Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 18 December 2023.

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Second Reading

[Relevant documents: First report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of Session 2021-22, HC 79, and the Government response, HC 986.]

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:08, 18 December 2023

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill before us today will cement our position as a world leader on animal welfare. It will ban from Great Britain the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening, putting a permanent end to this unnecessary trade. I am proud to say that we are a nation of animal lovers. We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and we continue to strengthen them. Indeed, the UK was the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals and we are currently joint top of the world animal protection index. The Bill builds on our proud record by preventing the unnecessary journeys of animals being exported abroad for slaughter.

We have already delivered a raft of measures to protect and enhance animal welfare. In the past five years alone, we have introduced tougher sentences for animal cruelty through the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 and recognised in law the sentience of all vertebrates and some invertebrates via the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. We brought into force the ivory ban, one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales, and the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 prohibits travelling circuses from using wild animals, in recognition of the intrinsic value of wild animals and the need to respect them.

We continue to go further to improve animal welfare. Just this year, we have brought forward compulsory cat microchipping, and we are banning the keeping of primates as pets. Today marks another step forward in delivering better welfare for the animals in our care, as the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill will end unnecessary journeys abroad for slaughter. 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.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

If I may have the liberty of saying so, I am sure that Mr Deputy Speaker would be speaking enthusiastically in support of the Bill if he were not in the Chair, because of his commitment to animal welfare.

The Secretary of State has just said that this is a Brexit freedom, and I very much remember it being trumpeted during the Brexit campaign, but that was more than seven years ago. By the time this Bill becomes law, it will be eight years. What has taken him so long?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would have thought the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that we are able to legislate. For so many years, Members of this House called for the ability to prevent live exports, but we were not able to do so. Where I agree with her is on Mr Deputy Speaker’s support for animal welfare, which is recognised across the House.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge Members who have championed this important issue over a number of years, which speaks to the hon. Lady’s point. In particular, I recognise my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, who has repeatedly lobbied on this issue and, indeed, in 2016 proposed a private Member’s Bill to amend the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to allow ports and local authorities to ban live exports.

I recognise my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers, who also actively championed a ban, including, in 2017, tabling a private Member’s Bill to prohibit live exports. Although her proposals did not make it on to the statute book, they reminded the House of the public concern on this important issue and, indeed, helped to lay the groundwork for the Bill before us today.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Chris Loder who has championed this issue both within the Department and within this House. Indeed, there have been numerous debates during which many Members on both sides of the Chamber have spoken passionately about ending live exports, reflecting the strong support in the country for a ban.

I also thank the tireless campaigners whose efforts have helped to raise awareness of this issue among hon. Members and the wider public, particularly the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, which have both actively campaigned on this issue over many decades, as well as World Horse Welfare, which was founded in 1927 to stop the export of horses for slaughter.

Live animal exports have been a focus of campaigning by animal welfare charities for more than 50 years. Indeed, in the 1990s, when millions of animals were exported for slaughter each year, several legal challenges sought to ban live exports. These challenges were unsuccessful, not least because, as a member of the EU, we were bound by EU rules on animal welfare during transport, which prevented the House from acting.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

I thank the Secretary of State for chatting to me earlier. The export of live animals somewhat suggests travel by sea and, because we do not have an abattoir on the Isle of Wight, we have to export animals to the UK for slaughter before bringing them back. There are potentially more humane ways of dealing with animals, one of which would be to have a small-scale abattoir on the Isle of Wight. On the current small-scale abattoir programme, the Government are working only with current abattoirs and abattoir owners. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can get a small-scale abattoir on the Isle of Wight, so that we can enjoy the spirit, as well as the de jure benefits, of this excellent Bill?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government have committed £4 million of additional investment through the smaller abattoir fund, recognising the importance of reducing animals’ journey times. As we have discussed separately, I am happy to meet him to discuss what more we can do in the context of smaller abattoirs, particularly recognising the specific issues of geography in his constituency.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I warmly thank my right hon. Friend for his kind comments about my long-term involvement. It is great that we no longer have EU barriers, but how can we be sure that we will not run into World Trade Organisation issues? What work has he done to ensure that the Bill survives any potential challenge on trade grounds?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I drew attention to my right hon. Friend’s long campaigning, and I will return, if I may, to the trajectory of this issue before addressing her point.

Calls for a ban intensified after 2012, when the Animal and Plant Health Agency intercepted a consignment of sheep due to sail from the port of Ramsgate and 42 sheep were humanely killed after being found unfit to travel. I welcome that, since the 1990s, we have seen export numbers decline significantly. In 2020, around 6,300 sheep were exported from Great Britain to the EU for slaughter, and around 38,000 sheep were exported for fattening. I am pleased to say that, thanks to the UK’s exit from the EU, there have been no recorded exports for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain to the EU since January 2021, and now is the time to enshrine that in law.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

I thank the Secretary of State for making the point that, from 2021, there have been no further exports for slaughter. My farmers are concerned about reproduction. Can he clarify whether the Bill is just about slaughter? What can be done about the gene pool, by making sure that people are still allowed to trade genetic material across the world in order to strengthen stocks?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend characteristically raises a pertinent point, which I will address. He is right to draw a distinction between exports for slaughter and wider breeding programmes, particularly in the horse industry.

Given the demand from Europe’s slaughterhouses for livestock, especially British sheep, there is no reason to think that this trade would not resume at the first opportunity if we did not legislate now to ban live exports. That is why we must put an end to this unnecessary trade.

Long journey times can lead to a host of animal welfare issues, including stress, exhaustion, dehydration and injury. The journeys that once took young, unweaned calves from Great Britain to Spain for fattening were found to last on average 60 hours, and in some cases over 100 hours.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth

I warmly welcome the Bill, on which the Department has been working for some time. This measure was a big component of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in the last Session.

This Bill sends a very important message internationally, because where the UK leads on animal welfare, other countries often follow. My right hon. Friend will be aware that some of the worst problems and the longest journeys relate to livestock going from Australia to the middle east for slaughter. Does he share my hope that the Australian Government will learn from this British example and modernise their laws to end that trade?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. In large measure, that international leadership comes from the leadership he showed, when he was Secretary of State, in placing animal welfare at the forefront of the approach taken by the Government and the Department. I hope other countries will look at that approach and at the benefits it will bring. His leadership is a very good illustration of that.

As my right hon. Friend will recall, even the shortest direct-to-slaughter export journeys from Britain to continental Europe in 2018 took 18 hours. The UK Government, along with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, commissioned the Farm Animal Welfare Committee to examine and report on animal welfare in the transporting of livestock. Its 2018 report drew on a range of sources—

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Before updating the House on that important point, I will, of course, give way.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Secretary of State and, as I have not had the opportunity to do this yet, wish him well in the position he now holds. He understands, as I am sure almost everyone in this Chamber does, that the farmer loves his animals and wants to do what is best for them. What discussions has he had with the National Farmers Union and the Ulster Farmers Union about this issue, ever mindful that the farmers wish to do what is best for their animals?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman that farmers care passionately for the welfare of their animals. A similar point arises where one often sees the debate on nature and sustainable farming set up as if those things are in conflict. I do not think they are. I think that farmers are the custodians of the land and want to pass it on to future generations in better health, with better soil quality, than before. They have a similar approach to animal welfare issues. Farmers care for their livestock, which is why so many of them will welcome the measures we are taking today.

I was just touching on the 2018 report by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee commissioned by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, which included expert opinion through stakeholder engagement, the responses to a call for evidence on welfare in transport, and a systemic review conducted by Scotland’s Rural College and the University of Edinburgh. The report identified several aspects of transport that have a detrimental effect on animal welfare, such as the stress of unfamiliar surroundings, vehicle motion, confinement and poor ventilation. The report expressed concerns about lengthy journeys, recommending that animals should be transported only when necessary.

In line with the Government’s manifesto commitment, and following the FAWC report, in 2020 we undertook a public consultation with the Welsh Government on banning live exports. The strength of public feeling against live exports was clearly demonstrated; we received more than 11,000 responses to that consultation, showing that the public care deeply about this issue. Some 87% of respondents agreed that livestock and horses should not be exported for slaughter and fattening, and now is the time to lock in a ban to permanently end those unnecessary export journeys.

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

It may be helpful to speak to the issue raised by my hon. Friend Dr Evans and set out briefly what the Bill does not prohibit. The Bill still allows exports of livestock, including horses, for other purposes such as breeding, shows and competitions, provided the animals are transported in line with legal requirements aimed at protecting their welfare. Animals exported for breeding are transported in very good conditions so that they can live a full and healthy life once they arrive in their destination country. Moreover, the export of breeding livestock from the UK can assist in food resilience of local breeds in third countries. Indeed, British breeds can offer advantages, such as genetic disease resistance and high-quality animals.

The Bill does not apply to journeys within the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, nor does it apply to livestock and horse movements within the UK, such as those from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. That is to ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland have unfettered access to the UK and Republic of Ireland markets. This Bill will not apply in Northern Ireland.

