On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the only veterinary surgeon in the Commons, I am passionate about all aspects of animal health and welfare, and I seek your advice. The Opposition motion that we are about to debate seeks to take control of the Order Paper and timetable a Bill, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) (No. 2) Bill, about which we have no details whatsoever. How is it possible to debate the motion, which could have unintended and adverse consequences for many aspects of animal health and welfare, with no Bill, and no details? Or are the Opposition aiming to reintroduce the Government’s original Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill? It would be helpful to have clarification on what we are debating and voting on today, and what it may mean for the health and welfare of the precious, much-loved animals in our country.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. The motion seeks to take control of the Order Paper on
I beg to move,
(b) any proceedings governed by this order may be proceeded with until any hour, though opposed, and shall not be interrupted;
(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under
(d) at 3.00 pm, the Speaker shall interrupt any business prior to the business governed by this order and, notwithstanding the practice of this House as regards to proceeding on a Bill without notice, call the Leader of the Opposition or another Member on his behalf to present the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) (No. 2) Bill of which notice of presentation has been given and immediately thereafter (notwithstanding any rule of practice of the House as regards a matter already decided this Session) call a Member to move the motion that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) (No. 2) Bill be now read a second time as if it were an order of the House;
(e) in respect of that Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
(f) any proceedings interrupted or superseded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption.
(2) The provisions of paragraphs (3) to (19) of this order shall apply to and in connection with the proceedings on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) (No. 2) Bill in the present Session of Parliament.
Timetable for the Bill on
(3)(a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at the sitting on
(b) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 5.00 pm.
(c) Proceedings on any money resolution which may be moved by a Minister of the Crown in relation to the Bill shall be taken without debate immediately after Second Reading.
(d) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) at 7.00 pm.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put on
(4) When the Bill has been read a second time:
(a) it shall, notwithstanding
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(5)(a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (3), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(d) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a designated Member;
(e) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other Questions, other than the Question on any motion described in paragraph (15) of this Order.
(7) On a Motion made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
Consideration of Lords Amendments and Messages on a subsequent day
(8) If any message on the Bill (other than a message that the House of Lords agrees with the Bill without amendment or agrees with any message from this House) is expected from the House of Lords on any future sitting day, the House shall not adjourn until that message has been received and any proceedings under paragraph (9) have been concluded.
(9) On any day on which such a message is received, if a designated Member indicates to the Speaker an intention to proceed to consider that message—
(b) proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under subparagraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed;
(c) the Speaker may not propose the question on the previous question, and may not put any question under
(10) Paragraphs (2) to (7) of
(a) any reference to a Minister of the Crown were a reference to a designated Member;
(b) after paragraph (4)(a) there is inserted—
“(aa) the question on any amendment or motion selected by the Speaker for separate decision;”.
(11) Paragraphs (2) to (5) of
(12) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of
(14)(a) No Motion shall be made, except by a designated Member, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.
(c) Such a Motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.
(15)(a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings on the Bill to which this Order applies except by a designated Member.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(16) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(17) No private business may be considered at any sitting to which the provisions of this order apply.
(18)(a) The start of any debate under
(19) In this Order, “a designated Member” means—
(a) the Leader of the Opposition; and
(b) any other Member acting on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition.
The motion is in my name, and the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others. We tabled it because Britain is a nation of animal lovers who rightly demand world-leading standards and protections; I know that many Members from across the House share that desire, as do their constituents, and that many of them are not comfortable about being in this position, whereby a Bill that they had supported was withdrawn by their Government. This is also about holding the Tory Government to account for not delivering on their manifesto promises, because we believe that promises should be kept.
Of course, Labour is and always has been the party of animal welfare. The last Labour Government left a proud legacy of delivering on promises to protect animals. We banned experiments in the UK on great apes such as chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas in 1997. A Labour-led Home Office ended licences for testing cosmetics on animals in 1998. Labour established the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, and led the way on research on alternatives to animal testing, and Labour ended cruel fur farming in England and Wales by introducing the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000. Despite vociferous opposition from the Conservatives, Labour made it illegal to hunt wild animals with dogs in England and Wales, passing the groundbreaking Hunting Act 2004. It was also Labour who stopped the use of drift nets and so helped to protect dolphins, sea birds and other marine animals. My right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw introduced the landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006, which finally called time on mutilations such as the docking of dog tails, and made owners and keepers responsible for ensuring the welfare of their animals. We can also be proud of our record on halting the decline of farmland birds while increasing rare and woodland bird populations and, in 2009, it was the Labour Government and Labour MEPs who worked to secure an EU-wide ban on the commercial trade in seal products.
I thank my hon. Friend for outlining so many successes of a Labour Government and commend him for reintroducing the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill today. Does he agree that, if Government MPs try to vote down the motion, they will be voting to continue puppy smuggling, puppy farming, pet theft and live animal exports?
It is hard not to agree with that position. Members have a choice today. The benefit of our democracy is that Members get to cast their vote, and declare their view and their representation on behalf of their constituents. There is nothing in the Bill that Conservatives should not support. It was in the Conservative manifesto. It is letter by letter, word by word and paragraph by paragraph a Conservative Bill in name and content. There is no reason not to support it.
My hon. Friend has highlighted an important point. Despite multiple reassurances by the Government, they have now made yet another U-turn by shelving the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, making a mockery of all the fantastic work of many organisations—such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in my constituency—that have been working tirelessly to significantly improve animal welfare. Does he agree that the Government now need to set out what provisions they intend to introduce that would prevent things like puppy smuggling, but also make abductions of dogs an offence?
Order. Interventions are supposed to be interventions, not speeches. The Chair will take account of Members intervening at length in terms of the speaking order when we come to that part of the proceedings.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention—it is an absolutely accurate interpretation. I was at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in her constituency when news came that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was being ditched. The irony was not lost on a charity that campaigns and works so hard for our animals.
Labour has always placed animal welfare high on our list of policy priorities, which is why the Government have been dragged here kicking and screaming today. The Tories have promised, promised and promised again on animal welfare, but they fail to deliver.
Labour fought as hard as it possibly could to reverse the referendum result and keep us in the single market. If Labour had succeeded, we could not have banned live exports or cracked down on illegal puppy imports.
That begs the question of why on earth the Government are so bashful about bringing forward new powers and freedoms as a result of us leaving the European Union. Surely we should be embracing them—bringing them forward for the benefit of our much-loved animals—but they have not done so, even on an issue that is not controversial across the House. I assume and hope that there is support to end puppy smuggling and stop the export of animals that we care about. I will come on to that later, but I am afraid that it is a missed opportunity, despite Government Members’ comments.
I will make a bit of progress first, if that is okay. In the end, it is those promises that—if we are not careful and they are not kept—undermine the very foundation of our democracy. Let us be clear: at the last general election, every single Conservative MP stood on the platform of a pledge to voters that they would deliver the priorities subsequently set out in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. It was a key part of their 2019 manifesto.
What has happened since 2019? Well, a fair bit. First, we have witnessed a Prime Minister who did not survive a lockdown party, or at least his catalogue of lies that followed it. We had a second one who did not even survive a lettuce and a third one who will be lucky to survive the post-election fallout, but, regardless of leaders, a manifesto stood on by every single Conservative Member should stand the test of time. The former Prime Minister who has left the House in disgrace promised the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill but, like much else, he failed to deliver. According to members of her own party, the next Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss—who left Downing Street in disgrace and undercut our animal welfare protections in her botched trade deals—wanted to ditch the Bill, not just failing to deliver that promise but actively selling us out.
Animal welfare unites us in humanity and across this House. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, by creating the Animal Sentience Committee, whereby Governments of all political persuasions have to be cognisant of and pay due regard to animal welfare, is a huge benefit to animal health and welfare?
The Act certainly has that potential, except for the fact that the committee has not even been set up yet, so let us make some progress on that. On a matter of principle—by the way, I do take at face value the compassion for animals, which we do share across the House—the question is, how are we going to get there? How are we going to increase the protections for the animals that we all say we care about and that we know the nation loves? In the end, whatever is said here is slightly academic compared with the vote that will take place later, because that is what constituents will judge MPs on—not warm words, but the voting records that we all have to defend.
I am going to make a bit of progress, but I will take interventions a bit later.
The current Prime Minister, who during his leadership campaign last summer promised he would keep the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, now seems to have killed it. It did not have to be this way because—let us be clear—there are always choices to be made. Let us be clear about the choices that have been made: the choice to give the green light to criminals who smuggle tens of thousands of vulnerable, under-age, unvaccinated, diseased, mutilated and heavily pregnant animals into the country in the cruellest possible ways; the choice to give a thumbs up to puppy farms and irresponsible breeders who treat animals horrifically, breeding at high volumes for profit, with no respect for the health and welfare of puppies or their parents; and the choice to allow the distress of primates that are being kept as pets unsuitably, when they need specialist care, specialist treatment, diets and socialisation with other primates. This also shows utter contempt for British animals that are exported and transported on excessively long journeys and in dangerously appalling conditions. Why? For the purpose of fattening or inhumane slaughter.
The hon. Gentleman will know that no animal has been exported for many years now and the Government are committed to putting that into law. My question is on puppy smuggling—Lucy’s law. I was honoured to meet Lucy, the Cavalier spaniel, and I have two Cavalier spaniels. This Government have done an amazing amount to clamp down on puppy farms. Puppy smuggling is a separate issue. I have received repeated reassurances that the Government are making time and their method—private Members’ Bills—is going to make this legislation happen more quickly, saving more animals. Political game playing on something so sensitive is irresponsible.
To be absolutely clear, this is not the Labour party framing our own motion and own draft Bill, and bringing it to the House and trying to bounce the Conservative Government. This is a Government manifesto commitment and a Government Bill—word for word, sentence by sentence. There is nothing to disagree with. Let us be clear as well that it passed on Second Reading. It is not as though we are starting from scratch; it passed on Second Reading unanimously with support from Members on all sides of the House.
First, the hon. Gentleman has told us that we have been brought kicking and screaming to this place. This is an Opposition day debate. It is his choice as to what he puts up as the subject for this debate. Secondly, he has not responded to the point of order, which he could have done to settle the issue, made by my hon. Friend Dr Hudson. [Interruption.] I know it is not his place to do so, but he could have made it clear in his opening remarks that he has not published a Bill, which is normally the case when someone puts forward a motion such as this. Without any explanatory notes, we do not know what he is talking about.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. You made that point in response to the point of order, and Philip Dunne will know that I do not have the facility to come in on a point of order, but I can and I will cover that in my speech. To be clear, and I have been clear: this is a Government Bill. There is no other Bill to publish—it does not exist. The only Bill that exists is the Bill that passed on Second Reading in this House and that Members voted for. Let us move on from the smokescreen here. Members know exactly what Bill we are debating, because they have been lobbied by their constituents and by charities, which desperately want to see these protections brought forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this Government Bill back to the Floor of the House so that Members can decide whether to proceed with it. The point is that this Government made a commitment to improve animal welfare laws, but this same Government have a track record, having already backtracked on banning fur imports and the import of foie gras. Is this not just another logical step in them saying one thing about animal welfare and doing something completely different?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Let us be clear about some of the tensions here. The fear was never that the Labour party would vote down protections for animals; our history and legacy is about protecting animal welfare. The real fear is that the protections that we and many on the Government Benches believe should be in place are seen by some on those Benches as red tape and bureaucracy and as things that should be banished and not supported. That is a real issue. If I were the Prime Minister with a majority and I could not even get an animal welfare Bill through the House of Commons, I would be wondering what power and authority I had in my own party, frankly.
Let us reflect on what we were told when the Government did a U-turn. We still need to find out how many animals have been affected in the time between the election and the first promise to bring in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in 2021 and today. The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, Mark Spencer, said:
“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.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 733, c. 495.]
I am guessing from the comments today that the Whips have sent that out in the briefing note because that is exactly what we have been hearing today. I am afraid it does not pass the test because what Tory Members really mean is that Labour has ambition for animal welfare. We want to see the protections strengthened—absolutely—but not in a way that would derail the Bill. That was not our intention and it never would be.
It is not only that. Animals are not an object or a possession; they are part of our family in many ways. Just think about those smuggled dogs being a member of your family—the dog that looks after your children and supports them growing up, or gives compassion to an older person. The idea that puppies have been smuggled in the numbers that just one charity reports—there are many charities in this space—says it all.
I will make some progress first. Regardless of their majority, the Minister, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister cannot govern if they cannot even get this Bill through the House. What is the point of a Government with a sizeable majority when in the end they admit that they might be in office, but they are very much out of power?
The problem with the Bill cannot be parliamentary time, which we hear about all the time in the Tea Room and the voting Lobby. We have frustration from Members, many of whom trek hundreds of miles to be here representing our constituents, with a Government who are so chaotic and unconfident about getting their business through that whole segments of the day are completely written off as Members are sent out of the House early after votes. Even yesterday, we were sent home hours early because the Government did not table any business for us to debate and discuss. The idea that the House is so overwhelmed by business that we just do not have the time to discuss this Bill is ridiculous. There is a will, there is time and there is no reason not to do that other than the fact that the Tories cannot even guarantee how their Members will vote. That is the real issue.
I thank my hon. Friend for showing absolute leadership at this difficult time while the Government are falling apart, particularly when it comes to animal welfare standards. I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are so concerned about the Government’s U-turn. Does he agree that Britain is a nation of animal lovers, unlike this Tory Government?
I am not sure that I would go as far as to say that Government Members do not care about animals. I think they do, but they probably care about their own jobs a bit more, and too many of them probably do not want to be seen voting for a Labour motion for fear of losing the Conservative Whip. That is a shame, but I suppose that in the end, that is politics.
I want to be really clear about what Labour mean by the motion and why we care about this. When we talk about animals and why they are so important to the British public, we are not talking about possessions or objects. We are talking about the puppy that grows up with a child, through their teenage years and into adulthood. We are talking about the dog that is the companion of an older person, making sure that they do not have to go through the long nights alone and they have a reason to go out during the day. We are talking about animals that are very much part and parcel of our families and our national psyche. That is why it matters so much. The fact that the Government do not understand that really speaks volumes.
I would like to put it on the record, as somebody who has been outspoken on this matter and got a petition going, that I have not been threatened once by the Whips about having the Whip withdrawn. The Government have not threatened me or anybody else.
I appreciate the intervention. I have the Downing Street letter in my hand, and there is nothing in it that I would disagree with. The hon. Member’s real difficulty is that the Government do not agree with it, which is why they have not given time for the legislation. If there is no overarching threat of Whips being removed or future positions being lost, there is no reason for Members not to join Labour in the Lobby and support the motion when the vote comes.
I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that there is the issue, and then there is the politics. If the Opposition had genuinely wanted to put pressure on the Government to adopt the Bill, they should have tabled a simple motion that said, “We would support the Bill being adopted”, as that would have got everybody in favour of it. He knows very well that, by trying to take over the business, the motion is actually about the politics. If we really care about sentient animals—Government Members do, and I want to speak today about my criticisms of the Government—surely there would be purpose in us joining together and finding a better way of getting the Government to do what they said.
I am happy to explain the process by which we got to the motion, if that is helpful, although I am not sure whether it will convince Government Members to vote with us later. To be clear, if there had been a route to reintroducing the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill as it stood after Second Reading, that would be in the motion before us, but given the sunset clause built into that Bill, the advice was that it died weeks ago, so we could not do that. That is why the motion speaks of a No. 2 Bill, but word by word, line by line and paragraph by paragraph, it would be exactly the same Bill. In a way, with respect, the right hon. Member is dancing on the head of a pin, because it is the same Bill. On that basis, there is no reason not to support it.
We are not discussing the Labour party trying to bounce the Government into any position whatsoever. We do not even set out the detail of the Bill, partly because it is not a new Bill—it is already there—but also because all we are doing is voting on one issue alone, which is whether Parliament should have the time to debate and vote on a matter. What we debate and vote on and what the Government move on that day is for them. I accept that it will require a bit of work, but it is for them to bring forward the Bill, allow amendments and do the normal things that we do in the House before we come to a vote. All the motion does is allow time for that process to take place. That flies in the face of the “if only we can find a way of working together” idea. There is a way in which we can work together to achieve that end.
I have set out Labour’s history on animal welfare and exactly what we are to vote on. I have set out the Conservatives’ tensions, which have been absolutely on display today and in the run-up to the debate, but I hope that I have given Government Members enough confidence that there is a bridge here to cross. They do not have to stubbornly say, “It’s an Opposition day, so we can’t be seen to support the motion” when they know that the charities emailing them and the constituents reaching out to them really care about this legislation and, in the end, want them to do the right thing. When the vote comes later, I urge Members across the House to get behind the motion and finally allow time for the kept animals Bill to pass.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” in line 1 to the end of the Question and add:
“this House notes the Government’s statement on
and welcomes the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries’ commitment that the Government will be taking forward measures from the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament, including on the keeping and licensing of primates, livestock worrying, export of livestock, pet theft and the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets.”
We are a nation of animal lovers. Animal welfare has been the priority of this Government since 2010. Internationally, our animal welfare standards are already top class—according to the World Animal Protection index, they are the best not just in the G7 but in the entire world. Our manifesto commitments demonstrate our ambition to go even further on animal welfare. To remind the House, we have already committed to bring in new laws on animal sentience, introduce tougher sentences for animal cruelty, and implement the Ivory Act 2018 and extend it to other species. We have ensured that animal welfare standards are not comprised in trade deals. We have cracked down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies, and we will bring forward cat microchipping. We will ban the keeping of primates as pets and imports of hunting trophies and endangered species. We will ban the cruel live shipment of animals and ensure that, in return for funding, farmers safeguard high animal welfare standards.
I would be extremely grateful if the Minister could explain why the Government dropped the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. It had cross-party support. We would have got it over the line and saved the lives of thousands of animals.
I am delighted to hear that the hon. Member understands that the measures in that Bill were important. I will set out later just how we will achieve each and every one of them.
My hon. Friend is spot on. The Home Office banned new licences granted for animal testing on chemicals exclusively used for cosmetics.
On top of that very long list, in 2021 we published our ambitious and comprehensive animal welfare action plan. The plan sets out the breadth of work that we are focused on pursuing through this Parliament and beyond, related to farmed animals, wild animals, pets and sporting animals, including legislative and non-legislative reforms in relation to activities in this country and abroad. Since publishing the action plan, we have already delivered on four key manifesto commitments: we have increased the penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty; we have passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 and launched a dedicated committee: we have made microchipping compulsory for cats as well as dogs; and we have announced the extension of the Ivory Act that came into force last year to cover five more endangered species—hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.
Even before the action plan was launched, we were cracking on with key reforms. Since 2010, we have delivered a wide range of valuable reforms that make a real difference to animals, including raising farm animal welfare.
Many constituents have written to me really concerned that the Government have done a U-turn. They promised in their manifesto that they would deliver the policies set out in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Could the Minister say why the delay and the U-turn have taken place?
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was not in the manifesto, but I think the hon. Lady is referring to the measures. I will set out in more detail how we will achieve those measures in the interests of animal welfare across single-issue Government Bills, private Member’s Bills, regulations and by working with the industry.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but the logic does not flow. There is a Government Bill. Why is she now saying that the Government will rely on private Members’ Bills to do what she has already introduced to this House? With the full support of the Opposition as well as those on the Government Benches, why does she not just crack on with it as a Government Bill?
As we have heard, countless numbers of puppies, heavily pregnant dogs and dogs that have had their ears horrifically cropped are smuggled into the country, and potentially thousands of horses are illegally exported to Europe for slaughter. Does my hon. Friend agree that the measures the Government will bring forward in legislation will absolutely and unequivocally stamp out those horrific practices?
I will just make some progress.
I will set out what has been achieved since 2010, with a wide range of valuable reforms that make a difference to animal welfare: implementing a revised welfare at slaughter regime and introducing CCTV in all slaughterhouses; banning traditional battery cages for laying hens and permitting beak trimming only by infrared technology; and raising standards for meat chickens. We have significantly enhanced companion animal welfare by revamping the local authority licencing regime for commercial pet services, including selling, dog breeding, boarding and animal displays.
I will just make some more progress.
We have banned third-party puppy and kitten sales through Lucy’s law, introduced protections for service animals through Finn’s law, introduced offences for horse fly-grazing and abandonment, introduced new community order powers to address dog issues, provided valuable new protections for wild animals by banning wild animals in travelling circuses, given the police additional powers to tackle hare coursing, and banned glue traps. That is an important list, and it goes on.
I want to reassure Opposition Members and my constituents that private Members’ Bills are extremely efficient. I received extremely good support from the Government while putting through my private Member’s Bill to get a ban on glue traps—[Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members might learn something if they listen. I am very pleased that Wales and Scotland followed, too. That Bill became law two years ago, if Opposition Members care to look it up in the House of Commons Library. Does the Minister agree that private Members’ Bills will enable this proposed legislation to come in more quickly, and will she reassure my constituents that, on things like pet theft, including the theft of cats, we can see real progress?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To support enforcement, we recently supported private Members’ Bills to pave the way for penalty notices to be applied to animal welfare offences. At this point, I want to make particular reference to my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris. It is due to her sterling work on sitting Fridays that so many private Member’s Bills have been successful and enacted swiftly.
To echo the point that has just been made, currently in the other place is my Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill, which will hopefully receive Royal Assent in this Session. It managed to get to the other place without being amended, because it came as a single-issue Bill. It could not be Christmas-treed like other Bills, which means it has been able to progress quickly through the Commons and then into the other place. Does the Minister agree that by taking elements of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and putting them into single-issue Bills, either through private Member’s Bills, presentation Bills or Bills introduced by the Government themselves, we will be able to get legislation on the statute book much more quickly—
Order. These interventions are becoming outrageous. There are 22 Members who wish to take part in the debate. I am making a note, and I will not call people who intervene excessively.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I think that my hon. Friend Angela Richardson made an accurate comment about the speed with which we have been able to support a large number of private Members’ Bills.
Many of our key reforms have also been made possible by Britain’s being outside the European Union. In respect of animal sentience, we have gone beyond the EU’s symbolic and narrow approach, which was riddled with exemptions. Departure from the EU has made it possible to ban cruel live exports from ever happening again, and to tackle puppy smuggling with tighter import controls.
As well as legislating, we have launched a pioneering animal health and welfare pathway, setting out the way forward for improving farm animal welfare for years to come and building on the work that we have already done to improve conditions for sheep, cattle and chickens. We are working in partnership with industry to transform farm animal welfare on the ground through animal health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants. In addition to all that, we have given our support to a number of private Members’ Bills which are making their way through Parliament.
I am afraid I will not give way any further.
My hon. Friend Henry Smith introduced a Bill to ban the import of hunting trophies, implementing another key manifesto commitment. There have also been private Members’ Bills to ban the import and export of detached shark fins and the advertising and offering for sale here of low-welfare animal activities abroad, for which I thank Christina Rees and my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford.
Our intention in presenting the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to the House two years ago was to implement several of our ambitions, including our manifesto commitments to ban the live exports of animals for fattening and slaughter, to crack down on puppy smuggling, and to ban the keeping of primates as pets. There were additional measures seeking to prevent pet abduction, tackle livestock worrying, and improve standards in zoos. However, as the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries—my right hon. Friend Mark Spencer—said in his statement to the House on
While scanning the party political letter that the Labour party issued today, I noticed two things very quickly. The first was the lack of achievement on the part of the last Labour Government on animal welfare. The second was that, strangely, the candidate for the upcoming Uxbridge by-election was missing from a list of parliamentary candidates who apparently support animal welfare. Does the Minister know why that is, and whether we should conclude that—on top of Labour’s hated ULEZ expansion—there is a parliamentary candidate who does not care about animal welfare?
I cannot answer that question, but what I can say is that I was with Steve Tuckwell in Uxbridge, and he clearly cares deeply about animal welfare and the environmental improvement plan.
We will continue to take forward measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, successfully and swiftly, during the remainder of this Parliament. Having left the EU, we can and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. I am pleased to report that there have been no live exports of livestock from Great Britain for fattening or slaughter since 2020. People have long been rightly anxious for the export of farm animals such as sheep and young calves for slaughter and fattening not to start up again, so our legislation will make that change for good. We will take forward our plans to ban the import of young puppies, heavily pregnant dogs, and dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears and docked tails. We have already consulted on that, and a single-issue Bill will allow us to get on with cracking down on puppy smuggling.
I am pleased to inform the House that we launched a consultation just yesterday on the standards that must be met by anyone responsible for the care of a primate. As we have heard, the needs of these captivating creatures are extremely complex, and we saw in the media just yesterday how primates can be horrifically mistreated. By requiring all privately held primates to be kept to zoo standards, we will stop primates being kept as if they were pets.
There is much more besides, from publishing updated zoo standards later this year in collaboration with the sector and the Zoos Expert Committee, to considering primary legislative vehicles to take forward measures to tackle livestock worrying, and our wider work, including through the countryside code, to raise people’s awareness of how to enjoy walking their dog responsibly.
This Government share the public’s concern for the welfare of animals. That is why we have delivered an unprecedented package of welfare improvements since 2010. We remain steadfast in our focus on making good on those manifesto commitments, which mean so much to the British people.
I am delighted to participate in this debate, although I honestly wish it was not necessary—and it ought not to have been necessary. I and the SNP support the Opposition day motion.
Two years ago, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was introduced. The UK Government made a commitment to improve animal welfare, and we in the SNP supported that. Now, three DEFRA Secretaries of State and three Prime Ministers later, we are not one step forward. We are exactly where we were three years ago on banning foie gras imports, which the Minister noticeably did not mention; we are exactly where we were two years ago on banning animal fur imports, which the Minister did not mention; and we are exactly where we were two years ago on tackling illegal puppy and kitten smuggling. That is why my SNP colleagues and I support the motion for the measures in the Bill to proceed.
As the Minister has conceded, there were a lot of important provisions in the original Bill. It has now been quietly dropped, and we are told that the Government will take forward individual measures. I understand that those will be private Members’ Bills—I thought that Governments were elected to govern, but apparently not. We are meant to be convinced by that display, but why should we believe it?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way on that point about private Member’s Bills. I was pleased to support the private Member’s Bill from Henry Smith on trophy hunting imports, which is currently in the other place. However, I met campaigners just yesterday who are very concerned that, due to machinations in the other place, the Bill will run out of time and never reach the statute book. Is that what we are to expect on animal welfare from this Government?
