Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Sammy Wilson Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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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.