With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will provide the House with an update on the Government’s progress on animal welfare. Before I start, would you indulge me in allowing me to pay tribute to Peter Jinman, who was chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee and also heavily involved with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, who I understand passed away last night? He was a great man and a friend of mine, and did an enormous amount of work in the area of animal welfare.
We are a nation of animal lovers, and animal welfare has been a priority of the Government since 2010. Since then, on farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens, banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, and made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, we have introduced microchipping, which became mandatory for dogs in 2015; we have modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales; we have protected service animals via Finn’s law; and we have banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens. In 2019, our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have also led work to implement humane trapping standards by banning glue traps. We have done more than any other party on animal welfare, delivering on a manifesto that was drafted with the public’s priorities in mind.
Further to the steps I have outlined, in 2021, we published an ambitious and comprehensive action plan for animal welfare that set out an array of future reforms for this Parliament and beyond. That action plan’s wide-ranging measures relate to farmed animals, wild animals, pets and sporting animals. They include legislative and non-legislative reforms, and extend beyond domestic actions to cover international engagement and advocacy. And we have delivered—since the publication of that action plan, we have delivered on four key manifesto commitments. First, we passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which recognises in law that all vertebrate animals and invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters and octopuses are sentient beings. That Act will form the bedrock of the animal welfare policy of the future. We passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which introduced tougher sentences for animal cruelty, increasing maximum sentences from six months up to five years. Last month, we made cat microchipping compulsory, which will help reunite lost pets with their owners. Just this week, we announced that, having brought the Ivory Act 2018 into force in 2022, we will be extending it to cover five endangered species: hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.
In addition to legislating, we have launched the pioneering animal health and welfare pathway. It charts the route forward for improved farm animal welfare for years to come. This Government and industry partnership are already transforming welfare on the ground. The pathway does that through annual health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants.
I can tell that Opposition Members are feeling weary listening to the expansive list of delivery, but I can assure them that I am not done yet, because today we are taking two further steps in delivering our action plan. First, we are announcing the launch of the new Animal Sentience Committee, which will advise Government on how policy decisions should take account of animal welfare. The committee’s membership provides expertise from veterinary and social science and covers farm, companion and wild animals. We expect the committee to begin its work next month.
Secondly, we are announcing a consultation on new financial penalties of up to £5,000 for those who commit offences against animals. That will mean there is a new enforcement tool to use against the small minority of people who fail to protect the health and welfare of animals. This could apply, for example, if an animal is kept in poor living conditions due to a lack of appropriate bedding or shelter.
On top of those measures, we continue to support the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend Henry Smith, which will implement our manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies. Also making strong progress are private Members’ Bills that ban the import and export of detached shark fins and that ban the advertising and offering for sale here of low-welfare animal activities abroad. I thank Christina Rees and my hon. Friend Angela Richardson respectively.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill started nearly two years ago. It was designed to implement several of our ambitions, including banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft and new measures to tackle livestock worrying. Unfortunately, its multi-issue nature means there has been considerable scope-creep. The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan. In particular, Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the Bill’s scope.
The Bills and regulations that we have already passed demonstrate the enormous progress that can be made with single-issue legislation, so we will be taking forward measures from the kept animals Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament. We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments, and this approach is the surest and quickest way of doing so, rather than letting that Bill be mired in political game-playing. Having left the EU, we are able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but our legislation will ensure that that becomes permanent and we remain committed to delivering it.
We are committed to clamping down on puppy smuggling. We will ban the import of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs, and we will be able to do that more quickly with a single-issue Bill than with the secondary legislation required under the kept animals Bill. We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets, and we will do that by consulting before the summer recess on primate-keeping standards. They will be applied by secondary legislation to be brought forward this year. We also look forward to progressing delivery of the new offence of pet abduction and new measures to tackle livestock worrying.
I am conscious that there are many other campaigns on aspects of animal welfare. I want to assure the House that, in making this change to how we will implement the measures outlined, we are open to future consideration, but we will focus on delivering these key elements. Delivering these measures, as well as everything we have already delivered as part of and beyond the animal welfare elements of our manifesto, shows a Government who care about animals and do not just talk about the issue or play games with it. We are committed to maintaining our strong track record on animal welfare and to delivering continued improvements in this Parliament and beyond. I commend this statement to the House.
