5 Nov 2015 : Column 1216

Let me briefly draw the House’s attention to the annual Yulin dog meat festival in China. At least 10,000 dogs are consumed during the 10-day festival, which began only a few years ago—largely, believe it or not, as a way of attracting tourists.

It may seem that there is little we can do to persuade the countries that I have mentioned to take action—after all, many of them have dire human rights records, so there may seem to be no point in requiring them to be kinder to animals—but that is not my view. Our country has led on animal welfare issues all over the world, and this issue should be no different. The Government can put pressure on those countries.

South Korea wants to be seen as an open, democratic, western-friendly society, but if that is to happen, it needs to start acting properly and behaving itself. Tens of thousands of holidaymakers from our shores go to Thailand each year. I understand that the law enforcement agencies there are now using DNA testing equipment to check the source of meat and make sure that dog meat is not being passed off as legal meat, but Thailand needs to do more: it needs to stop the trade with other countries. My constituency is in Stoke-on-Trent, and a large amount of ceramic ware is made in Indonesia. We need to ensure that countries like Indonesia understand just what potential British purchasers of their goods will or will not do when they learn what happens in those countries.

I hope—indeed, I know—that the Government will arrive at some positive conclusions, and they have uttered positive words in the past, but we need more than words now: we need some action. We should take heart from the fact that in China—which undoubtedly presents the biggest problem that we face in tackling the dog meat trade—members of the expanding middle class are beginning to speak out, and it appears that young people are beginning to shy away.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Robert Flello: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not, because of the time constraints.

The Chinese authorities have not yet reached the stage of banning the Yulin festival, but, quite rightly, they are clearly somewhat embarrassed, and in 2011 a similar festival was banned in Zhejiang. We also know that the Chinese are happy to take action on other issues.

I hoped to make many further points, but I am afraid that I shall not be able to do so. Let me end by saying that, as we all know, dogs guide the blind. Dogs can help to detect cancer. Dogs help trauma patients. Dogs help children with learning disabilities. Dogs are used all over the world—and that includes China—to find victims of earthquakes. Dogs help us in many, many ways. Today’s edition of the Daily Mirror contains a piece about a dog that is part of a canine unit; the quote from the dog handler says it all. What dogs are not for is the barbaric, disgusting, cruel, vicious evil of being put on someone’s plate after being treated in the most horrible ways that the House, in its worst nightmares, could ever imagine.

4.22 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I commend the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) for raising such an important international animal welfare issue.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1217

As has been highlighted by the various animal charities that work in the countries concerned, the commercial production of dog meat has long been associated with cruelty and suffering. A disregard for animal welfare and safety has been witnessed throughout the process: in the dogs’ living facilities, in their transportation and, finally, in the methods of slaughter. It has been observed that, because dogs are sold by weight, traders force-feed them with tubes to the point at which they are vomiting in an attempt to increase their value before offering them for sale.

Dogs are often transported over long distances, and the journeys sometimes last for days. They are packed tightly into cages and are given no food, water or rest. They suffer from diseases and injuries as a result of rough handling, and many die from suffocation, dehydration or heatstroke long before they reach their destination. In many ways, however, those dogs could be seen as the lucky ones. It is reported that some dogs are exposed to slaughter methods—we have already heard about some—that are deliberately designed to intensify and prolong their suffering, owing to a belief that “torture equals better taste”. When the torture is not deemed to be deliberate, the method of slaughter is still often cruel, with dogs experiencing a slow, violent death as they are clubbed over the head, stabbed in the neck or groin, hung, electrocuted, or thrown conscious into drums of boiling water.

The legality of the dog meat trade varies across east Asia. In most east Asian countries the sale and consumption of dog meat is legal and there is no comprehensive animal welfare legislation, but some countries have banned the dog meat trade, and legal variations and exceptions to the trade exist across the region. I also note that in some countries such as Vietnam previous proposals to introduce legislation for dog slaughter were abandoned as they were opposed by animal rights groups who feared it could legitimise the trade.

In addition to the impact for dogs, the current unregulated dog meat trade also has adverse implications for humans through the spread of diseases and associations with crime. In the past, dogs were often eaten due to reasons of poverty, but dog meat has increasingly become a delicacy and is often consumed for its perceived medicinal properties.

Drew Hendry: My hon. Friend was talking about the delicacy element. Does she agree that we should be working with international charities across the piece to raise awareness of the fact that that is not a reason for consuming these meats? The Yulin festival was mentioned earlier; a huge social media campaign in 2011 forced the closure of the Qianxi dog meat festival. Can we encourage people to get the message out that this is not socially acceptable behaviour?

Dr Cameron: I agree with my hon. Friend that pressure must come to bear from as many angles as possible.

Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con): I have huge sympathy with what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that, contrary to what was said earlier, we are more likely to be successful if instead of trying to tell people what they can or cannot eat, we promote these campaigns on the arguments of human health and animal welfare

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1218

as those are the best ways to get communities and societies to change? As desirable as the aim might be, I am tempted to think that if we go down the cultural imperialist route there will be a fierce backlash.

Dr Cameron: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and agree that we have to be extremely sensitive about cultural concerns. We must make sure that animal welfare issues are focused on and raised in a productive way.