The hon. Lady tempts me on to my next point. The Minister—ludicrously, despite her protestations—cannot tell us which provisions in the original Bill will not be brought forward as individual measures now that it has been dropped. I would really like her to tell us what measures the Government will not proceed with, how the priority list will be decided and when we will see the measures the Government are so keen to bring to this House—by whatever circuitous route. Will anything be presented before summer recess? Will we get through that priority list, such as it might be, before the next general election?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for the point she is making. With every twist and turn in the farce around this Bill, I get letters and emails from concerned constituents. Does my hon. Friend agree that it really does undermine the faith that many constituents have in democracy that the Government promised a Bill and had a Bill, and that we have lots of Government time and business collapsing early, yet no Bill is coming forward?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and leads me on to my next point. We know that people right across the UK really care about animal welfare—all we have to do is give our inbox the most cursory of glances to see that. The people who write to us, email us and contact us on this issue will be deeply concerned about the antics—that is what they are—of the Government today as they twist on their own line. The Government have blamed everyone else, arguing that this Bill has been dropped because it had become too broad in scope, beyond what was originally intended.
The reality is that this Government are crumbling in the face of opposition from certain sections among their Back Benchers—the same kind of Back Benchers who were vociferously opposed to a ban on importing foie gras and fur products—as highlighted most eloquently by Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg. The UK Government do not want to engage in a fight with their own Back Benchers, despite these measures being in their manifesto. Foie gras production and fur farms were banned in the UK because of the cruelty they inflicted on living creatures, but this Government are perfectly content to outsource cruelty, which is political in itself, to appease some sections of their Back Benchers. This is truly shameful, and the Government may wish to reflect on it.
We know this is the case due to the very frank comments of the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, who predicted in February that the animal welfare commitments in this Bill would be shelved, and he turned out to be right. It is worth reminding the House of what he was reported as saying:
“‘The way we treat animals, in particular farmed animals, is a hallmark of a civilized society and you should be constantly striving to do better,’ he says of the legislation that bans primates as pets, outlaws live exports and further regulates puppy farming.
Officially the government is still committed to the Bill…but the former environment secretary says he is hearing ‘mixed signals’ about whether it will, in fact, pass into law before the next election which must be held by the end of next year.
‘My sense is that they’re putting less emphasis on animal welfare, which I think is a shame.’”
We know the measures proposed in this Bill have huge public support. He continued:
“‘The annoying thing for me would be if the kept animal bill now also doesn’t go ahead because of a lack of resolve to take it through.’”
Interestingly, he refers to a “lack of resolve.”
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for setting out what is really happening here, because we know there is not only broad support for this Bill in the country but massive, overwhelming support for it in the House of Commons. It was introduced here, we supported it and now it has been shelved. That has more to do with the politics on the Government side of the House than animal welfare, doe it not?
The Minister can wriggle all she likes on the proverbial hook about individual measures and suchlike, but the fact is that the Government’s resolve to proceed with the Bill, as set out by the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth, has broken for fear it might upset some of their Back Benchers, who have fewer concerns about animal welfare than the people they purport to represent.
As for the Government’s so-called position of ditching this Bill and introducing individual measures, where is the timetable? The Minister stood up to defend the fact that the Government will be bringing forward various measures, but there is no timetable, no detail and no priority list. Nothing. Clearly banning the importing of foie gras and animal fur and making real efforts to tackle puppy smuggling are off the table. We do not know if we will get anything before the summer recess. What we are left with are the shattered remains of what was a perfectly decent and comprehensive Bill.
This Bill largely relates to England, but its UK-wide elements are extremely important and they show where Scotland is being held back on animal welfare. The dropping of this Bill also means that the plans to ban live exports for slaughter and fattening from or through the UK, which all the major parties supported and which appeared in each of the manifestos in 2019, have also been dropped. That move was described by Compassion in World Farming as an unacceptable backtracking on animal welfare commitments, allowing this trade to continue.
It gives me no pleasure to say that the dropping of this Bill must be a cause of celebration for ruthless puppy or kitten smugglers—both of those trades are lucrative in their own right and there are insufficient deterrents to the barbaric practice. The dropping of this Bill must also have been good news for those who import foie gras and animal fur products into the UK. The dropping of this Bill is a depressing day for those who genuinely care about animal welfare. For all the fights that the UK Government like to pick with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Government passed legislative consent for this Bill. It seems that even when they agree with the UK Government, the UK Government then decide to disagree with themselves.
The hon. Lady is correctly outlining the deficits and the broken promises. She may be aware that Northern Ireland has even less legislation on animal rights. The Assembly even rejected an attempt to ban hunting with dogs and we have made no progress on issues such as having a register of banned welfare abusers and banning the online sale of puppies. She speaks about the UK-wide provisions. Does she agree that the House now has an opportunity to bring in progressive and far-reaching legislation that would even pick up the slack in regions such as ours, which are without governance?
Indeed. What I find really distressing is that in Scotland we have come so far on animal welfare, only to find that we are shackled to this dead hand of a Government who refuse to act because they are paralysed by their own internal divisions.
I am making some progress.
Meanwhile, Scotland, under the SNP, continues to be a beacon across the UK and Europe on animal rights, with the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 and the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023. In its Programme for Government, the SNP implemented the majority of recommendations on the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 and further measures on preventing trail hunting.
The SNP is consulting on proposals to improve animal transport legislation and to phase out cages for game birds and laying hens, and farrowing crates for pigs; it is consulting on legislation to extend the framework for the licensing of activities involving animals to new areas such as performing animals and animal care services; it is considering whether the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals should have extra legislative powers to investigate wildlife crime; and it is reviewing the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to inform future policy and legislative changes to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. Last year, it became a legal requirement for puppy, kitten and rabbit breeders to be licensed. There is ongoing work with the Animal Welfare Committee to examine issues associated with sheep castration and tail docking. This very week, highland cats are being reintroduced to the wild, and work will be undertaken over the next three years to save the species from extinction. The SNP is also examining the use of acoustic deterrent devices in salmon farming, as well as the issue of e-collars.
I could go on, but I fear that I am showing off now. I am showing the contrast between two Governments, a Government who are ambitious—
The answer is no.
One of those Governments is ambitious, progressive and keen, as a mark—as the former DEFRA Secretary said—of how civilised Scotland is on these matters. However, we are shackled to a corpse who will not act and cannot act. I merely point out the dithering of the UK Government when it comes to delivering on their own promises in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. They do not even have the confidence to deliver their own manifesto commitments and the very Bill they brought to the House.
By contrast, only this week, Christine Grahame MSP introduced a Bill to the Scottish Parliament to tackle unlicensed puppy farming, establishing a code of practice for the buying and selling of dogs in Scotland. Meanwhile, in Scotland, we are forced to twiddle our thumbs waiting for this Government to implement their own measures on puppy farming.
People will read little about what I have just said in the media, but the Scottish Government are absolutely committed to the highest animal welfare standards, indeed exceeding EU regulations.
The UK Government’s work compares very poorly with the excellent work being done in Scotland, but where we in Scotland are reliant on the UK Government, in reserved areas, we are held back. Of course, that extends way beyond animal welfare, but I will not go into that.
I recall the nonsense we were told during the Brexit campaign about how Brexit would allow improved animal welfare standards, even outstripping EU standards, because we would be liberated to move at a faster pace of improvement. But this Government cannot move beyond that—they cannot even move beyond the width of their own Back Benchers. They are terrified of their own Members.
Order. The hon. Lady has made it abundantly plain that she is not giving way. It would be good if we could inject just a few of the normal courtesies into the debate.
I am merely extending the same courtesy that was shown to me by the Minister.
The former Secretary of State for DEFRA, George Eustice, was right; everybody in the Chamber knows that he was right. The way we treat animals, in particular farmed animals, is a hallmark of a civilized society. Everyone who is watching can see what dropping this Bill tells us about this Government, and what we can conclude about how civilised they are when we compare and contrast their record on animal welfare with that of the Scottish Government.
The Bill was a significant moment in our progress towards improving animal welfare across the UK, but dropping it is out of step with what we know our constituents want and what we know is right. That is why I would support any motion to have the provisions of the original Bill passed through the House. Dropping the Bill shows that the Government are in retreat. They are out of ideas and have lost any semblance of moral authority. They have a Prime Minister who is afraid to proceed with his own legislation, despite it being in his manifesto, for fear of upsetting some of his notable Back Benchers.
The UK Government are a shrinking, lily-livered, weak-kneed, base, husk of a shell of a Government; they have lost their way and their purpose. Dropping the Bill is symptomatic of that. Animal welfare will pay the price. To tell this House that the Bill has been ditched and that the Government will bring forward individual provisions, covering what was in the Bill, simply does not ring true. Quite frankly, it is a lot of nonsense.
We need to ensure that the important provisions in the original Bill, which the UK Government are too preoccupied and too cowardly to proceed with themselves, are allowed to progress through the House. That is why we in the SNP support the motion.
Order. I appreciate that this is a sensitive and contentious issue, but we do ourselves no favours and no service by ignoring the conventions and courtesies of the House. I would like to see if we can inject a little more good temper into the tone of the debate.
That said, we have 22 Members still seeking to take part. I will put an immediate five-minute time limit on speeches. If there are a lot of interventions, as there have been in the past, then that will swiftly drop to four or even three minutes. Given the number of Members who wish to take part, I am afraid that is where we find ourselves.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me early in this debate. I do not wish to flout convention, but may I make a personal tribute to you, Sir, for the work that you have done from these Benches on supporting animal welfare measures? I know that you cannot talk on that matter yourself while you are in the Chair.
I also pay tribute to the Government for their support of my private Member’s Bill, the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which is currently in the other place. I thank, too, the Secretary of State, the Comptroller of His Majesty's Household, my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, and the officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who have helped me with that Bill.
The Government say that the measures in the now halted Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill can be delivered via statutory instruments and private Members’ Bills. If that is so, can I have an assurance from the Government that, should there be wrecking amendments in the other place on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, Commons time will be afforded to us to ensure that the clearly expressed will of this House to enact that legislation can be met so that the legislation makes it on to the statute book before the end of this parliamentary Session?
I also pay tribute to this Government for achieving a number of animal protection measures. As the Minister told us from the Dispatch Box, they include: a new prison sentence of up to five years for animal cruelty; the Ivory Prohibition (Civil Sanctions) Regulations 2022 and the extension of its provisions; the installation of CCTV in slaughterhouses to ensure greater welfare standards; the micro-chipping of dogs and cats; and the establishment of the Animal Sentience Committee, so that all future Administrations will have to pay the highest regard to animal welfare. That being said, I am disappointed that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill has been withdrawn. It was probably the best vehicle to get all those manifesto commitments made three and a half years ago on to the statute book. However, whatever parliamentary vehicle is used, I want to see those commitments met and completed before the end of this Parliament to ensure that, among other things, the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter is halted. I know that none has taken place since Brexit, but it is important that we make sure that that becomes law. Let me point out that that has only been possible because we have left the European Union. If we were to rejoin, such a measure would not be possible.
Pet theft is another important matter. As has been mentioned, our love and respect for our pets is an aggravating factor when pets are stolen, and that should be recognised in law. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that measures relating to primates and to livestock worrying will also be introduced.
In the limited that I have left I wish to address the important matter of food labelling. We have a sophisticated electorate and they want to know how their food has been produced and the method of slaughter. I know that the Government had committed to a consultation on food labelling. I would be grateful if, in their response, the Minister or the Secretary of State updated us on where we are on that important matter.
It is important that, as a House, we try to park the politics when it comes to animal welfare, because the vast majority of us want to achieve the same thing, and it is only by working together that we will do that for the wellbeing of animals.
I rise from my place to put on record my opposition to yet another broken promise from this Government. It is such a shame that this key legislation for the wellbeing of so many kept animals has been shelved. So many Conservative Members, alongside hon. Friends on the Opposition side of the Chamber, have done so much to secure that legislation, but they have been failed by the Government. Of course the impetus for the Bill originally came from the former Member for Richmond Park; I am sure in his ermine in the other place he is none too happy either. As is the case day after day with this Government, it is wasted opportunity after wasted opportunity.
The Government have been keen to cut trade with Europe, but now inaction offers the puppy smugglers a charter. While renter’s reform offers nothing to support tenants to keep their loved pets, those who want to ship them are emboldened. Puppies continue to be illegally imported into the UK on an industrial scale, alongside increasing numbers of heavily pregnant dogs and dogs with mutilations. The pet travel scheme continues to be abused by smugglers; it is not fit for purpose. Smugglers continue to find loopholes to import dogs and puppies—often underage, unvaccinated and in poor welfare conditions that could have been fixed by the Bill.
But we are not looking at the only broken promise on animal welfare. Fur imports and exports were to be banned too. What happened there? The Government caved in to a small number of extremists in their own party. Ideology also hampers existing animal welfare efforts. While we remained in Europe, we supplied details of trade in live animal exports. Now we no longer even bother to collect the numbers. Inhumane live exports have been curtailed by the shambles of Brexit, but the Bill could end their shame forever.
It is not just in this country that we have abandoned animal welfare by abandoning the Bill. I should note a minor interest here, Mr Deputy Speaker: since joining this House, I have become involved with STAE, Save The Asian Elephants, alongside Henry Smith, who has been indefatigable in his fight to protect these majestic creatures. He has done a lot on the Government side of the House to raise awareness of the plight these incredible pachyderms face. This is not just a welfare issue; it is existential.
