The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 25 May.
“We are a nation of animal lovers, and animal welfare has been a priority of the Government since 2010. Since then, on farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens, banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, and made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, we have introduced microchipping, which became mandatory for dogs in 2015; we have modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales; we have protected service animals via Finn’s law; and we have banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens. In 2019, our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have also led work to implement humane trapping standards by banning glue traps. We have done more than any other party on animal welfare, delivering on a manifesto that was drafted with the public’s priorities in mind.
Further to the steps I have outlined, in 2021, we published an ambitious and comprehensive action plan for animal welfare that set out an array of future reforms for this Parliament and beyond. That action plan’s wide-ranging measures relate to farmed animals, wild animals, pets and sporting animals. They include legislative and non-legislative reforms, and extend beyond domestic actions to cover international engagement and advocacy. And we have delivered—since the publication of that action plan, we have delivered on four key manifesto commitments. First, we passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which recognises in law that all vertebrate animals and invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters and octopuses are sentient beings. That Act will form the bedrock of the animal welfare policy of the future. We passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which introduced tougher sentences for animal cruelty, increasing maximum sentences from six months up to five years. Last month, we made cat microchipping compulsory, which will help reunite lost pets with their owners. Just this week, we announced that, having brought the Ivory Act 2018 into force in 2022, we will be extending it to cover five endangered species: hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.
In addition to legislating, we have launched the pioneering animal health and welfare pathway. It charts the route forward for improved farm animal welfare for years to come. This government and industry partnership are already transforming welfare on the ground. The pathway does that through annual health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants.
I can tell that Opposition Members are feeling weary listening to the expansive list of delivery, but I can assure them that I am not done yet, because today we are taking two further steps in delivering our action plan. First, we are announcing the launch of the new Animal Sentience Committee, which will advise government on how policy decisions should take account of animal welfare. The committee’s membership provides expertise from veterinary and social science and covers farm, companion and wild animals. We expect the committee to begin its work next month.
Secondly, we are announcing a consultation on new financial penalties of up to £5,000 for those who commit offences against animals. That will mean there is a new enforcement tool to use against the small minority of people who fail to protect the health and welfare of animals. This could apply, for example, if an animal is kept in poor living conditions due to a lack of appropriate bedding or shelter.
On top of those measures, we continue to support the Private Member’s Bill of my honourable friend the Member for Crawley, Henry Smith, which will implement our manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies. Also making strong progress are Private Members’ Bills that ban the import and export of detached shark fins and that ban the advertising and offering for sale here of low-welfare animal activities abroad. I thank the honourable Member for Neath, Christina Rees, and my honourable friend the Member for Guildford, Angela Richardson, respectively.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill started nearly two years ago. It was designed to implement several of our ambitions, including banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft and new measures to tackle livestock worrying. Unfortunately, its multi-issue nature means there has been considerable scope-creep. The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan. In particular, Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the Bill’s scope.
The Bills and regulations that we have already passed demonstrate the enormous progress that can be made with single-issue legislation, so we will be taking forward measures from the kept animals Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament. We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments, and this approach is the surest and quickest way of doing so, rather than letting that Bill be mired in political game-playing. Having left the EU, we are able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but our legislation will ensure that that becomes permanent and we remain committed to delivering it.
We are committed to clamping down on puppy smuggling. We will ban the import of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs, and we will be able to do that more quickly with a single-issue Bill than with the secondary legislation required under the kept animals Bill. We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets, and we will do that by consulting before the Summer Recess on primate-keeping standards. They will be applied by secondary legislation to be brought forward this year. We also look forward to progressing delivery of the new offence of pet abduction and new measures to tackle livestock worrying.
I am conscious that there are many other campaigns on aspects of animal welfare. I want to assure the House that, in making this change to how we will implement the measures outlined, we are open to future consideration, but we will focus on delivering these key elements. Delivering these measures, as well as everything we have already delivered as part of and beyond the animal welfare elements of our manifesto, shows a Government who care about animals and do not just talk about the issue or play games with it. We are committed to maintaining our strong track record on animal welfare and to delivering continued improvements in this Parliament and beyond. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, the Statement we are debating today starts with a list of government achievements on animal welfare. Of course, we always welcome any positive progress on animal welfare measures, but the problem is that that is not really the point of this Statement or why it has been made. What it is actually doing is scrapping the kept animals Bill—legislation designed to protect pets, livestock and wild animals. I point out that we have had to wait until today to debate this, as the announcement was made on the afternoon of 25 May, the last day before recess.