On crime, it appears that in some Asian countries the dogs used for the industry are mostly stolen pets. I note that a survey conducted by AnimalsAsia found that 70% of Chinese villagers in rural areas had lost at least one dog to thieves. A Channel 4 documentary from 2014 highlighted similar issues with dog thieves in Vietnam, while also raising the problems with associated violence.

The SNP and the Scottish Government take the welfare of all animals very seriously and routinely feed into deliberations on animal welfare at both the EU and OIE—the World Organisation for Animal Health—level via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. When dealing with another country’s practices, there must always be an element of caution in making judgments. There must also be sensitivity and a holistic approach to bringing about change; pressure from western Governments or certain activist approaches can be perceived as counterproductive.

The dog meat trade is an extremely important animal welfare issue and the SNP is supportive of charities working with international counterparts to improve dog welfare globally. I also think the UK public as a whole are very much animal lovers and take animal welfare extremely seriously. I urge the Minister to take forward these issues.

4.28 pm

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I support the motion and congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello). He won the Westminster dog of the year last year with his German shepherd, Diesel. I was rather concerned that my own Jack Russell, Maximus, was going to become his dog snacks, so I kept the two dogs well apart.

I certainly agree with the sentiment here. I support the motion not as someone who has been a vegetarian for almost 35 years, but because I believe strongly in animal welfare. I also urge the hon. Gentleman to be careful about the cultural issues. It has already been mentioned that we should not take the ideological imperialistic approach of telling people what they should and should not eat; dog has been eaten in countries including China for the last 500 years, and we have to be very careful in our approach.

Back in September, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), said:

“There are no international norms, laws or agreements governing the trade and consumption of dog and cat meat. Instead we seek to work with governments around the world to gain agreement to animal welfare standards and to phase out cruel and inhumane farming and trapping practices. Ministers have raised this issue with Chinese counterparts and explained that UK Parliamentarians and the public want to see regulation that would bring the practice to an end. Our Ambassador in Seoul has delivered similar messages to South Korean authorities. Our officials will continue to highlight our concerns.”

I would certainly expect our Government to continue that dialogue with those countries.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1219

China and South Korea are not the only countries that engage in this kind of activity, however. In the Cayman Islands, for example, there is a turtle farm where turtles are bred for human consumption, even though they are an endangered species. I pay tribute to World Animal Protection for its campaign to stop that practice. Of course, the Chinese authorities could easily turn round and ask us why we glorify programmes such as “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here”, in which people eat turkey testicles, fish eyes, live witchetty grubs and parts of the anatomy of kangaroos and ostriches that I am not even going to mention on the Floor of the House. To me, that is also repugnant.

My point is that we in the UK have a different relationship with animals. I am sure that you have seen “Pulp Fiction”, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the film, Vincent and Jules have a conversation about why Jules does not eat bacon. He says that it is a filthy animal that eats its own faeces. Vincent then asks him whether he would consider a dog a filthy animal, because they too eat their own faeces. Jules replies:

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call a dog filthy, but it’s definitely dirty. But dogs got personality, personality goes a long way.”

That is the crux of our relationship with animals in this country. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South and I are both dog owners, and we have a completely different relationship with our dogs. Such relationships with dogs do not exist in China. There have been severe food shortages there for the past 500 years, but the country has overcome famine and continued to feed its population.

As I have said, I am a vegetarian, but I strongly believe in the right of people in this country to eat meat. That is because of the high animal welfare standards we have here. I would like to see such standards being applied across the whole world—and yes, I would like to see this practice banned. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this debate to the House today. I also congratulate the animal welfare charities involved in this campaign, including Soi Dog, whose valuable work one of my constituents has drawn to my attention.

I would also like to see the Government working to ensure that the emergence of a middle class in countries such as China, alongside the growth of social media, can promote an atmosphere in which people start to reject the consumption of dog meat, either as a delicacy or for people who cannot afford more expensive meat, so that this vile practice can be brought to an end.

4.32 pm

Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing this debate. I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for the work on this issue that he has led for a long time. I am delighted that he has been able to hotfoot it back to the Chamber for the debate following a visit to Croydon North.

I am sure that both my hon. Friends would agree that the cruel and barbaric treatment of dogs and cats for food in a small number of countries is a stain on humanity and a threat to human health that needs to be stopped. The majority of the British public consider themselves to be animal lovers, and they are strongly opposed to cruelty to cats, dogs and other animals. I am sure that they would welcome the fact that this debate is being held today.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1220

There are commercial and cultural reasons why dogs are eaten. In some countries, dog meat is wrongly believed to have medicinal properties. For instance, it is believed to help in the treatment of impotence and poor circulation. However, there is no evidence to support any of these claims and there need to be stronger public information campaigns in those countries to educate populations to understand the facts. Consumption of dog and cat meat is also linked to human health and disease. The consumption of these animals is linked to the transmission of diseases such as cholera and the spread of rabies, in part because of the appalling conditions in which the animals are transported. Perhaps the most offensive aspect of the dog meat trade is the way in which the animals are treated. A huge proportion are family pets that are stolen, transported in inhumane conditions and slaughtered without any regard whatever for the level of suffering being inflicted on them.