In addition to the central provision that introduces the ban, the Bill contains a delegated power to provide regulations about enforcement of the ban. It empowers the appropriate national authorities to make regulations to provide for enforcement and sets out the scope of those enforcement regulations, including safeguards relating to powers of entry and the criminal offences that may be created.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The Minister has identified a point of great resentment to people in Northern Ireland who are concerned about animal welfare, and it should be a point of concern for people right across the UK. He has indicated that the Bill cannot and will not apply to Northern Ireland. The journeys that he says are unnecessary, stressful and exhausting, and can cause injury to animals when they are transported from Great Britain, will be able to occur for animals based in Northern Ireland. They can be taken to the south of Spain without any of these requirements being applied to them. How does he explain that?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is because the Bill ensures that farmers in Northern Ireland have unfettered access to the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The point that the right hon. Gentleman highlights is part of the wider issues that the House has debated at length, not least when considering the Windsor framework. We have discussed those issues on many occasions in this House.

The Bill empowers the appropriate national authorities to make regulations to provide enforcement and includes safeguards relating to powers of entry and the criminal offences. The 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 across England, Scotland and Wales. It will ensure that the enforcement of the ban can work alongside the existing protections on the welfare of animals in transport, which are set out in detail in existing legislation.

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 requirements. Now that we are banning all live exports, including of horses and ponies for slaughter, those provisions are no longer necessary. Their repeal will streamline the legislation, avoiding any confusion that might arise from the existence of two measures for controlling the export of horses and ponies for slaughter. Given the degree of support for the ban on live exports, I want to reassure Members from across the House that the ban and its associated enforcement regulations will come into force as soon as possible.

In conclusion, continuing to allow the unnecessary live export of animals for slaughter would undermine this country’s proud record on animal welfare. I am confident that many Members of this House will agree on the importance of advocating for the animals in our care and that this 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 this long-awaited opportunity, I urge the House to support the Bill in consigning this unnecessary trade to the history books. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:28, 18 December 2023

If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend Mark Drakeford MS, the First Minister of Wales. Mark announced that he was standing down from the Senedd last week. I want to thank him for his friendship to me and pay tribute to his service to the people of Newport West and of Wales over many years. I wish him a very long, happy, healthy retirement.

Where is the Minister for animal welfare? Disgracefully, he is sitting in the other place, having been appointed to the House of Lords last week. The sudden appointment of an unelected peer in the days before Christmas does not inspire confidence that this Government care about animal welfare. The Prime Minister seems to have such little faith in his MPs, such a lack of trust with his Back Benchers, that he cannot find a single Member sitting on the Benches opposite to be the animal welfare Minister.

I welcome the Bill, on behalf of Labour Members, but it beggars belief that it has taken so long to bring this unnecessarily cruel trade to an end. With Christmas in a few days, I acknowledge that this is the season to be kind and festive. On that basis and with Tory Ministers finally doing the right thing, Labour will support the Bill, even if it is long overdue.

I gently say to the Secretary of State that Labour called for a legal ban on live exports for slaughter and fattening from or through Great Britain in 2019, and has been encouraging the Government to act ever since. The Opposition have long called for a ban on live exports because millions of farmed animals risk facing long-distance journeys every year when exported for fattening and slaughter, causing them unnecessary suffering. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, those journeys can cause animals to become mentally exhausted, physically injured, hungry, dehydrated and stressed. That is why the Bill and the changes it will bring about are so important. The Bill prohibits the export of relevant livestock from Great Britain for slaughter, and provides that a person who commits an offence in England and Wales under those clauses in the Bill is liable

“on summary conviction in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding the maximum term for summary offences, to a fine or to both”.

The Bill will make it an offence to send, transport or organise transport, or to attempt to send, transport or organise transport for livestock for export from or through Great Britain for fattening and slaughter outside the British Isles. The ban in the Bill applies to a range of livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and wild boar but, we note, not poultry. The Bill is narrow in scope and reach, and the majority of its provisions will extend to England, Scotland and Wales, so the House will be interested in hearing from the Minister about what concrete discussions took place with the devolved Administrations. The Secretary of State has already mentioned research and consultations, but what actual discussions were had with the Administrations in devolved areas?

I am proud of the Labour party’s track record on delivering progress on animal welfare in Government. We ended the testing of cosmetic products on animals in 1998 and stopped the cruelty of fur farming in 2000.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

In the last Parliament, Labour MPs and their leader did everything they possibly could to keep us in the single market. If they had succeeded, we would never have been able to ban live exports.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention, but I am not sure that it is relevant to what we are talking about today. We introduced the Hunting Act 2004 and the landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I particularly commend her point about foxhunting and the action taken by the last Labour Government to tackle that appalling activity. Does she agree with me that there is enormous interest in animal welfare, both around provisions set out in the Bill and wider aspects of the issue? Does she agree that the Government have spent a very long time on this but they have not yet delivered a comprehensive animal welfare Bill, despite previous attempts? Would she now like to see further action taken on that, and on many other matters?

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend must have read my speech and that of my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner, because we certainly want people to go further and faster. As the Secretary of State has already said, it has taken seven or eight years to get to this point. Although we are clear that the Bill is only one step towards improving animal welfare, the Government have dithered, delayed and let down livestock, our pets and animals. There have been 13 and a half years of inaction, failure and disappointment.

The Tories have taken a weak approach to animal welfare, from pulling Bills to caving in to their Back Benchers. There has been little commitment to following through on their promises and pledges. I say to Government Members—well, to those who are here—we will take no lessons from this Conservative Government that recently ditched plans to end puppy farming and trophy hunting, among other examples of letting us down on animal welfare. We cannot forget the much missed Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, because that is where the Bill comes from. Back in May, the Conservative Government threw out the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and instead decided to implement various measures separately, which is why we are here today.

The Tories’ track record on animal welfare has been nothing short of a disaster. They have shown themselves to be a party that cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting vulnerable animals, just as they have proven themselves to be a party that has no interest in helping vulnerable people. Will the Minister tell us where the ban on cages for farmed animals is? Where is the animal welfare labelling or the action to ensure that farmers from Newport West to Newcastle-under-Lyme, from High Peak to the highlands, are not undercut by low welfare imports?

In particular, where is the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill? My hon. Friend Steve Reed said:

“Hunting endangered animals is barbaric and must be confined to history. We must stop the selfish trophy hunters who want to slaughter then display endangered animals’ body parts for their own perverse self-gratification. The Conservative government must stop siding with these killers. If they refuse to act, they will be complicit in the slaughter as they break yet another pre-election promise.”

Does the Secretary of State agree with that and, if so, what will he do about it? If he does not agree, why not?

There is even more. Where is the action to stop puppy smuggling? Where is the plan to stop pet theft? When will we finally see a ban on the importation of dogs with cropped ears? Will we ever see a ban on snares? The Welsh Labour Government have banned snares and, thanks to pressure from the Labour party, the Scottish Government are planning to do the same, so why is Westminster still dithering and delaying?

Many of these promises were contained in the 2021 action plan for animals. Has the Minister read the action plan? If so, why has he abandoned so many of the promises contained in it? Making changes through private Members’ Bills is not leadership. If Ministers really want Tory Back Benchers to lead on animal welfare legislation, the Prime Minister could make one of them animal welfare Minister.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

As a Back Bencher who served on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill Committee, the biggest problem was that lots of additional legislation was potentially being added to the Bill. Would the Opposition spokesperson like to comment on the Labour party’s position on halal slaughter, for example?

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue; I look forward to that discussion in Committee.

Making changes through private Members’ Bills is not leadership. Rather than Tory Back Benchers leading on animal welfare legislation, Ministers need to get on with it. I pay tribute to all the stakeholders and campaigners who devote their time and attention to fighting for the strongest animal welfare provisions we can deliver. The Opposition stand ready to facilitate a speedy journey through the House for the Bill, but we will seek to make it as strong, effective and durable as we can.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

The hon. Lady is talking about the Labour party promoting animal health and welfare. How does she square that with the Welsh Labour Government’s policy on tuberculosis in cattle and the UK Labour party saying it will stop control of the wildlife reservoir for tuberculosis, when it has been scientifically proven that that Conservative Government policy has been reducing the instance of tuberculosis in cattle in the United Kingdom?

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his interest, knowledge and expertise in this area, but the science is disputed. We will continue to listen to all sides of the scientific argument and look forward to discussing the issue in Committee.

I am grateful for advance warning of the Committee of the whole House, so staff who support the shadow DEFRA team can do some planning over the festive period and enjoy a well-earned rest. I wish the Bill well. When the question is put today, we will support it and I look forward to seeing it signed into law—the sooner the better.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 6:38, 18 December 2023

It is a huge pleasure to speak in the debate. We have been waiting for this Bill, which was one of our manifesto commitments, but we had not left the European Union back in 2016 so we had to wait until such time as we could take a decision. As soon as we could make a commitment, we made the decision to introduce the Bill.

