I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill has been years in the making. The principles behind the Bill have incredibly strong and widespread public support, as demonstrated by a recent survey commissioned by Save the Asian Elephants, including the support of over 80% of my constituents in Guildford. It has also been welcomed by other animal welfare organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and World Animal Protection.
The Bill rightly has significant cross-party support and builds on this Conservative Government’s excellent track record on animal welfare. While we have had so many significant pieces of legislation brought forward to improve animal welfare in the time I have been a Member of Parliament, it is vital that we do not rest on our laurels. There is still a huge amount of work to be done in animal welfare domestically and internationally.
The Government’s action plan states:
“In line with setting a global example on animal welfare, we also want to make sure that businesses do not benefit from selling attractions, activities or experiences to tourists involving the unacceptable treatment of animals. For example, animals such as Asian elephants may be subjected to cruel and brutal training practices to ensure their obedience. We will legislate to ban the advertising and offering for sale here of specific, unacceptable practices abroad. Our intention is that this will steer tourists towards visiting attractions that involve animals being cared for and treated properly.”
Today, working closely with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials and Government Ministers, I am delighted to present the Bill. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the Government’s continued support for this legislation on Second Reading and as it progresses through each stage.
Why do we need this legislation? World Animal Protection UK kindly wrote to me earlier this month with “The Real Responsible Traveller” report, based on independent research carried out by the University of Surrey in my Guildford constituency. The report presented an assessment of nine of the world’s leading travel attraction experience companies and tour operators on their commitment to wildlife-friendly tourism. Although two big-name companies have worked with World Animal Protection to proactively remove captive wildlife entertainment from their businesses, five of the most influential travel companies in the UK continue to sell harmful, exploitative wildlife experiences, such as swimming with dolphins, wildlife shows, big cat petting and selfies, animal rides and bathing.
Some of the methods used to train these highly intelligent animals to perform include: depriving dolphins of food so they will perform; confining dolphins to tanks 200,000 times smaller than their natural home range—the tanks are nearly always featureless, with little mental stimulation—separating elephant calves from their mothers at a young age, restraining them with only minimal movement and keeping them in isolation to break them; and subjecting elephants to violent training regimes, such as repeated beatings with hooks and sticks, as well as reducing their natural roaming range, which varies from between 30 and 600 sq km in the wild. I encourage anyone watching the debate today to follow the social media accounts of Save the Asian Elephants. One cannot fail to be moved by the plight of these graceful animals being subjected to barbaric treatment.
However, it is sadly not just animals that are at risk. I was briefly able to meet and chat to Helen Costigan when Save the Asian Elephants CEO Duncan McNair, other parliamentarians and I presented a petition to Downing Street last week. Helen suffered the devastating loss of her 20-year-old sister, Andrea, on a visit to Thailand in 2000, when an elephant trained by the methods I have outlined charged. Helen said that they did not understand the dangers or the abuse that elephants face. She rightly pointed out that for a normal person going on holiday, asking whether things are ethical is not at the forefront of their mind. She has worked incredibly hard over the intervening years to make sure that others do not have to experience her grief and loss.
It is perhaps not for this Bill today, but it is important to think about social media influencers, who use their accounts to promote these sorts of activities. They may not be one of the companies we are targeting today, but they often receive money, payment and an endorsement for promoting these activities. It is perhaps not for this legislation, but we need to look at how we can effectively target the online influencers in this space as well.
I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) was able to bring this subject before the House last week in an Adjournment debate on animal welfare in overseas tourism. He was able to go into significant detail about the impact of low animal welfare on several species, and I encourage right hon. and hon. Members to read his contribution. The other impact that he described was the impact on humans: the risk from Asian elephants, cruelly trained—beyond crushed organs, broken limbs and serious head injuries—of the transmission of deadly tuberculosis via their large volume of exhalation. He also referred to concerns about the potential transmission of other airborne pathogens. We have only to look at the past few years, during which we have experienced a virus with zoonotic origins, to know that we need to be careful about this sort of activity as well.
What, then, does the Bill seek to do? Clauses 1 and 2 set up a framework of offences involving the sale and advertising of low-welfare animal activities abroad. Clause 3 outlines penalties, prosecutions and liabilities for the offence or offences, including disapplying section 127 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 and article 19 of the Magistrates’ Courts (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. This means that complex cases for prosecution can exceed the usual six-month time limit. Clause 4 provides relevant enforcement powers, and clause 5 establishes procedures for making regulations in the UK Parliament and the Northern Ireland legislature.