I agree with Members who have said that it is not for people from one meat-eating culture to tell people of other cultures which animals they can or cannot eat, but there is a role to be played in seeking to secure global standards of animal welfare and in working with local campaign groups on the ground in the countries affected to help them strengthen their own cases. AnimalsAsia has conducted a detailed investigation into the dog meat trade, finding that the vast majority of dog meat in China comes from stolen dogs previously owned as pets. It found no conclusive evidence of large-scale breeding farms that could have been capable of supplying the up to 20 million dogs which it is estimated are eaten across China every year. Anyone who has ever owned a pet cat or dog knows how much they become part of the family, being loved, cared for and cherished.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I agree with my hon. Friend that it is probably not appropriate to think we can tell other countries what to do, but is it not reasonable to tell them what the reaction of the British public will be if the sorts of things they are doing, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) referred, become public knowledge?

Mr Reed: My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point, and I agree with him. There is certainly a case for consumer power in those countries influencing those countries, but the key is to persuade them of the need to change. Indeed, there are campaigns on the ground in those countries which we can support.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): I declare an interest, in that I am a dog owner, admirer and lover. Of course we have recently seen the wonderful pets in Parliament. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should hope and expect that British Ministers and diplomats will continue to make the case when working on our behalf in the countries that continue with these practices that they are not appropriate in our view? Does he agree that that could bring about the change we seek?

Mr Reed: The hon. Lady makes a very sensible point. There has been some of this communication in bilateral discussions with other countries, but it could certainly go further. I hope we will hear that response from the Minister in his summing up.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1221

I was talking about family pets. Families are understandably grief-stricken when they lose a pet, but to fear or know that their pet has been stolen by animal traffickers who then subject it to sickening levels of cruelty and abuse only makes the grief all the harder to bear. Stolen animals are often crammed into crates where many suffer broken bones. They are transported for days in shocking conditions, with many dying of dehydration or suffocation. On arrival at their destination, most dogs are then taken to slaughterhouses that have not been approved or monitored by local authorities. In horrific conditions they are butchered, often in full sight of other dogs, which are terrified by what they see.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South mentioned, there is a belief in some places where dogs are eaten that a terrified dog produces tastier meat, so some animals are skinned alive, thrown still living into boiling water or hung by the neck to induce terror. The scale of suffering is hard to imagine. One of the most notorious dog-eating events is the annual Yulin dog meat festival, which has been the subject of a worldwide campaign to close it down. An estimated 10,000 dogs are slaughtered and eaten at this event. The treatment of dogs at the event is horrific and it is on a massive scale.

AnimalsAsia highlights the fact that existing animal protection laws are not enforced in some countries—in some cases, we are talking about bans on the sale, transportation and slaughter of dogs for meat. It further highlights the fact that misinformation, abuse and illegality is rife at almost every stage of the industry supply chain. There is an overwhelming need for the stronger enforcement of such laws, and again it is entirely legitimate for the UK Government to raise such issues in bilateral meetings, as they have already done with China, the Philippines and South Korea.

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I congratulate him on the comments he has made. I agree with him that this situation is barbaric. Do the Governments of our nations have a role to play in terms of the security of the supply chain and making sure that none of this dog meat enters our food chain and threatens our food supply?

Mr Reed: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, and I am sure that British consumers would be horrified if there was any question of dog meat ending up on tables or in food products in the UK.

In conclusion, there can be no excuse for the intolerable suffering and cruelty inflicted on animals as a result of this trade. We need to do everything we can to support campaign groups in countries where dogs and cats are eaten. It is time to stamp out this barbaric trade.

4.39 pm

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing today’s debate. I am positive that I cannot be the only one who has received many emails over the past few days and weeks urging me to speak out on the dog trade, so I applaud his efforts in giving us the opportunity to have that discussion.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1222

We have had a good, but brief, debate, and there has been consensus across the House on the matter. We have heard, over many years, about the appalling and barbaric nature of the dog meat trade and the importance of raising awareness if we are to succeed in doing something to deal with the situation. I am sure that the horrid examples and ghastly statistics that we have heard today will go some way towards doing that. I know that organisations such as Network For Animals, the Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare all continue to work on tackling the dog meat trade, and that in doing so they are helped by their counterparts around the world.

It is extremely important that we recognise that the key concern is not the cultural matter of eating dog meat, but the inhumane way in which so many innocent animals are treated in its production and the serious threat to human health that the industry presents.

In China, dog meat has been eaten for thousands of years and continues to be considered socially acceptable in many parts of the country—although the majority of the people of China no longer consume dog meat. Indeed, dog meat has a particular cultural significance for some, and is thought to have cherished medicinal properties by others. That is one reason why draft animal welfare legislation proposed in 2010 with specific restrictions that would prohibit the consumption of dog meat was deemed by the burgeoning Chinese animal protection movement unlikely to be effective in curbing the meat trade in that country.

Although a number of countries have passed laws banning the production, slaughter and consumption of dog meat, a significant hurdle is posed by the often weak enforcement of the relevant laws. Countries such as the Philippines and Taiwan, for instance, have introduced animal welfare legislation that notionally bans the trading and eating of dog meat, but those laws are rarely or poorly enforced and dog meat continues to be a feature of many popular dishes.

