Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:52 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:52, 21 February 2024

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular my livestock farming and land management interests.

We are here to consider the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill, which will fulfil the Government’s commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter. The Bill will ban the export of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening from Great Britain, stopping the unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury caused by this trade. I think noble Lords will agree that, from a welfare perspective, animals should be transported only when necessary. This Bill will prevent unnecessarily long export journeys by ensuring that livestock are transported on shorter and less stressful journeys for slaughter domestically.

The Government recognise that we are a nation of animal lovers, with some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Indeed, we were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals, and we are now building on that tradition by continuing to strengthen our animal welfare standards even further.

On farm animal welfare in particular, the Government have launched the animal health and welfare pathway, providing financial support for farmers to help them improve the health and welfare of their livestock. We have made available £30 million in capital grants to co-fund investment in equipment, technology and infrastructure projects. We have introduced a £4 million smaller abattoir fund, which will improve animal health and welfare and help to sustain our network of smaller abattoirs. This support will help to maintain short journey times for livestock to slaughter.

This brings us to today’s consideration of the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill. In the 1990s, a vast number of animals were exported for slaughter each year. This period saw several unsuccessful attempts to ban live animal exports through legal challenges by local and port authorities. At that time, we were bound by EU free trade rules that prevented any such prohibition on live exports.

The RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming have taken up the cause of live animal exports and have campaigned for a ban on exports for slaughter for over 50 years. World Horse Welfare was founded in 1927 with the aim of stopping the export of horses for slaughter. I am grateful to these, and many other animal welfare organisations, for their support of the Bill.

I also recognise the long-standing interest of many noble Lords in banning live exports. I particularly acknowledge the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes —who I believe is 21 again today—the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I am grateful for their efforts in championing these causes.

We have seen the number of live animal exports decrease significantly over recent decades. Since 2020, there have been no recorded exports for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain to the EU. However, the demand from Europe’s slaughterhouses for British livestock, especially sheep, remains. The Bill will ensure that this trade cannot resume.

There is a clear rationale for the Bill. The shortest direct-to-slaughter export journey from Great Britain to continental Europe in 2018 took 18 hours. Most domestic journeys to slaughter in the UK are significantly shorter. Journeys of unweaned calves from Great Britain for fattening in Spain were found to last on average 60 hours.

The UK Government and the Scottish and Welsh Governments commissioned the Farm Animal Welfare Committee to examine animal welfare during the transport of livestock. Its 2018 report identified several aspects of transport that have a detrimental effect on animal welfare and recommended that animals should be transported only when necessary. Following the committee’s report, we undertook a public consultation with the Welsh Government in 2020 on banning live exports. We received over 11,000 responses, and 87% of respondents agreed that livestock and horses should not be exported for slaughter or fattening.

The ban on live exports must be GB-wide to be effective, and I am grateful to colleagues in Scotland and Wales for their valuable contributions to the Bill. While the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland— I will come on to why shortly—I also thank the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for its work alongside my officials in the development of our policies.

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

Prior discussions in the other place explored whether the scope of the ban should be extended to cover a wider list of species. When we carried out our consultation in 2020, we were clear about the species we were seeking to apply the ban to. We received no evidence then—and have received none since—that a ban on any other species was necessary.

It is also important to be clear about what is not prohibited. The Bill still allows for exports of livestock and horses for other purposes, such as breeding, shows and competitions. Animals exported for breeding are transported in very good conditions, so that they can live a full and healthy life once they arrive at their destination. The Bill does not apply to journeys within the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

I return to the reason the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland. To ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland have unfettered access to both the UK and Republic of Ireland markets, the Bill will not apply to Northern Ireland. As part of the new Windsor Framework constitutional arrangements, a Minister in charge of a Bill must make certain written statements if the Bill contains provisions that would affect trade between Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom. Since this Bill does not apply to livestock and horse movements within the UK, it is my view that there will be no such impact and that no such statement is therefore required.

Recent discussions in the other place highlighted the importance of protecting the access that Northern Irish farmers have to the Republic of Ireland. Farmers in Northern Ireland routinely move animals to the Republic of Ireland for slaughter and fattening. It is critical that we protect the Northern Irish agricultural sector and wider economy, and that is why the Bill’s territorial extent is drafted as it is.

The Bill contains a delegated power to provide for regulations about the enforcement of the ban. It empowers the appropriate national authorities to make enforcement regulations and sets out their possible scope. That 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. We intend to bring the ban and its associated enforcement regulations into force as soon as possible. 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 standards. Now that we are banning all live exports of horses and ponies for slaughter, those provisions are unnecessary.

I know that there is considerable support for this ban both in Parliament and among the public. I hope that Members of your Lordships’ House will agree on the importance of working to enhance this country’s proud record on animal welfare. The 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 that long-awaited opportunity, I hope that your Lordships will support the Bill and ensure that our exports take place on the hook, rather than on the hoof.