We were here just a few hours ago, at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs oral questions. When Kevin Foster asked when the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would return, the Secretary of State said all was well. She said:
“I have spoken with the business managers and expect an announcement on the progress of the Bill very soon.”
All the while, DEFRA Ministers were plotting the extinction of that very Bill. The Secretary of State trotted out the same thin gruel on rural animal welfare that we have just heard from the Minister. She named only four ways they had improved animal welfare in 13 years—not even one for each Conservative Prime Minister, although I recognise that the Minister tried a bit harder just now.
The political decision taken by the Government today represents a profound setback for animal welfare in the UK. It confirms, once again, that they are too weak to deliver their own legislation. This time, it is innocent animals that will suffer the consequences. Three Environment Secretaries ago, we were promised:
“The Kept Animals Bill will bring in some of the world’s highest and strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals.”
It was supposed to be a Bill packed with ambitious reforms. It promised to close loopholes such as the one that allows the sale of dogs with unnecessary mutilations. It would have ended the cruel practices of exporting live animals for slaughter, keeping primates as pets and puppy smuggling. Despite public outcry and the best efforts of animal welfare organisations, the Government have chosen to break their promise and scrap the Bill they so enthusiastically presented to us two years ago.
The Minister said:
“Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the Bill’s scope.”
The only people playing political games here are the Government. Attempting to use the fact that my party is stronger on animal welfare to justify the decision to scrap that Bill is a strange thing to do. I am proud that Labour is the party of animal welfare, although if the Minister is so convinced I am running the agenda on animal welfare, perhaps we should swap places. Perhaps he should also take a look over his shoulder, because we know how many of his colleagues behind him on the Government Benches want this legislation and our reasonable and necessary measures to strengthen it. If every Department chose his approach, the Government would have to scrap every Bill. Oppositions are here to oppose. If the Government cannot handle basic scrutiny, it calls into question their ability to govern at all.
The last time the Bill came before the House was October 2021—three Prime Ministers ago. Why has it taken the Minister so long to come to this decision? As with the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill—another world-leading piece of animal welfare legislation scrapped by the Government—the Minister promises that the Government’s commitments can be delivered more efficiently via single-issue Bills. It is interesting to note then that they still have not banned the import of fur and foie gras, as promised in that Bill.
This morning in DEFRA orals, the Secretary of State gave a strong assurance that the import of pregnant dogs and dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears will be banned. Will the Minister provide a timeline for the proposed single-issue legislation for all the promises made in the kept animals Bill? I would be particularly interested to hear a date for the legislation to ban imports of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs, as was so clearly promised just four hours ago.
Earlier this week, the Dogs Trust, supported by more than 50,000 people, appealed to the Prime Minister directly, urging the Government to pass the Bill. It and numerous other organisations have campaigned tirelessly for the reforms that the Bill was intended to introduce, and I put on record my gratitude for their unrelenting work. It is not just animal welfare groups that are passionate about this issue; Britain is a nation of animal lovers, and we would be hard-pressed to find a Member who does not receive multiple emails, letters and phone calls every day on these issues.
This statement is not what the public want, it is not what our dedicated animal welfare charities want and it is not what the Labour party wants, so why will the Government not listen? Is it that Ministers lack the courage to act in the face of internal party opposition, or have they lost control of their own Back Benchers? It is maddening to watch as, time and again, this Government make cruel and callous decisions with no regard for their real-life impact. Although not surprising, today’s announcement is a huge step backwards for animal welfare and a blatant dismissal of public trust and expectation. The Tories are not committed to animal welfare; they are committed to self-preservation, and they are taking increasingly reprehensible measures as a result. Is it really too much to ask to live in a country where issues such as the welfare of our animals are put above the interests of a party desperately clinging on to power?
Make no mistake: Labour is the party of animal welfare. From ending the testing of cosmetics on animals and banning fox hunting to tightening the rules on the transport of live animals, my party has always led the way when it comes to protecting animals. The Government cannot get away with this. It is time for them to be held accountable for their constant dereliction of duty and contempt for the people that entrusted them to lead. If they cannot meet the challenges before them, they should step aside and let a party that can.
