That this House has considered e-petition 619442, relating to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The prayer of the petition states:
“Hundreds of thousands of people signed numerous petitions calling for actions that the Government has included in the Kept Animals Bill. The Government should urgently find time to allow the Bill to complete its journey through Parliament and become law.
The Government promised to find time to take this bill through the next parliamentary stages so it can receive Royal Assent and become law, yet we are still waiting. For the Government to live up to its claims to be leading the way in animal welfare there must be no further delay to this legislation becoming law.”
The petition received over 107,000 signatures, which include nearly 100 from my Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I thank the petition creator, Jordan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week. We have met on a number of occasions as he is responsible for a number of the animal welfare petitions that we have debated in this place. I also thank the Petitions Committee staff for their excellent work in engaging with the public and petitioners in advance of today’s debate as well as the range of animal welfare charities and organisations that briefed me, and I am sure many other Members, before the debate.
The petition is one of many on animal welfare that the Petitions Committee has considered in recent years. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill brings together many of those topics under one umbrella, and I, and I am sure many other colleagues, consider it an extremely important piece of legislation. I have bored colleagues in the House many times before by discussing what I think one could call my menagerie of animals, so the issue is very close to my heart.
Let me bring Members up to speed. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in June 2021. It received Second Reading in October 2021, and went through Committee in November ’21. It did not make any further progress in the 2021-22 Session, and was carried over and reintroduced in May ’22. The Bill is awaiting Report stage. Both in their reply to the petition and many times in the House the Government have stated that they intend to continue the Bill’s passage through the Commons when parliamentary time allows.
In November ’22, when the Petitions Committee decided to schedule the debate, we wrote to the Environment Secretary for confirmation of when the Government plan to allocate further time for the Bill, to inform the Committee’s decision about whether to schedule a debate. I do not believe that we have had a response, but the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I am grateful that the Minister is here to update us on the Bill’s progress.
The Bill is so important because, in a single legislative step, it addresses several commitments that the Conservative party made in our 2019 manifesto.
Like my hon. Friend, I thank the Petitions Committee and the petitioners for introducing this important debate. Many of our constituents will have signed the petition, and from the number of colleagues in the Chamber today, I hope that the Minister can see that his Back Benchers are committed to the Bill going through. Given that the action plan for animal welfare, published in May 2021, was wildly praised by the whole sector, does my hon. Friend agree that it is disappointing that there has been such stagnation from this Government? Will he, like me, urge the Government to bring it forward as soon as possible?
I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend, who has been a doughty champion of animal welfare issues in this place over many years. I agree: it is disappointing that the Bill has not made it into law, and I hope that we send the message that we are keen to see it progress.
The overarching animal welfare issues addressed in the Bill include, but are not limited to, the end of export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, cracking down on puppy smuggling, updating the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, banning the keeping of primates as pets, introducing a new offence of pet abduction following the work of the pet theft taskforce and reforming legislation to tackle livestock worrying.
This is a really important debate, and I am glad my hon. Friend has secured it. The Bill has great significance to my Ynys Môn constituents, and I have received many letters urging the UK Government to bring it into law. I fully support the Bill, especially its goals of banning live exports and cracking down on puppy smuggling, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I am particularly keen to support the many farmers across the UK who are impacted by livestock worrying; indeed, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to amend and upgrade the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. I think this important Bill should progress through Parliament as soon as possible, and I hope the Minister will refer to livestock worrying in his answer.
Mr Hollobone, I have explained to you that unfortunately, I have to leave early; I wish I did not have to. Before my hon. Friend moves on, a few moments ago he said “including, but not exclusively”. On behalf of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, which wholeheartedly supports the legislation, may I make it absolutely plain on the record that we do not see the Bill as a Christmas tree? There is no question of Conservative Members trying to amend it to include things that the Government do not want, so if that is a block to the Bill, it no longer needs to be.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I hope that the Minister has heard that representation loud and clear: if that is a block, I hope my right hon. Friend’s remarks have made clear that it should not be.
First, let me delve into live animal exports in a bit more detail. Live animals are exported to EU countries from the UK for breeding, fattening and slaughter. The concern from many is that during that process, animals undergo dehydration, starving and exhaustion and often end up as the victims of very cruel actions that are already illegal in the UK. Our departure from the European Union makes it possible to ban live animal exports. I am aware that there are mixed feelings about the proposals in the farming community, and I am sure that that has added to the delay. Concerns about the impacts that the ban could have on trade and business are, of course, valid, but I hope the Minister will be able to share some of the work his Department has done to address those concerns, and some of the mitigation measures that could be introduced to ensure we improve animal welfare while protecting businesses.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I am sure that he, like me and many other Members, will have had representations from his constituents on the specific issue of the export of animals for slaughter. Does he agree that the strength of feeling on the issue is such that it needs to be dealt with as a matter of some urgency?
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have certainly had that correspondence, and I am sure many colleagues will speak about the level of correspondence they have received from their constituents who feel so passionately that live animal exports are a cruel practice that should not be taking place.
Next, I want to move on to puppy smuggling. We have had debates in the Chamber about that topic and, as many colleagues will be aware, campaigners have been calling to an end to puppy smuggling and other dubious practices for many years. It has been debated, Ministers have answered parliamentary questions, there has been a major Committee inquiry and multiple drop-in events and campaign emails have been organised on the subject.
I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate, because, as he has said, the subject has evoked an enormous response in my constituency. One of the main issues is puppy smuggling. I have visited the Dogs Trust in West Lothian, and, over the period of the pandemic, the number of puppies they had to take into care escalated beyond belief. Some 2,000 smuggled dogs have been taken into care in the past two years, and the cost of living crisis is making the situation even worse. Does the hon. Member agree that delays to the Bill are helping criminals by keeping the puppy smuggling trade alive through a lack of legislation?
I join the hon. Member in commending the Dogs Trust and many other animal welfare charities on their amazing work. I agree with her concerns about what delay means for those animals.
On puppy smuggling, more than 66,000 dogs were commercially imported into the UK in 2020 alone, according to Animal and Plant Health Agency figures. Evidence also shows a recent rise in low-welfare imports and smuggling activity, with border authorities seeing a 260% or so increase in the number of young puppies being intercepted for not meeting the UK’s import rules—from 324 in 2019 to 843 in 2020. There was a further 11% increase in commercially imported dogs from 2020 to 2021.
Research has discovered that a shocking 38% of people said that they would buy a dog smuggled from another country. People are more willing to support that trade than we might think. Illegal puppy trafficking is not only a concern for the welfare of animals, which are usually treated appallingly, but it is also a concern for the safety of our constituents. I am sure I am not the only Member who has received multiple representations from constituents about dog theft. Puppy smuggling and organised crime have been proven to go hand in hand and an investigation in 2017 discovered that an illicit puppy smuggling market operated in parallel to legal trade.
I am grateful that the Government have consulted on ending puppy smuggling, as well as pledging to introduce a new pet abduction offence following the work of the pet theft taskforce, which is included within the scope of the Bill. The section of the Bill dealing with the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets has two main parts. The first limits the number of these animals that can be moved on a non-commercial basis. The second sets restrictions on the condition of animals that can be brought into the country. Those proposals have been on the cards for some time with cross-party support, so I hope we can move forward with the Bill to tackle the scourge of puppy smuggling as soon as possible.
On zoos, the Bill states that the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 will be amended to improve zoo regulations and ensure that zoos are doing more to contribute toward conservation. That includes removing the exemption under the definition of zoos that means wild animals exhibited in circuses do not need to be licensed. It comes in addition to provisions in the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 and similar legislation in devolved Administrations. The provisions would mean that no vertebrate animal not normally domesticated in Great Britain could be used in travelling circuses.
The Bill also amends the 1981 Act to allow the Secretary of State to specify standards for conservation for zoos and removes existing standards. It allows different conservation standards to be set for different types of zoos and would make it a licence condition for those standards to be met. It allows those with specialist expertise in certain species of animal that are kept in a zoo to be added to the list of possible inspectors for zoos, setting out that they could be used for periodic zoo inspections. It also amends provisions for appeals and the level of fines for offences.
I want to talk specifically about primates. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it a crime to cause any unnecessary suffering to kept animals. However, primates are highly intelligent animals with complex needs and require specialist care. It is not enough to legislate against suffering to kept animals when so many kept primates in the UK are kept in horrific conditions because of their special needs. The primate trade, though little talked about, is out of control according to Monkey World, who are inundated with requests to rescue primates who have been neglected by people who cannot manage them. Fully banning the trade of primates in the UK for personal pets is long overdue, and animal rights campaigners across the world are applauding the Government for taking steps to achieve that.
The final issue I want to touch on is livestock worrying. Results from the latest National Sheep Association survey found that on average each respondent experienced seven cases of sheep worrying in the past year, resulting in five sheep injured and two sheep killed per attack. Estimated financial losses through incidents of sheep worrying of up to £50,000 were recorded, with an average across all respondents of £1,570. However, most respondents received no or very little compensation.
The Bill would repeal the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and set out new increased powers for the police under the broader scope of livestock species and locations covered under the Bill. Improved powers would enable the police to respond to livestock worrying incidents more effectively, making it easier for them to collect evidence and in the most serious cases to seize and detain dogs to reduce the risk of further incidents.
