Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords am 3:52 pm ar 21 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Douglas-Miller:

Moved by Lord Douglas-Miller

Scottish and Welsh Legislative Consent sought.

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular my livestock farming and land management interests.

We are here to consider the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill, which will fulfil the Government’s commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter. The Bill will ban the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain, stopping the unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury caused by this trade. I think noble Lords will agree that, from a welfare perspective, animals should be transported only when necessary. This Bill will prevent unnecessarily long export journeys by ensuring that livestock are transported on shorter and less stressful journeys for slaughter domestically.

The Government recognise that we are a nation of animal lovers, with some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Indeed, we were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals, and we are now building on that tradition by continuing to strengthen our animal welfare standards even further.

On farm animal welfare in particular, the Government have launched the animal health and welfare pathway, providing financial support for farmers to help them improve the health and welfare of their livestock. We have made available £30 million in capital grants to co-fund investment in equipment, technology and infrastructure projects. We have introduced a £4 million smaller abattoir fund, which will improve animal health and welfare and help to sustain our network of smaller abattoirs. This support will help to maintain short journey times for livestock to slaughter.

This brings us to today’s consideration of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill. In the 1990s, a vast number of animals were exported for slaughter each year. This period saw several unsuccessful attempts to ban live animal exports through legal challenges by local and port authorities. At that time, we were bound by EU free trade rules that prevented any such prohibition on live exports.

The RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming have taken up the cause of live animal exports and have campaigned for a ban on exports for slaughter for over 50 years. World Horse Welfare was founded in 1927 with the aim of stopping the export of horses for slaughter. I am grateful to these, and many other animal welfare organisations, for their support of the Bill.

I also recognise the long-standing interest of many noble Lords in banning live exports. I particularly acknowledge the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes —who I believe is 21 again today—the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I am grateful for their efforts in championing these causes.

We have seen the number of live animal exports decrease significantly over recent decades. Since 2020, there have been no recorded exports for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain to the EU. However, the demand from Europe’s slaughterhouses for British livestock, especially sheep, remains. The Bill will ensure that this trade cannot resume.

There is a clear rationale for the Bill. The shortest direct-to-slaughter export journey from Great Britain to continental Europe in 2018 took 18 hours. Most domestic journeys to slaughter in the UK are significantly shorter. Journeys of unweaned calves from Great Britain for fattening in Spain were found to last on average 60 hours.

The UK Government and the Scottish and Welsh Governments commissioned the Farm Animal Welfare Committee to examine animal welfare during the transport of livestock. Its 2018 report identified several aspects of transport that have a detrimental effect on animal welfare and recommended that animals should be transported only when necessary. Following the committee’s report, we undertook a public consultation with the Welsh Government in 2020 on banning live exports. We received over 11,000 responses, and 87% of respondents agreed that livestock and horses should not be exported for slaughter or fattening.

The ban on live exports must be GB-wide to be effective, and I am grateful to colleagues in Scotland and Wales for their valuable contributions to the Bill. While the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland— I will come on to why shortly—I also thank the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for its work alongside my officials in the development of our policies.

I now turn to the detail of the Bill’s provisions. The core provision prohibits the export of relevant livestock from Great Britain for slaughter and makes it an offence to do so. The Bill is focused on banning live exports where major animal welfare concerns have been identified. Accordingly, it legislates to end all exports from, and transit journeys through, Great Britain of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses for fattening and slaughter.

Prior discussions in the other place explored whether the scope of the ban should be extended to cover a wider list of species. When we carried out our consultation in 2020, we were clear about the species we were seeking to apply the ban to. We received no evidence then—and have received none since—that a ban on any other species was necessary.

It is also important to be clear about what is not prohibited. The Bill still allows for exports of livestock and horses for other purposes, such as breeding, shows and competitions. Animals exported for breeding are transported in very good conditions, so that they can live a full and healthy life once they arrive at their destination. The Bill does not apply to journeys within the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

I return to the reason the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland. To ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland have unfettered access to both the UK and Republic of Ireland markets, the Bill will not apply to Northern Ireland. As part of the new Windsor Framework constitutional arrangements, a Minister in charge of a Bill must make certain written statements if the Bill contains provisions that would affect trade between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. Since this Bill does not apply to livestock and horse movements within the UK, it is my view that there will be no such impact and that no such statement is therefore required.

Recent discussions in the other place highlighted the importance of protecting the access that Northern Irish farmers have to the Republic of Ireland. Farmers in Northern Ireland routinely move animals to the Republic of Ireland for slaughter and fattening. It is critical that we protect the Northern Irish agricultural sector and wider economy, and that is why the Bill’s territorial extent is drafted as it is.

The Bill contains a delegated power to provide for regulations about the enforcement of the ban. It empowers the appropriate national authorities to make enforcement regulations and sets out their possible scope. That power will enable the department to work closely with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to provide an effective and proportionate suite of measures to enforce the ban. We intend to bring the ban and its associated enforcement regulations into force as soon as possible. The Bill also repeals Sections 40 to 49 of the Animal Health Act 1981. Those provisions were intended to prevent the export of horses and ponies for slaughter, particularly by setting minimum value standards. Now that we are banning all live exports of horses and ponies for slaughter, those provisions are unnecessary.

I know that there is considerable support for this ban both in Parliament and among the public. I hope that Members of your Lordships’ House will agree on the importance of working to enhance this country’s proud record on animal welfare. The Bill marks another significant milestone in our progress towards delivering better animal welfare across the nation. In 2016, the EU referendum brought renewed public interest in finally ending live exports for slaughter. Now that we have that long-awaited opportunity, I hope that your Lordships will support the Bill and ensure that our exports take place on the hook, rather than on the hoof.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Llafur 4:02, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the Royal Veterinary College and the owner of two opinionated dressage horses, who have informed me that there is no way that they are getting on a boat, unless it is to travel to the Olympics.

This may be the Minister’s first full Bill in this House, so I welcome him to the joys of Second Readings. As he said, there is widespread support for this provision, so I hope that it will be an easy one for him to cut his teeth on. I thank him and the Government for progressing the Bill to prohibit the live export of specified British livestock for slaughter or fattening abroad. Live exports see animals crowded into vehicles—often the first time they are away from their mothers—on long, stressful journeys, causing them to suffer from exhaustion, dehydration and even death. As the Minister pointed out, those journeys can be very long; they go to Spain —a 60-hour journey—Bulgaria or Hungary. In some cases, journeys from the Republic of Ireland possibly go onwards to Middle Eastern destinations —although that is difficult to establish—where of course very different welfare standards exist. There is a strong case for banning the trade.

In the most recent year in which live exports occurred, between 25,000 and 50,000 sheep and calves alone were exported from Great Britain. The Bill will stop that inhumane practice. Although there have been no live animal exports from GB to the European Union since 2020, that is not due to any lack of wish for the trade to continue; it is mainly due to a lack of suitable post-Brexit border control posts in French and Belgian ports.

New border control posts are now being created or existing posts upgraded, and this could open the door to the resumption of the trade were the Bill not to be passed. The Secretary of State for Defra at Second Reading in another place confirmed that, given the demand from Europe’s slaughterhouses for livestock, and especially British sheep, as the Minister said, there is no reason to think that this trade would not resume at the first opportunity.

I therefore urge the Minister and indeed the House to progress the Bill swiftly to get it through all its stages before the election, whenever that might be. The Bill was introduced in the other place in December 2023 and has got to our House within two months. Let us keep up the pace that has already been set. This legislation was a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment and a Labour 2019 animal welfare manifesto commitment. It has support from the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, and even the Scottish National Party put it into its manifesto in 2021. The public support it overwhelmingly, so let us get it done—oh dear; I am beginning to sound like a Conservative.