I think that was a demonstration of the games the hon. Member seeks to play and would like to play, but while he plays his political games, we are getting on with delivering for animals. I can reread the list of all the things we have delivered, and even he had to acknowledge that it is an extensive list.
We have committed ourselves to delivering the measures in the kept animals Bill, and we will deliver them. Live exports are a very good example. Not a single live animal has been exported since we left the European Union. We will close that loophole and make sure we deliver. We continue to be committed to delivering on puppy smuggling. There will be a statutory instrument this year on keeping primates as pets. That was a manifesto commitment, and we will deliver on it very soon. Pet abduction is a very good example of where we can go further. In the kept animals Bill, we said we would protect dogs from abduction, and by approaching this in the way we propose today, we can include cats in that measure to protect them too. We are already making reforms to the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. We are engaging with the zoo sector to make sure that we can capitalise on the progress we have already made to ensure we deliver for those animals.
We are very proud of our record on animal welfare. We continue to be committed in this area, and we will deliver before the next general election.
I have campaigned for more than two decades for an end to the live export of animals for slaughter, so I have to say I do feel a sense of frustration and disappointment that the kept animals Bill is not going to come back to Parliament. I really appeal to the Minister and the wider Government to bring us a new Bill. Let us get on with this, and let us ban this cruel trade.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question, and I pay tribute to her dedication in this area. As I said earlier, the good news is that not a single live animal has been exported during the time she spoke about. That gives us a window of opportunity to introduce this legislation, and to make sure that the practice is not reintroduced at any point in the future.
I am grateful for advance sight of the statement, and I do not dispute any of the actions referred to by the Minister. We always welcome any positive progress on animal welfare measures, but that is not entirely the point. We are evidently here to listen to a rolling back. Let us not kid ourselves that this is anything apart from that. There was a commitment to a kept animals Bill, but it has now been dropped like a stone, and on the afternoon of the last day before recess. We cannot be expected to be content to progress in that way. How can we believe the UK Government on animal welfare measures if that is how they behave? I am afraid the suggestion that this is happening because of some kind of scope-creep caused by Opposition Members stands up to no scrutiny at all.
I can see why it may suit the Government to say that, rather than pursuing the kept animals Bill, they will deal with individual issues. Of course, that is the same trick they did with the employment Bill. What that meant in reality was a lowering of standards, a cherry-picking of commitments to suit their own Back Benchers and an entirely unsatisfactory situation. We have the same worries here. I am very concerned about the evident lack of will from the UK Government to act decisively to ban foie gras, for instance, despite the unforgivably cruel way in which it is produced. Why on earth will they not commit to that? They seem to be missing in action, as far as I can see, on fur. I would certainly welcome a ramping-up of progress on puppy and kitten smuggling. When will that happen? I would like to hear from the Minister on all those issues and to know when we can expect to see action.
While the UK Government have been shilly-shallying on all these issues, the Scottish Government have pushed ahead with the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023, which closes loopholes that had permitted illegal hunters to use trail hunts as a fig leaf for their crimes. I ask the Minister, will the UK Government follow the Scottish Government’s example and ban the loopholes that have permitted English and Welsh hunters to continue their illegal and immoral blood sports?
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions, but also for her acknowledgement of the huge amount of progress we have already made. [Interruption.] Well, she acknowledged the list of things that we have delivered as a Government. The point is that we are still committed to delivering all of the measures in the kept animals Bill. I think that, with a number of the commitments we have made, we can actually go further and deliver these things faster than they would have been delivered by pursuing them through a single Bill. We remain committed to delivering them, and we will deliver them in good time.
MBR Acres is a facility in Huntingdon that breeds beagles for the purposes of animal scientific testing. A number of my constituents have written to me raising serious concerns about the inhumane and cruel treatment to which some of those dogs are subjected. Will the Minister consider meeting me to discuss how some of the measures he has announced might be made applicable to those animals? Will he also consider closing the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which says that animals bred for the purposes of scientific testing are exempt from its protection?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
“In our action plan for animal welfare, the Government committed to exploring further action in this area, which we are free to do now that we have left the EU.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 700, c. 320WH.]