The Asian elephant has been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 1986. Their population has declined by more than 50% in the past three generations. Across Asia, these symbols of power and fortitude are at risk of extinction, and British and western tourists are a part of that risk. We must address and stop the commercial exploitation of Asian elephants through unethical tourism fuelled by businesses and their customers from outside India and south-east Asia.
On the Opposition side of the Chamber, we have action, not inaction, with an Opposition motion to bring back the kept animals Bill. I call on Members across the House to back Labour’s motion today and bring back the Bill.
May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to follow Mr Sharma, whom I congratulate on his position on saving the Asian elephant? That is a noble cause, if nothing else.
I will focus simply on the problem that we face right now. We have enough collective experience in government to know that large, multi-subject Bills will invariably lend themselves to unnecessary amendments. We knew that before, so my question is: why did we discover it so late that we have ended up having to dump the Bill? That is a gentle criticism of the Government, I know—I bear the scars of trying to do that myself—but we do know that, so we should not have found ourselves in the situation of having to dump the Bill and start all over again. If the Government’s purpose is now to see the issues in that Bill proceeded with on a much tighter schedule, I understand that—although it could have happened earlier—but, if we are to do that, we need answers to some important questions.
First, do the Government have an idea of the timeframe now required for unpacking the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and for single-issue Bills to progress with speed? It would be great if my hon. Friends on the Front Bench would, when they return to the Dispatch Box at the end of the debate, start to put together some idea on that, because I think that would satisfy a lot of people outside this place as well.
Will all parts of the Bill be retained, or only selected elements of it? Will the Government support the pet theft part of the legislation, for example, which is closest to my heart? If not, what amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, in the form of statutory instruments, could be made to change quickly the rules and definitions of “property”. I worked very hard with many colleagues from all sides of the House to get the pet theft stuff through, only to discover during lockdown that that had become a criminal business, and a violent one to boot, in which often quite elderly people were knocked to the ground, beaten up—sometimes very badly—and pets of value were stolen. Not only were those people hurt, but they suffered the loss of what had become a friend.
We treat that too casually if we do not care about it. It mattered to our constituents then and still does today. The idea that the police take less action than they should because they characterise a sentient pet in the same way as they do a stolen bicycle is quite ridiculous. I say simply to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench that many of us are very disappointed that we have not got on with this quicker and earlier. I say that because the situation is now so desperate that this needs to be in statute by the next election, whenever that may be. It simply cannot be that we do not get it there. This should therefore be a priority for the Government.
I do not want to make it party political because, right now, our constituents expect us to work together for their benefit on this matter. We do not have a difference on it, and we should not create one, but what we should have is a Government response to what is quite clearly the emotion of the House in trying to get such legislation through. I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, to answer these questions when she gets up. If there is anybody in government kicking around and saying “Oh, we can’t do this; we mustn’t do it; there are more important things to do”, will she tell them that the mood of the House is that this is a priority? Let us do it, let us deliver on what we said we would, and let us get it done quickly.
I rise in support of today’s motion to revive the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. I hope that Conservative Members see that this issue stretches beyond party lines and will stand with us to improve the lives of millions of animals.
This year alone, hundreds of constituents have contacted me to call for more stringent animal rights. The Government’s introduction of the kept animals Bill two years ago was welcome. It included a wide range of long overdue measures, ranging from tackling the keeping of primates as pets to cracking down on puppy smuggling and banning live exports. I looked forward to the Bill’s progress and to working cross-party to ensure that it met its aims, but we now see that the Government were simply paying lip service to the millions who support those changes. Two years of delays and three Secretaries of State later, the Bill has been dropped for good, giving the green light to puppy smugglers and those who profit from such abhorrent practices—yet another broken Tory promise.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto was perfectly clear. It said, word for word:
“We will crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies… We will end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening… We will ban keeping primates as pets”.
Like so many other promises, those commitments now lie in tatters.
Ministers now say they will take forward each part of the Bill separately but, after so many broken promises and no clear timetable, how do they expect the public to trust them to deliver? Two years ago, when the Bill was introduced, the Government
“committed to improving our already world-leading standards”, but that is a far cry from the reality we see today. Under this Government’s watch, Britain’s proud record of being a leader on animal welfare standards is quickly diminishing. We are now falling behind Australia on banning primates as pets, behind the EU on ending the use of cages in farming and behind New Zealand on ending live exports.
Is the hon. Lady aware that, yesterday, we announced a consultation on banning primates as pets, which will enable us, through secondary legislation, to get that on to the statute book far faster than if we relied on the kept animals Bill? Does she agree?
I thank the hon. Member for her intervention. We already have a Bill ready to go. It is oven-ready. It reached Second Reading and was ready to go the full distance. Her party chose to put a stop to it.
That U-turn flies in the face of so many experts on the frontline tackling these issues. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has warned that the UK is
“facing the prospect of a dramatic downward spiral in animal welfare.”
It makes no bones about it: while this Government dither, animals suffer.
We are a nation of animal lovers. Polling shows that 80% of the public agree that animal welfare should be protected by the Government through legislation. Very few issues garner as much widespread public support as this one. It is therefore all the more baffling that Ministers would choose to turn their backs on all those who wish to see change.
The only people celebrating will be those who benefit from these terrible practices that will now remain legal. It just shows whose side this Government are on: not the millions of us who want to see an end to the abuse and mistreatment of animals, but those who continue to profit from puppy smuggling and other despicable practices.
I know the Minister and have every respect for her; we have worked together on a number of issues over the years and I know of her compassion. I only fear that she has been sent here today to defend the indefensible. I hope Members will send a strong message today that we are committed to ending animal suffering once and for all by voting in favour of the motion.
I pay credit to the Minister, and indeed to other Members, for outlining the huge number of animal welfare measures we have taken over our period in government, so I am a little disappointed that the Labour party says that we do not care about animal welfare. I give the Labour party credit for what it achieved in its years in government, but Labour is taking us and anyone listening for fools in saying the Conservative party is not interested.
This is an Opposition day debate. It is a day for fun and for Labour Members to do what they usually do, but I will not allow them to take over the Order Paper. We saw too much of that during the Brexit trench warfare times, when Labour tried exactly that. We did have a perfectly good animal welfare Bill, but I take on board what my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: it had become a Christmas tree upon which too many new baubles could be dangled. So we find ourselves where we are.
I was most interested in clause 40 of that Bill, which was very relevant to South Thanet because Ramsgate port—a fairly small port in the scheme of things—had become the only port in the country from which live cross-channel exports were taking place. We had to suffer this foul trade. It became a true stain on our community for far too long. I pay tribute to Kent Action Against Live Exports and particularly an activist there called Yvonne Burchall, who campaigned year in, year out to try to stop the cross-channel live animal export trade.
Matters came to an appalling head at the port on
It was clear that the basis for the Dutch companies’ successful High Court action was single market rules; it was EU membership. My right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers made the point admirably that single market rules required animals to be treated not as sentient beings, but as mere goods to be traded as you please. It is funny; the Labour party, joined by the SNP, did all it could in the Brexit period to keep us in the single market.
I tried to stop live animal exports by other means. I put forward a private Member’s Bill to amend the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847—a rather peculiar bit of legislation from the age of sail and steam, which said that any harbour had to be made available to any ship, because of the dangers in those days. That still applied, but I tried to change that so that any port owner could stop a ship, or stop a trade being conducted. It was a back-door route through which I tried to stop this trade. Obviously the Bill was not passed, but it was at least an attempt.
Brexit gave us the opportunity to take control of these matters—to decide what we, our electors, the country and Parliament want to do; and what Parliament wants to do is stop this foul cross-channel trade in live animals. I am very pleased that the trade has stopped since Brexit, but it has done so really for administrative reasons—because the Calais authorities did not want to spend a huge amount of money on new facilities where vets and others checked the animals. It is great news that, administratively, this trade cannot take place, but I say to the Minister that I want it banned legislatively, so that it cannot take place again. That is what my electors want, and it is what dear Yvonne Birchall has been fighting for all these years. I certainly hope that we can bring in the measure in some other way before the election.
In their manifesto, three and a half years ago, the Government promised a single Bill that would crack down on puppy smuggling, ban live exports, protect sheep and other livestock from dangerous dogs, and ban the keeping of primates as pets—a Bill that I think pretty much everyone in this place would have been in favour of and voted for. The Government seem to have time on their hands; we will probably finish at about 6.30 pm today, and we stopped at 4.30 pm yesterday, so it is no excuse to say that the agenda is packed. Parliamentary time is clearly available, so there is no excuse for the Conservatives having failed to pass the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill that they promised in their manifesto three and half years ago, in the general election of 2019. We are told that all will be well—that the Bill will be broken up into bits and delivered over the next year. We will see.
Nearly 200 constituents have written to me about the Bill. They want it to happen, and are so worried that it will not. The plan is for the provisions to be put into private Members’ Bills, but given that Members, not the Government, decide what is in private Members’ Bill, and that there is no clear plan for how the measures will be apportioned to Members, I am not filled with confidence that this will get done before the next general election. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I do not know when the next general election will be; most of us have no more than a bit of a clue about that. My hon. Friend makes a really good point: there is an absence of leadership from the Government. They have declared what they want to do, and most of us agree with it, yet they are delaying the process, for reasons that have been set out, though they all seem pretty weak. The Government are, at best, dragging out a process that should have been completed by now. At worst, this is in effect a betrayal of their promises to the electorate to care for our animals in a practical way. However, even before the Government begin that weakened and watered-down process, there has to be yet another month of consultation—pointless consultation, I would argue. A cynical person would say that that has the benefit to the Government of kicking the issue into the long grass of the summer recess. They might hope that after that recess, people will have stopped caring, but we will not have stopped caring.
All this dither and delay is transparently not because Government Members are all monsters who hate animals—that is clearly not the case. It is because the Government are scared of unhelpful amendments from their own Back Benchers. That is in keeping with what was demonstrated earlier this week by the mass abstentions on Monday night. Rather than challenging bad behaviour or standing up for what is right, we have a Government who habitually bravely run away. As Lord Lamont said in this place of a previous failing Conservative Government, they are a Government who are in office, but clearly not in power. That weakness is not just embarrassing for the Government, but costly: it costs animals the protection they need, or at least delays those protections, and it costs our country the reputation it deserves. As such, I support the Opposition’s motion, as I hope they will support my private Member’s Bill on pet theft and importation, tabled on
The Government’s own Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill matters, because how we treat animals and how we allow animals to be treated marks out what kind of people we are and what kind of country we are. We are a nation of animal lovers, not just in theory but in practice, so we cry out for a Government who will act in accordance with those values in practice. Liberal Democrats have a track record of animal rights advocacy, including improving standards of animal welfare in agriculture, ensuring the protection of funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and ending the practice of housing chickens in battery cages while we were in the coalition Government. That matters because, like humans, animals experience suffering, pain and fear, so it is crucial that we change the law to better protect animals from harm.
Of particular interest to our communities in Westmorland and Lonsdale is that the Government’s Bill would have extended the cover of law on livestock worrying to include deer, llamas and other animals, and would also have given police more powers to investigate and prosecute the worrying of sheep and other livestock. NFU Mutual estimates that livestock worrying costs farmers £1 million a year, and the word “worrying” does not conjure up the reality of what that practice actually means and what people in our communities understand that it means. For instance, sheep worrying by dogs means ewes miscarrying lambs, lambs being separated from their mothers, and horrific incidents of goring causing unspeakable pain and suffering.
Just as the Government’s weakness in this case is sadly characteristic, so is their willingness to put political considerations ahead of animal welfare. It is not that they do not care about animal welfare—they just do not care as much as they care about the politics. The Australia and New Zealand trade deals are a case in point. Those deals were agreed despite farmers and animal welfare charities protesting the fact that they gave an advantage to those who practise lower animal welfare standards over British farmers who practise higher standards. The Government’s desperation for deals at any price for political reasons came at the cost of British farmers and animal welfare. Here we see a pattern: this delay, or this betrayal, is sadly characteristic. That might be hard for Government Members—many of whom, of course, care about animal welfare—to hear, so I challenge and invite them to prove me wrong by backing my private Member’s Bill and supporting today’s motion unamended.
I am here not just on behalf of the many constituents who always write to me about animal welfare issues, but because it is a topic that many of us in this Chamber have complete consensus on. I have often said that in this Chamber, there is more that unites us than divides us, and our approach to animal welfare shows exactly that. As we have heard, 69% of UK citizens surveyed by the RSPCA said that they were animal lovers—it is a clear uniting factor. You only have to go for a walk on one of my constituency’s beaches on a Sunday morning to see countless people walking their dogs.
I have always had rescue animals; I grew up with them. I have had rescue dogs, rescue cats and rescue chickens—they do not lay very well, but they are quite nice pets—and every Sunday afternoon, I go through the ritual fight with my children of “Who wants to muck out the rescue guinea pigs?” The point is that I have always been a vocal supporter of protecting our animals. We have to pay a real tribute to my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith for the enormous amount of work he did during the pandemic on the pet theft taskforce. It was a great problem in North Norfolk, where people were having their beautiful pedigree dogs taken and stolen.
