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Session 2003 - 04
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Standing Committee Debates
Protection of Animals During Transport

Protection of Animals During Transport

European Standing

Committee A

Tuesday 20 April 2004

[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Protection of Animals

during Transport

[Relevant Documents: European Union Documents Nos. 7969/01 and 11794/03.]

The Chairman: Good morning. I apologise for the slightly late and unorthodox approach to the start.

8.56 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): How nice to see you unexpectedly in the Chair, Mr. Gale.

This is an opportunity to discuss proposals from the European Commission to update and improve animal welfare during transport. Before I go any further, I must thank Mr. Pike, in his absence, and the Committee for accepting this debate today at such short notice. It is important that the proposals have the benefit of parliamentary scrutiny before decisions are made at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, possibly next week.

[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]

The proposals, if adopted, will repeal the existing directive as amended by document 95/29/EC and Council regulation 411/98 on ventilation in road vehicles carrying livestock on long journeys. They will also subsume documents 7969/01 and ADD 1 of April 2001, which propose rules for the application of different ventilation systems, for which scrutiny has not been completed.

The present arrangements for animal welfare during transport were agreed in 1995 and implemented in 1997. The arrangements included the introduction of transporters' authorisation and training, maximum journey times and rest, and food and watering intervals for horses and farmed animal species.

In December 2000 the European Commission published a report on EU member states' experience of operating those arrangements. It was not good reading. It reported that across the EU as a whole there was evidence of a lack of commitment to enforcement, poor co-ordination and significant non-compliance, which included poor vehicle standards, poor handling, poor ventilation controls, overloading, transporting unfit animals and regularly disregarding journey times and route plans. There was also much concern about the trade in horses arriving for slaughter in the European Union from eastern Europe and beyond.

The proposals are intended to address the failings set out in that report. The Government are committed to improving animal welfare. We have a good record of compliance and enforcement in relation to animal welfare during transportation in the UK and in 2001 we were commended by the EU's Food and Veterinary

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Office for the rigour of our enforcement procedures for long distance journeys. For that reason, we welcomed most of the Commission's proposals. They contain much that is non-contentious and intended to improve training, understanding, accountability and enforcement. Those elements of the package have been generally welcomed. They accord with our policy of encouraging transporters to undertake training and of encouraging the wider take-up of an independent assessment of competency and skills. There is also a clear need to improve commitment to enforcement and enforcement standards in some member states and to provide the new member states with an agreed statutory framework of controls and co-operative enforcement.

However, as the Committee has rightly recognised, animal welfare is an area that generates extremely strong feelings and there are areas of the proposals that court controversy. I am talking, in particular, about changes to the rules on maximum journey times and associated matters such as space allowances and temperature and ventilation controls. Those are important factors that directly affect animals during transport.

The Government have been consistent in their wish to replace the long-distance trade in animals solely for slaughter with a trade in carcase meat from animals slaughtered close to the point of production. During discussion of the proposals, the UK has pressed at all levels for a finite limit on the time that slaughter animals may be transported, as have other member states. UK Ministers will repeat that view at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 26 April. Unless the measures mean a significant improvement in animal welfare, the Government will not support them.

The Chairman: We now have until 9.55 am at the latest for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and should be asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all Members to ask several questions. I apologise for being late. I had to wait half an hour for a bus before I finally managed to get on one.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Good morning, Mr. Pike. I am delighted that you made it, even though the bus was a few minutes late. I wish to ask the Minister to clarify the journey times. [Laughter.] I do not believe that the animals are waiting to get on a bus.

Page 51 states that the proposal allows for nine hours travel, two hours rest on the vehicle, another nine hours travel and then a 12-hour rest period. Is that 12 hours on or off the vehicle?

Mr. Bradshaw: Our latest understanding is that the presidency, thanks to pressure from the UK Government and others, has accepted that the 12-hour rest period should be off the vehicle for all animals except pigs. The exception for pigs is for health and biosecurity reasons, which the hon. Gentleman will understand.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I welcome the Minister's statement that he is determined that this process should improve animal welfare. He wants a

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finite limit on movements, with which I agree. How does he propose to enforce a limit, given that many animals go to destinations outside the European Union?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. One of our concerns during the discussions of recent weeks was that neither the presidency compromise nor the original Commission proposal would result in a finite limit on journey times, as both allow repeatable journey cycles. The problem that the UK Government have had throughout the negotiations is a blocking minority in the European Union that opposes what we would like. The UK and like-minded countries are trying at present, and will continue to do so right up to the wire, to introduce the possibility of a second cycle with a 24, 36 or even 48-hour rest period. Such a rest period would not mean a finite journey limit but would make very long journeys impractical in economic terms.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. I declare an interest as a long-standing member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, although I confess that I do not know exactly what its policy is on the issue.

I wish to follow up on the question asked by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). Page 51 refers to nine hours plus two hours plus another nine hours. Paragraph 1.1(d) on page 123, which I believe is the proposal from last July, refers to nine hours, not nine plus two plus nine. Can the Minister clarify that?

Mr. Bradshaw: These are complicated matters. The papers are not always particularly clear as to exactly what is being proposed. I do not wish to detain the Committee, but it might be helpful, with your indulgence, Mr. Pike, if I were to take some time to go through exactly what the latest proposal is from the presidency. I am slightly hampered in that there is no official publication of it.

The Commission's original proposal in July 2003 was for a repeatable cycle of nine hours' travel followed by 12 hours' rest on the vehicle, with no limit on the number of cycles. The presidency compromise of March 2004 is for a cycle of nine hours travel, two hours rest on the vehicle, another nine hours travel and 12 hours rest on or off the vehicle, on which I have just provided clarification for the hon. Member for North Shropshire. The cycle is repeatable with no limit on the number of cycles, plus a journey extended by three hours if the final destination can be reached. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) asked about the RSPCA's official policy. I have had a number of meetings with the RSPCA about the issue. It is as unhappy as we are about the current state of the presidency compromise proposals.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Is the Minister aware that there is a widespread perception that the United Kingdom tends to fulfil its obligations under European legislation but that a number of other EU countries do not do so? The Minister's introductory remarks confirmed that this is exactly what is

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happening in the case of animal welfare. A number of my constituents are very concerned about such issues, and it is not a comprehensive reply to the problem for the UK to comply if other European nations do not. If the Minister cannot deal with the matter during his reply to my question or to the debate, will he please write to me spelling out exactly how the United Kingdom intends to ensure that other EU members fulfil their obligations under the regulations?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and he is right to say that the UK complies a great deal in matters of animal transport. He is wrong to make a general point about compliance. We often like to say that we are the only people who obey the rules, but if one examines an overall table of compliance with all EU regulations it shows that we are about middling. I will certainly write to him with more details, but one of the reasons why we believe that the proposals currently on the table are better than the status quo—it is going to be very difficult to judge whether the improvements are worth voting for—is that they improve compliance. For example, the proposal to introduce satellite monitoring into vehicles will make it easier to monitor whether people are abiding by the rules on journey times. Using modern technology is a major advance.


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