I commend the work that the Government have already done to implement reforms on animal welfare, including passing the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 and working on an animal sentience committee to advise the Government on policies that impact the welfare of animals; announcing that they will make cat microchipping compulsory, as it is for dogs; introducing new powers for police and courts to tackle the illegal and cruel sport of hare coursing through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022; protecting elephants by passing the Ivory Act 2018; and backing Bills to increase the maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months to five years’ imprisonment, to introduce penalties for animal welfare offences and to ban glue traps, all of which have received Royal Assent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. May I add to that list of legislation? I am very grateful the Government have supported the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which I am pleased to say completed its Second Reading in the Commons just over a week ago. I urge the Government to complete the journey on animal welfare issues in this Parliament by ensuring that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill comes back to Report stage at the earliest opportunity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and of course he is absolutely right; I have no qualms in saying that the list of legislation is quite impressive, with huge achievements that I am very proud of the Government for undertaking. However, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would be one of the greatest leaps forward in animal welfare that this country has seen in years. It enjoys cross-party support and was part of our election manifesto.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s update on the progress of the Bill and to hearing him outline what steps his Department is taking to iron out any of the issues that may have arisen throughout the consultation phases, so that we can get the Bill moving again and get it on to the statute book.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on how he has introduced the debate. Before he comes to the end of his peroration, may I say to him that one of the most significant threats to animal welfare in Northern Ireland, believe it or not, is the Northern Ireland protocol? As of the middle of this month, 50% of pharmaceutical products for animals will no longer be available in Northern Ireland, both for on-farm animals and domestic pets. That threat must be urgently addressed by His Majesty’s Government before our animals in Northern Ireland are placed in any further danger.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. Not that long ago, I led a debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee on invoking article 16 and it became very clear from the research that we did before the debate that there was a significant impact on animals as a result of the protocol, so I hope that the Minister can also update the House about discussions with EU counterparts on the effect of the protocol on animals.
I also congratulate the hon. Member on getting an intervention in as I was about to finish my speech. To reiterate, I would be very grateful if the Minister could provide the reassurances and updates that so many people have turned up to Westminster Hall today to hear, so that we can get the Bill moving again, get it into law and cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader on animal welfare.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for a pretty comprehensive introduction to this debate. I am sure that many of his points will be repeated by other Members, because they are important points that get to the heart of the petition. As we know, animal welfare is important to many of our constituents. I have received many emails, as I am sure many other Members have, from constituents and organisations that are concerned about the status of the Bill, which has seemingly, during its passage through Parliament, been left adrift by the Government.
It is pleasing that, through the direct intervention of the public and the Petitions Committee, the Government will now be held to account for the Bill’s status. As has been mentioned, we are talking about a manifesto commitment from 2019. We can see the Petition Committee’s power; it has called this debate, and the Minister must now give us concrete answers on the Bill’s status. There are important positives here on how to hold the Government to account through the system. This e-petition has been an opportunity for approximately 108,000 people so far to ask important questions of Government.
There have been a few personnel changes in Government this year, and that may provide some of the reason for the delay. However, the reason why so many people find the delay frustrating is that the Bill concerns so many matters on which there is cross-party support; it should not really matter who is sitting behind the ministerial desk on any given day. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said on an earlier occasion that the Government seemed to have taken inspiration from Labour’s animal welfare manifesto. While that was obviously a tongue-in-cheek remark, it shows that there is an overlap in our broad positions. That should, in theory, make this an easier Bill to get through Parliament. Politics is often criticised for being adversarial, and while there are measures in the Bill that deserve greater debate and scrutiny—I will come on to that—the fact that its broad thrust is supported ought to mean that it is passed sooner rather than later.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent opening to his speech. Does he agree that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will be world-leading in the protection it provides against cruelty to animals? I represent one of the leading organisations in the field, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which is doing fantastic work on this. That included writing a cross-party letter, which we led on to get the Government to take action. He mentioned cross-party support; does he agree that it is important to note how much support the Bill has, and that any continued delay by this Government is not acceptable? He surely agrees that the Government must today set out a timeline showing when the Bill will come back to complete its remaining stages.
I am sure the Minister has noted my hon. Friend’s request; we look forward to hearing what he says on that. My hon. Friend’s point about Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is important, because it is coming up to Christmas, and there will unfortunately be people buying pets from abroad; that may not have happened if the Bill had already been passed.
My hon. Friend mentioned cross-party support; there is lots of it. However, does he accept that under the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, cattle in Australia can be moved for 48 hours without rest, and there is mulesing of sheep? Also, lots of pregnant dogs now come across from Ireland, are given a caesarean, and are then sent back; they keep going back and forth. There are all sorts of problems, particularly with border control, under the existing regime that give rise to animal cruelty. That should be sorted out. So it is not all a matter of cross-party support.
I note what my hon. Friend says, and refer him to what the Dogs Trust and Cats Protection say: they note rampant abuse of the pets travel scheme by illegal traders; we need action on that. Laws that had the good intention of allowing families to take pets abroad are being abused to allow very young and pregnant animals to come to Britain for sale. I think everyone would agree, despite what my hon. Friend says, that those rules in particular need tightening up. No-one wants the UK market for pets to be flooded with unscrupulous sellers, commercially importing animals through the back door.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and is a champion for animal welfare. Does he agree that the measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to reduce puppy smuggling would also have a positive effect on online puppy sales, which are the subject of the campaign otherwise known as Reggie’s law?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Bill places a limit on the number of cats, ferrets and dogs that can be transported, which is an issue that we need to look at closely, and it includes provisions on mutilation, minimum age and pregnancy. It builds on work from over the past decade. Before we stray too far down that path, there are other matters I wish to talk about, particularly the concerns raised by Chester zoo.
Hon. Members may not be aware that Chester zoo forms part of my constituency—obviously, not the main part, because that is in Chester, but parts of its land are in Ellesmere Port and Neston. Lots of my constituents work there, and it does a lot of great work with schools in my constituency. Chester zoo is a world leader in conservation work. It works with over 100 partners in more than 20 countries to recover threatened wildlife and restore its habitats. It is developing a master plan to halt or reverse the decline of around 200 highly threatened plant and animal populations, and has a target of improving 250,000 hectares of landscape for wildlife in at least six locations around the world. Chester zoo continues to be England’s most popular paid-for visitor attraction outside London, and much of that success can be attributed to its visitors wanting to be a part of that conservation mission. Of course, those visitors help fund that conservation.
Chester zoo welcomes the Government’s ambition to further enhance conservation standards across the sector. Zoos across the globe contribute more than $350 million annually to species conservation programmes in the wild, making them the third largest contributor to species conservation in the world. UK zoos alone make up 10% of that total—that is impressive and something we should be proud of in this country. Most of that amount comes from the large charitable zoos, which receive no direct public subsidy and generate their funds by being popular tourist attractions; Chester zoo is a good example.
UK zoos support over 800 projects in 105 countries, providing direct conservation action for 488 animal and plant species. It is vital that their commitment to conservation is not hampered because a Secretary of State has greater powers and flexibility, but does not use them in a way that would help their efforts. The Bill will enable the Secretary of State to specify different standards depending on the type of collection. A larger zoo, for example, will have a different type of collection from an aquarium. Ellesmere Port and Neston also has an aquarium: the Blue Planet at Cheshire Oaks. It is important that the power and flexibility that the Secretary of State seeks to have in the Bill are used in a way that enhances the conservation efforts of zoos.
I understand that the Bill will undergo a number of amendments, which will set standards for a broad range of conservation activities, and that zoos will be incentivised to maximise the impact of those activities, which is something that we all want to see. Does the Minister acknowledge that the amendments will raise the issue of how we ensure that conservation work is maximised? Could he give any assurances of what the final outcome will be? It is essential that the Government’s zoo standards reflect a broad and expansive definition of conservation that recognises the length and breadth of work carried out by places such as Chester zoo. Much of that work takes place in the zoo. It includes the world-class care given by the keepers, feeding, bedding, veterinary attention, the facilities, scientific development and the carefully planned and co-ordinated breeding programmes, which are an essential component of a holistic, planned approach to species recovery. I visited Chester zoo over the summer with Mr Speaker, and we saw some of the new species being brought back into circulation. I could not actually see them, because they were very small, but I was assured that they were there somewhere. We need to ensure that there is a broader understanding of zoo conservation in the revised standards.
Chester zoo has been working with the Ignite Teaching School Alliance to enable schools to build their curriculum around conservation. It is working with around 80 schools so far. I recently had the pleasure of listening to pupils from St Bernard’s Roman Catholic Primary School in my constituency about the work they have been doing with the zoo on conservation. I have no doubt that it is valuable work—it helps children to increase their understanding of the world around them—and I hope that that very important contribution to the next generation’s understanding of conservation will be supported.
Our primary concern is that if we remove the conservation requirements from primary legislation and give the Secretary of State greater powers and flexibility, there will not be the same parliamentary scrutiny that we have enjoyed to date. While the Government have consulted on the reviewed standards of modern zoo practice, there will be no statutory requirement for Ministers to consult on any further updates. We believe that there should be a requirement for consultations on any future changes. Hopefully the Minister can answer this: if there are changes in future, what will Parliament’s role be in scrutinising the standards, and ensuring that they are maintained?
Finally, the Bill puts no statutory requirement on future Ministers to involve the Zoo Experts Committee in any review of the standards, or indeed to formally respond to any of its guidance. The Zoo Experts Committee and Ministers should be made more publicly accountable for their advice and decisions, so that there is greater transparency, just as there is for the Animal Sentience Committee; it publishes independent advice, to which Ministers are obliged to respond.