The Bill was first introduced two years ago and was announced again in the Queen’s Speech last year. It would have delivered on a number of Conservative 2019 manifesto animal welfare commitments, including ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, tackling puppy smuggling and banning the keeping of primates as pets. One animal charity has accused Ministers of “an astonishing betrayal”, yet the Statement has the gall to say that this Conservative Government
“have done more than any other party on animal welfare, delivering on”
the manifesto. So, let us remind ourselves about the issue of delivering, because aside from this Bill, the animals abroad Bill was also scrapped. Although I am sure the Minister will say that we have Private Members’ Bills coming to this House, some containing what was in that ill-fated Bill, can he explain why the promises to ban fur and foie gras imports have bitten the dust?
If animal welfare promises are included in a manifesto, they should be delivered. There should not be a pick-and-mix approach by the Secretary of State or Prime Minister of the day as to which proposals are the least likely to upset Tory Back-Benchers. Saying that taking forward the measures in the kept animals Bill individually is the surest and quickest way is an extraordinary statement, when we consider just how long they have been languishing in the Commons. If the Government had been serious about passing this legislation quickly, they could have done so more than a year ago. I have lost count of the number of times that I have asked the Minister and other Ministers about the Government’s commitment to the Bill and when we would see it make progress. I was always strongly reassured, and I genuinely do not blame the Minister for that, but again it is deeply disappointing.
So, what reassurance can the Minister provide that every part of the Bill—I repeat: every part—will make it through this process, with government support, by the end of this Parliament? Can he provide a proposed timetable? Can he guarantee that no part of it will meet the same fate as the promised bans on fur and foie gras imports? Does he agree with Conservative Members in the other place? Conservative MP Tracey Crouch said it was “better than having nothing”, but added that there had been
“an unforgivable delay on the whole bill, which is completely unacceptable”.
Conservative MP Theresa Villiers said she felt
“a sense of frustration and disappointment”.
The Minister will know that I feel strongly that the Government have once again let down those who believe in progress on animal welfare. More than this, the reasons given for dropping the legislation are simply outrageous. To attempt to blame the Labour Party for a Conservative Government’s decision to drop legislation that had strong cross-party support, with no evidence whatever that
“Labour is clearly determined to play political games”,—[Official Report, Commons, 25/5/23; cols. 495-98.]
is an utterly feeble excuse.
I know that the Minister is personally committed to improving animal welfare standards, so I end by saying that it is a shame that he is not in charge, as I believe he would have more backbone on this issue than some of his colleagues in the other place. I look to him to ensure that progress is made.
My Lords, I welcome the chance to comment on this Statement. The Government have been active on the animal welfare front and I commend their Action Plan for Animal Welfare. I have some questions for the Minister on progress on several fronts on this plan.
I was delighted when the Ivory Act was passed and disappointed that it took so long to implement. I am pleased that the measures in the Act are now extended to cover hippo, narwhal, killer and sperm whales and the walrus, all endangered species.
The animal health and welfare pathway covers farm animal welfare through welfare reviews with a vet of choice. We debated earlier this week the shortage of vets to conduct all the necessary government work. At that time, the Minister detailed the steps being taken to address the vet shortage. Is the Minister able to say whether there are particular geographical hotspots of vet shortage, or is the shortage spread across the country as a whole?
The Statement mentions the new Animal Sentience Committee, the creation of which was not universally welcomed in the other place or in this House. As the committee begins its work next month, is the Minister able to say whether it will be looking at forthcoming legislation across all departments of government, as originally intended, or will it be confined solely to Defra?
I understand the Government’s reasons for not pursuing the kept animals Bill, but I am, nevertheless, disappointed and concerned about certain aspects which the Bill would have covered. The Government appear to be relying quite heavily on Private Members’ Bills to implement strands of their manifesto. As we know, Private Members’ Bills often take a while to complete their passage and are some of the first to fall if there is pressure on official government business.