Let us consider in more detail what is happening in the Philippines. Despite being outlawed nationally since 1998, and having been banned in Manila since 1982, the consumption of dog meat continues today. Indeed, in some northern provinces, eating dog meat is something of a long-standing cultural display, traditionally associated with celebratory events and rituals of mourning. Although, historically, the practice involved a relatively small number of animals being killed and consumed, more recent manifestations are seeing the eating of dog meat grow in popularity for commercial rather than cultural reasons. As we have heard from other hon. Members, Yulin’s annual dog meat festival in Guangxi is a relatively new “tradition”—if that is the correct term. It is a far cry from old-style festivities. Indeed, its primary aim appears to be to boost the local economy rather than to observe any underlying traditions or cultural practices.

Since its inception in the late 2000s, the June festival, which also marks the summer solstice, has been strongly opposed by international pressure groups, not to mention a majority of Chinese citizens themselves. Indeed, the Twitter #stopyulin2015 was used hundreds of thousands of times this year, yet organisers continue with the festivities despite these external and internal pressures to stop.

Estimates put the number of dogs slaughtered for people to feast on at somewhere in the region of 10,000, although precise numbers are difficult to come by for

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1223

obvious reasons. It is worth noting that Animal Equality has similarly undertaken intensive investigations into slaughterhouses and the dog meat markets in the Leizhou peninsula, as well as in the rest of China’s Guangdong province. Its findings highlight that dogs sold for the meat market have often been taken from the streets or, in some cases, stolen from families by dealers supplying a black market. These animals are then confined for much of the remainder of their lives in wire cages where they suffer terribly—not only physically but psychologically too.

Animal Equality also tells us that many dogs are intentionally tortured before being killed owing to the fallacious belief that that tenderises the meat—what absolute nonsense. In these cramped cages, dogs are frequently left to go hungry, surrounded by dirt and faeces, and are subjected to extremes of temperature and a lack of water. Just as harrowing is the fact that these animals consume such a poor quality diet that they commonly become weak and susceptible to disease. Some are known to resort to cannibalism, which brings its separate concerns. I cannot be clearer that these are truly terrible conditions and the thousands of animals that perish on their journey to slaughter are testament to that. Conditions during transport are often so bad than an average of 50% of dogs die before they reach their destination. On occasion, however, as Network for Animals highlights, mortality rates rise as high as 90%. Given that many dead dogs retain profitability and are processed alongside live animals for markets and restaurants, however, such mortality rates are of little concern to the dog meat traders.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South is right to highlight the role of the dog fur and dog leather industries in driving such atrocious animal cruelty. It is estimated that 18 million dogs are killed each year for their meat or fur in China. Some 5 million dogs are eaten annually in Vietnam, where dog is the go-to dish for many special occasions, and a further 2 million are killed each year in South Korea, although that is a particularly interesting example. Although the Korea Food and Drug Administration recognises all edible products as food, other than drugs, Seoul has passed a regulation classifying dog meat as a “repugnant food”. However, as in other parts of the world, such regulatory oversight has not been effective in curbing the demand for dog meat.

That leads me to re-emphasise the health risks associated with the dog meat trade. Figures suggest that, despite the legislative measures introduced, in the region of 10,000 dogs and 350 humans still die of rabies in the Philippines each year. The consumption of such tainted meat is a proven high-risk activity that can lead to the transmission of the rabies virus to humans. There is also a growing body of evidence highlighting the significant risk that the trade, slaughter and consumption of dog meat poses to human health, as it is variously linked to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases, as well as rabies.

Over recent years in Vietnam, for instance, there have been a number of large-scale cholera outbreaks directly linked to the dog meat trade. That has led to warnings from the World Health Organisation that the movement of dogs and consumption of dog meat facilitated the spread of the bacteria that causes cholera. The organisation stated that eating dog meat was linked to a twentyfold increase in the risk of contracting the disease. The presence

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1224

of the rabies virus in dogs destined for human consumption has been revealed in studies carried out in slaughterhouses and markets in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, and the risk posed by the dog meat industry to human health is very real, as reflected by the reported transmission of rabies to those involved in dog slaughter, butchery and consumption in the Philippines, China and Vietnam.

In China, for example, where authorities have declared quarantine regulations for dogs being transported, there are worrying examples of the criminals who mastermind much of the dog meat trade forging documents to transport dogs en masse to Yulin. The director of the Beijing Small Animal Veterinary Association has noted that the dogs in question are not considered farmed-for-meat animals, meaning that the meat is not properly quarantined or inspected, thereby increasing the safety risks associated with the processing and eating of dog meat.

Those instances confirm that when the trade in dogs for meat occurs, it regularly fails to comply with disease-prevention measures, and breaches the rabies control and elimination recommendations of key human and animal health advisory groups such as the World Health Organisation and the World Organisation for Animal Health. Furthermore, the dog meat trade has specifically been cited by the WHO as a contributing factor to recent rabies outbreaks in both China and Indonesia.

I am sure that Ministers will take account of today’s debate and consider carefully what has been said. Although the Government cannot legislate beyond our shores, I know that Ministers in the Foreign Office have previously raised concerns on the issue with the Governments of China and the Philippines, while the UK ambassador in Seoul has raised concerns with the South Korean Government.

