I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill is the second that the Government are bringing forward concerning the welfare of animals, and its scope relates to the keeping of animals in Great Britain. We are a proud nation of animal lovers, and we have a strong record of being at the forefront of championing the best standards of care and protection for our animals, both at home and around the world. The UK was the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals as long ago as the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822. Since 2010, we have achieved a great deal. On farms, we introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens, banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, and introduced mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses. We have also modernised our licensing system for a range of activities such as dog breeding and pet sales, and banned the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens. Our 2019 manifesto outlined how we intend to go further. Earlier this year we published the “Action Plan for Animal Welfare”, laying out how we will ensure that animals, both domestically and internationally, are subject to the highest possible standards of welfare.
A week ago, the House gathered to pay tribute to Sir David Amess. Many hon. Members highlighted his tireless work for higher animal welfare during his 38 years in this House. We will feel his absence today. He typically sat a couple of rows behind me off my left shoulder, sometimes with helpful interventions and often with more challenging ones, but always with a sense of good will and that positive smile even when being challenging.
In particular, Sir David campaigned for many years on the issue of live animal exports. He also campaigned on primates kept as pets and on the puppy trade. I last met Sir David at an event organised by the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation at the Conservative party conference, where he expressed his delight at how many of these issues, many of which will be raised in today’s debate, had moved to the fore. We will obviously miss him. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
I thank Lorraine Platt for the work that she has done through the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation to campaign towards several of the measures that we are bringing forward in this Bill. I also take this opportunity to thank the Scottish and Welsh Governments for their contributions to the development of the Bill. Although the provisions in the Bill will not extend to Northern Ireland, I thank the Northern Irish Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for their collaboration and valuable support in helping my Department with the development of these policies.
The Bill focuses on five key areas. First, the Government will take advantage of our departure from the European Union to ban the export of certain livestock and other animals for slaughter and fattening. That will apply to journeys beginning in or transiting through Great Britain to a third country. Many hon. Members have campaigned on this issue, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). We have carefully considered the scientific and expert evidence and the responses to our recent public consultation in England and Wales.
I very much welcome the ban on the live export of animals for slaughter. However, I want to ensure that livestock and breeding stock can come in and out of the country without hindrance. Is the Secretary of State confident, as he brings in that ban, that we can keep breeding stock coming in?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. That is why the Bill relates specifically to animals for fattening and slaughter; it does not include animals for breeding. The Government’s view is that exporting animals for slaughter and fattening is unnecessary; indeed, such journeys are unnecessarily stressful for the animals concerned. Those animals could be slaughtered or fattened domestically, and that could be carried out by means of a shorter or less stressful journey.
The Government’s recent consultation also covered a range of proposals to improve the domestic welfare in transport regime, and the Bill provides us with the power to introduce improvements by means of regulations at a later date. We recently published our response to the consultation, outlining how we will take forward these reforms, working alongside farming and animal welfare organisations. We will carry out further engagement with stakeholders before implementing any reforms, and we will work closely with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to ensure, as far as possible, a consistent legislative approach across Great Britain.
Secondly, our departure from the EU also means that we are able to bring in measures to tackle the serious issue of puppy imports into Great Britain. The number of cats, dogs and ferrets brought into GB through non-commercial and commercial routes has increased significantly over the years. That has been accompanied by an increase in young puppies being illegally landed in the UK. For example, the number of dogs intercepted rose from 390 in 2019 to almost 1,300 in 2020. That problem has been highlighted by many hon. Members in recent years, not least by the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and by many other members of that Committee.
There is growing evidence that commercial importers currently abuse our non-commercial pet travel rules to bring in lots of puppies at once to maximise profit, and that the welfare of those puppies is frequently compromised. The Bill therefore reduces the number of pets that can be brought into the country for non-commercial reasons by a person who is coming into or returning to the country. The maximum number of pets will be reduced to five per motor vehicle on ferry and rail routes, and three per person where someone is arriving by air or as a foot passenger. That will deter traders from abusing the non-commercial pet travel rules to bring in puppies for onward sale.
We also have concerns that many of the puppies imported into Great Britain have been sourced from breeding facilities with low welfare standards, and that their welfare is being compromised during transport.
I am conscious of how much puppy prices have increased, particularly during the pandemic. While I welcome the reduction to five pets per person, I am a little concerned that if they were five high-value puppies, that may be still be worth a criminal’s while. Will the Secretary of State be prepared to keep that number under review, for higher-value puppies in particular?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We have an important balance to strike. Obviously, these rules are for non-commercial pets, and there are people who may have several dogs that they travel with. We are trying to strike the balance such that we ensure that we do not have a situation where innocent people travelling with their pets suddenly need a commercial licence, while significantly tightening the regime to prevent abuse of the non-commercial pet travel route.
The Bill includes an enabling power that will allow us to implement further restrictions on the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets on welfare grounds through secondary legislation. We have recently conducted a consultation on the detail of those measures, including proposals to raise the minimum age for importing puppies and to prohibit the import of heavily pregnant dogs and dogs with cropped ears and docked tails. That consultation closed on 16 October, and we will be working to analyse the responses over the coming weeks.
Thirdly, the Bill delivers on our manifesto commitment to ban the keeping of primates as domestic pets in England. Primates have highly complex welfare and social needs, making them unsuitable to be kept in a home environment. I saw the consequences of that myself during a visit to the Wild Futures monkey sanctuary several years ago with my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray). I congratulate her on her work in this area—she previously brought forward a private Member’s Bill—along with other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), who has also raised this issue with me repeatedly over the years.
People keeping primates outside of licensed zoos and scientific facilities will now need to obtain a specialist primate keeper licence to do so. That new licence will ensure that the only people keeping primates are those able to meet the highest welfare standards appropriate to meet their welfare needs.
Primate keepers will be required to apply to their local authority for a licence and will be subject to inspections by a suitably qualified person. Only a person holding a licence will be able to buy, sell, transfer or breed primates. The local authority will have the power to revoke a licence if the prescribed conditions are not adhered to, and in instances where primates are being kept illegally, it will be able to seize and rehome them. At the request of Welsh Ministers, we will bring forward a Government amendment in Committee to extend this measure to Wales.
The fourth set of measures in the Bill will update legislation going back to the 1950s on dogs attacking and worrying livestock. Livestock worrying is a serious and increasing problem, which can cause significant emotional and financial consequences for livestock keepers. The legislation will be updated to cover all places where livestock are kept or may be present, such as on roads while being moved from one field to another.
Updating the legislation will also ensure that it covers all the types of livestock now more commonly kept for production, or for other purposes, in England, including camelids, emus, ostriches and enclosed deer. Crucially, the reformed provisions will also give the police more enforcement powers to prevent recurring incidents. Police will be able to seize and detain a dog until the end of an investigation, or the withdrawal or conclusion of a court case. Police will also be able to use DNA testing to collect evidence. I pay tribute to the work done in this area by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) and for Aberconwy (Robin Millar).
Finally, we will update the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 to ensure animal welfare and conservation standards in zoos are strengthened, and can be updated and enforced more effectively. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the UK Zoos Expert Committee are currently overhauling the “Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice”. The standards, which set out conditions that local authorities must have regard to when setting requirements of zoos, have previously been criticised for being vague and, in some places, unenforceable. We are drafting new, clearer standards, and amending the 1981 Act via the Bill to ensure that new standards must be followed.
The update to the standards, alongside our proposals to move conservation measures into the standards, should make the requirements placed on zoos clearer, and better enable local authorities to enforce those standards more effectively. The amendments will also increase maximum penalties for zoos not complying with the legislation, and modernise the appeals process for local authority licensing decisions in England.
I am a member of the zoos and aquariums all-party parliamentary group, which is concerned about what the regulations may look like. Is there a timescale for when they are likely to be brought forward, or even a first draft, so there can be adequate consultation?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I understand that we are already in discussion with zoos about this change. We will work very closely with them, through the working group, which has already looked at it and recommended it. I recognise that some zoos have anxiety about what it might entail, but I reassure him that we will work closely with the zoo sector.
In conclusion, this is an important year for animal welfare. The Bill sends a very clear message that we are serious about protecting the welfare of animals that are in the care of mankind. I am confident that Members of this House will agree that we have a special duty to kept animals; the Bill is a further important step in improving animal welfare for those. I therefore commend it to the House.
My party has been the party of animal welfare for quite some time, and we welcome the fact that many of the policies in Labour’s animal welfare manifesto have found themselves in the Bill. That is good to see. It is also good to see the Secretary of State in his place making such a good case for the protection of animals. There is a strong cross-party and public interest in us making sure that animals are put first. That has not always been the priority I have heard from those on the Government Benches, and it is good to hear that now from the Secretary of State himself.
The Secretary of State has clearly read a copy of Labour’s animal welfare manifesto. It must be a well-thumbed copy, given how many of our policies appear in the Bill. As such, Labour will support the Bill. It is a good Bill and implements much of what we have been arguing for, for many, many years. However, there are a number of elements in Labour’s animal welfare manifesto that have not been copied over in full. I want to raise a few of them, to make the case for how the Bill can be further improved and to reflect, on a cross-party basis, the concerns of many of our constituents, who want Britain to be the best country in the world for animal welfare and to ensure that all our animals are cared for and respected, because every animal matters.
I have made this offer to the Secretary of State before, and I am happy to make it again: on such a Bill, there should be no need for partisan disagreements, and I hope and would like to work on a cross-party basis, especially in seeking improvements in Committee; we have identified a number that can be made.
I echo the Secretary of State’s words on our fallen comrade, Sir David Amess. He was always a passionate campaigner for animal welfare, and a passionate campaigner on a cross-party basis for animals in general. He is much missed in this debate. I have great sympathy with those who want to name provisions in the Bill after Sir David. I think that passing a good Bill would be a fitting tribute to his passion on this issue.
Turning to puppy smuggling, over the pandemic, demand for puppies and kittens has sky-rocketed. The simple truth is that demand in Britain outstrips supply. That has created a space for criminals and animal cruelty. Research from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home shows that there were 700,000 online searches about buying a dog in February 2020, and that that increased to 1.5 million online searches in April 2020. That has made it so much more lucrative for unscrupulous smugglers, and has driven desperate dog lovers to dodgy websites. I pay tribute to all campaigners, including organisations such as Justice for Reggie, who have, for quite some time, been raising issues around puppy smuggling, puppy farms and their cruel practices. The way that so many animals have been brought to Britain is sickening. Animals suffer not just on the journey, but in many cases for many years afterwards. They suffer as a result of what they experienced in being bred and transported. Smugglers have been feeding a market of dog lovers—our fellow citizens who want the best for their animals. That is why action is necessary.
In one recent seizure during a thwarted smuggling operation, 10 French bulldog puppies just four weeks of age were found heavily sedated in a car travelling from Poland to the UK. The puppies were hidden in the hollowed-out back seats, under a pile of blankets. Luckily, they were seized by the authorities and cared for by the brilliant Dogs Trust, but tragically one of the puppies did not make it through the ordeal. Sadly, that is an all-too-common occurrence. That is what makes the proposals an important part of the Bill. I would like them to go further.
Labour believes we should reduce the number of puppies and kittens allowed per vehicle to three, rather than the five that the Secretary of State set out. We also believe that the minimum age at which dogs can be imported should be raised from 15 weeks to six months; that will help to rule out the importation of puppies during the entirety of the early stages of life. That should be in the Bill, rather than in guidance or secondary legislation that follows, to send the very clear message that puppy smuggling will not be tolerated in this country. We also want to raise the maximum penalties for those caught illegally importing dogs. There is a longer sentence available for illegally importing cigarettes than for illegally importing puppies. That does not quite seem right.
There is a question about how the rules will be enforced. I would be grateful if, when the Minister sums up, she explained how much additional funding is being made available to police forces to enforce the rules. The cost of policing puppy smuggling is borne disproportionately by a small number of police forces. How can that be taken into account? We welcome the consultations the Secretary of State mentioned on dogs with cropped ears and tails, and the potential changes regarding heavily pregnant dogs, too. We look forward to those being brought forward and enacted soon.
As regular viewers of Westminster Hall debates on animal welfare will know, the Labour party and I are big fans of Gizmo’s law and Tuk’s law. I do not understand why the Bill on pet microchipping brought forward by the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) has not been cut and pasted into this Bill, because it is a good provision. I would be grateful if the Minister set out why that is, because it enjoys cross-party and public support, and would make a difference. It would put into statute Gizmo’s law, which would make it compulsory to scan the microchips of diseased cats, and not just dogs, and Tuk’s law, which would require vets to scan a dog’s microchip before it was put down. I would be grateful if the Minister could sum up the progress on those two campaigns.
There is strong cross-party support for ending the keeping of primates as pets. I, too, congratulate my constituency neighbour across the river from Plymouth, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), on the work she has done on that, and on the work done at the sanctuary in her constituency, which not only looks after rescued primates but makes the strong, positive, non-partisan case that primates should never be kept as pets.
There is a problem with what the Secretary of State has outlined, in that a licensing system that allows primates to be kept as pets does not deliver on the promise and the pledge that many of us made to our constituents—that we will ban the keeping of primates as pets. A primate keeper licence does not deliver that. I also have serious concerns about whether local authorities, which already in many cases struggle to fulfil their animal welfare responsibilities, will have the powers and resources to go after illegally kept primates and check on those being held under the Government’s primate keeper licence.
