Neil Parish joins debate live animal exports and animal welfare

Neil Parish speaks in a debate on live animal exports and animal welfare that arose following a case where over 40 sheep were put down at Ramsgate when a lorry was stopped and they were found to be sick or lame. Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) for introducing it. It is an opportune moment for us to debate live exports and, in particular, the methods used.If we look at the number of animals that travel in and out of this country, we see that 85% of the trade is between Ireland and ourselves, so the idea that we are going to ban the live export of animals is unfeasible—it would be impossible. Furthermore, many of those animals may be intended for further fattening or breeding. It is therefore absolutely necessary for the farming community to be able to trade properly, not only with Ireland but with the rest of Europe, because, for the time being at least, we work within a single European market and expect to be able to trade as such.Let me pinpoint what happened in Ramsgate, where 40 or 50 sheep were unloaded on to the dockside with no way of containing them. Those of us who have reared sheep know very well that, certainly without a dog or any sort of enclosure, the idea of allowing those sheep off the lorry was, to be candid, madness, because all it would do is cause a huge problem, and that is what ensued.We need to have a system whereby proper investigations can be performed. The Minister has said that animals need to be inspected properly when they go on to the lorry, and that is fundamental. Then, if there is a problem when they get to the port, wherever it is, there needs to be some form of lairage not too far away so that if there is an emergency the animals can be unloaded and looked after properly. It is possible to take animals on journeys and look after them well. Racehorses are taken all over the world, but of course they go first class, whereas not all the animals we are discussing are going first class; I very much accept that.Another aspect is the type of lorries that are used, which must be the proper type for the species they are transporting. When I was in the European Parliament, I did a lot of work on the transportation of horses, which requires specialist vehicles. We need the right vehicles and the right number of animals on the vehicles so that they are not overcrowded. At times of the year when it is particularly hot and the animals are reasonably crowded on the lorry, there must be proper ventilation, and sometimes refrigeration, to be able to get cold air into it. As I said, the trade is essential, but it has to observe the very best rules. We need to get the situation regarding the lorries right and get the inspections correct, and we need to be sure that, if there is an emergency, when the lorries get to the port there are the means to unload the animals carefully and to handle them properly. If we do all that, then much of what went on at Ramsgate can be put right.Perhaps the industry needs to think about concentrating exports in particular places so that they can provide the best facilities. I think that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) used the word “ramshackle”. That is an interesting word, but I do not necessarily disagree with him. We cannot allow this sort of thing to happen, and I know that the Minister is very conscious of that. The public out there are supportive of agriculture and farming, but they are also very keen on animal welfare, and it is therefore in our interest to make sure that animals are treated very well. From an economic point of view, we want them to travel well and to be unloaded at the other end in good condition, or what is the purpose of transporting them in the first place?I think we are getting carried away about distances. The driving distance from Land’s End to John O’Groat’s is, I think, a little more than 900 miles—it is nearly, but not quite, 1,000 miles. The distance between Dover and Calais is 22 miles, so as long as an export system does not take animals on long journeys, it is possible to cross either the English channel or the Irish sea without too many problems. Again, it has to be ensured that the ferries are fit for purpose and that everything works, because I think that the public demand it. The industry and farmers are conscious of that and know that it is part of the trade.We have to put the percentage of trade in perspective. Live export, especially that for slaughter, amounts to probably only 1% or 2% of the overall market, so huge numbers of sheep and cattle are being slaughtered in this country and then exported as meat. Let us be absolutely clear that that is our preferred position. We must have the ability to take those animals to be traded as meat or to be further fattened.Roger Williams: My hon. Friend and I met the English Beef and Lamb Executive this morning, and I pay tribute to it for its wonderful work in promoting English lamb, particularly Agneau St George, and to Hybu Cig Cymru for promoting Welsh lamb.Thomas Docherty: What about Scottish lamb?Roger Williams: There must be similar organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These organisations do wonderful work in promoting the sale of meat and in getting it to be accepted and appreciated in other countries.Neil Parish: I endorse my hon. Friend’s comments about EBLEX, which is doing a good job in promoting our lamb and beef abroad. On this occasion, I will be magnanimous and say that Welsh lamb, Scottish lamb, English lamb and west country lamb are all wonderful. I will not tell Members which one I think is the best, but they will probably have a fairly good idea.Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): The west country is in England!Neil Parish: Parts of the west country are in England, but I will not enter into that debate this afternoon.It is essential for us to deal with the issue in a grown-up manner. I thank the Minister for the steps he has already taken and look forward to hearing his winding-up speech. As the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife has said, perhaps there is now a case for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to look at the issue, in order to see exactly how the trade is being conducted, to make sure that the rules are in place and to double-check whether the lorries, other vehicles and all those involved are operating it correctly.If sheep or cattle that are not lame or ill, which is exactly as they should be, are loaded on to and transported in the right type of lorry, they should get to their destination in France, Ireland or wherever it be—that is a Somerset expression—in good condition, and that is what the industry wants. I reinforce the point that it is not in the interests of the farming community or those carrying out the trade to take an animal across in poor condition.Thomas Docherty: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be appropriate for our Committee to look at the conditions, such as handling facilities, when the animals arrive at their destination? Given the growth of super-abattoirs as the industry consolidates, we need to look carefully at that part of the journey.Neil Parish: I agree with the hon. Gentleman—we could look at all of that. One of the issues that I have spent a lot of time on, although it is probably not on the agenda for this debate, is the way in which the animals are slaughtered. That is a slightly more controversial issue, but it needs to be dealt with so that they are properly stunned when it comes to slaughter.The hon. Gentleman proposes a good idea. There are European regulations and, having experienced the work of all the other 27—now to be 28—member states, I can assure Members that, on the whole, Britain’s methods and inspections of transport are good. That is not to say that we always get everything right but, compared with many member states, our methods are good. We should not beat ourselves up on this issue, but we need to get it right. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet is concerned, and rightly so, about what happened with the Ramsgate shipment and the slaughter of animals on the quayside. There will be a proper inquiry into that and the situation needs to be put right. As I have said, I am certain, in hindsight, that the same action would not be taken again.I welcome this debate and reinforce points that have been made by Members of all parties. I do not believe that this is a party political matter. It is a matter of trading properly through the single market and under good conditions, including for welfare, so that the public are assured that our farming community and those involved in the export trade are operating it properly and that the animals get to their destination in good condition.| Hansard