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Lord Dear (Crossbench)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what initiatives they intend to pursue to protect the welfare of animals, with special regard to the long-distance transport of horses.

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Lord Dear (Crossbench)

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as a trustee of World Horse Welfare, a registered charity previously known as the International League for the Protection of Horses.

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

My Lords, the Government will continue to ensure that the requirements of the EU rules regarding welfare during transport are applied robustly to all long-distance transporters of horses operating within the UK. We will continue to press the European Commission to introduce the recommendation made by the European Food Safety Authority that horses travelling for slaughter should not face journey times exceeding 12 hours.

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Lord Dear (Crossbench)

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the suffering that is caused to around 65,000 horses each year as they are transported across Europe for slaughter, often over very long distances and in totally unsatisfactory conditions, with many of them ending up on the plates of southern European restaurants. Further, he may be aware that EC Regulation 1/2005 allows for proposals to be made to regulate those journeys if scientific evidence supports that change. In the light of that, can the Minister confirm that since evidence supporting that change was indeed presented to the Commission by the European Food Safety Authority last year, the Government have now pressed the Commission for a proposal to limit the maximum journey time for horses destined for slaughter?

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

Yes, my Lords. I thank the noble Lord for the work he does in this area. I, too, need to declare an interest as president of the charity SPANA, which is concerned with working animals, particularly equids, in developing countries. We welcome the European Commission's report of 10 November 2011 on its review of Regulation 1/2005, and agree that the first priority should be better enforcement of the existing legislation across Europe. However, we share the disappointment of many that the recent recommendation by EFSA that horses going to slaughter should not face journeys exceeding 12 hours has not been adopted by the Commission. While it would be illegal for us to act unilaterally in an area that is already covered by directly applicable EU legislation, we will continue to push for this recommendation to be adopted by the European Commission at the earliest opportunity.

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Baroness Trumpington (Conservative)

My Lords, as a former president of the organisation that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, spoke of, and having taken a Bill through this House on this very subject and pursued this very distasteful European practice, if I may say so, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware of the trade from South America to Italy, with horrible conditions in the ships for the horses, which are then turned into sausages or whatever the Italians care to eat?

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

My Lords, I am grateful for the work that my noble friend has done in this area. I think that noble Lords around the House share her horror, as do I, at the conditions in which these unfortunate animals travel. As I say, we are pressing the Commission to adopt the EFSA rules. I am not aware specifically of the position on the transport of animals between South America and Italy, and I will look into it.

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Lord Knight of Weymouth (Labour)

My Lords, the Government's record on animal welfare is now in tatters, given that they are not listening to science on badgers, are dragging their heels on animals in circuses and have made a shambolic U-turn on shooting buzzards. [Laughter.] We can see how seriously the party opposite takes animal welfare from its reaction to that. Given that more than a million people have signed the petition on the long-distance transport of horses for slaughter organised by Animal Angels and that MEPs now agree that the limit should be eight hours, is it the Government's policy that the limit should be eight hours or the 12 hours that the Minister talked about?

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

My Lords, most animal welfare NGOs want an automatic eight-hour limit on all journeys for all livestock going to slaughter. The EFSA report did not recommend such an approach, recognising that different species can be transported over different periods of time without unnecessary suffering. Scientific research supports the argument that the quality of transport and the competence of the driver tend to be the major factors in the welfare of animals during transport and not necessarily the length of the journey time.

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Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, although government can do quite a lot, our own experience has shown that public opinion can change things quickly? Is the Minister encouraging our Government to talk to the rest of Europe about raising public awareness in those countries?

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

That is a very important point, and it will form part of what we are doing at the European Commission.

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Lord Donoughue (Labour)

While it is commendable to press the European authorities for more action, will the UK Government not do more themselves especially to protect the UK horse population from threats to its health? In particular, will he commit the Government to increasing the levels of surveillance of this problem in British ports?

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the noble Lord's words. We would prefer to see the export of meat or germ plasm rather than of livestock, and that animals are slaughtered as close as is practical to their point of production. However, the export of livestock for slaughter within the EU is perfectly legal. To ban it would be illegal under existing EU competition legislation. That legal position has been confirmed by rulings by the European Court of Justice and by High Court cases. The Government are committed to improving the welfare of animals. If animals are exported live, their transportation should comply fully with the necessary legal requirements as laid down in EU and national law.

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Baroness Fookes (Conservative)

My Lords, the treatment of animals in transport-not only horses but all kinds of farm animal-is a long-standing disgrace, and I am sick and tired of all the excuses. If it is important that we have good transport and good drivers as the Minister has said, what action will he take to ensure that that is seen to? I should probably declare an interest in that I am involved with a good many animal charities.

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Lord de Mauley (Conservative)

My Lords, enforcement provisions and procedures by which the various regulations are applied are in the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 and similar legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. AHVLA and local authorities are responsible for regulatory and enforcement action under this legislation.