Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:27 pm on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:27, 21 February 2024

My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as set out in the register as president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Bill.

We welcome this legislation. Labour has previously called for a ban on live exports and I have personally campaigned on it as well—although not as long as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who has worked so long and hard on this; I congratulate her on her efforts and her birthday present today. However, we regret that it has taken so long to bring the Bill forward. We have heard about the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which disappeared last May. If that had come forward, this could be on the statute book already. Therefore it is of regret that we did not do this sooner but we are pleased to see that we are debating it today. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, certain elements of that Bill are still to appear, so we hope to see that promised legislation also coming forward.

As we heard, the Bill applies to cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, wild boar, horses and certain other related animals, with the proposed ban applying only to slaughter and fattening exports, and clearly not prohibiting animals travelling for other purposes—for example, breeding or competition. Yet the export of breeding stocks represented a huge percentage of all exports pre Brexit in 2019. I heard that one intention following Brexit was to intensify this by making the UK

“the centre for breeding stock and genetic exports for the world”,

according to the director of the UK Export Certification Partnership. Can the Minister say whether the intention is still to support that?

Considering that the intention to ban livestock export is on welfare grounds and that breeding stocks are exported and then transported using the same standards as for fattening and slaughter stocks, it is also critical that these journeys are undertaken to the highest standards. A number of noble Lords have talked about this. Obviously, it is good that animals are not transported when conditions at sea are poor, but we need clearer regulations and information about what happens to the animals while they are waiting for better sea conditions in order to be transported. How are they kept? Are they still in the trucks? Are they unloaded? How are they fed and watered? What are those conditions? It is important that the Government provide reassurance on that.

As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said, animal welfare can be compromised during long-distance live travel. Animals can experience a range of problems, such as physical injury, hot or cold stress, hunger, hydration and exhaustion, and during export overcrowding means that some cannot lie down at all, while those who do may be injured or trampled. Different animals suffer in different ways. For example, pigs can become very travel sick, even on very short journeys. Newly weaned piglets are more vulnerable than older animals, particularly to temperature changes, so I was very pleased that noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Trees—talked about the closure of abattoirs and how that has increased travel distances for animals on our own shores.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about the government funding for abattoirs but the problem with that is that it is to support only existing abattoirs. It will not solve the problem where abattoirs have already closed and left huge gaps with no abattoirs for many miles. I hope that the Minister takes that away because we need to look at how we replace the abattoirs that have gone.

I thank a number of organisations for their briefings. The RSPCA talked about animals being transported to Spain on journeys that lasted up to 96 hours and some animals being slaughtered in Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Libya after being re-exported—and, of course, non-stun slaughter is the norm there. Once animals have left our shores, we have no control over how they are reared or slaughtered. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, gave some fairly graphic examples of the terrible conditions that animals have suffered.

We have also heard that live exports of calves halted after 2019 and live exports of sheep halted after 2020. The final export of live farm animals overseas occurred with five lorries laden with sheep leaving Dover on 31 December 2020. Since then, no live sheep have been exported across the channel because, as we have heard, no border control posts have been set up by France and Belgium to receive them and post Brexit animals must go through a BCP. Noble Lords have asked why we need the Bill. It is because without a legal ban the exports could start up again, leaving thousands of British animals vulnerable to cruel, stressful and often unnecessary journeys.

If a suitable BCP were to be installed at Calais and the UK Government had not secured this live-export ban in law, the trade could resume via the same vessels and routes that were being used before January 2021. Additionally, while commercial ferry companies currently do not accept the transportation of live animals for slaughter or fattening overseas on sailings across the English Channel, there is nothing in law to prevent them changing that position. Another scenario is that an individual or company could charter a vessel to operate between Scotland and Northern Ireland. This would allow the trade to resume via Ireland, where there is then a large onward trade to the rest of the EU and beyond.

The Bill is designed to prevent this from occurring, and we support that. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick have talked about the impact on Northern Ireland and how the Bill relates to Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response because these are legitimate questions and concerns for ensuring that this legislation operates as we hope.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, made the important point about keeping a close eye on imports, as did other noble Baronesses. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, talked about farming concerns, and the NFU has raised concerns about trade negotiations with countries that export large numbers of animals for fattening and slaughter. It is very important that British livestock farmers are not undercut by imports that do not meet the same high standards that we adhere to in this country—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich talked at length about this. I am sure I do not need to remind the Minister that we signed trade deals not very long ago with at least one country that does not have standards compatible with this proposed legislation. For example, Australia still permits the live export of animals over long distances, including overseas. Lower animal welfare standards should not be imported, and we should be using our influence to drive up standards in the countries with which we do trade deals.

Poultry has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, but poultry and rabbits are excluded from the Bill. We know that they are highly sensitive to the effects of heat stress; rabbits and poultry were the most frequently exported animals pre Brexit, particularly the trade in day-old chicks, which we have heard about during the debate, and neither is any more resilient to transportation than any other animal. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked about the exclusion of poultry from the Bill; if poultry and rabbits are not included, it is important that we have very strong assurances that any cross-border trade from Britain in day-old chicks and rabbits will meet strict transport and animal welfare standards. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, talked about standards during transport, and it is important that we have those strong reassurances, and that proper checks are done, so we can feel that any people who break those standards are held to account.

Finally, I will briefly mention horses. World Horse Welfare recently drew the attention of the EFRA Select Committee to the huge numbers that are still illegally exported to Europe, under the guise of sport, competition or breeding, where they end up being slaughtered. I wonder whether the Minister is aware of this practice because if transport for breeding and competition is allowed, it is important that it does not open the door to such illegal practices. Are the Government intending to tackle this as part of implementing the Bill into law? It is really important that this is stopped. I also support my noble friend Lady Young regarding the opportunity to add further animals into the Bill as an amendment to cover any future issues. It is important that the Bill is as solid as it possibly can be, and there are always changes in the future that we need to manage as we go through legislation.

In conclusion, banning live export for fattening and slaughter has been both a Labour and Conservative manifesto commitment—and of other parties as well—so we strongly support the Bill. We want to see it get Royal Assent as soon as possible, so I hope that, in a general election year, the Government will treat this as a priority, because we cannot afford to risk it being lost.