Thank you for contacting me about the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) and Animals Abroad Bills.
Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill
The UK has a long history of leading the way on animal welfare. I am glad that ministers are committed to improving our world-leading standards through a series of ambitious reforms, as outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare. In addition, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bring in some of the world’s strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. I look forward to supporting the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.
Primates are highly intelligent animals with complex needs that require specialist care. I am encouraged that through the Bill the Government will deliver on the manifesto commitment to introduce a ban on keeping them as pets, ensuring that all primates being kept privately in England are kept at zoo-level standards and that ownership of primates at levels below these standards is phased out.
I also understand that live animals can endure excessively long journeys during export, causing distress and injury. EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys, but the UK Government is now able to pursue plans to ban the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening, This Bill will ensure that the UK is the first European country to end this practice.
This Bill includes measures to protect the welfare of pets by introducing restrictions to crack down on the low welfare movements of pets into Great Britain and includes powers to introduce new restrictions on pet travel and the commercial import of pets on welfare grounds, via secondary legislation.
I am aware that under existing legislation, the Animal Plant and Health Agency is able to undertake checks on pets, including documentary, identification and physical checks. All non-commercial dogs, cats and ferrets entering Great Britain on approved routes under the Pet Travel rules undergo full documentary and identity checks by authorised pet checkers. These pet checkers are trained by the Animal and Plant Health Agency prior to being granted approval and receive annual audits of their checking and processing to ensure they uphold our requirements. I understand that the Government is not proposing to make fundamental changes to the existing enforcement regime.
The Bill will tackle puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets, including dogs, cats and ferrets permitted to travel. The Bill enables the Environment Secretary to regulate the importation of cats, dogs and ferrets for the purpose of promoting their welfare. Further restrictions could include raising the minimum age that pets can travel into Great Britain and banning the import of dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears and docked tails. The Bill will introduce a new pet abduction offence to reflect the value that we all place on our pets.
I am aware that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill has been carried over into the new parliamentary session and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Further, in August 2021, the Government launched an eight-week consultation on proposed restrictions to the commercial and non-commercial movement of pets into Great Britain.
This consultation proposed to maintain the existing requirements for cats, as there is currently limited evidence of a significant illegal trade in cats or significant numbers of low welfare movements. The consultation sought views on whether maintaining the existing requirements in relation to cats was the right approach.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently analysing the responses to the consultation and will publish a summary in due course. This will allow ministers to take onboard the views of the public and interested groups on puppy smuggling and low welfare imports in order to shape future policy.
It is good news that this Bill has passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
There are serious concerns about livestock worrying, which happens when a dog attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land or is at large in a field with sheep. This can result in significant injury and suffering and can have devastating consequences for livestock keepers. Therefore, I am glad that the Government has proposed to modernise existing legislation through the Kept Animals Bill. This includes amending definitions within the legislation to broaden the scope of the offence, as well as improving enforcement mechanisms to help the police deal with and investigate incidents of livestock worrying more effectively.
Further, in the most serious cases, the police will have powers to seize dogs after particularly serious incidents, if there is reason to believe that the dog may pose an ongoing risk to livestock. This will help reduce the risk of dogs reoffending, which is a serious problem.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill has now passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Animals Abroad Bill and Trophy Hunting
The Government is committed to doing all it can to support wildlife and the environment, both in the UK and internationally, and I welcome ministers’ plans to deliver one of the toughest bans in the world on the import of hunting trophies from nearly seven thousand endangered and threatened species, including lions, rhinos, elephants, and polar bears.
Climate change and global biodiversity decline are interlinked threats for wildlife and people. Biodiversity is declining at a dangerous and unprecedented speed, and species extinction rates are accelerating, with up to a million species threatened. Overexploitation is one of the drivers of species extinction and additional pressures on vulnerable species can result from unsustainable or inappropriately managed activity.
In the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government committed to providing international leadership in protecting biodiversity and endangered species. This is underpinned by a strong commitment to ensuring that the UK’s domestic policy does not threaten the conservation of species abroad. The proposed ban on imports of hunting trophies goes beyond the manifesto commitment and, with no exemptions, means that the UK will be leading the way in protecting endangered animals and helping to strengthen and support long-term conservation.
While I recognise that some conservationists believe trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool, it is also important to acknowledge concerns around the practice of trophy hunting. I am glad that the Government has proposed a new Animals Abroad Bill to tackle animal cruelty and include bans on the trade of hunting trophies.
I welcome that the Government is firmly committed to introducing this ban, and I am assured that this will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Trophy Hunting Consultation
The consultation on controls on the import and export of hunting trophies, which closed in February 2020, allowed respondents to offer views on which species they considered needed further restrictions. I understand that the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the publication of the Government response to this consultation and accompanying call for evidence. However, I would like to assure you that the approach on hunting trophies will be comprehensive, robust and effective and will deliver the change promised to help protect thousands of species worldwide.
ASRU Change Programme
A number of constituents have raised concerns with me regarding the ASRU Change Programme, and the impact it might have on animal welfare standards. Let me reassure that I, and my colleagues, take the issue of animal welfare extremely seriously and I am proud to have supported a legislative agenda so focused on further raising standards for the treatment of animals.
I welcome that there are stringent provisions already in place to ensure compliance with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). This Act makes provision for the protection of animals used for experimental or other scientific purposes. It also adopts the 3Rs principle which seeks to use experimental procedures which either replace the use of animals, reduce the number of animals used, or refine how the animals are treated during the process.
The ASRU is responsible for the administration and enforcement of ASPA, which includes providing advice on the regulations, operating the licence system, and ensuring the compliance of licence holders and the terms of their licenses. Regarding the Change Programme, I have been assured that its core aim is to better align ASRUs activities to deliver its purpose of protecting animals in science by maintaining compliance with ASPA. The benefits of the programme include increased efficiency and more effective delivery of outcomes and services.
Furthermore, the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) is an essential part of establishment governance to ensure compliance with ASPA. All applicants for a new project licence must be evaluated by the local AWERB which is constituted to advise on how effectively the applicant is applying the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement).
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP