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Speech from House of Commons debate on South Korea and the dog meat trade

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

Dog meat debate - 12 Sept 16

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) on securing the debate, which has generated considerable interest in my constituency, especially from constituents who are rightly concerned about the mistreatment of animals not only in the UK but across the globe. I am grateful to my constituents for contacting me.

I am pleased to speak in the debate, as this issue is of interest to many people in my community and is close to my heart, given that I am buddy and best pal to two whippets. The hon. Gentleman mentioned greyhounds. Along with greyhounds, whippets and lurchers are most likely to end up in the food chain in later life, given that they are involved in careers such as dog racing, official and unofficial, and coursing, and once they are at the end of their careers, they are seen as surplus to requirements.

Like most people across the UK and in the Chamber, I find that the idea of any harm coming to or cruelty being done to my dogs, or animals in general, fills me with dismay. However, it would be naive of us to think that animal cruelty does not take place. We must acknowledge that there are people out there who seek pleasure from inflicting pain on defenceless animals. Sadly, stories of animal mistreatment are widespread across the news outlets. In most cases, they are highlighted by charities and volunteers, especially those based in places such as South Korea but also in other nations across the world, to bring the issue to the attention of the wider public—something that they are very successful at doing and must be thanked for and congratulated on.

I welcome the action taken by the UK Government and the Scottish Government to combat animal cruelty within these borders, which sadly needs to be constantly acted on, although I believe that we are winning this particular battle by educating the population on the complete unacceptability and illegality of animal cruelty. Like so many issues, animal cruelty and mistreatment crosses national borders, sometimes literally with the transportation of animals that are travelling in terrible conditions between countries, which brings me on to the dog meat trade—specifically, for this debate, in South Korea.

For most people, especially in the UK, the idea of dog meat being eaten by humans goes against the grain, as dogs are very much part of family life and have been for millennia. However, the practice of eating dog meat is culturally acceptable in a number of countries across the world and therefore, as many hon. Members have said, we must be very cautious and sensitive when dealing with the matter in order to achieve a positive outcome.

I will enter a caveat, though. It is worth stating that all cultures change and evolve. We do not seek to force our cultural perceptions of eating dog meat on the people of South Korea and other nations, as that would potentially make matters worse and undo the important work that has been carried out by animal charities in South Korea. That work has led to the South Korean Government introducing legislation and regulation in relation to the methods used by those involved in the dog meat trade, in an attempt to counter the bad practices associated with it.

The actions of the South Korean Government, specifically in relation to this debate, are a step in the right direction, but animal rights groups argue that the regulations have had very little impact in terms of stopping the trade altogether, so great challenges still lie ahead in bringing about comprehensive change. It must be noted, however, that the practice is falling out of favour with the younger generation. As the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said, it did not really come to prevalence until the Korean war, so the link between conflict and poverty and the need to eat meat is clear.

The UK Government have an important and vital role to play, particularly through the education of people on the arguments about human health and animal welfare, as those are the best ways to get communities and societies to change. Only by working together with the Government, people and animal rights charities in South Korea can any change be brought about. We cannot and must not force them to follow our path, but we can certainly offer them our full support and encouragement.

The dog meat trade is an extremely important animal welfare issue, and I am proud that the Scottish National party and our Government in Edinburgh are committed to supporting charities working with international counterparts to promote and protect animal rights globally. I am sure that the UK Government will take this issue seriously and, as highlighted by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), work with all devolved Governments in promoting animal welfare with our global partners.

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