I would be grateful if the Minister could set out when the Government will publish the licensing standards, what those standards will contain, who will be involved in drafting them and how many suitably qualified persons there will be across the country. The easiest thing to do here is to say clearly, “Keeping a primate as a pet is unacceptable in the 21st century, and it will be banned.” I do not believe that a licensing system will try to deliver that, but there is public support for that position.
I know the Secretary of State is currently fighting his Back Benchers, because he whipped them to vote to continue to allow raw sewage to be discharged into our nation’s rivers. I hope that keeping primates as pets will not also be considered a mistake by the Secretary of State. The Opposition will table amendments to ensure a complete ban on keeping primates as pets, which I believe the public support, and I hope the Secretary of State will choose carefully how he whips his MPs in that vote.
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the sanctuary in my constituency is called Wild Futures? He seemed to have forgotten the name, although he has visited it. Can he explain why he is not sticking to the subject of the Bill, but rather making disparaging remarks, which are completely untrue, about sewage being disposed of in rivers?
I am always cautious when I compliment the hon. Lady, and hope she receives it warmly. I trust she will when I next mention her campaigns. Wild Futures is a great place, and the expertise that I saw on show was exceptional. It is not the only place in the country that has been caring for rescued primates, and I hope that continues to be the case. My point about raw sewage is simple: we need to be careful about voting in a way that is so contrary to public opinion, and keeping primates as pets—
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is answering a point from the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), and I did not want to prevent him from doing that, but he should not have introduced the subject of a Bill that was debated thoroughly last week and should not be mentioned in the context of Second Reading of this Bill.
I understand what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will contain my remarks to this Bill, but I hope that any whipping and voting on amendments in future will be cognisant of public opinion. On animal welfare, there is strong support for ending the keeping of primates as pets—not for licensing, a “get out of jail free” card, or a small number of very rich owners being allowed to carry on owning primates as pets, but for banning it completely. That is what the Opposition will argue; I look forward to those votes, and I hope that when they come, the Secretary of State will be mindful of public opinion.
I support the measures set out by the Secretary of State on banning live animal exports. That is an issue on which we have campaigned for a long time, and there has been cross-party feeling that they should not happen. I am afraid in recent years we have still seen animals exported, in particular for fattening, and what many of those animals experience in being transported for a long time can be a real concern. I share the concern of the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), to ensure that a system is put in place properly and supported by our farming sector, but long journeys on which animals suffer are not acceptable to the British people, and this measure is long overdue, so I support it.
On livestock worrying, what the Secretary of State suggests here represents good progress, but we must ensure that the legislation is as thorough and robust as it can be. My concern with this section of the Bill is that the language is a little bit looser than I would like, and it could be open to interpretation. I encourage him to look in particular at the definitions of animals as being “at large” and under the control of a person, because already concerns are being raised about how that would work in practice and how the measures would be enforced.
On livestock worrying, which the National Farmers Union estimates costs £1.6 million a year—probably more in terms of the emotional costs to farmers—it is important that we ensure the message is clear and precise for anyone doing that, and, importantly, that it fits alongside a right to roam and further access to the countryside for many people. There are tensions here, and clarity of language would make an enormous difference on that.
Although it is not specifically in the Bill, I also think there is an opportunity within the scope of the Bill potentially to look at strengthening the foxhunting ban because of the nature of the hounds, which are kept animals themselves. It would be good to explore that, and I know my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) will table amendments on that in Committee.
I am proud of Labour’s record on animal welfare. I am proud also that many of the campaigns that have been fought on a cross-party basis and many of the arguments made are popular with the people we represent. People want to see us go further on animal welfare than we have done. They want to see Britain be a beacon nation, putting the health of our animals first and foremost. We know that by the amount of correspondence each and every one of us receives from our constituents when it comes to animal welfare. There are opportunities to enhance this Bill, to make it stronger and to ensure that the necessary provisions are in place.
In the spirit of cross-party working, I am happy to say to the Secretary of State that we will work with him and his Department to seek to strengthen the Bill. I do not want to see votes along the way where arguments on animal welfare are pitted against a three-line Whip, if only because the public want to see us working together in this area. In particular, the bits I have mentioned that could do with a wee bit more strengthening, a little more content and a little more thought, are ones that have enthusiastic popular support among the people we represent.
It is a pleasure to speak on Second Reading of this Bill. I welcome what the Secretary of State had to say, and I welcome what the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), has said, except perhaps for one or two comments on sewage that were unnecessary on this particular Bill. Both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State spoke about Sir David Amess. If Sir David were here tonight, he would be joining in this great debate, and it is such a sad loss that we do not have him here.
Let me get straight into the Bill. On the keeping of primates, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has done tremendous work on that area over the years. She is a great member of the Select Committee, and we very much appreciate what she has been doing. Since we have been talking about cross-party working on animal welfare issues, may I say that nowhere is that more present than in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee? I am delighted with all its members, who usually support the work we do.
We need to make the licensing of primates being kept by individuals very strong and ensure that the private keeping of those animals is phased out as quickly as possible. I understand that that will take a little bit of doing, but it is absolutely the right way to go. We have some very good zoos in this country, but sometimes some extra animal welfare requirements are needed, so let us work with the zoos to ensure that we can make them better and improve life for the animals.
On livestock worrying, there is no doubt that there have been a lot of cases. The problem is that some members of the public think the dogs are just enjoying themselves. They may not actually savage the sheep, but they chase in-lamb sheep and cause many complications with lambing. So much of the damage to sheep cannot be seen at the time; it comes later, so we must do everything we can not only to tighten things up and make the process of identifying dogs easier, but to get the message out to the general public about the danger of releasing dogs, especially when two dogs play together and cause huge damage to livestock. Let us try to ask people to be more careful as they walk through fields.
We are looking at opening up the countryside and at an agricultural policy that enables more people to walk in it and enjoy it. I very much want people to do that, but we have to do it responsibly. We must remember that livestock are worried by dogs a lot. I think that people do not altogether realise that, so I look forward to measures being strengthened in the Bill.
It is quite right that exporting livestock will not be allowed for further fattening or for slaughter, but we do need to be able to export and import breeding stock, because otherwise we will reduce the gene pool. Farming needs really good-quality stock for the future. Livestock can be transported properly and in good vehicles; when people have them for breeding, they make sure of that.
I want to talk briefly about the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets. A lot of animals have been seized, especially puppies, which not only are very young and unsocialised, but can have many diseases. As well as being bad for the puppies, importing them can bring in diseases; even if those diseases are not contagious, the puppies very often need a lot of medical attention, leading to high veterinary bills, and unfortunately they sometimes die. It causes huge problems.
As hon. Members have said, there is huge profit to be made from bringing in puppies. After Second Reading, I want us to look at that. I understand that the Minister of State and the Secretary of State want to reduce the number permitted to five per vehicle; I would like it brought down to three per vehicle. We do not want the system to be abused. Surveys by Dogs Trust and others give 1.4 dogs per owner. That is an average, Madam Deputy Speaker—you can’t actually have 1.4 dogs, can you? Multiplying that by two gives us 2.8, by my maths, so I would have thought that three per vehicle was about right.
I welcome what is being done in the Bill, but I think we could go further, and tightening things up in this area is key. What would probably make the most difference —I ask the Minister and the Secretary of State to move quite quickly on this—is allowing dogs to be brought in only once they are six months old. The benefits would be twofold: first, it would be easier for border authorities to recognise puppies that were too young, and secondly a six-month dog is not as cuddly and sale-worthy as a young puppy. That approach would probably do the most good of all, and I would like to see it in the Bill.
With his veterinary experience, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), my colleague on the Select Committee, is rightly keen to ensure that moving heavily pregnant dogs be stopped, along with the ear-cropping and tail-docking of dogs. I will not go into more detail, because I am sure that he will.
I do not want to speak for too long, because many other Members have yet to speak. I very much welcome the Bill, which deals effectively with the keeping of primates, with zoos, with livestock worrying, with the export of livestock and with the importation of dogs and cats. As I said, I would like to see some tightening up in places; I am sure that the Government are listening.
I very much welcome the Opposition’s support for the Bill. I think that it was very much in our Conservative manifesto, so I am not quite convinced that we have copied it all from Labour’s; some of it we actually came up with ourselves. We are very much a party that supports animal welfare, but I accept that there is a lot of cross-party support for it in this Chamber.
I broadly support the overall aims of the Bill—I am keen to see increased animal welfare across the country and am glad that the Government share that ambition—but of course the devil is in the detail. My speech will focus on just a few areas.
First, the Bill’s attempts to tackle puppy smuggling are particularly welcome, but we need to ensure that they are as efficient as possible. I encourage Ministers to work with organisations such as Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to make sure that their proposals are robust. I have seen the heart-breaking torture of puppy smuggling and its lifelong implications, particularly on animal health and psychology. Often, puppies are smuggled in car boots or under seats; sadly, some do not even survive the journey. That is totally unacceptable.
Right now, the profit motive is high and the risk of being caught is low for smugglers. The Bill proposes a maximum of five pets per vehicle entering the country, but Dogs Trust believes that that must be reduced to three per vehicle if it is to have any real impact on puppy smuggling. In addition, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said, we must increase to six months the age at which puppies can be imported, and ban the transportation of all pregnant dogs for commercial purposes. These are simple measures that would improve the safety of many more dogs.
I would like to see increased protection for exotic animals kept as pets. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, the RSPCA is concerned that the licensing system proposed in the Bill
“runs the risk of allowing some private keeping of primates to continue indefinitely”.
An outright ban on all exotic animals—not just primates, but bears, lions and tigers, for example—being kept as pets would be more effective and more manageable for local councils.
Clause 47 will make several changes to the standards of modern zoo practice. I am concerned that moving zoo standards from primary to secondary legislation will create the risk of the Secretary of State amending rules without any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny. It also concerns me that the legislation does not make a clear enough distinction between private collectors and zoos focused on conservation. We need assurances that there will be full transparency from the Government, both now and with respect to any further changes in the law.
There are still many questions that need answering. What role will the Zoos Expert Committee play in advising on proposed changes to zoo licensing requirements? Will the Government allow the committee to publish its independent advice and Ministers to respond to it? That would be beneficial for zoos and for transparency in the policy area.
Not only are zoos exceptional at caring for animals and providing a fantastic day out, but they do phenomenal conservation work. It is right to recognise that work in the new standards, but the definition of “conservation” must be subject to full consultation from the sector and needs to include all the work that zoos do, including education.
Earlier this year, I visited Chester zoo to see for myself its outstanding work. It has been working with schools to build its curriculum around conservation, engaging thousands of pupils with the topic, and over the next decade it will help to train 5,000 conservationists as part of its conservation training academy. Yorkshire wildlife park is close to my constituency and is well-loved by my constituents. I have seen the incredible work that it does, while expanding its premises and providing an ideal location for school trips.
We must make sure that the definition of conservation is not too narrow, and reflects all the excellent work that zoos carry out. Education is a vital part of conservation, and we need to ensure that it is recognised and supported. The Government must work proactively and effectively with zoos to ensure that no park will be punished or forced to change the important work that it does just to enable it to fit the new standards.
I should be grateful for reassurances from the Minister about the concerns that I have expressed—particularly those relating to accountability and the definition of conservation, which seem to be the two issues that worry zoos most.
Another aspect of animal welfare that the Bill does not cover is testing on animals, and I hope the Minister will have an opportunity to address that as well. A recent poll by YouGov found that almost two thirds of people want to see a plan to phase out animal experiments, and the setting of a target date for ending tests in the UK. When there are alternatives to testing on animals, it should not be allowed. Why are we still tolerating the use of this cruel and unnecessary practice by such huge companies? I also fail to understand why animal testing often occurs twice, with the same ingredient used in different products. Surely causing twice as many animals to suffer is unnecessary. I fear that the Government are backtracking on legislation to reduce animal testing, and I hope the Minister will reassure me about that.
I hope very much that the Government will listen to my demands and will work on the Bill with experts, because we all want it to be as effective as possible.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). I know how committed she is to animal welfare, and she made some very good points, particularly on animal testing and zoos.
The Bill will make a real difference to the lives of animals across our country. It was, of course, Mahatma Gandhi who said that the moral progress of a nation and its greatness can be judged by how it treats its animals. Well, this nation has always been at the forefront of animal welfare, and this Government are taking that historic record to new heights.
I am proud to have played a positive role in promoting animal welfare during my time in Parliament. When we were in opposition I served as shadow Minister for animal welfare, and on Friday my own animal welfare bill, the Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill, will come before Parliament. It will introduce fines for mid-ranging animal welfare and health offences, preserving criminal prosecution for all cruelty offences. However, my work as a campaigner for animal welfare could never have been achieved without the support of an even more formidable campaigner—a man who should be here today, but who tragically is not; a man who epitomised goodness in every interaction he had, whether with something on two legs or four; my dear friend Sir David Amess, the honourable Member for Southend West, whose passing we mourn so much.
I must inform the House that the Westminster Dog of the Year contest will take place this Thursday. Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), I have been asked—I have been given the honour—to enter Vivienne, the French bulldog of Sir David Amess, and we will be taking her to that contest. I know I should not lobby Members—[Laughter]—but they can vote online, on the Kennel Club’s website, to choose their Westminster dog of the year. I hope that friends and colleagues in all parts of the House will consider casting their votes for Vivienne, the dog of Sir David Amess, this Thursday.
There are three areas of the Bill that I want to discuss. The first is part 2, on dogs attacking or worrying livestock. I know that advocates of responsible dog ownership as well as our great farming industry will warmly welcome these proposals, as do I, but the enhanced provisions are likely to lead to more dogs being seized. Can the Minister reassure the House that provision will be made to ensure that all dogs seized under these measures will receive the highest standard of care and welfare?