The Bill, however, could shine even more, and, at the risk of being seen to go against what I just said about the need for speed, the Government ought to be pressed to consider a very small and simple amendment to take secondary legislation enabling powers to allow Ministers to add other types of livestock to the list as defined in the Bill, should that need arise. It is a pretty rare event for me to urge Ministers to take additional delegated powers, but things happen. We have to recognise that the trends in exports have been volatile. In a 10-year period, for example, pig exports went from 30,000 to 600,000. We are seeing an increasing amount of alpacas and deer farmed; those might well be other species that we need to take swift action on, and it would prevent Ministers having to come forward with primary legislation. Giving Ministers the power to add other livestock breeds to the list would future-proof the Bill. Secondary legislation is much quicker; primary legislation would always be behind the curve if numbers of exports were rising. Therefore I ask the Minister to press on, but with that small and simple amendment.

There are of course other associated animal welfare issues surrounding animal transport standards, some of which need attention, but we must leave those to another Bill. I thank the British Veterinary Association and the National Farmers’ Union for briefings on these welfare issues. The European Union is beginning to increase and enhance its standards; let us not be left behind. As the Minister said, we have always had a strong pride in our high standards of animal welfare and we really do not want to fall behind Europe—but that is for another day.

There is huge support for the Bill, as I said, except from the National Farmers’ Union, the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the National Sheep Association. However, we should listen and respond to the points being made, particularly by the NFU, that it is vital that the Government, when pursuing trade negotiations with countries that export large numbers of animals for fattening and slaughter, ensure that British farmers are not undercut by imports that do not meet the higher standards achieved within the UK. Let us get this done so we can be even more proud of our humane approaches and standards, and end live animal exports for fattening and slaughter for ever.

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench 4:08, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as in the register. I begin by welcoming the Bill. It has been a Conservative manifesto commitment since 2017 and was one component of the now withdrawn kept animals Bill, and it bans the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter from GB to anywhere outside the British Islands. As such, it will prevent the export of livestock for fattening and slaughter to continental Europe; historically, as has already been mentioned, those animals may have subsequently undergone extremely long-distance travel, with consequent risks to their welfare. It thus fulfils a welfare aspiration of slaughtering livestock as near as possible to their point of rearing and ensures that the exports are on the hook, not on the hoof, as the Minister said.

Before I comment on some specifics of the Bill, I will say that, because of the loss of many abattoirs, the distances many animals now have to travel for slaughter within the United Kingdom can be substantial. I welcome the recently promised support from His Majesty’s Government for small abattoirs, but emphasise the importance of ensuring the sustainable provision of an adequate network of abattoirs within the UK for all species as an essential animal welfare provision and an important underpinning for the rural economy.

Turning to specifics, the Bill extends to England, Wales and Scotland. I am delighted that the Scottish Government lodged a legislative consent memorandum in December last year. Horses are included in the Bill, which I welcome, as does the charity World Horse Welfare. This should put an end to the possibility of any long-distance journeys to slaughter for horses, as we saw in the past. The Bill exempts exports of live animals for breeding and all exports of poultry, although there are extremely low numbers, if any, of exports of live adult poultry. These exemptions are justified, given the importance of the high quality and global significance of UK livestock breeding and genetics. The relatively low number but high value of breeding animals ensures the high quality of care afforded to them in transport. This is especially so for poultry, where the export of day-old chicks of high-value foundation breeding stock originating in the UK provides the progenitors for a very high proportion of the total global populations of commercial meat and egg-layer poultry. These chicks are air freighted with great care, since some are worth as much as £3,000 each.

An important exemption from the Bill, though, is Northern Ireland. I recognise the complex political and pragmatic reasons for that, which are associated with the Windsor Framework and the land border on the island of Ireland between the UK and the EU. But I suggest there are two loopholes associated with this. There is a legal loophole, whereby animals could be born and reared in Northern Ireland and exported legally to the Irish Republic, after which they could legally be transported anywhere in the EU or beyond, subject to EU rules of movement. While legal, this is not in the spirit of the legislation. It would also be possible for unscrupulous persons to export from GB to Northern Ireland and then arrange further export from Northern Ireland, with or without the mandatory 30-day waiting period required. That of course would be illegal, but it is a possibility.

We should note the number of livestock moved from Northern Ireland into the EU. In 2022, 337,000 sheep were exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic for fattening and slaughter. Therefore, it would be very difficult to monitor illegal activities. So will we be carefully monitoring movements in and out of Northern Ireland that might indicate whether there is any organised systemic attempt to circumvent the good intentions of this Bill, which otherwise I warmly welcome?

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:14, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I first declare an interest as president of a branch of the RSPCA and as having had in the past various other close connections with that organisation.

I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his kind birthday congratulations. I have to say that I could not have a better birthday present than this Bill—but it is a bit late coming. I was trying to get this done 50-odd years ago as a young MP—yes, I was young once—in the House of Commons.

My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has done some research on those Conservative MPs in the early 1970s who had voted against the Government, and he dug up for me a particular occasion where I wanted to see the withdrawal of licences so that animals could not be exported. The Government of the day put in a wrecking amendment, so I voted against it, and on that occasion, we won; animal exports stopped. But of course, as we all know, there has been a history since and I, along with others who share my view, have been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting the ban.

In 1974—50 years ago almost to the day—I asked the Minister for a permanent ban on the export of live animals. He did a bit of waffling about the need to consult, which is the usual thing when they do not want to take action, and I said:

“I recognise the Minister’s need to consult, but will he bear in mind that any attempt to resume these exports will be met with my implacable hostility”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/4/74; col. 12.]

I have maintained implacable hostility for the 50 years since; but why was I so opposed? Because I heard first-hand accounts at that time from RSPCA inspectors who had gone undercover—the proper government inspectorate did not seem to be working, so they did it themselves—and followed particular consignments right the way through from where they started to where they ended at abattoirs: and it was heartbreaking.

Over the years, millions of animals have suffered in this way. Very often, the vehicles used to transport were quite unsuitable. Sound animals and injured animals were allowed to go together, and some sound animals became injured anyway through the conditions in which they were travelling. Sometimes food and water were missing. The hours, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, were extremely long; and, more often than not, the conditions in which the animals were slaughtered, eventually, were horrifying in themselves. This is why I felt so deeply and strongly and, although conditions may have improved slightly, it is not enough for my concerns. I share the mantra of the British Veterinary Association from years ago that slaughter should take place as near the point of production as possible.

I turn now to the Bill itself, which I warmly welcome. I do see one small weakness: I know my noble friend has indicated that we are covering all the main animals and I accept that entirely, but there could come a time when other animals that are not now exported could be, and they would not be covered. I share the wish to have an amendment put in so that we could have a regulation that permits this to happen. I have looked carefully at all the regulations that we have already, but it does not seem that any of them would cover it. It is actually unusual for me to want regulations; when I was chairman of the committee that looked at these things, I was forever railing against the unsuitable extensive use of regulations. But here I make an exception. I hope that my noble friend might consider this—without, of course, allowing the Bill to fall by the wayside, which is always a concern and a worry at this time.

Others have also mentioned—and I will do so briefly—a concern that animals within the country have better regulations. I would like an assurance from my noble friend that the regulations in place are being enforced. It does not matter how good they are; if they are not enforced, it is as though they are not there at all.

I would also like to see those regulations improved. Unless I am much mistaken, we are still operating on the 2005 regulations from the European Union, which have been transferred into British law and now have some other fancy title that I forget. Anyway, I would like to see them improved because quite a lot of hours are allowed; I think it is 19 hours for calves and more for others. That is far too long. I support the arrangement for small abattoirs to be encouraged so that we can get animals off transport at great length and into abattoirs where we can ensure that the conditions are humane.

I hope my noble friend can give some reassurances on these matters. That said, I have waited a long time for this—and it could not have come at a better time than on my birthday.

Photo of Lord Dodds of Duncairn Lord Dodds of Duncairn DUP 4:20, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. I pay tribute to her and other noble Members of this House who have done so much to bring us to the point where we are today.

The reputation of this country as a country of animal lovers is well earned and well deserved. It is to the enormous credit of the United Kingdom that we have some of the toughest animal welfare legislation on the statute book anywhere. I congratulate the Government on the work they have done in recent years to introduce legislation to strengthen even further the protection for animals in the United Kingdom, in particular the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021.