My understanding from discussions with officials is that following Royal Assent, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be able to consider consulting on the first application of the new powers in the Bill. There will be many, along with me, who look forward to the first of a series of regulations being put in place through statutory instruments following the successful completion of the Bill’s passage.
Clause 7 deals with the territorial extent of the Bill. I respect the power of the devolved Administrations to choose which pieces of UK Government legislation they wish to consent to, but I would gently point to the UK-wide support for this Bill and the vigorous campaigning efforts of organisations such as Save The Asian Elephants. I am sure that my colleagues in Scotland and Wales can expect to hear from its chief executive, Duncan McNair, without delay—especially as, I am delighted to say, he is in the Public Gallery today watching the progress of the Bill very carefully.
Time does not permit me to speak any longer, but I look forward to hearing from other Members who will be speaking about this important Bill.
I thank the hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) for introducing the Bill, and for speaking so passionately. There is cross-party concern in this place about the treatment of animals abroad, and the Bill constitutes an important first step in restricting the advertising and offering for sale of tourist products that could involve animals. This is one part of a larger process.
I, too, feel passionate about this issue, as a result of not only my time on the Front Bench as a member of the shadow environment team, but my time working for the Association of British Travel Agents, and my previous work with tourism companies such as Thomas Cook. Much good work has been done by the industry on a voluntary basis, but it is clear that far too many people still do not regard the sale of tourism elements involving animals as something awful, which in my view it is, and we therefore need to ensure that this legislation is passed and properly implemented.
The hon. Member for Guildford mentioned dolphins. In the context of the use of animals in tourism products, “dolphin selfies” are quite common. This practice causes incredible stress to the animals. We know that dolphins and other sea creatures are sentient and feel pain, and the treatment involved in getting a dolphin to swim next to people and perform when they take their selfies—and to do that time and again for everyone in the queue on that day, let alone every other day—is horrendous.
It is important that we take steps to reduce the sale of these tourism attractions, but we must also take steps to work with destinations to remove them in the first place, or to improve the animal welfare considerations involved. This Bill alone will not stop the sale of low-welfare animal tourism products; it will stop the advertising, but it will still enable tourists to buy those elements independently at their destinations. In the United Kingdom, about a third of our holidays are bought as package holidays, where the purchaser buys from one provider; it might have lots of elements within it, but it is one provider. If that purchaser is on a TUI holiday, for instance, and goes to a TUI resort, and someone comes into that TUI resort to sell an animal attraction, there is a fair question to the holiday provider about how much control they have over their destination bookings and the question of whether to allow an independent trader in to sell a product. That is for holidays covered by package travel regulations; if someone is travelling independently and there is no regulatory oversight over that tourism product, that is a different matter—it is more complicated, although it still needs to be dealt with.
However, I encourage the hon. Member for Guildford to continue her campaign to look at what can be done when people are travelling under a UK-regulated package arrangement or linked arrangement, working with the holiday companies to ensure that those situations do not happen. We want all our animals around the world to enjoy not only freedom wherever possible, but a quality of life and a life well lived. Far too many animals involved with tourism do not enjoy a life well lived; in fact, they enjoy very little of their life, with much cruelty and much pain involved. This Bill is incredibly popular in Plymouth, as it is in the hon. Member’s constituency, and I encourage her to keep going in relation to this issue. I would like the Minister to look again at where the Animals Abroad Bill has got to, because it does seem to be lost—the Government have misplaced it. That Bill would not only take good steps to protect animals abroad, but would address important issues—on fur and the sale of foie gras, for instance—that still need to be addressed.
I encourage the hon. Member for Guildford to push on her with her Bill. In particular, I want to highlight her remarks about the use of influencers, because there is a question about the implementation of the powers in the Bill: namely, the extent to which digital content provided by holiday companies that, for instance, shows an elephant ride would be part of advertising, as it creates the impression in the purchaser’s mind that that is something that they can do in that destination, even if that content is not explicitly part of a product. There are elements that I would like the Government to look at, and I know they can work with industry to deliver those elements, because there is a real will in the UK tourism industry, as well as among holidaymakers, to ensure that holidays are ethical, decent and environmentally sustainable, and do not put any animals at risk.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) for bringing this Bill before the House. Animal welfare, whether at home or abroad, is an important issue to my constituents, and I often receive emails supporting greater protection for animals. I am proud of how far we have come in this country, and I commend the current Government for the work they have done to stop the needless suffering of animals. Since 2010, it is quite a record: a ban on the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens; mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses across England; a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses; the strongest ivory ban in the world; mandatory microchipping of dogs; and the modernisation of the licensing system for dog breeding and pet sales.