Secondly, I want to discuss the new measures to help tackle the awful crime of puppy-smuggling, particularly the provisions that will allow for bans on the importation of mutilated animals. Anyone with an interest in animal welfare cannot have failed to notice the fantastic “flop not crop” campaign supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association, Battersea, the FOAL Group—Focus on Animal Law—Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and many other organisations. Can the Minister confirm that clause 46(2) will include dogs with cropped ears, to guarantee an end to that barbaric practice?
Thirdly, I want to turn to matters relating directly to Britain’s magnificent zoos and aquariums. I do so as chairman of the zoos and aquariums all-party parliamentary group, and having only just received a “Zoo Hero” award from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which I accepted with great pride at Marwell zoo a few weeks ago. I am endlessly impressed with the sheer diversity and breadth of the conservation work that good zoos and aquariums undertake throughout the United Kingdom. Probably the first thing we must think of in that context is their notable work on animal reintroductions—that critical work to bolster fragile wild populations. Indeed, I have seen just recently how Marwell zoo has successfully reintroduced desert antelopes into north Africa. However, while that is important, zoo and aquarium conservation work extends far beyond reintroductions. For example, I was privileged last year to visit Whipsnade Zoo—
My hon. Friend knows that zoo all too well. When I went there, I was able to see for myself how a “mammoth” bank of 30,000 thermal images taken of UK zoo elephants is directly contributing to conserving their wild counterparts. This groundbreaking work, completely dependent on zoo-based research, has led to an affordable technology solution to reduce human-elephant conflicts in a range of countries.
As well as engaging in all those unique conservation efforts, our zoos and aquariums up and down the country are bringing millions of visitors—more than 35 million each year—closer to nature. Most of those people would not be able to travel thousands of miles to see these incredible creatures in their home territories.
It is right that this Bill will push many more zoos to scale up their conservation efforts, but that must be done with diversity in mind. We must avoid falling into the trap of considering conservation only in terms of the amount spent or the number of introductions made—measures that only skim the surface of conservation. As conservation will be defined in the secondary legislation for which the Bill provides, it is important for that to be done in a way that truly captures the enormous diversity of the work of our zoos and aquariums. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State therefore make a commitment that as we raise our expectations on zoo conservation, the definition will include the full range of activities that those zoos and aquariums offer?
That, however, is not the only assurance that we need. Inherent in the Bill is the work of the Zoos Expert Committee, which will advise the Secretary of State and the Minister on the future of zoo-based conservation. However, that Committee cannot make its options known to the public or to Parliament. Why, when the Government are proposing a new animal sentience committee with the ability to publish independent recommendations, is that same ability not being afforded to the Government’s Committee on zoos? Will the Secretary of State consider that, please?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his energy and enthusiasm for this issue. Belfast city zoo is part of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and he is probably aware of its project in Belfast on the lemur, which is tied in with Madagascar. Does he agree that conservation does not always have to happen on site, and that it can happen in partnership with Madagascar and other countries that are many thousands of miles away?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really good point that needs to be emphasised more and more strongly by the day. Zoos do incredible conservation work, and they are there to ensure the survival of so many species. They are not just places that tourists go to see animals. We have an amazing network of zoos in this country that provide conservation and education, working with third world countries to protect animals in the wild and to re-inhabit animals. It is so important to emphasise that. I know that Belfast zoo does amazing work in that area, and that zoos contribute enormously to the work of animal welfare and conservation. That is why it is so important that they are included fully in this legislation.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his award and thank him for the incredible, consistent work that he does in this area. Does he agree that in most cases conservation means working with local people to invest in the animals and the landscape, not least because many in places—I am thinking of Kerala—it really helps tourism? It is a win-win all the way round.
The hon. Lady is completely correct. Without working with the local people—the indigenous people of those countries—these efforts are not going to work. We need to ensure that the people in those countries are playing their part, by including them in these projects, as our zoos are doing. That is vital for the sustainability of the projects. I thank her for her remarks.
To recap, can the Minister please give reassurances that conservation will be understood in the broadest sense at zoos and aquariums? Will the Government also seek to make the Zoos Expert Committee more accountable, because that is vital? Finally—I say this in all sincerity—I extend an invitation not only to the Minister but to all Members of the House to visit their local zoo or aquarium. We have the most incredible zoos across the United Kingdom, and it is only by seeing for themselves that Members will see the brilliant work that they do to protect the animal kingdom with whom we share this planet. Our dear friend David Amess said this in June about the forthcoming animal welfare Bills:
“I hope the House will come together, support them and get them quickly on to the statute book.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 243WH.]
I can think of no better tribute to him and to the animals across the United Kingdom that he so adored.
I think that one thing is for absolutely certain: had the tragedy not befallen David recently, he would have been in this debate today championing animal rights, which were so close to his heart. I do not normally profess any opinions, as you know, but I will be voting for Vivienne.
It is a pleasure to speak in this Second Reading debate today, and a complete pleasure to follow the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). I congratulate him on his recent award, and I would like to associate myself with his warm words about our good friend Sir David Amess, whose absence is felt incredibly heavily by everyone in the House tonight.
It is often said with great pride that we are a nation of animal lovers. Our love of animals big and small is right at the heart of our national identity, and if my inbox is anything to go by, it is an issue of huge importance to people across the country. For too long, hard-working animal welfare charities such as the RSPCA have been calling on the Government to take steps to bring an end to live exports, and I warmly welcome the provisions in the Bill to do so.
From dog theft to the rise in puppy smuggling, it is also clear that the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on animal welfare. There has been an enormous impact from the demand for animals, with research from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home finding a more than 200% increase in online searches about buying a dog between February and April 2020. More people becoming pet owners is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. I know that the vast majority of them will go on to become loving and caring owners, but this increased demand has had a major impact on the incidence of pet theft and, crucially, on the demand for dogs and puppies from overseas.
Puppies are currently being bred in terrible conditions and being taken away from their mums at a very young age. Being smuggled into the country is often a terrifying and difficult journey, with little food, limited water and no exercise at all. This Bill is clearly a timely one, and I particularly welcome the provisions in clauses 45 and 46, which take steps to tackle the illegal puppy trade into Britain. It is absolute right that the Government are introducing a limit on the number of animals per vehicle that are able to enter the UK, but I would add my plea to the Minister to go further and consider bringing the limit down from five to three. We can and should do more. Introducing new laws is important, but without giving Border Force the resources it needs, how on earth are those laws meant to be practically enforced? I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what steps will be taken to give Border Force the tools it needs to enforce this much-needed legislation.
I recently had a great opportunity to visit a local dog rescue charity called Hope Rescue in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). I heard at first hand from the brilliant team there about the impact of the increased demand for puppies. While there, I also met a gorgeous puppy who had recently been rescued from an illegal puppy farm at just five weeks old. The Dogs Trust charity has also found that heavily pregnant dogs are increasingly being brought into the UK in an effort to circumvent the ban on commercial third-party puppy sales. I therefore welcome the provision in the Bill that will enable the Secretary of State and his counterparts in Wales and Scotland to introduce measures to ban the import of pregnant animals, or those below a certain age.
This provision will also enable the Government to finally take steps to prohibit the importation of dogs who have had their ears cropped. The RSPCA has reported a 621% increase in ear cropping since 2015. That is a shocking statistic, and I urge the Minister to take steps as soon as possible to address this issue. I also echo the RSPCA’s call for a minimum age limit of six months to be imposed in relation to puppies and I would be grateful if the Minister could outline what recent conversations she has had with colleagues in the devolved Administrations on how she will support the policing of bans such as these.
Finally, I simply cannot resist briefly mentioning a pet issue of mine—if you will pardon the pun—even though it is out of scope of the Bill. The Minister will know my passion for ending the sale of fireworks for public use. All of us with dogs at home know the worry and anxiety that bonfire night brings. My own gorgeous Jack Russells, Dotty and Dora, find fireworks terrifying, and some pet owners report that their pets have to be sedated when fireworks are going off. I welcome the commitments in the Bill, but I would urge the Minister to work with Cabinet colleagues to see what more can be done on this issue and whether it can be brought within scope of the Bill.
For too long, this Government have dragged their heels on animal welfare issues and failed to meet their own manifesto commitments. The provisions in the Bill represent a huge step forward in the work to protect animal welfare, but there is still much more that can be done and I urge the Minister to do everything possible to protect the animals here in this country.
It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in this debate tonight and a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who is a proud champion for animal welfare on the Opposition Benches. I also want to echo the comments made on both sides of the House about our late friend Sir David Amess. I can think of no better tribute to him than this Bill passing through on to the statute book quickly and being a proud voice for the animals of the United Kingdom.
I declare a strong interest in this Bill as a veterinary surgeon, and I very much welcome it and all its intentions. Important action can come forward from it on primates, on livestock worrying and on zoos, but I want to focus my comments this evening largely on the movement of animals. As has been mentioned, the Bill needs to be clearer on some of the specifics. We need to go further in some areas as well. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), has just published a report on the movement of animals across borders, in which we looked at a lot of these issues. First, I would like to cover small animals. As has been mentioned, puppy smuggling is an abhorrent crime that needs to be stamped out, and I look forward to the Bill working towards that. We have seen an increase in this awful trade during lockdown and we need to stamp it out at all costs.
I welcome the comments about heavily pregnant animals. It is difficult to judge how heavily pregnant a dog is. It is currently illegal to import a dog during the last 10% of pregnancy, which is difficult to judge, so we should start looking at the last 30% to 50% of pregnancy.
The Select Committee has heard harrowing evidence of heavily pregnant dogs being shipped into the country, sometimes with fresh laparotomy wounds from a caesarean section, which is dreadful and really needs to be stamped out. We need to take strong action, and I would welcome it if the Bill could provide clarity.
As has been mentioned, we need to increase to six months the minimum age at which animals are transported. I agree with colleagues on both sides of the House about wanting to see that in the Bill, as it would help to reduce this dreadful trade of puppy smuggling.
It will also help if we reinstate the rabies titre checks and increase the post-rabies vaccination wait time to 12 weeks, which would be a win-win for the health status of the animal and will indirectly help on the age limitation. We need to look at those areas.
It is important to set a limit on pets per vehicle, and I welcome the discussions on reducing the limit from five to three. Dogs Trust surveys have shown that 97% of owners have three or fewer dogs, so it would be a sensible change.
I welcome the dialogue on banning the importation of animals that have been mutilated. We have talked about ear cropping and tail docking. In the past year, six in 10 small animal vets have seen dogs with cropped ears. We also have to consider popular culture, the media and celebrity lifestyles, which have a role in not normalising cropped ears.
As the hon. Gentleman is a vet, does he share my concern that the most popular dogs at the moment, flat-faced dogs such as pugs and various types of bulldog, have been bred to have deformities? He is talking about mutilation after a dog has been born, but does he share my concern that we should not encourage people to buy dogs that are very unhealthy because of how they have been bred?
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. Brachycephalic dogs have become increasingly popular, and people need to be educated about the risks such animals sometimes suffer later in life.
The Disney-Pixar film “Up” is a favourite of mine but, looking closely, some of the Dobermans in that film have cropped ears. We need to address the subliminal normalisation of such procedures in culture.
We must not forget cats, which have been mutilated, too. Just as dogs are being cropped, cats are being declawed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton will back me up when I say that that must also be stamped out.
There have been increased reports in the UK of diseases such as canine brucellosis, babesiosis, leishmaniasis and echinococcus. Some of these diseases have zoonotic potential, so I urge the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to increase the pre-import health checks on animals coming into this country. We also need to reinstate the tick and tapeworm treatments for animals coming in, as this will protect the travelling animals and the animals in this country, and it will also indirectly protect people.
Not one horse has been moved legally to the continent of Europe for slaughter, but the Select Committee has taken evidence that it is likely that thousands of horses have been illegally transported for slaughter in Europe. We need to make sure the Bill covers that. The evidence is troubling, so we need to stamp it out. Simple measures such as improving equine identification and moving to a digital ID system would help.
I want to move on to the export of livestock. I welcome the measures to stop the movement of animals for slaughter or for fattening for slaughter but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, we need to make it clear that the movement of breeding animals is outwith the frame of that part of the Bill.
We also need to make sure that we work with all the sectors to improve the conditions for animals as they are transported. It is important that animals are slaughtered as close as possible to where they were reared, which fits into the idea of eating locally produced, sustainable food.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the closure of some of our small slaughterhouses that are close to breeders is a problem? They have been forced out of business. Perhaps the Minister will listen and try to help the slaughterhouses that are still operating to survive.
My hon. Friend, who is also a member of the Select Committee, makes a great point, and she reads my mind. My next bullet point says that a key recommendation of our Select Committee’s report is that DEFRA and the Government need to support and bolster the abattoir network in this country to extinguish the need to transport animals over long distances.
The Select Committee has also started an urgent inquiry on workforce issues in the food supply chain, which has a direct implication for animal welfare. There is a shortage of workers in many aspects of the food production sector, from vets through to abattoir workers, drivers and so on. We must take note of the fact that 95% of vets working in the meat hygiene sector are from the European Union, from outside the UK. We need to monitor and support the veterinary workforce.
The current pig crisis highlights the animal welfare and livestock farming issues we are facing in this country. We have labour shortages and an impending animal welfare crisis, and the Select Committee has taken evidence that it is building up on farms as we speak. Pigs are damming back on farms and are biting off each other’s tails and developing respiratory diseases, and sadly some pigs have started to be culled on farm.
