported from, say, Northern Ireland to somewhere not very far away in the Republic of Ireland.

Laura Sandys: Absolutely. Animals can be transported across Europe, and the journey need not involve crossing water, but our priority must be the standard of that transportation. As I said, the licensing regime has many layers, which creates a lot of confusion and inhibits us from imposing our own animal welfare values on operators within our borders.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I confess that I have not finished my research for the debate, so, given that we have reached it earlier than I anticipated, the hon. Lady might be able to help me out with a figure. I believe that the number of animals exported is less than 5% of the total number slaughtered in the UK, which gives us a measure of the size of this trade. Does she know what percentage of live export animals are sold abroad for breeding purposes rather than for slaughter and meat?

Laura Sandys: As I understand it, there are two quite distinct trades. The animals exported through my port are definitely for slaughter and not for breeding. I am happy to be corrected, but I believe that animals for breeding will be transported in quite different conditions from those transported for slaughter. That shows the difference between looking at the issue as a long-term economic asset as compared with a temporary price differential to be achieved in a different territory.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): According to Compassion in World Farming, about 4.5 million sheep were slaughtered in the UK in 2011, but only about 72,000 exported—0.5% of the total. That chimes with

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what the hon. Lady was saying—that it is difficult to understand why there is an economic imperative for sending those 0.5% of sheep abroad for slaughter rather than slaughtering them here.

Laura Sandys: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s knowledge in this field, which is extensive.

I asked the Commission in Brussels whether it had done any form of business analysis to show why this business is economic. I still feel that fair prices for farmers that take animal welfare really seriously are absolutely crucial. I do not necessarily understand the business model behind the exporting business.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): The hon. Lady is setting out the case very clearly. She makes the point that animal welfare is central and highlights the UK’s excellent record. It is integral to the case she is making for minimising animal transportation wherever possible. If there has to be transportation in the UK or beyond, there should be the highest welfare standards. That is an issue for the Minister to address through the competence of DEFRA as much as anything else.

Laura Sandys: I agree with hon. Gentleman. A point about gold-plating was raised earlier. It applies to some of the legislation on abattoirs, and relates to transportation distances becoming longer within the UK. There are issues with domestic animal welfare that we have not necessarily promoted.

Let me return to some of the key themes, which I hope other Members will take further. I shall come on to the third element about which I feel strongly as I represent the interests of my constituents. The first two themes are EU competences and EU legislation, where the Minister represents and reflects our concerns, but the third is about the UK as a competent authority. I appreciate the restrictions on DEFRA’s ability to act, but I sometimes feel that it can be a touch meek and mild, not using all the entry points it might have.

I welcome the Minister’s statement yesterday on tightening some of the regulations and enforcement, but I would like to see a lot more commitment in three key areas. The first relates to a “fit and proper operator”. We must clearly understand what infringements an operator must commit to stop being fit and proper. I have no understanding of that, but I am greatly concerned about the transporter that has received six warning notices from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We have had major crises in the port side, with 47 animals being slaughtered. A ram that broke its horn had to be shot in the truck and was then pulled out. We do not have penning arrangements, yet we still have an operator that can receive licences. I would be interested to know whether DEFRA has contacted the Dutch authorities to express concern about the method used and the experiences that we have had to endure in Ramsgate.

I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) about the very strong powers. If we look at paragraph 6 of article 26 of the EU Council regulations, we find that there is an opportunity to

“temporarily prohibit the transporter or means of transport concerned with transporting animals on its territory”.

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I hope that the Minister will be increasingly robust about that issue.

Two other smaller issues are crucial, the first of which is the cost of licensing. I was fascinated and staggered to find that there was no cost to a transportation licence. Someone applies and, if they have a certificate of competence, there are no related costs. I have run two small businesses and all I can say is that I had to pay every time health and safety turned up at my door to give me a certificate to be a fit and proper organisation. There are lots of costs in running an organisation. There is then the added cost to the taxpayer, which in this instance is for animal welfare inspections of the operations that the Minister is running through DEFRA. Why has that fully-loaded cost not been put on to the operator? Ultimately, as small businesses, we all pay for the regulatory regime to which we are subject.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Does my hon. Friend feel that if the cost were put on the operator, it might discourage some of the horrific tales we have heard about, and perhaps discourage the more cavalier and cowboy operators from involvement in this trade?

Laura Sandys: It is crucial that we accept and tolerate only the very best transporters in the sector. I feel strongly about this trade generally, but we must ensure that operators take their responsibilities extremely seriously and that this trade is not being subsidised by all of us as taxpayers. In my constituency, where there is much more involvement, it is my local taxpayers who are paying for a lot of this, and I would like to see them refunded for the impact it is having on their bills.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): My understanding is that there is a cost to licensing. I shall use the example of George Neville’s firm, which is in the Minister’s constituency, abutting mine. It has a fleet of 20 vehicles—this is executive transport, with water, fans and hydraulic decks that lift up and down so the stress levels on the animals are hugely reduced—but it pays £4,000 for the licences on those 20 vehicles.

Laura Sandys: That sounds like the Rolls-Royce of transportation, and I would be very pleased if the animals coming through Ramsgate were in that sort of condition. My understanding is, however, that people can apply for a transportation licence, although I do not know whether this is a different sort of licence from the one to which the hon. Lady has just referred, and that they can get it for free.

Mr Kevan Jones: Is the hon. Lady aware of anyone who has been refused a licence, and how many licences have been withdrawn because of welfare concerns?

Laura Sandys rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We are now 25 minutes into this debate, when 10 to 15 minutes was expected. The hon. Lady has taken many interventions, but I am sure that she must be coming to a conclusion as she wants to allow other Members to enter the debate.

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Laura Sandys: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the Minister will be happy to answer the questions put to me.

I believe that we need to look clearly at what is going on in Europe and to raise standards in Europe, ensuring that we address some of the licensing regimes across Europe. Ultimately, I urge the Minister to use all the powers he has—they seem explicit and give him a lot of scope—to ensure that if we must have this transportation mechanism and live animal exports, we have the best in business.

12.39 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on her efforts to arrange a debate in the Chamber on this subject, and on her speech. She is obviously doing a very good job in representing the wishes of her constituents. I am very disappointed that the High Court overturned the moratorium that Thanet district council had imposed on animal exports until it could be sure that animal welfare standards were being met and that RSPCA inspectors would be able to check the conditions of the animals, but I understand that the council intends to appeal, and I wish it every success.

My starting point is the same as that of the hon. Member for South Thanet. I think that live animal exports are cruel and unnecessary, and I should like them to be banned. I agree with Compassion in World Farming, which has said:

“Live exports have no place in modern British farming. We must end the trade once and for all.”

Henry Smith: Today we are discussing live animal exports, but there are live animal imports as well, and some of those animals are primates. In 2011, up to 1,500 primates were imported to this country for the purpose of experimentation, from countries as far away as Mauritius. Does the hon. Lady agree that we should also consider the welfare of animals that are imported to this country, whether for food or for experimentation?

Kerry McCarthy: I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman speaking out on animal welfare issues, as I know he has done on a number of other occasions. I agree that those imports are cause for serious concern. The trade in great apes has already been banned, and I think that we should go further and consider banning the trade in all primates.

Although this does not appear in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I think it is well known that I have been a vegetarian for a long time. My 21st anniversary as a vegan is approaching: that was a new year’s resolution in 1992. Of course I would rather people did not eat animals at all, but given that they will be doing so for at least the foreseeable future, I think that UK animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to the farms where they were reared, and—I understand that the Government agree with this—that there should be an export market for meat rather than for live animals. At present, however, we are herding live, terrified animals into cramped conditions and transporting them overseas, often on journeys lasting several days.