In conclusion, the Bill will lead to the most significant changes for zoos and aquariums in decades. There is concern that removing conservation requirements from primary legislation, and powers consequently being handed to the Secretary of State, will make it harder to ensure the appropriate scrutiny and transparency of future changes. It is not, I think, an unreasonable proposition that different types of zoos should have different conservation requirements, but how that will work in practice is clearly of significant concern. The debate has shown so far that there is a great deal of support for the Bill. I hope that when the Minister responds, we get a clear timetable that shows when we will see it again.
I feel quite close to the Bill, since it has my name on the cover and started its passage through Parliament all those days ago when I was Secretary of State. I will not spend all of my time going through the various matters that it covers; others will no doubt do that. The issues were also dealt with at some length by the Conservative party before we put most of them in our 2019 Conservative manifesto. The matters covered by the Bill were then debated somewhat exhaustively in Government during the last Session; the Minister was then Chief Whip, and was party to some of those discussions. The Bill has also already been debated at some length in Parliament, having passed both Second Reading and Committee stage.
The Bill is packed with commitments from the Conservative manifesto, including totemic measures such as the ban on live exports, which we would have been unable to introduce as an EU member. It toughens up the rules on the importation of puppies, to deal with a long-standing problem there. Finally, it would ban keeping primates as pets. It is a popular Bill that has near-universal public support, and the Government should now find the time to proceed to Report as quickly as possible.
We often hear representations in these situations about the lack of parliamentary time; again, my right hon. Friend the Minister knows how business managers will play on the issue of parliamentary time. However, I do not think lack of parliamentary time is a particularly persuasive argument in the case of this Bill, given the stage it has reached; it probably needs only about five hours to get through Report. Then, of course, it goes to the House of Lords, and our noble Friends in the Lords like to be kept active. We must not disappoint them; it is important that we keep them busy. There are plenty of hours between midnight and 4 am, for instance, during which the Bill can keep moving, provided that consideration of it commences at the right time in the other place.
I point out to the Minister that when it comes to animal welfare, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already made an offer to parliamentary business managers that freed up parliamentary time. As he knows, the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill was once to have been a Government Bill, but it was decided at the beginning of this Session that we would try to progress it as a private Member’s Bill, so DEFRA has already made an important down payment to business managers, giving them time.
Arguments about a lack of parliamentary time will be unpersuasive. I hope that the Minister will not make such an argument. I have every confidence that he will not. If there is doubt about whether the Government will take the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill forward, it will be down to something else: a lack of confidence somewhere in Government about navigating the Bill through Parliament. I understand that, and will address it.
My right hon. Friend has been a strong advocate for animal welfare improvements over many years. Although it is infuriating that it has taken so long to get some things through Parliament, he has done so, while showing great insight and interest in these matters. Does he agree that it is slightly strange that this Bill, which is supported wholeheartedly by all animal welfare charities, is being delayed, yet we are finding parliamentary time for the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which animal welfare charities have concerns about? That Bill is racing through both Houses.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I would find time for both of them, because I am also very committed to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, but I understand that animal welfare issues can be contentious and emotive. Some veterans of the last Parliament may recall that when the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 was being passed, there was a controversy about whether some largely irrelevant recitals in EU law about the existence of animal sentience should be brought into a British Act of Parliament. At the time, the legal advice was that those words would behave in a very different way when placed in a British Act of Parliament than they did as some benign, largely irrelevant recital in EU law, and that therefore we had to think more carefully about how to do that.
At the time, many Conservative MPs received Twitter abuse from people saying, “You’ve just voted to say that animals don’t feel pain.” That was always a lie. No Member of this House voted to say such a thing; people voted to say that the way the EU provision was drafted did not work correctly in UK law. That is why we had to revisit the matter, which is exactly what we did with the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. When it was introduced, there were anxieties that it could become a Christmas tree Bill, and that there would be all sorts of difficult amendments, but in the end it progressed without incident. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it turned out to be perhaps the least controversial Bill that the Government passed in the last Session. The Animal Sentience Committee is about to be set up. It already has, in Michael Seals, a sensible, illustrious chair, and it is ready to go.
I think we can avoid the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill becoming a Christmas tree Bill. It is open to the Government to determine the long titles of Bills, to ensure that they remain focused on the subject that the Government intend to address. That issue was thought about at some length when we designed the structure of the Bill, and other Bills. As a result, the Bill has a very tight long title. That was by design, not accident. Also, a huge amount of thought has already been given in the Department to a handling strategy to navigate the Bill through its various stages of Parliament. I have had discussions with the Minister on that, and I do not want to give away to those present what a concession strategy might be, but virtually every conceivable amendment to the Bill has been thought about in advance, and can be managed.
Some of us voted to leave the European Union because we really wanted to take back control. We wanted to make our own laws and be a genuinely self-governing country once again, but with that comes a responsibility, in some ways. We cannot just hide behind the EU and expect it to do our dirty work, or to do difficult, contentious things on our behalf, as we often used to on animal welfare issues. We cannot blame the European Union any more. We have to take ownership, including of difficult, contentious or even emotive issues, and we must challenge ourselves to avoid a tendency to duck and dive and get by without tackling those difficult decisions.
I hope that the Government will have the courage to grasp this Bill and move it forward, recognising that there could be some emotive or contentious issues to be managed. I believe that Parliament must develop the maturity to be able to debate these issues sensibly. There is a good precedent in proceedings on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, in that although Members in all parts of the House tabled probing amendments, they recognised that, ultimately, they had to be sensible and responsible to ensure that the Bill entered the statute book. I therefore believe that we can do this.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that although helpful Back Benchers—including helpful Back Benchers our side—have tabled a number of probing amendments, he should not be spooked by that. As one who started this Bill, I am willing to help Ministers and play my part in ensuring that we manage those probing amendments by explaining to certain hon. Members why certain amendments might not be necessary after all.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising issues of Brexit in his observations. I know he will be aware, but I will emphasise it here, of the absolute fiasco that happened at Ramsgate port back in September 2012, when more than 40 animals had to be euthanised because of the appalling vessel that was used for the cross-channel live animal exports. That has been a stain on Ramsgate, and I salute Kent Action Against Live Exports and others who have kept the issue alive. My right hon. Friend came down and joined me to see what was happening there. Activists are frustrated that, post Brexit, progress has not been made. I am sure that he would join me in recommending that the Government take that to a conclusion sooner rather than later.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I remember visiting Ramsgate and having to deal with that case, which was even worse than he describes, as Thanet District Council had to pay more than £2 million in compensation to the foreign company, which took it to court for trying to put in place a localised ban. That is the kind of thing that used to happen when we were in the European Union. We now have the power to prevent that happening, and that is why I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries to work with us—with Conservative Members; we are all on his side—to ensure that the Bill is carried through Parliament. We only need about five hours for Report stage. I ask the same of Opposition Members.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, because of the botched Brexit, we have ended up with a situation where we have been forced to have those Australian trade deals, which he has criticised, at a rapid pace, which will give rise to importing badly treated animals? The problems of pregnant dogs being brought over and abused on a great scale, which I mentioned earlier, is also a result of our not having the harmonised border control that we would have in the single market. The idea that we are better off is absurd.
I do not want this debate to drift too far into the historical question about leaving the European Union. Suffice it to say that I strongly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I want us to have an independent trade policy, but I want us to take a more muscular approach to those trade agreements. I made that point some weeks ago. As I said, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will find the time in the next few weeks to take this Bill through to Report.
At the outset, let me say that I am sure that all of us have received numerous letters from constituents about this issue, because animal welfare is at the heart of the views of many of the ordinary people in this country. They want animals to be treated decently and expect the law to ensure that they are. The Government, of course, now have the power to do that.
I want to make a couple of points about how slow the progress of legislation has been. Many of the Bill’s provisions cannot and will not apply to Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) pointed out that the protocol will affect the ability to treat animals because veterinary medicines and so on will not be available, but some of the Bill’s provisions will not be allowed to apply to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the single market and is subject to single market rules, so many of the restrictions on exporting or importing animals cannot apply because they will be regarded as restrictions on trade within the single market. Even though we remain part of the United Kingdom, EU law on the movement of animals and goods still applies to Northern Ireland. Having said that, I still support the Bill.
A manifesto commitment was made, an action plan was drawn up and a Bill was written and started to proceed through the House, so those who signed the petition and hon. Members who have spoken today are bemused about why it has suddenly been stopped towards the end of its stages in the House of Commons. The Bill has cross-party support, as well as widespread public and sectoral support, and many of the groups campaigning for changes to animal welfare provisions have given their assent to it. Many people are bemused that at a time when the Government ought to be looking for as much good will as they can obtain, given the other difficulties they are facing, the Bill has suddenly stopped moving forward.
It would be good to hear the Minister explain the rationale for this. I cannot accept the argument that there is not sufficient parliamentary time. One only has to look at the number of times in the past few weeks that Parliament has finished early to see that there is certainly time. Okay, the closure of business was unplanned, but I am sure those who organise the parliamentary timetable are cognisant of the fact that we have not used the full time every day.
I would also have thought that this legislation would be a priority for the Government. They dearly want to show that Brexit has worked, and Ministers have repeatedly been asked to give us examples of some of the benefits of Brexit. Well, here is a Bill that illustrates the benefits that we as a nation can obtain from the fact that we are no longer subject to some other body making law in the United Kingdom. We can make the law ourselves without having to worry that some European nations do not want a ban on the live export of animals. We can make that decision ourselves.
