This afternoon, we will hear first from Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union, who will appear virtually; Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming, who will also appear virtually; and Rob Taylor from the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s livestock priority delivery group. We have until 3 pm. Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?
Good afternoon. I am Rob Taylor, the all-Wales wildlife and rural crime co-ordinator for the police. I am also the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s chair of the livestock priority delivery group.
Q52 Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us. Minette, may I start with your views, and those of your members, on the live export provisions generally?
Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee. We respect the Government’s manifesto commitment on live animal exports, but our main concern is the double standards of the approach. If we take the Australian trade deal as an example, we are allowed to move animals in Australia for 48 hours without any water at all, or overseas for boat journeys lasting up to a month. That has caused enormous concern for members. Farmers in this country passionately want to maintain and grow our animal welfare standards, but we are concerned primarily about the double standards of the approach with other trading partners, which will potentially undercut farmers in this country.
Q But in terms of the actual live export provisions, your members can live with them as they are. You have no specific comments to make.
I think there is a case to be made on unintended consequences, potentially for Northern Ireland to Great Britain, GB to Northern Ireland, the Isle of Wight, and the highlands and islands. We need to be very clear for future reference about precisely what the movements are when they are crossing water.
Q Yes, the Bill refers to the British Isles. What is your view, and your experiences and those of your members, on the problem with livestock worrying, particularly over the last year and a half or so, when we have seen a lot of pandemic puppies?
Yes, it has been a massive problem, and we really welcome the new terminology in the Bill about attacking as well as worrying. We have never felt that worrying really does justice to what is going on. We face a situation where 15,000 sheep have been killed every year. That is information provided by SheepWatch UK. We feel very strongly that the terminology needs absolute clarity of thinking for farmers, dog walkers and the police. A dog at large should be a dog on a lead of no longer than 2 metres, to avoid confusion. A dog “with its owner” is not always with its owner, so we feel there needs to be absolute clarity that a dog at large is on a lead.
If that were needed for clarity, it would be quite easy to facilitate. It would be in the farmer’s interest to make sure their dog is controlled but, if it were needed for clarity, we would support that.
Q You will have seen that the Bill expands the definition of “livestock.” Is that something you feel strongly about?
Q Peter, I know you have campaigned for many years on live exports. What are your views on that part of the Bill?
Yes, Compassion in World Farming is pleased that the Bill includes a prohibition on live export for slaughter and fattening, but the Bill does not prohibit the export of high-value breeding animals, which we accept—we have never campaigned for that.
I have worked on this campaign for 30 years, and it began long before I started, probably 50 or 60 years ago. Of course we are pleased, and I congratulate the farming sector. The height of the trade was in 1993, when Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food figures showed that we exported 2 million sheep and an unbelievable 500,000 calves, nearly all male, to the continent for slaughter. The farming sector has got those figures down, and they are now much reduced. We export about 30,000 to 45,000 sheep a year and, in practice, calf exports from Great Britain stopped about 18 months ago. There have not been any pig exports for slaughter or fattening for some years. The farming sector has done terribly well.
I am sure some farmers have misgivings about this ban, but I urge them to say, “Yes, please impose it.” I think it is right that this chapter now comes to an end.
Q Rob, do you support the measures in the Bill on livestock worrying—or attacking, as Minette would remind us we should call it?
Very much so. This has been a long journey. I represent the police forces of the UK, and I was the team manager for North Wales police in 2013 when we started the first designated rural team of its type anywhere in the UK. We now have more than 25 dedicated teams throughout the UK. The problem of livestock attacks previously existed in our rural and farming communities, but it was never identified. The main reason is that no dedicated team existed, and the Government and the Home Office do not require the police to record the statistics. In a very short time of managing the team, I saw the sheer scope and scale of the horror of livestock attacks in our rural communities.
On average, in north Wales alone, we were seeing 125 attacks a year under the antiquated law, with the death of many sheep and dogs, including those that were being shot or euthanised. Over the following years, I decided to try education, which did not work.
I am a big believer that there needs to be an end result of rectifying this problem. We engaged four other forces to go on this journey with us and to find statistics that show it is not just a north Wales problem. As a force, we had recorded our stats voluntarily, but the other four forces had not and had to take six months to get those statistics up to a certain level. Their statistics replicated ours, and they showed the pure horror of livestock attacks throughout the UK.
