Amendment 71

Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 17th September 2020.

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Baroness Hodgson of Abinger:

Moved by Baroness Hodgson of Abinger

71: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—“Export of farmed animals for slaughter without prior stunning(1) A person commits an offence if the person exports to any country outside the United Kingdom a farmed animal for slaughter without prior stunning within ten weeks of arrival at the place of destination.(2) A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the export to any country outside the United Kingdom of a farmed animal for slaughter without prior stunning within ten weeks of arrival at the place of destination.(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to the export of a farmed animal from Northern Ireland to the European Union.(4) A person commits an offence if the person transports, arranges or facilitates the transportation of a farmed animal from Great Britain to Northern Ireland for slaughter, unless the animal is to be slaughtered in Northern Ireland.(5) The Secretary of State must by regulations establish a certificate to be issued on export to certify that—(a) a farmed animal exported to any country outside the United Kingdom will be stunned before slaughter;(b) a farmed animal transported from Great Britain for slaughter in Northern Ireland will be slaughtered in Northern Ireland.(6) Regulations under subsection (5) are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.(7) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1), (2) or (4) is liable on summary conviction—(a) in England and Wales to—(i) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks;(ii) a fine; or(iii) both;(b) in Scotland to— (i) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months;(ii) a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale; or(iii) both.(8) In relation to an offence committed before section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, the reference in subsection (7)(a) to 51 weeks is to be read as a reference to 6 months.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause prohibits the export from Great Britain of farmed animals for slaughter without stunning. It provides that farmed animals transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland for slaughter must be slaughtered in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak also in support of Amendments 72 and 73 in this group, which were tabled by my noble friend Lady Fookes. I remind noble Lords of my registered interests, which I highlighted in Committee.

All three amendments would enable us to put an end to much suffering incurred by thousands of animals when they are exported for slaughter or fattening. In their manifesto, the Government committed to end excessively long journeys for slaughter or fattening, so let us take this opportunity to deliver on that promise and put it in the Bill. Why wait? As I said in Committee, exporting animals for slaughter is simply a welfare insult. In this day and age there is no reason why they cannot travel on the hook rather than on the hoof.

I do not want to reiterate all the examples we discussed in Committee, but I remind your Lordships to look at the figures. The Animal and Plant Health Agency reported that around 40,000 animals were exported last year. Of those, around 30,000 were sheep, with only around half going to the continent. Some were transported all the way across Europe to countries that have a large onward trade to the Middle East. The long journeys are stressful for the animals and in some cases result in enormous suffering due to, for example, overcrowding, high summer temperatures and injuries received en route. On top of that, they can end up in fattening or slaughter systems that would be illegal in this country.

I believe that even in this country animals should be slaughtered at the closest point to production as a default option, and Amendment 73 addresses this. I understand that it is supported by the BVA. While I understand that various options in this area are being looked at, I point out that Amendment 73 would not come into effect until the end of January 2023, which gives us time to achieve that. As this was in our manifesto, surely the Bill is the right place to move this agenda forward and ensure that it happens.

Amendment 71 builds on the debate we had in Committee. In addition to Amendments 72 and 73, which focus on slaughter and fattening, and restricting journey times, it would specifically prohibit the export from Great Britain of farmed animals for slaughter without stunning. It provides that farmed animals transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland for slaughter must be slaughtered in Northern Ireland and cannot be taken further afield before being killed.

In Committee the Minister stated:

“The Government encourage the highest standards of animal welfare. Although our policy is to prefer that animals are stunned prior to slaughter, we accept the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat killed in accordance with their religious beliefs”.—[Official Report, 16/7/20; col. 1801.]

I emphasise that I too respect the needs of our multicultural society in the UK. If, as the Minister stated, it is our policy to prefer that animals are stunned prior to slaughter, as long as enough animals are killed in accordance for UK halal and kosher consumption, I see no reason for the Government not to accept this amendment regarding export.

