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.