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.