Not many people know this, but I am the glow-worm champion for the UK. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Yes, someone has to do it—and it is a real honour. The need for dark skies is a big issue in many parts of the United Kingdom, and Members probably do not know that glow-worms can be found in Kelling heath in my constituency, which is why I have had that honour. I have run the London marathon a couple of times and raised lots of money for local animal charities, as I am sure a lot of Members here have done. All of us in this Chamber consider animals and pets as having a significant part in our lives.
The Opposition need to recognise a couple of facts. The point has been made by my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers and my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay that, since we have left the EU, we have been able to strengthen our laws on looking after our animals and our pets. We are ranked the highest in the G7 on the animal protection index, with some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Since the action plan for animal welfare was delivered in 2021, the Government have delivered time and again on their animal welfare commitments. We heard the Minister make that point about the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act. We have strengthened the Ivory Act 2018. Cat microchipping has also been strengthened—much to my delight, because when my beloved Clapton went missing, we were able to find him very quickly because of his microchip.
It is not fair for the Opposition to label the Government in the way they have this afternoon. It is very simple to understand that no matter what the Opposition have done to try to spin this, we are keeping the core elements of the Bill. We must set the record straight on that. As many have said, this is not being watered down, and it is not being simplified to push through legislation without proper due diligence. Instead of stretching the current Bill beyond its remit and its snapping, we are, as some Members have said, bringing forward single issues so that they can be properly debated and properly put through our processes. It is right not to overload the original Bill—that is proper decision making. It is proper legislating in this House to build strong, effective Bills that work for the purposes they are designed for.
I actually think the Government should be very proud of what they have done, and the Minister should be very proud of leading on this. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are not watering the provisions down. We are bringing them forward, and we will deliver on them, as we already have on some of them, before the next general election.
If there is one thing I know, it is that my constituents care passionately about animal welfare. My inbox is full of emails about the importance of this topic to them. The scrapping of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and the prevarication on display today are, frankly, astonishing. I am baffled that Conservative Members cannot see how the withdrawal of the Bill makes constituents question whether this Government even care about delivering on their promises. As we have learned this week, trust matters to our constituents, and I know that my constituents care. They care about animal welfare and they care about the Government delivering on their pledges.
The dropping of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill also creates huge worries for zoos across the country, including Chester zoo in my constituency, which runs world-leading conservation research and work on animal welfare issues. It is very worried that, without this Bill, the uncertainty surrounding the legislative framework within which zoos operate will be perpetuated. This is causing it real difficulties in allocating the charity’s spending. It is, in effect, in limbo. The Government need to engage with the zoo sector quickly to bring forward the central aims of this important Bill.
Chester zoo is not the only way my area is leading on animal welfare issues. Cheshire West and Chester Council was one of the first to ban permanently the practice of trail hunting on council-owned land, and the National Trust soon followed suit. The changes introduced by the previous Labour Government have stood the test of time, from the bans on foxhunting and fur farming to the action taken to stop experimentation on great apes and the testing of cosmetics on animals.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I hope that today we can have an element of consensus and that the Government will reconsider their position. It seems strange, when the official Opposition are backing a Government Bill, to not want to progress that Bill for the benefit of animals.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We must ensure that we do not stop here; we should lead the way on animal welfare. The belief in protecting animal welfare should not come and go depending on what is politically convenient or fashionable at the time—it should be a matter of principle and conviction. There is no need to go round the houses with this issue, introducing what appears to be a parliamentary pick-and-mix approach. We need urgently to go from A to B as simply and as quickly as possible. I will be voting to bring this Bill back, and I encourage Members across the House to do the same.
I begin today by paying tribute to the thousands of committed animal welfare campaigners and organisations that have dedicated their lives to making the world a better place for our animal friends. One name that might not be known to people in this House is the late Brian Wheelhouse from my constituency. Brian founded the Whitehall Dog Rescue centre. He was a real earth angel whose life was to be of service to animals, and I was lucky enough to get my rescue dog Suzy from Brian. At Brian’s funeral this week, I asked his family for permission to make these remarks in Brian’s memory.
I am hugely disappointed to be here having this debate today, especially given that the Conservative party has made huge in-roads on improving animal welfare since 2010. In 2019, under the leadership of Boris Johnson—incidentally, he and his wife passionately care about our animal friends—he ensured that all Conservatives stood on a manifesto to bring forward the measures in this Bill. I was immensely disappointed and flabbergasted to hear that the Bill would be dropped, and I immediately set up a petition with a constituent to demonstrate that the British public also want to see the kept animals Bill become law. In just over two weeks, we have collected more than 11,000 signatures, and I thank all the organisations involved with helping to promote the video, too.
I wrote to the Prime Minister this week to highlight the petition and all the organisations that want the Bill brought back. The Bill would have led the world in furthering protections for animals by banning the cruel trade of live exports, protecting zoo animals, tackling puppy smuggling and ending the cruel practice of ear cropping.
One of the specific provisions in the Bill tackles the pet owner’s worst nightmare: pet theft. That happened to me as a child when our family dog Shadow was stolen from our garden. Even today, nearly 40 years later, I wonder what happened to that wonderful, gentle dog. I pray that she found a good home. Like any theft, the emotional consequences leave a lasting mark.
The kept animals Bill also took a stand against puppy smugglers. For the first time, it would have effectively limited the practices of exploitative dog breeders and puppy farms. It is easy to be duped by puppy farms—12 years ago, I bought my wonderful mini schnauzer Godiva from what turned out to be a puppy farm, which thankfully got closed down later. The Bill would have brought in so many different parts of legislation, including Tuk’s law on microchipping, banning primates as pets and banning the import of dogs with docked ears.
We have not got much time left, so I am trying to cut my speech down. The public want us to deliver the legislation. One Member on the Opposition Benches said that about 80% of people across the UK want us to bring in laws to protect animals. I have one question for the Government: do animals matter?
I say to the Opposition that I came to the Chamber today to vote with them. I remember, as mentioned by my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, the Brexit times when the Opposition tried to take control of the Order Paper, and we would not have had Brexit had that happened—that was their plan. I think that the Opposition have been too clever by half, and actually they are using animals as political pawns; that is wrong. So, unfortunately, I cannot be in the Lobby with them. Had they kept it simple and tabled a normal Opposition day motion, I would be in the Lobby with them, but I cannot let an unelected Opposition take control of the Order Paper. What else would they do next?
As I rise to talk about this issue, I regret that it has come to the House as an Opposition day debate rather than as part of the Government’s legislative programme. That, of course, is after the Prime Minister pledged his commitment to the kept animals Bill during his ill-fated leadership election last summer. It is not just me who will be meeting this news with disappointment. I am sure that many colleagues on both sides of the House will have had inboxes full of constituents asking where the kept animals Bill is and why the Government have abandoned it and their manifesto pledge to protect animals.
We all know that Britain is a country of animal lovers; it is part of our national identity. When covid struck in 2020 and lockdowns were put in place, many people across the UK felt isolated and in need of companionship. It is no surprise that public demand for pets, and dogs in particular, soared. However, of course, the supply of dogs cannot be increased overnight. There is an obvious timescale for breeding and bringing new puppies to the market, so an opportunity opened up for malicious practices to take place and puppy smugglers to take advantage.
Bad as the exploitive practices of puppy smuggling are, they rarely take place in isolation. I was recently contacted by a constituent who wanted to highlight the problems they are having with their neighbours, who they believe are running puppy smuggling from their home. Vans and cars turn up at the property at all hours, there is noise, there are unpleasant smells, and there has been conflict with other residents in the street, including a violent assault. It will not surprise anyone to hear that my constituent also reports that a cannabis operation is being run from the same property.
Many up and down the country will find that story familiar. As Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is no longer in his place, alluded to, there is increasing evidence that organised crime gangs are taking an interest in puppy smuggling. Also concerning is how the distribution networks bringing smuggled puppies to the market increasingly mirror how drugs and other illegal and prohibited substances are entering our communities. I am afraid to say that the problems from the puppy smuggling industry do not stop here. Due to the brutal and cruel nature in which puppies are bred and brought to the UK by smugglers, they are at an increased risk of developing severe behavioural issues and bringing parasitic diseases into the UK, putting all of us at risk.
Since the kept animals Bill was last debated in this place, we have had a few personnel changes on the Government Benches, but constantly changing the ringleader of the Conservative party circus is no excuse for breaking the promise that the Government made with the British people. Last month, the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, Mark Spencer, accused Opposition Members of playing political games with the Bill and said that that was why the Government had to withdraw it. But what we have is a Government, elected with an 80-seat majority, who have no confidence to take decisions, running scared of the Opposition.
It is not as though there is not enough parliamentary time for the House to debate the issue. It is clear to anyone looking in that the Government’s legislative agenda is threadbare. How many private Members’ Bills will it take to recreate the legislation that these Houses have already progressed beyond Second Reading—20, 30, or more? I am still relatively new to this place, but even I can see that this is a ludicrous way to do business. The Government might be more interested in fighting among themselves and waiting for the next election, but on the Opposition Benches we want to get on with supporting and delivering for the British people and protecting animals. There is only one party playing political games. When the Conservative party comes to the table, it is always the British people who lose.
For these reasons I am disappointed that the Government have withdrawn the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill from their already sparse legislative agenda. I call on right hon. and hon. Members across the House to support Labour’s motion and bring the Bill to its proper conclusion.
Like others, I am disappointed that we are not progressing with the legislation. As the Parliamentary Private Secretary on the original Bill Committee, I am familiar with it, but to such an extent that I was in agreement with the current Secretary of State’s decision that the only way to deliver the legislation, which is in the manifesto that we stood upon, is to expedite the individual components. I hope we can do that. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ministerial team for their ongoing engagement and explanation of what has been going on.
It is an interesting day to have chosen for this debate. Earlier today, I attended the first parliamentary Great Get Together, which was hosted by Kim Leadbeater in honour of her late sister, who quite rightly said:
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 596, c. 675.]
Having been PPS on the Bill Committee, I know that there is consensus to get these measures through, which is why I am somewhat staggered to find that the Opposition party would stoop so low as to play politics with puppies, because that is what we are looking at. When Government Members go home tonight there will be a social media campaign that says that we have done X, Y and Z to puppies. The reality is that we are delivering the legislation that will enable us to do what we said we would do.
Labour has been in opposition a long time, which is great for this country, but it means that they have no idea how to deliver complex legislation. If the ministerial team decide that it has to be broken down to enable it to get through, I have confidence in this Minister to do that. Like most of us, I would dearly like to stop 10,000 puppies being illegally imported each year and I want the legislation to be speeded up so we can stop it as soon as possible.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the animal welfare organisations I have campaigned with since I got to this House—Dogs Trust, Cats Protection, the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Like all of us, they want to find a way to deliver this legislation smoothly, so that we can unite behind our much loved animals.
Each week my office is inundated with correspondence regarding animal welfare, whether on reviewing the use of cages for laying hens, prohibiting the import of dogs with cropped ears or ensuring proper crackdowns on illegal foxhunting. The last Labour Government stood on a solid record—they banned foxhunting, fur farming and the testing of cosmetics on animals. Those pieces of legislation have stood the test of time.
This Conservative Government promised that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would create “the world’s strongest protections” on kept animals and livestock, then they scrapped it. When it was dropped, the Minister stated that he would work closely with the zoo sector to realise the central aims of the Bill. So many in the sector are waiting for progress on that. The Bill would have enhanced the welfare and protection of animals in the UK, and the conservation impact delivered by British zoos. There is now uncertainty around the legislative framework that the zoos operate within. Why was the Government committed to the Bill then and not now?
I recently visited Chester zoo in the constituency of my hon. Friend Samantha Dixon, where I spoke to several people, including those who work on the conservation side. They do some important work. Chester zoo is a leading conservation and education charity. It has a conservation masterplan, with a target to halt or reverse the decline of at least 200 highly threatened populations of plants and animals, as well as a target to improve the landscape for wildlife. It has a conservation mission to prevent extinction. I believe it is the most-visited tourist attraction in the UK outside London. If you have not been, Mr Deputy Speaker, I encourage you to visit Chester zoo. It is stunning. It has been asking Government Ministers to visit for a long while, but it has not had a visit. I think the zoo is keen to host them, show them around and talk to them. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister is stating that he has been or is in the process of going.
That is comforting to know.
The dropping of the Bill was disappointing for the zoo sector. The uncertainty surrounding it and the updates to the standards has risked the strategic development and spending plans of large charities such as Chester zoo, and they would welcome increased stability in the process. They urge the Government to meet directly with them. Their experts and conservationists can help to put the UK on a legislative path that supports their mission to prevent extinction, and to do so in a timely fashion. I must stress that the zoo sector feels let down by the Government. They must engage in a meaningful manner with the sector.
The Bill would have provided protections against puppy smuggling, puppy farming, pet theft and live animal exports. I am certain that a majority of Members receive a large amount of correspondence on those issues. We will see what happens in the Lobby, but I hope more Government Members vote with us later.
Many of the emails and letters I receive on this topic contain some of the following phrases. I will pick a few:
“As a nation with proud animal welfare standards, we cannot stand by and allow this to continue.”
“I believe that the UK Government should keep its promise”.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Government has taken a huge step backwards on this important issue, and I hope you will take every opportunity to remedy the situation.”
“The commitment to end this cruel trade was in the 2019 Conservative and Labour party manifestos, and the Kept Animals Bill had broad, cross-party support.”
