[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered banning the consumption of dog meat in the UK.
It is a pleasure to speak on this issue. This is, unfortunately, the Thursday afternoon slot—I often refer to it as “the graveyard slot”, and today it certainly is. This is the recess week, and many people who signed the petition and added their names to the early-day motion are away. It is a pleasure to see hon. Members here to make a contribution to this debate on a very important issue.
Like my hon. Members, I am a dog lover, and so is my wife. She is a volunteer at Assisi Animal Sanctuary, just outside Newtownards. Since I was a young boy, dogs have played a huge part in my life. I cannot remember not having a dog; I have had them all my life. I remember my first dog, in Ballywalter when I was a four-year-old, very well. It was a collie dog called Flash. Its name has never escaped my mind. It was probably called that because it was like greased lightning; collies usually are. I also recall vividly a story of letting the dog into the back kitchen. We lived in a fishing village. Someone had left us fish for tea, and the dog ate half of it. We never realised what it was all about; we thought we had eaten the other half, but unfortunately that was not how it was.
We can share small stories about our dogs over the years. I remember as a child—I wonder sometimes how I survived my childhood—having an ice cream with the dog sitting alongside me. Every now and again, I gave the dog a wee lick as well, and I just kept on eating. It never did me any harm; that is a fact. I would not recommend it, but as children we did not have the precautionary attitude to life that we do now.
Dogs are and have always been an extension of my family. My dog—really my wife’s dog—is Autumn. We got it from Assisi. It had been badly treated, and she took it in. I remember that when it first came to our house, it was very nervous and scared. It obviously had a very difficult entry into this world. After it came to our house, it gained confidence. It had our love, and all of a sudden its attitude changed.
Dogs have two things in life that they want: they want to be loved and to love. It is as simple as that. A dog sees things very simply. We had a collie dog early on, and then we had Pomeranians and Jack Russells, and now we have springer spaniels. The reason why we have springer spaniels is that we love hunting and shooting. That is where I come from. Therefore, our dogs have a purpose in life. They say that you never own a Jack Russell; a Jack Russell owns you. As the owner of a Jack Russell, I can say that that is true. We have had many Jack Russells over the years, and they have taken over our lives.
Over the past weeks and months, I have heard enough about the horrifying practices of the dog meat trade to upset any animal lover. I thank animal welfare charities such as the World Dog Alliance for highlighting this issue, and for the work they are doing to stop this horrific practice. I am here today to call on the Government to enact a ban on the consumption of dog meat in the UK. That is why we are all here. It is unfortunate that others could not be here. They wanted to be, but they made other arrangements for the recess week.
Each year, about 30 million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption around the world. In China, it is estimated that 70% of those dogs are stolen pets. That horrific practice has a big impact on families.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. It is unfortunate that more people could not be here; it is probably because of the timing. I have known many people over the years who have campaigned on this issue, particularly about the dog festivals outside the UK. They are horrified by that. Once it comes to light that it is not illegal to consume dog and cat meat in the UK, they are shocked. They have been campaigning for the law to change in another country, but they have not realised that it is not illegal here. That is one reason why legislation should be brought forward.
What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. Many of us are horrified. I see the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) in his place. He has tabled an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that I and my hon. Friend have put our names to. The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) would have liked to have been here, but as we all know, unfortunately he hurt himself this week and had to go home early. He moved a ten-minute rule Bill this week.
Many of us have suddenly realised that there is a technical loophole in the legislation in the United Kingdom, and we want to use this occasion to highlight the issue and alert people so that they realise that we have not made it illegal to eat dogs or cats in the United Kingdom. It is against the law to kill them and to sell the meat, but it is not against the law to eat them, and that is why we want to bring legislation forward.
My hon. Friend and I, and others here to contribute to the debate, are well aware of the background information. It is truly horrific to observe how dogs are killed and the inhuman treatment they go through. During their short lives, they are treated horrifically and inhumanely. Treated like cargo, they are cramped in small cages and put under physical and mental torment as they wait to be killed for their meat. Worse still are the misplaced beliefs dictating that dogs are tastier and that their meat is filled with better properties if the animals are stressed or in pain at the moment of death. That results in the widespread torture of these poor animals. In many cases, dogs are skinned, boiled or even blowtorched alive. If that is not animal cruelty, what is? It is horrific, horrendous and should not be allowed anywhere in the world.
How can we as a proud nation of animal lovers—we make that gesture and statement many times—stand aside as millions of dogs are subjected to that fate? The Government will say that it is illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK and that no abattoirs can be issued with a licence to slaughter dogs. That is true, but the fact remains that it is legal for an individual to kill a dog or cat and eat it here in the UK in their own homes. We want to look towards change. That is why the hon. Member for Clacton tabled the amendment to the Agriculture Bill, why the ten-minute rule Bill was moved and why we are here today.