I very much hope that the appalling conditions in which many dogs facing slaughter find themselves and the real risks that the dog meat trade poses to human health across the world will spur Ministers to use their diplomatic and other opportunities to ensure that these cruel and hazardous practices are brought to an end. Britain has long led the way on animal welfare issues, and I hope the Government will continue this by pressing counterparts around the world to collaborate in efforts to change attitudes and reduce animal suffering.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (James Duddridge): I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing this debate and I thank all those present in the Chamber for their contributions. From what we have heard in the Chamber today, dog meat consumption and its trade is a matter of strong interest to the British public and to this Parliament.

For many people in the UK this is understandably an emotive issue. We have a strong tradition here in the UK of keeping dogs as pets, and I, like others, consider it anathema that dogs should be eaten under any circumstances. However, as has been mentioned by others in a balanced debate, it is important to remember that in some parts of the world dog meat has been a traditional food for centuries. In a small number of countries its sale and consumption are legal, and it is still eaten today, as we have heard. That is not to say that we should not try to influence these cultural norms.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1225

Dog consumption in some countries is down, and even in areas where dogs had previously been consumed by people, they are increasingly seen as domestic pets, as they are primarily in this country.

We have heard here today and in media reports and correspondence with constituents the dreadful conditions in which dogs are kept and transported, and in particular the ways in which they are slaughtered. All that is truly horrifying and, as we have heard, it is difficult to find words to convey how horrific we find this industry.

The dog meat industry in Asia is routinely accused of poor treatment of animals during slaughter, and this disgusting treatment is clearly unacceptable. This Government take animal cruelty extremely seriously and we are committed to improving animal welfare standards globally, not just in the UK. There can be no place for cruel and inhumane practices anywhere in the modern world. The UK has proved that it is prepared to tackle cultural norms, particularly when it comes to the consumption and use of animals.

To draw a parallel, the UK is a world leader in promoting animal welfare generally overseas, for both domestic and wild animals. We are the architects of the 2014 illegal wildlife trade conference and work on illegal wildlife trade. Much of the focus of our relationships with Asian countries has been on discussing the consumption of animals, and I am sure that will have some cross-over to dog meat consumption in the future. As we become more successful in getting the message across about the illegal wildlife trade in elephant or rhino horn or tiger, perhaps we can extend that to the way people think about the consumption of dogs.

Before I update the House on what we are able to do on a country by country basis, I shall touch on some of the points made during the debate. Introducing the debate, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South urged the Government to work more closely with international health organisations. I am happy to make a commitment to consider a review of how we interact on this issue with various international organisations, specifically on the issue of health. In comments on other speeches, I will explain why I think that is so important.

The hon. Gentleman congratulated organisations that are working across Asia to change perceptions—in some cases very brave people standing up for animal welfare, trying to change the cultural norms while living and working in Asia. I add my congratulations. He urged me, on behalf of the Government, to take action, not just to come out with words. Sometimes it is difficult to have clear action plans, and nudging things forward is sometimes a success, but I am happy to write to all our ambassadors in the area to review what they are doing in relation to the dog meat trade and what is appropriate within that country. By “appropriate”, I mean what is likely to get the results that Members of the House and the Government want.

Robert Flello: I welcome that commitment to work with the World Health Organisation and similar agencies. In writing to embassies, the Minister may wish to stress to those embassies how the British public might view the countries concerned when they book their holidays or purchase ceramic items.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1226

James Duddridge: I am more than happy, when writing to the ambassadors, to convey the connections that have been made in the Chamber today as fair representations of the way a large number of the British public feel about these issues.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) raised a number of important issues. I think that she was the first Member today to refer to the Yulin festival, although many others did so subsequently. I was unaware that Yulin province has the highest rate of rabies, which is an important connection. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) suggested in an intervention that health concerns are one way of tackling this issue, rather than what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) later referred to as ideological imperialism. I think that raising health concerns is an incredibly effective way of changing behaviours that are already changing.

The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), in summing up for Her Majesty’s official Opposition, referred to evidence of a twentyfold increase in the incidence of rabies among people who have consumed dog meat. That is quite a powerful reason not to eat dog meat, even if it is a cultural norm in one’s community. The hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) described the total lack of scientific evidence that dog meat has any beneficial effect, either to general health or as a so-called cooling food, or indeed in improving sexual virility. Not only is there no positive evidence, but there is lots of negative evidence that it can damage health.

I will mention four countries. In China we continue to work alongside the authorities to help protect the welfare of stray animals—specifically stray dogs—and farm animals. At the recent state visit we agreed a joint statement on tackling the illegal wildlife trade, which demonstrates that we are able to have these difficult discussions across cultural divides. Thailand’s Legislative Assembly passed an animal welfare law in 2014 making it illegal to produce or sell dog meat. The Philippines passed legislation in 1998 banning the sale and consumption of dog meat. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), raised the important issue of animal welfare during his visit to Vietnam in February. We will continue to raise these important issues in the most effective way possible, which is not always through megaphone diplomacy, although sometimes speaking loudly is needed. Where it is needed, we are prepared to speak loudly.