I am now in charge of rural events in Wales, so I have oversight of all four forces in Wales, and three of them are voluntarily providing statistics. Those statistics remain high and continue to increase, with the death of many sheep and dogs, and at substantial cost. The law is antiquated and does not cover the offence as it occurs, and it does not support the police in the investigation of such offences.
Yes, and I say that with some authority as we have worked on the law for the past eight years, and we have worked intensively with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the National Sheep Association and other interested parties to get it to this point today. I have been in many meetings where many amendments have been made. I have read through it in detail and know it back to front. I am more than convinced that it will give the police and the courts the power to move us forward, so that the Bill will make a huge difference to not only policing, but irresponsible dog owners throughout the UK.
It is an interesting question. I would say lead in certain circumstances. If someone is in a field with cattle, the issue is that with the dog on a lead, the cattle will stampede. People have been killed in such environments. It is not straightforward. However, in a field with sheep, we definitely recommend that it take place.
The law is many years old, and there are a number of things in that that actually will be in place for 2022, such as obtaining DNA sampling. The big one for me is that previously you could not ban a dog owner. If a dog killed 100 sheep, the owner would appear before the court and receive a maximum fine of £1,000. The next day, they could go back, buy three dogs and continue the offence. I think it is ludicrous that that still occurs in our countryside in 2021.
Good afternoon to our witnesses. Minette, could I start with you? On livestock attacks, do you think that the maximum fine of £1,000 is sufficientQ ?
No, and it would be interesting to hear from the police on that. We feel that there need to be stronger controls. While I have the opportunity, the same applies for hare coursing. It is still far too easy to commit a crime with a dog without a severe penalty. We have a severe penalty on hare coursing with vehicles, but at the moment that cost falls to the police. We need to see that being tightened up.
Q I suspect that this is a slightly leading question, but do you think there is sufficient compensation for farmers whose livestock have been attacked?
With the loss of livestock at the scale that we are seeing at the moment, no, there is not. It is perfectly avoidable. The real challenge is that once a dog has attacked and killed a sheep, it will do it again. We have to have zero tolerance to stop that happening in the first place, otherwise it will continue to happen.
Q On the export of livestock, we all welcome the situation we are now in, with far fewer animals, and welcome the legislation. Is that really the issue around the transport of livestock? Some of the written evidence suggests that the real issue is journey times in general.
Well, with the climate we have here, air throughput is absolutely essential to ensure that animals are travelling comfortably. However, in banning live animal exports and opening up our market to a much greater level of raw ingredients, I think that there is a very strong case to be made on competitiveness. We are seeing rising standards of animal welfare and animal transport and the banning of live animal exports, but we are not seeing any recommendations to impose any of those laws on other countries. That is quite a major challenge as we move forwards. We all want to see higher levels of animal welfare, but, above all else, we want things to be fair.
Q Thank you. Peter, I think everyone will congratulate you and your organisation on all the campaigning you have done over the years. I ask you the same question: what are the issues around animal welfare and the transport of animals?
Until it finally becomes law, the key issue is still bringing an end to the export of animals for slaughter. As I said, calf exports in effect ended at the end of 2019, when Scotland decided to no longer export them. However, that trade could resume. We are seeing young animals—between two and five weeks—exported from the UK all the way down to Spain, and then, in certain cases, after a period of fattening, re-exported from Spain for slaughter in Lebanon and Libya. Let us try to finally get that through and make it an Act of Parliament.
Although it is not in the Bill, I am aware that DEFRA has been consulting about changes for journeys in the UK, on shorter journey times, more space, more headroom and greater care about making sure animals are not overheating during journeys. All that is welcome. I know that the farmers had a number of concerns about DEFRA’s proposals; DEFRA’s response to the consultation struck a reasonable balance between welfare concerns and farmer’s concerns. I know that DEFRA is still talking to stakeholders about that. So yes, I think even within the UK we should be having shorter journeys. We have always campaigned for a maximum journey time of eight hours for slaughter and fattening. DEFRA says, and I know this from supermarkets too, in practice most journeys to slaughter are below eight hours.
Q In your written evidence you and others raised the vexed question of a potential Northern Ireland loophole. Without re-rehearsing the entire complicated issue around the Northern Ireland protocol, could you say a little about your concerns as they relate to this issue?
