Non-stun Slaughter of Animals — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:18 pm on 3rd April 2019.

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Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip 4:18 pm, 3rd April 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am really pleased that the Conservative party is interested in this issue, and I am really pleased that the Labour party and the Scottish National party are taking an active interest too. This is a cross-party issue. We are trying to push through so much legislation and I know that there is frustration about just when we will be able to make it happen. I share that frustration, but hopefully hon. Members know, after all the debates that we have had in recent days, that we are working very hard to try to make these things happen.

Let me come back to the point about religious slaughter. On non-stun slaughter in particular, I restate that it is the Government’s preference that all animals are stunned before slaughter. However, as I said in answer to Imran Hussain—this relates to the comments made by Naz Shah—the Government respect the rights of Jews and Muslims to eat meat prepared in accordance with their beliefs. Therefore, we allow religious slaughter of animals by Muslims and Jews intended for consumption by Muslim and Jewish communities, in keeping with their traditions.

The Government believe that this is an important religious freedom. There is a long history of upholding it in legislation, dating back to the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933. We remember from our history books what was going on at that time in the ’30s. Important decisions were made in relation to that Act, which contained an exception from stunning for religious slaughter for Jews and Muslims. Since then, the rules governing religious slaughter have developed to provide additional protections to animals that are slaughtered in accordance with religious rites, while still permitting non-stun slaughter for Jews and Muslims.

When we discuss religious slaughter, it is worth bearing in mind that often in the case of halal meat the relevant Muslim authorities are content that the animal is stunned. Although we produce a significant amount of halal sheepmeat in this country, two thirds of it is from sheep that are stunned before slaughter.

Today there are both EU and domestic regulations that protect the welfare of animals at the time of killing. Within that legislation, there are additional rules for those animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites, specifically for the production of halal or kosher meat. The primary aim of the welfare at slaughter regulations, which are based on a body of scientific evidence and advice from the European Food Safety Authority, is to ensure that animals are spared avoidable pain, distress or suffering at the time of killing, which was one of the key points that my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury made in his very important speech.

The Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations 2015— WATOK—imposed stricter national rules for religious slaughter and provided greater protections than those contained in the EU regulation, which sets baseline Europe-wide standards. For instance, we prohibit the inversion of cattle for religious slaughter, which some member states, such as France, still allow. This ban followed the 1985 report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which recommended that inversion be banned.

Yasmin Qureshi raised concerns about mis-stunning. The official veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency will take enforcement action against mis-stunning.