Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:17 pm ar 21 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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.