While I fully support the ban on trading in detached shark fins and banning the sale of glue traps, I am less enthusiastic about the ban on importing hunting trophies. While I think the hunting of large exotic animals for trophies is a revolting practice, there is another side to this. The hamlets and villages which live alongside these wild animals find it hard to make a living out of farming the land, which is often destroyed by marauding game. The expansion of their farming practices into the areas previously inhabited by wild game brings them into conflict with the animals. Villagers are dependent, in some areas, on the exploits of big game hunters for their income. Would not a better system, to prevent the destruction of certain species, be to introduce a quota system, such as used to exist in the USA? There, a hunter could have a licence once every five years to kill a single bear. When his turn came up, he had the year in which to be successful. If he was not, then his licence lapsed, and he had to wait another five years. I readily admit that I do not know if this system still exists in the US, but it did some years ago. I also accept that my comments will not be welcome to those taking part in the debate next Friday on this important issue, and I am not able to be present on Friday but feel both sides of the argument should be heard.
The Government have done much to prevent the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter since 2020, but this is a temporary measure. Can the Minister say when the UK legislation will become permanent and what, if any, barriers there are to this happening soon? There have been several statutory instruments concerning puppy smuggling and banning the importation of mutilated dogs. The Statement indicates that, instead of this being covered by the kept animals Bill and statutory instruments, this will be in a single-issue Bill. Can the Minister say when this might be brought forward—if not in this Session, then presumably in the next?
During the Covid lockdown, we saw a rise in pet ownership, which was coupled with a rise in pet abduction, possibly driven by the rise in the cost of acquiring a puppy or kitten. The Government are seeking, as they put it, to progress
“delivery of the new offence of pet abduction and new measures to tackle livestock worrying”.
I fully support this, but I wonder whether this will be through government legislation or another Private Member’s Bill—can the Minister comment?
Lastly, I want to turn to the issue of keeping primates as pets. This was to have been, for me anyway, a key element of the kept animals Bill. The Government are due to consult over the Summer Recess on the issue of standards for keeping these highly intelligent animals as pets. This gives the impression that it will be acceptable to keep primates as pets. The Statement also refers to secondary legislation as the vehicle for introducing this. If this is the case, which Act will the relevant SI sit under? I am opposed to the keeping of primates as pets and hope the Government will ban this instead of regulating it.
I congratulate the Government on the action they have taken, and intend to take in the future, on animal welfare, and fully support their actions. However, I feel a sense of disappointment that the kept animals Bill will not be the vehicle for achieving further improvement.
My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions made by both Front-Bench spokesmen. We are a nation of animal lovers and that unites us across this House. Animal welfare has been a priority for this Government, and I say to the noble Baroness that she would be hard pushed to find any Government that have done more for animal welfare than we have. On farms, we have introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens. We have banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens. We made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, microchipping became mandatory for dogs in 2015 and, as she is aware, we have just passed this measure for cats. We modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales. We have protected service animals via Finn’s law. We banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens. In 2019, our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have led the world to implement humane trapping standards by banning glue traps. Some of these measures were Private Members’ Bills, but we worked with people in both Houses to make sure that these happened.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned, the animal health and welfare pathway is seeing a real step up in the relationship between vets and farms, and the support we can give to farmers in this important priority for improving animal welfare standards. We had the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act and the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act. Last month, we made cat-microchipping compulsory and, as the noble Baroness pointed out, we brought the Ivory Act into force last year, but we have extended it to cover five other species also.
The noble Baroness is being a bit harsh when she looks at the issue in the round because we have had a lot of success with single-issue animal welfare matters, and we are still committed to the measures in the Bill. With regards to the example raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, about the ban on keeping primates as pets, this will be on the statute book before it would have been if we had taken this through as a multi-issue Bill, because we are able to do this through a statutory instrument. I cannot remember the piece of legislation that this will amend or add to, but it will be on the statute book.
We remain committed to banning the export of animals for slaughter and fattening. Noble Lords may be interested to know the number of animals that have been exported since we left the European Union is zero. It is an activity that, through economic circumstances and the availability of the necessary infrastructure, is just not happening, but that never stops the Government being determined to do this.
We have the trophy hunting Bill coming forward; I suggest that is when we will tease out some of the legitimate issues raised by the noble Baroness. On shark fins, we will support the ban. The low welfare issues abroad are certainly matters we can take forward.
On the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, around foie gras, we are keeping to our manifesto commitment. We are looking at the measures that would be required to legislate. We have committed to building a clear evidence base to inform decisions on banning the import and sale of foie gras; we have been collecting evidence on the sector and will continue options in due course. We are committed to taking an evidence-based approach towards exploring potential action on fur. We have already held a call for evidence and are continuing to explore possible outcomes.