I welcome what the Government have said so far about trying to mitigate against such culls. As a vet I spent a very sad period supervising the cull of farm animals on farm during the foot and mouth crisis. Those farm animals were then not destined for the food supply chain. I can tell the House how upsetting that is for vets, farmers, slaughter workers and everyone else, not least as a senseless waste of food. We must make sure that we mitigate against such culls at all costs.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We have labour shortages, and the pig sector is producing pigs under pressure and to a timeline. Things can build up if there is a stoppage at any point on that timeline, which is what has happened.
I welcome the Government’s movement on visas, English language tests and cold storage, but I urge Ministers to go further and to work across Government. DEFRA needs to work with the Home Office and the Department for International Trade. We need to reopen the export market to China, too. I fear we have an impending animal welfare crisis, and I urge the Government to act quickly.
The Secretary of State touched on devolution, and it is great that the devolved nations are working together on this issue, which is important. I urge all four nations to work closely together so that we do not end up with unintended consequences from the Bill. Lucy’s law on third-party sales is progressive, but unscrupulous people are exploiting the loopholes caused by the differences between our devolved nations, so I urge the nations to work together.
The hon. Member may know that Lucy’s law has still not been legislated for in Northern Ireland, and that a colleague in the Northern Ireland Assembly is bringing it forward. Would he encourage the Department to assist us in closing the loopholes that people have realised exist here on the mainland?
The hon. Member makes a good point. I urge the UK Government to work with all the devolved Governments to close the loopholes in these well-intended laws. We should try to anticipate any loopholes in the Bill that unscrupulous people may try to exploit. We may have political differences on constitutional issues regarding the devolved nations, but I am sure that animal welfare unites us as a United Kingdom and as a House. I firmly believe that we can work together on that.
I really welcome the Bill. The Government are strong on animal welfare, with Bills on sentencing and legislation on pet theft. Animal welfare unites the House, and we have a duty of care to the fully sentient beings under our care. We need more specifics to make the Bill workable and pragmatic, and we must act urgently on certain issues, but I welcome the Bill and look forward to its passage.
From what we have heard this evening, there is no doubt that we are indeed a nation of animal lovers. I declare an interest as an animal lover—as many in the Chamber are—and as the owner of a dog called Herman. Anyone who has invited a border terrier into their home knows that they never fully own a border terrier; border terriers definitely own their humans.
I am sure nobody in the Chamber will disagree that animal welfare is one of the issues on which we receive the most messages and emails, and thousands of people in Luton North have written to me in the short time that I have been an MP. I want our country to have the highest animal welfare standards in the world. My constituents write to me about protecting bees, and about badgers, animal testing, caging, banning fur, and so much more. Young people in particular write to me worried about the state of the planet and every creature on it. How many of those creatures will have their habitats destroyed and become extinct before those young people are as old and cynical as us?
We have heard much about the Government’s commitment to animal welfare. Unfortunately, for many people, belief in that has been rocked. The Secretary of State mentioned the Government’s manifesto commitments and promises. One commitment was not to compromise on Britain’s high standards in trade deals, but recently we have seen a worrying trend with trade deals, and the risk of a race to the bottom on welfare standards. There was, as has been discussed, a manifesto promise to ban the keeping of primates as pets, but the Bill breaks that promise, too. Instead, people will be able to keep a primate as long as they can afford a licence. We are used to monkey business from the Government, but that is something else. All joking aside, if anyone can give me a valid reason why someone should be allowed to keep a primate as a pet, I will happily give way to them.
A zookeeper who had to look after their animals at home could be construed as having them as pets. That is why licensing and a case-by-case, “the individual must come first” basis is so much healthier than an outright ban. It is impossible to deal with different examples without having laws that can understand the difference. Does the hon. Lady not understand that?
I was going to thank the hon. Member for his intervention, but the tone was a little patronising, to say the least. I wholeheartedly disagree, given that any zookeeper who had to look after an animal in their home would be doing so through their work, and under the licence for that job. That was not a valid reason to keep a primate as a pet—it was not a pet.
The Government’s manifesto even promised the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth, yet we have the Prime Minister saying he is worried that COP26 will not be a success. Probably the less I say about the Government’s record on the environment at the moment, the better. We have a duty to protect the planet and the environment for all animals, kept and unkept.
I turn to something more positive and light-hearted. In the recent recess, I visited Whipsnade zoo with my family. It was the first time that I had taken my daughter to a zoo, and the magic in a child’s face when they see in real life an animal they had seen only in books and on the television is a real joy to behold. Whipsnade zoo is much loved by people in Luton North and across the region. During the covid restrictions, I received hundreds of emails from people asking me to campaign and ask the Government to allow zoos to reopen. People are right to be proud of Whipsnade zoo, not just for the happy memories that it provides but because of its proud history of sector-leading work on conservation.
Whipsnade’s freshwater aquarium is home to more threatened and extinct-in-the-wild species than any other in the world. Whipsnade provides significant insights that inform work to help reintroduce and conserve species in their natural habitats, including projects in Madagascar, Greece and Turkey. Its work with elephants directly contributes to protecting the species in the world. It is doing such important work.
Whipsnade zoo’s conservation work also encompasses young people. On-site teachers deliver engaging learning programmes in biology and conservation, inspiring tens of thousands of schoolchildren every year and instilling them with the wonder of and desire to protect wildlife. I will never forget when I saw all these schoolchildren at Whipsnade being hurried around to see the chimpanzees. I explained to my toddler that chimpanzees are not monkeys. Now she points at them and says, “Not monkeys.”
When Whipsnade zoo wrote to me to tell me of its concerns about the Bill, I had to voice them in the House. Removing the definition of conservation work from law and giving the Secretary of State the power to define conservation could easily undermine Whipsnade’s fantastic work and lead to an overly simplistic view of conservation—and, dare I say, a politicised one. We know that the Government have an uncanny ability to turn any old issue into a culture war. I ask them please not to do so with zoos.
I hope that in Committee we will work to protect the brilliant work of our zoos by leaving it to the experts and keeping the politics out of conservation. However, there is one place where politics and animals should meet: the Westminster dog of the year award. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) in saying, “Please lend your vote to Sir David Amess’s dog, Vivienne.” Please, anyone who was willing or wanted to vote for Herman and me, do not do that—vote for Vivienne instead.
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) about fireworks and dogs, and animals in general, I recently presented a Bill calling for tougher punishments for the misuse of fireworks and tougher enforcement of those measures. We know how much that misuse affects animals and animal owners across the country. I hope that there is scope for those measures in the Bill.
Back home, my provincial press this morning referred to the fact that at this time of the year and during fireworks week, more dogs go missing than at any other time of the year. The hon. Lady is right that we must address fireworks to ensure that dogs do not feel threatened.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. This time of the year should be one of celebration, but for many animal owners it is one of absolute fear. There is no need for fireworks to be as loud or as late as they are. Everyone across the House seems willing to work on the Bill to ensure that it is not a missed opportunity to make Britain the country with the highest animal welfare standards in the world. I hope that that is what we see.
I add my tribute to Sir David Amess. It was because of Sir David that my late cat Bosun received an award for being a responsible pet. Sadly, Bosun has passed away; I am hoping that he is providing some comfort to Sir David today.
I would like to raise the case of our fellow primates. We are social beings who need contact with our own kind, and that is the same for all primates. I stood on a manifesto that promised to ban keeping primates as pets, and I want the Bill to fulfil that promise. Like the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), I have visited Wild Futures monkey sanctuary, which is in my constituency, on a number of occasions. I applaud it for the work it does. I say to the Minister that both the shadow Secretary of State and Secretary of State have visited; I am absolutely sure that she will be welcomed by Wild Futures when she finds time in her diary to visit. It is really good at educating people on how primates should be kept and the adverse effect of keeping them in a home.
I am very concerned about the proposed licensing of the keeping of primates as pets. I would like a complete ban on the practice. The only non-human primates in this country should be those kept by experts such as zoos, in places where they have the socialisation that they need with their own species. We need to stop any money from being made from trading monkeys—including by those with a licence, should we end up going down that route. There need to be tougher fines for those who illegally trade in these animals; they should be at least double what is proposed in the Bill. I am concerned that not many vets or local government inspectors have specialist expertise in caring for primates. We need consistency and expertise in the care of these animals.
Often, primates that have been kept as pets need psychological help as well as healthcare, and that is not often easily assessed. Over the years, I have learned that some are fed on the wrong diet, which results in their suffering from conditions such as diabetes. One particular primate at Wild Futures, Joey, had been kept in a tiny cage for decades. All he could do was rock to and fro because he had been kept in the wrong way. Minister, we need to tighten the Bill to address such issues.
Clearly, many primates coming out of the pet trade will for the rest of their lives need specialist care, such as that provided at the excellent Wild Futures monkey sanctuary in my constituency. As we outlaw this barbaric practice, we need to keep those facilities going, and ensure that such places have the capacity to cope. That will cost money. I understand that in the current economic climate it is difficult to introduce anything that seems to do that; I wonder whether that has had an impact when it comes to the proposal for licensing. If it has, I ask the Minister to think again and tell me what resources the Government have put aside to help these centres allow our fellow primates the quality of life that they deserve after being so badly let down by human beings. It is our responsibility to see that they are cared for.
As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cats, I turn to those furry friends. I would like there to be parity between dogs and cats in the legislation with regard to imports. I do not believe that we should allow the importation of young kittens, pregnant cats or declawed cats, and I ask the Government to ensure that that does not happen. I also support the reduction of companion animals from five to three. That seems a sensible figure, and I ask the Minister to reconsider the issue in Committee.
I have asked the Backbench Business Committee for a debate in Westminster Hall on pet travel, so that these issues can be debated in more detail; I really hope that, if I am successful, hon. Members will support that debate. As I wind up, I ask the Minister to consider in Committee my comments about primates and about cats, our wonderful furry friends.
Despite its being heralded as a ban on keeping monkeys, I actually welcome part 1 of the Bill relating to primates and the keeping of them. Governments should not be banning things; there should be licensing. I apologise to the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen); I did not mean to come across as patronising, but I like the idea that the Government have the flexibility through legislation to take into consideration individual circumstances for higher creatures such as primates. There will never be a one-size-fits-all, so that is really sensible. It means that animal welfare is considered on a case-by-case basis rather than there being a well-intentioned but disastrous blanket ban. When it comes to animal welfare, we should respect the expertise of vets acting for local authorities in determining what is a safe and healthy environment for the animal. If someone wants to keep any animal, they should ensure that they can fulfil its needs. They owe that to their pet—they must take the responsibility.
I also welcome and am truly grateful for part 2 of the Bill, which relates to dogs attacking or worrying livestock. Sadly, that is a regular occurrence in my constituency and it is particularly awful when pregnant ewes are torn apart and lose their lambs. It is devastating for the sheep and farmer and is directly due to the dog owners.
Does my hon. Friend share my view that such incidents are very distressing for farmers? It would be far better if livestock worrying were addressed largely through an improvement in the behaviour of dog owners rather than through an increase in destruction orders.
Of course I agree with my right hon. Friend; I will come to that in a moment.
At the moment, a farmer has the right to shoot an out-of-control dog, but I have not yet met a farmer who wants to do that. Farmers love animals but sadly these sheep-worrying incidents occur far too often. Livestock are vulnerable and fairly defenceless. Dog walkers want extra access to the countryside; in return, as my right hon. Friend said, dog owners and dog walkers must be more considerate about how their dogs behave and ideally have them on a lead.
The estimated cost of dog attacks on farm animals in the first quarter of 2021 has risen by 50%. As we have already heard, the National Farmers Union estimated in 2020 that £1.3 million worth of animals were attacked by dogs—an increase of 10% on 2019. But when it comes down to it, the issue is not the monetary value of the animals attacked, but the completely unnecessary nature of the attacks and the fact that the dog owner could prevent them.
Research carried out on 1,200 dog owners revealed that 88% walk their dogs in the countryside. Some 64% said that they let their dogs run free off the lead, while 50% admitted that their pet did not always come back when called. We are trying to do what we can to stop livestock worrying, and part 2 of the Bill is entirely welcome.
The other problem is that dog owners think that their dogs are obedient, but when dogs get excited and see sheep, they are off—they are no longer obedient even if they normally are. When they are really excited by chasing a sheep, they will not come back. That is why they need to be kept on leads, for the sake of sheep especially.
Keeping dogs on leads is particularly important with sheep. It is completely the opposite when there are cattle with calves in the field. The dog owner should let go of their lead and let the dog run away, because otherwise it is people who become the casualties. This is complicated, which is why the Countryside Code matters and why us rural MPs must take opportunities such as this to remind people that what they do with sheep, they do not do with cows.
Let me turn now to the banning of exports for slaughter. Supermarkets have a vice-like grip on the provision and price of meat. Our centralised supply chain is narrow, and I am not entirely happy with the introduction of this ban. The beneficiaries will be supermarkets, the Republic of Ireland, and uncastrated ram lambs. As I mentioned earlier, the Government should be in the business not of banning but of licensing. In that way, only the highest level of animal welfare would be allowed. Sadly, instead, these sheep will now go through Ireland and make the much longer journey to France and Spain.
Around 6,400 animals were transported from the UK directly to slaughter, according to Government figures in 2018. Now the country is facing a shortage of abattoirs, abattoir staff and carbon dioxide. We will need to see animals being sent abroad, and they will go as breeding stock. How long does a sheep have to live in France or Spain as breeding stock before the purchaser can decide to eat it without the UK farmer going to prison for up to six months? That is the sort of thing that I am hoping will come out in Committee.