According to Compassion in World Farming, more than 90,000 cattle and sheep were exported during the 18 months between January 2011 and June 2012, mostly

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through Ramsgate. The sheep tend to be exported for slaughter in continental abattoirs, while the calves are sent abroad to be fattened for veal. The long journeys are stressful for both. The journeys to Spain, for example, can take more than 90 hours, and the calves are often only two or three weeks old when they are exported. Dr Weeks of Bristol university has concluded that

“scientific evidence indicates that young calves are not well adapted to cope with transport…transport should be avoided where possible, particularly as morbidity and mortality following transport can be high.”

Dr Weeks says:

“Their immune systems are not fully developed”,

which makes them more susceptible to disease. They are also poorly adapted to cope with the temperature changes that can happen during the journeys, and with many other aspects of their transport.

Concern has also been expressed about the conditions of the animals when they arrive in the countries to which they are exported. Once they reach the continent, many calves are reared for veal in conditions so poor that they would be banned in Britain on welfare grounds. They are kept on concrete or slatted floors without any straw or other bedding. Such barren systems are illegal in the UK, as our legislation requires calves to be provided with appropriate bedding. We should ask ourselves why we are sending animals abroad to be kept in conditions that we would not allow in the UK.

The same applies to sheep, many of which are exported from Britain to be slaughtered in France. A few years ago, an investigation of 25 French slaughterhouses by a French animal welfare organisation revealed many breaches of EU legislation that was designed to protect the welfare of animals at slaughter. British sheep are also exported to the Netherlands. A report published earlier this year by a European Union organisation identified a number of serious animal welfare problems in Dutch slaughterhouses. Once the animals leave Britain, we are powerless to ensure that they are treated properly. The National Farmers Union claims that they are treated well before and during transportation, but the recent deaths of sheep that were being transported through Ramsgate demonstrate that that is not always the case.

I consider it highly unsatisfactory that live exports cannot be legally prohibited. In general, I accept that as members of the European Union we sign up to collective laws and that that is part and parcel of the deal, but yesterday I took part in a protest outside Fortnum and Mason about its sales of foie gras. The situation in the United Kingdom is fairly ridiculous: along with 17 other countries, we ban the production of foie gras, but we are not allowed to ban imports from France. PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—has carried out undercover filming which reveals terrible conditions, including the grotesque force-feeding of the geese that produce foie gras, but we are not allowed to ban it because of EU free-trade laws, and we are obviously in a similar position when it comes to live exports. I accept, at least for the moment, that we cannot prohibit the trade, but we need to consider how existing regulations can be properly enforced and the highest possible animal welfare standards adhered to.

The last Labour Government tried to strengthen EU regulations. In November 2011, the European Commission published a review of the animal transport regulation— Regulation 1/2005—which stated that severe welfare

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problems still existed. It called for new ways of improving the implementation of existing rules—including satellite tracking systems, more frequent inspections, and better reporting on compliance by member states—rather than proposing any changes to legislation. In June this year, however, the EU Health Commissioner, who has responsibility for this issue, said that current legislation could not adequately protect animals on long journeys, and that the EC would propose a review of EU legislation including a proposal for reduced transport times. I should be interested to hear from the Minister whether, rather than merely ensuring that the existing regulations are “enforced strictly and rigorously”, as they have said is their intention, the Government would be prepared to support a review of the current legislation as well.

Many MPs and Members of the European Parliament have backed the campaign by Compassion in World Farming to set a maximum limit of eight hours for the transport of animals, and more than 1.1 million EU citizens have signed a petition requesting a time limit. The campaign calls on the EU to amend its legislation so that live animals can never be transported for more than eight hours, and yesterday the European Parliament reaffirmed its support for it.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): We all respect the hon. Lady’s views on these matters, but I fear that an eight-hour limit would affect traditional UK farming practices. For instance, animals that are bred and reared on remote Scottish islands need to be brought to the mainland, where grazing and arable crops are better, in order to be “finished” for slaughter. The limit would cause problems for them, and for traditional agriculture practices on those islands.

Kerry McCarthy: I was coming to that. The motion in the European Parliament was passed by 555 votes to 56, which constitutes pretty overwhelming support for a reduction in journey times. The motion allowed some geographical and science-based exemptions in the case of certain species, which could perhaps be factored in provided animal welfare standards were met, but I think it has been accepted that the introduction of an eight-hour limit would bring most UK live exports to an end.

It is true that journey time limits in themselves cannot guarantee animal welfare. The hon. Member for South Thanet mentioned the vehicles on which animals are transported, and the need for inspections and the good handling of animals. However, Regulation 1/2005 recognises that

“Long journeys are likely to have more detrimental effects on the welfare of animals than short ones”.

Let me finally put a few questions to the Minister. The final decision rests with the Council of the European Union, which comprises the national Ministers of the 27 member states. Has the Minister any plans to discuss with his ministerial counterparts whether to review or amend Regulation 1/2005? What discussions has he had with his ministerial counterparts about an eight-hour limit, in the light of the overwhelming vote by the European Parliament and the fact that more than 1 million EU citizens signed the petition? What are the Government doing to ensure that animals are slaughtered as close as possible to the farms where they are reared, rather than encouraging the transport of live animals?

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In June 2012, I wrote to the then Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice). I felt at the time that Government lacked the will to deal with the issue. However, I have great faith in the new farming Minister, who, I believe, will be far more constructive and willing to make progress, and I look forward to hearing from him.

12.49 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, as it is directly relevant to my life experience. I am one of the livestock farmers that other Members have been talking about for many years. I have been indirectly involved in the live export trade. In the early part of my career I was a cattle farmer, and nearly all the British male breeding stock has changed since then. We are now using European breeds—Charolais, Limousin and Simmental. The quality of British beef has been completely transformed, therefore, simply through the relationship between this country and other countries. That process is still going on elsewhere.

The main part of my enterprise was producing sheep, however. Exporting to France was particularly common. Most of my stock were sold at the local livestock market, where they were bought by a dealer, who would put together a lorry-load. The standards of those who transported animals were very high. The lorries at the Welshpool livestock market were of a very high standard, and many people were watching the quality of the loading, which was very good.

Some 20 or 30 years ago I would sell my small hill lambs towards the end of the season. The tradition then was to take them to the small market in Llanfair Caereinion from where they were taken to Spain. They were kept in Spain for several weeks, and the feeding regime was changed so the quality of the product was changed. I discussed the whole process with the local transporter, M. E. Edwards and Sons—one of the finest transporters in Britain, with very high standards, who is still operating today. The point was made to me that transporting those lambs served to underpin the lamb trade in rural Wales, and that they were far better treated than lambs supplied from elsewhere to the Spanish market would have been. If the lambs had not been transported from Wales, in what seemed to me to be the highest possible standards, they would have come from other parts of Europe, where standards had not been checked.

I have a lot of sympathy with many of the points made in the debate so far. I am in favour of gold-plating the standards of animal transport. It is a lot more important to ensure there are high transportation standards than to worry about distances. I am not in favour of banning live exports, and it is not entirely logical to concern ourselves with distance. We must make certain that all transport is of the very highest standard, and we should demand that when journeys cross borders, too.

Most of the store cattle at my farm in central Wales were sold to central Scotland, where they were fattened. That journey probably took longer than some of the time scales we are talking about. I cannot see the point of such time limits, and neither do I envisage that they will ever become law.

Let me turn to the question of unintended consequences. When I was in my teens, I was involved in these issues. Many people will remember the demonstrations at Dover.

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They were a matter of some concern, as they were hugely damaging to the farming industry. The ferry companies felt under public relations pressure, and eventually decided no longer to carry the animals. They were then transferred to Ramsgate, Ipswich or other ports where the standards were far lower. The boats were far less safe and less comfortable for the animals, and the travel time is far greater, and the facilities at the docks are not as good. The unintended consequence of having created that huge rumpus at Dover was a lowering of the standards of animal welfare.