Many others support what we are saying. Thankfully, there are no official cases of dog or cat meat being eaten in the United Kingdom, but we should make explicitly clear that the totally unnecessary practice of eating dogs will never be welcome. Nor can we condone the cruel practice elsewhere in the world.
Although in the debate thus far people have made the case that there is no evidence that dog or cat meat is eaten within the UK, it can be very difficult to prosecute that type of crime. Surely the key thing is that it gives the UK the opportunity to be a world leader and join those other countries that have stepped forward to legislate, despite the fact it is not a problem in their countries. It sends a message to those countries where it is a common practice that we believe it is not acceptable. It also sends a message clearly across the UK that we do not want this practice to grow here either.
What my hon. Friend says is very true. I will speak later about the number of countries that have signed up and changed the law, as will other Members. It indicates why we are looking for change. Our reputation as a leader on animal welfare is testament to our national love of animals. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was pioneering legislation in this country. We led the world. It outlined our national duty of care to those unable to speak for themselves, and it set the international standard. Under the legislation, animals in the UK are protected from pain, injury and suffering. I beg the House and the Government to consider our canine companions in the same light.
As anyone who grew up with a pet dog or cat will know, they can, and do, take up a lot of our lives. When I met my wife, she was a cat lover and I was a dog lover. I was not all that fond of cats, to be honest, but it was simple: “Love me, love my cat.” I acquired an affection for cats, and we now have four or five in our house. More often than not, people will say that the cats or dogs are members of the family. Our companions are treasured, loved and spoiled, yet around the world millions of dogs live short, unimaginable lives and are subject to incredibly cruel practices. I wonder if many Members here could imagine the same fate for their pets.
In Prime Minister’s questions just last week, the Prime Minister said:
“Animal welfare is a priority for this Government.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 887.]
We welcome that commitment, which I think was in response to a question from an hon. Member here. She said she hoped
“that other countries will join the UK in upholding the highest standards of animal welfare.”—[Official Report, 13 February 2019; Vol. 654, c. 887.]
To maintain that position, we must show, in unequivocal terms, that we cannot tolerate the consumption of dog meat.
Last night, in an Adjournment debate on horse tethering, the Minister referred to legislation in Northern Ireland, where we can impose penalties of up to five years for animal cruelty. We have a positive and enlightening attitude towards animal cruelty in Northern Ireland. The Minister referred to the five-year sentence; I think he hopes that it can be introduced in the mainland as well.
Introducing a ban on consuming dog meat would have a tremendous effect worldwide. Animal welfare charities such as the World Dog Alliance tell us that they face key barriers in their efforts to ban the practice worldwide. A ban would send a powerful message to countries where this horrific and disturbing practice takes place. We can no longer stand idly by. Enacting the ban would demonstrate the UK’s willingness to join global efforts to ban this horrific practice, standing shoulder to shoulder with the many animal rights and welfare charities working day and night to protect our beloved companions and it would save millions of dogs from torture and unspeakable death.
I will say again—I mean this sincerely and honestly; I am a dog lover—that dogs are our companions. They are not, and should never be, food. In practical terms, I ask the Government to consider a simple thing. A ban would put no additional pressure on the Government’s purse strings. We know that no dogs are eaten in the United Kingdom, and therefore that no additional resources would be required to police such a ban. Instead, by simply closing this legal loophole, we would send a powerful signal internationally that we do not condone the human consumption of dogs.
There is a great depth of feeling in Parliament to ban this practice. To date, more than 60 MPs have demonstrated cross-party support in various forms, with 32 backing an amendment to the Agriculture Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Clacton. Both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) have added our names to that. We hope that the Government will take that amendment on board when the Agriculture Bill is next debated.
As hon. Members will have seen in recent coverage in The Sun, the Daily Express and in the popular online magazine, LADbible, a ban on the consumption of dog meat also has widespread support from the general public. I believe that what we ask the Government to look towards reflects the opinion of the general public. Widespread support for banning the human consumption of dog meat was clearly demonstrated in 2016, when a parliamentary petition protesting the dog meat trade in South Korea received more than 100,000 signatures, resulting in a parliamentary debate in that country. Many of my colleagues have spoken against the practice and have called for action.
I am pleased to say that, since then, South Korea’s largest dog farm has been closed down, and the Mayor of Seoul vowed last week to shut down all dog slaughterhouses. This shows a clear and increasing demand for change from east Asian countries. Last year, a Gallup survey found that only 15% of people felt positively about the dog meat trade. I do not think we can ignore those opinions where we see something wrong happening. There is a change coming there as well.