Hon. Members have talked about dogs being brought into the UK from abusive situations in the Irish Republic, pregnant dogs having caesareans and so on. That can happen because of the free movement of goods and animals within the EU, but the Government have an opportunity to stop it. There is a manifesto commitment, and other parties are willing to co-operate with the Government on this issue. There is support among the general public for the measure, and there is sectoral support for it. There is therefore no reason why the Government should be afraid of bringing the Bill forward. I do not doubt that amendments will be brought forward, as with all legislation. If the amendments are reasonable, there is no harm in accepting them. If they are not reasonable, they can be argued against, and the Government have the votes to ensure that no unreasonable amendments go through. Many people will ask why we did not go ahead with the legislation.
Another important thing is the benefits that the legislation will bring. Farmers in my constituency have in the past made representations to me about sheep worrying and the losses and the stress such incidents cause. It is not just a financial loss, by the way. Most farmers love their animals and care for them; they do not want them to be abused by dogs worrying them or whatever. Apart from the financial hardship, animal worrying by dogs is something that concerns the farming community, yet here we have a piece of legislation that would benefit the farming community. At least there would be greater powers for the police to investigate and punish those responsible, either because they let their dogs run free or because they take them into situations where they know they should have them under control, but do not.
How many families suffer as a result of puppy smuggling, especially given the prices paid for some breeds now? They buy a puppy, believing they are buying it with proper paperwork and proper protection, only to find that the dog they have grown to love has not been properly treated before they purchased it, so they have to either meet costly vets’ bills or lose the dog altogether. We need protection for those people and for the dogs as well, which in some cases are mutilated or brought into this country in non-commercial vehicles. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) mentioned earlier a 260% increase in the number of animals being intercepted because the rules are not complied with. That figure shows that, because of the increased demand, the increased prices and the profitability of the trade, there are criminals who are prepared not only to break the law, but to harm animals in pursuit of their profits. At least the Bill would deal with that.
The last point I want to make is about constituents whose dogs have been stolen. Currently, if somebody lifts a dog from someone’s garden, it is treated in the same way as if they had lifted a garden gnome—an inanimate object—from someone’s garden, despite the impacts such thefts have on families and on the animal, which is taken from an environment that it knows to an environment that it does not know, sometimes to be ill-treated. It is important that we have the legislation.
There are good reasons—selfish reasons—for the Government to pursue the legislation and get it through. There are also the good reasons of animal protection and protecting individuals who have animals that they love. I hope that we get a positive response from the Minister. As I do every time I speak in the House of Commons, I emphasise the importance of Northern Ireland being included in UK legislation. I know this is not the responsibility of the Minister answering the debate today, but it is important that all efforts are made to ensure that the impact of the protocol is removed from Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate this afternoon. If it runs to the full three hours, Mr Hollobone, I apologise for having to leave a little early.
I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who presented the petition to the House in such a compelling manner. I should inform the House of my interest as the son of a tenant beef farmer in my constituency of West Dorset. I also thank all those at the back: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and many others. I am grateful for all the briefings that they have provided for this debate and for the last three years to Members who have been in Parliament since 2019 and have been championing the animal welfare cause. We very much appreciate it.
Back in 2020, I brought a private Member’s Bill to the House. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which went into law, increased the maximum sentence for those who are cruel to animals from six months to five years. Like the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, it was widely supported across the House. No one voted against it. I was very pleased about that, because we were a bit short of time. It went through, and today in England and Wales, people who have been cruel to animals are now spending a lot longer in jail than they would have before.
In my speech on the Second Reading of my Bill, I said it was important that we address the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter. In that debate, I clearly articulated the evidence—brought forward, I think, by the BBC—that animals, primarily cows, raised in the United Kingdom were being slaughtered in Lebanon, Libya and even further afield. This is why we must bring the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill back to the House of Commons and get it through. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), who is not in his place, referred to Kent Action Against Live Exports, which deserves a huge tribute for all the work that it has done. That group has shone a light on the most disgraceful conditions that our animals have been forced to endure, having to travel hours and hours all the way down to southern Europe. That is not acceptable.
There are some in the House who disagree about the value of leaving the European Union, but we must recognise the reality that being part of the European Union required freedom of movement for goods and services, and that animals, including cows and sheep, are part of that. Hon. Members have made the point, very soundly in my view, that we are now able to control our own laws in this respect. The Government should not hang on a moment longer than they absolutely have to before grasping the issue.
In West Dorset, there have been countless very sad cases of animal worrying by dogs leading to the death of sheep and cows. For example, very sadly, Gladis, a highland cow, and her unborn calf died as a result of her falling off the edge of Eggardon Hill, which is a very steep drop. Such cases mean that this is a very live matter for my constituents. Many of us have campaigned on the issue for a long time. I started that campaign as part of my private Member’s Bill, and continue to this day.
I understand that the Government have a lot of work to do—I am pleased that they do—but we do not have so much work that we cannot fit in an extra few hours. I state on the record, Mr Hollobone, that I would be very happy to spend a bit longer in this place on a Friday if that was necessary to get the Bill through, because it is so important that we do so. I would be happy to tell the Chief Whip the same following this debate.
I will conclude my remarks by once again thanking all those who have campaigned so vigorously on the animal welfare agenda that so many of us support. I petition my right hon. Friend the Minister to take heed of our concerns. If I can help any more than I already am helping to bring the Bill back to the House urgently, I would be delighted to hear from him or any member of the Government.
It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this important debate, as well as the Petitions Committee for allowing time for those of us whose constituents have written to them copiously on this subject to debate it. I warmly welcome the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill; indeed, I was the parliamentary private secretary when it was in Committee, just over a year ago. I very much hope that the new team at DEFRA will ensure that the Bill gets going once again, and that we can see it go through.
I particularly welcome the Bill’s recognition that dogs are so much more than property—indeed, hopefully, all pets will be considered more than property. Some 97% of households with pets view those pets as part of the family. That is no surprise: the UK is a country of animal lovers, with six in 10 households having some kind of pet and the British people sharing their lives with around 13 million dogs. Speaking from very personal experience this weekend, our four-legged friends ensure that we go out whatever the weather, be it darkness or light, to exercise them. If we are entirely honest about it, we treat them more like one of the family than the actual family.
The Bill continues the work that has put the UK at the forefront of animal welfare. We are home to the RSPCA, the first animal welfare charity in the world, which is now approaching its 200th birthday. That care for our animals shows in public surveys: the RSPCA found that 86% of the British public support measures to stop the illegal puppy trade, while 76% support a ban on the import of dogs with cropped ears. Since 2012, the pet travel scheme established to make it easier for people to take their pets on holiday with them has been abused by unscrupulous pet traders. That scheme allows people to bring in up to five pets per person in each motor vehicle. Those traders bring in very young puppies, often in poor health and weakened by their long journey without suitable care. Those puppies are then sold on in the UK to unsuspecting buyers, who often put significant resources into trying to save their new family member—not always successfully.
Traders have responded to moves by potential buyers to be more responsible, including asking to see the puppy with the mother, by importing heavily pregnant mothers. Again, those mothers are not adequately cared for: the Dogs Trust, as part of its tireless campaign to end puppy smuggling, has reported that it has taken 103 pregnant dogs into care in the past two years. As we are in the run-up to Christmas, those numbers are increasing, with 17 taken in in September and October alone. I take this opportunity to thank the Dogs Trust for all its work on this issue, and in particular its branch in Ilfracombe in my constituency of North Devon for all the wonderful work it does locally. I just wish it was not quite so busy, particularly with this issue.
Puppy smuggling is worth an estimated £3 million, and I welcome the move in this Bill to limit the number of animals that can be brought in to five, which will limit the amount of profit these traders can make from their barbarous actions. However, I hope the Government will consider supporting the Dogs Trust’s call to lower that number further to three, as 97.7% of dog owners in the UK own three or fewer dogs. I also ask that the Department look at bringing in visual checks as a requirement through secondary legislation. That would further hinder traders looking to bring in very young, sick, or heavily pregnant dogs. Unfortunately, there is evidence that overseas vets are forging pet passports, so documentation and identity checks alone are not robust enough to protect those dogs.
Our dogs are sentient animals, friends and family members, highly attuned to the emotional state of their family. When times are tough, they support us and bring love and joy to people across the UK. They deserve our support and protection. I hope that the Bill comes back to the House swiftly, so that by next Christmas fewer animals suffer at the hands of unscrupulous traders.
As a dog owner myself, I have focused primarily on puppy smuggling, but it would be remiss not to mention concerns—voiced by the Blue Cross—that in the Bill’s current format, the theft of a much-loved pet excludes cats and horses. There is clearly scope to extend the theft clause. I suspect the 11 million cats in the country are loved almost as much as my beloved Labrador, Henry, and their theft would be equally distressing. Although horses generally do not live in their owners’ houses, the bond they have with their owners is clearly very great, given how long so many of them live.
I hope that the Government reconsider theft beyond just dogs, as we are a nation of animal lovers. Unfortunately, that puts a value on to our pets that others exploit beyond just our canine companions. There is much to commend in the Bill, and I very much hope that the new ministerial team at DEFRA will expedite its parliamentary progress to the statute book.