Those who transport livestock from Britain must meet the gold-plated standards we in Britain demand. If we stop live exports, European companies will still buy lambs to satisfy demand in their markets, but they will buy them from somewhere else. The result of a ban on animal transportation will be that the sum total of animal cruelty is increased, and no one wants that. We must be aware of the possible unintended consequences of the proposals we make.

I welcome the Minister’s recent statement on these matters. We want to maximise the proportion of slaughtering that takes place in the United Kingdom, rather than abroad. That will support the British economy and mean there are more jobs in the United Kingdom. European markets need to be educated, however. The French like to have lamb that has been in France for a day or two so they can describe it to customers as “Welsh lamb.” The Spanish certainly used to want to have the animals in Spain for quite a long period so they could have different feeding regimes and the resulting meat was different and more attractive to the Spanish market. We need to change the nature of the markets in Europe, therefore.

I am also pleased about the Minister’s focus on zero tolerance. If a transporter is found guilty several times, their licence must be taken away as they are not fit for the job. This is a highly sensitive job that is important to the farming industry, and the British people have a natural instinct to care about the animals we farm. It is unacceptable for anybody who has a record of poor behaviour to have a licence to transport animals. They must be kicked out of the industry all together.

The Minister referred to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Wherever there is the slightest doubt about standards—as there is in Ramsgate at present—the agency must check up on the situation very closely. There must immediately be a Government presence at the port in question and action must be taken if necessary.

Lyn Brown rose—

Glyn Davies: I was going to finish there, but as the hon. Lady wants to intervene, I shall pretend I have another half-sentence to say.

Lyn Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I listened intently to the points he made. I did not agree with some of them, but as his speech came across as a confessional, I felt I should not intervene until now. Does he agree that what happened at Ramsgate—some 40 sheep died—is unlikely to be an isolated incident? We need a proper review into the transportation of

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animals, and an inspection regime must be put in place. Does he agree, and will he call for a proper review by the Government, not a narrow internal one?

Glyn Davies: I am terribly sorry if my speech came across as any sort of confessional. Throughout my involvement in the business, I have been extremely proud of it. Indeed, if I lived my life again, I would probably do exactly the same thing. I see absolutely no reason to apologise for anything. May I also say how much I appreciated the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) about improved payment being a good thing for farmers in this country?

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman may be leading us to a more compassionate future if he decides to finish the sheep that he has in Wales; he could give them a Spanish diet for the last few months and export them as carcasses. Would that not be both profitable and more humane?

Glyn Davies: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is being completely serious, but I rather agree with the principle of what he is saying, and this goes back to what I said about education. Whatever we can do to move to a system of slaughtering in Britain for the European market, I wholly applaud, but I do not think we can do that now; it would be like taking step 10 without taking steps one to nine first, and it would not be sensible at the moment. We should continue with the live export trade—we probably have no choice but to do so—as it is the right thing to do, but we should do it absolutely properly.

1 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who demonstrated his long experience and expertise in these matters. We are grateful for that contribution, as it helps us to get a better understanding of this subject. I am pleased to be a co-sponsor of this debate, along with the hon. Members for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). I am looking forward to the Minister’s response to the many questions raised. I was one of his predecessors as Minister of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and I recall that when I was appointed I was identified in the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph as a “townie veggie” and a “lacto-pescatarian”. I also had some fun poked at me by Horse and Hound, although being attacked by Horse and Hound is a bit of a badge of a honour for Labour Members, so it did not do me any harm whatsoever. This issue came across my desk, and I was reassured about the regulations, the monitoring and the enforcement. Some three years later, the Minister is being asked these questions again.

The National Farmers Union was much more generous in its welcome of my appointment. It said, “We don’t care where he comes from or what he eats. We will judge him on what he does for farming.” I built up a very constructive relationship with the NFU in my time as Minister of State at DEFRA, and I have high regard for the farming community. That arises, first, from the quality of product they produce and the very high

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animal welfare standards to which they produce it. Our standards are much higher than those of most of the rest of the European Union, as can be seen in the lead we have set on chickens, eggs, poultry and the rest. Sometimes that has been at the expense of the farmers, because they pay for it out of the profit they make at the end of the year. We also charge farmers with responsibility for looking after the countryside and our environment. The farming community is a big part of the United Kingdom, economically, industrially and environmentally, so I have nothing but regard for the NFU and its members.

The hon. Member for South Thanet raised two key issues: the general issue of live animal exports; and the secondary issue of what happened at Ramsgate in September. Those issues are distinctly different and need to be addressed differently. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) will cover the Labour party position on live exports in detail, but I can say that we have called for a full review into the trade; a look at the treaty of Rome, because measures to ban any live trade would fall foul of that; and better facilities to be available at or near the port of Ramsgate. Hon. Members have already drawn attention to European regulation 1/2005 and the minimal animal welfare provisions, so I do not need to go into that, although the Minister may wish to refer to it when he responds.

My hon. Friend has previously asked the Minister

“if he will carry out a full review into the animal welfare considerations of the live export trade”.

He was told:

“The Government has no plans to carry out such a review.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 713W.]

It is a measure of the power of Backbench Business Committee debates that the Minister made the statement yesterday that he has taken action on this issue and the export of live animals through the port of Ramsgate will face tougher welfare checks. One can only assume that that is a result of his having examined the questions, the correspondence and the fact that this debate was taking place.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency has been asked to look into the three additional measures that the Minister mentioned: the AHVLA implementing its own contingency plans in the event of an emergency with the transport; improved procedures to ensure that an AHVLA vet is always within an hour of the port to assist inspectors in the event of an emergency or welfare concern; and working with the operator of the transport vessel to develop new contingency measures. Those very important measures have been raised by the Minister and they may offer some reassurance. However, for the House and for the hon. Member for South Thanet clearly they only reinforce the questions she asked in her introductory remarks, such as why it has taken so long for these things to be identified. She also asked about the pre-existing arrangements, and the monitoring and enforcement that was going on.

I am grateful to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for its briefing on the subject. Its policy position is clear. It wants: an end to the long-distance transport of live animals, with a maximum journey of eight hours; amendments to existing legislation; and full costs being paid by the hauliers rather than by the taxpayer. That brings us to the question raised by the

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hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and others about the suitability of Ramsgate as opposed to Dover. We are advised by the RSPCA that the

“trade in live animals changed to Ramsgate from Dover in…2010 as the loading bay in the port of Dover had been damaged.”

The hon. Gentleman suggested that commercial reasons may have been behind this, because of the lobbying by animal welfare groups against the general trade in live animal exports.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I noted the hon. Gentleman’s comments about an eight-hour transporting limit, but that would preclude a number of people transporting their animals from west Wales and from mid-Wales to markets in the UK. How would he overcome that problem?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The point was dealt with earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the explanation she gave about exemptions for particular species in regions and areas covers that. I was not setting out my position; I was putting on the record the RSPCA’s position, out of gratitude for the briefing and information they supplied me, so that it is in the public domain for anyone listening, watching or reading afterwards. They will be able to weigh that up in the mix and decide whether it is something that they want to support.

On Ramsgate versus Dover, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire suggested that the decision may well have been a commercial one taken by the ferry operators because they did not want to inflame or outrage public opinion and were aware of the power and influence of the animal welfare lobby against live exports. The perverse outcome is that instead of the animals being transported on vessels that are quicker and better equipped to carry cargo, and having better animal welfare facilities available much nearer the port, the animals have to go to the port of Ramsgate in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Thanet. It is clearly not as suitable and it does not have the facilities. Clearly, the vessel she described was not built for this particular trade. The perversity of the outcome leaves a bad taste; it is a success for those lobbyists who chased the trade from Dover, but the animals have to go through the additional journey time, the additional discomfort and so on. I am not sure that that counts as animal welfare. It certainly does not address animal welfare concerns as I would understand them. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister has anything to say about that.