When the noble Baroness looks at every part of the Bill, she will see that nearly all of it will have the necessary parliamentary time. We may be able to find an alternative place to bring in other areas such as zoo standards, but there is more evidence to collect on that. I am working very closely with the Zoos Expert Committee to make sure that we are doing that.
In reply to the noble Baroness’s point about vets— I am sure this will be raised by others in this House quite shortly—there is a shortage of vets, certainly in government and the APHA. We are treating this situation very seriously and seeking to address it, and we are working with people such as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, to make sure that the new vet schools which have opened in recent years, which are extremely welcome, are training more vets who will remain in the United Kingdom and service us. There is a particular shortage of large animal vets, and we are working with the royal colleges to make sure that we are finding new ways to encourage people to go into that sector and looking at why there is a disinclination for certain people to go into that area.
I have already covered the point about primates as pets. As for the six measures in the manifesto, we will ban live exports, as I have said, and there will be measures on puppy smuggling and primates as pets. Livestock worrying and pet abduction were not in the manifesto, but we are doing work on those issues. I hope also to be able to do something on zoo licensing. In addition to the manifesto, we have supported the glue traps Act, which passed through your Lordships’ House. We brought in extra penalty notices and extra measures for animal cruelty, and increasing the penalties for hare-coursing has been extremely popular with people—as well as with hares. The people carrying out that activity— I speak with some experience on this matter—are not pleasant when they are confronted.
I hope I am able to convince both Front Benches that the kept animals Bill was designed to implement several of our ambitions, including manifesto commitments on banning the live export of animals, cracking down on puppy smuggling and banning the keeping of primates as pets. Its multi-issue nature means that there has been considerable scope-creep. The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan. The Bills and regulations that we have passed already demonstrate the enormous progress that can be made with single-issue legislation. Therefore, we have announced that we will take forward measures in the kept animals Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament. We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments, and this approach is now the surest and quickest way of doing so.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I congratulate the Government on the animal welfare measures to date that have been listed in the Oral Statement of 25 May. I regret the withdrawal of the kept animals Bill but I note that there is a commitment in the Statement to introduce most of its measures. I will disappoint the Minister, because I am not going to mention the shortage of vets—he is very well aware of it, as he has demonstrated. I will confine my comments and questions to the measures derived from the kept animals Bill that are present and committed to, or indeed absent.
First, I note that the Government have committed to banning primates as pets, conducting a consultation before the summer and putting forward secondary legislation this year. That is all very welcome. It is estimated that something like 1,000 to 7,000 primates are kept as pets in the UK. It is very difficult to get accurate figures. There is no doubt that primates have very complex welfare needs which generally would not be provided for in a domestic environment. The kept animals Bill proposed licensing. I am interested to hear from the Minister, notwithstanding the outcome of the consultation, whether it is likely that the Government will introduce a total ban—the word “banning” is used without conditions in the Statement—or whether they are still committed to licensing.
I note that there is a commitment to progressing new measures on livestock worrying. I would be interested to know a little more about what that might involve. Livestock worrying is a huge and growing issue. APGAW has been very concerned about it for a number of years since it published a report on the subject in 2018. A survey this year by the National Sheep Association found that 70% of its respondents had suffered at least one sheep worrying incident in the last 12 months. There are multiple instances of animals on farms either being killed outright or mortally wounded and requiring euthanasia in the last year or two. We strongly support more stringent measures against this increasing crime. I would like to hear a little more about what is envisaged.
With regard to the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, the kept animals Bill included horses and other equine animals, along with cattle, sheep, pigs and so on. Are horses going to be included in the new measures? I raise this because there are welfare benefits of being able to slaughter horses in abattoirs, but there is only one in England that regularly takes horses. This shortage of equine abattoirs in the south of England in particular may mean that export for slaughter is a positive welfare issue if suitable abattoirs exist close to the ports across the channel—otherwise horses risk being abandoned and having a much more chronic welfare problem.
The importation of dogs in particular, as well as cats and ferrets, is another growing problem. There is a vast amount of criminally conducted smuggling and a gross abuse of the pet travel scheme. I note that the Statement suggests a ban on imports of young dogs—although it does not specify what age—heavily pregnant dogs or mutilated dogs via a single-issue Bill. All this will be extremely welcome.
As I have mentioned, puppy smuggling is occurring on an industrial scale, incentivised by the huge profits that can be made. There is very little chance of prosecutions occurring, and the sanctions are currently quite low. To give your Lordships an example of the profitability, one transporter has been estimated to traffic 6,200 puppies a year, worth an estimated £11.7 million. To bring even more dogs in, we are seeing smugglers bringing in pregnant bitches which will quite shortly produce in the UK more than one pup.