Indeed, the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming have highlighted that more animals than are needed are already killed without stunning for UK halal and kosher consumption so that they are more flexible for sale. Figures from the Food Standards Agency indicate that in 2018 more than 94 million cattle, sheep and poultry were slaughtered without stunning. In addition, a Food Standards Agency report last year highlighted that 90,000 of the 2.9 million non-stunned animals slaughtered for kosher-certified meat were rejected as unfit for religious consumption and went into the general market unlabelled. This needs to be addressed so that there is equality of choice and those who would choose not to eat meat from an animal killed without stunning can identify that meat.

The BVA states that there is evidence that non-stun slaughter is highly likely to cause pain, suffering and distress. More animals than are needed are currently killed without stunning for the UK market. I personally find the figures I stated shocking and believe that we should kill only as locally as possible and only what is needed in this way.

The amendment would not prevent UK communities eating meat killed in accordance with their religious beliefs. What it would do is prevent British animals having to undergo long, stressful journeys to be killed in a way highly likely to cause pain and distress. Surely one of the main reasons for leaving the EU was so that we could put in place laws that we feel are right. The litmus test of humanity in a country is how we treat the vulnerable, and animals are surely among the most vulnerable. This trade is just utterly cruel, and if the UK wishes to consider itself a country leading in animal welfare, it needs to stop such practices around the export of animals now. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger most warmly. She has put the case on the various amendments powerfully, with great conviction and great compassion. I share her feelings and I hope this will not be lost on my noble friends on the Front Bench.

I do not want to add any more to what my noble friend said on her Amendment 71, except to point out that when the original exemption was made to allow religious communities with real scruples to have animals that have not been pre-stunned, it was never intended that they should be the subject of exports. I see no reason why unscrupulous traders should benefit from this so that they can send animals away to where pre-stunning is not so common. This ought to be dealt with very quickly indeed.

The amendment standing in my name and supported by my noble friend is a reintroduction of an amendment I brought forward in Committee to ban the export of live animals for slaughter or for fattening. This has been a gripe and a passion of mine for many years—in fact, since I was a young MP in the House of Commons. That shows you how long ago it was, because I am no longer the spring chicken—probably some people would regard me as an old boiler.

I feel very strongly on this issue, but I have concerns even about my own amendment, because we have had to include a provision permitting animals going to Northern Ireland freely to go into the Republic because of the withdrawal arrangement. This worries me enormously, because, once they are there, they can then be moved freely around all countries belonging to the European Union. Although there are supposedly welfare regulations which prevent them travelling for too long, they are weak and not enforced, so you might as well say they do not exist at all, because that is the plain fact of the matter. I worry that those who still want to send animals abroad will use this provision as a loophole.

I became more concerned about this only very recently. I did not know that the Port of Ramsgate, through which most animals currently exported go, tried to ban animals passing through it. The exporters took the port to court and unfortunately the court found for them and not for the port. That indicates the lengths to which they will go. Therefore, I am concerned about the possibility of animals being sent to Northern Ireland and the situation being almost worse than that which we have now. That is something on which I hope the Government will reflect carefully. I hope that they will be able to tell us that they will come forward with some arrangement, beyond my ken, which deals with this situation.

The other amendment standing in my name, again supported by my noble friend, would ration the hours which animals can spend in transport. I accept that this is a probing amendment. I am concerned about the hours for which animals travel, which came home to me in Committee, when I was horrified to learn of the extent to which animals travel within the United Kingdom. I had not quite appreciated that, so concerned had I been about animals going abroad. I saw this as an opportunity again to take up one of the manifesto commitments on ending excessively long hours for animals in transport. I remind my noble friends of that commitment.

