Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:14 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:14, 21 February 2024

My Lords, I first declare an interest as president of a branch of the RSPCA and as having had in the past various other close connections with that organisation.

I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his kind birthday congratulations. I have to say that I could not have a better birthday present than this Bill—but it is a bit late coming. I was trying to get this done 50-odd years ago as a young MP—yes, I was young once—in the House of Commons.

My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has done some research on those Conservative MPs in the early 1970s who had voted against the Government, and he dug up for me a particular occasion where I wanted to see the withdrawal of licences so that animals could not be exported. The Government of the day put in a wrecking amendment, so I voted against it, and on that occasion, we won; animal exports stopped. But of course, as we all know, there has been a history since and I, along with others who share my view, have been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting the ban.

In 1974—50 years ago almost to the day—I asked the Minister for a permanent ban on the export of live animals. He did a bit of waffling about the need to consult, which is the usual thing when they do not want to take action, and I said:

“I recognise the Minister’s need to consult, but will he bear in mind that any attempt to resume these exports will be met with my implacable hostility”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/4/74; col. 12.]

I have maintained implacable hostility for the 50 years since; but why was I so opposed? Because I heard first-hand accounts at that time from RSPCA inspectors who had gone undercover—the proper government inspectorate did not seem to be working, so they did it themselves—and followed particular consignments right the way through from where they started to where they ended at abattoirs: and it was heartbreaking.

Over the years, millions of animals have suffered in this way. Very often, the vehicles used to transport were quite unsuitable. Sound animals and injured animals were allowed to go together, and some sound animals became injured anyway through the conditions in which they were travelling. Sometimes food and water were missing. The hours, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, were extremely long; and, more often than not, the conditions in which the animals were slaughtered, eventually, were horrifying in themselves. This is why I felt so deeply and strongly and, although conditions may have improved slightly, it is not enough for my concerns. I share the mantra of the British Veterinary Association from years ago that slaughter should take place as near the point of production as possible.

I turn now to the Bill itself, which I warmly welcome. I do see one small weakness: I know my noble friend has indicated that we are covering all the main animals and I accept that entirely, but there could come a time when other animals that are not now exported could be, and they would not be covered. I share the wish to have an amendment put in so that we could have a regulation that permits this to happen. I have looked carefully at all the regulations that we have already, but it does not seem that any of them would cover it. It is actually unusual for me to want regulations; when I was chairman of the committee that looked at these things, I was forever railing against the unsuitable extensive use of regulations. But here I make an exception. I hope that my noble friend might consider this—without, of course, allowing the Bill to fall by the wayside, which is always a concern and a worry at this time.

Others have also mentioned—and I will do so briefly—a concern that animals within the country have better regulations. I would like an assurance from my noble friend that the regulations in place are being enforced. It does not matter how good they are; if they are not enforced, it is as though they are not there at all.

I would also like to see those regulations improved. Unless I am much mistaken, we are still operating on the 2005 regulations from the European Union, which have been transferred into British law and now have some other fancy title that I forget. Anyway, I would like to see them improved because quite a lot of hours are allowed; I think it is 19 hours for calves and more for others. That is far too long. I support the arrangement for small abattoirs to be encouraged so that we can get animals off transport at great length and into abattoirs where we can ensure that the conditions are humane.

I hope my noble friend can give some reassurances on these matters. That said, I have waited a long time for this—and it could not have come at a better time than on my birthday.