Finally, the illegal trade we are seeing is threatening the biosecurity of the UK dog population. The most recent and perhaps most serious threat has been the increasing incidence of Brucella canis infections in dogs. This is not only a serious infection in dogs but a public health hazard. In dogs, it is essentially untreatable, and the only recommended intervention is euthanasia.
Therefore, stronger enforcement is needed to get to grips with this issue, and I urge that the new measures contemplated bear that in mind. Perhaps we could use modern technology—camera imaging and so on—to detect dogs in vehicles, perhaps also using AI to read the camera results. We really need to scan every vehicle coming in if it is too impractical to make visual checks.
Nothing on zoos is mentioned in the Statement— I would be interested to hear from the Minister why they are excluded. Finally, we welcome the offence of pet abduction being used, which would recognise the emotional cost to owners of pet theft. I would welcome the Minister’s comments and answers to those questions.
It just so happened that while I was sitting here I received inspiration, so I am able to answer the noble Baroness’s question. The statutory instrument on keeping primates as pets will see an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned. We are consulting, as is required, on the standards that we would apply, which would limit the vast majority of the cases that the noble Lord talked about, where primates are kept in improper surroundings and in improper conditions in houses. As I say, this will happen quicker than would have happened if we were taking this through as a massive piece of legislation, as originally intended.
On livestock worrying, this measure will require primary legislation, so we will consider options for legislative vehicles to take this forward. In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with the Countryside Code, which we amended recently, on ensuring messaging around keeping dogs on leads around livestock. That should remain a priority. However, as the noble Lord will know, 70% of livestock worrying cases occur when a dog is not being managed or is not with its owner—it has escaped. We should not just be working on livestock. I do not know how we legislate on this, but on “Springwatch” last year there was a very good piece about a very rare redshank’s nest that was predated on by a dog. The law is not always the best way of encouraging responsible ownership. However, it should be totally unacceptable that our rarest wildlife is being predated in this way and that livestock continues to be attacked by dogs not under control.
On the export issue, I had not considered the point the noble Lord raised about horses, but he makes a very interesting point and I will take that back to the department. There is a positive animal welfare issue there. Only one vessel works out of Folkestone that is able to transport livestock. I am not sure whether it transports horses, but I will keep in touch with the noble Lord and work with him on that.
The mutilation of puppies and puppy smuggling are revolting crimes. This is a manifesto commitment that we know has a huge amount of support among parliamentarians on all sides of the House. A single-issue Bill could give us the opportunity to put in it additional measures: for example, bans on the import of young puppies, heavily pregnant dogs and those with mutilations such as cropped ears and docked tails. Those would have been implemented through secondary legislation, which would have taken time. Under this new approach, we can bring these measures forward at the same time, which could be effective and quicker.
On dogs, cats and ferrets being imported, the measure we are bringing will allow a maximum of five per vehicle rather than five per person, which is one of the abuses we are seeing, and we are banning the imports of mutilated animals over six months old and heavily pregnant ones. We think this can be delivered through secondary legislation.
On biosecurity, the noble Lord is absolutely preaching to the choir. The horrendous example I can give is the import of animals from Afghanistan, which we were told had all been checked by a vet. However, it turned out that there were cases of Brucella canis and Leishmaniasis among them. That is a horrendous threat and risk to the domestic dog population, and we have to be absolutely clear that we are dealing with this and doing so in the best form possible as regards biosecurity.
On the Zoo Licensing Act reforms, we enjoy a close working relationship with the zoo sector and will continue to capitalise on that to identify non-legislative ways of reforming it. By the end of the year we will publish updated zoo standards, which we have developed in collaboration with the zoo sector and the UK Zoos Expert Committee to raise standards and make enforcement more effective.
On the noble Lord’s last point about pet abduction, I ran a campaign on that in my constituency when I was in the other place, when dog theft became a particular crime and, to be perfectly frank, it was not being taken seriously by the authorities. It is a vile crime because for many people the loss of their dog is much more troubling than the loss of many other possessions they have; it can have an absolutely devastating effect on the owner, and we want to make sure that criminals face the toughest sanctions possible.