There is a potential loophole, but it is not really possible to assess how much the loophole will, in practice, exist. The Bill exports from England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland; because of the protocol, it would not legally be able to include Northern Ireland. There is a danger here, which I am hoping is theoretical rather than actual, that people in England, Wales and Scotland could send animals to Northern Ireland that then go on to the Republic and on to the continent. In practice, it does not sound that likely; the only ferry service to Northern Ireland from Scotland, which is the route that has been traditionally been used from Cairnryan to Larne, is operated by P&O and they have a very clear written policy of not taking animals for slaughter or fattening. A colleague of mine checked with Stena Sealink, which also operates from Cairnryan to Belfast, and they said that they are not licenced to take animals, and they seem to have no desire to get involved in that trade.
I am hoping that we will not see animals going from GB to Northern Ireland, and then on to the continent. However, there certainly is a danger of that. In the regulation-making powers that are given by the Bill on live exports, DEFRA could consider including some sort of requirement that, for people who are taking animals from GB to Northern Ireland, there is some way of certifying that those animals are genuinely destined for Norther Ireland and not bound for re-export to the Republic and the continent.
Q I have one final question on poultry, which was raised in your written evidence and the evidence of others. Could you say a little about that?
A bit like breeding animals, there has not been evidence of real problems with poultry over the years in the way that there has been with the export of sheep and calves. As far as I am aware, all the poultry being exported are day-old chicks; they have a yolk sac that for a certain amount of time is providing them with energy and liquid. Under current EU law, as long as the transport is finished by the time they are 72 hours old, they can be transported for 24 hours. I think DEFRA proposed to let that law remain in place.
When we look at the science, I think the figures could possibly be revisited; perhaps 24 hours is a bit long—perhaps 16 hours would have a better effect for the health and welfare of these tiny chicks. There is an argument for saying that those journeys should be completed within 48 hours of hatching—not 72. I think there should be some revisiting there, but we are not saying that the export of these day-old chicks should be brought to an end.
Q This is a general question for Rob. Throughout the Bill—and this goes beyond this Bill—the enforcement issues seem to be difficult. We pass laws, but do not really check whether they are enforced. In particular, we do not really check whether those we are asking to enforce—the police, the border agency or the local authority—have the resources to do it. That is why I am really glad that you are here. Would you tell us a bit about your view on that, and whether the Bill will work, in the sense that the people who are going to enforce it have the resources to do it?
Absolutely. As I said previously, I think bridges were crumbling between the police and farming communities, going back 20 years. Since 2013, I have seen a huge upsurge in the way in which the police deal with rural and farming communities. I highlight the fact that there are over 25 rural crime teams, which are expanding week on week. In Wales alone, we have over 40 dedicated rural officers, and I am dealing with them, along with four sergeants, as the all Wales crime co-ordinator. The resources are definitely there. On the 125 cases in North Wales, I can speak with authority as the previous team manager. Every single case is dealt with professionally and thoroughly from cradle to grave by a dedicated rural crime officer, and that is the same for Dyfed-Powys Police, Gwent Police and South Wales Police, who are currently coming on board. The same applies to a number of teams that exist throughout England as well.
Q As you would imagine, the Opposition are often pleased about what happens in Wales, but it is not the same everywhere in the country. I do not know whether you are in a position to comment on the rest of the country. In addition, I was struck by the evidence from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about the potential transfer of prosecution powers from it to police and local authorities. Given the extraordinary pressure on police and local authorities, I find that quite troubling. Again, I would look to you for guidance on whether we should be troubled and whether we should worry that the Bill will not lead to the outcomes that we hope for.
I firmly believe that it will lead to the outcomes that we are hoping for. Having dedicated officers makes us more efficient in how we deal with things. For example, if you go back 15 years, I was a young police constable in North Wales, dealing one day with a shoplifter and the next expected to go to a farm to deal with a livestock attack involving 10 or 15 sheep. I did not have a clue what I was doing—that was the case before dedicated teams came in.
I give North Wales as an example, but North Yorkshire has exactly the same kind of team, based on ours. I worked with them to start up that team a number of years ago, so I can speak with authority for them as well. They are experienced officers who will go to a farm, know exactly what the issues are, deal with them efficiently and quickly, and take everything on board. The new law makes it easier for officers to deal with the problem. In the olden days, you could not get DNA to prove an offence, so you had to try, try and try, and spend lots of time trying to prove the offence. The new law gives us the power to do that more efficiently by using dedicated officers. I am an absolute firm believer that this law will give us the power to do what we need to do, and do it better.