The second issue is the incident in September. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the NFU and I have also received a briefing from it, for which I am grateful. I know that the NFU has written to the Minister, asking a number of questions. Who made the decision to unload? Who decided to kill the animals and which ones to kill? What were the reasons for the kill? Why were the animals unloaded on to an uneven surface? Why were there open drain pits and animals drowning, not just being shot? Were they shot in the right part of the head? What were the skill levels of those involved, who were clearly moved by compassion and tried to do the right thing? When we see the photographs of the blood, the animals and the discomfort, we see that this clearly was not done in a way that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire

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would recognise; it was not done in the professional way that we would all expect. In that instance, there are serious questions to which I hope the Minister will be able to respond. I know that there is an inquiry going on and that he might very well be constrained in how much he can share with us, but a commitment to ensure that that is in the public domain as quickly as possible so that we can return to the subject will, I am sure, be welcome.

I hope, too, that the Minister will make comparisons between the trade from the south-west and Wales to Ireland and the trade to the continent. I do not hear the noises from Wales—I do not hear about protests at Holyhead or people complaining about the live trade there, so I assume that that trade works in the way that the Department and industry want it to work in contrast with the way it is operating at Ramsgate.

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying and he is setting out his case very clearly. Does he agree with many of my constituents that the important thing is to establish what happened and ensure that it never happens again?

Jim Fitzpatrick: That is a very good question to conclude the points I am making to the Minister. As I said in my opening remarks, there are two distinct questions. One is about live exports as a trade. Although I do not eat meat and poultry—my cards are on the table—that is a matter of choice and if the trade is legal, which it is, and if people are making a living out of it and there are jobs and economies at stake, I would go along with it. What happened at Ramsgate is a whole different ballgame, and the concerns about Ramsgate’s suitability as a port were well expressed by the hon. Member for South Thanet, in whose constituency the port is situated. In that instance, those questions are very valid.

As I have said, trade is legal and we found out from the exchange between the hon. Member for South Thanet and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East that we are talking about 0.5% of UK trade in sheep. Regulations are supposed to cover the facilities, the transportation, the haulage companies and the principle of animal welfare. The questions are therefore about the relevance of the rights, their validity, their monitoring and their enforcement. There are many questions that I hope the Minister will be able to answer, although we recognise that he will not be able to answer all of them. I look forward to even better reassurances than those that I was able to give when I was sitting in his place.

1.12 pm

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who shared with us his experience when he held the post of Minister responsible for agriculture in the previous Labour Government.

I want to declare an interest that appears in the register, as I am a livestock farmer producing both sheep and cattle. I have no doubt that in the past many of the animals might have been subject to live export, but at present almost 100% of everything that is produced on my farm, when it leaves my farm, is sent by me to a

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slaughterhouse in Merthyr Tydfil, about 20 miles away, which has an excellent reputation for animal welfare, hygiene, cleanliness and all we would want to see in a slaughterhouse. Many of us feel much more comfortable now we know that our animals are going to a slaughterhouse like that, which will dispatch them in the best way possible.

I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on introducing this debate, which is very useful. I anticipated that it might be a little better attended, but I congratulate everyone who has taken part on doing so in a constructive and measured way. Anyone who is interested in animal welfare and wants to see it improved will find this debate a valuable asset.

I think that it has been agreed that at the moment live export is a legal operation. Indeed, it would be illegal to ban live exports of animals, as in the 1990s the European Court twice ruled that the UK could not ban live exports. When the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse was a Minister—I am glad he is in the Chamber today—he was asked what progress the Labour Government had made in reducing live animal exports, and he replied:

“The export of live animals is a lawful trade and to restrict it would be contrary to free trade rules.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 716.]

That is where we are at the moment.

The hon. Member for South Thanet has taken the right line. Rather than calling for something that we cannot do immediately or perhaps ever, let us put all our effort into making things better. Let us have zero tolerance for poor animal welfare. I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on that point. I also welcome the Minister’s announcement that the AHVLA will check every consignment of live animals scheduled to pass through the port.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that zero tolerance should include stricter penalties for abuses of the welfare system?

Roger Williams: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. People who are found to have repeatedly committed criminal offences in respect of animal welfare should be banned from carrying out such activities at all. That would not only be a very good encouragement for people to adopt better animal welfare conditions, but would mean that the worst offenders were no longer involved in the trade.

On doing research for this debate, I found various numbers for how many sheep and cattle are being exported live from this country. Out of the 15 million sheep produced in this country for sale, almost 99.5% are slaughtered in this country, and of those, 30% are exported in carcass form or as meat products not only to the continent but more widely, including to the middle east and far east. That is an important trade for the agricultural industry.

The NFU gave me some figures. They were not as helpful as they could have been, because the period covered was not given, but it seems that about 43,000 live sheep are exported from this country to the three main destinations to which sheep are exported. Those 43,000 sheep can be set against roughly 5 million that are slaughtered in this country and exported as carcasses. The vast majority of live exports in the UK go to the

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Republic of Ireland, most of which will simply be crossing a land border. People might like to distinguish between sheep travelling across land and sheep travelling across sea, and the point has been made about the suitability of the vessel employed in such circumstances. When we address animal welfare issues, we must address the quality not only of lorry transport but of ship transport.

I have already made the point that in setting time limits for journeys, we must take into account traditional agricultural practices. For instance, on the Scottish islands, on islands in the rest of Europe and in some remote areas, animals need to travel for winter grazing, improved grazing or better arable crops in order to be prepared for slaughter.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about animal movements. Even in the case of transporting animals over the Irish sea, it is not whether they go by ferry but the length of time and conditions that are paramount. It makes sense for the producer and the consumer to have a better sheep or a better beast arriving in better order.

Roger Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and his experience of representing his constituency is important in these matters.

The hon. Member for South Thanet asked what type of business plan encourages this type of live export. I cannot believe that anybody who loads 100 live sheep on to a lorry and at the end of the journey unloads 95 live sheep and five dead ones can make money out of that in the long term.

Tessa Munt: I have spoken already about executive transport for cattle and sheep, with which I am familiar. If a company that pays £90,000 for an Italian-made trailer and £70,000 for the tractor unit to draw it can carry cattle, sheep and other animals, can operate at such costs and can meet the Freedom Foods certificate standards, it is clearly possible to do that and still make money.

Roger Williams: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The discussion this afternoon shows that although some hon. Members may wish to ban live exports altogether, most would want it carried out in the way that is most conducive to good animal welfare. My hon. Friend makes the important point that much of the transport that is now provided for animals is of a very high standard. Water and ventilation are provided, there are rest periods and journeys are of limited duration.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech, and I would join in the many compliments to my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys). The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the improving standards of transport and conditions on the vehicles—lorries and boats. My hon. Friend raised the crucial point about the ports. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that enforcement at the ports is vital if we are to improve animal welfare standards?

Roger Williams: Indeed—not only enforcement at the ports, but the right sort of facilities at the ports to deal, for example, with emergencies or with animals that cannot be loaded at a specific time because weather

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conditions preclude sailing. Good conditions at the port are almost as important as the enforcement that the hon. Gentleman highlights.

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Roger Williams: I will give way to my good friend from Newport.

Paul Flynn: Always a friend of the farmers on this subject.

We heard about the very distressing case of the lorry that was on its way to Ramsgate. It was stopped because of a suspected traffic offence. It seems extraordinary that regulations do not allow many more lorries to be stopped to ensure that the dreadful conditions in which those animals were being carried are not repeated in other vehicles.

