Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:08 pm on 21 February 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench 4:08, 21 February 2024

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as in the register. I begin by welcoming the Bill. It has been a Conservative manifesto commitment since 2017 and was one component of the now withdrawn kept animals Bill, and it bans the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter from GB to anywhere outside the British Islands. As such, it will prevent the export of livestock for fattening and slaughter to continental Europe; historically, as has already been mentioned, those animals may have subsequently undergone extremely long-distance travel, with consequent risks to their welfare. It thus fulfils a welfare aspiration of slaughtering livestock as near as possible to their point of rearing and ensures that the exports are on the hook, not on the hoof, as the Minister said.

Before I comment on some specifics of the Bill, I will say that, because of the loss of many abattoirs, the distances many animals now have to travel for slaughter within the United Kingdom can be substantial. I welcome the recently promised support from His Majesty’s Government for small abattoirs, but emphasise the importance of ensuring the sustainable provision of an adequate network of abattoirs within the UK for all species as an essential animal welfare provision and an important underpinning for the rural economy.

Turning to specifics, the Bill extends to England, Wales and Scotland. I am delighted that the Scottish Government lodged a legislative consent memorandum in December last year. Horses are included in the Bill, which I welcome, as does the charity World Horse Welfare. This should put an end to the possibility of any long-distance journeys to slaughter for horses, as we saw in the past. The Bill exempts exports of live animals for breeding and all exports of poultry, although there are extremely low numbers, if any, of exports of live adult poultry. These exemptions are justified, given the importance of the high quality and global significance of UK livestock breeding and genetics. The relatively low number but high value of breeding animals ensures the high quality of care afforded to them in transport. This is especially so for poultry, where the export of day-old chicks of high-value foundation breeding stock originating in the UK provides the progenitors for a very high proportion of the total global populations of commercial meat and egg-layer poultry. These chicks are air freighted with great care, since some are worth as much as £3,000 each.

An important exemption from the Bill, though, is Northern Ireland. I recognise the complex political and pragmatic reasons for that, which are associated with the Windsor Framework and the land border on the island of Ireland between the UK and the EU. But I suggest there are two loopholes associated with this. There is a legal loophole, whereby animals could be born and reared in Northern Ireland and exported legally to the Irish Republic, after which they could legally be transported anywhere in the EU or beyond, subject to EU rules of movement. While legal, this is not in the spirit of the legislation. It would also be possible for unscrupulous persons to export from GB to Northern Ireland and then arrange further export from Northern Ireland, with or without the mandatory 30-day waiting period required. That of course would be illegal, but it is a possibility.

We should note the number of livestock moved from Northern Ireland into the EU. In 2022, 337,000 sheep were exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic for fattening and slaughter. Therefore, it would be very difficult to monitor illegal activities. So will we be carefully monitoring movements in and out of Northern Ireland that might indicate whether there is any organised systemic attempt to circumvent the good intentions of this Bill, which otherwise I warmly welcome?