Amendment 2

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 8 May 2024.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville:

Moved by Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

2: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—“Review of the impact on farmingWithin six months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a review of the impact of this Act on farming in Great Britain.”

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, following the debate in Committee and the Minister’s comments, I have retabled my amendment. The NFU, which represents the farming community, is concerned that the import of both live animals and carcasses of animals that have not been raised to the same welfare standards as pertained in the UK will undercut our own industrious farmers.

The issue of cheaper imports of live animals and carcasses for the food industry has been of constant concern to British farmers since the country voted to leave the EU. The benefit from the relaxation of rules and regulations promised as a result of Brexit has failed to materialise, and farmers are leaving their profession at an alarming rate. The quest for cheaper food at any cost is not a mantra that we should be signing up to as a country. Farming is not a job where you clock on at 8.30 am and clock off at 5.30 pm; it is a way of life, a vocation that involves a love of the land and growing crops and vegetables, and rearing quality livestock to high welfare standards to produce meat that consumers want to buy. The British public want to support our farmers. They do not want to see them undercut, disadvantaged and forced out of business by substandard imports.

The border control regime introduced recently is having an adverse effect on the food and farming communities. In my amendment, I ask that, six months after the Bill’s implementation, a review is undertaken to assess the effect of the measures in the Bill on our farming community. Coupled with the changes made with the rolling out of ELMS and the appalling weather we have suffered, there has been a detrimental impact on farmers. The Bill, which is so important for animal welfare and our country’s reputation for high standards for animal welfare, could be the last straw for many farmers. I urge the Government to agree to this amendment so that a review of the real state of the farming community can be carried out and action taken, if needed, to help support this vital element of our economy and landscape. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, on bringing forward this amendment. While I will not support it at a vote, for reasons that were rehearsed in the previous debate, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look carefully at having a review of the impact on farming, for a number of reasons.

First, the noble Baroness referred to the importance of farming to rural areas and indeed the country as a whole. According to the figures prepared by the NFU for Second Reading, the United Kingdom is one of the largest livestock producers in Europe, with an industry that is worth £14.7 billion to the economy each year. Compared to the export of fresh and frozen meat, live export from GB is a small, but important, component of the sector. In 2020, the UK exported a total of 751 million live animals. As we know, now that there are effectively no border control posts in the EU, that trade is effectively not happening anymore.

In the letter that my noble friend very kindly sent to us following Second Reading, he states:

“The final destination for the vast majority of livestock exported for slaughter from Northern Ireland is the Republic of Ireland with around 1,800 cattle, 13,200 pigs and 352,000 sheep moved directly to slaughter in 2023”.

He went on:

“By comparison, only 11,000 sheep were exported for slaughter from Northern Ireland to continental Europe”.

He then states:

“There were no movements of livestock from Northern Ireland for slaughter or fattening to destinations beyond other parts of the UK and Europe”.

I take this opportunity to press my noble friend for any reassurance he can give the House that this is indeed the case. We debated this in Committee, and it was also debated in the other place. I am not convinced that the loophole does not remain. There is a possibility for even longer journeys than those that went through the channel ports, and that the category of animal covered by the Bill may be exported from the Republic of Ireland to the rest of the European Union.

My noble friend has always replied to questions from me and others about the reasons why there are no border control posts on continental Europe at this time. He quite rightly states that it is a matter of commercial interest for those ports. Surely my noble friend will agree that it is a matter of great commercial interest for those livestock producers who have spent generations investing heavily in the genetics of the breeding stock of the United Kingdom that, at this point, there is no possibility of exporting breeding stock for breeding purposes. I would like an assurance from my noble friend that this will resume at the earliest possible opportunity.