4.57 pm

Robert Flello: We have had a short and constrained debate, but I think that all the important points have been made. I welcome the commitment that the Minister has given and appreciate his positive response; yes, they were words, but I got the sense that there is action behind them. I wish to make one point in winding up. I will happily debate culture with anybody, because it is very important, but slicing limbs off living animals or burning their skin off with a blowtorch while they are still alive is not culture; it is barbarism.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House calls for an immediate end to dog meat trade cruelty; supports the Humane Society lnternational’s campaign to end the dog meat trade by working with government officials

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1227

and local organisations in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and China to raise public awareness and strengthen laws related to this trade; and calls on the Chinese government and Yulin and Guangxi officials to stop the Yulin dog meat festival where thousands of dogs are being cruelly bound, confined, trucked and slaughtered for meat.

Business without Debate

Joint Committee on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill


That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on the draft Investigatory Powers Bill presented to both Houses on Wednesday 4 November (Cm 9152).


That a Select Committee of seven Members be appointed to join with any committee to be appointed by the Lords for this purpose;

That the Committee shall have power:

(i) to send for persons, papers and records;

(ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

(iii) to report from time to time;

(iv) to appoint specialist advisers; and

(v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom.

That the quorum of the Committee shall be two; and

That Victoria Atkins, Suella Fernandes, Mr David Hanson, Stuart C. McDonald, Dr Andrew Murrison, Valerie Vaz and Matt Warman be members of the Committee.—(Dr Thérèse Coffey)

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1228

Driver First Assist

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(George Hollingbery.)

4.58 pm

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I turn to a lighter subject than that of the previous debate—in some ways, but in some ways not. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate. It is a little like waiting around for ages for a debate to come along and two come along at once. I will make the most of the half an hour and 32 seconds available to me.

No one would dispute that despite successive Governments working to improve the road network and improve its safety, it is still a dangerous place. For many people, it is also their place of work, and possibly, therefore, the most dangerous workplace in the United Kingdom. According to the Health and Safety Executive, the number of people killed while driving at work makes road traffic collisions—RTCs—the UK’s biggest occupational killer.

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)),

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(George Hollingbery.)

Robert Flello: More lives could undoubtedly be saved—some experts think by 50%—and injuries minimised if we were able to improve the effectiveness of the response once an RTC has occurred. Statistics say that death from a blocked airway occurs in four minutes, yet the target time for an ambulance arriving is eight minutes. Just having somebody able to respond more quickly would instantly increase the number of lives that could be saved. Traffic volumes are projected to be 46% higher and average delays 54% longer in the next 20 years or so—in fact, less than that. How could we improve response times with more traffic on the roads and longer waiting times for ambulances to arrive?

If somebody falls ill or injures themselves in a traditional workplace, the situation is quite straightforward. Workplace first aid is a legal requirement, and there are clear responsibilities for its provision by first aiders, who tend to be trained by their employers. However, there is not generally such training of employees who are frequently off-site, such as truck, bus and coach drivers, salespeople and engineers—those who spend a large part of their working lives on our road network. Therefore, we inadvertently populate the road network with workers—more than 3 million—with little or nothing in the way of first aid skills. Unlike their workplace-based, non-mobile counterparts, they are almost entirely dependent on the emergency services for a medical response.

Improving the speed of response to someone in need of medical assistance in the community has already been addressed by the introduction of community first responders, who do a fantastic job, but the road network has no formal, identifiable group of trained first aiders who could provide that vital early first response to someone in need of life or death assistance—until now, that is. We now have a model that is able to address this problem. A group of very dedicated individuals came together and looked at how they might apply a community first responder model to the road network. A resource is

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1229

out there—namely, a lot of professional drivers. Somebody who is a professional driver is most likely to be at the scene, or very early at the scene, of an RTC.

That gave rise to the creation of Driver First Assist. Drivers early at the scene are potentially a resource available to the emergency services in helping them to deal with incidents more effectively, providing the first vital link in the chain of survival—but, of course, only if they are appropriately trained. DFA is a not-for-profit, charitable organisation. It has been created in partnership with the emergency services. It aims to provide drivers with the skills to manage the scene at an RTC and deliver life-saving first aid skills prior to the arrival of the emergency services. For example, if there is an incident on the carriageway and a DFA-trained and qualified individual is there, able to provide perhaps the unblocking of an airway, a person who might otherwise have died now has a fighting chance. A substantial number of drivers are already volunteering to join DFA, supported by major companies. Babcock International, JCB, Tarmac, John Lewis, Norbert Dentressangle and many others have come forward.

I want to give the example of driver Nigel Abbott from Mark Thompson Transport in Warrington. He became the first DFA member to receive a commendation from the police in recognition of his assistance at the scene of a road traffic collision earlier this year. Mark was on the northbound carriageway of the M6 and found himself to be one of the first at the scene of a serious collision. A report was made by the attending traffic officer, PC Martin Smith, who is also one of a number of emergency services personnel who delivers training on behalf of DFA. He said:

“At about 22.00 I attended an injury collision on the M6 between junctions 10 and 10A just north of Walsall. This was a three vehicle collision and had affected two lanes on the carriageway. On my arrival I saw a Mark Thompson Transport Tractor unit in lane 2 which was protecting the scene. I also noticed that the driver Nigel Abbott was doing a brilliant job of managing a casualty with spinal injuries. I trained this driver at his home depot recently and have to say that his vehicle positioning and casualty management were straight out of the manual. This driver acted in the most professional manner and is a credit to DFA. It should be noted that he was very conspicuous in his DFA high vis jacket. I spoke with the West Mids Ambo area response manager who also commented that Nigel had done a great job. An incident worthy of a mention in the good news forum for a job well done.”