The legislation before us has been heralded by the Government as bringing an end to unnecessary journeys abroad of live animals for slaughter. In the other place, the Secretary of State, introducing the Bill at Second Reading, said:

“Taking advantage of Brexit freedoms, we can now legislate to end this trade, which we were unable to do for so many years due to European Union trade rules”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/23; col. 1172.]

I have to say in passing that it has taken the Government a long time to bring the legislation to this point, given that the pledge was made during the Brexit campaign and has been referenced in various manifesto commitments from all parties.

However, my more fundamental criticism of the Bill has already been referenced by both the Minister and other speakers in this debate: it applies only to Great Britain and not to the entirety of the United Kingdom. Why is this? In no way do I criticise the Minister who is here presenting the Bill; these issues are way beyond the remit of the department in which he serves and, as I say, I congratulate him on bringing the Bill to the House. However, the Government have said, in the other place and today at the Dispatch Box, that it is because they want to ensure that Northern Ireland has unfettered access to the United Kingdom and to the Irish Republic. That makes it sound like this is a wonderful proactive measure and that the Government have thought about the situation, developed their policy and proactively decided to omit Northern Ireland for the best of reasons—that they had a choice as to what to do.

The reality is very different. It is important that we have proper transparency and openness in all these matters. As we have had in relation to trade Bills and others, the arguments put forward from the Dispatch Box do not always tell the full story of why things are being done—because of the Windsor Framework. The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland because it cannot. This is not a policy decision or a desire of the Government. It cannot apply because the Windsor Framework and the Northern Ireland protocol prevent it being applied to Northern Ireland; European law takes precedence and has supremacy over Northern Ireland in this whole area.

As I say, the pattern of seeking to spin and hide the reality of the extent to which Northern Ireland is forced—it is not out of choice—to adopt different laws and rules across hundreds of areas of law applicable to large parts of our economy needs to be continually exposed. We are seeing it in the area of Parliamentary Questions. I raise this matter because I recently tabled a Question on the supply of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland, which is very important for animal welfare, with wider human health implications. The Minister’s reply to the Question as to whether there were current negotiations with the European Union on the supply of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland, which everybody accepts needs to continue, consisted of three sentences. Not one of them even referenced an answer to the Question. I would be grateful if the Minister could take away that matter and write to me on, or even explain in his answer when he comes to speak, whether there are current negotiations with the European Union about getting veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland. That would be useful to know.

I return to the Bill. The reason Northern Ireland is excluded from these provisions is because the Government have had to exclude it at the behest of the EU, which has sovereignty over Northern Ireland in this area. They simply have no choice in the matter. Many people will have different views on the merits of the substance of the Bill and what it does. Whatever your view—whether you are for or against the ban on live exports—it should be a decision for lawmakers in the United Kingdom or representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. That is the point of principle in this. In this case, the law is already decided by a foreign political entity, in which they have no say and are not represented, and the decision of which is final. This is another example of the Irish Sea border in action. There is nothing in the Government’s new Command Paper 1021 or the deal recently done that removes this; otherwise, we would not have this legislation before us today, or we would have legislation which did encompass the whole of the United Kingdom, created an exception for the Irish Republic, and would have put an end to journeys going further into the European Union, to Spain and elsewhere, which the Minister has rightly painted as being unacceptable in this day and age.

Noble Lords do not have to take my word for this. The Government’s own impact assessment on live animal exports states in paragraph 13 that the option of banning live exports of animals for slaughter

“cannot be implemented in Northern Ireland”.

I emphasise “cannot”. It says:

“Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU legislation on animal welfare in transport for as long as the Northern Ireland Protocol”— or Windsor Framework—“is in place”. That is under Article 5 of the protocol, in conjunction with paragraph 40 of Annex 2.

The question of principle here is that the Bill does not and cannot extend to Northern Ireland, not because of any policy decision made by legislators or government but because European law demands that it cannot apply. Frankly, that is not an acceptable position in the United Kingdom in 2024. As I say, there are strong arguments in favour of the Bill, and these have been well described: the conditions under which some animals have had to travel for slaughter over long distances have been clearly highlighted. When I was the Member for North Belfast in the other place, I received countless representations on this issue. However, there are people in Northern Ireland and the farming community who point to the fact that large numbers of sheep are exported to the Irish Republic: the noble Lord, Lord Trees, made reference to the very large numbers sent from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic for slaughter; and a significant number of dairy bred calves are exported to Spain. They point to the advantages of competition in the market for livestock and the fact that there have been major improvements in standards. These arguments are well rehearsed in Northern Ireland.

However, whichever side of the argument you are on, one thing should be clear and accepted: it should be for us as legislators, either in Northern Ireland or in this place, to make that decision, rather than having it imposed on us, with UK Ministers going around trying to gild the lily or portray it as a choice. It is not a choice: their own documents admit that they cannot apply it to Northern Ireland. Why not be honest, open and transparent about the fact that we are not sovereign and cannot make our own animal welfare decisions for the whole of the country?

Once again, the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, the right of UK lawmakers to make democratic decisions, and the sovereignty of our country in this area have been set to one side. That is unacceptable. The fight will go on to highlight the denial of equal citizenship to the people of Northern Ireland as a result of these inequitable arrangements.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Ceidwadwyr 4:30, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his excellent introduction to this much-awaited Bill. I warmly welcome him to his new ministerial role. I hope the Bill will progress quickly through this House, based on the cross-party support it received in the other place and the broad number of animal welfare organisations that have welcomed it. I recognise that many noble Lords in this Chamber have a deep knowledge of agriculture and animal welfare, but I declare my interests as director of a company that owns a little farming land, and as a member of the Rural Economy Select Committee in 2019, and of the Farm Animal Welfare Council some time ago.

It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I support the Bill, following the amendments I tabled to the Agriculture Bill on this exact topic back in 2020. I argued then that we have a moral responsibility, be it as farmers or end-user consumers, to recognise that animals are sentient beings. We should seek to encourage and support the industry in raising and slaughtering them in the kindest, most humane way possible.

I do not propose to run through all the reasons why the Bill is much needed—others have done that—but we should remember that not all countries in Europe have the same attention to detail on welfare provisions as we do. I understand that some animals are even being re-exported to the Middle East. The long journeys caused intolerable stress, injury and exhaustion, and the case studies we heard were harrowing. Once animals leave our shores, there is no control over how they are kept or slaughtered. Thus, it is important that we stop this practice once and for all.

Although I understand that almost no animals go abroad for slaughter at present, we should not forget that in 2019 around 35,000 sheep and calves were being exported to the EU from the UK. Although this trade has stopped, there is no guarantee that there will not be future demand. Therefore, it is important to get the Bill on to the statute book. It is another step alongside a raft of other measures that are part of the reason why, under a Conservative Government, the UK is joint top of the animal protection index.

While we are considering journey times, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I also raise slaughterhouses in this context, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has done. I hope we all agree that, in welfare terms, animals need to be slaughtered at the nearest point to production, as my noble friend Lady Fookes stated. I am pleased that the Bill will help ensure that our animals are slaughtered domestically to our higher welfare standards.

However, EU regulations caused many small slaughter- houses to close. Numbers fell from around 1,000 in 1985 to 285 by 2006, with around 10 large companies slaughtering the majority of animals. This has caused longer travel times for the animals regionally. I ask my noble friend the Minister to take this opportunity to update us on the work of the small abattoirs working group, and the trials of the mobile abattoir project to test the use of a compact system for on-farm slaughter of livestock, which started in 2021, as referenced in the government response to the EFRA Select Committee report Moving Animals Across Borders. Of course, small abattoirs must be commercially viable businesses as well as custodians of the highest welfare standards. I await the Minister’s comments with interest.

As a party, we have previously made manifesto commitments not to compromise our food, environmental and animal welfare standards as part of any future trade deals. Allowing in food not raised to the standards we demand in the UK not only undercuts our farmers but encourages poor animal welfare standards in other countries. Last year, my noble friend Lord Benyon stated that imports to the UK for slaughter and fattening were low. Will the Minister undertake to keep this number under review in case we need to address this issue in the future? I do not propose that we hold up the Bill by seeking to add in this issue, but I insist that it is part of the continued wider conversation and aspiration to address.