I always agree with every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), and I endorse every single word of her powerful speech today. Everyone who has chosen to participate in this debate will say that, quite simply, the Bill is a good piece of legislation. It is needed, and we encourage the Government to get it on the statute book at the earliest opportunity. This debate gives Members an opportunity to discuss issues related to the Bill, which is important. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) said, Conservative Back Benchers will do nothing that will risk the Bill making the statute book. However, we are able—quite rightly—to raise concerns and suggest additions. My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon did just that when she raised concerns that cats are excluded from the new offence of taking a dog without lawful authority.
I want to comment on the scope of the Bill. Perhaps it is my tender years in this place, but I look to the eminence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) to correct me if anything I say is wrong. I think we all received a brief from the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation. We are told that the Bill is broad-ranging and includes farm animals and domestic pets. I took that as a starting point, and asked what the phrase “kept animals” means if we take it away from the nature of the Bill. I could not find a satisfactory dictionary definition, so I went to the Bill’s long title, which says the Bill is to
“make provision about the welfare of certain kept animals that are...imported into, or exported from Great Britain.”
It appears that the scope of the Bill relates to the import and export of farm animals and domestic pets, but that does not seem to be the case. As we have just heard, one of the provisions relates directly to an offence that can only be committed when taking a dog without lawful authority in the jurisdiction of this country. The Bill presents an opportunity for the Government to consider not many amendments, but probing amendments that are not simply related to import or export—however important those issues are.
We need to look at the scope of the Bill in relation to pets and domestic animals. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon said, the reason for that is important to us all. My dog Bertie is my best mate; he is part of my family. I will take any opportunity I get to talk about animals and how we treat domestic pets. The scope of the Bill hopefully allows us to do that. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong.
You would expect me, Mr Hollobone, to take the opportunity to refer to the Pets (Microchips) Bill—my private Member’s Bill that I have put before the House on three occasions. I will briefly mention why it is appropriate to talk about this issue, and to at least consider it being part of the provisions of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Gizmo’s law, which is part of my Bill, comes from a campaign run by a lady called Helena Abrahams from Bury North. As her constituency MP, I have a duty to talk about that campaign; it has been going on for many years.
Many Members may not know this, but if a cat is found deceased in a local authority area, the general action of a council—not all councils, because I am sure that some councils will be outraged by what I am about to say—is that that cat is immediately disposed of in landfill. There is no scanning of the microchip; there is no attempt to reunite that cat with its owner. When we consider the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon made, namely that cats as well as dogs are valued members of our families and a part of who we are as individuals, we should at least consider whether legislation can be brought in to address that situation.
Working with a pet food company, the Gizmo’s law campaign has been able to provide scanners to all local authorities in the country to allow them to scan a cat to see whether there is a contact address, and then to give the owner the opportunity to come and collect that cat, if that is what they want to do; if not, the cat will be disposed of. At the heart of a Bill that is about the best of animal welfare, the cost of such a scheme is not even minimal; the cost is non-existent. However, it could be a positive addition to the Bill.
My hon. Friend raises a really important issue relating to what is called Gizmo’s law. I know that the Department has looked at this issue multiple times over many years. Indeed, four or five years ago, it was a requirement for the Highways Agency to scan animals—that was an administrative requirement handed down by the Department for Transport. However, does he not think that that may be something that could be addressed in a non-legislative way, such as simply making it a condition of some of the grants that local authorities receive, so that they actually show the due diligence to scan roadkill cats and dogs when they encounter them?
As ever, my right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. However, I would argue that legislation is the correct vehicle for doing this. Establishing a legal duty reflects what I hope would be Parliament’s view as to the necessity for such a condition. However, I fully accept the point that has been made and his suggestion may well be another way of dealing with this matter.
The second part of my private Member’s Bill is Tuk’s law. In different circumstances, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), with his expertise in this area, would be able to correct what I am about to say. In essence, however, a person might take a healthy animal to a veterinary surgeon and they say to a vet—again, this only occurs very infrequently—that they would like, for whatever reason, a healthy dog to be euthanised or put down. That has happened in the past and it continues to happen infrequently.
Tuk’s law would require veterinary surgeons and veterinary staff to scan what is called the rescue back-up—the chip that is on the dog—which would highlight the breeder or somebody else, at least to give that healthy dog an opportunity for a life, or a different set of circumstances. Whatever the reason is that a healthy dog is brought into a veterinary surgeon, we should be doing everything possible, if that dog is not a threat to human beings, to rehouse it elsewhere. Tuk’s law is a duty to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and I have had the opportunity to discuss this issue and we will not turn it into a debate now. However, for a Bill—I have talked about its scope before—that aims to address directly how we as a Parliament and we as a country view our beloved animals, whether they are farm animals or pets, it is an important matter that should be considered in the round when this Bill is brought back. It is a good Bill and I wholeheartedly support every comment that has been made so far.
I have talked to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about my private Member’s Bill. If the Minister wishes to discuss it with me further, I am happy to do so at any point. It is a good private Member’s Bill, it costs nothing, and it adds to the great strides that our Government have taken in respect of animal welfare since we came into power in 2019.
It is a great privilege, Mr Hollobone, to serve under your chairmanship and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly).
First, I declare a strong personal and professional interest in this piece of legislation: as a veterinary surgeon, I am passionate about animal health and welfare. I was privileged to be a member of the Public Bill Committee for this important Bill and it has my full support. As we have heard, it covers important areas such as primates, puppy smuggling, pet theft, livestock worrying, zoos and the movement of animals for slaughter. I urge the Government to press ahead with this important legislation.
I commend all the groups, organisations and charities that have campaigned in this domain for many years now, such as Cats Protection, World Horse Welfare, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the Dogs Trust, Battersea, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross and the British Veterinary Association, to name just a few. I was privileged to lead a letter just this week to Ministers with 63 other parliamentarians and the Dogs Trust to that effect, urging them to press ahead so that we can tackle this scourge. We have heard a lot about the scourge of puppy smuggling, and this Bill can try and stamp it out. In the UK, we have the highest standards of animal health and welfare, and we are a beacon to the rest of the world. If we pass a piece of legislation such as this, we can hold our heads high and actually set an example to the rest of the world. Some of the things in this legislation can be done with a stroke of a ministerial pen, or in secondary legislation. We need to move forward and get some of this stuff done.
I will highlight some key areas. We have heard from hon. Members across the Chamber about the importance of pet theft. Obviously, dogs are the high-profile animal in this legislation, and I have campaigned—as have many of my colleagues and friends—to increase its scope; it must include dogs, it must include cats and it must include horses, ponies and farm animals as well. We must ensure that it is all inclusive of the distress caused to the owners of all animals when they are stolen and the distress caused to the animals themselves, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), so I would like the scope to be increased. The impact on people’s mental health when animals are stolen, when animals suffer, when animals die and when animals are killed should not be understated.
Much of the Bill also focuses on the movement of animals. I sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I triggered an inquiry early on in Parliament on the movement of animals across borders. This piece of legislation covers a lot of that area, and it is important that it passes, so that we can improve how animals are moved and checked and ensure that they are not being moved in inappropriate circumstances.
I will start with small animals. We have heard a lot about puppy smuggling and the awful practice of heavily pregnant dogs and cats being moved in and around the country as part of the puppy smuggling and kitten smuggling trade. We on the EFRA Committee and the Bill Committee took harrowing evidence from the Dogs Trust and other groups on these heavily pregnant animals, and we have heard today about them being moved across borders, having caesarean sections performed and being moved again, to and fro. The harrowing details are so upsetting, and we must really try and stamp that out. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) said, the Dogs Trust has said that it has taken 103 pregnant dogs into care in the last couple of years—and that is just the Dogs Trust. If that is just one charity—just one group—how many other animals are undergoing this cruel practice?
Currently, the movement of pregnant dogs is prohibited in the last 10% of gestation—the last 10% of pregnancy—and it is hard to assess that last 10% clinically. The Bill tries to push that back to earlier in the pregnancy, perhaps into the last 30% to 50%, to make the transport of heavily pregnant, late gestation dogs illegal. We must ensure that we ban the movement of heavily pregnant animals—of heavily pregnant dogs and cats—in commercial licensing as well. Another part of the Bill that we looked at was increasing the age of animals that are transported—for cats and dogs, that age needs to be increased to at least six months. If we do other health things as well, such as reinstating the rabies titre checks and increasing the wait time post rabies vaccination to 12 weeks, that will help protect the health of these dogs and the biosecurity of our country, and it will raise the minimum age at which these animals can be transported.
We have also heard that limits need to be set on the numbers of pets per vehicle. We have heard that should be set at five—I actually agree, although there is an argument that it could be lowered to three. It is very important that this is per vehicle, rather than per person. We have heard evidence on the EFRA Committee of vans taking on extra foot passengers, and each foot passenger then having an allocation of five dogs. There could potentially then be 20 or 25 dogs in that vehicle. If the number is restricted per vehicle—to three or five dogs—then that would nail the loophole that those unscrupulous, awful people are exploiting.
I very much welcome the fact that the Bill will take strong action to ban the import of mutilated dogs. We have heard about ear cropping, a horrific procedure that is rightly banned in this country. It is done for no clinical reason whatsoever. It is a cruel and painful process that makes the dogs’ ears erect for merely cosmetic, visual or aesthetic reasons. It is awful—it is hideous.