The way the Opposition have tried to present themselves on aspects of animal welfare has been somewhat suspect. Indeed, earlier this year, the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend Mark Spencer shared the reasons why the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill could not be taken forward. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend Anna Firth at the debate, as well as other right hon. and hon. Friends. For the record in Hansard, there is not a single Labour Back Bencher on the Opposition Benches—the one who was there, Matt Rodda, has just walked out of the Chamber—but meanwhile there are 15 to 20 Members on the Government Benches.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

While the Labour party talks a good game on animal welfare, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the Conservatives who are significantly improving protections for animals and our much-loved pets?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. However, I do think that we should be open about this. Animal welfare should not be a matter for competition, as some try to suggest. We are a nation of animal lovers. That is why there will be strong support for this Bill. We should not try to play each other off, suggesting that one side cares more than the other. Of course, conservation is very much in the DNA of our Conservative party, and that is why I am delighted to be supporting the Bill today.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

Let me try to take the partisan element out of this. Our great friend Sir David Amess, who was a Conservative MP and a patron of the excellent Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, was also very skilled at working across parties to achieve objectives, and he was passionate about this cause. Does my right hon. Friend, the former Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, agree that it would be a great tribute to him if all of us, in all parts of this House, could pass this very important Bill into law?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Of course I agree with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I am standing in front of the shield of my former hon. Friend, a conscious reminder of the sacrifice that he paid for being a Member of this House. He will be known forever for his passion for animal welfare, and I am delighted that, as well as his closest friends, his successor, my hon. Friend Anna Firth, has continued that journey.

The Bill is straightforward; it does what it says on the tin. That is the right approach. I wish that other parts of the European Union would agree to this. I am delighted that this legislation is one of the Brexit bonuses. It will be the second piece of primary legislation that DEFRA has introduced—the first being the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023. I know that there is more to do, and I know that there are plenty of speakers who wish to speak today, but let us think carefully about how we can accelerate this Bill so that it gets through the next stage in one day—I believe that business has been tabled for the first week back—so that we can make sure that this legislation comes into effect as quickly as possible. That is good for the welfare of animals and good for our reputation around the world. It will show the leadership that we can bring and make sure that we continue to be strong in what we are doing while still recognising the ongoing animal welfare reforms that this Conservative Government have already put in place, and I know that there will be many more to come.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member) 6:41, 18 December 2023

This Second Reading debate on the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill is not simply another ordinary piece of parliamentary business this evening. It marks a profound moment. It is one step of the many steps still required to fortify our collective commitment to the welfare of all sentient beings. At the heart of the Bill lies a commitment to redefine our treatment of animals. Its primary objective is to prohibit the export of live cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter or fattening from the United Kingdom. This is not merely a matter of regulatory oversight in need of correction; it is a principled stand against the unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury inflicted on sentient beings during their exportation. The Bill is not about restriction; it embodies progress, evolution and the establishment of more ethical standards in our treatment of animals. Its aim is to ensure that animals are slaughtered in high welfare domestic slaughterhouses here in the United Kingdom, preventing their export to potentially lower welfare conditions elsewhere.

The UK Government’s commitment to allocating funding to farmers to improve welfare conditions is welcomed, as is the provision of the £4 million fund for smaller abattoirs that the Minister outlined, underscoring the comprehensive approach to the legislation. It signifies investment in the wellbeing of our livestock as well as an acknowledgement of the pivotal role that farmers play, and will continue to play, in our communities and in society.

The journey through this milestone has not been without challenge. As we know, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which was first proposed in 2021, faced internal turmoil within the Tory party, preventing its progression through this place and, ultimately, leading to the Government scrapping it altogether. Two years later, four DEFRA Ministers and persistent advocacy from every quarter have prodded and prompted the Government to this point—to addressing the pressing issues of animal welfare.

The SNP has been fully committed to the banning of live exports of animals for fattening and slaughter, and we welcome the outlined aims of the Bill. Our track record in Scotland of implementing and managing robust animal welfare standards aligns with our national ambitions. This legislation holds particular significance for Scotland. The Scottish Government have been at the forefront not only in considering animal welfare initiatives, but in protecting our exquisite, world-beating Scottish produce, as well as standing up for those who produce it for us.

The proposed changes in the Bill to livestock transportation times reflect a nuanced understanding of the physiological and psychological impact of transporting these beings.

The maximum journey times for cattle, sheep, pigs, calves and broilers are designed to reduce stress and discomfort during their transportation, demonstrating a commitment to their wellbeing. Collaborative efforts between the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission and the UK Animal Welfare Committee have sought not only to address shared concerns in this specific area, but to extend their attention to various other issues of concern, including avian influenza control, the culling of male chicks, precision breeding, responsible sourcing of fur, livestock breeding, and the welfare of pigs and equines at slaughter. This collaboration exemplifies the potential for an open and collaborative approach to address broader animal welfare challenges that we will face in the future.

It is crucial to re-emphasise that this legislation is not just about animal welfare; it is about our identity as a society and the values and compassions that we have for ethical treatment. The call for a ban on live exports is not an isolated action, but part of a broader movement for change. Public support for a ban is overwhelming, as has been demonstrated by the many petitions calling on the UK Government to take the kept animals Bill through Parliament. It is crucial to be clear that the ban, as proposed, will apply only to exports for fattening and slaughter from, or through, the United Kingdom. It explicitly excludes the export of breeding animals, recognising their vital role in Scotland’s agricultural sector.

In addition, any changes in legislation must continue to be crafted with a keen understanding of Scotland’s established patterns of livestock movements from islands and remote areas. Any ban must not disadvantage Scottish farmers or crofters by impeding movement between the islands and the mainland. This will be a key concern for us going forward. The ban should not include animal exports for breeding, which are an integral part of Scotland’s agricultural sector, particularly in trade with the Republic of Ireland.

The Scottish Government welcome the UK Government’s intention to introduce this Bill and express a willingness to work jointly with them and other devolved Administrations to ensure smooth implementation across the nations. We in the Scottish National party believe the legislation, if enacted, will not only reflect our commitment to improved animal welfare but also safeguard our reputation as a nation that champions the wellbeing of all living beings. Collectively, let us not squander this chance to make history, to set a standard for compassion, and to ensure that our actions align with the values that we hold dear.

As we continue to debate the intricacies of this legislation at its next stage, let us remain steadfast in our resolve to protect our farming communities and to build a future where the welfare of animals is a non-negotiable priority.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border 6:47, 18 December 2023

I declare a personal and professional interest as a veterinary surgeon.

I very much welcome not only the introduction of this animal welfare legislation but, importantly, the cross-party support for it across the United Kingdom. The Bill will ban the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses from Great Britain for slaughter or fattening. That has a huge benefit for animal welfare, decreasing both the stress on the animals that have travelled long distances, and the incidences of injury and diseases that are associated with long travel. This will fulfil a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment, and I strongly welcome that. As has been mentioned by Members across the House, it will also help to ensure that animals are slaughtered domestically and close to home. That is so important to improving animal welfare, because if we reduce the distances that animals are transported, that will be a huge benefit to the animal. It is so important that animals are reared, slaughtered and then eaten locally. That is good for the environment, good for animal welfare and good for local businesses.

Importantly, this Bill stipulates that the meat can then be transported and exported as well. It is much better to transport on the hook rather than the hoof. However, we still need to work on improving transport conditions for all animals—farm livestock as well as horses. I urge everyone not to drop the ball on that. Just because this brilliant Bill is coming in, it does not mean that we do not still have work to do to improve transport conditions for animals.

I welcome the comments of the Secretary of State on the exemptions for the movement of animals for breeding and other purposes, potentially including sport. However, it would be helpful if that was made a little clearer in the Bill and the explanatory notes, so that any doubt is removed. As I said, it is important that animals are slaughtered close to home. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has produced reports on that topic, such as “Moving animals across borders” and many others. One of our key recommendations was that we need to support the UK abattoir network, and ensure that sufficient numbers of abattoirs are spread around the country to reduce the distance to travel. I hugely welcome the Government’s announcement last week of the £4 million smaller abattoir fund, which will go a long way to help with that situation.

I also welcome the Bill’s stopping the export of young unweaned calves for long journeys for fattening and slaughter. In addition to the Bill, we need to ensure that we adapt, and use more of the animals farmed here. We need to reduce the production of dairy bull calves that are then lost to wastage. We can do that with such things as semen selection. We should also encourage the rearing of dairy bull calves locally and the use of less popular cuts and types of meat, such as rose veal. That will help animal welfare in the future too.

Throughout the debate we need to be cognisant of food security, which came into sharp focus with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Food security is so important for our country, and we need to be much more resilient in producing food. We need to think about the workforce issues. Again, I declare an interest as a veterinary surgeon. An EFRA Committee report recommended that we keep an eye on the number of vets we train and retain in the profession. Prior to our leaving the European Union, 90% to 95% of veterinarians who worked in the meat hygiene sector were from the EU. We need to keep on our radar the need to staff our abattoirs and food processing plants adequately. Last year, we had a crisis in the pig farming sector, with pigs damming back on farms because they could not be taken to slaughter to be processed.

We need to keep an eye on the workforce issues, and think about the resilience of some of the infrastructure. Carbon dioxide is an indirect result of fertiliser production, and CO2 is needed for the slaughter of poultry and pigs. In the last couple of years, CF Fertilisers has shut its plant in Ince and ceased ammonia production at its Billingham plant. For food security and resilience, Government need to keep a watching brief on that.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

As my hon. Friend has mentioned pigs twice, another area where we would like the Government to move—I hope with the support of all parties—is on banning the awful use of pig farrowing crates. I am sure that were the Government to introduce legislation for that purpose—again, the issue was close to Sir David’s heart—it, too, would enjoy great support in this House.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention.

