We have a moral duty to treat animals in a compassionate way. Animal welfare considerations should be paramount in the movement of live animals across the UK and the EU.
Animal welfare incidents such as the death of several sheep at Ramsgate Port in 2012, are of real concern. During the last Parliament, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues pressed the Coalition Government to carry out a wide-ranging review of the live animal export trade but unfortunately the Coalition Government only conducted an internal inquiry into the specific incident at Ramsgate in 2012.
The Coalition Government introduced tougher welfare checks for exports of live animals through Ramsgate, including that all consignments would be inspected at the point of loading for signs of distress or injury to the animals. These higher welfare standards are to be welcomed. Thorough inspections and the good handling of animals are vital.
Section 33 of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act (1847) requires all ports to allow the free trade of ‘goods’. The Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend section 33 to exclude live animals for slaughter and aims to give local authorities the discretion to prevent the transportation of live animals for slaughter abroad. This Bill is listed to have its Second Reading on Friday November 25.
The government has emphasised that it would be against EU law to prevent live animal exports. However, following the outcome of the EU referendum, organisations such as Compassion in World Farming have argued that leaving the EU presents an opportunity to halt live animal exports. Until the UK leaves the EU, EU law will still have effect in the UK and the current government has said that current arrangements for farming will remain in place until we leave. The government has confirmed that it intends to enact a Great Repeal Bill which will end the primacy of EU law in the UK. This Bill will seek to incorporate EU legislation into UK law, after which the government will decide which parts to keep, change or retain.
In the absence of a ban on this trade, existing regulations should be properly enforced and the highest possible animal welfare standards must be adhered to. The government should focus on minimising journey times and consider whether the current inspection of animals is sufficient at all stages of the journey, including at port.
The government should listen to the very serious concerns that animal welfare groups continue to raise about this issue.