In short, I welcome and support this Bill and remind your Lordships that “agriculture is a fundamental source of national prosperity”, not to mention food security, in a time when the world seems so increasingly volatile.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 4:35, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I too welcome the Minister to his first Bill. I assure him that this is the easiest Bill he will ever touch, so getting it through quite fast would be a good idea. I also thank him for the briefing he gave. I did slightly resent his team not answering my question about where the flaws were; they suggested that that was my job, and I had to look for myself. I am not sure there has ever been a Bill since I arrived in your Lordships’ House—that was 10 years ago—that has not had at least one flaw, if not thousands, because this Government are so good at bad legislation. We see some really awful things here. I thought I might deserve a finder’s fee for spotting a “Brexit benefit”, but others had already made that joke—including, I think, the Minister himself.

The figures I have seen on live exports are absolutely horrendous. I cannot believe that people actually thought it was okay to treat animals like this—subjected to journeys of over 2,000 miles, lasting 70 hours. As other noble Lords have said, if we do not get this Bill enacted, it could start again.

I support the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Fookes, on the issue of other species being allowed to be brought in by the Secretary of State. I too have fought against such measures, but here I think it is appropriate. Of course, it is incredibly important that the regulation is not only tough but overseen properly. Obviously, the Minister will have implacable hostility from several noble Baronesses if that does not happen.

I do support this Bill and I think the harshest thing I can say about it is: about time.

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Lord Great Chamberlain 4:37, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I too welcome this Bill and its Second Reading. It has many admirable aims, which I fully support. I declare my interest as a farmer, including sheep farming, as set out in the register. I am also a member of the NFU, which has circulated a focused briefing on the issues, with which I largely concur. Like others, I am also delighted that this is the first Bill to be led by the Minister.

I fully support the overall objective of the Bill, and of other welfare legislation granted Royal Assent in recent years. This makes our country a world leader in the treatment of animals and is something to be rightly proud of. While the overall purpose of the Bill is very good, I have concerns about its unintended side-effects, which will directly hit farmers. They are already facing the perfect storm of reduced farm payments, inflation affecting inputs, and adapting to the most monumental changes brought about by farming policy since the Agriculture Act 1947. Their export markets and the flexibility of their businesses going forward will also be adversely affected. That needs to be noted.

The trade of exporting store sheep to the continent for fattening and slaughter, while never making up the majority of UK sheep exports, was still a valuable avenue for a number of farmers, particularly in the south-east of the country, accounting at its peak for around 10% of sheep exports.

One of the main points given in support of the Bill is that since December 2020 there have been no live exports from the UK. However, this is not because farmers have simply stopped doing it, but because of the lack of proper border control posts, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to administer all the post-Brexit checks. Reopening the store market for live export is not welcomed by the Government—nor by me—but export for breeding is encouraged. Therefore, will the Minister say what additional investment the Government are putting in to make certain that the shortage of border control posts with live animal facilities is addressed?

Surely having sufficient border control points in place and encouraging the export of animals bred and transported to a high welfare level will address the likely pernicious side-effect of this legislation if the border control posts are not in place. If they are not, there will be an increase in animals being exported to our erstwhile markets of France, Belgium and the Netherlands from east European and Australasian countries, which have a much weaker animal welfare protection system in place. Our priority should be overall animal welfare, which can be achieved by better investment in border control facilities, transport infrastructure and the exploration of welfare assurance schemes, as recommended by the NFU.

My final point is that a key reason why some farmers have in the past sent non-breeding exports across the channel is that those 31 miles are closer than the nearest abattoir in the UK, due to the number of abattoir closures, which has already been highlighted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson, and my noble friend Lord Trees. It is estimated that number has reduced by one-third since 2014, including McIntyre Meats last week in the Prime Minister’s constituency. The unfortunate consequence is that some farmers undertake 200-mile journeys to abattoirs in the UK. While the Government’s smaller abattoir fund with £4 million available is a step in the right direction, it is unfortunately not enough, as was eloquently put by the honourable Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale when he said that it would

“not even touch the sides”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/12/23; col. 1187.] of his constituency, let alone the country as a whole.

With each closure of an abattoir, farmers must travel further afield, adding to journey times, stress and the cost of production, which is making some livestock businesses unviable. Also, most importantly, it has a negative impact on animal welfare, as the affected animals have to undergo these long journeys. That completely negates what the Government are trying to achieve, particularly, as mentioned in the Government’s manifesto commitment, to end excessively long journeys for fattening and slaughter by enabling shorter and less stressful journeys. I will be interested to hear from the Minister what additional support the Government propose to prevent the closure of abattoirs and to keep the sector viable. In particular, are the Government considering creating a working group to look at the 5% rule which governs the number of animals slaughtered without a vet being present, as recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in 2021? Are the Government continuing support for the mobile abattoir pilot?

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated 4:44, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I have a vivid memory of speaking at a meeting during the referendum campaign back in 2016. All sorts of speeches were made and grand ideas put forward, and then right at the end of the meeting a lady got up and said, “I don’t care about any of this. The only reason I’m voting to leave the EU is so that we can get rid of live animal exports for slaughter”—although I do not think she actually used the word “slaughter”. It was a vivid example of how people saw specific things in the referendum campaign that they knew the EU was doing that they wanted to change, and that was one.

I am disappointed in the way that the Government have taken so long to get this relatively simple Bill to come back. It is like a number of other issues on which the idea of taking back control seems to have frightened civil servants and Ministers, so it has taken a lot longer to get these things done.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the many Peers and Members of the other place who have campaigned on this issue for a long time and kept it in the public domain. I remember clearly that in 2012-13 there were lots of demonstrations in Ramsgate and Dover, when a lot of the public saw for the first time the horror of what was going on in some of those lorries, with sheep packed in them for the long journeys ahead. It is that kind of campaigning that has got us to this stage, and that is where the noble Baroness has played such a huge role.

Of course I will support the Bill but, as others have said, there are changes that could be made, and I would certainly like it to go much further. It is not acceptable, here in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom Parliament, that the Bill is not going to apply to Northern Ireland. I thank the Minister for reaching out after I had asked a question about this and having an interesting and useful meeting. I am not sure it was particularly useful in terms of changing things, but I accept that he has done his best in his role to listen to those of us who feel strongly that animal welfare should be a UK-wide matter and that ways could be found even at a late stage, in Committee, to ensure that the Bill applied to the whole country as a whole.

There is no good reason why the Bill could not have applied to Northern Ireland with an amendment clause making it clear that, when animals are exported to the Republic, a final destination must be stated when they cross over the border from Northern Ireland. The aim is to stop animals from being taken for long journeys in terrible suffering, but that will not have been achieved for the thousands of animals that will in future still be able to be transported from Northern Ireland, through the Republic and onwards into the continent of Europe and perhaps even to north Africa—much longer journeys than are happening at the moment.

As Sammy Wilson, the Member for East Antrim, said in the other place, it is a bit like Pontius Pilate; as long as the animals do not go through Great Britain, morally we can all sit back here and say, “Great, we’ve done it”, when in fact we have not changed the situation. As we all know and has been said, hardly anything has been exported over the last couple of years from Great Britain, but in all that time animals have been exported from Northern Ireland through the Republic of Ireland. It is a bit hypocritical, not from the Minister but overall from the Government, that they have tried to emphasise that Northern Ireland has been left out because of the Government’s deep concern about farmers not being able to take their cattle over the border to be fattened or to abattoirs.

On abattoirs, I absolutely agree that the ruination of small abattoirs by EU rules is also something that we should be able to act on. The £4 million sum is really very little, and that needs to be looked at.

This is not to do with protecting Northern Ireland agriculture or farmers. The truth is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, has said, as in so many other areas of legislation now—we are going to keep hearing this—European Union law overrules UK law in Northern Ireland. The Windsor Framework/protocol is making sure that Northern Ireland is once again being treated differently from the rest of the UK. There was a manifesto commitment from the Government, and yet, again, we have seen that the Government have to kowtow to European Union rules.