On horses, I welcome the comments of the Secretary of State, and the Bill’s provisions, but huge numbers are still being illegally exported to Europe, under the guises of sport, competition or breeding, where they end up being slaughtered. On the EFRA Committee we heard harrowing evidence from World Horse Welfare that the practice still goes on. I welcome the Bill’s trying to stop that illegal practice, but we need to do more work on that. We need to improve the identification of horses and get a central equine database. The Bill is welcome, but we must not drop the ball on other issues.

Prior to our leaving the European Union, we had a tripartite agreement whereby high-performance, elite and high-health horses were able to move smoothly between Ireland, France and the United Kingdom. We need to try to get a replacement scheme in place. The movement of animals in and out of the country is important in animal health and welfare, and for the United Kingdom’s biosecurity. I welcome the Government’s moving forward with the border target operating model. Hopefully, the station at the Sevington campus in Kent will be in place soon to help with that.

The Secretary of State mentioned the great work of the Animal and Plant Health Agency. I put on record my thanks to the staff of APHA for maintaining our biosecurity—for animal health, plant health and, indirectly, human health. Those staff do so much in keeping the sector safe. As has been mentioned, avian influenza is still with us. The Farming Minister is well aware of that; I have had correspondence with him about it. The bluetongue episodes in ruminants that we are seeing in both Kent and Norfolk show us that we must be diligent with our biosecurity. African swine fever is rising up through the continent of Europe; we need to ensure that we are vigilant to stop that horrific disease coming into the United Kingdom. Heaven forbid that another disease like foot and mouth disease comes into the country. That shows us how important APHA is for our biosecurity and for the future of British business. I urge Ministers to keep making the case to the Treasury to refurbish the APHA HQ in Weybridge, Surrey. It is so important for our national security.

The Bill also has many pragmatic measures. It does not apply to movements within the United Kingdom, which will help, and importantly Northern Irish farmers will still have access to the UK and Irish markets. Some of the practical measures in the Windsor framework are developed in the Bill, but we need further clarity on the movement of animals between GB and Northern Ireland, and vice versa. I know that colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party feel strongly about the availability of veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland; 50% of veterinary medicines were going to be lost, but a suspension in December 2022 has extended availability for a further three years to 2025. It is important that we work with our European friends and allies to get clarity on long-term availability of veterinary medicines in Northern Ireland.

The Conservative Government have a strong record on animal welfare. I agree that it should not be a party-political issue. The Government have passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022; created the Animal Sentience Committee so that every piece of legislation must have due regard to animal sentience, which is so important; passed the Sentencing Act 2020 to increase the penalties for cruelty to animals; and brought in the compulsory microchipping of cats. Just last week, we talked about banning the keeping of primates as pets. As we have heard, individual Bills such as today’s are being introduced, as well as private Member’s Bills to tackle pet theft, pet smuggling and puppy smuggling, and to stop the import of dogs that have had their ears horrifically cropped, of cats that have had their claws horrifically taken off them, and of heavily pregnant cats and dogs. Those Bills are being introduced, as is another on livestock worrying.

Animal welfare unites us in humanity and across the House. It is so important that we pass the Bill. I welcome the cross-party support, and I wish the Bill well as it travels.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 6:58, 18 December 2023

I am happy to follow my constituency neighbour, Dr Hudson, and to agree with many of the things that he said. My party and I are very supportive of the Bill. To ban the live export of animals, in particular cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and other equine beasts, is a really positive step. We hope there will be no opposition to the Bill this evening, but should it come to a vote, we will support its Second Reading. If there is, we will join the Minister in the Aye Lobby.

We are disappointed—and we are not alone in this—by what is not in the Bill, because it was dropped in the last Session; by the fact that the measures previously promised by this Government are now either being dropped altogether or put through the very unreliable route of private Member’s Bills; and by the length of time it has taken to get here. But we cannot avoid the fact that the ban on live exports of animals is a positive move towards easing unnecessary suffering of animals. The journeys that those animals have been forced to make before being slaughtered are often needlessly stressful and distressing and a threat to animal welfare. It is a basic act of decency that today we begin the process of legislating accordingly.

However, as has been mentioned by more than one contributor to the debate so far, we signed trade deals not very long ago with at least one country that is not abiding by this kind of legislation. Australia still permits live export of animals over long distances, including overseas, for the time being, and in a country much larger and much hotter than the one in which we are legislating to regulate. If we are talking about the impact and influence that this country has on animal welfare, why did we not use that sovereignty and that power to ensure that we were not just exporting the animal welfare problems while importing produce to this country?

That deal threatens not just animal welfare globally, but the wellbeing, welfare and incomes of our own farmers, who abide by animal welfare standards often higher than those we legislate for in this country and legislated for previously through the EU, and are a beacon of strong animal welfare performance. For them to be undermined by that trade deal was an outrageous assault on our farming community and a threat to animal welfare. I hope the Government will learn the lessons from that in any future trade deals.

The Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, was right when he said that the UK has the best animal welfare standards in the world. I think that is accurate. Not only does it feel correct, but I think it is accurate. I am concerned, though, that they are not just accidentally so. One of the reasons they are so is the nature of the farming we have in the United Kingdom: largely small family farms, maybe large in geographical scope but small in terms of the size of the businesses. They are the basis of our farming economy across the United Kingdom.

I would say that getting rid of the common agricultural policy and moving to the environmental land management scheme is one of those rarely sighted beasts, a Brexit benefit—a good thing, if the Government were handling the transition well, but they are not. We see that at least a sixth of the money that the Government promised to English farmers is not being spent and has not been spent in the last financial year, not because the Government have chosen to cut that money, but because they have just not managed to spend it. Farmers are losing vast amounts of their basic payments and are gaining very little in environmental payments to replace them. I talked to a farmer on Friday who reckoned that he would make up about 7% or 8% of what he had lost in basic payment via the new schemes.

What does that do to farming across the country? We lose farmers. If we lose farmers, we lose the ability to do good environmental work on our landscape, we lose our ability to feed ourselves as a country and we increase the chances of moving to ranch-style farming, which tends to have less close animal husbandry and therefore, culturally and necessarily, lower standards of animal welfare. As we pass this legislation, and I hope we are going to start that ball rolling tonight and that we will all agree to it, let us ensure that we are not, through our fiscal actions, undermining animal welfare throughout the country.

It is true that how we treat animals is a sign of what we are as a culture and whether we are decent or whether we are not. It is absolutely right that we are doing what we are doing; while the challenges out there still remain, if we can minimise journeys of animals from where they are reared to slaughter, as my neighbour the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border rightly pointed out, that is of great significance and importance to tackling animal welfare problems.

My fear is that the red tape and the collapse of the workforce in our abattoirs, not just the inability to bring in vets from overseas, but the lack of other members of the slaughterhouse workforce, mean that many small abattoirs are under enormous threat. Four million pounds will not even touch the sides when it comes to protecting small abattoirs in Cumbria, which are the best in the country—they are family firms, they aid animal welfare and they are massively important to our local economy.

This Bill does many good things, but it does nothing to address a series of other compassionate moves that could have been dealt with in one swoop, as the Government originally were planning to do. The RSPCA, which of course has campaigned for this particular ban for 50 years, found that the dropping of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill last year and the omissions in the King’s Speech broke a grand total of 14 pledges on animal welfare. I will just list a handful of them.

The first pledge was on zoo licensing. The original plan was for animal welfare standards in zoos to be enforced more thoroughly, increasing the penalties for zoos that missed those animal welfare standards. That pledge was dropped and there was no sensible reason for that. The second was livestock worrying, which is a serious problem for our communities in Westmorland. It is unbelievably distressing to farmers, their families and everybody else to see the goring of livestock by uncontrolled animals. In the Government’s original plans, the police would have been given additional powers to protect sheep and livestock from dogs, something that was not only an animal welfare issue, but an economic one for the farmers. There was no obvious reason why that would be dropped.

The third pledge was a ban on primates being held as pets, and dropping that ban was a ridiculous nonsense. There was no reason why it should not have been in this Bill or why the original Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill should not have proceeded. That has been omitted. It is bizarre that that was not all in the same legislation. The fourth was puppy smuggling. We know that, as things stand, people can bring five animals per person in a vehicle over the border legally. We know that puppy farming is a problem, and the failure to tackle it through this Bill just seems peculiar. The lack of additional intervention and action to punish the theft and unlawful importation of such animals seems a massive missed opportunity.

By the way, the Government could have adopted my presentation Bill, the Pets (Theft and Importation) Bill, just a few months ago, if they had wanted to go down that route. The Bill was a reheating of their own promise from the 2019 Conservative manifesto. I just wonder why the Minister did not just seek to adopt my Bill and put it into practice. I would obviously have been very happy if they had stolen every single word of it.

To conclude my remarks, I also regret any sense that one party loves animals more than any other. I understand that, and I am sure that the Government Front Bench is filled with animal lovers as much as every other part of this House. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that that was not enough for, maybe not the Minister, but Government business managers to have acquired the backbone to take on their own Back Benchers when they threatened to be troublesome over a more comprehensive version of this Bill, the one that was promised in the Conservative manifesto and that has now not been delivered.