What steps will the Government take to ensure that live animals are not transported through Northern Ireland to the Republic and then onto Spain? This legislation, while well-intentioned, is full of loopholes, which the unscrupulous traders will exploit. These are the same people who do not care about animal welfare. That is why licensing is much safer than allowing the unscrupulous to win through.
Just on that point about the use of Ireland as an access country, I refer my hon. Friend to clause 42(3), which does include the term “British Islands”. To my mind, that provides a safeguard and prevents that type of activity from occurring.
I am grateful, as always, to my hon. Friend. I think that if he looks at the bit on the Northern Irish element in the explanatory notes, he will find that that is not in there for this particular element. I am sure that he will be on that Committee and sorting that out, which will be wonderful. None the less, it is important and it does matter.
In much the same way, the dog element in this Bill is important. A total of 843 illegal puppies were seized at the border last year. Again, it is always the unscrupulous who do not care that are ruining it for everybody else. I want to use this little moment in my speech to make this appeal to people: rather than spending huge amounts of money on a puppy, please think about rehoming before you buy your puppy. Just because it is rehoming does not mean that the buyer will get a pit bull with mental health issues—their dog could have come from a home exactly like their own where the owner has simply become too ill to look after their dog.
My hon. Friend’s point could be no more pertinent than at this moment in time given that, post lockdown, we are seeing a rise in animals being given away because owners cannot deal with them. We must get the message out that people looking for pets should please rehome these lockdown puppies.
There is no better way of ruining the market for illegal puppies than simply getting them from the plentiful rehoming centres and charities. Finding the right home for our pets is a humane and worthy thing to do, so everyone should please look at this very carefully before they pay large sums of money.
I also urge the Government to look hard at dog theft and all the other animal-related crimes. We have read that they are going to treat such things in a very serious way and I encourage them to do so and I encourage them to iron out some of the minor hiccups in this piece of legislation and continue with the good work they are doing.
It has caught my eye that there is no time limit on the current debate, and, given that we have been kept MPs during covid, it is nice for me to be able to rise to speak, but slightly ironic that it is within the kept animals Bill.
Mr Deputy Speaker mentioned that his vote in the Westminster dog of the year will go to David Amess’s dog. I hope that that has nothing to do with the fact that he met my two dogs on the street at the weekend which are also entered in the competition.
From farmers to residents, Bosworth is a constituency of animal lovers. We were in the top 10 of 650 constituencies when it came to petitioning for animal welfare. At this point, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) for taking his Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill through the House with the help of the Government and the Opposition. That is a good example of what we can do when we work together—we can improve animal welfare. That Act should be lauded and seen as part of the record that the Conservatives are driving forward. I am pleased that this Bill has been introduced, because it really does mean a lot.
There are four main strands to this, and I will comment only briefly on the first two. On livestock exports, I was really pleased to hear the Secretary of State clear up the difference between breeding and fattening livestock. My farmers from the National Farmers’ Union are very concerned that the messaging is not getting out. When they hear us talk about banning live exports, they worry about what is happening to their livelihood. We need a nuance within the messaging and I urge the Government to get that across to make sure that the farming community does not feel threatened.
When it comes to bothering farm animals, I am pleased to see that there is no measure in the Bill that talks about bothering Londoners. Given the weekend that I had with my two whippets down here, I would have been in huge amounts of trouble because of the problems they caused. Fortunately, though, we are talking about the farming community. Again, it has been made abundantly clear that the farming community really feel this issue on an emotional and a financial level, and it could easily be stepped up. Would the Government consider running a campaign to raise awareness of the Countryside Code, because we can join together to change the legislation not only around bothering, but on how to care for our environment. Litter has been a real problem in the countryside during lockdown. An attempt to drive up awareness of what is involved in going to the countryside would be very welcome.
My speech focuses on two elements. The first is puppy smuggling. It is fantastic to see ear cropping and tail docking included in the legislation. Will the Government consider looking at brachycephalic pets? We know that one in five pets now being bought is short-nosed. When we talk about smuggling, could we incorporate that matter as well?
The shadow Minister mentioned micro-chipping and pet theft. I have sat in debates on both of those subjects and was pleased to hear that the Government were open-minded on the matter. Will the Minister comment on the pet theft reform group that has stepped up to look into the detail of this. While pet theft is very much a growing concern, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home says that there is such a fear of it that dogs are not being taken out. Clearly, this must be a fact-based exercise. I would be grateful to hear when those reports are coming forward, so that this House can use those facts to debate the matter and what will actually make a difference.
Finally, I wish to focus on zoos. I must declare an interest: I sit on the all-party-group for zoos and aquariums under the fantastic stewardship of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). It must be said that, during the pandemic, he has been a true champion of zoos. Given that zoos are covered by three Departments—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury—it has been difficult to ensure that the noise on zoos is heard, and there has been no finer champion of them than my hon. Friend.
Zoos have a special place in my heart not only because I have Twycross Zoo in my patch, but because it was the subject of my first question in PMQs. Interestingly, I was not in this place, as it was the first PMQs done remotely, and it was not the Prime Minister answering the question, but the Deputy Prime Minister, but that takes nothing away from the fact that Twycross is incredibly important not only to me and my constituents, but to our region. That was clear from the number of MPs who spoke to me in support of Twycross during the tough times. It should come as no surprise therefore to know that, as of today, I have secured a visit from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up to see our bid at Twycross Zoo for the levelling up fund. As the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) pointed out, zoos do so much. They are the ark of species. When we are seeing such decline, they offer the hope of learning and of contributing to our environment. Twycross is exemplary in that regard. It has put forward a bid for a national education and conservation centre, which will not only breed the next specialists in conservation, but will drive the economy too. It already has 600,000 visitors a year. If the bid is successful, that number will grow. I welcome anyone else who would like to visit Twycross, because it is a fantastic day out.
There is a serious point here. I have met both the Zoos Expert Committee and indeed DEFRA to talk through the Secretary of State’s standards of modern practice and to hear what the Zoos Expert Committee had to say. I am pleased to see that there is representation from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums on the Zoos Expert Committee, because there is a worry among the zoo community about what the provisions on zoos would look like. The zoos that we have heard about today—Whipsnade, Chester and Twycross—will have no problems and nothing to fear, and rightly so.
This Bill is all about driving up the standards of bad zoos. In this age, we must make a distinction between good zoos, which are in favour of conservation and education, and bad zoos, which are simply there to profiteer off the back of animals. That is what is at the heart of the Bill. However, we must ensure that conservation is not simply seen through the amount of turnover or financial dedication, but through all the non-tangibles that we have heard about, such as education and support for places elsewhere around the world. That is what Twycross thrives on. With the four great apes that it has on show, it is literally a world leader in understanding great apes and chimpanzees. That level of conservation must be what the Bill drives forward. I am quite happy for the Secretary of State to have these powers, because as we move forward we must be able to update the legislation. It was last looked at through the reforms of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, but I urge the Government to come forward and clear up what conservation truly means.
That has been a fast canter through my view from Bosworth—from the zoo sector, and from the farmers and residents there. I am most pleased to hear that, in a time of difficulties and hostilities, we have heard such good news from both sides of the House. I really hope that the Bill is a success in supporting animals.
As a fellow patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, may I thank the Secretary of State for his kind remarks about Sir David Amess? They will have been appreciated across the House and indeed outside it. I cannot help feeling that, somewhere just above us, he is watching; given the content of this Bill, I suspect that, as usual, he will also be smiling.
I have listened with interest to the remarks about primates. Indeed, a whole section of the Bill is dedicated to the matter of the care of primates. I cannot for the life of me, having read about and listened to debates on the subject, understand any case whatever for the domestic keeping of a primate as a pet. I am not in favour of the keeping of exotic animals as pets at all, but particularly primates, which are so close to the human race. It seems abhorrent. I therefore ask the Department to take another look at that issue.
On the importing of animals, I shall support my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) if he chooses to table an amendment to limit to three the number of puppies in a litter that can be imported together. It does seem to me that the number is currently too high.
I share entirely the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) about tick and worm treatments. The British Veterinary Association, of which he is a full member and I am merely an honorary member, believes that the relaxation of those regulations was a mistake and that they should be reintroduced. By the way, that would also include a post-rabies grace period of 12 weeks before animals are allowed to travel.
The illegal importing of puppies is horrific. The diseases that are brought into the country and the state of the animals is frequently appalling. The misery that it causes for the animals and for the recipients of those animals is equally grim. My eldest son is a practising veterinary surgeon in a small animal practice, and he has to deal with the debris that is brought into his surgery as a result of puppy smuggling. He sees the misery of the animals and, very often, of the little girl who has just been given a puppy that then turns out to be sick. The crime is abhorrent. We need to throw the book at the people who are doing this. I have said it before and I will say it again: I would like to see a car crusher on the dock at Dover, and, under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, for the cars used by anybody who is found to be smuggling puppies to be crushed in front of them. That might just act as a deterrent. I would, of course, remove the puppies first—just in case there was any doubt. I am not so concerned about the drivers.
It is beyond high time that the transport of live animals for slaughter is ended. I am delighted that we are now getting to grips with the issue.
My right hon. Friend, who represents the same part of the world as me, will be aware of the horrendous event in 2012, when 44 sheep had to be euthanised at Ramsgate harbour. It was an outrageous disgrace. That has been a stain on Ramsgate and on the entirety of Thanet. I am just wondering—I do not think this needs an answer—whether he shares my enthusiasm that the Bill will finally stop the abhorrent trade in live animals.
With pleasure; a large number of people have campaigned for this ban and it is very good news indeed that it is going to happen.
I will put down one caveat in respect of an amendment that may be needed. The transport of live animals, as distinct from for slaughter, will inevitably continue for the purposes of breeding stock and also because, within the British islands, there is a necessity to move animals from time to time. I urge the Department to look carefully at the weather conditions under which, by sea, that is done. My personal view is that if there is an animal on board, no such transport should be permitted when winds are above force 5 on the Beaufort scale.
Finally, I would like to raise an issue that is not in the Bill, but which will, I think, be so soon: the matter of non-stun slaughter. Some of us have worked carefully—one colleague, in particular, has worked very hard indeed—with the religious organisations, particularly those of the Jewish faith and Muslims, to make certain that it is understood that we do not seek to interfere with religious practice. That said, there is a case for much greater regulation of non-stunned slaughtered animals, because we know perfectly well that vast amounts of kosher and halal meat are produced—not for the British market even, but for export. There is no necessity whatever for that. I believe that I am right in saying that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) will be seeking to address this matter. If he wishes to intervene, I would be happy to give way to him.
I thank my right hon. Friend very much; I appreciate his comments. I hope that the whole House would agree that we should indeed pay real attention to and have a real debate on this matter. Does he agree that while we as a House talk very much about the care of our pets—our cats, dogs and others—we should also be having an appropriate, understanding and sensitive debate about that matter?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If he chooses the appropriate time to bring in a suitably sensitive amendment, then he will certainly have my support, and I would hope that he might well have the support of those on the Front Bench as well.
All that said, I welcome this Bill, not just as a stand-alone Bill but as part of a raft of measures introduced by this Government designed to improve animal welfare.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate on a Bill, because this place has spent 38 years only talking about these measures.
We have heard a lot today about the impact of lockdown on our pet population, but I want to focus on the need—currently not addressed in the Bill—to require animal sanctuaries, rescue and rehoming centres to be licensed. As the RSPCA says:
“Most will have been set up by incredibly energetic individuals devoted to animal welfare. But one thing they all have in common is that no-one is checking they have the skills, resources and knowledge to provide the right standards of care for vulnerable animals on a daily basis. When troubled times hit such as staff sickness, a lack of volunteers or funding dries up, there’s no guaranteed fail-safe to ensure that the welfare of animals they care for is never compromised.”
Currently there is no regulation at all, and anyone can set up an organisation and say that it is a sanctuary, rescue or rehoming centre. Regulation will help to protect the welfare of the vulnerable animals that often end up in sanctuaries and rehoming centres, providing safeguards for those involved in their care and helping to give reassurance to those who donate to them that these organisations are meeting the needs of their animals. We know, for example, that some dog sanctuaries can be a cover for puppy-smuggling.
World Horse Welfare rescue centre at Penny Farm on the edge of Blackpool, just outside my constituency, has been increasingly asked to help in situations where rescued animals have been subject to neglect and/or cruelty in other establishments where the management, for any number of reasons, is so poor that it leads to horse suffering. While many sanctuaries will strive to give the care and rehabilitation that horses in their care need, the few that do not meet these standards have the potential to overload the rescue sector if and when they fail. I am already aware of sudden surges in demand, because covid has led to the collapse of unregulated and poorly run horse sanctuaries, and of the impact that that has had on professional horse rescue centres. In 2019, World Horse Welfare committed to taking in 38 equines from two rehoming centres that had failed. However, that figure does not adequately reflect the resource that goes into supporting and advising these organisations to help to raise standards and prevent failure. In addition, cases involving failed sanctuaries and rehoming centres often involve many equines, sometimes in the hundreds, and trying to find somewhere that has the space to take them can be very challenging.
There needs to be a more robust and structured system that will help to ensure that organisations that are at risk of failure are identified quickly and steps are taken to address the problem before welfare problems escalate or they take on more horses than can be easily rehomed. Inspections and licensing should be seen as a framework via which we can drive up standards while taking stronger action against those who fall foul of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 or continually fail to improve standards despite being given time and guidance. Licensing costs must be proportionate for animal welfare establishments, since some could have as many as 2,800 animals. Any legislation depends on the effectiveness of enforcement, so we simultaneously need a review of the enforcement of current animal welfare legislation alongside licensing proposals.