Thank you very much, Ms McVey. Can I ask some questions about the specifics of the Bill—clause 27 onwards in part 2 —regarding the seizure and retention of dogs? Can you give me your views on that? Clause 27(1) says that ifQ
“a constable has reasonable grounds to believe that the dog has attacked or worried livestock on agricultural land or a road or a path…The constable may seize the dog”.
There is some more wording, but what is clear from subsection (3) is that the owner of the dog in those circumstances has seven days to reclaim it. There is a suggestion that at the end of that period, if it is not reclaimed one of the options open to the police is the destruction of that dog. Is that your understanding of the position?
The dog will be placed in the care of a dogs home, then it will be up for relocation to a suitable home. The problem that we have at present is that we seize a dog, and as soon as the owner turns up we have to give it back. Otherwise, we seize a dog and are stuck with it until whenever, and it is a really difficult one.
Q There is a potential contradiction in the Bill regarding the situation that I have just read out, where a constable has reasonable grounds to believe that a criminal offence has taken place, and the dog can be collected after seven days. Then we go on to clause 27(8), which says:
“The constable may seize the dog and detain it—
(a) until an investigation has been carried out into whether an offence under section 26 has been committed by reason of the dog attacking or worrying livestock, or
(b) if proceedings are brought in respect of such an offence, until those proceedings have been determined or withdrawn.”
Effectively, that means that we have one situation where there is seven days and another situation under clause 27(8) where the dog can be kept until the end of criminal proceedings. What is the difference between the two? Is it that under clause 27(8) the person has been charged with the offence and the dog will then be kept potentially on an indefinite basis, compared with the seven days I just referred to?
I would have to read through it again in detail, but I think part 2 relates to the risk that the dog is going to reoffend. I would need to read through it again to make sure, but from the meetings I have been in that is the belief I have. We see time and again that a dog will offend, be taken back by the owner and then at the scene, and the next day go out and kill three or four sheep. The next day it does exactly the same again. My belief is that the power there is for detaining the dog until the case is completed.
Q Okay. You can see the difference between what constitutes a decision for seven days and what constitutes a decision for what would potentially be a very lengthy period of time. I have to go on. I am from a criminal law background and have dealt with many cases in this area. Realistically, where we are now, you could have a case that was disputed and could go on for over 12 months. You would accept that?
The dog would be kept in kennels and would be fed and watered properly, as other dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are. The first situation applies when the dog owner is not known. The second applies when the dog owner is known. The dog could be kept to prevent it from reoffending again. Over the last 15 years I have been dealing with dog offences, I would say that that power has probably been used once or twice. It is an extremely rare situation.
Q My final question is on the power of disqualification, which I assume you fully understand. People obviously can have more than one dog, so there may be a situation where one dog is responsible for an act that has led to the owner being convicted of a criminal offence. A disqualification order would suggest that other dogs in the home can then be seized, even though they have not been responsible for any potential criminal behaviour. Is that correct?
Absolutely. Court orders are given many times for people who commit offences against badgers or other similar offences of cruelty. They are given a banning order, which prevents them from keeping dogs. It is for them to actually dispose of the dogs or they commit a further offence of being in possession of a dog while subject to a court order.
Q I understand that, and I appreciate the point you are making. Clause 33(4) says:
“Any dog taken into possession in pursuance of an order under subsection (1) or (2)”— which is the disqualification order—
“that is not owned by the person subject to the disqualification order is to be dealt with in such manner as an appropriate court may order.”
That covers a number of different circumstances. I am concerned that dogs that have not acted in an inappropriate manner, shall we say, are potentially going to be disposed of and destroyed. That seems remarkably unfair.
No, absolutely. We see it time and again with wildlife offences and other such offences. If you are subject to a disqualification order, it is your responsibility to dispose of those dogs, whether by rehoming them, giving them to somebody else or making sure that they are given to a dogs home. You cannot possess those dogs. Previously in my evidence I said that the problem we have is not with the dogs. It is about irresponsible dog ownership. You could have a great dog, but if the owner is a bad owner, they are going to continue to commit these offences. This is exactly the same. I am aware of numerous people in north Wales who are banned from keeping animals. There are numerous people throughout the UK who are banned from keeping animals, and quite rightly so. They are irresponsible and they treat animals in an appalling manner.
Q I have one final brief question. We clearly do not want to be in a situation where, if a disqualification order is made, the person convicted of a criminal offence is given responsibility for rehoming a dog. That seems ridiculous, but that is what you are suggesting would happen.
