Tuesday, 2 April 2013
LIVE EXPORT 2013
By Cllr Michelle Fenner
Thanet District Council found itself in the unenviable position as owners of Ramsgate Port, being an open port, of having to allow the shipment of live animals from it by the owners of the mv Joline.
In July 2011 a motion from Labour Councillors calling on TDC to investigate all possible legal avenues to stop the shipments and calling for an 8 hours limit for total journey time was agreed unanimously by all, TDC Councillors, from all political parties.
When Labour gained control of TDC in December 2011 its new administration set up a committee comprising representatives of various organisations, including the RSPCA to share information relating to live exports out of Ramsgate Port.
This resulted in the decision taken to allow the RSPCA to inspect all the lorries transporting live animals as they came through the port. These inspections showed a number of infringements to the welfare of animals which were reported to Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, a government agency charged with inspecting animal shipments through the Port.
The events which took place in September 2012 when lame animals had to be put down and several hundred having to be off-loaded from the lorries into the perimeter of the port highlighted the pitfalls of not having adequate facilities in Ramsgate Port to deal with emergency situations and the lack of a nearby lairage facility. This presented an element of danger to staff at the port, which TDC’s administration could not condone.
These events also lead Trading Standards from Kent County Council to conduct an investigation which also highlighted many breeches from the transporters.
TDC officers supported by Cabinet had no alternative but to suspend the live exports through Ramsgate Port on the grounds that it did not have the adequate facilities and did not wish to spend huge amounts of money on providing such facilities.
The message from TDC to the transporters of live animals was always unequivocal; we are not happy about this barbaric trade using our port.
The transporters whose main purpose is to have a profitable trade took TDC to Court against its suspension of shipments and to claim compensations.
As a Local Authority we would have expected some support or at least some kind of neutrality from DEFRA as a government agency. But DEFRA did not support TDC in spite of the many representations made to them by many organisations and Elected Members.
Their argument at the time was that there were adequate lairage facilities nearby to deal with emergency situations.
Nonetheless, they decided to review their procedures for the inspection of lorries and loading of animals. It is now a requirement that every vehicle is inspected. This begs the question: if everything was supposed to be adequate why did they feel the need to make changes to their procedures?
The first set of Court hearings led to TDC having to lift its suspension on the use of Ramsgate Port, through lack of support from DEFRA.
The shipments resumed in November 2012 but TDC stood firm and still insisted on RSPCA being present at the port to make sure any infringements were noted and reported.
This whole situation and its many developments have no doubt had the effect of making it more difficult for the transporters to operate out of Ramsgate Port and it is not entirely surprising that they have been active in the last few weeks in trying out new berthing facilities in Dover Port.
The fact that live exports might move to another port is obviously not a perfect situation but it is a measure of the difficulties encountered by transporters who would have had to expend some of their profits on making alterations to the mv Joline in order to be able to use the newly re-furbished berth in Dover.
The current situation is that the transporters tried to get their legal costs paid for by TDC. The sum they were seeking was £125K.
The Court decided that they should be reduced to £80K. The compensation claim will be going to Court probably around March 2014 but there is no guarantee for the transporters that they will be successful. Indeed TDC is making a strong case against that, particularly in view of the Trading Standards investigation.
There are situations where decisions have to be made in which a balance has to be struck between the moral duty to take action and the potential legal costs. TDC took the view that judging by the unanimous support of all TDC Councillors and the response from the general public, it had to impose a suspension of the shipments of live exports. We took legal advice all the way along and we continue to manage the situation in order to minimise costs and protect our legal position.
We are aware that in the meantime the RSPCA entered into Court proceedings and we are grateful to them for raising public awareness and concern against live exports. Regrettably, as a Local Authority we were not able to assist them directly in their Court case. That does not mean to say that we are colluding in any way with DEFRA who has shown little inclination to resolve this issue.
We know this problem is not going to go away easily and quickly and it is important to keep a united front of all like minded people, with each organisation playing its part in any way it can.
There is no doubt that this problem requires an answer that lays squarely with the UK Government in making sure that DEFRA and AHVLA adhere strictly to the conditions laid out clearly in the EU Regulation 1/2005 regarding the transport of live animals through the Member States.
Published by Thanet Labour Group Press Office, 44 Northdown Road, Margate, Kent, CT9 2RW.