My Lords, as the Government set out in Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare, we are committed to promoting high animal welfare standards, both at home and abroad. We want to ensure that money from tourists from this country is channelled towards animal experiences abroad that practise the highest welfare and conservation standards. The Government remain committed to exploring available options in order to prohibit the advertising and offering for sale here of such unacceptably low-welfare activities involving wild animals.
I thank the Minister for his response, but Save the Asian Elephants has identified some 1,200 companies in the UK promoting 300 unethical elephant attractions overseas. Can the Minister say exactly when the Government will keep their promise to ban the sale of these experiences, which are based on appalling cruelty?
My Lords, the Government very much appreciate the work that that organisation has done and share the view that numerous attractions, many of them advertised here in the UK, involve really appalling levels of cruelty. It is not just about cruelty to animals; there have been human consequences as well—for example, as the organisation has highlighted and as the noble Baroness knows, the death of Andrea Taylor in 2000 at an attraction in Thailand was linked to the abuse of the elephant in question. The Government are committed to the principle behind this measure, and that has not changed. We have not identified the legislative route, but, with the noble Baroness’s help, I am sure that we will.
My Lords, the kept animals Bill is making its way through the process. It is still in the other place; it will be coming here shortly—I am afraid that I do not know the date, but there is no reason to believe that things are held up. However, the scope of the kept animals Bill would not include measures such as the one we are debating today, nor would it involve restrictions on imports. That would belong in a different legislative vehicle, formerly known as the animals abroad Bill, which we debated in Questions last week.
As the noble Baroness will know, in the kept animals Bill that we were just talking about, there will be measures to prohibit the keeping of primates as pets. That will, I think, be a first within Europe, and it will be comprehensive legislation. Defra has commissioned some work on the issue of pets being handed out as prizes. I cannot give her a timeline on that, but it is an issue that we are looking at very closely.
My Lords, how do we help travel companies identify these tourist attractions where animals are cruelly treated? I suspect some of them are innocently selling these holidays without having any realisation of the cruelty being inflicted on these animals.
It is an important point and in fact, to give it credit, the Association of British Travel Agents—ABTA—has updated and published guidelines on a whole range of activities which it classes as unacceptable, and its definition is fairly closely aligned with that of many of the organisations that focus on this issue. It is a voluntary set of guidelines—what we are talking about today is something that will be harder than that, something mandatory—but it is worth acknowledging the steps that the industry is already taking.
My Lords, why are the Government so poor at managing their legislation programme? Every week, Ministers come forward and say that they are committed to something but they have not got a timeline for it. Is it not about time the Government got their act together and sorted out their legislation programme?
This is a question that goes way beyond my own pay grade. All I can tell the noble Lord is that I am working very hard to bring the full range of animal welfare measures that we have been discussing now for a couple of years. I would also remind the House that, by my counting, there are 10 significant animal welfare measures which we have brought in, or which are very nearly through the process, so we are making progress in this area.
My Lords, as a youngster growing up in Liverpool, I spent many happy hours visiting Chester Zoo. I understand that my noble friend visited Chester Zoo recently. Was he able to find the zoo not only informative but educational, and did he experience the best practice during his visit?
I did recently visit Chester Zoo, and it was a hugely eye-opening experience and, in many respects, inspiring. I would say that it is probably the leading organisation in the world looking at the problem affecting Asian elephants in particular, which is the spread of elephant herpes—which does not sound all that serious, but it is life-threatening to animals in the wild. If the work that Chester Zoo has done proves fruitful—and it should do—this could be a very significant win for Asia’s dwindling elephant population.
My Lords, the Gough Island albatross and the Gough Island bunting were in great danger of being wiped out entirely. The Government very helpfully helped the RSPB in undertaking an eradication programme of the mice that were killing all the birds on the ground. Sadly, that eradication programme has not worked—though it almost worked—and it really needs to be done again, or those beautiful birds will be wiped out forever. Will the Government assist the RSPB on the next eradication programme?
The noble Lord is right, and it is a real shame because the RSPB thought that it had succeeded, until it caught a single mouse on a camera trap, but obviously that means there are more. When we say “mice”, of course, anyone who has seen them would not recognise them as mice—they have swelled to look more like grizzly, very large rats, as a consequence of the diets they have enjoyed for the last few decades. The work continues: we are talking to the RSPB, and we have a range of measures and support that we are providing to overseas territories in their various attempts to remove invasive species—this is one of them. I very much hope that we will be able to support the next round.