Oral statement to Parliament

Animal Welfare Statement

An update on the government’s progress on animal welfare.

The Rt Hon Mark Spencer MP

I would like to provide the House with an update on the government’s progress on animal welfare.

Before I start Mr Deputy Speaker if you would indulge me as you would to pay tribute to Peter Jinman who was Chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee and also heavily involved in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons who I understand passed away last night. He was a great man and a friend of mine and who did an enormous amount of work on animal welfare.

We are a nation of animal lovers, and animal welfare has been a priority for the Government since 2010.

Since then:

  • on farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens
  • we’ve banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens; and
  • made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England
  • for pets, we’ve introduced microchipping which became mandatory for dogs in 2015
  • we modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales
  • we’ve protected service animals via ‘Finn’s Law’ and
  • banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens
  • In 2019 our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law
  • we have also led work to implement humane trapping standards by banning glue traps

We have done more than any other Party on animal welfare, delivering on a manifesto that was drafted with the public’s priorities in mind.

Further to the steps I just outlined, in 2021 we published an ambitious and comprehensive Action Plan for Animal Welfare. This set out an array of future reforms for this Parliament and beyond. The Action Plan’s wide-ranging measures relate to farmed animals, wild animals, pets and sporting animals. They include legislative and non-legislative reforms and extend beyond domestic actions to cover international engagement and advocacy.

And we have delivered. Since the publication of the Action Plan, we have delivered four key manifesto commitments.

  1. We passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act. This recognises in law that all vertebrate animals and invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters and octopuses are sentient beings. This will form the bedrock of animal welfare policy of the future.
  2. We passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act, which introduced tougher sentences for animal cruelty, increasing maximum sentences from six months up to five years.
  3. Last month, we made cat microchipping compulsory, which will help reunite lost pets with their owners.
  4. And just this week we announced that, having brought the Ivory Act into force in 2022, we will now be extending it to cover five endangered species: hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.

Now, in addition to legislating, we have launched the pioneering Animal Health and Welfare Pathway. This charts the route forward for improved farm animal welfare for years to come. This government and industry partnership is already transforming welfare on the ground. And it does this through annual health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants.

Now Mr Deputy Speaker, I can tell the members opposite are feeling weary listening to this expansive list of delivery. But I will assure you I am not yet done, because today, we are taking two further steps in delivering our Action Plan.

First, we are announcing the launch of the new Animal Sentience Committee. It will advise government on how policy decisions should take account of animal welfare. The Committee’s membership provides expertise from both veterinary and social science and covers farm, companion, and wild animals. We expect the Committee to begin its work next month.

Secondly, we are announcing a consultation on new financial penalties of up to £5,000 for those who commit offences against animals. This will mean that, there is a new enforcement tool for use against the small minority of people who fail to protect the health and welfare of animals. This could apply, for example, if an animal is kept in poor living conditions due to a lack of appropriate bedding or shelter.

On top of these measures, we are continuing to support the Private Members’ Bill by my friend the hon member for Crawley which implements our manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies. Also making strong progress are Private Members’ Bills which ban the import and export of detached shark fins, and the advertising and offering for sale here of low welfare animal activities abroad. I thank the hon members for Neath and Guildford respectively.

Now the Kept Animals Bill, started nearly two years ago, was designed to implement several of our ambitions. This included banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft, and new measures to tackle livestock worrying.

Unfortunately, this multi-issue nature means there has been considerable scope-creep. The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the Action Plan.

In particular, Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the scope of this Bill.

The bills and regulations we have already passed demonstrate the enormous progress which can be made with single-issue legislation. Therefore, we will be taking forward measures in the Kept Animals Bill individually during the remainder of the Parliament.

We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments – and this approach is now the surest and the quickest way of doing so, rather than letting it be mired in political game-playing.

Having left the EU, we are able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but our legislation will ensure this becomes permanent, and we remain committed to delivering it.

We are committed to cracking down on puppy smuggling. We will ban the imports of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs – and we will be able to do this more quickly with a single-issue Bill than the secondary legislation required under the Kept Animals Bill.

We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets and we will do this by consulting before the summer recess on the primate-keeping standards, and they will be applied by secondary legislation being brought forward this year.

We also look forward to progressing delivery of the new offence of pet abduction and the new measures to tackle livestock worrying.

I am conscious that there are many other campaigns on aspects of animal welfare. By making this change to how we will implement the measures outlined, I want to assure the House that we are open to future consideration, but we will focus on delivering these key elements.

Delivering these measures, as well as everything we are already delivered as part of and beyond the animal welfare elements of our manifesto – shows a Government which cares about animals and doesn’t just talk about it or play games with it.

We are committed to maintaining our strong track record on animal welfare and to delivering continued improvements, both in the course of this Parliament and beyond. And I commend this statement to the House.

Published 25 May 2023