Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:39 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 5:39, 21 February 2024

My Lords, I thank all 14 noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken for their thoughtful and constructive comments, and in particular those, beginning with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who congratulated me on my appointment and my first Bill. It is a pleasure to have delivered such a happy birthday present to my noble friend Lady Fookes.

As we have heard, the Bill will end the unnecessary export of livestock and horses for slaughter and fattening, and prevent the associated stress, exhaustion and injury caused by these journeys. It signals to our international partners our firm commitment to improving welfare standards for all kept animals, reinforcing our position as global leaders on this important issue. Many animal welfare groups, as well as a number of parliamentarians, have called for this ban on live exports. We know that there is also huge public support for this measure. There is clear and broad recognition that we must end these unnecessary journeys.

Before I address a number of the specific questions, I will briefly touch on two things. The first, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, is the bluetongue virus, which is very current. I do not have a timeframe for when this restriction will be lifted, but I will get back to her as soon as I do. The second, from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is the welfare of animals during a transport delay. I will write and confirm the exact details of how they are looked after and how we address this issue.

I turn now to the questions asked by noble Lords. The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Jones, my noble friend Lady Fookes and many others queried why other species were not within the scope of the ban. I assure them that the Bill’s definition of “relevant livestock” covers all species for which there has been a significant slaughter export trade, which the Government consulted on in 2020. In the 10 years prior to EU exit, the live export trade for slaughter and fattening mainly involved sheep and unweaned calves.

Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA, both leading campaigners on banning live exports for the past 50 years, agree that the Bill covers the relevant species to end this unnecessary trade. Responding to proposed amendments in the other place, Compassion in World Farming said that it is not aware of any alpacas, llamas or deer being exported for slaughter, and the RSPCA said that only sheep, calves and horses have been exported from Britain for slaughter over the last 10 years.

The issue of small abattoirs was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, the noble Lords, Lord Carrington, Lord Trees and Lord de Clifford, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hoey, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson, so it was a popular subject today. Many asked what further financial assistance there is for small abattoirs and what work we are doing to promote and market sheep products, particularly in order to develop our meat export trade. The farming investment fund has offered access to financial support to establish new producer-led abattoirs. Now that the first round is closed, we will assess how the scheme has performed and will investigate the potential launching of a second round later this year. The Government are working with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and industry to help secure market access for world-class British red meat and dairy, empowering our exporters to maximise opportunities on the global stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, queried whether Northern Ireland could be used as a loophole for transporters wanting to export livestock for slaughter and fattening. I assure him that the requirements when moving animals to Northern Ireland would make such a slaughter trade uneconomic. Livestock transported for slaughter from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must go directly to the slaughterhouse. It would be an offence to take them anywhere else. When livestock are moved for other purposes, they must be moved directly to the holding destination and remain there for at least 30 days. Failure to do so is an offence and may result in prosecution. We will also continue to monitor volumes over the next few years as this policy takes effect.