The omissions from this Bill are a source of shame and anger for many of my constituents in Westmorland, but what remains in the Bill is good, so it would be foolish to oppose it, and we will support its Second Reading.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead 7:08, 18 December 2023

I think we should acknowledge at the outset, Mr Deputy Speaker, the work that you did before you were in the Chair, on this issue and other animal protection schemes over many, many years. It is quite right that we have mentioned David Amess, but his neighbour for many years was Sir Teddy Taylor. I worked for Sir Teddy in the ’90s, when we were desperately trying to get the ban on transporting livestock and we could not—off the hoof and on the hook.

I was also a journalist for a part of that time, and the Express group, as it is now, paid for me and some of the Express photographers, because our lorries were being stopped going to Italy by French farmers. The French were worried about what was happening to their livestock and their incomes. Very often, when they opened those lorries, particularly as they got closer to the Italy-France border, a lot of the animals were dead. I completely agree that farmers want to protect their livestock and look after their husbandry brilliantly, but we could not say that about a lot of the hauliers—I say that as a former haulage Minister. I was really appalled at the money-grubbing way in which some hauliers, particularly those that came across empty from Italy to take livestock back, worried about how much diesel they were using and whether their tachograph was running properly.

The Bill is brilliant. Teddy passed away a few years ago, but he will be watching down on us now absolutely thrilled about the Bill. I agree with Tim Farron that there is more that we would like—absolutely. I cannot understand, for instance—this has not yet been mentioned—why we ban the production of foie gras in this country but allow its import. I am sorry, because there are probably people in this Chamber who completely disagree, but it is barbaric. How on earth can someone force-feed an animal? That was rightly banned in this country when we were in the European Union, yet we allow it to be imported.

There are things that we can do, including on puppy-smuggling. My youngest daughter has just spent an awful lot of money on a new puppy. I really hope that it does not destroy her new home in the way that many of the puppies that I have had have done. There are things that we can do. To be generous, I would turn around and say, “This categorically could not have been done while we remained in the European Union.” There have been complaints that it is taking too long, but the time that has passed since we settled Brexit is relatively short. In agriculture and farming, we have had to create a whole new financial field.

Thank goodness for campaigners who are now, sadly, long gone from us. David went too early. You are still here with us, Mr Deputy Speaker. But for those of us who were fighting for this in the ’90s, I am absolutely chuffed to be here this afternoon.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 7:11, 18 December 2023

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You just threw me off there—I was expecting to jump up and then sit back down again, as always. I am very pleased to speak in the debate.

I share the attitude of Tim Farron. We will not oppose the Bill either, but I must put on record some concerns. I declare an interest as a member of the Ulster Farmers Union and a landowner. In an earlier intervention, I referred to the importance of the land. Someone can always buy another house but they cannot always buy the land; Land can never be replaced. It is important to understand that, and I know that the Minister understands it as well as I do. His love of the land is similar to my own.

I do not deal in livestock. Our neighbour uses the land as part of his dairy farm. Some might think that we are all part of the cattle mart in this House. I think that would be rather harsh, but some might see it that way. I hail from a farming community and a country background, so I see at first hand the need for animals to be kept in humane conditions. I am thankful for the farmers in my area, particularly my neighbours, who take such good care of their animals. To me, the Bill’s provisions will not be difficult obligations for our farming community to fulfil because they are already rightly doing so in their care for their animals.

As has become the norm—the Minister probably knew this was coming, but I must put it on record—Northern Ireland is being treated as a third nation with different rules. I agree that there needs to be a sensible working relationship with our neighbours, that our farmers need to be able to meet their market obligations while meeting our animal rights obligations, and that we simply need a better way of doing things, but in a letter to colleagues the Minister said:

“To ensure that Northern Ireland farmers have unfettered access to the UK and Irish markets this Bill will not apply in Northern Ireland.”

My right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson said as much during his intervention on the Secretary of State, and he will make that case much better than I can when he has the opportunity to do so later. That sounds like a generous pro-Union move to help Northern Ireland in the light of all the problems with the protocol and the Windsor framework.

Dr Hudson referred to the veterinary issue. I get regular reports, from across the Chamber, from across my constituency and from across all of Northern Ireland, that vets cannot get the veterinary medication they want. There might be a deal to say that we have a longer period in which to use medications, but the fact is that we do not have that deal, and vets in Northern Ireland are telling me every week that they cannot access the medications they need. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a deep interest in that matter, but for the factual evidential case we need to put on the record where the problems really are.

If we look at the framing of clause 1, it becomes immediately apparent that there is no need whatever for the Bill not to apply to Northern Ireland, because it does not prohibit the movement of live animals within the British isles. The clause could be changed so that the words “Great Britain” are replaced with “the United Kingdom”, because the offence the clause would create is about movements beyond the British islands.

In that context, it immediately becomes apparent that there is one reason, and one reason only, that the Bill applies only to part of the United Kingdom: because the Government have—and I say this respectfully—given into EU pressure to disrespect the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. The EU is claiming the right to make laws in Northern Ireland, including on animal movements. We feel greatly aggrieved about where we are in relation to that. I love my Britishness and my United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but I am a second-class citizen. My people—the people of Strangford and elsewhere across Northern Ireland—are also second-class citizens. That annoys me greatly.

We are thus subject to the decisions of legislators whom we did not elect and about whom we know nothing. It seems to me that, rather than protecting the Union and animal welfare within it, the Bill sacrifices the integrity of the United Kingdom, democracy in Northern Ireland and animal welfare at the altar of the all-important wishes of the European Union. I know that the Minister and I are of the same mind on Brexit, but the Brexit that he has is very different from the Brexit that I have. I wish that I had the same as him, but that is not the case just yet. If he could provide a credible alternative explanation, I would be very glad to hear it. Again, my concern is not about the Bill, which is necessary and welcome, but about the exclusion of Northern Ireland so specifically in this scenario. I agree with the Ulster Farmers Union about the need for the free flow of animals, but I am unconvinced that the Bill needs to exclude Northern Ireland. I await the Minister’s response.

I have spoken about puppy farming in Westminster Hall and this Chamber, including in Adjournment debates. Perhaps the Minister will confirm his position. We have criminal puppy-smuggling gangs bringing dogs across from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland. Ultimately, they are able to bring them across the water as well. We need clarification on that. I know that the Minister is always keen to respond and give us the encouragement that we need, and tonight I need encouragement that puppy farming and illegal puppy smuggling are done for good, and that the gangs who live off the back of those poor, innocent animals are given very short shrift.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 7:18, 18 December 2023

I warmly welcome the Bill as further evidence of the Conservative commitment to improving standards of animal welfare in this country. The presence of the Bill on our agenda means, in my view, that this is a good day for Parliament.

This has been a long time coming. I am talking not about the demise of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, but about the decades-long concern about this issue. It was at the end of the Victorian era that the public first started to express their grave concern about the suffering of animals transported overseas for slaughter. Demands that this trade be brought to an end led to Committees being established by Ministers as far back as 1957 and 1974. An attempt to restrict exports in 1992 by the Major Government was blocked by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it impeded the operation of the EU single market.

The trade peaked at over 2 million animals a year in the early 1990s and opposition to live exports also grew in the 1990s, as we have heard from my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning. Very large-scale protests took place, including what became known as the battle of Brightlingsea in 1995. This saw a somewhat unlikely alliance between local Essex residents and animal rights protesters banding together to try to prevent the export of livestock through the town. While, thankfully, exports from the UK have stalled over the past few years, around the rest of the world about 2 billion animals are still subjected to excessive long-distance transportation.

As we have heard many times in this Chamber over the decades, live exports can involve animals crammed into trucks and on to ships for journeys in shocking conditions that can last several weeks, during which they suffer distress from mishandling, overcrowding, excessive heat and cold, motion stress, injuries, prolonged hunger and thirst, restriction of movement and an inability to rest. Of course, the UK livestock sent to Europe should in theory be protected by the EU’s rules on live transport—rules that I certainly fought to toughen up when I was an MEP—but as successive reports from the European Parliament confirm, these rules simply are not always complied with or enforced, so the suffering continues.

Moreover, there is a danger that some animals exported to European destinations, particularly Hungary or Bulgaria, may be sent on to the middle east, suffering even longer journeys and slaughter conditions that are frequently inhumane. Even the animals that stay in the EU can be subject to lower welfare standards. For example, Spain permits barren conditions to be used for calves, which would be illegal if deployed in this country, and cruel and illegal practices in abattoirs in France have been highlighted on a number of occasions, including in reports by the French Parliament.

Practical reasons may have brought this trade from Britain to a halt for now, but we must legislate to ensure that it does not start up again. Vital ethical principles are at the heart of this very long-running debate: the principle that, as sentient beings, animals cannot be treated simply as a commodity; the principle that a civilised society must ensure that all animals, particularly those used by humans as part of our food supply and for other purposes, are treated with compassion and spared unnecessary suffering; and the principle that sending livestock to other jurisdictions, over which we have no control, violates our moral responsibility to prevent unnecessary animal suffering.

Today is an opportunity for us to listen to our constituents, who tell us again and again that they want to end live exports for slaughter and fattening once and for all. I pay tribute to every one of my constituents and other members of the public who over these past decades may have signed a petition, attended a protest, written to their MP or just played a part in this long-running campaign. Like others, I want to thank groups such as Compassion in World Farming, including the redoubtable Peter Stevenson, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the RSPCA, World Horse Welfare and all those who have worked so hard to get us to this point, as well as figures such as Selina Scott and Joanna Lumley for their commitment and dedication to the cause over many years.