Roger Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. It may be that that lorry was stopped for a suspected traffic offence, but as I understand it the animals would have to have been inspected at the time of loading. There is some lack of clarity about events at Ramsgate. It was suggested by the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who is no longer in her place, that 40 sheep died there. In fact, 40 sheep were put down there, which is slightly different. I am clear that enforcement and inspection should be of a high order, and the Minister announced yesterday that that would be the case. Every lorry that is being prepared to board a vessel will have to be inspected.

Mr MacNeil: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time; he is very kind. Perhaps I should have declared in my previous intervention that as a lamb producer myself, I have an interest in the matter. As a lamb producer I understand that we want to get our beasts to market—mine make a sea crossing—as clean as possible. Among crofters in the west highlands, even a couple of pounds on the price—if we do a pound or two better than our neighbours—means that we have bragging rights for the rest of the year. There are inbuilt reasons for having very good animal welfare, so that the animals are clean and have the best possible appearance and no distress when they get to the auction mart on the mainland.

Roger Williams: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Those of us who have been involved in animal production and would like to think that we have a high regard for animal welfare cannot believe that people in the business could be involved in damaging the animals or reducing their appearance. As he knows, the price of an animal depends not only on its health and fitness, but on its appearance. Cramming animals into very small spaces does nothing to improve their marketability.

In conclusion, I shall set out the Liberal Democrat point of view on this matter. I am sure many hon. Members would agree with this broad approach. Although we accept that live export is a legal trade and it would be difficult in the short term or even the medium term to ban it, Liberal Democrats are deeply concerned about animal welfare and the export of live animals. We would prefer animals to be slaughtered as close as

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possible to where they are reared. The transportation of meat and other animal by-products is always preferable to the movement of live animals. Unfortunately, the movement of live animals for trade is a perfectly lawful process. While it remains a legal trade under European laws we must allow it to continue. However, we should make sure that our animal welfare laws are followed to the letter so that no animal is made to suffer during transport.

We welcome the Minister’s announcement that every consignment of live animals scheduled to pass through the port will be inspected. We support a zero tolerance approach. If there is any evidence of slipping welfare standards, the coalition Government should not hesitate to take action. The EU has strengthened the law on live animal exports by placing strict responsibilities not just on drivers, but on others involved in the entire transport process. The authorisation and training of drivers, and the vehicles used for the transportation of live animals, should all be subject to rigorous requirements.

This debate has been very beneficial and I am sure the whole House would support improvements in animal welfare wherever the Government can find the necessary regulation to achieve them.

1.27 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, to have caught your eye. It has been an excellent consensual debate so far. I have the privilege of serving on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I also serve on the Defence Committee and I hope that the Backbench Business Committee will in future consider the timings of some of these debates. I suspect that this debate may not go the whole five hours. There might have been an opportunity for a second debate later, although I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) is still to share his huge wisdom with us, which may take some time.

As a Member representing a Scottish constituency, I am cognisant of the issues facing the farming industry. It has been a measured debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on securing it and on being present to open it and then to hear the very good exchanges that have taken place. I received a number of e-mails from constituents asking me to attend and I was happy to do so. I shall tackle a couple of issues that particularly affect Scotland. Also, I am conscious of the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore for a Select Committee inquiry. I shall return to that.

On the subject of transportation, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) mentioned the importance of the export of live animals to British farmers, particularly those in the sheep industry. I understand that around 400,000 live animals a year are exported, more than 90% of which are sheep.

We all recognise the challenges facing the sheep industry across the United Kingdom, particularly in upland areas. Were we to ban live exports, not only would we fall foul of European law—article 34, I think, but I might be wrong—but there would be serious consequences

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for our farmers. However, that is not to say that we should not require the highest standards of animal welfare in the process, and I welcome the constructive comments made by the hon. Member for South Thanet and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse on the way forward.

It would be helpful if the Minister could set out the Government’s thoughts on some things. For example, does he agree that using regular services on large, cross-channel freight ferries from Dover might be more advantageous than the less than ideal conditions in which they are sailing from Ramsgate, as the hon. Lady said? Not only are journey times significantly shorter, but there are more frequent sailing opportunities for ferries. Also, there are probably—I hope she takes no offence—better and more appropriate port facilities for live animals at Dover than there are at Ramsgate.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Opting for an all-out ban right now would be against EU law, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if the Minister did everything he could to advocate such a ban at European level, because we are often told that things are against EU law, but when member states really start to push they can get breakthroughs?

Thomas Docherty: No, I do not agree that we should have an outright ban. If the hon. Lady had been here since the start of the debate, she would have heard the reasons why. We have a fragile farming industry and banning the trade would be ludicrous. The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who is sitting beside her, will probably wish to point out to her that banning the use of ferries would effectively end sheep farming on the Western Isles, the Isle of Arran and other islands around the United Kingdom. I am sorry that she has not had the opportunity to go across the country and listen to farmers, because otherwise she would understand the fragile state of their industry and the damage an outright ban would do. If she had been here for the whole debate, rather than coming in at the last minute, she would have had an opportunity to hear the eloquent speeches made by Members on both sides of the House.

Another consideration is that there are larger, faster and more stable boats sailing each day from Dover. As the hon. Member for South Thanet set out clearly, we are dealing with a very dubious character when it comes to the gentleman running the trade out of Ramsgate. It is obvious that animal welfare is not his priority and that he is not interested in local public opinion or in what DEFRA has to say. For him, it is all about the bottom buck. It would help if the Minister set out what powers DEFRA has to ensure that a fast buck is not the most important consideration for exporters and that animal welfare is crucial.

Over the past few years we have seen that having an export market for livestock helps even those farmers who sell within the UK because it takes some of the surplus supply overseas. About six weeks ago the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and I had a very good debate in Westminster Hall on the dairy industry. We pointed out, along with another Select Committee colleague, that what farmers need is a fair price for their produce, whether it is milk, mutton, lamb or beef. Doing all we can to encourage exports

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will not only bring additional revenue into the UK and help the balance of payments—I do not intend to give the House a lecture on economics—but help to secure a fairer price for farmers and a vibrant farming industry. Perhaps the Minister will also set out what DEFRA intends to do to encourage exports to other parts of the European Union, because Labour Members, with perhaps one exception, recognise that a vibrant farming industry is a good thing for the British economy.

Caroline Lucas: I am sorry, but the condescension coming from the hon. Gentleman is hard to bear. He is implying that the UK farming industry is all of one view on this, but I know UK farmers who are absolutely against the export of live animals precisely because of the cruelty involved. To suppose that those of us who are, for strong ethical reasons, against the trade are somehow also against UK farming is a gross simplification of the issue.

Thomas Docherty: Obviously I speak regularly with the National Farmers Union of Scotland, and I know that colleagues speak regularly with the National Farmers Union in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. If she can point to which of those four organisations, which are the voice of farmers, shares her rather extreme views, I would be delighted to meet it.

Mr MacNeil: As I said, I strongly disagree with the implicit assumption that cruelty is involved. I produce lambs between March and April and sell them in August, so I know that they have to be cared for for those four months and that the last thing a farmer wants to see is them going away in any kind of cruel circumstances, not least because that affects their value, but also because they have raised them from birth. To send them away in any sort of cruel circumstances would, I think, turn the stomachs of many crofters and farmers.

Thomas Docherty: It is fair to say that the hon. Gentleman and I do not agree on every issue, so the fact that we are on the same side of the argument today, as are Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues and, indeed, Members on my own Front Bench—always a pleasant treat—shows clearly that the House supports a vibrant but, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire said, ethical and humane export policy. That is the nub of the debate. It is not about the principle of exports; it is about how we treat the animals. That is why we need more rigorous enforcement. I would be grateful if the Minister set out how he thinks DEFRA, with its existing powers, could better ensure that that happens.