The movement against dog meat is also visible in China, where 64% of the population support a ban on the Yulin dog meat festival, which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South mentioned. One in seven people in China has never eaten dog meat and nine out of 10 people in Shanghai want a ban, so even in China, attitudes and trends are changing. If we take the stance that other countries have taken, it would be a positive step in the right direction. Sending powerful international messages and applying pressure can and does make a difference and would add to the momentum.
In September, following mounting international pressure against the dog meat trade, the Hanoi people’s committee urged residents to stop eating dog meat, as it was concerned that the horrific practice was tarnishing the city’s image as a modern and civilised capital. What we do here has influence over there, which is why this debate is so important. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to have the debate and for giving us the chance to be here. I look forward to what other hon. Members have to say, particularly the shadow Minister and the Minister, about how we can move the campaign forward.
Taiwanese and Japanese officials have already written to the Secretary of State to persuade our Government to support a ban. A member of the House of Councillors, Kusuo Oshima, highlighted the similar legal loophole that allows the consumption of dogs in Japan. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics close at hand, he feels that it would be an honour to work closely with our country, as a leader in animal welfare, to make the change and put legislation in place.
The Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada and his officials have already committed to follow the progress of the ban in the UK as an animal welfare leader. The introduction of legislation in the UK, as well as in the US, would help to give them the confidence to outlaw dog meat consumption in Japan. Collectively and singly, in this country and across the world, we can make the change that many people clearly wish to see.
Our influence in animal welfare has also been shown through efforts by Chinese officials to introduce a pet theft Bill to tackle the dog meat trade. Two people’s representatives have introduced the Bill because stolen dogs are generally sold to be eaten. It is tragic that when dogs go missing in some parts of the world, they can end up on somebody’s table, although I am mindful that, in many cases, dogs are treated as part of the family. As such, the Bill is a major first step towards introducing a ban on the human consumption of dog meat. I am informed that it was partly inspired by our Pets (Theft) Bill, which is making its way through Parliament. I thank the Government and the Minister in particular for the changes they are making there.
The United States of America is the latest country to enact a ban on the consumption of dog and cat meat. In December, the US House of Representatives took the lead in passing the farm Bill, which states that no person may
“ship, transport, move, deliver, receive, possess, purchase, sell, or donate…a dog or cat to be slaughtered for human consumption; or a dog or cat part for human consumption.”
That Bill laid the law down and made the change.
Let us be clear: the US ban is significantly stronger than the UK’s current legal situation. They have gone a step further and I believe that we need to match that. The US ban explicitly forbids the human consumption of dog meat by covering the personal use and possession of dog meat, not just its commercial sale. The recent US regulations, therefore, far outstrip our current legislation. In practice, it is now illegal in the US for an individual to kill a dog or cat to consume its flesh. At the moment, we cannot say the same in the United Kingdom.
Through that pioneering legislation, the US joins the ranks of Germany, Austria, Taiwan, South Australia and Hong Kong, which all have bans in place. The US ban is important because of the motivation involved—clearly, eating dog or cat meat is not a problem in the US. US lawmakers passed the ban solely because of the impact it would have on the international efforts to eradicate the cruel practice.
That is made clear in the letters to the Prime Minister from the Congressman who introduced the law in the US. Congressman Jeff Denham, a proponent of the legislation in the US, has said that adopting this policy signals that
“the U.S. will not tolerate this disturbing practice in our country”.
It also demonstrates
“our unity with other nations that have banned dog and cat meat, and it bolsters existing international efforts to crack down on the practice worldwide.”
Hopefully today in this House, through this debate and through our Minister and Government, we can add our support and our names to similar legislation, raising awareness and moving forward.
In their letter to the Prime Minister, Alcee Hastings, Vern Buchanan, Theodore Deutch and Lee Zeldin—all Congressmen of the House of Representatives—said:
“The adoption of this important legislation not only sent a message to people in the United States, but also, those around the world, putting all who engage in this heinous practice on notice that it will no longer be tolerated regardless of where it is found to occur...the slaughter of dogs”—
“does not prevent hunger or improve human welfare, nor is there any economic justification to continue this horrific practice.”
In enacting the ban, the US has played an important role in influencing the international animal welfare agenda. We are here today to highlight that and to raise awareness. Again, I look to the Minister and our Government to do the same.
As we look towards the end of March and our departure from the European Union—the Brexit question is at least part of this—we must consider what type of nation we want the UK to be. Do we want to be outward-looking or insular? Active or idle? A global leader or one that lags behind our peers? I think of all those here today who will go back to their constituencies and homes to be with pets and loved ones this weekend. Do we not owe it to our companions across the great continents and countries of the world to take these steps? We look for the Government to match the change in the USA and the countries mentioned earlier. We look to match the change in South Korea. We look to highlight the issues.