I accept that this is a slightly strange way round of doing things. Normally, if a Government were going to introduce a measure such as this, they would get hold of the “stakeholders” beforehand—I think that is still the fashionable expression; that is, those whose livelihood depends on farming and transporting and who might be affected by any changes in the rules and regulations—and experts, such as vets and key farmers, who understand all the details of what it means to transport animals and can bring their expertise to bear. It is quite likely that one would want different hours for different types of animal. We know that calves are extremely sensitive to travel and feel it much more—they are also much more closely affected by temperature fluctuations. It also depends on the vehicles carrying them: whether they are good, bad or indifferent. My proposed new clause would permit distinctions to be made, and there is also a time lag. None the less, I recognise that this is the wrong way around, and I am sure that people can pick every manner of hole in the suggestions that I have made. However, my main concern is to ensure that the Government get on with this and bring forward really good arrangements.

I understand that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee has done a lot of detailed work on this issue, so I hope that we can pick up on that, in addition to the point already made by my noble friend, that the British Veterinary Association has it laid down as a cardinal principle that animals should be slaughtered or fattened as near as possible to where they were born or raised. I look to the Government this evening to bring forward some real progress.

In conclusion, I remind my noble friends of the old biblical story of the widow and the unjust judge. The unjust judge refused to deal with the widow’s just complaint so she badgered him and badgered him until he gave in, not because of the law but because he could not stand it any longer. I do not want to place the Government in the position of the unjust judge, nor do I particularly want to be the importunate widow. However, I give notice to my noble friends on the Front Bench that if we do not get some action soon, I shall take upon myself the mantle of the widow bullying the unjust judge.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 10:15 pm, 17th September 2020

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I wish to speak against Amendment 71. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, for the thrust of her argument, with which I agree. I agree also with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes—but not that she is an old boiler.

This is one of a series of amendments dealing with the export of live animals for slaughter. At the heart of Judaism is animal welfare and the very strict prohibition from causing harm to animals. The UK Jewish community has often raised the issue of animal transport, as it has serious concerns over both the length of time animals spend in transport and the conditions they are kept in during the journey. I stress that I know of no such exports from the UK for the kosher food trade, so I have no problem with Amendment 72.

In principle, I support a blanket ban on the export of live animals for slaughter. However, Amendment 71 singles out religious communities, such as Jews and Muslims, for no logical welfare reason. It suggests that only animals destined for religious slaughter should be forbidden from being exported, as if the method of slaughter makes the slightest difference to the animal’s horrendous journey. Furthermore, the standard of welfare at slaughter, with only very slight variants, is uniform across Europe as governed by EU directive 1099, which I understand will be retained in UK law post Brexit. No welfare benefits would accrue by preventing animals being transported for religious slaughter alone, travelling to France or other European countries, as regulations on religious slaughter there are identical to those here.

Amendment 71 seeks to claim that industrialised slaughter is somehow more humane than religious slaughter, and there is simply no conclusive evidence to support that. Just visit any abattoir—they are pretty horrendous. Stunning is an all-encompassing animal welfare panacea, which some hope will be unquestioningly accepted as such. We have had this argument often in this House, but in reality mechanical stunning methods, which may include asphyxiation by gas, electrocution by tongs or water or shooting with a captive bolt gun, cause pain to the animal. They also frequently go wrong, leaving the animal in even greater, prolonged distress. We have had this argument before on labelling an, came to the conclusion that we should label everything to say how it was killed. I have no problem with that.

Shechita—kosher killing—incorporates an integral and irreversible stun by severing the anterior structures of the neck with a rapid transverse incision using an instrument of surgical sharpness. I could go on at greater length about the methods but it is rather bloodthirsty, for the reasons needed to kill an animal.

Amendment 71 only seeks to stigmatise religious communities by belittling their legal method of slaughter for no logical welfare benefits. Yes, ban animals from travelling long distances. We should be against—as Amendment 72 is, quite correctly—sending animals on long horrendous journeys to be slaughtered by any method. So please look in the long term at the fact that we need to stop animals having horrendous journeys, so that what happens at the end of them is irrelevant because they are not being exported.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the next speaker, the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.