In 2021 we met our manifesto commitment when the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act came into force, raising the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. Its sister Act, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which is passing through its stages in this House, will also introduce some of the world’s strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. Those include a ban on keeping primates as pets and on exporting live animals for slaughter and fattening. That Bill also addresses puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets that can travel under pet travel rules, and I look forward to supporting it as it continues its parliamentary journey.
I thank the hon. Member for giving way, and I am glad that he is supporting the Bill. He has outlined some good measures, but does he share my frustration that it has taken an awfully long time to get them through? They are usually pretty simple Bills for which there is cross-party agreement; the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 took forever to get through the House—although that was probably before the hon. Member’s time. Does he share my frustration, and hope that we can get more measures like this one through the House more quickly in future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She certainly shares my passion for improving animal welfare, and I am sure that the Government business managers have heard her plea for Government time to take forward the additional measures she alludes to.
Clearly, this is an area of policy in which the UK has progressed rapidly and has quickly become a world leader, reflecting the deep respect for animals that the people of this country have.
As recently as the 1980s, exotic animals were used in circus performances in my constituency, which would be unthinkable today.
The Bill rightly recognises the unintentional and often unforeseen suffering that tourist activities can inflict on animals. That is particularly true when animals are taken from their natural habitats and trained, often cruelly, to act as part of a show or to be docile when being petted or fed. I am sure that many tourists who visit such shows are unaware of the impact on the animals’ health and of the conditions in which the animals are usually kept.
In conclusion, while I am broadly opposed ideologically to restrictions on companies to advertise, I hope the Bill will mean companies with the leverage to encourage higher standards in regulations in attractions abroad will use that leverage. Rather than stopping people seeing exotic and interesting animals in other places, I hope the Bill will allow them to do so in a way that protects those animals from harm and exploitation.
This is a potentially useful Bill, but my concern is that it does not specify exactly what is going to be done. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) referred repeatedly to the plight of Asian elephants. When the Government introduced their action plan for animal welfare in May 2021, they said:
“We will legislate to ban the advertising and offering for sale here of specific, unacceptable practices abroad.”
With the exception of the reference to Asian elephants, we do not know what those “specific, unacceptable practices abroad” are, the advertising of which will be banned under the Bill. There should be a lot more specificity on the face of the Bill.
At the moment, the Bill could cover any matter that is already illegal under UK legislation or legislation in the devolved Administrations. For example, on the basis of its current wording, it could outlaw the advertising or promotion of hunting wild animals abroad, essentially trying to give extraterritorial application to our hunting legislation. If that is the intention of the Bill, then that should be spelled out openly, instead of being hidden away in the Bill’s regulation-making powers.
My main point concerns an omission. The Bill is based on the Government’s commitment to improving animal welfare—who could be against that? However, there remains a gap in that programme: the prevalence of the use of non-stun slaughter for animals in this country. I declare an interest as my daughter is a vet. The British Veterinary Association and the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, of which I think you are a patron, Mr Deputy Speaker, are at the forefront of trying to ensure that the non-stun method of slaughtering livestock is removed, or certainly mitigated, so that it is done only when there is strict evidence that it is necessary for religious purposes.
Order. Whatever private sympathies I may have with what the hon. Gentleman says, he has been in the House almost as long as I have, which is long enough to know that he has to talk about what is in the Bill and not what is not in it. He is stretching a point, if I may say so.
Mr Deputy Speaker, we are both looking forward to celebrating, in June, the 40th anniversary of our first being elected to this House. Unlike me, you have been here continuously since then. Obviously, those missing years have impacted on my failure to follow the procedures today.
On Second Reading, one is entitled to look at things that are not included in the Bill. What I seek to find out from my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford is how this Bill will apply to what we know is already going on within our own country, where the non-stunned slaughter of animals can take place. It does not take place in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, but it does take place in England. Could this Bill create a situation where we would be able to outlaw the advertising of hunting trips abroad but we would not be able to take action if in Northern Ireland or Wales an attempt was made to ensure that the same rules for the slaughter of animals through not being stunned in advance were applied?
There is a potentially a big gap in this Bill and I hope that for that reason when it gets into Committee we will have a chance to look at these issues in more detail. I hope we will be able to find out a bit more about why the Government have said that they were going to act in relation to the non-stunned animals being slaughtered, and the fact that a large proportion of all halal meat is actually already pre-stunned but a lot of the non-stunned meat is going to places that are not part of the religious community. I look forward to being able to discuss those issues in Committee or on Report if this Bill gets its Second Reading, as I hope it does.
