Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Tracey Crouch Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

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.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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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?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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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.

--- Later in debate ---
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con)
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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.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch
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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.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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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.