The House will be aware that yesterday the European Parliament debated a motion, similar to those we often have in this place, to approve a report by its agriculture committee. It contained much to be welcomed on the issue of animal transportation. It recognised, as we have done today—those of us who have been here throughout the debate—that we should seek to have higher standards and that it is a question of how we ensure compliance across all member states.

However, there is one issue that I and the National Farmers Union of Scotland disagree with, and it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire: an obsession with the eight-hour rule.

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There is no credible scientific advice demonstrating that exceeding the arbitrary limit of eight hours leads to a drop in animal welfare. As the hon. Members for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and for Brecon and Radnorshire, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and other Members from elsewhere in the great parts of the Celtic kingdoms would point out, getting to abattoirs even within the United Kingdom can take more than eight hours. I am thinking, in particular, of the pig industry and the difficult circumstances Vion is currently going through. For example, if Vion is sold and its Scottish abattoir is closed, the nearest abattoir for pig farmers from north-east Scotland will probably be in Yorkshire. If we were allowed to head down the path of the eight-hour rule, it is difficult to see how farmers in Morayshire and across north-east Scotland, never mind those in the highlands, could survive. I would like the Minister to confirm that the Government have no plans to introduce, and do not support, an eight-hour rule.

I hope that the Minister, who is no doubt busy taking notes in his head, will also tell us what discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations. It is vital that DEFRA work with Mr Lochhead in the Scottish Parliament, our Labour colleague in Wales and our Democratic Unionist party colleague in the Northern Ireland Assembly so that we are all working together on this issue, on which, overwhelmingly, all the grown-up, sensible parties are united in wanting a vibrant farming industry.

Caroline Lucas: Does the hon. Gentleman suppose that the entire membership of the RSPCA are not sensible people? I find his—what is the word?—patronage towards people who do not agree with him to be absolutely unacceptable.

Thomas Docherty: I think that the word the hon. Lady wants is “patronising” rather than “patronage”, but I accept that she was grasping for it and missed. Obviously, the RSPCA is entitled to its view, but it has not—dare I say it?—looked at the bigger picture. It is surely the job of parliamentarians to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. We have to follow the evidence, and the reality is that there is no evidence to say that an eight-hour rule would lead to a rise in animal welfare standards. In fact, it would only damage the farming industries in Scotland, parts of Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Let me move on to what more we could do. I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has written to the Select Committee about this. One issue that we have not talked about is what more supermarkets can do. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on whether we could encourage them to introduce labelling that says that they have introduced their own voluntary codes about humane standards and clearly states what they are. We all know of the great success that the British egg industry has had with the introduction of the red lion symbol on packets of eggs. There are also fair trade labels for overseas goods. In the debate on the dairy industry a few weeks ago, an eloquent point was made by an hon. Member who said that we rightly talk about fair trade for overseas farmers but do not talk enough about fair trade for British farmers. I want to extend that principle. We should have clearer labelling from the supermarkets and the food

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producers that says that all their products have been produced in a humane way that complies with the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

On the request for a Select Committee inquiry, I am not in a position to divulge the thinking of colleagues, but the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton and I have listened sympathetically to the arguments made today. We have been talking about the need for an inquiry into how EU regulations as a whole are implemented. I hope that we will have an opportunity in the near future to carry out such an inquiry, which might be a useful tool. Perhaps when my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore responds to the debate he could set out in a little more detail what he thinks the terms of reference might be.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I will indeed do that. One of my reasons for calling for a wide-ranging review is not only to focus on the animal welfare considerations but to give the industry, which is a good industry, an opportunity to show where it is implementing good practice and to highlight the areas that might need improvement and amendment. It is very much an opportunity to salvage the reputation of the industry and to put things right where that is needed.

Thomas Docherty: That is a good point. I would like three major players in the industry to give evidence—the farmers themselves, those involved in transportation, and the supermarkets. Perhaps my hon. Friend can expand on that. I hope that the animal welfare charities will also come to the table and add their voice, because that is important. That will enable us to take counsel from all interested parties.

This has been an excellent debate, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse and the hon. Member for South Thanet on securing it. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and the Minister.

1.44 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) for introducing it. It is an opportune moment for us to debate live exports and, in particular, the methods used.

If we look at the number of animals that travel in and out of this country, we see that 85% of the trade is between Ireland and ourselves, so the idea that we are going to ban the live export of animals is unfeasible—it would be impossible. Furthermore, many of those animals may be intended for further fattening or breeding. It is therefore absolutely necessary for the farming community to be able to trade properly, not only with Ireland but with the rest of Europe, because, for the time being at least, we work within a single European market and expect to be able to trade as such.

Let me pinpoint what happened in Ramsgate, where 40 or 50 sheep were unloaded on to the dockside with no way of containing them. Those of us who have reared sheep know very well that, certainly without a dog or any sort of enclosure, the idea of allowing those

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sheep off the lorry was, to be candid, madness, because all it would do is cause a huge problem, and that is what ensued.

We need to have a system whereby proper investigations can be performed. The Minister has said that animals need to be inspected properly when they go on to the lorry, and that is fundamental. Then, if there is a problem when they get to the port, wherever it is, there needs to be some form of lairage not too far away so that if there is an emergency the animals can be unloaded and looked after properly. It is possible to take animals on journeys and look after them well. Racehorses are taken all over the world, but of course they go first class, whereas not all the animals we are discussing are going first class; I very much accept that.

Another aspect is the type of lorries that are used, which must be the proper type for the species they are transporting. When I was in the European Parliament, I did a lot of work on the transportation of horses, which requires specialist vehicles. We need the right vehicles and the right number of animals on the vehicles so that they are not overcrowded. At times of the year when it is particularly hot and the animals are reasonably crowded on the lorry, there must be proper ventilation, and sometimes refrigeration, to be able to get cold air into it. As I said, the trade is essential, but it has to observe the very best rules. We need to get the situation regarding the lorries right and get the inspections correct, and we need to be sure that, if there is an emergency, when the lorries get to the port there are the means to unload the animals carefully and to handle them properly. If we do all that, then much of what went on at Ramsgate can be put right.

Perhaps the industry needs to think about concentrating exports in particular places so that they can provide the best facilities. I think that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) used the word “ramshackle”. That is an interesting word, but I do not necessarily disagree with him. We cannot allow this sort of thing to happen, and I know that the Minister is very conscious of that. The public out there are supportive of agriculture and farming, but they are also very keen on animal welfare, and it is therefore in our interest to make sure that animals are treated very well. From an economic point of view, we want them to travel well and to be unloaded at the other end in good condition, or what is the purpose of transporting them in the first place?

I think we are getting carried away about distances. The driving distance from Land’s End to John O’Groat’s is, I think, a little more than 900 miles—it is nearly, but not quite, 1,000 miles. The distance between Dover and Calais is 22 miles, so as long as an export system does not take animals on long journeys, it is possible to cross either the English channel or the Irish sea without too many problems. Again, it has to be ensured that the ferries are fit for purpose and that everything works, because I think that the public demand it. The industry and farmers are conscious of that and know that it is part of the trade.

We have to put the percentage of trade in perspective. Live export, especially that for slaughter, amounts to probably only 1% or 2% of the overall market, so huge numbers of sheep and cattle are being slaughtered in this country and then exported as meat. Let us be absolutely clear that that is our preferred position. We

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must have the ability to take those animals to be traded as meat or to be further fattened.

Roger Williams: My hon. Friend and I met the English Beef and Lamb Executive this morning, and I pay tribute to it for its wonderful work in promoting English lamb, particularly Agneau St George, and to Hybu Cig Cymru for promoting Welsh lamb.