Another area in which it has just been confirmed we are going to have differences—again, an animal welfare issue—came after assurances from the Secretary of State that pets travelling from England, Scotland or Wales to Northern Ireland would no longer have any administrative bureaucracy. We now discover specifically that they are going to have to be treated differently, and will have to apply for pet documents.

The Government need to accept that, if they really wanted to, they could change the Bill to make it apply to the whole of Northern Ireland. The Minister did not mention the WTO, but I am sure he will say in his wind-up that we could not make special exceptions for the Republic of Ireland and the cross-border trade, which is important and needs to continue, because the WTO would rule that it was not possible under the favoured nations treaty.

However, there is an exemption in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1994, which clearly says that one of its exceptions enables states to take measures

“necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.

There has been some legal opinion published which holds that Article XX, which enables states to act “to protect public morals”, is an even stronger basis for justifying trade restrictions based on animal welfare concerns. This has been used before, including in challenges in Canada, and it is set out clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum. So there is a way of doing it. It is not even as if we have to ask permission to do it. We can do it, and then if somebody wants to complain, we can take it up with the WTO if it tries to stop it.

I do not want in any way to hold this Bill up— I know that I would not be able to ever have a cup of coffee with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, again if that happened—but there are one or two minor but very important amendments that we could debate in Committee and that the Government could accept, if they had the will. If this is not changed, and Northern Ireland cannot be brought into it, I hope that all those noble Lords who are so supportive of the European Union and think it is wonderful, and are also desperately keen on animal welfare, might perhaps decide that it would be a good idea to lobby the European Union to get rid of its rules, which allow this terrible, horrible trade to continue, right across Europe.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated 4:53, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Front Bench and to the Second Reading of his first Bill in your Lordships’ House. Obviously, on some of the issues in the Bill, I take a different view from the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey.

I want to talk from a Northern Ireland perspective, which may seem rather odd since Northern Ireland is not covered by this legislation, but there are very good reasons for that. The provisions in the Bill, as the Minister said, seek to prohibit the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and equines for slaughter, including fattening for subsequent slaughter, beginning in or transiting through GB to EU member states and other third countries. This in itself does not apply to Northern Ireland.

For practical, agricultural, trading, political and animal health reasons, that is the right decision. That fact was recognised by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place, on 15 January, when he stated, in response to the debate, that the Bill must not jeopardise the access that Northern Ireland farmers have to the Republic of Ireland. I hope that all noble Lords recognise the economic and trading importance of agriculture to both parts of Ireland and the fact that farmers and those involved in trading try to adhere to animal health standards.

There is another feature. The island of Ireland, both north and south, is treated as a single animal health epidemiological unit. That has persisted for many years because of the nature of the trade on an ongoing daily basis, to and fro. That is essential for the agri-food industry and its success. Agri-food on the island of Ireland is interlinked. Northern Ireland’s farmers have invested much time and energy in maintaining very good, world-leading animal welfare practices, including in how animals are transported. The farming unions in Northern Ireland would refute any claims or suggestions that anti-animal welfare conditions exist. I am also mindful of what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has said, which is absolutely correct: with all these movements there have to be proper monitoring procedures in place. Much of that is covered by the fact that it is a single animal health epidemiological unit.

The bottom line is that Northern Ireland farmers need access to the markets. They need access to the Republic of Ireland and to mainland EU for live animals, particularly the sheep sector. Reference has already been made to this. In 2022, the last year for which statistics are available, 337,000 sheep moved from Northern Ireland to the Republic for slaughter and fattening, and about 3,500 cattle and 17,000 pigs were moved for slaughter. The dairy sector needs this avenue maintained for dairy-bred bull calves, as a limited market exists for them in Northern Ireland.

In 2018, in evidence to a Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry in the other place into live animals, the farmers’ union in Northern Ireland stated that the two agri-food industries on the island of Ireland

“are highly integrated and they move both ways … That two-way movement is a historic thing and it is essential”.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board also highlighted to that committee’s inquiry the importance of processing capacity in the Republic to the red meat sectors. For example, in the pig industry, sows go across the border for slaughter and then back again.

Cross-border movement is important not only for Northern Ireland’s trade with the Republic but with other countries. Calves from Northern Ireland destined for France are regularly transported through ports in the Republic of Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, have referred to the influence of the Windsor Framework. I am glad that the Windsor Framework is in place, because it will ensure that the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland is protected, as there will be the free movement of livestock for export purposes and for fattening and slaughter on the island of Ireland.

The Bill recognises that trade in live animals from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland should be allowed to continue—and I hope it will be. The Ulster Farmers’ Union and farming organisations asked for this to happen in 2018. Thankfully, this legislation recognises the need to leave Northern Ireland out of its provisions.

I have a question for the Minister about a more pertinent issue. We need to turn our attention to the EU proposals on animal transport that will apply in Northern Ireland. It is important that, in negotiations with the EU on behalf of Northern Ireland farmers, the UK Government ensure that the transport of live animals to the EU, with all the proper animal welfare conditions in place, is maintained. This is vital for the safeguarding and protection of our agri-food industry on the island, which is highly integrated. In that regard, can the Minister indicate what discussions have been held with the EU regarding the need to ensure that the transport of live animals to the mainland EU is retained? If he is not able to provide that information in his wind-up, can he write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library of your Lordships’ House?

I support this legislation. Animal welfare regulations and standards are vital to the agri-food industry, but equally important is the need to ensure that we have that free movement of animals for slaughter and fattening purposes on the island of Ireland. So, although I welcome the legislation, I am glad it does not include Northern Ireland.

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop 5:01, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving the standards of animal welfare in the UK. I add my thanks to the Minister, as he begins his new role, and to those who have campaigned for so long, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, whose birthday it is today.

I have spoken to farmers and farm vets in Suffolk, and they are clear that the exporting of animals for slaughter is not an acceptable practice, and I fully support the Bill. They raised with me a couple of related points, both of which have been made already, but I will briefly refer to them. First, we must ensure that holding British farmers to high welfare standards does not result in the undercutting of our farmers by cheaply produced imported meat that does not meet the same standards required of UK farmers. I hope the Government are able to provide farmers with the assurances they need on this matter.

Equally, it is important that consumers in Britain can feel confident that the produce they are buying meets the appropriately high standards of animal welfare that we expect of British farmers, regardless of where the meat originated. Producing food in the UK remains a vital role in protecting the food security of the country, which of course is another issue. I support calls from the NFU and others to establish core production standards that apply to agri-food imports, and to establish best practice protocols for transporting animals.

Secondly, one of the key drivers of the desire to export live animals for slaughter—a desire that could easily be reignited—has been the reduction in the number of UK slaughterhouses. As we have heard, this results in longer journeys to slaughterhouses within the UK—not only is this an animal welfare concern but it drives up emissions associated with the transport of livestock. The transport of animals to small and medium-sized abattoirs often has the shortest overall journey lengths, and it is important that we have a sufficient network of abattoirs, particularly small and medium-sized ones, so that our food supply chain can be as humane as possible.

I also add my support for the possibility of an amendment to achieve a simple device for adding new animals to the list.

As a country, we strive to be a world leader in animal welfare standards, and I fully support this legislation and its speedy progress.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Ceidwadwyr 5:04, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the right reverend Prelate and to participate at Second Reading of this Bill. My interests are that I chaired the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place and served as an MEP for 10 years.

I am extremely proud of the high animal welfare conditions met by livestock producers in this country. Yet, as we have heard, there are no EU border posts currently in place, so it is impossible for our livestock producers to export, even for legitimate breeding purposes. While we admit breeding stock from the EU, with health checks conducted at the farm of destination, there are no reciprocal arrangements in place for British breeding stock going to the EU other than through Ireland, as we have heard. The Bill therefore seems to address a problem that does not exist—the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter—but fails to solve one that does, that of failure to export breeding stock. Can my noble friend the Minister say when the Government will address this? In the view of the National Sheep Association, it is a matter of utmost urgency.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for taking on this Bill as his first Bill and for his briefing with us on 30 January and subsequent letter, which I received today. I have some personal history with this issue. I was the Member of the European Parliament for the constituency which contained Brightlingsea, and exports came through that port when the Port of Dover stopped the movement of live animals in 1992. A vigorous campaign was mounted by a rather unknown organisation at that time, run by a mother and daughter, the embryo of Compassion in World Farming. The manager of the Port of Brightlingsea suffered attacks to his home and the town was overrun by visitors protesting about the transport of live animals on the ferries. I made a point of going to visit and board a ferry for myself, to see at first hand the comfortable conditions in which those sheep were transported— they were, frankly, superior to those enjoyed by foot passengers on many cross-channel ferries at that time.