Like other Members, let me start by commending the hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) for having so successfully navigated this important legislation to the Chamber today. I am pleased to support any and all measures to protect animals from abuse, and am thankful to her for giving us that opportunity today and for the comprehensive way in which she has made the case already.
Wild animal selfies, swimming with dolphins and riding elephants all feed into the collective human desire to experience new things and be close to animals. However, the wildlife tourism industry is responsible for the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of animals each year. Dolphins are forced to live in incredibly small tanks, as the hon. Lady outlined. Big cats can be drugged and declawed, and elephants are beaten and brutalised. Of course, it is easy to think of this as a problem far removed from the UK—something that is happening in another part of the world and a problem that is not ours to solve—but by advertising, promoting and selling these experiences, usually to unknowing consumers, UK-based travel companies are complicit in the cruelty.
There are many documented examples of the cruelty endured by animals used in the tourist trade. One of the most shocking instances came in 2016, when it was reported that police found 40 dead tiger cubs in a freezer during a raid at Thailand’s Tiger temple. Irresponsible breeding and poor conditions meant that the tigers had a much lower chance of living long, healthy lives than their wild counterparts. Each day at the Tiger temple, hundreds of tourists paid in excess of £40 to enter the park and pose with a tiger cub. In a country where the average wage is about £12 per day, we can see how animal tourism is big business. I am thankful that this attraction is no longer open to the public, but it is concerning that there are still about 2,000 captive tigers in Thailand, and that so- called “experiences” continue to be advertised and sold here in the UK That is just one country and one example, so I hope that this Bill will very much start to eradicate such practices.
Highly endangered baby and adult Asian elephants are beaten, stabbed and brutalised systematically across south-east Asia to “break the spirits” for easy use in tourism, yet these experiences are promoted by more than 1,250 UK based travel companies. Asian elephant numbers have collapsed and the species is nearing extinction, but appealing advertisements, often from well-known and influential companies, hide the cruelty from tourists who do not realise the enormous suffering endured by the animals involved. I know that the British public feel as strongly as we do. The fact that more than 1 million people signed a petition to urge the Government to protect the Asian elephant from the often daily cruelty they face at the hands of the tourist trade shows that there is most definitely an appetite for the measures before us.
Wildlife tourism is a diverse industry and it is important to note that there are some responsible operators and ethical activities available. I sincerely hope that today ushers in a new era of kinder, more responsible wildlife tourism where conservation underpins any such activities.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) who spoke so passionately with his experience of years working in the tourism sector. He raised some good points about further measures that could be considered where holiday providers might be facilitating experiences once holidaymakers are in-country. That is a very important point, which, I am sure, the Minister will be taking further with her colleagues in Government.
We welcome the fact that the Bill makes it clear what constitutes the advertising and sale of low-welfare animal activities and creates offences to that effect with a corresponding enforcement regime. As a nation of animal lovers, it is only right that Britain should lead the way on this, so, once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Guildford and wish her all the very best of luck with the remainder of the passage of this Bill.
I, like other right hon. and hon. Members in this House, wish to pay tribute to, and thank immensely, my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) for all her hard work on this Bill. I also thank my officials across the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for supporting her. Perhaps I can give her some comfort: I introduced, as a private member’s Bill, the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill. In 2019, with the support of Government, that Bill received its Royal Assent. These private Members’ Bills and sitting Fridays really make a tremendous difference.
My hon. Friend set out, somewhat graphically, exactly why we in DEFRA are supporting this important Bill. If anyone is in any doubt about this, then they should review the work of Save the Asian Elephants. I understand why people, especially parents, would want their children to have some experience of a wild animal—I myself am a mum to four girls. However, the clue is in the description: it is important that the experience is about observing, not forcing the changed behaviour of a wild animal to enable our up-close and wholly unnatural experience.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) talked about dolphins. Although we are looking, with this Bill, to develop primary legislation, secondary legislation will give us the opportunity to be specific about the species, and I will go into further detail on that later in my speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) made reference to the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019. I will take up his invitation to visit the zoo that does so much good work in Blackpool, and thank him for supporting the Bill.
We see the Bill as an important contribution to our ambitious animal welfare reforms that we have been making since this Government came to power. I manage 40 workstreams on our animal welfare action plan. All are making considerable progress, but there is no provision within the law to regulate the advertising and sale of animal activities abroad. That means that unacceptably low welfare activities can currently be advertised to tourists by domestic travel agents.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and I share a common history, because I, too, worked as a travel agent. I know that it is difficult to understand whether an activity, which seems incredibly desirable, offering as it does a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, is high or low animal welfare.