I welcome this Bill, because it will deliver the ban for which I have been campaigning for a quarter of a century, first as an MEP and then as an MP. I committed the Government to it when I was the Environment Secretary, and I secured its inclusion in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. That was the first time that Conservative promises on this issue extended beyond live exports for slaughter to include fattening as well. That was a crucial change, and it is a crucial part of this Bill.

The loss of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was frustrating, but now we have left the EU and the single market, this House finally has the power to determine what our laws on this crucial question will be. With that freedom, now is the time to get this done to set an example to countries around the world where these hellish long-distance international journeys still continue, to ensure that animals produced in this country remain subject to our very high standards of animal welfare—standards determined by this Parliament—and to implement the long-held wishes of the constituents of each and every one of us. Mr Deputy Speaker, as I am sure you will agree, now is the time to ban live exports.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome 7:25, 18 December 2023

Although I very much welcome the return of this Bill, I wish it had not been an afterthought. I wish this was not another U-turn, albeit a partial U-turn, designed to paper over the cracks of 13 years of Government failure. More than anything, I wish this Government showed the same concern for the welfare of those who care for our livestock.

Farmers and farms are facing huge deficits in their finances. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has cut, cut, cut funding to our farms. This Government have failed to create a system that is equitable, as the reformed system still disproportionately benefits large landowners. The take-up of the flagship environmental land management policy, the sustainable farming initiative, is very low: only 82,000 eligible farmers are currently signed up. All the while, DEFRA figures show a cut in departmental communications at a time when farmers are the least financially secure in 50 years.

Farmers are being sent like lambs to the slaughter by this Government, and have been betrayed and undermined by the botched Tory Brexit deal and the shambolic lack of planning that has devastated farm finances, leaving many farmers on the brink. Farmers have been let down by trade deals with countries that have far lower animal welfare standards than our own, flooding the market with cheap and lesser-quality produce, and markets continue to narrow further.

I must declare an interest at this point. I may be merely a spring lamb in this place, but I am from a farming family, my neighbours are farmers and my friends are farmers. We are the custodians of the countryside and we care about the welfare of our livestock, so I am keen to shed light on how this Government’s policy, or lack of it, affects farmers. National Farmers Union polling data from August shows that 87% of dairy farmers in England are seriously worried about the effect of Government regulation on their finances. Farmers make up 1% of the UK population, but they account for 14% of workplace incidents, a rate 20 times higher than the UK industry average. Unfortunately, last year, 36% of those were suicides.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Does the hon. Member want to give us a single example of a regulation this Government have introduced on dairy farmers?

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

I will not at this stage—I will carry on with what I am saying—but of course lots of funding has been cut.

In 2021, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution’s big farming survey found that over a third of respondents displayed symptoms classifying them as having poor mental health as a flagging concern, while 47% displayed anxiety and 21% showed signs of depression. The farmers at the highest risk of poor mental health were those working with pigs, grazing livestock and dairy, the sectors primarily affected by this legislation. The Liberal Democrats were the first to assert that mental health is equal to physical health. I am very grateful to the Farm Safety Foundation for its work, and I hope Members will join me in supporting its Mind Your Head campaign in February. I urge any farmers listening today to use its fantastic “Little Book” to get information and help.

However, we need the Government to step up and stop expecting charities to fill their wellies. I urge Ministers to listen to our farmers, reflect on Government messaging, and devise a properly considered, fully financed, long-term plan for food and farming resilience in this country. I call on the Government to listen to our farmers and to the Liberals Democrats, and to plan for the long haul and value the welfare of our hard-working farmers as much as the welfare of our livestock.

Photo of Steve Tuckwell Steve Tuckwell Conservative, Uxbridge and South Ruislip 7:30, 18 December 2023

It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of this wonderful Bill. Its Second Reading is hugely welcome, and not before time. I am assured by the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and his statements on the Government’s continued dedication to animal welfare. I have appreciated the opportunity to speak with Front-Bench colleagues about the importance of the Bill, and to share the views of my constituents directly with Ministers. On behalf of residents, I have had the opportunity to engage directly with various animal welfare organisations such as the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and Cats Protection. The Bill supports the continuing focus on animal welfare, which is important to my constituents.

I recently visited Oak Wood School in Hillingdon, which was hosting a Christmas fair for students with special educational needs that involved interaction with animals. Such interaction not only supports education, but significantly enhances the wellbeing and confidence of young people. The people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip are huge animal lovers. No one could go far in my constituency without spotting many dog walkers enjoying the wonderous open and green spaces that are part of one of London’s greenest constituencies. My inbox is often full not just with campaign emails, but with genuine heartfelt messages that touch on all elements of animal welfare. That has been especially the case over the past couple of weeks, as residents have echoed my feeling in support of the Bill. Indeed, more than 85% of the 11,000 respondents to the Department’s consultation on live exports agreed with the measures in the Bill.

The Bill seizes on the opportunity post Brexit to put an end to journeys that have been described as incredibly arduous, stressful and exhausting for livestock. No more will unweaned calves face cross-channel journeys that could last more than 60 hours, or sheep be transported for days on end. That is especially important when we consider that livestock could end up being exported to countries with far lower standards of animal welfare. According to DEFRA figures, there have been no recorded live exports from the UK since the Government announced their intention to introduce the ban. It is therefore imperative that we pass the Bill, in order to consolidate those figures and make them permanent, while making prohibited or under-the-radar transports illegal.

The Bill continues to build on this country’s proud tradition as one of not just animal lovers, but upholders of animal welfare, as evidenced by the UK’s status as the highest-ranking G7 nation in the animal protection index. It is good to see new statutory welfare codes for pigs, laying hens and chickens, the ban on conventional battery cages for laying hens, and the mandatory introduction of slaughterhouse CCTV. There are tougher penalties for offences relating to animal cruelty, measures to strengthen the law on animal sentience, compulsory cat microchipping, and many other measures. I care deeply about such issues, as do residents across Uxbridge and South Ruislip. I am glad to support the Bill this evening, and I look forward hopefully to joining many colleagues across the House in doing so.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West 7:33, 18 December 2023

I cannot speak in this debate without starting by talking about my amazing predecessor, who campaigned tirelessly on animal welfare during his 38 years in this House, as I know you too have campaigned, Mr Deputy Speaker. Sir David was the champion of all creatures great and small, many of which he protected in the confines of his own parliamentary room. At its height, it was home to five bird cages, seven fish tanks and even a tank that housed two turtles on their own, in addition to regularly housing Vivienne, his daughter’s French bulldog. I cannot speak about animal welfare in this House without referring to Sir David. He raised the issue six times during this Parliament before he was murdered; his last contribution in the House, just weeks before his murder, was to ask for a debate on animal welfare. I promised the residents of Southend and Leigh-on-Sea that I would do everything in my power to build on his legacy, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak today.

We are undoubtedly a nation of animal lovers. That is why in 2019 we promised the British people that we would ban the live export of cattle, and tonight we are making good on that promise. It is shocking that live animals have long been exported to the EU from the UK for breeding, fattening and slaughter. In most recent years in which live exports have occurred, we were exporting between 25,000 and 50,000 sheep and calves for fattening and slaughter. It is good that the last instance of the export of live animals was in December 2020, but that does not negate the necessity of our passing the Bill. This Bill is a point of principle, and it underpins our commitment to high animal welfare standards.

Some 87% of those who took part in the Government’s consultation on live exports in 2020 thought that livestock and horses should not be exported for slaughter and fattening. That view is echoed by my constituents in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, nearly 100 of whom have written to urge me to vote to ban live exports. Doing what our constituents and the general public specifically sent us to this place to do is never a bad place to start with any Bill.

It is not surprising that the public take such a view. We all as children saw images on our TV screens of animals in crowded crates and lorries, and it would take the most callous person not to recognise the stress, injury and exhaustion that those animals were subjected to. We have heard about unweaned calves from Great Britain travelling to Spain on journeys lasting an average of 60 hours. That is two days, two nights and another whole day in a crowded, hot crate with not enough food and in absolutely disgusting conditions. In 2018, the shortest journey direct to slaughter from Great Britain to continental Europe was 18 hours. That is an affront to every decent human being. It is high time that we passed this ban, and I am proud that we are doing so.

My hon. Friend Dr Hudson made the point that if we ensure that animals are transported domestically for slaughter, we can ensure that the conditions in which they are slaughtered are humane. If they are exported off to the continent, we have no idea what pain and suffering they go through when they are slaughtered, and we have heard evidence of very much lower welfare conditions.

I wholeheartedly support making it an offence to send, transport or arrange transport for the export of live livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and wild boar for fattening and slaughter. I also welcome the necessary exemptions for breeding and competition. Horseracing makes a unique contribution to the UK’s sporting culture, and in particular to the rural economy. I am pleased that the Bill will enable racehorses to continue to travel for racing and breeding, provided that they are transported in line with legal requirements aimed at protecting their welfare. We must remain ever vigilant in making sure that happens.

It is also important, as others have said—this is absolutely something that Sir David would have said—that we remember that we can bring in these measures only because we are no longer members of the European Union. For 50 years, despite multiple campaigns by animal welfare charities, we were unable to ban live exports because we were an EU member state bound by the EU rules, which the European Court of Justice had ruled were lawful. The trade in the live export of animals was held to be lawful as long as welfare in transport was complied with.