I call on the Government to enact a ban as soon as possible, either through primary or secondary legislation—as long as it is a full and explicit ban on the human consumption of dog and cat meat. Further, any person found to be in violation of such a ban should be subject to a fine and/or a prison sentence of six months. It is time this House sent the message and changed the law, and I believe the Government will find a way to do that.
Mr Bailey, I thank you for giving me the chance to speak. I look forward to the contributions from other hon. Members, and particularly to the comments of the shadow Minister—the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin)—and the Minister.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate. Without any shame at all, I hope to reinforce a lot of what he has said about this important issue. Some of those watching these proceedings might question why we are discussing it at all. I appreciate that view because I have had letters in my inbox saying that there are other important things going on at the moment that we should get on with, but this issue is important, and all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, have the ability to multitask.
Many of those watching will think that cat and dog meat is already illegal in this great, forward-looking country of ours. Sadly, as has been stated, that is not the case. Amazingly, it is still legal to personally slaughter your dog or cat and privately consume its meat here in the UK, and I am sure most people would think such an idea abhorrent. In 2018 there were 20 million dogs and cats in the UK, and those wonderful companions have a positive impact on our lives. In our culture, they are our friends, confidants and playmates. They are our companions, and they have a great, measurable and positive impact on mental health. They are not food and must be protected here and internationally. A proper and comprehensive ban on consumption in this country can do just that.
Granted, as the Prime Minister said in response to my question last week, there are extensive restrictions in place in the UK to prevent the commercial sale of dog meat for human consumption, and I understand that there are similar restrictions in place for cat meat. Yet there is a glaring loophole in the law, as the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out, and as I touched on. That loophole must be closed. Thankfully, 33 colleagues from across the House agree and have signed my amendment to the Agriculture Bill. Of course—I am shamelessly advertising here—we would warmly welcome any others who wished to join us and pledge their support, too.
In the light of our shared desire to close that loophole, I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will look into this matter in the coming weeks, and I look forward to hearing what it comes up with. We can close the loophole quickly through secondary legislation, although that would require careful discussion to ensure we ticked all the necessary boxes.
I want to deal with the questions, some of which have been raised, about why we need to address this statutory deficiency at all. I recognise that some may say this is unnecessary or even just virtue signalling, given that there are no recorded instances of the consumption of dog or cat meat in the UK. However, even if it is virtue signalling, I say, “Why not? Let’s signal our virtue—our morality—on this issue to the rest of the world.” We can be ahead of the curve by getting legislation in place now, and can head off any possible incidents here.
Changing the law would also send a powerful signal internationally about our moral opposition to this horrific practice and encourage other nations to introduce similar measures. The most important point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) when he introduced his Bill earlier this week. During his excellent speech, he told us that Chinese authorities have said, “Until you make it illegal, why should we?” They have a point. We should lead the world on this issue, as we do on other international issues. We have already led the world in opposing ivory poaching, even though we have no elephants roaming the south of England—or anywhere else in Britain, for that matter. We should seek to mirror that example, as we should our world-leading opposition to modern slavery, bull fighting and whaling.
Unfortunately, that is not happening with dog and cat meat. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, we are coming in behind Germany, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Australia and America, where possession and consumption became an offence this year even though the problem is not widespread in the US either. The US Congress believed it was right to pass a ban regardless, to demonstrate its support for global efforts to eradicate this cruel practice. I would like to thank publicly those Members of Congress who sent a letter supporting my amendment directly to the Prime Minister.
It is important to recognise that that ban in America provided a real boost to the international prohibition campaign. We now have an opportunity to do the same and to help lead the global effort to combat these sickening practices. All we need to do is take the minor legislative step of outlawing the consumption of dog and cat meat with a proper, comprehensive ban. That is the right thing for us to do, as a nation of animal lovers. As I said earlier—it is worth saying again—these are our companions. They are not food.
As the hon. Member for Strangford said, 30 million dogs and 4 million cats—more than all the dogs and cats in the UK—are still slaughtered every year around the world for their meat. Of those, 15,000 are killed during the 10-day Yulin festival in China, which is often accompanied by international condemnation. Those animals are often stolen and, as we heard, kept in small, filthy cages with little food or water. There is a strong but erroneous belief that if they are suffering, their meat is tastier and has medicinal qualities—it does not—and that if they experience high levels of stress when they are killed, they are better to eat. That is obviously wrong. It results in horrendous suffering.