On a separate matter to horses—we have heard about monkeys today as well—I recently visited Birdman parrot rescue in my constituency. It is one of only a few official sanctuaries for unwanted large domesticated birds in the country. Can I seek reassurance from the Government that when they seek to propose legislation on sanctuaries, they will include those that cover birds as well? The situation with birds is very different from that with other pets. There are numerous reports of people setting up a so-called bird sanctuary as a cheap means of gathering a collection of parrots and other species and then suddenly closing down. These birds individually can cost up to £2,500 if purchased, but nothing if surrendered by the existing owner. What steps can the Government take within legislation to ensure not just that sanctuaries are licensed but that the welfare impulse behind such sanctuaries is not abused by those seeking to grow a bird collection on the cheap? Birdman raised additional concerns about the selling of parrots and cockatoos, and the practice of sedating birds in shops prior to purchase in order to present a misleading impression that they will not be noisy after purchase. What preventive measures can the Government put in place?
When looking at the issue of equine sanctuaries, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), will Ministers review the Equine Identification (England) Regulations 2018? There is a need to ensure that equine premises are registered and there is a registered operator responsible for keeping the equine ID record. DEFRA has promised a consultation, but it really has to build bridges with the British Horse Council and the wider equine sector to find a digitised solution.
I also wish to make a number of small points about the provisions regarding the transfer of animals across borders as they relate to horses. Despite no horses being declared as going to slaughter, there is good reason to believe that some are moved under the radar and, often in poor welfare conditions, are now ending up in slaughterhouses. The proposed ban on exports to slaughter in the Bill is an opportunity to put additional barriers in place to help to prevent this trade, but they have to be implemented effectively. I know that DEFRA is engaging stakeholders to assess how to do this, but I fear that it will require additional financial resources and be put in the “too difficult” box by Ministers, who are often scared of controversy, I fear.
Equines are particularly problematic compared with other food-producing species as they can be moved legitimately for purposes other than breeding, fattening and slaughter. Therefore, risk-assessing a consignment based on factors such as declared number of animals per consignment could disproportionately impact legitimate movements, such as for competition, while missing non-compliant movements—for example, by people who declare that their vehicle is empty yet are carrying horses. A joined-up, intelligence-led approach is fundamental to stopping this trade, flagging non-compliances to all enforcement agencies and building up a picture of the individual, the organisation and the associated movements. While these are not welfare non-compliances, they can have significant welfare implications—for example, if a vehicle is highly substandard—and are often associated with poor welfare practices and vulnerable, untraceable equines.
I could go on, if I had time, to address other issues such as local abattoirs or Gizmo’s law and the need for equity between dogs and cats—but I dare not. I am sure that all my constituents in Blackpool North and Cleveleys will welcome this Bill as a significant step forward as part of a wider suite of animal welfare legislation, and it has my full support.
Like every other hon. and right hon. Member who has spoken, I am pleased to welcome this Bill, which contains progressive animal welfare measures that, in some cases, are long overdue and deliver on the manifesto pledges contained in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. As that manifesto put it,
“High standards of animal welfare are one of the hallmarks of a civilised society”,
and this country has always been ahead of the field on animal welfare.
The restrictions provided for in the Bill on keeping primates are absolutely right. Primates, as we have heard, are highly intellectually sophisticated creatures with complex needs that should be kept only in specialised, properly adapted conditions, which is what the Bill will achieve. Similarly, the restrictions on the import of pet animals will, as we have heard from many hon. Members, address the long-standing and worrying issue of puppy smuggling.
I also welcome the provisions relating to dogs that worry livestock. I represent a largely rural constituency, and I know the damage that dogs can do to sheep and other livestock if not properly controlled. It is good that the Government have decided to update the law in this area, but may I suggest that the provisions in the Bill still do not go quite far enough? The maximum fine that can be imposed under the Bill is £1,000. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) introduced her own ten-minute rule Bill on 20 July on this very issue. She pointed out the inadequacy of that fine, when farmers frequently face losses of many thousands of pounds. I agree with my hon. Friend and suggest that the upper limit of the fine should be reconsidered. In our rural areas, dog worrying is a serious concern and a heavier fine is more than justified in order to deter irresponsible dog ownership.
I strongly support the provisions prohibiting the export of livestock for slaughter, which is a very stressful practice for the animals concerned. In all my time in this House, I dare say I have had more letters from constituents on this issue than most others. The ability of Parliament to legislate for the prohibition of the export of live animals for slaughter is a direct benefit of our departure from the European Union. I congratulate the Government on introducing this measure.
I will turn to the provisions relating to zoos contained in part 3 and schedule 5, and I would like to consider them in a little detail. I have a particular interest in this matter, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for zoos and aquariums under the inspired and, as we have heard today, heroic leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). I echo his words entirely. The late David Amess would be delighted to know that this Bill was going through. If ever there were a proper memorial for our dear friend, this Bill is it.
I have a further interest, in that my constituency is home to the Welsh Mountain zoo, the national zoo of Wales. The zoo’s chief executive, Mr Nick Jackson, is a highly respected figure in animal conservation in the United Kingdom and is also a Government zoo inspector of some 37 years’ standing. I have found his advice on the Bill invaluable, and my remarks have been significantly informed by his advice.
It need hardly be said that zoos are an important national asset, with significant societal benefits in recreation and education. Perhaps most importantly, British zoos are a hugely important international resource for animal conservation. The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or BIAZA, is a conservation, education and scientific wildlife charity. It is the principal professional organisation representing zoos and aquariums in the UK, and the APPG works very closely with it. BIAZA zoos participate in more than 800 conservation projects and 1,400 research projects and deliver education sessions to more than 1 million students every year. It is an internationally respected organisation in the field, and its views should be listened to.
Both BIAZA and Mr Nick Jackson have expressed concern about certain provisions of the Bill. The preparatory work for the Bill, and its amendment of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, have been proceeding over the past two years in tandem with a revision of the Secretary of State’s standards of modern zoo practice. Those standards are periodically revised and updated in the light of modern zoo thinking, under secondary legislation provided for by the 1981 Act. This process of periodic revision of the standards is fully supported by the British zoos community.
Although the Government’s advisory body on zoos, the Zoos Expert Committee, has been involved in the revision of the standards, there has been, according to Mr Jackson and BIAZA, a somewhat regrettable lack of consultation with the wider zoo community throughout the process. That is a matter of concern, because the Bill’s provisions transfer the broad definition of zoo conservation out of primary legislation—currently under section 1A of the 1981 Act—and into secondary legislation: that is, into the Secretary of State’s standards through schedule 5 to the Bill. It amounts to a significant transfer of power to the Secretary of State, who will be able to create new obligations, or amend existing ones, in terms of the conservation role of zoos, with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. There is concern that this change is proposed to be made without sufficient consultation with BIAZA or the wider zoos community.
BIAZA and individual zoos fully understand the Government’s desire to strengthen the conservation role of zoos through legislation, and they acknowledge that good zoos have nothing to fear from good regulation. However, it is a concern that, under the Bill, prescribed conservation activities will no longer be set out in primary legislation, but will be moved to secondary legislation through the repeal of section 1A of the 1981 Act. On the face of it, that may seem a good idea, giving the Secretary of State flexibility to modernise zoo conservation standards over time as the needs of the natural world change, without having to return each time to Parliament to amend the primary legislation. I dare say that is why it is so framed.
However, that same flexibility could feasibly also result in moves, for example, to interpret the conservation role of zoos narrowly and lose touch with the broad understanding of zoo conservation as accepted by zoo associations across the world, by global conservation organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and by the public. I therefore would be grateful if the Minister confirmed why it has been decided to move the definition of conservation from primary legislation. Why is it not on the face of the Bill? Conservation, after all, is the bedrock of all modern zoo activity. Surely, therefore, at least its key elements should remain within primary legislation.
That is not to say that conservation should necessarily remain as defined in section 1A of the 1981 Act. That definition probably should be modernised. If, however, there is a good reason for not incorporating the definition of conservation activities into the Bill, at least mechanisms should be put in place to ensure full transparency and proper consultation and accountability when that definition comes to be compiled and revised.
One possible mechanism could be to enhance the role of the Zoos Expert Committee, with clearly prescribed functions in advising on the formulation of conservation obligations and any revisions. The ZEC could have similar powers to the newly proposed animal sentience committee to publish independent advice to which the Secretary of State must then respond.
Finally, a further concern is that, under section 18(l)(b) of the 1981 Act, a zoo can appeal if aggrieved by a condition attached to its licence. Paragraph 17(2)(a) of schedule 5 to the Bill removes that right. That will preclude appeal against any condition relating to standards specified in section 9 of the 1981 Act, which under paragraph 9(3)(b) of schedule 5 will be conservation standards. However well-crafted a standard may be, there is always a danger that it could be applied incorrectly. A right of appeal is surely therefore necessary, and perhaps the Minister can explain why it is thought appropriate to preclude such a right.
To conclude, I ask the Minister to give careful consideration to the concerns expressed by such respected organisations as BIAZA and such respected figures as Mr Nick Jackson. This Bill is good and highly welcome, but it could be even better. I therefore strongly urge the Government to give serious consideration to the points I have raised with a view to putting forward appropriate improvements when the Bill goes into Committee.
It is a pleasure to speak on the Second Reading of the Bill and to follow so many hon. Members who are committed to animal welfare. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) put it so eloquently, animal welfare is something that unites us as a Union and as a House. I welcome the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on the Westminster dog of the year competition. It is right and fitting that Vivienne, Sir David Amess’s dog, is celebrated, and I would like to gift all the votes cast for my cocker spaniel Violet to Vivienne.
I have a particular interest in the Bill because part 2 addresses a subject I have been campaigning on for the past year: dogs attacking or worrying livestock.
When I became the Member of Parliament for Ynys Môn, I committed to learning Welsh. One of my constituents suggested that I watch S4C to improve my vocabulary. When I was watching the excellent farming programme “Ffermio” one day, I caught an item on the impact of dog worrying on farmers. A couple of days later, I followed that up with the chair of Anglesey’s NFU, Brian Bown, and with local sheep farmer Peter Williams. After finding out the extent of the problem, I started working with the NFU, the Farmers Union of Wales, the Department and my local rural police crime team on how we could change the law to protect farmers.
To put the issue into a national context, it is estimated that around 15,000 sheep are killed by dogs each year. The average insurance claim for attacks is more than £1,300, with some claims being in the tens of thousands. The national cost is estimated to be about £1.3 million. To put it into a human context, one of my constituents, Tecwyn Jones, told me how he had found seven pregnant ewes and three rams dead in his fields in Bodedern. They had been killed by an unknown dog or dogs in what police described as a brutal and horrendous attack. His account of the event was truly harrowing. The financial cost ran to thousands, and the emotional cost to his family was huge.
Livestock worrying is legislated against under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which is nearly 70 years old. So much has changed; more people are visiting the countryside with dogs, and technology and farming have moved on. Under that legislation, however, the maximum fine for livestock worrying is £1,000; the definition of a dog in “close control” or “at large” is—pardon the pun—woolly to say the least; and the police have limited powers to seize a dog and no powers to take DNA samples. In July, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to amend the 1953 Act, with support from the NFU.
The Bill puts a policy duty on the police in GB to act. In Northern Ireland, we use the local councils, given the pressures on our police service. Perhaps the Government could take that away and look at empowering councils to take action against such dogs.
It is a team effort and certainly about public awareness.
Some of my proposed amendments have been incorporated into the Bill already, and I am delighted that the Government are taking the matter seriously. I fully support the measures proposed in part 2 of the Bill, but I would like even more robust measures to be proposed and debated. Last week, I wrote to the Secretary of State requesting a meeting to discuss the matter. I am working with the NFU and the Kennel Club to ensure that the changes I propose are fit for purpose and do not penalise responsible dog owners. I conclude this speech with three words: vote for Vivienne.
All five measures in the Bill are important to our constituents. I am proud to support them tonight, and to vote enthusiastically for this important Bill. As every hon. Member has said, we are a nation of animal lovers. I am a dog owner and I have been reflecting on how much dogs can teach us human beings about love and loyalty. We can learn a great deal from them.
Let me go through the measures in the Bill. We have heard a lot about primates. It is right that those magnificent animals should be cared for only in environments where their complex social and welfare needs can be properly attended to. It was many years ago that David Attenborough showed us on television how wonderful those creatures are. The measures in the Bill are absolutely right.
We know how many more dogs have come into the country, particularly during the pandemic, and about the imbalance between supply and demand. I am pleased that measures in the Bill deal with puppy smuggling by limiting the number of dogs coming into the country, not allowing pregnant dogs in, and taking a stand on ear cropping and tail docking by banning them. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) made the important point that on films and on television, we must not show dogs whose tails have been docked and ears have been cropped in any way other than to expose it. I am grateful to him for that.
The issue that my constituents have raised most frequently is probably that of live animal exports. It is fantastic that the Bill will ban that for slaughter and fattening, that it will apply to cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and equines, and that it will apply to journeys beginning in and transiting through Great Britain. That is necessary and important, and something we can do now we are outside the European Union.
Livestock worrying is of particular concern to me, as I have a partly rural constituency. I have been contacted by some of my farmers, who are in enormous distress about the issue. It is not just the significant number of sheep they lose or the loss of income that that represents; it is the huge emotional distress for farmers who love their animals. It is not just a financial crime; it is something that we should not put any farmer through. That is why I am so pleased that we will expand the police’s powers. As was said earlier, however, education for dog owners is really important. No dog should be put down unnecessarily; it should only be a last resort.