It is important to note, however, that the live export of animals has always been a very limited and heavily regulated trade, as the maximum hours that animals can travel between resting periods, and feeding and watering intervals, are heavily regulated throughout the EU. Live exports of sheep and cattle—particularly sheep—were economically important to livestock producers in the north of England and Scotland for the same reasons as my noble friend and other cited regarding poultry exports, which will continue. They are of high value and meet the highest animal welfare standards, which is why our live exports of sheep were so welcome, particularly in France. The impact assessment gives the 2020 figures for exports of all livestock as 6,272 sheep for slaughter and 38,111 for fattening, with four goats for fattening—those four goats must have been very important.

The Bill raises a number of questions. Why is the ban not on a reciprocal basis? Why does it impact only producers in Great Britain? Why does it discriminate against our own producers in favour of EU exporters, in particular of breeding stock? I presume that some livestock comes from the EU to this country for fattening and slaughter purposes, no matter how small the trade —I ask my noble friend to confirm that. I would like to see an amendment from the Government to make this Bill work on the basis of reciprocity. Why is poultry excluded? The same welfare conditions should surely apply to poultry as to other livestock, such as sheep and cattle, particularly in view of the fact that they do not travel as well as other livestock such as sheep.

As we have heard from a number of speakers, the Bill contains a glaring loophole, referred to in particular by the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord Dodds. Livestock movement between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be permitted, which means that, under the provisions of the ban in the Bill, any animal could be exported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and through the Republic of Ireland for onward export to other parts of the EU, entailing a much longer journey that undermines the key animal welfare provisions of the Bill. I understand that that route is currently the only one available for breeding stock.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, very eloquently described the importance of the agri-food industry to Northern Ireland. I would echo that: it is an extremely important industry to the whole of the United Kingdom. Given the fact that basic payments are reducing and the ELMS criteria are still extremely fuzzy, yet we face a rising need for food security, what is the government action plan for beleaguered livestock farmers, particularly in the upland areas of England, which were the source of much of the live trade in the past? Again, I understand that the figures quoted showed that, for every live animal exported, seven were in carcass form—so the vast majority of this trade will continue, but in carcass form.

A further problem that I ask the Government to address is the lack of a phytosanitary agreement with the European Union. There is a chapter in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary standards that has never come into effect. Does my noble friend not agree that it is extremely important, as others have stated this afternoon, that any import, whether from the EU or a third country coming via the EU, must match the same high standards that are applied in this country? This gap in regulatory agreement, together with the new controls at UK border posts, is causing grave concerns to farmers and consumer groups alike.

I understand that the new BTOM regulations that are coming into effect are moving the checkpoint some 20 miles from those envisaged in the port of Dover to Sevington. I would argue that that is a hostage to fortune and not conducive to effective checks on entry to this country on plant and animal health. Let us pause and remember the recent cases of ash tree dieback and horsemeat fraud, which should serve as a wake-up call for greater vigilance on imported foods, whether they are live animals for breeding purposes or plants and food products coming in through the checkpoint at Sevington. There is also concern about the reliance at sale and production points on environmental health and trading standards officers at a time when local authority budgets are under severe constraint.

I conclude by saying that no farmer has willingly exported a live animal for fattening or slaughter in recent times. I pay tribute—and I hope that my noble friend and the House will join me—to the very high standards that our farmers meet, as expected by UK consumers. I hope that the beleaguered livestock industry in this country will soon have some good news from the Government, and certainty as to what their future will be.

Photo of Lord de Clifford Lord de Clifford Crossbench 5:13, 21 Chwefror 2024

I also welcome this Bill and am in awe of the passion shown by many Members of this House in getting the Bill to this stage. I note my interests in the register.

The simplicity of the Bill is a strength and I hope that it will contribute to a quick passage through the House. However, by keeping it simple, there is the potential to miss certain areas of animal welfare. The range of farm animals included are the principal main production animals, but this leaves out minority animals —it does not, for example, mention birds. I thank the Minister for his time doing the briefing on the export of young poultry, also mentioned in detail by my noble friend Lord Trees.

I also welcome and back the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Fookes, on their amendments for these species to be included, if required in the future by the Secretary of State. As humans have generally shown over the years, where there is an opportunity or a loophole, people will seek to use it in some way. This will only be to the detriment of a small number of animals and birds in the future.

Due to the focused nature of the Bill, there is a missed opportunity to improve the general legislation with regard to the transport of animals throughout the UK and for their export for breeding and competition purposes. Some of these journeys can be of significant time and length, and we need to protect animals during this transportation. I ask the Government to look again at this legislation to ensure that we continue to improve animal welfare standards during transportation, to include time and distance travelled, to monitor the health and welfare of these animals, and also to include driver skill levels, the design of transport vehicles and the stocking density.

As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, the support of local abattoirs is essential to keep the transport distance down to minimum for animals due for slaughter. This proposed legislation can only happen due to the UK leaving the EU. Animals are certainly benefiting from this legislation, but we need to ensure the farming industry as a whole benefits too. The export of farm animals was a minor but significant part of the fresh and frozen meat sector, and the only reason it has reduced is the lack of EU border control posts, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.

When this legislation is passed, this potential profitable and alternative market will be closed to English, Scottish and Welsh farmers due to the welcome higher animal welfare standards. I therefore ask the Minister to encourage the Government to begin, as asked for by the NFU, a formal process of developing and establishing a core production standard that applies to all agricultural imports, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. These standards should apply to all future international trade deals, to prevent the undercutting of British farmers, whose costs are increased by high animal welfare standards —which we all welcome.

All these high standards need to apply not only to production but to biosecurity, and these issues were highlighted by my noble friend Lord Trees in a recent debate on biosecurity. It is important that, if we cannot export our livestock for slaughter, we export and promote the UK’s high animal welfare standards and maintain a level trading playing field for all UK livestock producers.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:17, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, the Minister has set out clearly the purposes and remit of the Bill, and we have heard very interesting contributions from across the House. I support the Bill and the contributions that have been made. These measures were in the Conservative manifesto, and the Government are keen to get the Bill in statute. Before they go to the electorate again, they want to be able to say, “We delivered on our manifesto”.

Sadly, this is not exactly the case. Before I go on to deal with what the Bill includes, I will mention those issues which it does not: banning puppy smuggling, amending the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, banning the keeping of primates as pets, and protecting sheep from dangerous dogs.

When the Government abandoned the kept animals Bill, they were relying on a number of Private Members’ Bills and smaller government Bills to fill the gaps. Some Private Members’ Bills were successful. The banning of glue traps was one example, thanks to the intrepid noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. Others, such as banning the import of hunting trophies, were not.

However, we are today debating the Animal Welfare (Livestock Export) Bill. We have heard from many who, quite rightly, are passionate about animal welfare—the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson of Abinger, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, are such. I am grateful for the briefings I have received from the NFU, the RSPCA, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Compassion in World Farming, and the House of Lords Library.

As has been said, the Bill prohibits the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and equines for slaughter or fattening for subsequent slaughter. No animals have been transported for those purposes since December 2020, which is due entirely to Brexit and there no longer being any suitable border control posts in French or Belgian ports to receive the live exports. However, there is nothing to stop suitable border control posts being set up specifically for that purpose in future. It is therefore essential that UK law is changed now to prevent the export of live animals for slaughter or fattening before slaughter.

The ban does not apply to live animal movements for breeding and competition purposes, provided that adequate safeguards are in place to protect the animal’s health and well-being during transportation. That provides much-needed reassurance to the owner of equines and other breeding stock. Day-old chicks are exempt from the provisions of the Bill, as we have already heard.