Those animals are often boiled, skinned and blow-torched, and—the hon. Gentleman said it—that happens to them while they are alive. They are blow-torched alive. That is horrific animal cruelty. No animal should suffer such pain and trauma. No person should, either. We should be humane. We should honour these animals that live with us. I thank the World Dog Alliance for its efforts to raise awareness of this troubling issue.
I am sure that anyone with a pet who heard what I just said about animals, and what the hon. Member for Strangford said earlier, would be distressed. We all feel that our pets are to be valued. I, too, am a proud owner of three noisy dogs, and I want to get them into Hansard. They are Mini, a 19-year-old Jack Russell, and Herbie and Humphrey, who are indeterminate, but there is poodle in there somewhere.
Cherishing our pets is surely a very British value, which can be utilised to prevent animal welfare abuses abroad. The Government are keen to assert our values through the Global Britain scheme, and this is a great opportunity for us to do just that. I recognise that it will take time to change hearts and minds, but nothing worth having is ever easy. As to how to do that, I believe there are ways to achieve a proper ban through secondary legislation, as I said, so it could be done quickly, but I will not go into that in detail. I want to hear what proposals DEFRA will come back with.
To conclude, I grew up with animals—horses, dogs, cats and all sorts—and that personal experience ensures that I am a keen supporter of animal welfare. It is always high on my agenda. I am keen to see the Government continue their positive recent record on dealing with animal welfare, which has rightly led to international renown. Properly banning the consumption of dog meat in this country—that must include private consumption—will send an international message and set an example for others to follow.
To come back to my opening question, that is why we are present today: to show our moral opposition to such deplorable practices, and to do more than just offer words of distaste, which will do nothing to protect animals around the world—only concrete action and a proper and comprehensive ban here in the UK, followed by a sustained projection of our shared values globally, will do that.
I again thank the Minister for his answer this morning and for his constructive assistance so far. I look forward to continuing to discuss the matter with him in the coming weeks.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Clacton (Giles Watling) for their impassioned contributions to the debate. I was at the Backbench Business Committee when the hon. Member for Strangford made the case for holding this debate on the consumption of dog meat in the UK. I also take the opportunity to recognise the work of the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), who is not present, on his Dog Meat (Consumption) (Offences) Bill, which obviously contributed substantially to this debate.
I should have said earlier that the hon. Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), also could not be present, but wished to be part of the debate. She accompanied me to the Backbench Business Committee to ask for the debate, so I want to recognise her and what she did to make this happen.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s recognition.
As we heard, the World Dog Alliance has called for an explicit ban on the consumption of dog meat in the UK and has stated exactly why that is necessary. It is acknowledged that the issue is not one that is predominant in the UK, and there is no tangible evidence of such consumption. However, in a recent campaign, the Humane Society International rescued more than 170 dogs from a dog meat farm in South Korea. It is estimated that South Korea has about 17,000 dog farms, breeding more than 2.5 million dogs a year for human consumption. Around the world, it is believed that approximately 30 million dogs are eaten annually.
We heard from the hon. Member for Clacton that the Yulin festival takes place from 21 to 30 June. The lychee and dog meat festival is an annual 10-day event at which more than 10,000 dogs are eaten. Dog eating is traditional in China where, according to folklore, eating the meat during the summer months brings luck and good health. We have heard about some of the abhorrent practices that exist.
The hon. Member for Strangford is a vociferous campaigner on a great many issues. In fact, I cannot think of an issue about which he does not have something to say, which is quite impressive. His contribution was heartfelt, and so is his devotion to his own dogs—whether the collies, the Pomeranians or the Jack Russells. He said that dogs are often loved companions. They are not just family pets but part of our families. He highlighted the terrible conditions and practices, the abhorrent torture and animal cruelty, and the beliefs that fuel the trade in Asia. He called on the Government to set an international example.
The hon. Member for Clacton made an impassioned contribution on this rather unlikely subject. He called for a comprehensive ban, and asked for DEFRA to review the matter. It is entirely reasonable that we call on the Government to do everything they can in this regard.
It is accepted that this is not an issue in the UK, and that there is no evidence that dogs are being consumed here. However, we have heard that the US and other countries such as Germany, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia are leading by example, even though this is not necessarily an issue in many of them. Although the commercial trade in dog meat is illegal in the UK, it is clear that maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare ought to be our paramount consideration. The UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee currently advises DEFRA Ministers on this matter. I hope the Minister will consult it on this issue.