We in the Petitions Committee did a piece of work, and held a debate in this Chamber, on ear cropping. One of the worrying bits of evidence we received told us that young people were being encouraged to buy dogs with cropped ears, because while their import is illegal, they can be bought if they are already in the UK. One of the big problems was that celebrities and public figures were promoting, and making attractive, buying an ear-cropped dog. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to tackle ear cropping, the Government need to not only bring in this legislation, but crack down on the glorification of ear cropping?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend; he read my mind, because I was about to cover that point. We need to ensure that owning those dogs is not normalised in society. Ear cropping may be illegal in this country, but as it is still legal to import mutilated dogs, the dogs are still coming in. Also, awful people are potentially mutilating in this country; there is evidence to suggest that is going on. That is not done by vets, nor with any form of anaesthesia or analgesia. It is an evil process that mutilates dogs and needs to be stamped out.
Six out of 10 small animal vets have seen ear-cropped dogs in the last year, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that there has been an 86% increase in them in the last year. As my hon. Friend said, we should not allow that to be normalised in popular culture, with celebrities advocating for it. Perhaps the celebrities do not realise how horrific the procedure is that their pet had done. People looking at those dogs think that they are acceptable. We have normalised that in society. One of my favourite animated films is the wonderful “Up”, but some of the dogs in it are cropped. “Up” is a few years old now, but when another wonderful animation called “DC League of Super Pets” came out this year, I was disheartened to see from the poster that one of the lead dog characters is cropped. We are normalising this in popular culture. It is a horrific process, and we need to stamp it out. The Bill could stop those dogs coming into this country.
As hon. Members have said, we should not forget about cats. Heavily pregnant cats are being smuggled, and some people outside this country mutilate cats. I am talking about declawing, which is actually just chopping the claws off. That is illegal in this country, but it is still legal to import cats that have been horrifically declawed.
We have heard today about the importance of checking animals for diseases as they cross borders. There have been increased reports of canine brucellosis in this country. That is a zoonotic disease—one that can be transmitted from animals to people. There is a case of a human who has caught that from an imported dog. We have to make sure that we do pre-import checks and screen animals that cross borders. There are other diseases as well, such as babesiosis, echinococcus and leishmaniasis. There are simple things we can do, such as reinstate mandatory tick and tapeworm treatments for companion animals coming into the country. We have to be cognisant of the biosecurity of animals in the UK, and cognisant of public health, because, as I say, some of these diseases can be transmitted from animals to people. The Bill will protect travelling animals, UK animals and people. It will protect animals large and small.
In promoting animal welfare, we need to ensure that animals are healthy. The Minister knows my stance on this, because I keep pressing him hard on it. We are in the midst of an avian influenza outbreak. The Animal and Plant Health Agency is coping admirably in this dreadful situation, but we need to ensure that APHA is adequately funded and staffed. Heaven forbid that something else comes into the country, such as foot and mouth disease, African swine fever or African horse sickness; APHA would be really stressed, so we need to ensure that the Treasury funds it. I sit on the EFRA Committee and was able to guest on the Public Accounts Committee when it looked at the National Audit Office report on the APHA site in Weybridge in Surrey. The site needs radical refurbishment that will cost in the order of £2.8 billion. The Government have committed around £1.2 billion, which is a lot of money in these tight fiscal circumstances, but I firmly believe that we need to fund it moving forward.
Larger animals should be covered by the Bill, too. Not one horse is moved legally from the UK to Europe for slaughter, but it is likely that thousands are moved illegally. The EFRA Committee took harrowing evidence on illegal animal movements across borders. It needs to stop, and this sort of legislation can control it. We need to improve equine identification and digital monitoring. I welcome the fact that the Bill covers the export of livestock, and would stop the movement of farm animals for slaughter and fattening, but we need to specify that it is all right in certain instances to move animals around for breeding purposes. That would be complementary to measures on the movement of animals. We need to ensure that the legislation works.
As I said, we have high standards in this country, and should be proud of that, but we need to work together to improve transport conditions for animals. It is important that farm animals be slaughtered close to where they are reared. One of the recommendations of the EFRA Committee report was on the need to bolster the abattoir network in this country. I attended a roundtable last week with the Minister on the importance of supporting the UK’s small abattoir network, so that animals can be reared, slaughtered and bought locally, and people can eat local and buy local. That would reduce the transport distances for animals, which we need to do.
I am proud that the Conservative Government have a strong record on animal welfare. We have heard about it today. The private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) on stronger sentencing in animal cruelty cases has been passed into law. The animal health and welfare pathway in the new environmental land management scheme is a new way to reward farmers and land managers with public money for a public good. Animal health and welfare is recognised as a public good; we should be proud of that.
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, which the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth, talked about, has become law. It is so important that we recognise animals as fully sentient beings. We should be proud as Conservatives that we are driving forward a lot of these changes, but we need to hold our nerve and keep going. Let us go back to our manifesto, much of which the Bill would enact. Animal welfare unites us across the House, and unites us in humanity. Introducing this legislation is the right and moral thing to do for these wonderful sentient beings, which we have a duty of care towards. To quote a famous sports brand, I say to the Government: just do it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I welcome the chance to highlight why it is vital that we get this Bill back on the Floor of the House of Commons. I have a long-term interest in animal welfare policy, and I was delighted to see the Bill. Credit should be given to the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who outlined some of the challenges he overcame in introducing it. We cannot let that great work go to waste by not bringing it back for Report and Third Reading.
[Derek Twigg in the Chair]
We need to remember why the Bill matters. One of the reasons why the Government were elected with a clear majority in 2019 was that they embraced animal welfare goals. Gone was the distracting pledge from 2017 to waste time holding a vote on repealing the Hunting Act 2004. In its place were pledges to improve animal welfare and tackle long-standing issues such as long journeys abroad for fattening and slaughter.
In our manifesto, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) built on the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and made it clear that conservation and animal welfare make a successful strategy for key industries in this country; they are not a set of alternative ambitions. In short, a Government who rightly cite the 2019 general election manifesto as their mandate must get on and deliver it via this Bill.
As hon. Members said, the Government can rightly point with pride to their record on improving animal welfare legislation. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 became law in the last parliamentary Session, and the Government are setting up the Animal Sentience Committee to advise them on policies that affect the welfare of animals. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth said about EU law. I remember looking into the matter when some of these debates were going on. People who cite EU law as the panacea of animal welfare regulation should consider the fact that bullfighting continued in Spain and cockfighting continued in parts of Europe. The law is so full of holes, that things like that can be defined as “cultural” or “historical”. Practices that have been outlawed in this country for decades if not centuries are lawful under legislation that some cite as a magical cure for animal welfare issues.
I welcomed the new powers for the police and courts to tackle the illegal and cruel sport of hare coursing in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The Ivory Act 2018 came into force in June, ensuring protection for elephants, and the Government backed a Bill, ably steered through Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years’ imprisonment. They also introduced penalty notices for animal welfare offences and banned glue traps. All those measures received Royal Assent. I am also delighted to note that the Government support the Shark Fins Bill, which will tackle the practice of finning, and the Hunting Trophy Import (Prohibition) Bill. Both Bills are progressing through Parliament and will make further progress, but now we need progress on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
There is a lot to like about the Bill. It includes measures to crack down on low-welfare movement of pets into Great Britain, and introduces new restrictions on pet travel and on the commercial import of pets on welfare grounds; for example, it increases the minimum age at which dogs can be moved for non-commercial purposes or commercially imported into Great Britain. It would also prohibit the importation of heavily pregnant dogs and dogs that have been subject to low-welfare practices, such as ear cropping and tail docking, the effects of which were highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson). The Bill also proposes reducing the number of pet dogs, cats and ferrets that can travel to Great Britain in one non-commercial movement to five; that removes a loophole that can be exploited by the unscrupulous.
The transport of animals can have serious negative effects on animals’ welfare, especially over very long distances, due to a variety of factors including distress, injury from unsuitable transport, hunger, dehydration, and heat and cold stress. There has been long-standing public and parliamentary concern about the welfare issues arising from this trade. Some of us can remember the protests back in the 1990s on these issues, including in Plymouth near the docks. It was right to make a commitment to end excessively long journeys for animals for slaughter was right, and we are delivering it now that we are outside the European Union. That shows the change that can be made. It is permitted only because we are outside the European Union; we could not change the law under single market rules. We now really want to see progress. I also remind the Minister that the Government’s consultation on the issue received more than 11,000 responses, with 86% of respondents agreeing that livestock and equine export journeys for slaughter and fattening were unnecessary.
Primates have been mentioned. We can all agree that primates are not suitable pets, and the law should reflect that. I note that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would introduce new prohibitions on the keeping, breeding and sale of primates, so that only those holding a relevant licence would be permitted to keep and breed them, and the sale of such primates would be permitted only if the recipient was a relevant licence holder. That would end the ability to buy one out of curiosity, or to keep at home as a pet. A new primate licensing regime would ensure that people who are permitted to keep primates provide them with high welfare conditions akin to those provided by licensed zoos. The regime would involve regular inspections, enforced by local authorities. That again emphasises the need to get the Bill back to the Floor of the House. As has been touched on, there are measures in it to deal with livestock worrying, an issue that regularly affects rural communities across Devon. All those aims are worthy. I also hope to see our animal welfare work go a little further in other areas; for example, there could be a ban on the import and sale of foie gras, the production of which has for many years been banned in this country.
I should also mention zoos. It is welcome that the Bill would update the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. It increases the maximum penalties for zoos that do not comply with legislation, and would also modernise the appeals process. We must remember that zoos do their conservation work not just in the field; the zoo itself can be a modern-day Noah’s ark for many endangered species. Zoos are often a species’ last hope of avoiding extinction due to the effects of war, hunting or habitat loss in their native environment.