This Bill is a real Brexit benefit. It may have been a long time coming, but that does not negate the fact that it is a real benefit. Brexit gives us the freedom to go beyond our European counterparts and underpin our credentials as a world leader in animal welfare. I am proud to be part of a Government who are passing such a Bill. I am proud that this Conservative Government have introduced world-leading protections in any number of areas, and I use this opportunity to encourage Members from all parts of the House to support my Pet Abduction Bill on its Second Reading on 19 January. I also call on DEFRA—I am sure the Minister knows what I am going to say—to look again at Emilie’s law and criminalising dog-on-dog attacks in England, which are such a scourge for so many responsible pet owners who lose their beloved four-legged companion unnecessarily due to the irresponsibility of another pet owner.

I am delighted to support this Bill today. Banning live exports is the right thing to do. The export of live animals has been a stain on our society for far too long. I am glad that it is being stopped, but I am even more glad that, if we pass this Bill tonight, it will never come back again.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 7:42, 18 December 2023

I am not going to congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this Bill, first because we should ask: why has it taken so long? The Conservatives had this issue in their manifesto in 2017, they boasted in the 2019 general election that they would use Brexit freedoms to bring in animal welfare measures, and now, at the end of 2023, we are finally seeing a Bill emerge. There is no doubt about the need for this protection. Members have outlined the undue and unnecessary suffering involved in the live export of animals, and Ministers have made reference to it—whether it is the stress, injuries and trauma for animals; the fact that they are taken to destinations where they are often treated far worse than they would be in abattoirs here in the United Kingdom; the starvation, or the fact that many animals die during those journeys. Of course this is a necessary piece of legislation.

If the Government had grasped the Brexit opportunities, we could have introduced this Bill a long time ago. It is no excuse to say, “We have not had any live exports of animals anyway, so it did not matter.” The fact is that there was a promise and an ability to deliver on it, but it was not done. Members have mentioned many of the other animal welfare measures that could have been introduced on leaving the European Union, but they have not happened. That is the first reason why I will not congratulate the Minister: the Bill is tardy, and it is a mark of the Government’s unwillingness to use the opportunities that Brexit made available to the country.

The second important reason why I will not congratulate the Minister is that the Bill does not refer to the whole of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is left out. When I intervened, the Secretary of State gave the totally spurious reason that Northern Ireland was left out to give Northern Ireland farmers—because we can have movements within the British Isles—the benefit of being able to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom and with the Irish Republic.

The farming Minister may well argue that trade with the Irish Republic may not involve long journeys for animals, because some of the abattoirs are just over the border, and there is significant trade across the border, and that is true. However, if it were only a case of applying this Bill to Northern Ireland so that we can trade with the Irish Republic, it would have been easy to provide for that by having this Bill cover the whole United Kingdom with a clause making it clear that when animals are being exported to the Irish Republic, a final destination must be stated, because of the nature of trade across the border. If the real aim of this Bill, as the Secretary of State has said, is to stop the disgraceful trade in animals being taken for long journeys in terrible conditions with terrible suffering, it has not achieved that for the thousands of animals who will still be able to be transported from Northern Ireland into the continent of Europe.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I suspect the House would thank neither me nor the right hon. Gentleman if we tried to embark on a long debate about the Windsor framework tonight. I am sure that the Minister would not, either. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree in principle that it would be a desirable outcome if the Government could find some mechanism in Committee—if they could be ingenious about it—so that the benefits of this Bill applied to animals in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

If the Government did that, I would eat the words with which I started my speech and I would congratulate the Minister. I have suggested that it could be done by making the Bill cover the whole of the United Kingdom. If the only concern is about the volume of cross-border trade on the island of Ireland, the Government should state in the Bill that the livestock must have an end destination in Ireland.

Let me just spell out the Bill’s implications. Thousands of animals are exported to continental Europe every year. The good thing is that we will now, Pontius Pilate-like, be able to wash our hands and say, “If they are going to continental Europe, they will not go through Great Britain.” The Bill makes it clear that a person who exports

“relevant livestock from Great Britain”,


“transports, or attempts to transport, relevant livestock from or through Great Britain”,


“organises, or attempts to organise, the transport of relevant livestock from or through Great Britain” will be breaking the law. However, there is nothing to stop someone from Northern Ireland taking the animals in a lorry the whole length of the island of Ireland down to Rosslare for a 20-hour sea journey. They could then go on to continental Europe and down to Spain, or wherever the final destination happened to be, and all the suffering that this Bill is attempting to stop would not be prevented for exports from Northern Ireland.

People may say, “There are safeguards on the journey.” When the Northern Ireland Assembly was operative, I remember raising the case of unweaned calves with an agriculture Minister. I asked him to refuse to accept journey logs unless the calves were given milk replacer and unloaded before the lorry went on a ferry. That is a ferry journey, do not forget, of nearly 20 hours. I will share the answer from the Minister, just so that I can spell out the welfare implications of omitting Northern Ireland from this Bill. He said that the Department does not consider it necessary to feed calves during their rest period or before they get on the boat. Even if people do not do that, they will be in compliance with EU regulations. That is the implication of leaving Northern Ireland out of this Bill. The real reason for doing so is not to ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland can have free access to the Irish Republic. The real reason was given earlier by another speaker: judgments have been made in the European Court of Justice.

Judgments made in the past still apply in Northern Ireland. Any judgments in the future will still apply in Northern Ireland. EU law will, and does, still apply in Northern Ireland. This Bill cannot apply in Northern Ireland because, as a result of the protocol, the Windsor framework and the arrangements that have been put in place, Northern Ireland is still gripped by the tentacles of the European Union. That is the real reason for leaving Northern Ireland out of the Bill. Do not let the Minister pretend tonight that he is concerned about farmers in Northern Ireland not being able to take their cattle to abattoirs or places for fattening in the Irish Republic. If that were the case, he could make that possible under this Bill.

I ask the Minister whether that has been considered in his discussions. If it has been considered and rejected, why has it been rejected? Is he content that a part of the United Kingdom will still have the ability to export sheep, cattle and animals of all sorts right across the continent of Europe and over a long sea journey? The sea journey will be longer now because we cannot use the land bridge of Great Britain. The sea journey will be from Rosslare to somewhere in northern France. To me, that does not look like concern for the welfare of the animals that will be transported.

Although it is not the subject of today’s debate, one of the impediments to getting an Executive set up in Northern Ireland is that kind of intrusion. Even if the Executive were operating today—I believe that the majority of MLAs in Stormont want the same provisions as there are for the rest of the United Kingdom—they would not be able to bring in those provisions, because this is an area where it appears that Westminster does not have any control over the law in Northern Ireland. The Assembly would not have control over the law in Northern Ireland; Brussels makes the decision on this. The European Court of Justice has made a ruling on it, and the sufferers are the animals that are subject to inadequate protection in law.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 7:53, 18 December 2023

The first thing I want to do is thank my hon. Friend Anna Firth. She paid a lovely tribute to her predecessor, who would be very proud of the remarks she made.

I am here today not only on behalf of the numerous constituents across North Norfolk who have emailed me about live exports, but because this is a matter that I am passionate about personally. I have spoken on animal welfare matters in this place time and again, and I have posted on my social media many times about the importance of respecting, caring for and looking after animals of all shapes and sizes, right down to the tiniest. As Members will know, I am the UK glow worm champion, which always gets a slight chuckle here. Of course, the House will remember my record-breaking dark skies debate on the glow worms that inhabit Sheringham park in my constituency, which I led back in October. On a serious matter, however, we must put animal welfare at the forefront of all spheres of our decision making, and I am really proud that this Conservative Government are doing that time and again.

As the Minister will know, livestock farming—particularly pigs and cattle—is a crucial part of my North Norfolk agricultural market; I have been to see him enough times about it over the years. Locally, we ensure that animal welfare is maintained. Norfolk produces 6% of England’s livestock output, totalling just under £600 million. With that economic backdrop in mind, I am a firm believer that this Bill, when enacted, will bring substantial advantages to local farmers in North Norfolk as well as to our agricultural heartlands, as we have heard from Members of different parties this evening. It will not only bring economic advantages, it will also enhance our local farmers’ capabilities to produce high-quality local food.

In North Norfolk, we go to extraordinary lengths to look after animal welfare. Last summer, I visited the Paterson farm in Worstead, in the wilds of North Norfolk, and saw the wagyu herd. I did not even know what wagyu was at the time.

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk

It is.

There was relaxing zen spa music playing in the calving shed. I said, “Is that for the farmhands?” No, it was not. It was to keep the calves and the birthing herds calm, so that they were relaxed and, in turn, all those animals were looked after. Of course, the meat was less stressed as well. That is taking animal welfare to the absolute limit. I do not suggest that every farmer implements a public address system in their calving shed, but it shows the level of care that my farmers take over the welfare of their herds.

This Bill is supported not just by my constituents, but by industry representatives across Norfolk and the UK more widely. I do not think that anyone has mentioned that the National Farmers Union supports it as well, as does the RSPCA. Although it is great that we will no longer see the fattening and slaughter of animals transported overseas, which will be outlawed—it is great that we have not seen that since 2021—it is also important that we get on and pass this legislation swiftly through Parliament, and put it permanently into practice. I will have particular pride when residents come up to me and say, “Name me a benefit of Brexit,” because I can now turn round and say there is yet another one. This legislation is only possible because we have been able to take back control and sovereignty of our lawmaking. By doing away with decision making being bound by the European Union’s animal transport laws, we have been able to introduce this Bill.