Thomas Docherty: What about Scottish lamb?

Roger Williams: There must be similar organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These organisations do wonderful work in promoting the sale of meat and in getting it to be accepted and appreciated in other countries.

Neil Parish: I endorse my hon. Friend’s comments about EBLEX, which is doing a good job in promoting our lamb and beef abroad. On this occasion, I will be magnanimous and say that Welsh lamb, Scottish lamb, English lamb and west country lamb are all wonderful. I will not tell Members which one I think is the best, but they will probably have a fairly good idea.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The west country is in England!

Neil Parish: Parts of the west country are in England, but I will not enter into that debate this afternoon.

It is essential for us to deal with the issue in a grown-up manner. I thank the Minister for the steps he has already taken and look forward to hearing his winding-up speech. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife has said, perhaps there is now a case for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to look at the issue, in order to see exactly how the trade is being conducted, to make sure that the rules are in place and to double-check whether the lorries, other vehicles and all those involved are operating it correctly.

If sheep or cattle that are not lame or ill, which is exactly as they should be, are loaded on to and transported in the right type of lorry, they should get to their destination in France, Ireland or wherever it be—that is a Somerset expression—in good condition, and that is what the industry wants. I reinforce the point that it is not in the interests of the farming community or those carrying out the trade to take an animal across in poor condition.

Thomas Docherty: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be appropriate for our Committee to look at the conditions, such as handling facilities, when the animals arrive at their destination? Given the growth of super-abattoirs as the industry consolidates, we need to look carefully at that part of the journey.

Neil Parish: I agree with the hon. Gentleman—we could look at all of that. One of the issues that I have spent a lot of time on, although it is probably not on the agenda for this debate, is the way in which the animals are slaughtered. That is a slightly more controversial issue, but it needs to be dealt with so that they are properly stunned when it comes to slaughter.

The hon. Gentleman proposes a good idea. There are European regulations and, having experienced the work of all the other 27—now to be 28—member states, I can

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assure Members that, on the whole, Britain’s methods and inspections of transport are good. That is not to say that we always get everything right but, compared with many member states, our methods are good. We should not beat ourselves up on this issue, but we need to get it right. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet is concerned, and rightly so, about what happened with the Ramsgate shipment and the slaughter of animals on the quayside. There will be a proper inquiry into that and the situation needs to be put right. As I have said, I am certain, in hindsight, that the same action would not be taken again.

I welcome this debate and reinforce points that have been made by Members of all parties. I do not believe that this is a party political matter. It is a matter of trading properly through the single market and under good conditions, including for welfare, so that the public are assured that our farming community and those involved in the export trade are operating it properly and that the animals get to their destination in good condition.

1.56 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not being here at the beginning of the debate. Unfortunately, as the sole representative of my political party, it is difficult to be in more than one place at once, but I am working on it.

I am genuinely glad to take part in this debate, because the issue is close to my heart. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) for all her work on the issue. She has put it high up on the political agenda again, and I thank her for that.

I do not think it is useful to characterise this debate as being one between those who are grown up and those who are somehow not grown up. I seriously regret the tone of some of the debate over the past half an hour. We are all trying to work out how to reduce the harm that can be done to animals in the live animal trade, and there is a legitimate debate to be had on whether it is ever possible to put in place sufficient safeguards for live animal exports in order to ensure the welfare of the animals. Some people—including some of the hon. Members present—believe that it is possible to do that, but there is a group of people who are not un-grown up, who are not unscientific and who are not in some way defective who have genuine concerns about whether or not, even if we had an eight-hour journey limit, we can look after animals sufficiently.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Several of us who spoke earlier—I accept that the hon. Lady has greater difficulties than others in attending debates—put on record the fact that we choose not to eat meat and poultry and that we would prefer it if other people did not, either. We have been debating two distinct issues: one is the principle of live animal exports, and the other is what happened at Ramsgate. For many people, they are the same issue, but for others they are two distinct issues that need to be addressed in different ways.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which I genuinely think is extremely helpful and very much welcome.

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I come to the issue from the perspective of having spent 10 years in the European Parliament. I was vice-president of the animal welfare intergroup. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) was its president and he did a great job.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Lady has mentioned guarantees in live export. As a crofter, I cannot give guarantees on live beasts on the croft. Something could happen to them—they could fall into a ditch or they could get snared in a fence. There are hazards all the time and there is no absolute guarantee I can give. All I can do is minimise the hazards to the best of my ability and with the knowledge built up over a number of years.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I suppose that he makes my point. There is a parallel between this debate and some of our debates on the use of wild animals in circuses. On the one hand, we can try to reduce the harm done to those animals; on the other hand, we can say that, no matter how hard we try, ultimately it is not a good place for animals to be. I would argue that being on long-distance transportation is not a good place for animals to be, either, and others may come to a similar conclusion.

I believe that long journeys can be stressful for sheep and calves. The stress factors include deprivation of food and water, lack of rest, extremes of temperature and humidity, handling by humans, exposure to novel environments, overcrowding, insufficient headroom, noise and vibration. Animal welfare is not served by long journeys or by the poor treatment that is often experienced by animals at the journey’s end.

Yesterday’s announcement by DEFRA that it is strengthening the controls that apply to live exports is a step in the right direction, but there is no guarantee that British animals will be protected from the suffering that they currently endure when being transported abroad.

Roger Williams: Some of us are concerned that people do not draw a distinction between export and the movement of animals. The suspicion is that there will be a move to stop all movement of animals, because people cannot see the difference between exporting an animal and just moving an animal.

Caroline Lucas: That is a helpful intervention. I would much prefer to see many more small, local abattoirs around the country so that even within this country we do not have long journey times. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. Although one can argue that more stress factors are involved in transporting animals overseas, such as animals being decanted into different vehicles, even if animals are transported within the UK for eight hours or more, it is not necessarily in their best interests.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Lady seems to be missing the point that was made earlier about some of our smaller communities, such as Arran, the Western Isles and some parts of Wales and the highlands of Scotland, which simply could not have a local abattoir. Is she saying that she opposes the movement of sheep, cattle and pigs from the Western Isles or Arran by boat?

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Caroline Lucas: What I am saying is that we could be more creative in looking for solutions. In other countries where big distances are involved, one economic response has been to have mobile abattoirs. In remote areas where it is uneconomic to have an abattoir because it would not be served by many animals, a mobile abattoir might be more practical. I would like to make some progress, if I may.

Mr MacNeil: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Caroline Lucas: No, because I want to make some progress, if I may.

Calf exports have been declining amid concerns in some important countries about bovine tuberculosis. However, as Members know, countries such as Spain are still major destinations for British calves. Journeys to Spain can take more than 90 hours and young calves are poorly equipped to withstand the rigours of such a journey. Dr Claire Weeks, the senior research fellow in animal welfare at Bristol university has concluded:

“Scientific evidence indicates that young calves are not well adapted to cope with transport… Therefore transport should be avoided where possible, particularly as morbidity and mortality following transport can be high.”

On arrival in Europe, calves are typically kept on concrete or slatted floors without any straw or other bedding. Such barren systems have been outlawed in the UK. There is a real question about the ethical acceptability of calves being sent for rearing abroad in conditions that have been prohibited on welfare grounds here at home.

With calf exports declining, the industry has been considering alternatives, for example through the work of the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum. That initiative involves beef and dairy industry bodies, Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA, Government, retailers and academics. The forum is starting to overturn the assumption that male dairy calves produce low-quality beef and hence should be exported for veal production or shot in the head soon after birth. As a result of its work, male dairy calves are increasingly being reared in Britain to high welfare standards, with a resultant fall in the number of calves shot at birth or exported for veal production. I am confident that more dairy farmers would abandon the trade if the Government engaged with the industry more proactively and gave them more help to do so. The carcass-only trade is already widespread and I want to see an end to the remaining exports of live calves.