Members might be aware of my enthusiasm for the conservation work undertaken by Paignton zoo, which is part of the Wild Planet Trust. Its core aim is to help halt species decline. It is important that we get assurances from the Government that there will be a broad understanding of zoo conservation in the revised zoo standards that might be set. They should also accurately reflect the different ways in which zoos achieve conservation impacts; they do so not only directly through reintroduction programmes, but through their work to inspire and educate, and through the resources they generate. As has been said, zoos globally contribute more than $350 million annually to species conservation programmes in the wild, making them the world’s third largest funder of species conservation. UK zoos alone contribute 10% of that global total.
Notably, a 2021 study found that in Britain and the overseas territories, the fate of 29 native species rests in the hands of just seven zoos and aquariums, who are members of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It is vital that work around the Bill recognises and engages with the zoo sector, so that we not only deliver high welfare standards, but support a sector that does so much to conserve endangered species and inspire interest in them. I urge the Minister to commit to a definition of zoo conservation standards that avoids being too narrow and instead fully acknowledges the breadth of zoo conservation activities. The Bill grants the Secretary of State greater power to change standards, perhaps without parliamentary scrutiny. I hope the Minister can assure us that there will be adequate transparency, accountability and consultation with the sector.
It is clear that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill enjoys wide support from Members across the House, and the lines about the lack of parliamentary time wear thin given the number of general and Backbench Business debates there are. I expect that even the most enthusiastic participants in those debates would be willing for a day to be used for such important legislation. There are a range of measures in the Bill that I am keen to see come into effect, plus we could take action on further points to enhance our nation’s approach to animal welfare. The Bill has a lot of good provisions in it that deliver our manifesto commitments and act as a lasting testament to our dedication to these issues. I therefore hope that we will shortly hear when we will finally get a chance to get on and deliver on those commitments.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Twigg. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on presenting this extremely important debate that was considered by the Petitions Committee. As he rightly said, e-petition 619442, relating to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, has 107,000 signatures. The UK is a place where the prioritisation of animal welfare is to the fore, no matter which constituency we represent. The hon. Gentleman gave a comprehensive overview of the importance of this Bill to his constituents and to people across the United Kingdom. It is extremely important that we recognise the cross-party support that has been evidenced here today. During his speech, he took interventions from Members from different parties who spoke positively about the need to bring forward the Bill after such a long delay and ensure that we continue to work collaboratively to make it happen for all our constituents across Great Britain.
We heard from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who spoke eloquently about his own zoo, Chester Zoo. He spoke about the importance of the issues in the Bill and of taking the Bill forward to ensure that zoo animals have excellent welfare conditions and the specialist services they need.
We heard from the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), the former Secretary of State—I was about to put him back in post by referring to him as the Secretary of State—who has experience in these matters. He spoke comprehensively about the need to introduce the Bill, saying that a lack of parliamentary time is not a persuasive argument and that these matters must therefore be driven forward. It was excellent to hear from him on that matter.
We heard from another cross-party colleague, the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who made the point that this is pretty much a win-win situation for Government: the public are behind the Bill; parliamentarians cross-party are behind it. Given the current economic situation across the United Kingdom, this could be a positive piece of legislation that would be welcomed by all. Why, therefore, is it being delayed? We need to hear from the Minister about the reasons but, more importantly, we need to address them and drive this Bill forward.
We heard from the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder), who is an animal champion in this House. He referred to the excellent work of Lorraine Platt, from the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, who is in the Gallery today. I consider Lorraine to be a friend—although we have political differences, we are very much together on animal welfare and the need to ensure that the UK continues to have the highest animal welfare standards internationally and that we support the important legislative progress of Bills such as the one we are discussing.
We then heard from the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), who actually gave most of the speech that I had written for myself, so I will not repeat what she has said. She spoke comprehensively about the asks from the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and Blue Cross and the importance of addressing the exclusion of cats and horses in the current Bill. She also spoke about the importance of looking at the scourge of puppy smuggling, which is an ongoing misery for those animals—the puppies and their mothers—who are impacted.
We also heard from the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), who has been doing an amazing amount of work on these matters. He referred to work that he has done on Gizmo’s law and Tuk’s law, which have garnered support across parties. The laws would ensure that microchips are scanned, that healthy dogs are not inadvertently put down, and that all possible measures are taken to prevent those occurrences.
The contribution of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) was impressive and helpful. He is a veterinary surgeon and has served on the relevant Bill Committee. He spoke from his own experience about how important the Bill is, and about the harrowing evidence that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee heard from the Dogs Trust: heavily pregnant dogs are being smuggled into the country, then taken back abroad afterwards. I worked for a long time on another piece of legislation, Lucy’s law, which was about ensuring that puppies were seen with their mothers. It is a scourge on our society that, having put that legislation in place to protect puppies from puppy smuggling, individuals are finding ways to make dogs’ lives even more harrowing, by bringing the pregnant mothers into the country and then taking them back out.
I listened avidly to the speech of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, which was truly excellent. He mentioned other aspects of the Bill, including measures on ear cropping and declawing. Can anyone imagine declawing a pet? What a terrible thing to do! These animals require claws in their natural environment and for their natural habits. From the speeches that we have heard today, we know how urgent this issue is. I beseech the Minister to do everything that he possibly can to take the Bill forward. He has the full support of SNP Members, and I know from the many contributions of colleagues across the parties that the House will support him in ensuring that the Bill becomes law.
Finally, we heard from the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). I have been on holiday to Torbay, and did not know that he represented that constituency; it is a fine place to represent. He has championed animal welfare as long as I can remember since coming to the House, and I thank him for that. He spoke about the importance of zoos and his important work on the Ivory Bill. We have all worked together on many of these issues, including the Ivory Bill and Lucy’s law. We want the public to see continued progress, and we want to know that we are doing our best in this House to ensure that the UK has the highest animal welfare standards.
In closing, I thank those organisations that do so much and provide us with so much support on these issues. I may have missed some from my list, but it includes the organisations that have contacted me and of which I am aware. There are many more in our individual constituencies, and I thank them all, even if I do not mention them today. I thank the RSPCA and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I often visit the SSPCA, and will visit again this year to give blankets for pets who hope to be homed over the next few months by our local SSPCA. I thank the Dogs Trust, with which I keep in close contact, and those I have worked with on Reggie’s law, Tuk’s law and Gizmo’s law. I also thank the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, which I was very privileged to chair until this year; I have now handed over to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who is taking it forward with great gusto. I also thank Pup Aid, Marc the Vet and, of course, Lorraine from the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, whom I have already mentioned. They are all doing a tremendous job of holding us in this House to account, and we will also hold one another to account. We keenly await what the Minister has to say; I cannot say often or strongly enough that he has our full support. I want to see progress, as do many people across the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Twigg. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for moving the motion on behalf of the Petitions Committee. It is rare to speak in such a consensual and constructive debate. It has been a real pleasure to listen to the knowledgeable contributions of all Members here.
I suppose that the simple question to the Minister is: where is the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill? I could just ask that question and then sit down again, but, sadly, I am not going to, because I would like to—[Interruption.] I will be brief, but I do have a few things that need to be said.
This issue spans the whole of the UK, and I think it speaks volumes that the top 10 constituencies by signature span Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as England. I would acknowledge all of those people across the United Kingdom who signed the petition, including those top 10 by signature—East Londonderry, Ynys Môn, East Antrim, South Antrim, Mid Ulster, North Antrim, South Down, Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Livingston, and North Down.
We all know that involvement and engagement with our democratic processes can, at times, seem difficult, so I am pleased that many people across the UK, including almost 400 people from my own constituency of Newport West, have signed the petition. I thank them for ensuring that their voices have been heard, and I hope that the Minister will go back to his Department and urge the new Secretary of State to get on with it and start delivering.
The benefit of such a focused debate is that there is no excuse for rambling, dithering or delay, so I will be brief. To be clear, Labour supports the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and, indeed, we want to strengthen it. That is why we have tabled a number of amendments for the Report stage of the Bill. More than anything, we want the Bill back before the House and speedily signed into law. We believe in honouring animal welfare, and will always push for the strongest possible animal welfare policies. Those are not just words; we mean it, and all Members who have had the chance in the recent months and years to work with us know that we mean what we say.
I would like to thank all the stakeholders, campaigners and organisations who work, day in and day out, to fight for the welfare of our natural wildlife, our animals and our pets, and for this country to show real and meaningful leadership. Many of those people and organisations sent helpful briefings before the debate, and those briefings have been cited and referenced by many colleagues this afternoon.
As the RSPCA put it in its excellent briefing, today is a chance for the House to urge Ministers to do what they have promised, to honour their word and to get things done. It is important that the Bill is brought back to the House and that it is signed into law. The Opposition support it, the people across our United Kingdom support it, and, as we have heard today, lots of Tory Back Benchers support it, so I urge the Minister to just get on with it.
Labour not only supports this Bill; we want to make it stronger and properly fit for purpose. That is why we have tabled a number of amendments for Report. I urge Government MPs to get behind our amendments so that, together, we can make this Bill properly fit for purpose.
Our amendments—tabled by me, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), and my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel)—include new clause 1, which looks at the microchipping of cats. We have talked about that at length this afternoon. The new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations on the compulsory microchipping of cats within six months of the Bill being introduced. New clause 14 looks at the regulation of the keeping of hunting dogs and would require the Secretary of State to make regulations for the licensing of the keeping of one or more dogs used for the purposes of hunting, with a view to assuring the health and welfare of those dogs.