Although many aspects of this issue still remain reserved to the UK, many are not. The Scottish Government have established a Scottish animal welfare commission. Like the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee, it will form an animal expert advisory group that will advise on animal welfare, introducing new legislation, issuing Scottish Government guidance and public awareness campaigns. The Scottish Government have also committed to consult on amending the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. That consultation ended in January 2019. The proposed changes to the 2006 Act include increasing the penalties for the most serious abuses of animals, including attacking emergency service animals. It will also include fixed penalty notices for lesser offences, and will create enforcement bodies to rehome and sell on animals seized when welfare is compromised. The Scottish Government are using the powers that they have to do as much as they can, including on animal welfare, improving conditions, providing CCTV in slaughterhouses, ensuring that domestic animal welfare is improved through licensing, and introducing licensing for animal sanctuaries, rehoming agencies and commercial breeders.
It is essential that all Governments, including the Scottish Government and the UK Government, lead by example and do all they can for animal welfare. The international pressure that the Government can bring to bear on countries where this practice is prevalent is absolutely necessary. It could end the abhorrent practice of the consumption of dog meat. I hope the Minister will listen to the calls from across this House and see what more the UK Government can do in that regard.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate. Hon. Members from across the House will join the vast majority of people in this country in being upset at the very thought of eating dog meat. The hon. Gentleman made a powerful case, as did the hon. Members for Clacton (Giles Watling) and for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) did so, too, in presenting his ten-minute rule Bill in Parliament on Tuesday.
The very good news is that there is no evidence that dog meat is actually being consumed in the United Kingdom. We all want to ensure that it stays that way. There are questions that need to be asked about the most effective ways to prevent the consumption of dog meat ever becoming an issue in this country. Clearly, if the consumption of dogs started to occur in the United Kingdom, the Government would need to take action. I feel sure that if the Government are considering taking action, they will seek to make it effective.
I fully support the contention that this country needs to join others, such as the United States, in sending a strong message to China, the Republic of Korea and other countries where dog meat is eaten. If we do, we need to ensure that we do not pick on one particular country, in order to avoid apologists for consuming dog meat claiming that the United Kingdom is using this issue as an excuse to attack their country. It is the principle of eating dogs, and the unspeakable cruelty that the trade involves, that we need to concentrate on. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew):
“The UK government needs to stand up for man's best friend and ensure that we are upholding our reputation as leaders in animal welfare.”
At the same time, I do not want animal welfare campaigns in the UK to divert resources away from other serious issues, such as puppy smuggling, hare coursing or dog fighting, which are actually prevalent and inflict cruelty on dogs in our own country. All cruelty to animals weakens and coarsens our society. People who grow up with a cavalier attitude to animal cruelty are that much more likely to inflict cruelty on other people as well, especially in a domestic situation. Connected to that, I ask the Minister: when are we likely to see the Secretary of State’s proposed animal sentience Bill? Even more importantly, when will we see increased sentences for animal cruelty offences, which have been promised for more than a year but show no sign of being brought forward?
I do not want to prolong the debate unnecessarily, so I will simply say that we fully support any measures that will protect dogs from cruelty. We share the strongly expressed wish of the hon. Member for Strangford and others that this country should use its influence to persuade others to stop eating dogs.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this important debate. It has been said that he is a redoubtable campaigner on many issues, and he certainly is. We welcome his enthusiasm for this subject.
I recognise the interest and concern on this issue generated in recent weeks as a result of several things, including the amendment to the Agriculture Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) and the questions asked earlier today in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions and yesterday in PMQs. We wish my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) a speedy recovery.
I also thank the World Dog Alliance for its ongoing dog meat campaign, which has drawn people’s attention to the plight of dogs in other parts of the world. They are often kept in dire conditions before being slaughtered, often in brutal and painful ways, as has been set out. Alongside, I am sure, all Members here, I condemn any practice that subjects animals to inhumane suffering and distress. Everyone, from whatever cultural or religious background, can unite in horror at unnecessary pain and suffering.
In this country, and indeed in many—I might say most—others, people just do not eat dog meat, on clear moral grounds. To us, wanting to eat man’s best friend is morally repugnant, as has been highlighted. As well as being loyal companions, many dogs dedicate their lives to protecting us and to making our lives better. They help us by bravely helping the police to restore public order, detecting banned substances, heroically searching for victims of earthquakes, helping to rescue people stranded on mountains—I recognise the work of the mountain rescue teams in Buxton and Kinder, close to my constituency, in this important area—and by providing invaluable assistance to people with visual or hearing issues or other disabilities. As a patron of the Macclesfield and District Sheep Dog Trials Association, it would be completely wrong of me not to recognise the huge contribution that these incredible working dogs make to the lives of many farmers.
Knowing what remarkable acts dogs are capable of, it is all the more surprising that anybody, anywhere, would consider keeping them for their meat. This debate has shown that the public and their representatives in this Chamber are rightly concerned about the welfare of animals, including when they are slaughtered or killed. They expect the Government to ensure that appropriate welfare protection measures are in place to ensure that animals are treated properly and humanely.