Photo of The Duke of Montrose The Duke of Montrose Conservative

My Lords, I am very glad to be able to talk on this subject, and I declare my interest as a livestock rearer in Scotland.

This group is much focused on animals involved in exports, and I was thinking that many other speakers in the House today would want to comment on this. My remarks today are directed at Amendment 73—in the name of my noble friend Lady Fookes—in this group, which is, in the first instance, to do with the transport of animals within the UK. However, some comments inevitably will have a bit of a read-over to exports.

My noble friend Lady Fookes has a reputation as one of the foremost advocates of animal welfare in the UK, and this amendment brings forward a lot of proposals that would make life easier for animals and—if they had a chance of a practical outcome—might even make life easier for farmers. However, I will point out what seem to me like some practical difficulties. At the same time, it is proposing a very different world to the one that most of us see around us, and it would require a great deal of government intervention to bring it about. My noble friend Lady Hodgson is pressing the Government to do something in regard to the verbal intention they have given, but I feel it is a fairly big ask at this point.

My noble friend’s concept of requiring producers to take their animals to the nearest abattoir within 10 kilometres, unless prevented by a list of circumstances, has got problems, not least that in the last 10 years we have lost over 200 small abattoirs across this country. There has been some reduction in certain kinds of stock, but a major trigger was the regulations that were brought in from Brussels about the equipment and standards in abattoirs, and we are committed to maintaining those standards.

The end product of any of these units is a very perishable commodity, and I have no doubt that everyone is aware of that. The prices vary widely every year, both by season and availability in world markets. To limit farmers to only one buyer in a small abattoir is a recipe for commercial rip-offs. As a farmer in a mountainous area of Scotland that relies on sheep production, I say that we are only economically able to produce lambs in a limited season, and the net effect is that, at certain times of year, there is a huge flood of lambs looking for buyers, while at other times there is practically nothing that would keep the processing chain viable.

However, if my noble friend can achieve a solution to these drawbacks, there is another difficulty that is contained in her proposal. Due to a lack of small local abattoirs, farmers take their stock to livestock auction markets or collection centres, where the numbers can be combined to make the cost of haulage economic to an abattoir that has capacity for those numbers.

There is a difficulty in that all these markets and sites are regarded as agricultural holdings, and most of the stock will have come from more than 10 kilometres away, while all of it would be required to be held at these units for 24 days before undertaking a journey of up to 10 hours. This happens to be almost exactly the driving time from the two main markets of Aberdeen and Stirling to what is currently one of the main recipients of their throughput. It strikes me that the amendment as currently worded applies particularly to journeys starting in England; perhaps it is more than a coincidence that it has not described journeys starting in Scotland.

Unless there is a ready way of overcoming these major drawbacks, would we not make better use of this time to apply our minds to what would make livestock transport more bearable for the animals themselves? I would like to draw your Lordships’ attention to one of the most distant parts of the United Kingdom. On the Islands of Orkney, animals have to be driven to a ferry, but they have developed pods for the animals on the ferry, such that the journey to Aberdeen is regarded as an animal’s rest period before starting an ongoing journey. This does not read over immediately to other forms of transport, but it shows that, with a little thought, there could be other solutions. But I am afraid that, with its present wording, I would not be able to back Amendment 73.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, for a number of years in the 1960s and 1970s, I had the honour of representing one of the Portsmouth constituencies in Parliament. With a home in Portsmouth at that time, I was close to all that was happening. An abiding memory, which I cannot drive from my mind, is of the sheer dismay one felt at the noise of the frightened, uncomfortable, anxious cattle and sheep on the quayside, waiting to be transported to the mainland of Europe or elsewhere. It was a horrible sound, and it became all the more poignant because it was right beside thousands of decent British people setting off on their journeys by car, in comfortable boats with good catering facilities, for their holiday abroad.

