Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:30 pm ar 21 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.