Q So you do not see it as the responsibility of the police or somebody else to rehome a dog in an appropriate way when it has been taken, to ensure that its welfare is maintained?
If people are caught hare coursing or badger baiting and they have a disqualification put on them, it is their responsibility to rehome the dog and move it on; otherwise, they commit further offences. It is as simple as that. The two choices we have here are that we actually do that or we let the person commit an offence, such as the 100 sheep killed in Kent a few years ago. That person might go out and buy five Alsatians the next day. Where does it stop? There has to be a point at which that person is recognised as an irresponsible dog owner and not fit to keep dogs.
Q There is no dispute regarding disqualification from future purchase. What I am concerned about is the dog that is already under the ownership of a person and what happens to that dog, which has done nothing wrong whatsoever.
But that dog has done nothing wrong whatsoever up until that point. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase and attack. If the person’s dog that has committed the offence is no longer being walked, that person is walking his two whippets, Jack Russells or Yorkshire terriers and is irresponsible. That person remains irresponsible and that dog, once it attacks, will have a natural ability to chase. If the person decides to walk his dogs through a field without a lead or suitable responsibility, they will commit an offence and we are back to square one. We then have to get a disqualification order for the dog, which gets disqualified, and we carry on disqualifying that person, who could then have 20 dogs. We would spend 20 years trying to get that person not to be able to take their dog for a walk.
I also want to ask Mr Taylor a few questions, sticking to part 2 of the Bill, specifically clause 39, on the meaning of “worrying livestock”. We heard in evidence this morning from both the Blue Cross and the RSPCA that there are some concerns that the definition of a dog “at large” is far too broad and that it could have unintended consequences. I am interested to know whether you share any concerns about clause 39(3)(b), which elaborates that a dog is “at large” unless it isQ
“within sight of a person and the person—
(i) remains aware of the dog’s actions, and
(ii) has reason to be confident that the dog will return to the person reliably and promptly on the person’s command.”
Do you think that this may have unintended consequences for your ability to enforce to the law?
No, not at all. It needs to be clarified here that an act that takes somebody to court is the upper echelon. I can see five phases with regards to a livestock attack. If a dog is at large in a field or is loose beyond the control of the handler and no sheep have been chased or worried, that would be a word of advice or a lead letter, which is a standard letter that we send off. If there is an attack where a dog is chased, it moves up to a community resolution, whereby we can impose things such as the dog owner having to have control. It is a bit like a yellow card in a football match. It can then move up to a caution, then it moves up again to a prosecution. The prosecutions and destruction orders tend to be the ones that are repeat offences or where the dog handler is irresponsible from day one. That is a decision for the police managers, such as me, to make.
There are five phases. It does not mean that every single offence would go straight in at level 5 and that we would prosecute; there are various ways we deal with this. The problem we have is that the people who are at level 5, who are irresponsible and keep committing the same offences, keep buying dogs and keep going out and letting their dogs attack sheep. The problem we have is at the level 5 area, but I should say level 1 is that we do not take any action. Level 2 would be advice, level 3 would be community resolution, level 4 would be a caution and level 5 would be prosecution and possibly destruction.
Not every prosecution ends in a destruction. That would be a decision for me as to whether there are aggravated features within the offence, such as the dog has done it twice or three time before, it is a continued offence or the number of animals killed is on such a massive scale. For example, 11 cows were chased in Anglesey and had their udders ripped off. They ran across walls, broke all their legs and died—£22,000-worth. In my opinion, that would be a high-scale offence. Sadly, that offender was never caught.
Q On enforcement, there may not be any merit, but do you think that there is any benefit, in terms of public awareness and understanding of owners’ responsibilities, in limiting the definition of “at large” to a dog that is on a lead of a particular length?
Q Minette, other witnesses this morning suggested that there is an omission from the Bill, in that there are no provisions to offer compensation to livestock owners when they have suffered a dog attack in this way. I am interested in whether the National Farmers Union has a position on that and whether it would like to see such clauses inserted into the Bill.
An attack can cost tens of thousands of pounds to that farming business. We feel that it has to be proportionate to the crime committed and at the moment it is not. It is probably not for us to put a figure on it, but it is not proportionate to the crime at the moment.
I have a question about the list of exempted dogs in clause 39(2)(b). Do you have a view on whether that list of dogs might be too broad given that it includesQ
“a working gun dog or a pack of hounds”, and given their use in the countryside? Rob or Minette?
