Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:20 pm ar 21 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.