I thank the Minister for his remarks so far. I join other noble Lords in expressing a level of disappointment at the Statement made in another House. I think the Minister himself mentioned the oft-used phrase that we are a nation of animal lovers. That is generally the case; it transcends party politics and people of a wide range of affiliations would certainly support that. However, it is fine to talk the talk but we need to walk the walk. In animal welfare, that means ensuring that we have the most robust and progressive legislation that we can on animal welfare. Equally important, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, identified, is implementation and enforcement. In my experience, without that, the best legislation in the world, particularly on animal welfare, can at times be meaningless.
I do not want to try to score political points on this and, to be fair, on a lot of aspects of animal welfare the Government have been genuinely progressive. I know that not everyone in this House would apply that adjective to the Government in all circumstances, but they can be proud of a lot of their past record and even of some legislation going through at the moment.
I will add one caveat to that and seek a response from the Minister. It is important that current legislation is fully applicable and robust across all the United Kingdom. I express in particular a concern about the trophy-hunting legislation, which, I understand from the other place, does not at this stage appear to apply to Northern Ireland. The reason given was a concern that this might breach the provisions with regard to the single market. With regard to the European situation, a number of countries such as the Netherlands have already brought in these bans, so if the Government have not changed their position on this, it is important that Northern Ireland is included, so I seek an assurance from the Minister that it is at least being looked at.
On this legislation, the ideal position would certainly have been for the Kept Animals Bill to have continued its pathway. It is the gold standard to which I think many in this House would aspire. In addition, having praised the Government, I felt that one thing in the Statement was a little disingenuous. I am not here as a spokesman for His Majesty’s loyal Opposition, but to try to pin the blame on the Labour Party was deeply unfair. What was passing through was the will of the House of Commons, and this is not a situation in which we have a minority Government dependent on a loose coalition of additional support; this Government have quite a large majority in the Commons. Therefore, if the Government have, for whatever reason, decided to do a U-turn or abandon this, or they feel that there are practical reasons why this cannot move ahead in this format, simply to try to deflect from that by scoring political points and passing it on to the Opposition is in this case unfair.
Having said that the gold standard was the reinstatement of the Bill, I think the next best position, as outlined by the noble Baroness on behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, is a government commitment that every aspect of the Bill will be put in place. At the very least, what we need from the Government is a level of certainty as to what the next steps are. There is a slight danger that we could be like groupies at a music concert: we very much appreciate the back catalogue, but we really want to know what the new material on the next album will be. To that extent, if the Minister cannot give us an assurance tonight that within the lifetime of this Parliament every aspect of the kept animals Bill will be committed to and put into effect—if this is to be taken forward in individual, smaller steps—at the very least the Government have to outline which elements of this they are prioritising; the timetable for each of those elements, and a firm commitment on that; and whether there are aspects of the Bill which can be brought forward without the need for legislation, via another route. I think we need clarity, not just for this House but for the many animal lovers throughout this country—and, indeed, for their animals—to see the levels of protection they are going to be provided with. Let us ensure that we do not just speak of a nation of animal lovers as a cliché but deliver on that. So I want to know from the Government what the next steps are going to be.
I thank the noble Lord for his very balanced position on this. To use his analogy, I think this Government are the Taylor Swift of this, because our new material is every bit as good as our back catalogue. As for being progressive, I have always regretted that that word has been poached by parties of the left, because the opposite of progressive is regressive and that is far from what we are. So I am very happy that our approach to animal welfare is considered progressive. We work with the changing values of the population, who demand ever higher standards of animal welfare. Some of these matters are bitterly contested, because there are views in both directions. Nevertheless, we are not afraid to debate them, and we will have plenty of opportunities to do so in the future.
On the noble Lord’s point about Northern Ireland and whether or not the trophy hunting Bill should be included, it is of course a devolved issue. Many different animal welfare issues are debated in our devolved legislatures. The Welsh Government have taken steps to ban electric collars for training animals—a measure we are also taking. They have done it in a different way; we think we are doing it in a more proportionate way.
In relation to it being a devolved matter, there have been a number of occasions—as we saw recently with organ donation—when the Government have intervened on issues with regard to Northern Ireland which would be considered devolved. But the rationale given in the other place for not including Northern Ireland was in the European context rather than it being a devolved issue.
The noble Lord’s point is absolutely taken. I completely understand it.
I finish by saying that these are, of course, matters where you can see the glass as half-full or half-empty. I think this is a glass that is nearly full, because we are wanting to take these matters forward. We mind desperately that we have good animal welfare policies and laws in place, and we will continue to work towards that.