I am simply not close enough to the detail. I think it would be an extraordinary situation for a pack of hounds that are hunting by trail anyway to end up in this position, so I cannot see either scenario happening in my opinion.
I think that was previously included in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, and it was just left in as it stands. I agree with Minette. I do not think it is contentious and it is quite limited if it were to occur. That is the reason it is in there.
Welcome, everyone. Following on, the working gun dog definition might be interesting to look at because we have working gun dogs, but they do not work—although they might go on the checkout in Asda occasionally on a Saturday morning. I wonder whether we need to look at that definition, because if somebody is walking their dog, it goes after a sheep, and the dog happens to be one of those breeds but not a working dog, there is a grey area there. Do you have an opinion on that?Q
Q They do that even if they are not supposed to. This morning, the Dogs Trust said the majority of livestock worrying is from dogs that have escaped from a garden. We are talking a lot about on lead/off lead. That is very important, and we must get it right. In your experience, are you seeing that the vast majority of attacks come from dogs that have escaped from properties? Minette, is that what your members are seeing as well?
We did a survey of the five police forces, as I said, between 2013 and 2017. We recorded the best stats we could. Luckily, North Wales had incredibly good stats because we would voluntarily record them every 24 hours, so we were very accurate. In North Wales, in excess of 70% of attacks were where the owner was not present, so that is a big one. The other four forces were Devon and Cornwall, North Yorkshire, Hertfordshire and Sussex. They came in with figures that were slightly less than that.
My frustration over the year is that everybody comes out with dogs on leads campaigns, whether it is a local council, the RSPCA or farming unions, whereas most of the time the problem is not that the owner is not present, but that the dog may have escaped, gone off or is some distance from the owner.
I think the evidence speaks for itself. As Rob has just said, in 70% of attacks nobody was present, but ultimately the dog has not been constrained within the garden or on a lead. The bulk of these attacks happen with dogs out on their own with nobody in the vicinity at all.
Q There is a slight grey area because it is either that an animal has escaped from a property where the owner probably does not even know it has gone, or someone is walking in the countryside, the dog bolts and they have not got it under control. Those are two very different scenarios.
There is also a third one. I have been to many livestock attacks in my years; I was a warranted Sergeant until 2016, when I retired and became a manager as a civilian, so I have been to these attacks with my team myself. The third scenario is that the dog jumps out when the car boot is opened. That is quite a common one; we see that a lot, or people just take their dog out for a walk and think it would never do it. A common thing that people say to us is, “My dog would never attack,” and lo and behold it has just killed three sheep. Those are the common ones. I would like to think it lessened when more people were home due to lockdown, and I would be interested to see those statistics.
However, as we know, more people at home bought more dogs, so that emphasises the problem itself. The main problem would be that somebody would buy a dog. Predominantly, about four years ago, everybody went husky-crazy and bought huskies. I am not sure if it was from a TV programme that featured huskies as quite a part of it, but something like 70% to 80% of the attacks we had that year were huskies. People just went crazy for huskies, and of course, after they stopped being puppies, they left them in their insecure gardens and went to work. Quite commonly, we would have an attack, go around to the house, and the owner would not even know the attack had happened until we followed a trail of blood to their back door and saw that the dog had blood on its fur.
There is a real mix. I started looking at full moons and all sorts, because I really thought there was some theory in it. I believe it was similar when Harry Potter was very pro on the TV and in films, and everybody was buying barn owls. I will not name the programme, but there was a similar thing with a very famous programme, which I think has finished now, and people started buying huskies left, right and centre, and that was the problem. Those who know dogs know that huskies are a very difficult breed to keep because they can run all day, sleep for one hour, and eat some blubber on ice. Having them in a garden backing on to a field full of sheep is probably the worst-case scenario.
Thank you to our witnesses for appearing before us. Peter, are you confident and encouraged that this legislation will actively improve the welfare of animals that are transported? I am specifically thinking of livestock and horses. Are there other things that we need to be doing in parallel to this, such as bolstering and supporting the abattoir network to reduce the distances that animals need to be transported? Are you encouraged that the legislation will improve welfareQ ?
Yes, I am encouraged that it will. Obviously it is not going to tackle all sorts of things, but specifically on the prohibition on live exports for slaughter or fattening, I believe that will improve welfare. As I said, until very recently, several thousand calves per year were being sent from Great Britain down to Spain. We also have sheep that were being sent to a variety of countries for slaughter—to France, the Netherlands and Belgium—but in 2019, there were some sheep going all the way to Hungary and Bulgaria. The big worry there is not just the length of the journey—although that is a big concern—but the fact that the animals may be re-exported.