In September 2021, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place published a report that welcomed the proposed legislative ban included in the Bill. That was over two years ago—although nothing as long as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, has been waiting. This issue is taking far too long time to get into statute. Let us hope that we can speed up the process.

There is an issue around the number and distribution of abattoirs, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and others referred to. In the past, there were abattoirs in easy reach of farmers; however, that is no longer the case and farmers are taking their animals further and further to slaughter. That is good for neither the animals nor the farmers, who are spending so much time away from their farms. I recently met a colleague whom I had not seen for some considerable time, and asked how she was doing. She said that she had given up her farming, as she was having to transport her stock over 200 miles for slaughter. She felt that that was not good for her animals and the cost made it uneconomic to continue. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, also referred to the journey times to abattoirs. I understand that the Government are making £4 million available in the form of grants to support smaller abattoirs to improve, but also needed are more accessible abattoirs, so that farmers do not have to travel so far. Are the Government planning to increase the number of abattoirs, particularly in rural areas? The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, also raised that issue.

The majority of the comments that I have received have been overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill. However, the NFU has expressed concern that no impact assessments were provided with the proposals. The impact assessment that was provided had been produced for the kept animals Bill, which was subsequently abandoned. That IA indicated that a loss of around £5.2 million over a 10-year period would be suffered, mainly by sheep exporters; the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to sheep farmers. That is a significant sum for a section of the farming community that is generally not affluent.

The NFU is concerned that British farmers will be undercut by imports that do not meet the same high animal welfare standards that exist here. The NFU is calling for the establishment of core production standards that apply to agri-food imports. That would assist in providing a level playing field for British farmers. I fully support the NFU on that and agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. The British Veterinary Association and the Farmers’ Union of Wales also support the call for British livestock farmers not to be undercut by trade deals that do not meet equivalent animal welfare standards. Can the Minister give reassurance on that issue?

The Bill does not ban the import of live animals for slaughter, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, referred to. In July last year, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, stated that,

“from 2019 to 2021, only 91 cattle and 14 sheep were imported for slaughter from the mainland EU”.—[Official Report, 10/7/23; col. 1512.]

Can the Minister give an update on that figure and say how many animals are currently imported for slaughter, if any?

The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, and we have heard from some of those directly affected by that this afternoon—the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hoey and Lady Ritchie. However, the movement of live animals covered by the Bill is still allowed throughout the island of Ireland, as Northern Ireland is treated as part of the EU, which we have already heard eloquently explained. The movement of animals within the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is still allowed. However, all live ruminants from Great Britain are currently banned from entering Northern Ireland due to a case of bluetongue virus in Kent. Is this ban likely to be lifted any time soon?

Compassion in World Farming says that in 2019-20, animals were transported to designations in Bulgaria and Hungary via Northern Ireland. Even when exports were destined for the Republic of Ireland, there was no way of knowing what the final destination would be, as Eire has a large live export trade to the EU and the Middle East. However, once the Bill becomes law, this trade will end and the risk to animal welfare will cease from GB.

The Northern Ireland livestock market is affected by live animal exports restrictions, as in 2020 this trade was worth £938 million—that is, 31% of Northern Ireland total exports to Ireland. The NFU believes that the live trade is essential to stimulate competition for livestock and to ensure that farmers have access to the best paying markets—the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, also referred to this. The RSPCA believes that the wording of the Bill is compatible with WTO rules and meets the conditions of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.

This is a fairly short, uncomplicated Bill. It aims to prevent animals being shipped overseas for fattening and slaughter, a process which causes distress as the animals are often kept in restricted conditions and have limited access to food and water. We have heard many examples this afternoon describing the suffering of the animals as a result. It seems that all contributors to this debate are in agreement. As a nation of animal lovers, the public are fully on board with the aim of the Bill and want it passed quickly. The Bill is not completely perfect but I urge all present to support it unamended to hasten its passage.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:27, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as set out in the register as president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Bill.

We welcome this legislation. Labour has previously called for a ban on live exports and I have personally campaigned on it as well—although not as long as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who has worked so long and hard on this; I congratulate her on her efforts and her birthday present today. However, we regret that it has taken so long to bring the Bill forward. We have heard about the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which disappeared last May. If that had come forward, this could be on the statute book already. Therefore it is of regret that we did not do this sooner but we are pleased to see that we are debating it today. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, certain elements of that Bill are still to appear, so we hope to see that promised legislation also coming forward.

As we heard, the Bill applies to cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, wild boar, horses and certain other related animals, with the proposed ban applying only to slaughter and fattening exports, and clearly not prohibiting animals travelling for other purposes—for example, breeding or competition. Yet the export of breeding stocks represented a huge percentage of all exports pre Brexit in 2019. I heard that one intention following Brexit was to intensify this by making the UK

“the centre for breeding stock and genetic exports for the world”, according to the director of the UK Export Certification Partnership. Can the Minister say whether the intention is still to support that?

Considering that the intention to ban livestock export is on welfare grounds and that breeding stocks are exported and then transported using the same standards as for fattening and slaughter stocks, it is also critical that these journeys are undertaken to the highest standards. A number of noble Lords have talked about this. Obviously, it is good that animals are not transported when conditions at sea are poor, but we need clearer regulations and information about what happens to the animals while they are waiting for better sea conditions in order to be transported. How are they kept? Are they still in the trucks? Are they unloaded? How are they fed and watered? What are those conditions? It is important that the Government provide reassurance on that.

As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said, animal welfare can be compromised during long-distance live travel. Animals can experience a range of problems, such as physical injury, hot or cold stress, hunger, hydration and exhaustion, and during export overcrowding means that some cannot lie down at all, while those who do may be injured or trampled. Different animals suffer in different ways. For example, pigs can become very travel sick, even on very short journeys. Newly weaned piglets are more vulnerable than older animals, particularly to temperature changes, so I was very pleased that noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Trees—talked about the closure of abattoirs and how that has increased travel distances for animals on our own shores.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about the government funding for abattoirs but the problem with that is that it is to support only existing abattoirs. It will not solve the problem where abattoirs have already closed and left huge gaps with no abattoirs for many miles. I hope that the Minister takes that away because we need to look at how we replace the abattoirs that have gone.

I thank a number of organisations for their briefings. The RSPCA talked about animals being transported to Spain on journeys that lasted up to 96 hours and some animals being slaughtered in Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Libya after being re-exported—and, of course, non-stun slaughter is the norm there. Once animals have left our shores, we have no control over how they are reared or slaughtered. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, gave some fairly graphic examples of the terrible conditions that animals have suffered.

We have also heard that live exports of calves halted after 2019 and live exports of sheep halted after 2020. The final export of live farm animals overseas occurred with five lorries laden with sheep leaving Dover on 31 December 2020. Since then, no live sheep have been exported across the channel because, as we have heard, no border control posts have been set up by France and Belgium to receive them and post Brexit animals must go through a BCP. Noble Lords have asked why we need the Bill. It is because without a legal ban the exports could start up again, leaving thousands of British animals vulnerable to cruel, stressful and often unnecessary journeys.

If a suitable BCP were to be installed at Calais and the UK Government had not secured this live-export ban in law, the trade could resume via the same vessels and routes that were being used before January 2021. Additionally, while commercial ferry companies currently do not accept the transportation of live animals for slaughter or fattening overseas on sailings across the English Channel, there is nothing in law to prevent them changing that position. Another scenario is that an individual or company could charter a vessel to operate between Scotland and Northern Ireland. This would allow the trade to resume via Ireland, where there is then a large onward trade to the rest of the EU and beyond.

The Bill is designed to prevent this from occurring, and we support that. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick have talked about the impact on Northern Ireland and how the Bill relates to Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response because these are legitimate questions and concerns for ensuring that this legislation operates as we hope.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, made the important point about keeping a close eye on imports, as did other noble Baronesses. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, talked about farming concerns, and the NFU has raised concerns about trade negotiations with countries that export large numbers of animals for fattening and slaughter. It is very important that British livestock farmers are not undercut by imports that do not meet the same high standards that we adhere to in this country—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich talked at length about this. I am sure I do not need to remind the Minister that we signed trade deals not very long ago with at least one country that does not have standards compatible with this proposed legislation. For example, Australia still permits the live export of animals over long distances, including overseas. Lower animal welfare standards should not be imported, and we should be using our influence to drive up standards in the countries with which we do trade deals.