I would like to update the House on a briefing I have had from the NFU in this regard. This was at an earlier stage; there may have been further developments since then. The NFU states that there is a genuine will to establish a reciprocal route between Harwich and Hook of Holland. The Dutch port authorities, the NVWA, Stena Line and a commercial operator all want to press ahead. The NFU had heard that there was going to be a change in EU regulation that would allow an existing equine facility to be licensed and approved for ungulates, subject to the appropriate scheduling and protocols: full licensing and disinfection of the facility. I looked this up, and ungulates are mammals on the hoof, with which many noble Lords will be familiar.

The existing equine border control post in Hook of Holland has five stables and could accommodate consignments of about 10 cattle, 25 sheep or 25 pigs. If dual use is not possible, there is an unused area adjacent to the office area of the border control post that could be retrofitted with penning and a small handling system. If this was allowed to proceed, it would carry more weight to a modest border control post development at Harwich. I declare my interest in that I was the MEP for Harwich for 10 years, and I maintain an interest in the development of the port on a purely personal basis.

If that is the case, will my noble friend the Minister concede that it is now a matter of urgency to proceed with the creation of a border control post at Hook of Holland, where equine facilities could be converted in very short order? Will he use his and Defra’s good offices and lend their weight to such a proposal? I personally believe that it is unacceptable that this trade is not going on at the moment. It is clearly not a Brexit dividend and is really harming livestock production in this country. At Second Reading, the National Sheep Association informed us that, because of the lack of a border control post in the EU, most of the trade has simply not happened since we left the European Union. Therefore, the Bill is not necessary because it is not happening and it will not happen any time soon.

I conclude by pressing my noble friend on the figures and saying why I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, is right to press for this amendment. The figures for food and live animals are simply not clear. On a cursory glance of the UK trade figures from the Office for National Statistics, we are told that currently EU imports to the UK are £3.2 billion—which means the EU remains the largest exporter to the UK —and imports from non-EU countries are £1.3 billion. I am sure the House will appreciate that it is not clear in the figures what are live imports and exports, and what are clean or dressed pig carcasses or other imports. Those figures could be more greatly clarified than is currently the case. It would be very helpful if my noble friend was able to share that information today. If not, it would be enormously interesting if he could write to us.

Finally, it is a note of enormous regret that, while we have banned—for very good reasons—battery cage egg and poultry production in this country, we are now harming our own producers by importing eggs and poultry from third countries to the tune of billions. That is a complete own goal, and I hope that the Government will address it at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 4:15, 8 May 2024

My Lords, I apologise that this is the first time I have taken part in the debates on the Bill. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb took part in earlier stages, but she is otherwise occupied today so we are tag-teaming.

I sympathise with the comments made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady McIntosh, on the circumstances in which our farmers find themselves. They have set up their businesses according to the policies and frameworks provided by successive Governments, and it is now clear that those will have to change radically because of the climate emergency and food security issues, et cetera. When the Government take steps, it is important that we see and understand what the impacts will be on individual farmers.

I will speak to this amendment just to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, one question and to put on the record something that I think is important. In the debate on the previous group, we heard from all sides of your Lordships’ House that people have been campaigning for decades for the impact of this Bill to be delivered, including the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes—credit to her—and many others. It is important that we put on the record and make clear that the purpose of this review would not be to reverse the action of the Bill or to say that we have to let live exports happen again because of the Bill’s impact.

This is a situation where the UK is, without a doubt, providing leadership. There are still horrendous things happening with live livestock exports in the EU. A report last year showed that there had been

“180,000 consignments of EU cattle, pigs, sheep and other species over a 19 month period”.

Many of them suffered from

“overcrowding, exhaustion, dehydration and stress”.

There is also the subject of the biosecurity risks of moving live animals in such a manner, which I have often discussed with the Minister. To put it on the record in Hansard, can the noble Baroness confirm that there is no intention in your Lordships’ House to reverse the direction of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for introducing her Amendment 2. It seems to be a perfectly reasonable suggestion to review the impact on farming, for the reasons that she introduced and other noble Lords mentioned, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Our farmers have had a pretty tough time over the last few years. There have been a lot of changes, and this is another change—one that we strongly support. We need to ensure that our farmers are always steered and supported through any major change to the way their businesses have to operate.