As I said, in 2020, if I remember rightly, an animal welfare organisation was able to film calves with UK ear tags being loaded on to a ship in Spain—having been sent to Spain, and after a period of fattening—to be sent on to Libya, and also slaughtered in Lebanon. This will stop that risk of UK animals being sent on huge, long journeys.
In terms of other things, yes, I totally agree with your point: we have the problem, and have had it for many years, that the local network of small abattoirs has been rapidly disappearing because of economic constraints. We need Government to come in and help with that by providing funding, because otherwise there is a danger that we continue to have long journeys here, just within Britain.
It is also important that there are a number of farmers who want to engage in what are called private kills. They want to send their animals to a local abattoir, and then have the carcass back so that they can add value and sell it directly to customers. That is beneficial because it means a short journey to the abattoir for the animal, but in terms of boosting local rural economies, that is important, and we certainly need a network of small abattoirs. We also need to see some of the longer journeys within Britain coming down. Most journeys to slaughter are already under eight hours, but we really want to see all of them under that. Of course we recognise that there has to be an exception for very remote parts of Britain, such as the highlands.
Q Thank you, that is very helpful. May I pass that over to Minette? I am sure you would be supportive of animals being farm-reared and entering the food supply chain locally. That will reduce travelling times and improve animal welfare. Do you think that for your members there is enough clarity in the Bill that farm animals can still be moved for breeding purposes? We have been fairly explicit in the Bill that it is for fattening and slaughter, but is there enough clarity that other movements would be permissible for breeding stock?
I think everyone regrets the fact that we have lost the small local abattoirs. The fact is they have gone, and the distribution centres are so consolidated that we have lost our local routes to market. I used to have two local slaughterhouses within 20 miles. There is nothing now in that mileage range, and that will be the same in many parts of the country. We have lost the small abattoirs: it was too impossible for them to run. Everybody would like to get back to that, but it is just not available at the moment. There have been many conversations about mobile abattoirs, but we do not have the legislation in place to achieve that.
Everybody is supportive of the local agenda, but we drove that out and it has gradually got worse and worse. We have fewer and fewer abattoirs. We would need to bring them back and we would need to incentivise and empower that more local, added-value way ahead, which—like Peter—I am very supportive of. At the moment we have totally diminished it. Can you remind me of your other point?
Q It was about movement of animals for breeding purposes—high-level breeding animals that still need to be moved around in the farming world. Is there enough clarity in the Bill? It is clear for fattening and slaughter, but it is important that animals are still able to be moved for breeding purposes. The caveat is that we do not want people exploiting that as a loophole.
We should not forget how hugely important that point is, both on genetics and on welfare. The position on border control posts has been hard-fought, and is still at some risk as negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol continue. It is essential that we prioritise breeding stock—it is a number of 30,000 and it is important for both sides, the UK and the EU. We must avoid any unintended consequences. I remain concerned, on the European side, that we get this in place. Things are moving forward, but it is not a done deal yet.
I want to refer back to something Minette said earlier, and I apologise if I misunderstood it. With regard to dog attacks on sheep, I think you said that once a dog has become a sheep killer, it will remain a sheep killer for life. Is that what you said? I understand that is a commonly held view among the farming fraternity.Q
I think Rob backed up what I said. It is not impossible to train a dog out of that behaviour, but once a dog has attacked a sheep it is extremely hard to turn that dog around and it would need supervision at all times with livestock to avoid that scenario happening again.
Q Once a dog has breached that point of no return—once it has become a sheep killer—I take it from what you have just said that you believe it is virtually impossible for that dog to be safely rehomed because of the danger that, unless it is under very close supervision from that point onwards, it would remain a sheep killer and would attack livestock again.
We have to bear in mind that if a dog has killed a sheep it is not the sheep that it has an affinity with; it is the fact that it has drawn blood. You then have to ask yourself what other damage it could go on to do, whether that be to other dogs, other animals in general, or indeed people. Once a dog has made an attack it is really in a very vulnerable place, for the damage it might go on to do.
Are there any further questions from Members? In that case, I thank our witnesses: Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union; Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser for Compassion in World Farming; and Rob Taylor from the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s livestock priority delivery group. Thank you very much indeed.