Amendment 1 would prohibit the keeping of primates as pets in England—again, a simple amendment, which I hope Ministers will accept when the Bill is brought back to the House. Amendment 2 would broaden the definition of “at large” dogs, by requiring non-exempt dogs in fields with relevant livestock present to be on a lead if they are to be deemed “under control”, unless keeping the dog on a lead poses a risk of harm to the person in charge of the dog. Our final amendment, amendment 3, would restrict the maximum number of dogs, cats and ferrets that may enter Great Britain in a non-commercial motor vehicle to three.
While this is not the place to debate the merits of the specific amendments, I wanted to give the House, colleagues present here today, and those watching from outside, a clear picture that Labour is on their side. We understand the importance of this Bill and care about ensuring that our country leads by example.
I wonder whether, in the interests of getting this Bill through, the hon. Lady might consider not pushing some of those amendments, since many of them are unnecessary. There are already legislative provisions that would enable us to introduce microchipping for cats; it does not need further legislation. There is also a welfare code for working dogs, including hunting dogs, which is covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which the hon. Lady’s party introduced when it was in government. That measure is due for review, so the amendment is wholly unnecessary and is only likely to slow down the passage of the Bill.
I thank the right hon. Member, a former Secretary of State, for his contribution. We proposed the amendments because stakeholders came to us to say that they wanted those things to be strengthened. Although I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has not changed his position, I hope that we can have a reasoned debate on Report to increase understanding. We have no intention of slowing down the Bill in any way, shape or form; we merely want to strengthen it and make it more fit for purpose. That is why the amendments have been tabled; it is why organisations such as the British Veterinary Association talk about the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill as “important legislation”, and why the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums welcomes its principles, but wants it to make a real impact. It is so good to see so many visitors in the Public Gallery today, listening to the debate; in particular, I pay tribute to Andy Hall and Vicky from BIAZA.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home—to which I paid a very enjoyable visit earlier this year—has also made clear its concerns about the delay and dithering. In its helpful briefing, written by Helen McNally, Battersea reminds us that the Bill completed its last parliamentary stage over a year ago in November 2021, and although it was carried over in the Queen’s Speech, we still do not have a set date for when it will return to Parliament. It would be marvellous if the Minister could put us all out of our misery by giving us the actual date this afternoon.
James West from Compassion in World Farming shared a briefing that was very helpful and that will guide the discussions we will be able to have when the Bill returns to the House. That briefing sits helpfully alongside the one prepared by Blue Cross for Pets, and I thank Richard Woodward for getting in touch ahead of the debate. Blue Cross notes that it, alongside other animal welfare charities, is deeply concerned at the stalled progress of the Bill, and goes on to note that while the Bill is not perfect, it is a start. We all remain hopeful that Ministers will meet us halfway when the Bill returns, and will support all sensible and objective amendments.
I am also grateful to Ferdy Willans and all those at Dogs Trust for the work they are doing on the horror that is the puppy smuggling trade. Since 2014, Dogs Trust has been exposing widespread abuse of the pet travel scheme—we have heard something of that already this afternoon. That scheme is being used by smugglers illegally to import puppies, often under age, unvaccinated and in poor welfare conditions, from central and eastern Europe to be sold to unsuspecting buyers throughout the UK. With the return of the Bill, we will be able to tackle and end that cruel trade once and for all. I thank Jessica Terry at World Animal Protection and Cameron Stephenson at Chester zoo for their work and for sharing their thoughts ahead of this afternoon’s debate. It was good to meet the Chester zoo staff just a few days ago, and to see the important work they do. I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) for just how important their conservation work is.
Today is a good day. The debate has given us an opportunity to talk about the Bill, and to remind ourselves of the benefits of the strong, bold and ambitious piece of legislation that that Bill can be, if we want it to be. I am grateful to those who keep talking about the Bill, including the more than 100,000 people who signed the petition, and I hope the Minister will answer the following four questions: when will the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill be brought back? How much longer do we have before the carry-over motion that kept it going expires? What does animal welfare post Brexit and in 2022 actually mean to Ministers? Finally, will Ministers work with all of us who want to make sure the Bill can deliver the strong and bold approach to animal welfare that we all want and need to see?
I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington for introducing the debate, and I thank you, Mr Twigg, for chairing it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg, as well as that of Mr Hollobone, who was in the Chair at the beginning of the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this afternoon’s debate. It was also a pleasure to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) in his place—I think we can describe him as the father of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and as someone who has pushed it forward and is a big advocate of it.
To cut to the chase very quickly, I am probably going to disappoint the Chamber today by being unable to announce the date that Members have yet to hear from the Dispatch Box. However, I think I will be able to reassure colleagues, who have raised a number of matters this afternoon, that the Government take the Bill very seriously and are very keen to get on with it. What we have seen today is the House at its best—united and very keen to move forward. Colleagues across the Chamber have been huge advocates for animal welfare.
I have been asked on a number of occasions not to give stock answers and not to justify why the Bill has not made progress so far, but it would be remiss of me not to gently say to colleagues that matters that were not in the manifesto have overtaken events. There was no mention of coronavirus in the Conservative party manifesto of 2019, because we did not know we were going to be hit with a huge global pandemic. There was no mention of how we would respond to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, his illegal war and his persecution of the people of Ukraine. We have had to bring forward a number of matters that have put pressure on the parliamentary calendar.
That does not mean that we cannot deliver on the things that we have committed to. The Bill will make progress as soon as we have parliamentary time that will allow us to move forward. The remaining stages will be announced in the usual way. I know that is a stock answer, but it is a commitment to move forward. For those who look for conspiracy theories that the Bill is being objected to or blocked in some way, I would say that it was introduced to the House in May as a carry-over Bill. Hon. Members may recall that the remaining stages were due to take place on 19 September. That did not happen because the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took place on the same day. The Government tried to move forward, and we will come back to the Bill very shortly.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is just one part of the Government’s ambitious plans to improve animal welfare standards at home and abroad. We have made significant progress in taking forward the reforms set out in the action plan. We have been overwhelmed by the support from stakeholders, for which we are very grateful. Let us not forget all the excellent work our farmers do to follow the highest welfare standards, showing their dedication and commitment to caring for animals every single day.
The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 became law in the last parliamentary session, and we are in the process of setting up an animal sentience committee to advise the Government on polices that impact on the welfare of animals. We have introduced new powers for the police and courts to tackle the illegal and cruel sport of hare coursing through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The Ivory Act 2018 came into force in June this year to ensure protection for elephants.
We have backed Bills to increase the maximum penalties for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years—I know that was pushed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder)—to introduce penalty notices for animal welfare offences and to ban glue traps. They all received Royal Assent. The Government are supporting private Member’s Bills, which include one on shark fins, as has already been mentioned. We have announced that we will make cat microchipping compulsory, and we are updating the dog microchipping regulations. We are also continuing to explore evidence and considering reforms in several other areas across the animal welfare agenda. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that the action plan is a long-term reform agenda, and that we cannot do everything at once.
If we are going to move forward—there have been hints of this during the debate—we are going to have to progress together and in a way that will ensure we can deliver this important legislation. I say gently to hon. Members and peers in the other place that, in a packed legislative programme, parliamentary time is severely limited. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth hinted, it would therefore be helpful if those considering new animal welfare reforms for inclusion in the Bill or tabling amendments to existing clauses bore in mind the impact on the progress of the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.
I do not intend to detain Members much longer. In conclusion, I thank all those who participated in the debate. There is clearly strong support across the House for the measures in the Bill to reach the statute book as soon as possible. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will play a small but significant part in delivering higher standards of animal welfare to address specific concerns relating to pets, livestock and kept wild animals. I look forward to working with hon. Members to build on our already high welfare standards to deliver for all animals here and abroad.
It is a pleasure to have served under your chairmanship for the end of the debate, Mr Twigg. Colleagues will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to take until 7.30 pm to wind up.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for coming and showing the incredible cross-party support for getting this important Bill on to the statute book. Indeed, we very much heard that passion from Members who took part in the debate, including the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice)—we are grateful he came to share his expertise with us—and my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Chris Loder) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster). We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Bury North (James Daly) and for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) about how the Bill could go further, but it is clear that we all want it to get on to the statute book. We will do everything possible to get it there as soon as possible.
I add a plea to the Minister to take away in particular the point about the Northern Ireland protocol and its impact on implementing much of the Bill in Northern Ireland. I remind colleagues that, when we talk about the transporting of animals, we are not just talking about commercial arrangements; many domestic animal movements have been impacted by the protocol. I will just pick up on the example of those who keep poultry, who are finding it very hard. Avian flu has had a real impact on the ability to show poultry, but there has been much concern among those living in Great Britain about being able to take their birds to attend shows such as that run by the Ulster Poultry Federation in Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to ensure that DEFRA does all it can to represent those concerns at the highest possible level in discussion of the protocol.
In conclusion, I thank the petitioners, those in the Public Gallery who came along today and the Petitions Committee staff for their work in putting on the debate. Clearly, we are all very keen to get the Bill enacted as soon as possible. My hon. Friend for Penrith and The Border nicked a very good slogan, which I was tempted to repeat, but as Brexit has come up a lot during the course of the debate, I will nick another instead: let us get the Bill done.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 619442, relating to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.