Many of the animal welfare measures in the last Queen’s Speech were lifted directly from Labour’s animal welfare manifesto, but they failed to grasp the full details. The reality is that the Government have a long track record of failure, and scrapping the Bill adds to that long list. It is utterly shameful.
I praise the actions of the Secretary of State and support the Government’s record on animal welfare. The measures they have taken demonstrate a genuine commitment to proper animal welfare. I shall continue to be a critic as and when necessary. However, I believe that the Government have struck the right balance between compassion and practicality on welfare. Although the Government have not presented the Bill, I am reassured that the elements that come through in secondary legislation will deliver.
I am going to do something that all Members could have done. I pledge that if I am successful in the private Members’ Bill ballot, I will bring forward a Bill on sheep worrying. That could have been done by anybody. If I am outwitted, outmanoeuvred or beaten to the ballot by somebody else, then I will do zoo regulation. I do not think any of us should dodge that opportunity if we really care about animal welfare.
We should be proud that the UK has the highest welfare standards in the world. Jim McMahon is not in his place, but I did his job back in 2005-06. We have delivered on an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, to which the Labour Government then conceded, to increase the sentence for cruelty to five years. It was not until my hon. Friend Chris Loder brought forward his Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 that we saw that sentencing go from six months to five years, which is what it should be. There are lots of other minimum standards that are very welcome.
Opposition Members who talked about hunting and religious slaughter are partly responsible for why a wide, broad-brush Bill will never work on animal welfare. We have to be specific. There are too many extremists out there. If this was about Just Stop Oil, we would hear squeals from Opposition Members, but oh no, this is much too difficult because it really matters.
NFU Mutual estimates that dog attacks on farm animals across the UK cost £1.8 million last year. On
This is a genuine animal welfare issue. It is not notional or theoretical, like the attempts to limit suffering of animals by banning electric dog collars, which are vital tools enabling owners to train their dogs not to chase sheep by causing a small electric shock. In 2010, the Labour-run Welsh Government outlawed the use of electric collars for training dogs; subsequently, North Wales police recorded that between 2013 and 2017, 648 livestock animals had been killed and 376 had been injured. That led to the shooting of 52 dogs, the highest number reported by any of the five forces.
What is worse is that livestock worrying is getting worse. In Wales, the cost of farm animals that were severely injured or killed by dogs in 2022 was 15.5% higher than the number in the previous year. We can see from what has happened in Wales that the ban on electric collars is not working, and I urge the Government to reconsider the ban before we see many more dogs being shot for worrying livestock. The NFU Mutual figures show that in England, the midlands have been worst affected by dog attacks, with claims totalling an estimated £313,000 in 2022. I therefore urge the Government to continue their progress on delivering proper, considered and effective animal welfare.
People watching this debate who are naive like the Zoological Society of London—for which I used to work—do not understand that if we vote to accept this motion, we will bring in a Bill that is not ready for scrutiny and will create problems in all parts of the House, whereas today we are at least united in our desire for better welfare for animals.
I should begin by saying that I wish we had not had to have an Opposition day debate on this topic. There are plenty of issues relating to broken Britain that we could have discussed instead. However, I do think it was a constructive move by my party’s Front Bench to try to make progress on an issue on which there is considerable consensus across the House and, indeed, strong feeling among our constituents. One does not have to be an MP for very long to realise that in every constituency in the country a huge number of people volunteer at animal rescue centres and take time to lobby their MPs about important animal welfare issues.
As many others have said, we are undeniably a nation of animal lovers, and it is only right that our laws reflect that. The way in which we treat animals reflects who we are as a nation, and given that assessment, I fear that at present it is not looking very good. The Minister—to whom I have listened many times as she has discussed many different animal issues—says that her Government are seeking to do the right thing by animal welfare, but unfortunately, unless the Bill’s passage is completed, the fact remains that actions would speak far louder than the empty words in her letters to me, which I share with my constituents. A constituent from Galgate wrote to me recently about the delay in the Bill’s progress, saying:
“This move goes against all notions of humane reaction with our fellow-creatures and is a backwards step into the dark ages”.
I ask Conservative Members to reflect on how this looks to so many of our constituents who rightly care about the way we treat animals.
Perhaps optimistically, I decided to look through the case files that I have prepared on animal welfare issues over just the last couple of years. I had hoped to find an animal for every letter of the alphabet, and to be able to explain to the House how many animals people feel passionate about, but I am afraid I got no further than “B”, because so many different issues were involved. Whether it is badgers and the badger cull, bears and the use of bearskins on the caps of the King’s Guard, or bees and the pesticides we should be banning to protect nature—and that is just the letter B. I could have gone on and done the entire alphabet, but I am conscious of time and I know that that would not have been possible today.
I want to say a few things about animal welfare issues and particularly about hunting, because many of my constituents are concerned by the Government’s failure to close the loopholes in the Hunting Act 2004. There is clear evidence of fox hunting continuing across the UK, often with devastating consequences. That is not new information; it is has been on the Government’s radar and has been confirmed by senior police officers for years, but the Government still refuse to act. There is huge public support for taking action, and I am confident that that would have support in the House too. Polling shows that 78% of British people want the Hunting Act strengthened.
I want to mention a constituent who has picked up another animal welfare issue—the cost of living. The cost of living crisis affects our pets as well as those in our household, and my constituent is trying to set up a pet food bank in response to the current need. That is a wonderful idea but, as with food banks for humans, it should not be necessary.
Recent polling showed that three quarters of the public would like the Government to progress more laws on animal welfare. In many ways, the Minister is delivering far more pieces of legislation in order to get the Bill through, but that will take longer. How many individual private Members’ Bills does she expect it will take to get the Bill into legislation? How optimistic is she about doing that in the timeframe before the next scheduled general election?
I want to say a few words about how widely felt this issue is in my constituency. Last Friday, I visited the primary school in Winmarleigh—a very small village just north of Garstang and south of Lancaster that many Members have probably never heard of—and the children repeatedly asked me about animal welfare and cruelty to animals, but it is the same when I am out knocking on doors on the Ridge estate in Lancaster. Whether it is the rural parts of my constituency or the urban parts, and whether it is my youngest constituents or my oldest, all my constituents feel incredibly strongly about this issue. Ignoring it ignores our moral obligations and human responsibilities to animals, so I hope the Government will reconsider the Bill and bring it forward as speedily as possible.
Order. Looking at the time, and given that we really do need to start the winding-up speeches at 6 o’clock, I am reducing the time limit to three minutes. I call Peter Gibson.
I am incredibly proud of our record on animal welfare. We are a nation of animal lovers, and that is not merely the preserve of the Conservative side of the House. Since I was elected, I have had over 1,100 letters from constituents on a range of animal welfare issues. The UK is the highest ranked G7 nation on the animal protection index and the joint leader globally.
Animal welfare has been a priority for this Government since 2010, so let us look at the record. We recognised animal sentience in law. We increased maximum sentences for animal cruelty. We launched the consultation on fixed penalty notice powers. We introduced new protections for service animals with Finn’s law. We launched the animal health and welfare pathway, with new annual vet visits and grants. We implemented the revised welfare at slaughter regime, including CCTV in slaughterhouses. We raised standards for chickens. We revamped local authority licensing regimes. We banned third-party puppy and kitten sales with Lucy’s law. We made microchipping compulsory for cats and dogs. We introduced offences for horse fly-grazing and abandonment. We introduced new community order powers to address dog issues. We banned wild animals in travelling circuses. We passed the Ivory Act 2018. We gave police additional powers to tackle hare coursing. We banned glue traps.
I have supported the private Member’s Bills currently before Parliament that ban the import of hunting trophies and the trade in detached shark fins.
I am also delighted to have supported the ten-minute rule Bill of my hon. Friend Anna Firth. Known as Emily’s law, the Animal Welfare (Responsibility for Dog Attacks) Bill would criminalise fatal dog-on-dog attacks in the UK, ensuring irresponsible dog owners are held to account. Darlington recently saw a horrific dog-on-dog attack when Sasha, a mixed-breed terrier, was attacked by a German shepherd. The Bill is important in addressing that issue.
It is simply laughable for the Opposition to claim that Conservative Members do not care about animal welfare. Our record speaks for itself. If Labour cared so much about this issue, why were a Conservative Government needed to bring forward legislation after Labour had been in power for 13 years?
Labour’s motion, which attempts to take control of the Order Paper, is yet another cynical attempt to generate clips and videos to pump out on social media as propaganda targeted at constituencies it lost in 2019. The voters of places such as Darlington will ask, “Why now?” The Labour party moves with the wind, but on this side of the House we stand by our commitments. I have every faith that our fantastic DEFRA Ministers will deliver on our promises.
My inbox is full of angry constituents who feel profoundly let down because the Government dropped the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which could have addressed things such as puppy smuggling, live exports and pet theft, about which we all care deeply.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group for zoos and aquariums and will focus on the Bill’s zoo licensing measures. On Second Reading, colleagues across party lines were clear that the Bill was the right thing to do. Indeed, the zoo sector fully supported the Bill. It disappoints me that the Minister has not yet detailed how these individual Bills will come forward. If she could speak about the timetable, it would give much reassurance.
Good zoos and aquariums have, for many years, been committed to raising standards of animal welfare and boosting their conservation work. They have been leading on this and we should be proud that, through the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, our zoos and safari parks adhere to world-leading welfare standards. They are also leading the world in their conservation and research.
I urge the Minister to visit ZSL Whipsnade to see creatures that are extinct in the wild. Entire species now rely on the zoo to survive and recolonise in the wild. Or she could go to Scotland, where she will see that Scottish wildcats bred at Highland Wildlife Park have returned to the Cairngorms. Or Plymouth, where she will see the National Marine Aquarium restoring sea grasses to our seas.
In 2022, BIAZA zoos and aquariums undertook 836 conservation projects around the world and spent £28 million on conservation. They supported 90 native species projects and worked on 1,339 research projects. Conservation is the backbone of all good zoos.
The Bill set out the most significant changes to zoo licensing since the 1980s, and the measures would have strengthened the conservation, education and research of all zoos and aquariums. It would have made zoo licensing easier to enforce, and therefore guaranteed the high standards in animal welfare that good zoos and aquariums are proud to uphold, and it would have replicated them across the sector. Zoos and aquariums tell me they are unclear what happens next, so will the Minister please contact the society, speak to the zoos themselves and make sure this much-needed legislation goes through, in whatever form? We would appreciate that commitment today.
I was pleased when I heard the Opposition had put this subject on the agenda and this morning I was even thinking that I would perhaps be joining them in the Lobby. That was until I read their motion, which is obviously a deeply cynical ploy. I do not think anyone on the Government side of the House should be party to it. Playing politics with the welfare of animals is completely unacceptable.
No one in this House cares more about the issue of live exports than I do and I am determined that the Government will deliver on that manifesto commitment. We have had the clearest of assurances from the Government on that. Today, I reiterate my call: we need those single-issue Bills to come forward to this House as soon as possible. I know that is a message the Minister here will have heard. I hope we hear that across government and we can get that legislation to this House, so we can vote for it, get it through and get a ban on the statute book.
I will continue to raise that issue with Ministers at every opportunity because the live export of animals for slaughter is cruel. It causes distress, suffering and injuries and it is time it was brought to an end. In this country, the live export of animals for slaughter has been a concern for about 100 years. Many of us will remember the protests of the 1990s, but successive UK Governments were powerless to do anything about it because of single market rules. Now we are free of those rules, the time has come to end this cruel trade. If animals are reared in this country, we need to take responsibility for the circumstances in which they are slaughtered. That must mean ensuring that they are slaughtered at the closest point to where they are reared which is practical and viable.
I also want to see a single-issue Bill brought forward to crack down on illegal imports of puppies, about which so many of my colleagues have spoken today. That is another cruel trade and we need to crack down on it—again, this is a benefit of our departure from the single market and the EU. I pay tribute to the work of the Dogs Trust in highlighting that issue. I want the rules to be changed. I want visual checks to be a routine part of the process of checking on imports of dogs. I want that legislation to come forward as quickly as possible. So I appeal to the Government to bring forward the legislation. When it is here, we should table no amendments. We should get on, back these Bills and put them on the statute book.
I rise to speak in favour of the Opposition motion and will happily vote for it when the House divides later. As has been well-established, the Scottish Government have been leading the UK in these areas of animal welfare rights and livestock movement regulations for a considerable time. We have heard today that the Bill largely related to England and Wales only, but part 3 did extend to Scotland, as did clauses 42 to 53 and schedule 5. The Scottish Government granted their consent motions to the proposals in the Bill that related to areas of legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
It has been two years since the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was introduced. The SNP supported its introduction, as well as any carry-over motion, but here we are, three Ministers deep and no further forward on many of its aims. We are no further forward on banning foie gras and animal fur imports, or on tackling illegal puppy and kitten smuggling in or indeed around the nations of the UK. The SNP notes, as do my constituents, who write to me in their hundreds on animal rights matters, the abysmal failure of the UK Government to prioritise animal rights and welfare abuse mitigations.
The Scottish Government commit to the highest animal welfare standards, so we have real concerns that a Brexit Britain backslide has begun and we are in real danger of not meeting the adequate regulatory protections for both domestic and wild animals that we all know to be required. That backslide would be in stark contrast to the work being undertaken in Holyrood by the SNP, as we deliver the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government. That programme has introduced and passed the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Act 2023, and strengthens the law on the use of dogs to hunt and flush foxes and other wild animals. We will also, through an independent taskforce, consider whether the SSPCA should be given extra powers to investigate wildlife crime. The Scottish Government will also review the Dangerous Dogs Act to inform future policy and legislative changes to tackle irresponsible dog ownership.