An important point has been made about farmers’ concerns about being undercut by cheap imports, including the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about poultry in particular. It is very expensive for our farmers to bring in the new systems on animal welfare that we expect them to. It is good that they do so and that we farm to particularly high animal welfare standards in this country, but we should not allow the sale of produce in this country that does not meet those same standards. When we do our trade deals, we need to be really careful about what we are opening a door to. We should always first support our own farmers and the standards that we need to meet in this country.

Some concerns were also raised about border controls and the cost to farmers and producers of the new controls that are coming in. I will not go into great detail about that, as other noble Lords have talked about it and we had a fairly extensive debate on it in this House— I cannot remember whether it was last week or the week before; time flies when you are having fun. Any impact of the border controls, combined with changes in how farmers are expected to manage, transport and export their produce, needs to be considered as a whole. That seems to be a very sensible approach.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, also made the important point that any review must take into account what the potential outcomes of that review could be. Clearly, the last thing any of us would want to see would be any review resulting in the starting up of live exports. I say that with the assumption that the Minister is not going to stand up and say that he will accept the noble Baroness’s amendment. However, it is generally the case that new legislation does get reviewed at some point—so, again, it is important that, once this is on the statute, it does not get unpicked at any stage.

Although we very much support the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, is making here and the points made by other noble Lords during this debate, as previously, we would not want to slow the passage of the Bill in any way. So, while it is important that we have discussions and debates around this, we would not want to hold the Bill up at all.

I just want to make one very final point. I was absolutely delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talk about ungulates. Many years ago, in a previous life, when I was a proofreader, I proofread a book called The Biology and Management of Mountain Ungulates—and I never thought I would get the opportunity to say that in this House.

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I am not even going to try.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and to other noble Baronesses who have spoken and continue to speak towards the efforts to ensure that all impacts of the Bill on farming have been fully considered.

I will start by making three main points. First, I reassure the noble Baroness that we have already considered the impacts of this policy on British farmers and businesses and we expect the impact to be minimal, as outlined in our impact assessment, published in July 2021. The estimated direct cost to businesses of ending live exports for slaughter and fattening is around £5,200,000 across the 10-year appraisal period, or around £500,000 per year. It is also highly likely that the impact will have further decreased since then, as there have been no recorded live exports for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain to continental Europe since this assessment was published.

Secondly, when we consulted, responses indicated that some businesses which can no longer export live animals for slaughter will instead sell their live animals domestically and export the carcass or final meat products instead. We do not anticipate any issue with domestic slaughterhouse capacity being able to absorb any animals that might otherwise have been exported. In 2020, we exported from Great Britain around 6,300 sheep to the EU for slaughter and about 38,000 for fattening. These slaughter exports accounted for around 0.02% of all livestock slaughtered in the UK in 2020 and so represented a very small proportion of the total number of animals processed in the UK every year. I hope this reassures the noble Baroness.

Thirdly, in 2020 we exported approximately 480,000 tonnes of beef, veal, lamb, mutton, pork, bacon and ham from the UK, worth an estimated £1.4 billion in real terms. Clearly, this trade is much more significant to the farming industry in Great Britain than the live export trade.

I also reassure noble Lords that there are not, and never have been, significant imports for slaughter or fattening into Great Britain, and there is no established import trade for this purpose that in any way constitutes a comparable trade to the previous live export trade. According to Animal and Plant Health Agency data on imports to Great Britain from the Republic of Ireland, since the beginning of 2021 around 1,800 pigs and 500 cattle have been imported for fattening and around 900 cattle imported for slaughter. The total number of livestock imports into Great Britain for fattening and slaughter from other EU countries is smaller still, in the tens of animals or less over the same period. In stark contrast, 44,500 sheep were exported for slaughter or fattening from Great Britain to the EU in 2020.