Since then, having moved to the north of England 25 years ago and become very much part of our rural community—I live in quite a remote valley—it frequently strikes me that the contrasts are appalling. There is the beauty and scenic value of these wonderful cattle grazing in the fields. We know they are sentient beings. What fate is about to overtake them? It seems crucially important that, as civilised beings, we set the highest standards in these areas, and I am very glad to see that a number of your Lordships feel as strongly as I do, if not more so, and have taken the steps to give us the opportunity to support amendments to persuade the Government to give greater expression to our civilised values in the way we treat our fellow sentient animals, be they sheep, cattle or whatever. It will be a blot on our conscience—on our whole being—if we stand by while these appalling journeys are undertaken.

It is not just the conditions in Portsmouth, or God knows what conditions there are on the ship, or in what transport and for how far on arrival in a foreign country the animals will travel. It is the way in which in Britain we move our cattle about. They are sentient beings that have been grazing, enjoying and enhancing the countryside, but are then herded, full of anxiety and bewilderment, into vehicles that are driven impersonally. There is a lot that we can do to improve the animal kingdom for which we are responsible.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 10:30 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I am full of admiration for the doughty campaigners who have tabled this little group of amendments, and I pay tribute to them. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, on Amendment 71. It is misplaced and would open a can of worms if it were pressed.

I am grateful for the comments of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who is a hands-on farmer, which focused on animals for export. As I said in Committee, I have had first-hand experience of this issue. My noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger referred to Compassion in World Farming, an organisation that I first came across in about 1994. At that time, a mother and daughter ran that marvellous organisation with the support of Linda McCartney, bless her. They engaged a lot of students to come along to the port of Brightlingsea after their success in closing down the Port of Dover to live exports. Brightlingsea took all the remaining livestock due to go to the continent of Europe. As I mentioned in Committee—I shall not labour the point—I boarded the ferry and saw the disembarkation of the livestock, mostly sheep. They were happy and extremely comfortable. It was stress-free.

I pay tribute to the role of successive Governments and this Government in making sure that we have about the strictest animal welfare provisions across the European Union—my noble friend Lady Hodgson referred to this—and we have been in the vanguard of that. Everything that my noble friends are setting out to do in Amendment 72 has already been achieved. When he sums up, I am sure that the Minister will confirm that this will continue to be the case in retained legislation after the end of the transition period. We have reached an understanding through the Northern Ireland protocol, and I should be particularly alarmed if we sought to reopen that. Potentially, with all the amendments in this group, we could open a can of worms that would lead to major unintended consequences.

My noble friend the Duke of Montrose made a compelling point about the consequences of closing the abattoirs. More than 10 years ago, I was an MEP when the EU directive on abattoirs and slaughterhouses was made, and it was our gold-plating in this country that led at the time to their closure across the United Kingdom, with devastating consequences at the time of the foot and mouth outbreak because the livestock had to be transported for much longer distances than would otherwise have been the case.

I believe that we have reached a very good position under the rules that already pertain in the EU rules of animal movement. I would be very reluctant to see those reopened and, in any event, we are bound by the World Trade Organization rules that—I understand—prevent such a total ban on exports. I hope my noble friend will take the opportunity to confirm that this is the case. I pay tribute to the work that this Government, and successive Governments, have done to get us to this animal welfare state we have currently reached.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, on tabling these amendments. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, that she still thinks like a spring chicken, which is very admirable. I would support these amendments much more strongly if I did not absolutely abhor the whole concept of live animal exports. That we still do this absolutely sickens me, and it is way over time to stop this in its tracks and simply accept that it is inhumane.

However, one thing that annoys me, as somebody who voted for Brexit, is that this was one of the common examples we were given of what could be achieved outside the EU—the banning of live animal exports. These were the sort of promises made to people like me, compassionate Eurosceptics who wanted the freedom to create a better country. We certainly have not done that. Unfortunately, like most of the nice promises made by the Brexit campaign, restricting live animal exports seems to have gone in the bin in favour of the nasty stuff, like restricting immigration. We listen to the racists and we do not listen to the people who care about animals.

