Prohibition of live export of livestock

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 20th November 2018.

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‘(1) The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is prohibited from exit day, subject to subsection (2).

(2) The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is permitted after exit day if—

(a) the livestock is exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, and

(b) the condition in subsection (3) is satisfied.

(3) The condition is that a person selling livestock exported under subsection (2)(a) makes it a requirement of sale that the livestock shall not be re-exported by the buyer.

(4) In this section—

(a) “exit day” shall have the meaning given in section 20 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and

(b) “livestock” shall have the meaning given in section 1(4) of this Act.’—

This clause would prohibit the live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening from the date the UK leaves the EU, with certain exceptions for export from Northern Ireland to the Republic.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Thank you for that advice, Sir Roger. My Whip is busily looking at her information source to see whether anything is coming our way. We will carry on regardless for the time being.

This is the second part of the foie gras debate. Some people fundamentally believed that our leaving the EU would free us to do some of the things that many people across the country believe we should have done a long time ago—in this case, ban live exports. The noble Lord Rooker always used to say we should export on the hook, not on the hoof—I remember him saying that 20-odd years ago—but we have not yet done it. Admittedly, this is a marginal trade that affects certain parts of the country, where there have long been demonstrations because of what is deemed to be cruelty and what is seen to be the British industry losing control of what happens to animals subsequently. I know there are downsides to banning live exports—what do we do with young male calves if we do not have an export market? However, this is where animal welfare comes to the fore.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

As the hon. Gentleman is probably very aware, moving livestock from Orkney, Shetland and the other islands in Scotland involves long journeys of eight to 12 hours. He is not proposing to ban those movements, is he?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This is where I would always take advice; I know there are views in Scotland that are not necessarily held in England about whether that is good or bad. I sat in on a recent debate where there was a difference of opinion within the political parties, and certainly between them, about whether a ban would ever be achievable, whether it was enforceable and, indeed, whether it was a good thing. We must have that debate, because this is an agriculture Bill. If we did not have it, if nothing else, those who feel strongly about this issue would say, “You had an agriculture Bill but you didn’t discuss live exports, which is one of the dominant arguments that we have.”

I remember talking to a lady on the doorstep—a lifelong Labour supporter. She had voted to leave on the basis that live exports would be banned. When she heard that the Conservative party was very keen on banning live exports, I could not persuade her to vote Labour. She felt that was something a Conservative Government would deliver. Sadly, I can now go back to her and say she was slightly misinformed. I accept that this is a minority issue, but for people who feel strongly about it, it is a very important moral point.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we understand that cattle moved from Orkney and Shetland are moving from one part of the United Kingdom to another that has the same approach to animal welfare. I invite him to come to the north-east of Scotland any time he likes—we will show him how we do it. What I think the general public are against is the idea that we no longer control animals when we export them outwith this country. Will he clarify that?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are still in the United Kingdom. The new clause does not deal with movements within the United Kingdom; it deals with live exports outside the United Kingdom. I took my holiday in Orkney and Shetland this year to add to the Scottish economy, and very enjoyable it was. I did not see many animals being moved about, but no doubt that happens.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I had concerns about this issue in relation to the Irish border. Just in case colleagues are worried about that, I should say that the new clause would not ban the movement of livestock across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is vital for agriculture there.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification. It is important because, as I have said, animals move backwards and forwards over that border for fattening purposes or other reasons. We do not intend to ban that.

We are debating this issue here because this is an agriculture Bill. If we do not, whatever one’s opinion on the issues are, people will cast aspersions that we have not done our job as Opposition Members and that the Government have not put on the record their current thinking. Until recently, the Government were using banning live exports as one argument for leaving the EU. Is that still the Government’s case or not?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can clarify that.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

People voted to leave the EU for many different reasons; I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s putting his hat on that one necessarily makes it the reason for Brexit.

I ask for clarity, because proposed subsection (2)(a) suggests that the Opposition are quite happy for livestock to be exported from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. From what I remember of geography, it is about 50 miles across the Irish sea, whereas it is about 23 miles across the Bristol channel. It is interesting that the Opposition would allow animals to travel, say, 200 miles within the island of Ireland and to the Irish border, 50 miles across that sea and then to go on perhaps another 200 or 300 miles on the UK mainland, while seeming averse to allowing cattle or sheep from within the UK to go any further. The export of sheep is very important to Welsh farmers.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not sure that I actually said that, but I re-emphasise that we would not stop any live exports within the United Kingdom, for so long as the United Kingdom exists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington says, we would even allow live exports within the island of Ireland.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I am going to help the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire by reading proposed subsection (2)(a):

“The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is permitted after exit day if—(a) the livestock is exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland”.