Those were the words of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow two years ago. Members were told that a consultation on banning the fur trade was under way, but we are yet to hear the Government’s response or their plans to stop importing animal cruelty through this evil practice. Either this is negligence, or they do not care about these animals—which is it?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that fur production is already banned in the UK. We launched a call for evidence on fur, and we will publish the results very soon.
The UK proudly has some of the strongest animal welfare protections in the world, and my right hon. Friend is right to highlight the progress that His Majesty’s Government have made on animal welfare. However, there are a number of areas where we can do more, and one such area is the dangerous importation of heavily pregnant dogs as part of the puppy smuggling trade. Will my right hon. Friend please outline how we can quickly move to better protect animals from this cruel trade? While others seek to play politics, I am happy to help the Government to deliver that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will be aware that stopping puppy smuggling is a manifesto commitment. We know there is a huge amount of support among parliamentarians and stakeholders for stopping it. It is a priority of ours for a single-issue Bill, and such a Bill would give us the opportunity to bring forward additional measures. For example, under the kept animals Bill, bans on imports of young puppies, heavily pregnant dogs and those with mutilations, such as cropped ears or docked tails, would have been implemented through secondary legislation, which would have taken quite a long time. Under this route, we will be able to do that much more quickly and to deliver it sooner than we would have done.
I do not know whether the Farming Minister is watching the latest series of “Succession”—he might find all the Machiavellian antics, betrayal and backstabbing a bit too much like taking the day job home—but the actor Brian Cox, who plays Logan Roy in the series, is backing Compassion in World Farming’s campaign to ban factory farming. How is the Minister, with this very petty and piecemeal approach to animal welfare legislation, going to get our farm animal welfare standards up to the point that all consumers and all our voters want to see?
I would point the hon. Lady to our track record of introducing regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens, banning conventional battery cages and introducing CCTV in slaughterhouses. We really have made huge progress on animal welfare. I also pay tribute to UK farmers up and down the country, who get out of bed in the early hours every morning to look after their animals, and to make sure they are well tended and well cared for. I think we have a very proud record of animal welfare and animal production in the UK.
I thank the Minister for reminding me of the work this Government have done on dog welfare, particularly on puppy breeding and protecting service dogs. Would he consider supporting Emilie’s law, which I introduced this week as a ten-minute rule Bill? It seeks to make it a criminal offence if somebody allows their dog to irresponsibly kill another dog, which is a loophole in section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. We protect service dogs and assistance dogs if somebody’s dog injures or kills them, but we do nothing at the moment for pet dogs. Will the Minister sit down with me and consider supporting Emilie’s law?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend not only for drawing that to my attention now, but for doing so in private. I can only imagine the stress and upset of someone having their dog attacked by another dog in a public place, and that ending up in the fatality of their pet. I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss how we can assist her with it.
I and many other Labour Members have long called for the kept animals Bill to be brought back to the House so we can work collectively with the Government to deliver on animal welfare, not to mention to deliver on the Conservatives’ solemn pledge in their last election manifesto. However, many Tory Back Benchers are weak on animal welfare and on action, and today’s statement shows that Ministers do not have the courage to face down so many rebellious Conservative Back Benchers. The kept animals Bill was originally delayed because Ministers could not agree on policy in line with their Back Benchers. Does the Minister agree that today’s statement binning the Bill, and letting down millions of British animal lovers, demonstrates that the Government no longer have control over their Back Benchers?
That is just wrong. This demonstrates that we think there is a better and more efficient and effective way to deliver the things we have committed to. The good news is that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to help and support the Government in delivering them as these measures go through the House, albeit in a different format. I look forward to seeing him in the Lobby supporting the measures we are going to bring forward.
My constituents do not really care whether these issues are dealt with in one big Bill or a series of single-issue Bills; what they are concerned about is that the Government deliver on the promises they made to protect animals from cruelty. My constituents are no different from the Minister’s, and many of them write to me regularly about animal cruelty issues and about how they want the Government to act.