It is somewhat ironic that, when there is agreement across the nations of the UK on matters such as this, when all this collaborative work is taking place by both Governments, and when this Bill enjoys cross-party support in this House, the UK Government have just decided to pull the plug on it. As things stand, and while we wait, the smugglers find new ways to avoid detection and illegally import heavily pregnant dogs and puppies, as well as those that have suffered mutilation such as ear cropping—we have heard so much about that today. So along with organisations such as the SSPCA Lanarkshire animal rescue and rehoming centre, which serves my constituency, the Dogs Trust and Compassion in World Farming, I simply say to the Government: get on with it and get the Bill back in front of the House.
Since being elected to this place, strengthening animal welfare protections has been a priority of mine and an issue close to my heart, not only because I am an animal lover but because my constituents of Old Bexley and Sidcup are also hugely passionate about animal welfare.
I made my maiden speech on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, in which I championed the strengthening of animal welfare in law, and I am proud of what the Government have since achieved on animal welfare, which is more than any other party. I am also proud to work with a range of excellent animal welfare charities and organisations.
On pets, we have made microchipping mandatory for dogs and cats, which will help to reunite lost pets with their owners. We have protected service animals via Finn’s law and banned third-party sales of puppies and kittens via Lucy’s law, as well as introducing tougher sentences for animal cruelty.
On wild animals, we banned the use of wild animals in circuses, introduced one of the toughest bans on elephant ivory sales in the world and announced, only last month, that we would extend that law to cover five endangered species, including hippos, whales and walruses.
But we can, and must, go further. I welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament. I particularly welcome that the Government remain committed to cracking down on puppy smuggling and banning the import of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs, such as those with cropped ears or docked tails.
In 2015, the Dogs Trust, which does excellent work, set up the puppy pilot, which cares for illegally imported puppies seized at the border. The scheme has since cared for 2,256 puppies that, if sold, would have had a market value of over £3 million, highlighting the current financial incentives for smugglers. The trust found that as many as 75 dogs had had their ears cropped. The trade is horrific and puts money in the pockets of the illegal importers. I welcome that the Government are firmly committed to cracking down on that quicker than would have been possible. I urge my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to do so as soon as possible.
Given the Government have already explained that these vital animal welfare protections will be delivered quicker as single issue Bills, it is difficult to understand why Labour has tabled the motion. It is nothing more than another cynical political game. For a party that claims to be a Government in waiting, where are Labour’s own policies? Does the Labour party have any, or is it scared that whatever it announces today will be changed within weeks, like nearly all its other pledges? Where are the Labour Members? This is an Opposition day, but the Opposition Benches are empty. Instead of playing political games, I will instead continue to press and support the Government in championing animal welfare and providing a voice for those that do not have one.
I am very pleased to speak in such a vital debate, as animal welfare is of immense importance to my constituents in Pontypridd and Taff-Ely. In fact, it is regularly the No. 1 issue in my post bag each month.
I am proud to represent a community of such fierce defenders of animal rights, but they are not just in my area of south Wales—research published earlier this year showed that the Welsh care more about animal welfare than any other UK nation. So I stand here today as a proud Welsh MP, who is both proud to represent my constituents, who believe tirelessly in animal justice, and proud to represent Welsh Labour, which has worked so hard to improve the lives of animals in Wales.
Of course, there are many charities I would like to mention. I recently had the privilege of visiting Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Chester Zoo and Hope Rescue, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Chris Elmore, to hear more about the fantastic work they do. With that in mind, I want to take the opportunity to hold this Tory Government to account on their track record.
Far too many vital Bills that could have made a real, tangible difference on this issue have been abandoned by this reckless, careless Tory Government: the Animals Abroad Bill—dropped; the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill—abandoned. It is no surprise that we are here to discuss the Government’s failure to keep its promises.
As for the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, as much as I welcome the private Member’s Bill introduced by Henry Smith, the fact that he has effectively legislated Government policy on behalf of the Government somewhat begs the question, what the hell is the point of them? I need not remind the Members on the Government Benches that they were elected on a manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies. Relying on their own Back Benchers to ensure the Government keep to their promises is absurd; it shows they cannot be trusted to keep their own promises, which really is a terrible look.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was meant to be a groundbreaking opportunity to enact world-class animal welfare legislation by clamping down on keeping primates as domestic pets, banning the import of dogs with cropped ears, banning the export of traumatised live animals for slaughter or fattening, and finally, once and for all, providing for pet theft to be a specific offence. All are enormously important policies with extremely wide support across the House and among the public. All are key components of the Government’s cornerstone action plan for animal welfare from 2021. All are now abandoned—yet another devastating broken promise from this tired and weak Tory Government.
Although animal welfare is devolved, importation and exportation remain a Westminster matter. In Wales, the Senedd stood ready to consent to and vote for the Bill also applying to Wales. When it was announced just last month that the Bill was to be scrapped and that the Government intended to proceed with elements of the original Bill just split up in component parts, we had no clear timelines and there was no clear interest in allocating parliamentary time for this before the summer recess. The vital policies look set to be kicked into the long grass.
While Tory Ministers are beholden to the hunting lobby and they dither and delay, thousands of animals are suffering in misery, or will die in horrific conditions. We have been waiting for this Bill for years. This is just not good enough. It is clear that the Tories have lost interest in legislating for animal welfare. In fact, they have lost interest in legislating for anything at all. I am pleased to say that, in contrast, Labour could not be stronger. We on this side of the House stand ready to legislate. We stand ready for Government. That is what this country needs and that is what our animal welfare laws need. We need a Labour Government.
Animal welfare is incredibly important to everybody in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea. Building on the incredible legacy of Sir David, the animal champion in this place, I have already been vocal on the issue of animal welfare. I have introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, known as Emilie’s law, to try to do something about the growing and horrendous incidents of dog-on-dog attacks. Emilie’s law, the Animal Welfare (Responsibility for Dog Attacks) Bill, seeks to address a key gap in the law. As things currently stand, a dog owner is not liable for any form of criminal prosecution when their dog fatally attacks another dog. I very much hope that the Government can find a mechanism for correcting this loophole in the law. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Peter Gibson for his support, and I was shocked to hear the horrendous story in his own constituency.
I am also a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation. I am incredibly proud of this Government’s record on animal welfare. I have been shocked to hear what Labour Members have been saying this afternoon. On farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens. We have made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, microchipping became mandatory for dogs in 2015. We have protected service animals via Finn’s law. We have banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens through Lucy’s law. In 2019, our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have led work to implement humane trapping standards. We have also introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, extending animal cruelty sentences from six months to five years’ imprisonment, thanks to all the hard work of my hon. Friend Chris Loder, who cannot speak in this debate. We also published an ambitious and comprehensive action plan for animal welfare in May 2021, which relates not just to farm animals, but to wild animals, pets and sporting animals. It has both domestic and international ambition.
Rather than backing those improvements, Labour Members are playing political games. Yet when we look at the devolved Welsh Administration, we can see that their record on animal welfare is shambolic. Let me give just one example. This year, we legislated to make cat microchipping compulsory to help reunite more lost cats with their owners. We are the only nation in the UK to have done so. The Labour-led Welsh Government have not announced any plans to follow our lead.
In conclusion, I shall be standing with this Government, and I look forward to helping them maintain their strong record on animal welfare. They have my full support and the support of all my constituents in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea.
I wish to concentrate my remarks in the brief time that I have on the very worrying issue of dog attacks on livestock. In that regard, I commend Sir Bill Wiggin for his remarks. He was right to point out how serious this matter is for rural communities. I also applaud his commitment to introduce a Bill if he is successful in the private Member’s ballot. That is an important commitment to make and one that I have also made. I just hope he has greater luck in the ballot than I have had, because that is legislation that needs to be brought forward.
I will not pretend that I am not disappointed that the kept animals Bill has fallen, because the measures included in it to address livestock worrying now face great uncertainty. It is a tragedy of the situation that we now must depend on the luck of the draw of the private Member’s ballot to see whether those measures get on to the statute book.
As anybody who represents a rural constituency will know, one of the most horrific experiences that anyone can witness in life is the aftermath of a dog attack on livestock—primarily sheep, but also other livestock. In the last few weeks alone, I have spoken to three different farming families in Ceredigion who have suffered attacks on their livestock by dogs. Together they have lost about 40 sheep completely, with a further dozen or so on life support, as it were. The photographs are gruesome. We cannot underestimate how traumatic it must be for the animals to suffer such gruesome attacks and to die in such a horrible way.
We need to make sure that the measures that were included in the Bill to address the deficiencies of the current legislation, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act of 1953, are brought forward in haste, because that Act is not fit for purpose as it stands. Police desperately require greater investigatory powers in order to bring more instances of dog attacks to prosecution and to serve as a deterrent to other dog owners, so that they make sure that they keep their animals under control.
I am not going to pretend that the measures included in the Bill were perfect. I would have liked it to have gone further; I was on the Bill Committee and I argued that we should make it a necessity for dogs to be kept on leads when livestock are nearby. However, the Bill was better than nothing. That is why I hope, for the sake of those farming families and the sheep and other livestock in my constituency, that the relevant measures will be brought forward in haste.
Before I sit down, I plead with the Minister, when she addresses the debate, to explain whether there will be another consultation on that measure. Do we need to go through that whole process again, or is it something that can quickly come onto the statute book by means of a private Member’s Bill? I know for certain that there will be MPs across the House from rural constituencies who will be keen to work together to get it into law.
As Members from across the House have said, we are a nation of animal lovers, and animal welfare has been a priority for this Conservative Administration and previous Conservative Governments going back to 2010. It is important to outline the success stories that the Conservative Government have delivered. We passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which enshrined into law sentient beings. Last month, we launched the new Animal Sentience Committee, which will advise this Government.
We introduced tougher sentences for animal cruelty by passing the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which increases the maximum custodial sentence from six months to five years. As others have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Loder on that; he cannot speak in the debate because of his role within the Department, but we must congratulate him on his efforts in bringing forward that Bill. This year we legislated to make cat microchipping compulsory, which will help to unite lost pets with their owners. Last month we announced that we had extended the Ivory Act to cover five more endangered species: hippopotamuses, narwhals, killer whales, sperm whales and walruses.
We implemented a revised welfare at slaughter regime to introduce CCTV in all slaughterhouses. We banned traditional battery cages for laying hens and permitted beak trimming only via infrared technology. We have also banned third-party puppy and kitten sales through Lucy’s law, the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019. I could go on—[Interruption.] And I will! We introduced offences for horse fly-grazing and abandonment, a key point that I am pleased the Government have addressed. We introduced new community order powers to address many dog-related issues and banned wild animals in travelling circuses. Again, I could go on: we also banned glue traps and gave police additional powers to tackle hare coursing.
This Government have committed from the Dispatch Box that they are determined to bring forward the provisions within the kept animals Bill through individual pieces of legislation—more nimble pieces, which can work through both Houses at speed. That commitment has been given.
It is therefore incredibly disappointing that the Opposition have decided to use this debate simply to politicise animal welfare. They have even sent out a joint letter signed by both shadow Ministers, not to us as individual MPs, but to the Conservative party headquarters. It is signed by all Labour parliamentary candidates—although, looking through the list, the Labour candidate going up against me in Keighley has not even bothered to sign it. I do not quite know what that says about his commitment to the Labour party or indeed to animal welfare. However, we need to raise our game on this issue, not politicise it. I am pleased that this Government have brought forward the measures they have, and I am pleased with the commitments they have made at the Dispatch Box today.
I begin by drawing the House’s attention to the impact on animal welfare that the dither and delay on this issue has caused. In the two years since the kept animals Bill was first introduced, the Dogs Trust has cared for 485 puppies that have been smuggled into the country, often in desperate conditions. It has also looked after 101 dogs who were transported while heavily pregnant, which we know poses significant risks to their health. Scrapping the Bill has given a green light for that cruelty to continue.
The Government used to claim that the Bill, first promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, would bring in some of the world’s strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept animals. Its provisions included ending live animal exports for fattening and slaughter, tackling puppy smuggling and restricting the keeping of primates as pets. I can see that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has asked me to correct the record on that point, and I am happy to say that the Government committed to introducing in legislation the individual facets in that Bill. It is my understanding, however, that private Members’ Bills are a lottery and are introduced by individual Members, so I still suggest that that is a broken promise. Of course, the challenge with the reliance on private Members’ Bills is that they are not just a lottery but a minefield.
We need to hear significant assurances from the Minister on the timings, on what will and will not be brought forward, on what elements of the Bill she considers her priorities, and on why she considers the other elements of the Bill less of a priority so that they will be phased behind those. We had a Bill that had already passed its Second Reading and was ready to go. We are told, “People tried to broaden it, so it became a Christmas tree Bill,” but, for heaven’s sake, the Government have a significant majority and a mandate to deliver on this matter—those excuses simply do not wash. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I will support the Labour motion. We need to see the kept animals Bill in statute, in full, as soon as possible.