The Government abhor acts of cruelty to animals. That is why we have in place laws to deal with such appalling acts. In this country, it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or to fail to provide for an animal’s welfare. The maximum penalty for both offences is six months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The Government have already announced that they will go further and increase the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty to five years. That is one of a number of commitments that we have made to improve the welfare of animals. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) asked when that would happen, and the answer is that it will be as soon as we can get parliamentary time and get the right vehicle in place, because obviously there are very important measures ahead of us. But it is a huge priority. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can understand that there is a sincere commitment to take it forward.
That is of course the answer that the Minister had to give, but it is exactly the same answer as was given a year ago. This will not be a complicated Bill or one that takes a long time to get through. In fact, I have been told by someone—I am not sure whether this is true—that there could be an increase in the sentencing regulations as part of a statutory instrument; it would take only a day to do it.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s frustration and desire to move things forward. I can assure him, on the sentencing point, that that cannot be done by secondary legislation. It requires primary legislation, and that is why we are in this situation. However, I can assure him and others in this Chamber that we are moving forward on that front. The same would apply to animal sentience, on which there was clearly an outpouring of concern several months ago. We are actively working on that issue with stakeholders.
I paid tribute earlier to service animals. To underline the Government’s commitment to protecting them, we are supporting Finn’s law—a private Member’s Bill currently before Parliament. Finn’s law makes it clear that attacking a service animal or dog is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 1 March, having successfully completed stages in the Commons. I was pleased to hear that the Scottish Government are taking similar steps; that is to be commended.
We are going further to protect animal welfare by banning the third-party selling of puppies and kittens. That will ensure that only breeders can sell puppies and kittens for commercial purposes. We are banning certain types of electronic training collars for dogs. We have introduced an updated and improved animal activities licensing regime to cover dog breeding, cat and dog boarding, pet selling, riding schools and exhibiting animals. The new licensing regime came into force last October and means that licensees must maintain statutory minimum welfare standards. The licensing regime also encourages licensees to adopt higher standards, which, when achieved, will mean longer licences and fewer inspections.
I am very pleased to say that, as of last November, all slaughterhouses in England need to have closed circuit television in operation to aid official veterinarians in monitoring and enforcing animal welfare standards.
The Government—led, I am proud to say, by this Department—have animal welfare at the top of their agenda. I again recognise and welcome the steps that are being taken by the Scottish Government, which were highlighted by the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley).
The hon. Member for Strangford eloquently outlined in his speech, and I want to make it clear, that there is no evidence that dog meat is consumed in this country. That is a relief to us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton and the hon. Member for Ipswich also made that point. We have on the statute book a combination of laws that, taken together, make it extremely difficult even to conceive of doing such a thing. Most importantly, it is already an offence to sell dog meat commercially for human consumption. Strict food hygiene measures mean that dogs and cats cannot currently be commercially slaughtered, or sold or given to others for human consumption. There are strict rules for food businesses on slaughter and production of meat for human consumption in the UK, and dog meat would not be permitted under those requirements.
We have specific laws on the sale of food. EU regulation 2015/2283 on novel foods prohibits the sale of dog meat in the EU. That is enforced in England by the Novel Foods (England) Regulations 2018, which make it an offence to sell dog meat in England. That prohibition will, I am pleased to reassure hon. Members, be retained after EU exit. As colleagues will know, the UK has very strict rules on the welfare of animals at the time of killing; the rules are contained in EU regulation 1099/2009. Slaughterhouses must be licensed to kill certain species of animal. No slaughterhouse in the UK is currently licensed to slaughter dogs, which means that dogs cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. We are exploring how that can be strengthened.
Furthermore, it would be highly unlikely that an individual would or could humanely kill their dog, although it is technically legally possible. To humanely kill a dog would involve either a lethal dose of barbiturates—the recommended method—which would have to be carried out by a vet and would render the meat unfit for human consumption, or it would involve the correct use of a firearm, for which someone would need a licence, or the correct use of a captive bolt gun. It is important to emphasise, as hon. Members have, that there is no evidence of the consumption of dog meat in the UK.
I commend the United States for introducing legislation to ban the slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption, which brings it broadly into line with the position in the UK and the EU. The US legislation is not a complete ban on the consumption of dog meat, as some have claimed. It is important to point out that there are good reasons why we and other countries have stopped short of banning the consumption of dog meat. It would be difficult to prove that someone had consumed it—a successful prosecution would need to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that dog meat had been consumed by the accused, which might require testing.