Unfortunately, many of the proposals the Government are promising to bring forward today cannot apply in Northern Ireland because the laws in Northern Ireland are made not by this Government but by the European Union as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol and the Windsor framework, including those on the export of live animals, the import of mutilated dogs, hunting trophies imports and—if the Government decide to bring forward legislation on it—the import of foie gras. What can the Minister do to ensure that my constituents have the same benefits of such legislation as those in other parts of the United Kingdom?
Characteristically, the right hon. Gentleman speaks directly and frankly, and I support lots of his comments about wanting to deliver on animal welfare. We are trying to achieve that through this statement, albeit through a different vehicle from that originally proposed. He tempts me to stray into areas that are way beyond the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I know his concerns are recognised in Government Departments and not least in Downing Street, and I know that they will seek to help him with the challenges he faces.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Dogs Trust facility in my constituency last year, where I saw the excellent work it does and heard about its campaign against puppy smuggling. The Minister has yet to explain the timetable for this separate single-issue Bill, even though he has been asked a number of times, including by those on his own Benches. It is important to note that there is concern not only among Dogs Trust supporters; in the last few minutes, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation has said that it, too, is deeply disappointed by this statement and that it represents a huge “missed opportunity”. These are not party political games; the same message is coming from Conservatives, the Opposition and animal lovers across the country. Can the Minister give us a firm timetable for dealing with the cruel practice of puppy smuggling?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman recognises that we continue to be committed to delivering on puppy smuggling, but the measures in the kept animals Bill will now be divided into smaller, bite-sized chunks so that we can get through them and deliver them more quickly. Instead of being bogged down in endless amendments and political games, we can now get on and deliver on all these commitments, and expedite the process of making sure we get them on the statute book.
My predecessor, Neil Parish, was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare from 2010. Like other farmers in the west country, he cared deeply about welfare standards. That was evident to me last weekend when I visited the Devon county show. The Australia and New Zealand trade agreements will come into effect next Thursday, in spite of opposition from my party. The Australia trade agreement
“simply opens up UK agricultural markets for Australian produce, whether or not produced to the same standards that are legally required of UK farmers.”
I, too, had the privilege of visiting the Devon show and meeting west country farmers and seeing the brilliant livestock they produce to the highest welfare standards. The hon. Gentleman is factually incorrect on the Australia trade deal: we specifically and deliberately excluded pork, poultry and eggs from that deal because they did not meet the welfare standards we expect in the UK.
The Minister is right to say that we are a nation of animal lovers, which is why today’s announcement to drop the kept animals Bill is such a disappointment and such a failure by this Conservative Government, so will the Minister apologise to the millions of animal lovers up and down the country who were expecting this legislation to come through?
What I can do is reassure the hon. Lady that we are still committed to delivering all those measures in the kept animals Bill, but we will do that more quickly, efficiently and effectively than we would have done using that vehicle. So the commitment has not changed; only the vehicle for delivery has changed.
Whipsnade zoo carries out fantastic, world-leading conservation work, which I have been lucky to see at first hand. Thousands of my constituents wrote to me during the pandemic calling on Government support for zoos, which never came. Then there was the incompetence over Brexit negotiations, which stalled conservation work even further, and now they have dropped zoo standards entirely. Why are they so weak? We are indeed a nation of animal lovers; it is a real shame that this Tory Government are not.
The hon. Lady is factually incorrect. First, I pay tribute to the zoo sector. A number of zoos up and down the country have the highest welfare standards and the best work and research into supporting endangered species anywhere in the world. We enjoy a close working relationship with the zoo sector and will continue to capitalise on this to identify non-legislative ways of reforming the sector, including boosting the excellent and valuable conservation work they do, and by the end of this year we will publish updated zoo standards, which we have developed in collaboration with the sector and zoo experts along with the Zoos Expert Committee, and we will raise standards and make enforcement even more effective.
I thank the Minister for his statement and for responding to the questions asked of him.
We are in the exceptional circumstances of having had three statements, business questions and an urgent question today, which puts a lot of time pressure on the two Backbench Business debates. Clearly they are both about important subjects, so the decision has been taken by the movers of the second debate to postpone it until a future date, and I think that is absolutely the right thing to do. Those who are present for the second debate are therefore not needed and may go home or attend to other business.