It is fair to say that those skills possibly saved further injury and almost certainly saved lives.

Let me turn to the views of the ambulance, fire and rescue and police services. The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives says that it is

“delighted to endorse this important programme.”

Steve Apter, a chief fire officer and the Chief Fire Officer’s Association lead on transportation for roads says that Drivers First Assist

“will allow instant help for injured drivers before the emergency services arrive”

and that he is delighted to support it. The Association of Chief Police Officers lead on road policing, Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, says:

“Road deaths and serious injuries are devastating but preventable…The Driver First Assist scheme has been established to enable trained drivers from volunteer companies to spontaneously

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1230

assist those casualties at collision scenes…I believe that such early interventions will help support emergency responders in saving life and reducing congestion.”

Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The M53 and M56 run through my constituency, and in recent times there has been a significant increase in the number of accidents. Many companies in Ellesmere Port take advantage of the transport links available to them. How can I encourage my local companies to get involved in this scheme?

Robert Flello: That is fantastic. It is easy to find the Driver First Assist website—driversfirstassist.org—and my hon. Friend and the companies in his area will benefit if they go on it. I will come in a moment to what I want to hear from the Minister. Drivers First Assist is a voluntary group and the more companies that get involved, the more people out on the roads will benefit.

Senior traffic commissioner Mrs Beverly Bell says:

“Traffic Commissioners have always championed the skills and professionalism of  the  road  haulage and passenger transport industries”,

and that this initiative now gives them

“the skills to save a life.”

I have quoted some of the people who support Driver First Assist. However, although some companies are getting involved, it is tragic that other companies have said that, if only they had been aware earlier of Driver First Assist, the lives of some of their employees may have been saved.

Driver First Assist is a not-for-profit organisation. It was created in partnership with the emergency services, which do the training. It has a sound strategy to ensure future sustainability without the need for Government funding, but it does need assistance. It needs help in getting the message out at the formative stage of its development. If fatalities can be reduced as a result of DFA members who are out on the roads responding at the scene and making an early intervention, the savings to the British economy—never mind the human lives saved—are measurable in the billions of pounds. That would be a huge saving for the Government and represent the potential liberation of resources in an already overstretched national health service. The DFA needs investment, however, to get the message out.

I very much seek from the Minister an agreement to meet Driver First Assist—I think discussions are going on to try to arrange a meeting, but perhaps we can finalise that—to look at how the Government can further promote it through the avenues available to Ministers. My final request is to consider how to make it part of the certificate of professional competence. When drivers go for regular training—it is quite right and proper for them to be required to do so, because drivers are professionals—is there a way of making it mandatory for the Driver First Assist approach to form a module within the CPC? The really important thing is not that everybody has to join Driver First Assist, because it is very much up to drivers to decide whether they have the skills and are able to apply them, but that they should be aware of Driver First Assist.

I look forward to the Minister’s comments. I am very grateful to Mr Speaker for granting me this second debate today. As hon. Members may be able to tell, I am really passionate about this issue, just as I am strongly

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1231

passionate about our freight industry and its professional drivers. Something that might simply save even one life must be something that is worth us all getting behind and promoting in every way we possibly can.

5.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones): I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on securing this debate about the work of Driver First Assist. He made some very valuable points about road safety. I know that he is a champion of the haulage sector, and I consider myself to be one, too. That really important sector in our economy can sometimes be a little overlooked.

Let me start by commenting on the hon. Gentleman’s important points about road safety. The UK remains one of the world leaders on road safety, as measured by deaths per mile travelled; overall, our road safety record is second only to Sweden’s. Second is good, but it is not good enough: I want our roads to be the safest in the world. To quantify what that means, although there were 1,775 road deaths in 2014—a rise of 4% on the previous year—that is the third lowest annual total on record after 2012 and 2013. That figure should be seen against an increase in traffic volumes of 2.4% between 2013 and 2014, which was the highest rate of growth of motor vehicle traffic since 1996.

The winter weather has also played its part, but taking into account last winter’s severe conditions by adjusting for average winter temperatures and rainfall, there were 43 fewer deaths in 2014. I am cautious about taking one data point as evidence of a trend, as there is very little merit in that. If we take a pace back and look at the record over time, however, we can see that there were 45% fewer fatalities in 2014 than a decade earlier, in 2005.

Although we have one of the best road safety records in the world, we can certainly do more to prevent deaths and serious injuries. We ought also to remember that the consequences of road collisions can be absolutely devastating. We talk about the statistics, but behind every statistic is a shattered family. This is personal: it is really serious and it matters.

I thought it would be helpful if I detailed how we are working to improve driver skills, knowledge and attitudes through campaigns, such as the THINK! campaign, which will contribute significantly. We are ensuring that drivers and vehicles are licensed and safe, and bringing in laws to make roads safer. Sadly, road traffic collisions sometimes result in people suffering life-threatening injuries, and every minute counts in terms of their chances of survival. Providing professional drivers, who are often the first to witness or come across such incidents, with some of the basic life-support training and the knowledge to know what to do will ultimately mean that patients get the care they need while the emergency services are en route. I therefore support the work of Driver First Assist very strongly. I am happy to encourage more drivers to take such training, and I will certainly ask my Department to consider all possible avenues.

