Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Kevin Foster Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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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.