It is a shame that Conservative Members continue to peddle the fake narrative that they have been told to push by DEFRA Ministers and the Whips—that my party is playing political games. The motion, if they have read it, clearly demonstrates the opposite. It is about bringing back the Government’s own legislation without amendment or embellishment. Let us remember that the Bill has been through Committee—through scrutiny—and passed Second Reading, and is the Government’s own legislation.
This is about just doing the right thing for our nation’s animal welfare. The country can judge for itself which is the true party of animal welfare, but I think we have all heard enough speeches from the Labour Benches to know. Although the Government and their compliant Back Benchers do their best to dance around the issues and deflect responsibility, we know the real reason they withdrew this Bill: leaked internal documents clearly show that they scrapped the kept animals Bill just to avoid “unnecessary tensions and campaigns” in their own party and on their own Benches. I think that we have seen that played out again today.
The truth is that the Tories are far more concerned with their own internal politics than the welfare of animals, and they have shown contempt for the electorate and a staggering inability to govern as a result. The kept animals Bill is not the first animal welfare legislation that this Tory Government have mishandled. As others have mentioned, they also bungled their “world-leading” Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill, which has not come to pass—yet another casualty of a fractured party mired by infighting.
The shadow Minister is making an excellent preprepared speech. I note that he and his fellow Opposition Members are agreeing to the aspirations of this Conservative Government, but what I have not heard throughout this Opposition day debate is one new policy idea from Labour; is he able to expand on any ideas they might bring forward?
The hon. Gentleman, my constituency neighbour, is making the case for why he should vote for this motion: we are not bringing forward Labour policy; we are bringing forward Conservative policy—we are bringing forward a Conservative Bill that was meant to be delivered by a Conservative Government. Conservative Members are going to vote against their own policies. There have been lots of speeches today about our having consensus in this place on animal welfare issues, and we are proving that. I am sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members will vote against the Labour motion, thereby disproving that that is the case in reality, rather than just in theory.
How many animals must have suffered from the delay we have had and the Conservatives’ abject political failure? By not legislating for the provisions of their own Bill and waiting two years to admit finally on
Conservative Members can continue to argue that the thin gruel of the Government’s legislation on animal welfare is a success, yet they still have not managed to ban fur and foie gras, as they promised the public in their manifesto four years ago and which has cross-party support. Just like that other flagship piece of animal welfare legislation, the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill, this good piece of legislation has been cast aside—consigned to the scrapheap. I think we can all agree it shows how low animal welfare really is on the Government’s list of priorities.
The kept animals Bill was a solid piece of legislation, as I said in response to Robbie Moore. It covered a wide range of issues; although it is not the most newsworthy legislation, it is vitally important. The Conservatives promised to bring in some of the world’s highest and strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals.
In the Labour party, animal welfare is not a debate; it is a priority. I praise a number of colleagues who made important contributions to this debate. My hon. Friend Mr Sharma made excellent points about pet smuggling and is right that the pet passport scheme has loopholes and that this Bill would fix them. My hon. Friend Gill Furniss was rightly horrified by the keeping of primates as pets, and this Bill is the solution. My hon. Friend Sarah Champion—the esteemed chair of the all-party group on zoos and aquariums, which does great work in representing a global success story for the UK in conservation—rightly pointed out that the Bill would update the now woefully out of date zoo licensing standards. Since the Bill was dropped by the Government, there is no Government plan—if there is, I would like to hear it—on zoo licensing, which has been left in the wilderness.
My hon. Friend Ashley Dalton astutely pointed out that puppy smuggling is part of organised crime. The Government clearly do not take animal crime seriously either. My hon. Friend Samantha Dixon has a world-leading zoo in her constituency; a number of other Members from the north-west also praised her zoo, and I will be visiting it shortly and am sure I will see her there. She rightly pointed out that licensing issues continue to plague zoos across the country. She also pointed out the trailblazing work by her council on trail hunting, which others have since adopted. Damien Moore also made excellent points about zoo licensing, and it is great that there is so much support for that. He also made powerful points for his constituents that the Government should keep their manifesto promises; he cited a couple of powerful examples from his constituency casework.
My hon. Friend Cat Smith highlighted the high number of issues just beginning with the letter b, and I was pleased to hear about the bees, badgers and other b animals. She talked about the cost of living crisis affecting pets, too, and the need for pet food banks. There are many other issues with our beloved pets that the Government need to address. My hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones reminded us of the animals abroad Bill that the Government are dropping as well, and made the wider point that a Government legislating by private Members’ Bills is not a Government leading but a Government following their Back Benchers.
I had the privilege of having my number drawn in the private Members’ Bills ballot a number of years ago, and I brought forward a Bill, though not about animals. I can attest to the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, who was Under-Secretary of State for Transport at the time, directed that Department to give me every help along the way. If the Government support a private Member’s Bill, they absolutely lend their support to the individuals taking them forward.
That is a different point, on which I agree—I have been on Bill Committees with the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Trudy Harrison—but my point is that using private Members’ Bills to get the measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill through this place is not the same as the Government legislating. It is merely piecemeal legislation. There are no guarantees that every measure in the Bill will get through the House by the end of the parliamentary Session, before the next general election. The most likely outcome is that hardly any will, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, the shadow Secretary of State, but the proof will be in the pudding; at the general election, we will all see.
Finally, my hon. Friend Andrew Western is right, again, about the dither and delay. He made a number of good points, including the point that the Bill has been so long in gestation that it predates his entry to the House. A number of Members who have spoken have not been here as long as the Bill. That is why, in the motion, we propose resurrecting the Bill, and have set a date—
Before I call the Secretary of State, I emphasise once again how important it is for all Members who spoke to get back to the Chamber in time to hear the Opposition spokesperson, as well as the Minister. It is very discourteous not to be here for those speeches. It is incumbent on Members to follow the debate, and not spend a lot of time away from it, so that they know when the wind-ups start.
I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who spoke in the debate. I remember my first weekend as a Member of Parliament; within just a few days, I had received more emails asking me to sign an early-day motion about hens’ beaks than on anything else. That was a clear sign, if we did not know it already, of how passionately people feel about animal welfare. I am sad that today’s debate, in which the Opposition are trying to take control of the Order Paper, has tried to weaponise animal welfare, rather than promote it.
Clearly, there is strong support right across the House for the Government’s ambitions on animal welfare. I assure the House that this Conservative Government, and Conservative MPs, are fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments. Some hon. Members have suggested that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was in our manifesto. That is not the case; let me get that clear. I appreciate that Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs do not spend their time reading Conservative manifestos. The commitments are there, however, and those are what we intend to deliver.
As for those who have derided the use of private Members’ Bills, I point out that some of the most significant legislation on animal welfare has come in through such Bills—and let us be clear: no private Member’s Bill gets through Parliament without the full support of the Government. Often, that support includes the provision of advice, and officials from the Department writing the legislation. I am delighted that we have really competent officials doing that, who have helped much legislation get through.
I have heard a few things today about how manifestos need to be honoured. That is what we intend to do. It is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries came before the House less than a month ago to set out how that was going to be the case. I think the shadow Secretary of State, Jim McMahon, talked about not U-turning. He should perhaps give that advice to the leader of the Labour party, who has U-turned on pretty much every pledge he made to win the Labour leadership.
At some point, I think there was some clarity that the intention of the shadow Secretary of State was to propose the Bill as presented to Parliament and at the stage it had reached. Indeed, the shadow Minister, Alex Sobel, has just said that it was a good piece of legislation. Last December, a different shadow Minister—Ruth Jones—said to the House that Labour wanted to amend the Bill to make it more fit for purpose. When they were invited by one of my predecessors, my right hon. Friend George Eustice, not to push some of their amendments which were not necessary, Labour absolutely refused to do so. That is why, I am sorry to say, there is a lack of trust in what has been tabled by the Opposition.
It is important for all politicians to be honest about what we have done already on animal welfare, and what we intend to do. That is why I am highly concerned by the publicity stunt—another misleading publicity stunt—created by the Opposition today. The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton stated that if the Government voted against the motion, which is simply about giving control of the Order Paper to the Opposition, we would be voting to continue puppy smuggling, puppy farming, pet theft and live animal exports. That is simply not true. I would go so far as to say that it is a falsehood, and it is those sorts of statements that bring this place into disrepute. That approach is now a regular feature of shadow Ministers’ speeches.
As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Minister set out our approach in an oral statement less than a month ago, building on our track record, so that we have the highest animal welfare standards in the world. I fully recognise that previous Labour Governments have helped us make that good progress. That is why I welcome the Opposition’s new-found enthusiasm for what we on the Government Benches are trying to do and have spent the past more than a decade delivering, and the manifesto commitments we have made. I have said that we will crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies, and we will, but I should point out to the House that that smuggling is already illegal. We pledged that we would end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening, and that is what we will do.
The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton claimed that we are letting live animal exports continue. There has not been a single animal exported from this country for fattening and slaughter since we left the EU, and we will make sure that that does not happen through the necessary legislation, but let us be clear to the House and the people listening to this debate: we can only take forward that measure because we left the European Union, something that Labour and other Opposition parties tried to block. There are other aspects of the law that we are changing; if we were still in the European Union, we would not be able to change them. We are changing retained European law.
We said that we would ban keeping primates as pets. For people who have not seen our written ministerial statements today, we have already published our consultation—which is a necessity—prior to laying secondary legislation. I fully expect that secondary legislation to pass through the House before the end of the year. Making that reality happen will enable us to bring in the necessary legislation more quickly than if we had relied on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Of course, we also promised measures on animal cruelty, ivory, microchipping and animal sentience, which we have delivered.
The House may also recall the comprehensive action plan for animal welfare two years ago, which covered a total of 40 areas relating to farm animals, companion animals, sporting animals and wild animals, included both legislative and non-legislative reforms, and covered both domestic and international action. We have been delivering on our promises. We have increased penalties for animal cruelty: new, higher prison sentences are already being used in our courts. We recognised in law that animals are sentient beings, which my hon. Friend Dr Hudson pointed out as being absolutely vital when he discussed his experience as a vet. Across Government, all policy decisions need to take that recognition into account.
We have already made cat microchipping compulsory. That was in an amendment tabled to the Bill; we have already done it. The Welsh Labour Government have failed to do so. We have brought the Ivory Act 2018 into force, and we have extended it to five more endangered species.
This is in addition to the wide array of reforms we have introduced since 2010, including slaughterhouse improvements, mandatory CCTV and improving the welfare of laying hens and meat chickens; companion animal reforms relating to breeding, pet selling and pet boarding; banning wild animals and travelling circuses; banning glue traps, and new powers to tackle hare coursing, horse fly-grazing and various dog issues. We continue to make progress on important issues by backing Bills that ban the import of hunting trophies, ban the trade in detached shark fins—I was pleased to see that it had already passed its Third Reading in the other place—and another that is under way to ban advertising here of unacceptable animal attractions abroad. We are also making strides to improve farm animal welfare, with the animal health and welfare pathway, and through vet visits supported by financial grants. We will continue to focus on delivering for animals without being distracted by, frankly, Opposition antics.
I now turn to some of the points raised in the debate. There were various questions about whether puppy farms are to be allowed. No, they are already banned. They were banned by legislation that we passed in 2018, and it was further tackled by the Lucy’s law ban on third-party sellers. On stopping primates being kept as pets, primates in the future must be kept to zoo standards. That is in the consultation and it is how we will regulate it, so that is one of the issues. On the future Government approach to a live exports ban, if the Scottish Government would like us to continue to extend this to Great Britain, we will be very happy to do that when the Bill gets presented again.
My right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith asked whether we will commit to tackle pet theft. He will know that it is already illegal to steal pets. However, one of his proposals was that there are some other legislative vehicles we could use and that we could check the use of those powers. I will ask my officials to check that legislation to see if we can use such powers, but I am also looking at other possible legal vehicles to achieve that.
Samantha Dixon asked what we are doing about zoos. DEFRA maintains a close working relationship with the zoo sector, and we will continue to build on that to identify improvements. We aim to publish updated zoo standards later this year, which we have developed in collaboration with the sector and the Zoo Experts Committee, which raise standards and support enforcement. I enjoyed my visit to Chester zoo a few years ago. Actually, as a little girl, I used to go and see Jubilee the elephant. Of course, I went at the time of her predecessor, but I know there are Labour MPs in neighbouring constituencies who would like to close Chester zoo tomorrow, if they could.
On aspects of what there is to do, I thank my hon. Friend Sir Bill Wiggin, who I think spoke eloquently. He has offered to sponsor a private Member’s Bill, which I would be very happy to take him up on.
I am actually answering the questions that were asked during the debate rather than taking further interventions.
On other elements, I thank my hon. Friend Anna Firth. I know she is passionately concerned about dog attacks, as indeed is my hon. Friend Jane Stevenson. My hon. Friend Peter Gibson spoke powerfully about the importance of animal welfare. Ben Lake asked whether, if the legislation is introduced, there will be another consultation, and the answer is no. That would not be needed, because a private Member’s Bill can just be adopted and supported.
I also thank my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby; making such a contribution has been a really important element. There are many more colleagues I could thank, but I do want to thank in particular my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay. I know that this is a particular passion of his. There were too many good speeches from Conservative Members to pull out, but let us come back to—
claimed to move the closure (
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Question put accordingly (
The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 0.
Question accordingly agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (
That this House notes the Government’s statement on