I had a worrying conversation with one of my sheep farmers recently, who reported a dog that had attacked some of his sheep to 999, and was initially told that it was not a police matter. I was concerned about that, so I am pleased that the new police and crime commissioner for Bedfordshire, Festus Akinbusoye, has been educating our call centre about the impact of rural crime. I hope that happens across the country, because no farmer should be told that it is not a police matter.
On the point about widening the scope of the measures in this Bill or another Bill, we have talked about pet theft, and my hon. Friend is talking about rural crime. I hope that the Government move forward with legislation on pet theft and strongly consider expanding it to include other animals, such as farm livestock and horses. Those animals are, sadly, increasingly being stolen.
I will always defer to my hon. Friend’s knowledge and experience in such matters. He is absolutely right. I remember an older lady coming to see me in my constituency a few years ago whose small dog had been stolen. It struck me that that was akin to a member of her family having been kidnapped—the removal of a child or grandchild—she was so devastated. We need laws to reflect the gravity of that. My hon. Friend is right that that should apply not just to pets, because the theft of any animal is a serious matter.
Whipsnade zoo is in my constituency. I am delighted that four or five other Members have talked about it, such is its reputation. There are about 400 zoos in this country but I would say, with justification, that Whipsnade is at the pinnacle of global conservation work. I am delighted that we heard from my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), about the fantastic work that Whipsnade is already doing with its freshwater aquarium. She told us that it has more extinct-in-the-wild and threatened species than any other aquarium in the world.
We heard about Whipsnade’s fantastic work to deal with elephant-human conflict, and the 30,000 thermal images that have been taken to support that work around the world, so that elephants and humans can live together without anything bad happening to the elephants. Whipsnade also hosts 50,000 schoolchildren every year, who leave inspired to do more for conservation. In addition, Whipsnade has reintroduced tigers to Nepal, Kenya and Indonesia; it has introduced rhinos back into the wild in Nepal and Kenya; and it has done work to restore the coral reefs in the Philippines. Closer to home, Whipsnade has been involved in getting angel sharks back on the coast of Wales, and even closer to home, Whipsnade has helped get eels back in the Thames, just outside where we are tonight.
I had the opportunity to speak to my hon. Friend the Bill Minister—the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis)—about this conservation work at breakfast this morning. I think the Government get it, and are complete supporters of this fantastic conservation work. I do not believe the Bill is a threat to that work, and I think she will reassure us. I would be failing in my constituency duty if I did not express those concerns, but I do think that we are in good hands with a Bill team such as this one.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity briefly to participate in this important Second Reading debate on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and it is a great pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous).
It has been really heartening this evening to hear people from across the House, the political divide and the United Kingdom supporting the Bill. Yes, there have been some nuanced differences on some of the provisions proposed by the Government, but the unifying aim of this House has been to significantly advance and improve animal welfare standards. I hope that those differences can be worked out in Committee and on Report, as well as when we listen to the Minister’s response in a few minutes’ time.
For example, the fact is that research and conservation really do need to be at the heart of what zoos do best. We have heard some wonderful examples this evening of zoos around the country that contribute worldwide to that effort. When it comes to keeping primates, the view of some in the House is that there should be a complete ban, and others think that there should be a licensing system, as the Bill suggests. The desire is to significantly improve the wellbeing of these highly intelligent and complex animals.
I am particularly pleased that livestock worrying is being addressed, although I have some sympathies with what has been said. The fines and the action proposed could perhaps be improved and sharpened up further still to make this a really effective piece of legislation. I am vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare, which has been looking at the issue for some time, and I am pleased that it is very much central to this Bill.
It is great that the Bill addresses the importation of puppies, and the practices of docking tails and clipping ears. However, perhaps in Committee we could look at the number of puppies brought into this country privately, and at reducing that number to a more realistic figure.
Principally, I welcome the ban in the Bill on live animal exports for slaughter and for fattening. This is something my late mum was a great campaigner on many years ago, and it is so heartening that now that we have left the European Union, we are able to introduce this ban. To reflect the comments of hon. and right hon. Members from across the House, there is a potential loophole in the export of animals to the continent through Northern Ireland; it is important that we look to address that. Reducing the journeys of animals is also good for our environment and carbon footprint, and we have heard about the economic benefits. The ban on the live export of animals does not cover poultry, and I would be grateful if the Government looked at that.
I mention poultry deliberately, because on 22 September I had a ten-minute rule Bill, the Hen Caging (Prohibition) Bill, which is known as Beatrice’s Bill after a rescued hen. This is really very poignant for me, because our late, dearly loved colleague from Southend West, Sir David Amess, was a co-sponsor of that Bill. He sat about here on these Benches as I presented that Bill to the House, in support, and his last comments in this House on the record in Hansard were, very typically of his character, kindly supportive of the measures in that Bill to end so-called enriched cages.
Battery farming for hens was banned in this country in 2012, but enriched cages are not much bigger, and they present many animal welfare concerns. The hens are not able to display their natural behaviour. Millions of hens still live in those conditions, despite many of our main retailers, wholesalers and other suppliers moving to a commitment to 100% free-range eggs. I therefore find it poignant to mention the importance of those provisions, something that Sir David—our dear friend—cared about so much, as he did about so many other subjects that we have heard about in the last week. Last Monday, I did not have an opportunity to pay my respects and tributes to him, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so now.
I am glad that this has pretty much been a debate of consensus. “Erskine May”, our rulebook, which sits on the Table, says that it is out of order to make farmyard noises in this House. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am glad that we have not had to resort to that this evening.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and to follow the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), and I thank him for that.
I am well aware that this Bill does not specifically apply to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State in his introduction referred to that, but also referred to the discussions he has had with the Minister in Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots, through the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. I know that the Minister probably does that nearly every week, and that there is regular communication between the Assembly and here. It is always good to have that, because the co-operation, partnership and teamwork that resonates across this great nation is something I welcome. It follows that the Northern Ireland Assembly will be taking note of the passage of this Bill and be giving consideration to the similar legislation to be passed in Northern Ireland. I would hope very much that my party and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart), as well as other parties, will feed into that process.
Key to the issue of puppy farming is pet movement, and its regulation needs to be extended. Every hon. and right hon. Member has spoken on this issue. I, along with reputable bodies such as the Countryside Alliance, welcome the proposed changes to the number of animals that can be moved under retained EU rules for the non-commercial movement of dogs, cats and ferrets. The current maximum of five animals per person will be reduced to three, or a maximum of five per vehicle. That will help reduce the current abuse of the system, which in particular allows the import of low-welfare puppies into the country.
I know that the Minister and the Secretary of State have both referred to this in the past, but I again underline that this issue is about better co-operation. I have referred to better co-operation between Northern Ireland and here, but it is also good to have better co-operation between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic to make sure that we do not end up with any serious problems.
Others have talked about this, but I would also like to say for the record how much I would have liked, as others would, to have seen the now deceased hon. Member Sir David Amess here to participate in this debate. He was a wonderful man. I do not say that because he has passed; I say it because it is true. Although every one of us misses him very much, we also celebrate his contributions to this House, which were enormous and resonate with many things. Last week we had a debate on Iran, and he would have been there but for what happened. Tonight he would have been here to participate in this debate on the Bill, and I want to say how much we miss him, and how much he lives on in our hearts, minds and thoughts for the future. Last week was hard for everyone in the House—who of us did not shed a tear? Some of us perhaps also looked back and thought of all the wee funny jokes he had with us. Those were all good times.
Let me return to animal welfare. The Bill rightly retains the exemption for larger movements for sporting and competition purposes. That covers the exemption for pet animals that are moved into Great Britain for the purpose of participating in competitions, exhibitions, sporting events, or training for such events. I welcome the Government’s intention to use the powers in clause 44 to amend retained EU legislation to prohibit the importation of puppies under six months old, heavily pregnant bitches, and those that have been subject to mutilation—as we said, that could involve ears or tails—that would not have been lawful here, subject to necessary and sensible exemptions. Numerous constituents have raised that issue with me, and I hope they are also pressing my hon. Friends and colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure continuity on this issue through the entire UK.
My hon. Friend will know that the Bill makes positive moves regarding the export of livestock and the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets, but in that area we in Northern Ireland are governed by EU law. That is the consequence of the protocol, and it is yet another reason why we need the Government to bring Northern Ireland back under the laws of this land. Does he agree that time is ticking, and that we need action now?
My hon. Friend knows that I agree with her. There is no doubt about that whatsoever, and I am pleased to endorse her comments.
As the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) said, livestock worrying is a concern, and that has also been raised by many of my local farmers. I know that the Bill does not touch on the issue directly, but it is a matter we will be taking forward in the Assembly. I have raised the issue numerous times over lockdown, as more people bought or obtained dogs for company, and then took a country walk to get out of the house. There is nothing wrong with that, but we should always remember that a dog will want to roam—that’s the way it is. The Bill retains the existing exemption to the offence of being in charge of a dog “at large” with livestock present for working dogs, including working gun dogs or packs of hounds.
The main changes in the Bill would introduce control orders, destruction orders or disqualification orders that the courts may impose following a conviction for a livestock worrying offence. Control orders would require owners to take specific steps to avoid future offences, destruction orders would require dogs whose actions resulted in an offence to be destroyed, and disqualification orders would prohibit an owner from owning or keeping any dog for a period at the court’s discretion. I welcome the measures put forward by the Government on livestock worrying and protection. I think the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire is right, and that every Member of the House would also endorse that. I have also been in touch with bodies that have stated their preference for the provision on “at large” dogs to be further strengthened, to require that dogs in fields with relevant livestock be kept on leads at all time, subject to the working dog or keepers exemptions.
Finally—this issue has been very much in my mailbox—I want to talk about the export of live animals. The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and others have referred to that, and I believe we must do more to support greater animal welfare. I am supportive of the measure in the Bill, but I agree with the Countryside Alliance which said:
“We would suggest that in order to account for unanticipated emergencies, the Bill be amended to grant the Secretary of State the power to dispense with the prohibition on a temporary basis. If, for instance, the country faced circumstances in which domestic slaughterhouse capacity because severely restricted, it would be preferable for the range of emergency measures available to the Government to include an option to permit exports for slaughter temporarily, rather than being limited to culling.”
Perhaps when the Minister sums up the debate she will indicate whether such discussions have taken place with the Countryside Alliance to address those issues.
This is an opportunity for DEFRA to work to ensure a proper network of local abattoirs, so that livestock are slaughtered as close to home as possible. As others have said, it is also an opportunity to address food labelling, so that meat and products containing meat that are labelled “British only” contain only meat from animals that were born, raised and slaughtered in this country. Post Brexit we have opportunities that must be realised, and that presents another opportunity to ensure that British meat comes from animals that were born, bred and slaughtered in the UK. I look to the Government and the Minister to consider these issues sympathetically. Indeed, I know that will happen. Others have referred to it, and the House is united to try to push the Bill through.
I thank the Secretary of State, who is no longer in his place, and the Minister, for the hard work they have undertaken on this Bill. As we have heard, animal welfare is a vital cross-party concern, and as MPs it is in our postbags regularly as a definite priority of the UK public. The Bill is an important improvement on existing animal welfare legislation, and the Scottish Government have granted a legislative consent motion, working in conjunction with the Minister and the Secretary of State on those issues that link with devolved competences.
It is vital that we work together, and I wish to pay tribute to the memory of Sir David Amess MP, who did so much work on animal welfare across the House. He was a fantastic cross-party colleague in that work, and I learned so much from him in the time I knew him. What happened has been such a shock to us all. It is something that we are left reeling from, but we will always fondly remember the work he undertook, which led to many good Bills coming through Parliament, not least the one we are discussing today. I will certainly be voting for his dog, Vivienne, as Westminster dog of the year. The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) mentioned Calderglen zoo and said that we should visit our zoos. I have already visited Calderglen zoo in East Kilbride, where I was put into a number of cages with many different animals to give them their dinner. I experienced the tortoise weeing on my hand, but despite that I am very keen for tortoise welfare to be taken forward across the UK.
I thank the many animal welfare organisations that have contributed to the Bill, including the Blue Cross, Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Marc the Vet. I give a special commendation to the all-party dog advisory welfare group, which I currently chair. That has cross-party working at its core, because these are all issues that concern the public and MPs.
On primates as pets, many animal welfare charities would like a complete ban rather than licensing, because primates have really complicated welfare needs. That was outlined very well by the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), who undertakes lots of excellent animal welfare work across the House, in addition to having a fishing specialty. Primates are often fed unsuitable diets and held in unsuitable cages, but they have advanced cognitive capacities, so that is psychologically extremely cruel. We must conclude that primates are not suitable as pets, and we must overcome any loopholes in the Bill.
Worryingly, licensing could be seen as giving approval to, or legitimising, the keeping of primates as pets. I think that is where some of the anxieties of the animal welfare organisations come into play. Alongside that, many local authorities simply do not have the capacity or expertise to enforce licensing requirements. Perhaps those issues can be addressed during the Bill’s passage.
The legislation on livestock worrying definitely needs updating. The Scottish Parliament recently updated the legislation in Scotland, via my colleague Emma Harper. Livestock worrying is of great concern to livestock owners and causes pain and distress to the animals. However, as well as being an animal welfare issue for the animals in the fields, it can be an issue of irresponsible dog ownership. The Blue Cross says that it does not want a situation where dogs are euthanised unnecessarily because of irresponsible dog owners. We should state clearly and explicitly in the Bill that owners should keep their dog on a lead in areas of livestock. It is a myth that dogs cannot enjoy a walk if they are not off the lead, and that should be overcome in messaging to the public.