Poultry has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, but poultry and rabbits are excluded from the Bill. We know that they are highly sensitive to the effects of heat stress; rabbits and poultry were the most frequently exported animals pre Brexit, particularly the trade in day-old chicks, which we have heard about during the debate, and neither is any more resilient to transportation than any other animal. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked about the exclusion of poultry from the Bill; if poultry and rabbits are not included, it is important that we have very strong assurances that any cross-border trade from Britain in day-old chicks and rabbits will meet strict transport and animal welfare standards. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, talked about standards during transport, and it is important that we have those strong reassurances, and that proper checks are done, so we can feel that any people who break those standards are held to account.

Finally, I will briefly mention horses. World Horse Welfare recently drew the attention of the EFRA Select Committee to the huge numbers that are still illegally exported to Europe, under the guise of sport, competition or breeding, where they end up being slaughtered. I wonder whether the Minister is aware of this practice because if transport for breeding and competition is allowed, it is important that it does not open the door to such illegal practices. Are the Government intending to tackle this as part of implementing the Bill into law? It is really important that this is stopped. I also support my noble friend Lady Young regarding the opportunity to add further animals into the Bill as an amendment to cover any future issues. It is important that the Bill is as solid as it possibly can be, and there are always changes in the future that we need to manage as we go through legislation.

In conclusion, banning live export for fattening and slaughter has been both a Labour and Conservative manifesto commitment—and of other parties as well—so we strongly support the Bill. We want to see it get Royal Assent as soon as possible, so I hope that, in a general election year, the Government will treat this as a priority, because we cannot afford to risk it being lost.

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:39, 21 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I thank all 14 noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken for their thoughtful and constructive comments, and in particular those, beginning with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who congratulated me on my appointment and my first Bill. It is a pleasure to have delivered such a happy birthday present to my noble friend Lady Fookes.

As we have heard, the Bill will end the unnecessary export of livestock and horses for slaughter and fattening, and prevent the associated stress, exhaustion and injury caused by these journeys. It signals to our international partners our firm commitment to improving welfare standards for all kept animals, reinforcing our position as global leaders on this important issue. Many animal welfare groups, as well as a number of parliamentarians, have called for this ban on live exports. We know that there is also huge public support for this measure. There is clear and broad recognition that we must end these unnecessary journeys.

Before I address a number of the specific questions, I will briefly touch on two things. The first, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, is the bluetongue virus, which is very current. I do not have a timeframe for when this restriction will be lifted, but I will get back to her as soon as I do. The second, from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is the welfare of animals during a transport delay. I will write and confirm the exact details of how they are looked after and how we address this issue.

I turn now to the questions asked by noble Lords. The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Jones, my noble friend Lady Fookes and many others queried why other species were not within the scope of the ban. I assure them that the Bill’s definition of “relevant livestock” covers all species for which there has been a significant slaughter export trade, which the Government consulted on in 2020. In the 10 years prior to EU exit, the live export trade for slaughter and fattening mainly involved sheep and unweaned calves.

Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA, both leading campaigners on banning live exports for the past 50 years, agree that the Bill covers the relevant species to end this unnecessary trade. Responding to proposed amendments in the other place, Compassion in World Farming said that it is not aware of any alpacas, llamas or deer being exported for slaughter, and the RSPCA said that only sheep, calves and horses have been exported from Britain for slaughter over the last 10 years.

The issue of small abattoirs was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the noble Lords, Lord Carrington, Lord Trees and Lord de Clifford, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hoey, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson, so it was a popular subject today. Many asked what further financial assistance there is for small abattoirs and what work we are doing to promote and market sheep products, particularly in order to develop our meat export trade. The farming investment fund has offered access to financial support to establish new producer-led abattoirs. Now that the first round is closed, we will assess how the scheme has performed and will investigate the potential launching of a second round later this year. The Government are working with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and industry to help secure market access for world-class British red meat and dairy, empowering our exporters to maximise opportunities on the global stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, queried whether Northern Ireland could be used as a loophole for transporters wanting to export livestock for slaughter and fattening. I assure him that the requirements when moving animals to Northern Ireland would make such a slaughter trade uneconomic. Livestock transported for slaughter from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must go directly to the slaughterhouse. It would be an offence to take them anywhere else. When livestock are moved for other purposes, they must be moved directly to the holding destination and remain there for at least 30 days. Failure to do so is an offence and may result in prosecution. We will also continue to monitor volumes over the next few years as this policy takes effect.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated

The Minister rightly said that, in theory, anyway, the 30-day period stops in respect of transportation from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. But what about all the animals in Northern Ireland that will not be affected by that limit, and that will go to the Republic and down to Rosslare, and on a long journey to France and then Morocco?

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. Once animals have passed into the Republic of Ireland, that is outwith the jurisdiction of the Bill. That is the current position.

I would like to address the issues eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, concerning Northern Ireland and the Bill. I hope they will appreciate that I am somewhat constrained in this respect. Perhaps I might write to them separately on the issues they have raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, raised the question of negotiations with the EU on veterinary medicines going into Northern Ireland. The Government are committed to seeing a long-term, sustainable solution ahead of December 2025 that will properly support the flow of veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland from Great Britain on an enduring basis. It remains our priority to find a solution, through technical talks with the EU, that removes the barriers to supply of veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland. The Government are very clear that, in all scenarios, it is imperative to safeguard the supply of veterinary medicines into Northern Ireland. If necessary, we will deploy all available flexibilities in line with our legal obligations.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about the impact of this legislation on farmers and businesses. The current position is that we expect the ban to have minimal impact. We published an impact assessment in 2021, which can be accessed via the Bill’s Explanatory Notes. We estimated the direct cost to businesses of ending live exports to be around £5.2 million across the 10-year appraisal period, or around £500,000 per year. As there have been no exports for this purpose since 2020, the impact will have further decreased.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, also asked about border control posts on the northern coast of France. EU border control posts can be operated only with the approval of the competent authority in the relevant EU member state. The majority of BCPs are privately operated, and the main barrier to date for the establishment of a BCP for livestock is the commercial viability of such a site. We have encouraged our counterparts in France to do more to support commercial efforts to construct and operate a BCP for livestock, and we continue to engage with them to try to resolve this issue.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, may I press my noble friend on that point? Across the European Union, most ports are owned by the state. Is there any wriggle room whereby my noble friend and the Government could ask the Government of France to look into providing some sort of help? It looks like a rather protectionist measure as it stands.

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I understand my noble friend’s point. I assure her that our officials are working very hard on this issue, but it is not going at pace at the moment.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh also asked why the Bill had been brought forward, given that there are other issues facing our farming sector. It is important that we put a permanent end to this unnecessary trade. Although there have been no exports of livestock for slaughter recently, given that there is demand from the EU for sheep from Great Britain, we would expect that trade to restart in the future if we did not legislate to ban live exports now. She also asked whether there were any plans to introduce a corresponding ban on animals imported for slaughter and fattening. There has never been a particularly significant import trade for either: for example, in 2019, only 91 cattle and 178 sheep were imported for slaughter or fattening from mainland Europe.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, reflected on the Government’s broader animal welfare commitments. I take this opportunity to reassure them that we remain committed to our other animal welfare manifesto commitments, which are to crack down on illegal puppy smuggling, ban the keeping of primates as pets, and prevent livestock worrying.

On the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised on poultry, when we consulted on banning live exports for slaughter or fattening, we were clear that we were not proposing to extend the ban to poultry. There have been no exports of adult poultry for slaughter in recent years. I appreciate that the poultry industry and breeding companies export around 25 million day-old chicks every year, but no welfare concerns have been identified with this practice.

I once again thank all those who have spoken for their thoughtful and valuable comments. It has been hugely encouraging to hear the broad consensus throughout the debate on the importance of protecting and enhancing the welfare of the animals in our care. It is also clear that we can agree on the core aims of the Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.