Your Lordships’ House really ought to think very hard about these ideas. I was swayed by the points of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, on Amendment 71, but I do support Amendments 72 and 73 because they would make huge leaps forward in animal welfare, and end the needless suffering of long, stressful and painful journeys to slaughter. This is one of the many things that people voted for in supporting Brexit. It is the will of the people and should be delivered.

Photo of Baroness Parminter Baroness Parminter Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, for tabling these amendments and enabling these important animal welfare issues to be debated tonight. I shall speak on Amendment 71 first, prior to taking on Amendments 72 and 73.

On Amendment 71, I accept the scientific evidence that the practice of killing by throat cutting, without pre-stunning, compromises animal welfare. This is also the view of the BVA. However, I respect the arguments of those who believe that the animal welfare concerns do not outweigh the rights of our own communities to religious freedom.

Government trade policy should refuse to look at exporting our livestock to other countries for slaughter without pre-stunning, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, so powerfully articulated. It is possible to take advantage of new trading opportunities that we are told will open up post Brexit without agreeing to export animals slaughtered without pre-stunning. New Zealand exports huge quantities of sheep to the Middle East, and all are pre-stunned with halal certification.

In supporting the aims of this amendment, I ask the Minister to confirm that when the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, said earlier today, in response to a question, that the UK is at

“the cutting edge of free trade agreements” this does not include the Government seeking to increase trade through increasing our exports of farm animals which are not stunned before slaughter.

I absolutely support the principles of Amendments 72 and 73. In fact, when I joined the RSPCA in the 1990s my first campaign, and one of the proudest I have worked on, was on the issue of live transport. I echo all the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the number of animals who suffer and the quite unnecessary levels of suffering that go on, given that this is all about profit. While I support the aims of these amendments, I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said about concerns over the WTO complications. Equally, I think I am correct that live transport is a devolved matter and, as such, the Bill cannot make provisions concerning it for another Government. My personal understanding is that the Scottish Government oppose a ban on live exports.

The Minister might therefore say to us at the end that the Government are not able to accept this amendment. However, he can outline how they intend to tackle the economics that drive this trade. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee report, which the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reported to, was commissioned by this Government and the devolved nations back in 2018. It recommended improvements to transport journey times, ship and lorry standards and possible maximum journey times, once we leave the EU’s regulatory orbit. This approach would be WTO-compatible and achieve the same results as stopping the live exports, as it raises costs, and live exports only happen because of the economics.

When will the Government release the report from FAWC—now known as the Animal Welfare Committee —and, at the same time, undertake alongside it a consultation on live transport and exports? I would like to hear that it is an imminent consultation because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned, during Brexit we heard a lot about how Brexit was going to be about improving animal welfare, and live transport was an issue that was trumpeted. We have had that FAWC report since 2018. If we do not see something imminently—and I would expect that to be in the next few months—we can only assume that this is just another hollow promise from the Government on their commitment to animal welfare.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I intend to speak briefly, but in doing so I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Baroness Hodgson, for these amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reminded us, she has been a lifelong campaigner on these issues and I pay tribute to her infamous doggedness and determination.

Noble Lords will recall that I spoke in favour of similar issues in Committee, and nothing I have heard then or since has dissuaded me from my view that exporting live animals is cruel and unnecessary. The noble Baronesses have once again illustrated the appalling animal cruelty that occurs in long-distance transport, whether through accident or deliberate neglect. It is clear that the occasional stories which appear in the press are symptomatic of a much deeper and endemic problem.