I am delighted that the ban on live exports for slaughter is coming to pass. That is extremely welcome. I have wanted that and worked for it for a long time, and it has cross-party consensus. We have spoken tonight about loopholes, and I would like to see those closed.
Let me point out an issue that perhaps has not been mentioned yet. I am aware that many greyhounds are exported to Asia—to various countries—and I have been notified by charities working in greyhound welfare that those dogs are then found in dog markets and, sadly, find their way into the food chain in other countries. That has to be dealt with.
On the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets, the all-party parliamentary group on dog advisory welfare worked cross party to champion Lucy’s law, which is now being expanded across the nations of the United Kingdom. We hope to see that introduced in Northern Ireland in the near future. I am keen to see further measures enacted to combat puppy smuggling, and I entirely agree with and take on board the issues raised tonight regarding the significant number of dogs that have been imported, particularly during covid. The conditions are appalling.
We would like the maximum number of dogs that may be taken in transit reduced from five to three, and the minimum age of those puppies increased to six months. I understand from vets that consult with our all-party group that that is very important to aid screening, but also because dental checks can age a dog at around six months, but below that it is very difficult to determine the age of a puppy.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) made an excellent point about the importance of alternatives to animal testing. That is not in the remit of this Bill, but I notify Members that early-day motion 175 seeks a scientific hearing on best practice. This issue, which was debated in an e-petition debate tonight in Westminster Hall, is another that the public feel extremely strongly about. I could not be in two places at once—I have not managed that yet—or I would have been there, too.
We really must get behind the Scarlett Beagle For Life On Earth campaign led by Ricky Gervais and Peter Egan and ensure that there are alternatives to testing on animals, and in particular to the terrible plight of beagles. Scarlett was lucky to be rescued, but so many beagle puppies suffer a short life of tests, toxicity and then death. We were informed at the dog advisory welfare APPG that beagles are used because they are extremely placid little dogs; they do not usually bite or retaliate, and they can even be trained to give their paw for injections. We really must make progress on these issues.
I am delighted to speak at this important stage of the Bill, and to work jointly and collaboratively with so many excellent colleagues from across the House who champion animal welfare. It is vital that we legislate for these issues, given their importance to the public, who hold them in their hearts. Compassion must be at the heart of the legislation. Once again, I thank everyone involved for making this an important, memorable and poignant debate in memory of Sir David; he would be pleased that it was so constructive and positive.
May I start by echoing all the warm tributes to Sir David Amess? My office in 1 Parliament Street is very close to his. We often spoke in the lift and came over to vote together. We had different political views, but what a lovely fellow. Like everyone, I miss him very, very much. If anyone is running a book on the Westminster dog of the year competition, close it now, given the number of promises for Vivienne—although we politicians know that promises do not count for anything, so get out and vote!
We are all animal lovers here—no one doubts that—and we all care, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. I was slightly disappointed not to hear anything from the Secretary of State earlier about the animal welfare crisis unfolding on this Government’s watch, for which I think they bear some responsibility. I am, of course, talking about the crisis in the pig sector, which the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) spoke about so eloquently. It is absolutely right to celebrate the end of live exports in the Bill, which we strongly support—we are not opposing the Bill tonight—but it is worth noting that there have been as many pigs culled in the fields in the last few weeks as, sadly, live animals exported for slaughter in the last year. I fear there will be more to come. In answer to a written parliamentary question, the Government recently admitted that they do not keep a tally. Perhaps the Minister can tell us why not. These are kept animals—dumped animals, effectively. They do not feature in the Bill, but, like many other things, they probably could and should have.
Once again, the Government are doing things in the wrong order. Just as the Environment Bill should have come before the Agriculture Act 2020, just so we have a rather eclectic collection of bits and pieces on animals in this Bill, when the key legislation that we should have started with, the Animal Sentience (Welfare) Bill, is in the other place. If anyone wants to see some really traditional Conservative views on that, I suggest they read some of the speeches made on that—not a lot of time for animal welfare there. We on the Labour Benches take a very different view. There is so much that needs to be done that Labour will do: better conditions for piglets; an end to the cage age; and an animal welfare commissioner to make sure it all happens. That is for the future, but tonight is a start, and we will work with that.
Let me start with primates. The Government have made big promises to end primates being kept as pets, but as we have heard from Members from across the House, that is not what is happening. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) and Government Members, made that point. The licensing system proposed in the Bill allows the continued breeding and selling of primates, meaning that primates can be kept as pets in perpetuity. That needs to stop, and I think there are others across the House who agree with that position. If the Government are introducing a licensing system, it must be one that improves primate conditions and ends the domestic breeding and sale of primates, so we can gradually see it phased out. We think the position should be much clearer. I suspect there will be an interesting debate on the issue in Committee. We also think the Government have been too vague about the welfare conditions connected to the licence. Perhaps the Minister could tell us when the standards will be published, what they will contain and who will be involved in drafting them.
The Government have deployed one of their favourite tactics: palming off costly responsibilities to local councils. We all know how councils have suffered over the last decade, and they will need additional support. Perhaps the Minister can explain how councils will operate a costly and complex system without any additional support.
We have had a good discussion on livestock worrying, and I suspect there is strong agreement on it across the House. However, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has criticised provisions in the Bill that state that a dog must be “at large” for its behaviour to fall under the definition of livestock worrying. It says that that is
“too broad and contains loopholes”.
We rather agree. We think a dog should be on a lead when near livestock, and we do not believe there should be an exemption for packs of hounds.
We all welcome the ban on live exports, but the exportation of livestock for slaughter has always posed significant welfare concerns. Prolonged periods of transportation expose animals to food and water deprivation, overcrowding and lack of rest, and exporting animals has always opened them to the risk that they will be slaughtered in conditions that fall below UK standards. However, the Bill ignores the obvious truth that long journeys in the UK to slaughterhouses also harm animal welfare—a point made by those on the Government Benches and by the Animal Welfare Committee.
In the UK, the number of local abattoirs has been significantly reduced, meaning that many farmers have little choice but to send livestock long distances for slaughter. Everyone will be aware of the strong campaign that has been waged on this matter, which is frequently raised with me by farmers who would like to return to a mixed farming model, but are reluctant to subject animals to such long journeys. There was some incredulity at the comments earlier this year by the Secretary of State, who seemed to suggest that that was not a problem. Can the Minister commit to working to re-establish local networks of slaughterhouses, to end the suffering of animals undertaking extensive journeys inside the UK?
During the pandemic, we have all heard about the rising demand for pets, and many have spoken tonight about the horrible, illegal trading of puppies and smuggling of animals. While we welcome the provisions in the Bill, we do not think they go quite far enough, and we heard many hon. Members talk about that. I hope the Government will listen to calls from the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and others to reduce the number of pets permitted to travel across our border in a non-commercial vehicle from the suggested five to three. We heard powerful case made by my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), and by the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). We think it would be much better to make that change sooner rather than later, and I am sure the matter will be discussed intensively in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham also talked about the provisions restricting the importation of animals on welfare grounds, such as by raising the minimum age of imported animals and banning the importation of heavily pregnant animals and animals subjected to illegal mutilation. Those provisions are not in the Bill but will be put in secondary legislation. Many hon. Members who spoke would like the Minister to explain why it is being done that way. I was struck by the number of Government Members raising concerns on zoos. I suspect that will also be something we will want to look at much more closely in Committee.
In conclusion, this seems to us a slightly odd Bill, perhaps more limited than it needed to be, but useful, and one that could certainly have been better. We will not oppose it, but given that there is so much more to do, I can guarantee that we will look to improve it in Committee. We look forward to challenging the Government to explain why they do not want to do what it appears so many hon. Members on their own side would like them to.
This Bill shows the Government’s commitment to improving the standard of welfare for all kept animals. We have heard this evening from animal lovers, farmers and dog and cat owners from across the House. We have covered almost the full range of the animal kingdom.
The Minister is quite right that the UK is leading the way on animal welfare, but she is aware of the thousands of dead crustaceans that have washed ashore on Redcar and Marske beaches in recent days. Will she work with me to establish the cause?
Indeed, we had not yet heard about the crustaceans. I will of course work with my hon. Friend, who raised this serious issue with me several days ago. We have commissioned research from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science to find out what on earth is going wrong on the beach in Redcar.
Many hon. Members feel that more should be in this Bill—Gizmo, Tuk, microchipping, animal sanctuaries, fireworks and animals being used in scientific research—and I am happy to take those matters up with them individually, although not now. I accept that not everything that we could possibly do for animal welfare is in this Bill, nor indeed is everything in our action plan for animal welfare covered.
Nevertheless, the Bill is significant progress. This House has been passing animal welfare legislation since 1635, when we prohibited
“pulling the Wooll off…Sheep”
and forbade the attaching of ploughs to the tails of horses. I am sure that we will continue to pass animal welfare legislation, but I would like to point out the significant steps that we are taking this evening.
I hope that hon. Members will not take it amiss if I say that, in many ways, the most important speech was not made: the one by our hon. Friend who represented the city—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] —of Southend. I do not think it presumptuous to say that I know what he would have said; after all, he had been saying it for 38 years. I quote from a speech that he gave on live exports in 2012:
“Any practice that regularly inflicts such pain on living creatures, and, worse, regularly leads to their deaths, should be ended as soon as possible.
This is not an impossible dream.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2012; Vol. 555, c. 514.]
Well, not any more, David. I know that he would have been proud that Brexit allows us to deliver on many of the issues on which he campaigned.
The Bill will deliver our manifesto commitment to end live exports for fattening and slaughter. Long journey times pose clear welfare risks, and a consultation several years ago showed that 98% of the public support a ban. I thank the farming world for working with us on it. Breeding animals are typically transported in very good conditions, above the regulatory baseline, and poultry are generally exported as day-old chicks in excellent condition. Nevertheless, we will continue to work with Members across the House on closing possible loopholes. Clause 43 will allow us to make regulations on the matter, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) called for.
I am a great supporter of local and even mobile abattoirs; I visited one at Fir farm recently and am always happy to take up the issue with anybody who wishes to discuss it. Wider transport reforms are also important. We have done a great deal of work on length of journey for animals generally.
I am afraid not, because I have a great deal to get through.
A series of stakeholder workshops are coming up, and we will make statutory instruments late next year and in 2023 to deal with the wide range of issues thrown up by the consultation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) spoke about the specifics of transporting animals, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who spoke about his late mum. I refer my right hon. Friend to Scottish research about conditions at sea; I will make sure to pass him a copy of it. We have looked carefully at that important issue.
On livestock worrying, dog attacks on farm animals are a major concern for farmers. The Bill gives enhanced tools to the police, expands the type of livestock protected and will ensure that police can respond more effectively. I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)—who rightly pointed out that dog owners need to behave more responsibly, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie), who has worked so hard on the issue.
The Bill delivers the manifesto commitment to crack down on illegal puppy smuggling. I have heard what has been said about numbers, but we have worked hard to get them right in consultation with the public; we will continue to do so, though. The Bill also includes the powers to enable us to introduce further restrictions—I have heard what has been said about that—such as raising the minimum age and tackling the importation of pregnant bitches and cropped and docked dogs. The consultation closed last week; we had 14,000 responses, which I am working through now. We need flexibility, and we need to address this area of the Bill through regulation to get ahead of the criminals.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) mentioned her love of cats, as chair of their APPG, and the importance of ensuring that the Bill covers them. I reassure her that clause 46 covers “dogs, cats and ferrets”. We know that the problem is greatest for dogs, so we will probably cover them first, but our ambition does not end there.
We know very well that primates have complex welfare needs and are not suitable pets. We have introduced a licence, and not one that people can just pay for; the aim is to meet the stringent conditions required for meeting the complex needs of primates. There will be regular inspections and vet visits, and we absolutely have a plan for how our approach will be enforced. The Secretary of State has worked closely with Monkey World, which is well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), and with Wild Futures, which I would be delighted to visit.
My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall introduced a private Member’s Bill on the subject 10 years ago: the Keeping of Primates as Pets (Prohibition) Bill. It was suggested by some of those organisations, which are well aware of all the issues involved in primate keeping, that a licensing system would be most appropriate, but I am happy to work with Members on that.
On zoo licensing, it was good to heard from the “Zoo Hero”, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who told us again about the important conservation work done by zoos. We also heard from the vice-chairman of his all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). The Bill reforms the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, improving its operability and allowing for animal welfare standards to be enforced more thoroughly. The aim is to absorb conservation measures within the existing process for other zoo standards. We think that this will raise conservation standards, and I want to reassure Members on both sides of the House in that regard. The standards are drafted by the Zoos Expert Committee, and we are about to start serious engagement with the wider sector. I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford about the specific points that he made about appeals and so on.
This Bill will extend and strengthen protections for pets, farm animals and kept wild animals. Yes, there is more to do, but that does not detract from what we are doing today. I was not going to reveal my voting intentions for the Westminster Dog of the Year contest, but I think I will after all: we will probably all be voting for Vivienne. I know that David would be very proud of the progress that has been made, and I commend the Bill, in his name, to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) BilL (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on 18 November 2021.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Amanda Solloway.)
Question agreed to.
Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, it is expedient to authorise:
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase in expenditure in the sums payable under other Acts out of money so provided, where that increase is attributable to:
(a) any provision of the Act relating to primates;
(b) any power in the Act to apply such provision to other animals; and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Amanda Solloway.)
Question agreed to.