A relevant comparison is that we do not ban the consumption of drugs—instead, we ban on the possession and sale of drugs, which is the focus of criminal prosecution. Proving beyond all reasonable doubt that someone has knowingly consumed dog or cat meat would be very difficult in practice. Unless we have a witness or video evidence of someone slaughtering, preparing and eating a dog or a cat, a defendant would be able to claim that they were unaware of what they were eating, which would prevent the prosecution from meeting the standard.
Proving consumption to the required criminal standard would also require proving beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant had ingested the banned substance. That would require a form of intrusive test, such as a blood test. There are other tests, but we will not go down that route now—it could be unpleasant, so let us leave it at blood tests for the moment. For the same reasons, there is no offence in English law of consumption of human meat.
I admire and agree with the intention behind the debate and the campaigners, including those in the Gallery, but it is clear that there are challenges with the proposed solution. The Government have an ambitious programme of animal welfare reform. We want to ensure that we can use the parliamentary time available to deliver on our commitments on animal sentience; on increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, as I have said; and on banning the use of wild animals in circuses. Those measures will have a direct and positive impact on the welfare of animals in the UK. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Ipswich is itching to help the Government to take those measures forward. I welcome his support.
I understand, not least from today’s debate, that one of the core aims of the campaign is to set an example and highlight to other countries that the UK considers that the dog meat trade is cruel and unnecessary. I applaud that aim and the contributions that have been made to the debate. The Secretary of State and I are working with DEFRA officials to explore what more we can do to address the matter, as I set out in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton in DEFRA questions today.
We want to send a clearer message, particularly to those countries where dog meat is eaten, that the consumption of dog meat should never be tolerated. That includes raising the issue directly with other countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has discussed it with South Korean counterparts. We are working through other avenues, including with welfare groups such as the Humane Society International, which has been highlighted—the dialogue with HSI was opened just over a year ago. DEFRA officials are exploring opportunities with the Department for International Development. By discussing the issues directly with the countries concerned, we hope to have an effect on the dog meat trade internationally.
I will keep the hon. Member for Strangford and other interested colleagues updated on progress. Once again, I thank the hon. Gentleman for introducing the debate and all hon. Members who have made such impassioned contributions to this important debate.
It is an absolute pleasure to sum up this debate.
First, I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) is very interested in—indeed, she is passionate about—animal welfare and opposing animal cruelty, and she wants to change attitudes. She represents a constituency that very much has that in mind as well.
The hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), as always, is actively engaged in change. The amendment to the Agriculture Bill is one that we are all very keen to support. He wants us to be a country that speaks up for animals worldwide; he wants to put us on that pedestal with others. I liked his comment “Nothing worth having is ever easy.” That is the truth. There is always a struggle, but when we get to the end of the road it is always good to be there and to know that we have been part of the process.
The contribution by the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) was, as always, significant and helpful. She encapsulated the enormity of this abhorrent practice and kindly reminded us of what the Scottish Government are doing with their legislative change. In many ways, the Scottish Government show the way legislatively on lots of things and this is another example of what they are doing, in this case to improve animal welfare.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), referred to a nation united against this dreadful practice—the consumption of dogs for food. He wants to join with others in sending that message out, seeking the change in sentencing, which I think we all want to see. It is so important.
The Minister, in a very comprehensive response to all of our comments and requests, outlined the Government position. The Government have not been idle and we recognise that. We are keen to pursue legislative change. He also mentioned all the good things that dogs can do—I did not do that in my contribution, but I wish I had. There are dogs for the blind. I have walked that road—I think that probably all of us as MPs have walked that road—where I put on a blindfold and a guide dog led me. That is an example of what a dog can do.
There are also dogs in the services. One example came to mind while I was sitting here, listening. I remember when I was in Afghanistan with the armed forces parliamentary scheme and I chanced to see some of the dogs that seek out improvised explosive devices. They have a really key role—to save lives. That is man’s best friend again, doing that.
There are all the other dogs that were referred to as well: the rescue dogs, the police dogs and farmers’ dogs. In my constituency, there are very few farms that do not have a dog somewhere, either to bring in the sheep or to bring in the cattle. That is a fact. Dogs are part of our life.
The Government will stop acts of cruelty to animals; they are making the legislative change to do that. This issue also has cross-party support, including from an MP who was a member of another party at the beginning of this week but has now joined the new group. We clearly have cross-party support, from all the parties in this House—I can say that honestly today, from the expressions of support that I have here—including from the Independents.
Again, I thank everyone for their significant contributions, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for making the debate happen. Most importantly, today we have had a chance to stand up for man’s best friend, and that must be the challenge for us all. As we move forward, let us support our Minister in the changes that he will make.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered banning the consumption of dog meat in the UK.