In Committee, the Minister reassured the House that the Government are actively considering how to take forward their manifesto pledge to end long journeys for animal slaughtering and fattening, whether in the UK or abroad. We welcome that commitment and look forward to receiving more details. The Minister also warned that the issues were complex, and we acknowledge that. But I sincerely hope that this will not be used as a reason for inaction, as he can be assured that the British public have high expectations in this regard. So I hope he is able to reassure us tonight that progress is being made and that the Government do now have a plan to deliver that manifesto commitment.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:45 pm, 17th September 2020

I thank all noble Lords for this serious debate. I understand the sentiments behind these amendments. The UK already has world-class animal welfare standards that this Government are committed to strengthening. The Government have been clear that, as part of our animal welfare reform programme, we want to tackle the issue of farmed animals exported for slaughter and fattening. We are carefully considering how best to implement our manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for animals going for slaughter or fattening. I want to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in particular, given her commentary, that of course we are still in the transition period. This is not possible for us to do; we cannot do it at the moment—we need to get beyond before we do these things. But I shall say more on that in a moment.

First, on the amendment on a ban on exports of live animals for religious slaughter, it is a long-standing government commitment to respect religious freedoms and, although our policy is to prefer that animals are stunned prior to slaughter, we accept the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat in accordance with their religious beliefs. The advice that I have received, as we allow religious slaughter in the UK, is that any justification for this export ban would be difficult to reconcile with our obligations under the WTO rules.

The Government are clear that we would prefer animals to be slaughtered as close as practicable to their point of production. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that our view is that conducting trade in meat and meat products is preferable to transporting animals long distances to slaughter.

My noble friends Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson raised the issue of long journeys. The Government have a commitment in their manifesto to end excessively long journeys of animals going for slaughter or fattening. Two years ago, we tasked the independent Farm Animal Welfare Committee, now AWC, not only to look into controlling live exports but to consider more generally what improvements should be made to animal welfare in transport at the end of the transition period. We are considering carefully its report and detailed recommendations.

For example, Amendment 73 would make it an offence to transport farm animals for slaughter or fattening on journeys which are over 10 hours in duration. This 10-hour journey time limit would apply to all species. The AWC report, however, recommends species-specific maximum journey times. The 10-hour limit would be greater than the maximum journey time suggested for some animals in the AWC report—for instance, meat chickens and calves—but would be much stricter than for other species, such as sheep. The evidence suggests that sheep can travel for longer without an adverse impact on their welfare.

AWC’s recommendations also address a number of other important elements of animal welfare in transport, including the temperature and ventilation within the transporting vehicle, space and headroom allowances, and the specific issues concerned with transporting at sea. All these are important issues in determining the overall level of protection of animal welfare during transport. We are carefully considering AWC’s advice and recommendations, and I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that we are launching a public consultation before the end of the year on how—and I underline “how”—best to implement our commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening and on measures for improving animal welfare in transport more generally.

I say particularly to my noble friend the Duke of Montrose that animal welfare policy is devolved, and we are working on an animal health and welfare common framework with the devolved Administrations to achieve consistency across the UK.

I am grateful to my noble friends for their formidable advocacy and their care for animals. I assure all noble Lords that the Government will advance the issues and fulfil their pledges. I do not wish to be part of the widow and judge scenario. I assure noble Lords that we are moving to fulfil our pledge. I hope that, with those words, my noble friend Lady Hodgson will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I have had no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this very important debate. I thank the Minister for his reply and also for the time and courtesy that he has given in talking to us before today. We really do welcome his sincere input.

I am glad to hear that this is work in progress, although I am concerned that it does not get kicked into the long grass and that it is always not now. I very much hope that the consultation will come forward quickly. We are leaving those animals to a terrible fate while we still allow them to be exported for slaughter—with or without stunning. We should be aware that, in doing this, we really are not ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare, as we have heard.

That brings to mind the saying popularised by General Morrison of the Australian army:

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

This is a standard that I would feel very uncomfortable accepting, so I hope we will move forward quickly with all this work.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in good faith that the Minister will do all he can to ensure that animals do not go on having to be exported for slaughter and fattening. I hope this comes into place as soon as possible and we live up to our election manifesto.

Amendment 71 withdrawn.

Amendment 72 and 73 not moved.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 74. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may only speak once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.