The Bill will ensure clarity. Animals used in the tourist trade are often subjected to brutal and cruel treatment to ensure their compliance. Our concerns relate not just to the activities themselves, but to the severe training methods that are used to train and sometimes force the animals to behave in the desired way. Any change we can make here in the United Kingdom to raise animal welfare standards across the globe is a positive.
In response to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford about influencers, with the knowledge that we now have about animal welfare, the unacceptable treatment of animals for human entertainment cannot be condoned and such influencers absolutely depend on their followers. I am sure that the work that has been done to date, and the fact that we are gathered in the Chamber to speak about the need for wild animals to have high animal welfare, will send a strong message.
The Government take the welfare of all animals seriously and are committed to raising standards of animal welfare both at home and abroad. Introducing domestic advertising bans sends a strong signal from the Government that the only acceptable tourist attractions are ones where the animals do not suffer and that contributes to the UK’s position as a world leader on animal welfare. To date, the Government have carried out ambitious reforms that we committed to in the 2021 action plan for animal welfare. They include the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, the Animals (Penalty Notices) Act 2022 and the Glue Traps (Offences) Act 2022. We are also pleased to support the private Members’ Bills on shark fins and trophy hunting.
More specifically on low-welfare animal activities, the Government’s action plan for animal welfare stated:
“In line with setting a global example on animal welfare…We will legislate to ban the advertising and offering for sale here of specific, unacceptable practices abroad.”
Alongside Government support for the Bill, there is widespread public support for such measures. World Animal Protection and Oxford University have estimated that up to 550,000 wild animals are exploited in the tourism industry across the globe.
The Minister is making a good speech about the importance of the Bill. May I just take her back to the advertising of low-welfare animal products abroad? When the Bill goes to Committee, will she and her officials work with the hon. Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) to see whether the provision of a digital click through would be captured by the advertising restriction, or, as in some cases in travel law, would it sit outside that? We do not want someone buying a holiday online to have adverts or links that can be clicked to take them to a site outside the UK, where they could buy such activities in the same purchasing period as buying their holiday. Will she ensure that that can be captured, because it could be a workaround that the companies that wish to continue selling the products exploit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will take the Bill through its legislative stages. I reassure him that I understand that that would be beneficial and that I will meet him and look into that with my officials before we go to Committee.
It is clear that the British public do not accept low animal welfare standards. The recent poll conducted by World Animal Protection revealed that 81% of UK respondents agreed that countries should stop the commercial exploitation of wild animals. In the same poll, 85% of respondents believed that wild animals had the right to a wild life.
To give a very brief answer to a very brief question, my first instinct is, absolutely not because people watch whales in their natural environment behaving in a natural way. The problem comes when we force wild animals to behave unnaturally in captive environments for our benefit up close and personal. As far as I understand it, that is not what my hon. Friend was referring to.
There is no specific reference to Asian elephants in the Bill, but we anticipate they will be covered under the Bill. Alongside the general support for the measures in the Bill, there is particularly strong support for Government intervention in relation to low-welfare activities involving Asian elephants. Asian elephants often undergo brutal training to break them in and make it safe for them to be in the vicinity of tourists. Methods include being chained up for long periods without access to food or water and being beaten with bullhooks to gain compliance. Elephants are often forced into unnatural activities, such as playing football, painting and tourist rides. As Members will have heard last Tuesday in the Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), Asian elephant rides, performances and experiences are often a popular choice with tourists abroad.
In closing, I thank everyone on all sides of the House for their contributions, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford. She has not just led on the Bill but has had a very busy morning contributing to every single debate, representing her constituents extremely well indeed.
With the leave of the House, I would like to thank everybody who has been in the Chamber today and participated on Second Reading. There have been important contributions and clarifications sought. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) brought to bear his industry experience, which would be very useful in Committee, especially on the important issue of click-through. We need to ensure we capture everything and that there are no loopholes to be exploited.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton), who went through the huge amount of legislation the Government have introduced. This Bill is about animal welfare abroad, but it is important to recognise what the Government are doing on animal welfare domestically. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) raised some important points. The point of having these debates is to ask questions and seek clarification, so we need to talk about the issues he raised. I take some comfort from the Minister’s words that the Bill will mean specific regulations on specific species and will not capture a whole load of activities, including those my hon. Friend mentioned, but it is good that he is thinking widely about the implications of the Bill for animal species around the world and for some activities that take place, including whale watching.
Once again, I thank DEFRA officials for all the work they have done. I know the Bill is so popular that places in Committee will go very quickly. I suggest that hon. and right hon. Members who want to get involved should get in touch with me.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).