No animal should be reared for slaughter and have to suffer in this way. We have changed track, and we have been able to do that by leaving the European Union. We will now continue our world-leading status on animal welfare.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 7:58, 18 December 2023

It is a pleasure to respond to tonight’s debate, not least because we are graced with no fewer than four former and current DEFRA Secretaries of State on the Government Benches this evening. I found myself looking for a collective noun to describe them: a swarm, as in bees, a shiver, as in sharks, or a crash, as in rhinos. There are endless possibilities.

May I offer festive greetings to those on the Government Front Bench? I am afraid that is going to be the end of my kindness for tonight, because what is inescapable is that the Bill is massively diminished in ambition, just like this Government. I say to Sir Mike Penning, who spoke with real passion, conviction and knowledge—I agree with much of what he said—that the issue for the Opposition is that this could all have been done more than two and a half years ago. Those of us who sat on the Bill Committee for the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, as I did, will recollect the days and days of interviewing witnesses, taking up their time and expertise, and raising their hopes and the hopes of millions across the country that action would be immediately forthcoming. Days were spent in Committee. Yes, the Opposition tabled amendments and made suggestions—that is our job—but there was also strong support from the Opposition for what the Government said they were trying to do, because that Committee was trying to address the very real problems of the day: the suffering of caged primates; the worrying by dogs of farm animals; puppy smuggling; cruel mutilation such as ear and tail cropping; and the pain of pet theft. All that and more has been happening every day since. For almost 1,000 days, the Government have allowed those abuses to continue. Perhaps the Minister will explain why we have had to wait so long.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

My hon. Friend makes a good point about measures in the kept animals Bill. Several other measures, including the foie gras ban, are in scope of this Bill, but the Government have chosen to use private Members’ Bills to try to further that agenda. Is that not a hugely flawed approach?

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who hits the nail on the head. The Government are so timorous and afraid of further suggestions—[Interruption.]. You should be, actually. They are so afraid that they have had to resort to this piecemeal approach. Frankly, it a complete abrogation of responsibility, and what a profound disappointment to those voters who in 2019 read the Conservative manifesto and thought that the Conservatives cared about animal welfare and would do these things. What a let-down.

This pared down slither of a Bill is welcome only in that there is finally, belatedly some action on this one issue. As my hon. Friend Ruth Jones said in her opening remarks, we welcome it, we will not oppose it, and we will try to improve it in Committee.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

The shadow Minister mentioned the Conservative party’s 2019 general election manifesto. My predecessor Neil Parish sought to amend the Agriculture Bill to prevent the ratification of any trade agreement that did not guarantee that the same animal welfare standards would be applied to imported food. Does the shadow Minister agree that standards for UK production are only half the picture unless we demand those same animal welfare standards are applied to imports?

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Absolutely. Of course, Labour Front-Bench Members made that point repeatedly, as did the hon. Member’s predecessor and others on the Government Benches, including, of course, former Secretaries of State who find themselves no longer in their posts and now free to speak their minds.

These issues matter because the British public really care about the health and welfare of animals. We have seen this in many polls, but a recent one has indicated that more than two thirds of respondents believe that we should do more to improve animal welfare and protect animals from cruelty. We really are a nation of animal lovers, as many have said, and a significant majority think that the Government have a clear responsibility to protect innocent and vulnerable animals from unnecessary suffering. It is indeed one of the main roles of the state to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and that must include animals. The Government’s track record on animal welfare, which did indeed once look promising, is now in tatters, but we are relieved that at least some progress is being made in the form of this ban on live exports. As my colleague stated at the outset of the debate, we will support the Bill and look forward to its being signed into law at very long last.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 8:03, 18 December 2023

May I first draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?

I thank Members from across the House for their constructive approach and for their comments and support for the Bill. It has been brilliant to hear that consensus. Although there are a few areas on which we may disagree, it is clear that we can agree on the core aims of the Bill. That deep value that we all place on animal welfare acts as our lodestar, and I am grateful for that shared perspective.

The Bill builds on our proud record as world leaders on animal welfare. Ending the unnecessary export of livestock, including horses, will prevent the associated stress, exhaustion and injury caused by those journeys. It will signal to our international partners our firm commitment to improving welfare standards for kept animals and reinforce our position as global leaders on this important issue.

Many animal welfare groups have called for this ban on live exports. We have heard support for the Bill from Government Members. May I put on record my acknowledgement of the KALE—Kent Against Live Exports—group, which has done an enormous amount of campaigning on the issue, working with my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, who cannot be in his place today, and other colleagues across the House? We know that there is huge public support for the ban, as evidenced by the flood of respondents to our consultation, 87% of whom agreed on the need for the ban on exports for slaughter and fattening. There is clearly broad recognition that we must end these unnecessary journeys, and we are taking the opportunity to do that.

May I pay tribute to a number Government Members? My hon. Friend Dr Hudson, who has vast experience in this area, gave an excellent speech and has focused a great deal of effort on making sure that horses are not affected by their export. He also referred to bluetongue and African swine fever. I assure him that we are very much on the case of making sure that our borders are secure. This week, I will talk to the chief veterinary officer about bluetongue and our response for next spring.

I also pay tribute to all four former Secretaries of State, and it has not gone unnoticed that we have had four times as many former Secretaries of State on the Government Benches as there are Labour Back Benchers in their places. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey, who is a good friend of mine and drove the Bill forward during her time. I will get myself into trouble, but I also draw attention to my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers, who started the process. She has been an amazing campaigner and has a fantastic track record on animal welfare. It has not gone unnoticed that my hon. Friend Steve Tuckwell is a passionate campaigner on animal welfare, just as his predecessor was. I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box without paying tribute to the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who was a passionate campaigner on animal welfare issues. That leaves to the end my hon. Friend Anna Firth, who has picked up the baton from her predecessor. I knew that we were to get a lecture on Emilie’s law as she is a campaigner who wants to stop dog-on-dog attacks. I pay tribute to her for all her efforts on animal welfare.

I was amused by my hon. Friend Duncan Baker, who told us about cows being played music and radio stations. I hope that they will not be played Radio 4 and “Farming Today” on a regular basis—that could be quite depressing for those animals. I assure the House that it certainly does not cheer me up every morning.

We have had a mostly positive debate. There were a few little chips from Opposition Members, but I will not dwell on them too much. Party politics should not really play a role in animal welfare. We in this House all care about animals because we are members of the United Kingdom and we are British—caring about animals is within our DNA. The Government will continue to push hard on animal welfare.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

As the Minister knows, I have always had a lot of time for him, so I shall not press him on the Windsor framework, but I think that Sammy Wilson had a point. Our great friend Sir David would have warmly welcomed the Bill, but he had a long shopping list, so, at the risk of pressing on the Minister’s generosity, will he agree to meet David’s excellent successor, my hon. Friend Anna Firth, and me early in the new year to talk about the Farm Animal Welfare Committee’s 2015 report on farrowing crates, so that we can at least have a discussion on the issue and see whether anything at all can be done?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am always delighted to meet my hon. Friends. Should my diary allow, I am sure we can find a slot for that to happen.

I pay tribute to all colleagues who have participated today.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

I thank the Minister. I hope that he was not coming to a conclusion, but was about to address the very important point that I raised in the debate. The Bill should include animal welfare provisions right across the United Kingdom. There is a route by which his concerns about cross-border trade between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would be dealt with, while at the same time ensuring no loophole for long journeys for animals into continental Europe. Will he take that up in Committee?

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I commit to continuing this conversation with the right hon. Gentleman beyond the Chamber. I should be clear that livestock transported for slaughter from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must go directly to a slaughterhouse. It would be an offence for them to move anywhere else. On arrival at the slaughterhouse, the animals and the accompanying health certificates must be presented to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs officer at that point. Livestock exported for any other purpose—not for slaughter—would need to remain at the place of destination in Northern Ireland for a minimum of 30 days and be re-tagged. That is necessary to comply with the animal identification requirements after arriving in Northern Ireland.

The requirements would mean that livestock must remain in Northern Ireland for a minimum of 30 days, and would make the slaughter trade uneconomic in those circumstances. I am more than happy to continue the conversation with him offline. We have given some thought to this and have had conversations with our friends both in the Ulster Farmers’ Union and Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

The Minister is very kind. One thing he probably did not hear me mention was foie gras. He has not mentioned the fact that I made a speech, because it was not that good. Will he commit the Secretary of State to meet me—my office is only two doors down the corridor from him—to discuss why we are allowing foie gras to be imported into this country, when we banned its production here? I made that point in my speech but, clearly, I did not get it across hard enough.

Photo of Mark Spencer Mark Spencer The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The danger of mentioning colleagues by constituencies is that, occasionally, I miss one out. I apologise to my right hon. Friend for not singling him out for his brilliance, which is a matter of record in this House. I get into trouble for making commitments at the Dispatch Box for my own diary, so I am not about to start making them for the Secretary of State’s diary. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend were to write to the Secretary of State, he would be able to answer that question.

Once again, I pay tribute to colleagues who have participated in the debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.