There are farms that cross that border, so trying to prevent any livestock from crossing it would be pretty difficult to enforce.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that, so I do not need to—

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

If you want to re-clarify that clarification, feel free.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. I am getting closer to the Front Bench so I can rap you over the knuckles. “You” means me, and I do not have an opinion on this. Allow me to rephrase that: when I am in the Chair, I do not have an opinion—I am strictly impartial.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Thank you, Sir Roger—and I am thanking “you”.

I just want clarity on the reasons for the ban, that is all. Why do Opposition Members think that it is cruel for animals to travel 23 miles across the Bristol channel but not cruel for them to travel all that distance across the Irish sea?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will pass on that, because I have lost the plot at the moment. We can have this argument outside the room. However, the fact is that I am not talking about banning live exports to anywhere within the United Kingdom. We are looking purely at the trade. An argument during the referendum debate was whether live exports would end because we would leave the EU. All I am saying is that this is the opportunity for people to make their minds up on whether they want that put into legislation. It has been the subject of numerous Adjournment debates. As I said, I was quite interested in the degree to which there have been splits within political parties, as well as between political parties.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a remark he made before getting into this debate about the Bristol channel? If I heard him correctly, he said, “For as long as the United Kingdom continues to exist”. Is it now official Labour party policy to support the break-up of the United Kingdom?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We really are getting away from the issue. I am making the point that the United Kingdom has a clear policy on allowing live exports. So long as that stays the case, it has nothing to do with what we are talking about here. We are talking about trade between the United Kingdom and other parts—principally Europe, of course, although livestock could be exported to various different parts of the world. We choose not to, because it would be very cruel and also probably economically illiterate to do so.

We are moving the new clause to allow the debate to take place for those who believe that the ban is going to happen as a matter of course when and if we leave the European Union, when we have the opportunity to do it under WTO rules. There is some debate about whether it is going to be that easy, but we will have to face up to that in due course.

The reality is that unless we have some legislation to enable us to implement the ban, we will never do it anyway. This is our opportunity to have a debate and to see whether this legislation can stand the test of time. Without the new clause or something like it, the ban will never happen. We can have as many Adjournment debates as we could possibly want: it will never take place until and unless we are able to put it into legislation.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

The fact is that this will not happen if we do not get the agreement voted through in the meaningful vote in Parliament. Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that anyone who votes against the agreement is voting against our opportunity to ban live exports—and foie gras, for that matter?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. We are now back—

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

When we were discussing foie gras, the Minister said that the ability to ban its import depended on the type of agreement we get with the EU. That is fascinating to me, because the type of agreement that would not allow us to ban foie gras, if my understanding is correct, would be one that kept us in the customs union and probably with a very close relationship to the single market. That sounds familiar.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will let the Minister respond to that in due course. We started with a fairly narrow subject and we have probably been round every other subject possible. I am not going to take any more interventions.

We have a policy on this issue. We argued 20 years ago that we wanted to bring it forward. It has not happened because of our relationship with the EU. If that relationship remained or got to the issue of the customs union, it might still be precluded. However, if we were to leave the EU, we would have the opportunity to do this. That is why the Opposition have upheld the policy and will press the matter to a vote: so that there is some clarity, which has not been forthcoming from the Government because Government MPs have been arguing for the ban on live exports for some time. No doubt, we will continue this discourse outside. I make no apology for saying that this is the opportunity for us to do this. We will be taking that opportunity and pressing for a formal vote on live exports.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government have a policy on the issue as well. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, in our manifesto we committed to control the export of live animals for slaughter. I will describe in a moment what we intend to do and what work we have already done.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I do not understand why there is a difference between banning live exports for slaughter and not for fattening. Surely it is the journey—the live export—that is deemed to be unacceptable. Does it really matter whether the animals are going to be killed at the end of it or given a few more meals before they are slaughtered?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not accept that. The hon. Lady has fallen into a counter-argument against the ban on live animals, which is that if you have the transport regulations right, or if you improve them, there is not necessarily a difference between a crossing by sea and a crossing by road. The reason why it particularly matters for slaughter is that we have the very clear principle that when you are moving animals for slaughter you should absolutely minimise the stress on those animals. It can be a stressful environment as it is, and having a long journey before slaughter is fundamentally different to transport for rearing.

Our position is that we want to control export for slaughter. We subsequently issued a call for evidence. We worked with the devolved Administrations on this because it obviously affects Northern Ireland and has implications for Scotland. Scotland exports live calves to Ireland, for instance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon pointed out, there are also issues with some island communities, such as Shetland.

Addressing this issue is complex but we have had more than 366 responses to the call for evidence. They were overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on export for slaughter. A number of representations from industry groups and animal welfare non-governmental organisations raised some of the dimensions of the issue. We have referred those to the Farm Animal Welfare Committee that gives the Government advice on these matters, which is currently going through the responses and working up a series of recommendations for Government on how we can take new controls forward.

In addition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has separately commissioned the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural University College to carry out a systemic review on welfare issues during transport. The report from those two academic institutions will feed into the work that FAWC is doing.