The export of sheep is in many ways no better. It, too, entails significant suffering and long, stressful journeys. In addition, British animals may experience poor welfare in European abattoirs. In 2007-08, a French animal welfare organisation carried out an investigation into 25 French slaughterhouses and found many breaches of EU legislation that is meant to protect the welfare of animals at slaughter. Earlier this year, a report by the EU’s food and veterinary office identified a number of serious animal welfare problems in Dutch slaughterhouses. The Netherlands is the destination for many sheep that are exported from Britain. Once animals leave our shores, we are powerless to ensure that they are treated properly. All the evidence suggests that they are not necessarily being treated with standards comparable to our own welfare expectations.

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For sheep, as for calves, I believe that the trade should be meat and carcass only. Slaughtering a higher proportion of animals in the UK for domestic consumption or meat exports could create jobs and increase profits here. Indeed, the economic case for the live export of sheep seems negligible. In 2011, just 0.5% of the sheep reared in the UK were slaughtered abroad. That is 72,458 sheep, compared with the 14.5 million that were slaughtered in the UK. It is difficult to believe that transporting such a relatively small number of animals abroad for slaughter makes a significant contribution to the sheep sector’s earnings, or that that contribution justifies the suffering that the sheep undergo during the long journey from the UK. The UK economy would probably benefit much more from the added value derived from processing animals at home, rather than exporting the raw material for the benefit of processors abroad.

Much of this debate has focused on the disaster at the port of Ramsgate. Animal welfare conditions are questionable during the process of live transport, as well as on arrival. Other Members have spoken strongly about the Russian tanker, the Joline, which had to turn back en route to Calais because of adverse weather conditions. The ship’s design means that it is particularly sensitive to poor conditions. On this occasion, the sea was breaking over the vessel. Its design also means that there is little leeway between the time that it takes to cross the channel and the maximum journey time for calves of nine hours after a one hour rest at port. On another occasion, the vessel was held at Ramsgate for two hours because of adverse weather warnings and the lorries on board were in danger of exceeding the journey limit.

In a six-month period when the RSPCA was inspecting every vehicle involved in the trade through Ramsgate for infractions, it issued six warning notices. In September 2012, one lorry was stopped because of faults with the vehicle. The animals were unloaded and two sheep, one with a broken leg, were put down. Another 41 lame sheep were euthanised. Six sheep fell into the water after they were loaded into an area where a drain became exposed. Four of them were rescued by RSPCA officers, but two drowned. It appears that a proportion of the lame sheep were injured during the journey owing to a defect in the vehicle, but others were apparently lame before the start of the journey. By law, an official veterinarian must, before an export journey begins, certify that the animals are fit to travel.

That case raises serious questions. If some sheep were lame before the journey, why did the vet who inspected them certify them as being fit to travel? Are the checks and balances that are meant to be in place fit for purpose? Given those failures, can DEFRA’s ordering more inspections give us confidence? It is not even clear whether it intends to increase the number of inspections that are taking place or simply to meet its current legal obligations.

I agree with those who have said that the facilities are Ramsgate are not suitable for ensuring the welfare of animals if they need to be offloaded in an emergency. Despite the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), saying that he intends to pursue a zero-tolerance approach to animal welfare and live exports, I think that the contingency plans that DEFRA

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has announced are inadequate. A temporary ban on live animal exports out of Ramsgate was lifted last month, but legal action is still under way. It is vital that far more is done to safeguard the welfare of animals that are shipped through the port, especially as access for the RSPCA to inspect conditions has been denied.

In the 1990s, the European Court of Justice twice ruled that the UK cannot ban live exports. Such action has to be taken at EU level. That does not let the Government off the hook. There is much more that they could be doing to bring this trade to an end. They could go to Brussels and press for a change in EU law to allow individual member states to ban live exports.

Since the two European Court cases, article 13 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union has recognised animals as “sentient beings”. It requires the EU and member states, in formulating and implementing EU policies on agriculture, transport and the single market, to

“pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.

That article creates a new legislative landscape in which, with the right political will, the UK would be justified in pressing for the right to lawfully end this trade.

Earlier this week, MEPs voted for improvements to the conditions in which live animals are exported, but they failed to reduce the maximum journey time. How different might the result of that vote have been if the UK had actively lobbied for an eight-hour limit? The Government must take the lead in pressing the EU to place a maximum limit of eight hours on journeys to slaughter or for further fattening.

Thomas Docherty: I am puzzled. Does the hon. Lady not recognise that, given the current location of abattoirs, an eight-hour limit would have serious repercussions for the Scottish agriculture industry?

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but we need to look for solutions to that problem. The suggestion is that a trade can carry on despite a wealth of evidence. He asked earlier about my evidence for the cruelty of the trade and I could read out a whole set of scientific studies. I appreciate that difficult discussions and debates must be had about how to safeguard the livelihoods of farmers, about which I care deeply, but to say simply that we should carry on with business as usual is not an adequate response.

As colleagues will know, I am a former MEP and I have worked extensively on this issue. As I have said, ideally I want a complete ban on the trade of live exports, but imposing a maximum journey time of eight hours would at least help reduce the current suffering. That should also be backed up with sufficient resources to ensure that minimum welfare standards are met.

For example, DEFRA could carry out more rigorous checks to ensure that the mandatory rest breaks required by EU Council regulation 1/2005 are provided. At present, that seems to be verified primarily via returned journey logs, which are often open to abuse and inaccuracy. Instead, DEFRA should ask the appropriate authority of the member state in which the rest break was due to confirm that it was provided, or check the data on

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which the vehicle’s tachograph or satellite navigation scheme depends. That would show when animals were rested, and for how long.

The sheep and dairy sectors receive generous subsidies from the taxpayer and we should consider whether they should carry the costs of regulating the trade, particularly the cost of pre-export inspections at the place of departure and the port. The Government could also amend the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to enable ports to refuse to allow live export consignments to use their harbours. I understand that Ramsgate would welcome such a move, as would other UK ports.

As I said, my constituents have been lobbying me in support of a ban on live exports, and the issue has growing public support. A petition on the No. 10 website has more than 31,000 signatures. That number is growing rapidly every day and I hope that when it reaches 100,000, we can have a further debate and—crucially—MPs can vote on whether to take a stand against the trade. I regret that so few Members are in the Chamber this afternoon but I do not think that that reflects the strength of feeling on the issue. If we had a votable motion, far more colleagues would have attended and contributed strongly to the debate. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate, and I conclude with one simple request for the Government to make every effort to end what is a cruel, outdated and unnecessary trade in live animals.


2.12 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I, too, apologise for arriving late to the debate. I do not have the same excuse as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) of being the sole representative of my party—although on some issues it feels like it—but I have been dealing with a serious matter in my constituency that may come to the surface in the next few weeks. I am sure that hon. Members will understand.

I thank the hon. Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) for securing this debate and for her consistency in raising this issue in recent months. Live exports have become a regular problem. We have had debates in the past, and bans have been introduced at individual ports, but the issue has recurred and there has been more than one incident similar to what happened with the Joline. Time and again I remember hearing reports in this House in which we felt that the appropriate regulatory system had been put in place, only to hear similar reports of problems with animal welfare within months. That is not incompetence; it is an almost blatant disregard of animal welfare by some of those involved in such transactions, and of the legality of some of the cases dealt with. None of the systems that we put in place seemed to have worked, and such cases returned time and again. I therefore came to the conclusion—after receiving briefing from the National Farmers Union as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—that the system was not working and that a ban would be the appropriate approach.