Robert Flello: The Department is regularly in touch with haulage firms to ensure that they comply with the various requirements. That always strikes me as a fantastic opportunity to send out the occasional reminder, whether it is on the bottom of an email or printed on a document.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1232

Andrew Jones: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I will come on to some practical suggestions later, in which I will broadly agree with what he has said.

I will ensure that we take every opportunity to promote the work of Driver First Assist. As the hon. Gentleman says, members of Driver First Assist are drawn from the ranks of professional drivers and those who drive regularly as part of their profession. It has established an excellent working relationship with the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives and has the endorsement of the fire and rescue service, the police service and the traffic commissioners.

Driver First Assist equips drivers with skills and resources to manage the scene at a road traffic accident and deliver life-saving first aid in advance of the arrival of the emergency services. It estimates that 46% of road traffic accident fatalities could be avoided if first aid was available early at the scene. That is a powerful statistic. The scheme gives us the opportunity radically to reduce human misery through the application of simple first aid training and the good will of professional drivers.

Many deaths occur from little more than a blocked airway—a condition that, with the right training, is relatively easy to treat. Death from a blocked airway occurs in about four minutes. As the hon. Gentleman said, the target time for an ambulance is eight minutes. Some 50% of road traffic accident deaths occur before the emergency services arrive, which means that Driver First Assist trained drivers can make a vital difference in the first crucial moments.

Drivers are required, as part of their certificate of professional competence, to undertake 35 hours of periodic training every five years. That training can and often does include first aid training. Anecdotal evidence suggests that first aid training is a popular choice for drivers undertaking their periodic CPC training. Of the 3,370 CPC periodic training courses approved by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, 738 are specifically named as a first aid course or a variation on one. That is 21% of all courses and the percentage could be much higher because some other courses feature an element of first aid. In 2014-15 almost 8.5 million hours of periodic training were recorded by the DVSA. It estimates that that equates to about 1.8 million hours of first aid training across the country.

Robert Flello: The Minister is being very generous with his time. As vital as the first aid element is, there are many other elements of Driver First Assist, such as knowing how to position one’s vehicle to protect the lane and the incident in a way that avoids causing another accident and knowing how to hand over to the emergency services in a professional way.

Andrew Jones: Again, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The training in the DFA course is very helpful and broad.

All established professional HGV drivers have to top up with five days of training every five years. We would be happy to link up with Driver First Assist to make sure that training providers know that it is an option they can provide. We would also be happy to publicise it with trade associations and trade unions to operators and drivers.

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1233

I am aware that there have been concerns regarding the drivers’ hours regulations. It is right that we have a system to ensure that professional drivers do not exceed their legally controlled hours, but there is a concession for drivers who undertake this selfless public service in article 12 of the drivers’ hours regulations. A driver may depart from the drivers’ hours rules to enable their vehicle to reach a suitable stopping place. That is available when they have interrupted their journey to administer assistance at the scene of an accident as part of the DFA initiative.

I am aware of concerns that, by administering first aid, drivers could open themselves up to potential legal action, but I assure the House that it is very unlikely that action would be taken against a first-aider who was using the first-aid training they have received. Legal advice would suggest that there is little chance of any such claim succeeding, and in the unlikely event of a claim against a DFA member, that member would be provided with the appropriate legal resources to defend themselves.

Some drivers are concerned that stopping to administer first aid may make them miss deadlines set by their employer. I expect that most employers in the haulage industry would applaud the actions of drivers who stop to save lives—I would certainly applaud that, and I am sure that will be the message from the House. Overall, such actions are likely to save time and money by reducing the delays caused by accidents and allowing emergency services to reopen roads more quickly. I therefore think that criticism is false, and I hope my explanation has helped to put such concerns to bed.

Driver First Assist believes that rapid provision of first aid at the scene of an accident could benefit the UK economy by approximately £1.5 billion per year, and we estimate that congestion on the strategic road

5 Nov 2015 : Column 1234

network costs the UK an estimated £1.6 billion per year. The ability to reopen roads quickly following a road traffic accident can contribute to a significant reduction in that cost burden, and that is of course on top of the human costs of injuries and deaths.

What, if anything, can we do to increase the number of drivers that provide this vital service? I will ask the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to ensure that drivers are made aware that first aid training can form part of the periodic certificate of professional competence training that is offered. My Department will encourage haulage industry trade associations and the trade unions—I have met both—to highlight Driver First Assist to their members. In the next couple of weeks I will meet representatives from the haulage industry, and I will emphasise the value of the scheme at that meeting. I will ensure that my officials contact Driver First Assist to ensure that the Government are providing all the support necessary—including moral support—to support its work in practice.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would be happy to meet DFA: I would be pleased to. I have a very open-door policy and I want to make significant progress in road safety. I am acutely aware that not all ideas will come from the Department for Transport, and I am happy to take ideas from anywhere if we can make a difference. If Driver First Assist wishes, I would be happy to highlight the scheme in Government publicity including, for example, the gov.uk website. In conclusion, Driver First Assist has, and will continue to have, my personal support and thanks. The hon. Gentleman highlighted eloquently the difference made by DFA, and our nation is stronger for its work.

Question put and agreed to.

5.22 pm

House adjourned.