There are some technical problems with the wording of the proposed new clause, which I will point out to the hon. Member for Stroud. First, there is no clear definition of fattening. In law, we tend to talk about where animals were born, reared and slaughtered, so the rearing of animals would be the correct term. To have an exemption only for trade to the Republic of Ireland would be a breach of WTO rules and would not stand up to scrutiny in international law. There cannot be a discriminatory provision of that sort in an approach to trade.

The requirement in proposed subsection (3) that livestock sent to the Republic of Ireland by Northern Ireland shall not be re-exported is simply unenforceable. We do not have legislative competence in the Republic of Ireland, nor do we have the ability to enforce that provision. So, there are at least three quite serious technical problems with the drafting of the proposed new clause.

Broadly speaking, we have to be cognisant of some of the complexities. For instance, we export a large number of young chicks to be laying hens in Europe and to be raised as broiler chickens. The standards of hatcheries in this country are far superior to those in Europe. In the case of laying hens, all four of the hatcheries in the UK use anaesthetic gases to deal with unwanted male chicks. In some other European countries, that is not the case. They use old-fashioned techniques such as maceration. If we were to close our ability to export high-welfare chicks to Europe, we would not have done a clever day’s work if we are serious about animal welfare outcomes.

We must also bear it in mind that sometimes having an export market for calves, particularly from the dairy industry and for rose veal, where they are raised to be several months old, can be a welcome alternative to the abysmal and depressing practice of shooting calves at birth because there is no market for them. I know that issue is particularly sensitive in Scotland.

It is a complex area and I suspect the answer will lie with a combination of efforts, such as strengthening transport regulations and perhaps a ban on export by sea, whether to France or any other country. That would still enable exports to Northern Ireland. Finally, we could look at journey times as part of transport regulations. Through a combination of measures, we could curtail the type of live animal exports that cause most concern, while having a proportionate approach, ensuring that there are no unintended consequences and having regard for the views of other devolved Administrations as we consider this.

I hope the hon. Member for Stroud will recognise that we are doing a lot of work in this area, not least with that call for evidence, and that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is looking at the issue right now. I hope, therefore, that he will not press this clause, but will await the outcome and the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, and will perhaps consider this issue again at a later point.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:30 pm, 20th November 2018

I hear what the Minister says. The problem with this is the issue of how many bits of legislation will come around that can be includable in terms of this ban, or can be amended to allow this to carry through. I know this is complicated, and it is sad when newborn male calves are shot. Genetic modification might provide ways of dealing with the number of male calves at source. We would want to see improvements in many aspects of the dairy industry. This new clause is not a magical answer but live exports is a very political issue, and the general public felt—rightly or wrongly—that on our exit from the European Union, the UK would have much greater discretion on what it wanted to do with regard to live exports.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but what he is saying in the amendment does not stack up with the second of the six Labour tests for the agreement, which asks:

“Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?”

The hon. Gentleman is saying one thing here, but unfortunately the policy of the Labour party is to stay in the customs union and the single market, which would mean that we could not ban live exports.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

That test is very carefully worded and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it was based on comments made by David Davis, the then Secretary of State, at the Dispatch Box. In case he thinks it a little bit rash to take the remarks of David Davis—sorry, the hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden—as the basis of the test, the Prime Minister did go on to say that she was determined to meet that test herself. That test did not just come out of thin air; it came from the mouth of the then Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and it carefully refers to the “benefits” of, not to being a “member” of.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am not going to engage with that argument; I am not sure whether there are any angels dancing on pinheads yet. This is a matter of principle. I am in two minds as to whether to press the new clause. I understand what the Minister says, and this is not straightforward. Having sat through at least a couple of Adjournment debates, I realise that people come at this from different angles. There is not an easy humanitarian moral case for live exports, certainly in a practical way.

I am probably minded not to press the new clause to a vote at this stage, but my worry is: if not now, when? There will be very few opportunities to see such a ban come forward, as I said in my initial remarks. It may be that what we have drafted here is not good or right, and those who have helped us in drafting it have to think a bit more clearly about the different exemptions brought forward. I stress again that this is not about moving for a ban within the United Kingdom, because that would be wrong and lacking in any sense whatsoever. I will not press the clause to a vote at this stage, but I hope that on Report we get some clarity. The issue probably will come back, because somebody somewhere will see that this is an opportunity to move for a ban.

If the clause is wrong, what will the Government be prepared to do? I know they are waiting for the Farm Animal Welfare Council to come back, but that clearly has to be within a timeframe of what is permissible in terms of future legislative opportunities. The worry is that there will be some ongoing demand to put such a ban in place, in whatever form, and yet there will be no opportunity to do so. On that basis, while I hear what the Minister says now, I hope that on Report the Government will clarify whether such a ban needs to be put to bed completely because it is not enforceable, or whether it can be moved forward and there is an opportunity to move it forward in future legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28