Further to this, the very low numbers of livestock imported into Great Britain all come from EU member states, primarily the Republic of Ireland. This means that animals are reared in conditions that are comparable to the animal welfare standards that apply in Great Britain, and we do not foresee any reason why this would change.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised a number of issues—I will cover one or two of those. The first is the issue of Northern Ireland being used as a loophole by transporters. The requirements when transporting livestock to Northern Ireland would make any attempt to export livestock in this way uneconomic. Livestock transported for slaughter from Great Britain to Northern Ireland must go directly to the slaughterhouse: it is an offence to move the animals anywhere else. On arrival at the slaughterhouse, the animals and accompanying health certificates must be presented to an officer of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Livestock exported for any other purpose must remain at the place of destination for a minimum of 30 days and be retagged to comply with animal identification requirements. The Bill will make it an offence for anyone to send, or attempt to send, livestock from Great Britain to anywhere outside the UK and Crown dependencies.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of border control posts, particularly those going into Europe. The Government would like to see exports for breeding resume, but this is a commercial issue. We remain sympathetic to the concerns of the businesses involved and the department has been active in doing what it can to support a satisfactory outcome. Defra officials continue to track progress on this issue and meet regularly with the National Farmers’ Union, which represents the wider industry. It is disappointing that, despite all efforts, the companies that are seeking to identify an appropriate solution have not been successful in securing a border control post to serve their preferred routes. I did pick up on the noble Baroness’s point about Harwich to the Hook of Holland, and perhaps we can take that as a separate issue outside today’s business.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised the issue of trade deals and welfare standards around that. On low-welfare imports, the UK Government were elected on a manifesto commitment that, in all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high animal welfare and food standards. We will stand firm in trade negotiations to make sure that any new trade deals live up to the values of farmers and consumers across the United Kingdom and will maintain our high standards as part of any future free trade agreements.

Products imported into the UK must continue to comply with our existing import requirements. It has always been the case that products produced to different environmental and animal welfare standards can be placed on the UK market if they comply with these requirements, and this includes products from the EU and other long-standing trading partners. A range of government departments, agencies and bodies continue to ensure that these standards are being met, including the Food Standards Agency, Food Standards Scotland, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I do not disagree at all with what my noble friend is saying, but the Government must see that we are harming our own producers in the same way that we did when we had the unilateral ban on sow stalls and tethers. Consumers need a label to let them know in this regard.

Photo of Lord Douglas-Miller Lord Douglas-Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank my noble friend for her point, and perhaps I can clear that up with her later on.

In conclusion, this Bill will put a permanent end to a trade which, at its height in the 1990s, affected over 2 million animals a year; more recently it has impacted much smaller numbers. I can safely say there will be a minimal impact on farming in Great Britain and I think we all agree it is better that we encourage exports on the hook, rather than on the hoof.

It is an important point, and one of which we should be proud, that this Bill will reinforce our farming industry’s position as a world leader on animal welfare, boosting the value of British meat and helping to grow the economy. Given that the impact of the Bill on farming in Great Britain is outlined clearly in our impact assessment, I continue respectfully to hold the view that it is not necessary to add this further requirement to it. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30, 8 May 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses who have taken part in this short debate. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that were there a review of the impact of this Bill on the farming community, it would not be my wish that the exportation of live animals for slaughter or fattening should recommence—absolutely not. I am committed to the fact that the Bill will stop that happening; it is a revolting practice and causes a lot of animal suffering. I am absolutely clear about that.

My concern is about the impact of the continuing changes that are going on around farmers and their cumulative effect on them. I thank the Minister for his response and his reassurances. I sincerely hope that he is right that the impact on farmers will be minimal. Farmers are continually undermined on all fronts, in some cases by the import of cheaper produce that is not produced to the same standard as our own British farmers’ produce—the Minister referred to this.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for raising the issue of labelling. I would be grateful if the Minister could copy me into whatever response he gives to her, because it is important that when the consumer buys something they know whether or not it is from an animal that has been reared to the same standards as our own. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 7: Extent, commencement and short title

Amendment 3 not moved.