Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:13 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord de Clifford Lord de Clifford Crossbench 5:13, 21 February 2024

I also welcome this Bill and am in awe of the passion shown by many Members of this House in getting the Bill to this stage. I note my interests in the register.

The simplicity of the Bill is a strength and I hope that it will contribute to a quick passage through the House. However, by keeping it simple, there is the potential to miss certain areas of animal welfare. The range of farm animals included are the principal main production animals, but this leaves out minority animals —it does not, for example, mention birds. I thank the Minister for his time doing the briefing on the export of young poultry, also mentioned in detail by my noble friend Lord Trees.

I also welcome and back the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Fookes, on their amendments for these species to be included, if required in the future by the Secretary of State. As humans have generally shown over the years, where there is an opportunity or a loophole, people will seek to use it in some way. This will only be to the detriment of a small number of animals and birds in the future.

Due to the focused nature of the Bill, there is a missed opportunity to improve the general legislation with regard to the transport of animals throughout the UK and for their export for breeding and competition purposes. Some of these journeys can be of significant time and length, and we need to protect animals during this transportation. I ask the Government to look again at this legislation to ensure that we continue to improve animal welfare standards during transportation, to include time and distance travelled, to monitor the health and welfare of these animals, and also to include driver skill levels, the design of transport vehicles and the stocking density.

As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, the support of local abattoirs is essential to keep the transport distance down to minimum for animals due for slaughter. This proposed legislation can only happen due to the UK leaving the EU. Animals are certainly benefiting from this legislation, but we need to ensure the farming industry as a whole benefits too. The export of farm animals was a minor but significant part of the fresh and frozen meat sector, and the only reason it has reduced is the lack of EU border control posts, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.

When this legislation is passed, this potential profitable and alternative market will be closed to English, Scottish and Welsh farmers due to the welcome higher animal welfare standards. I therefore ask the Minister to encourage the Government to begin, as asked for by the NFU, a formal process of developing and establishing a core production standard that applies to all agricultural imports, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. These standards should apply to all future international trade deals, to prevent the undercutting of British farmers, whose costs are increased by high animal welfare standards —which we all welcome.

All these high standards need to apply not only to production but to biosecurity, and these issues were highlighted by my noble friend Lord Trees in a recent debate on biosecurity. It is important that, if we cannot export our livestock for slaughter, we export and promote the UK’s high animal welfare standards and maintain a level trading playing field for all UK livestock producers.