Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

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Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Mark Spencer)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg, as well as that of Mr Hollobone, who was in the Chair at the beginning of the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this afternoon’s debate. It was also a pleasure to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) in his place—I think we can describe him as the father of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and as someone who has pushed it forward and is a big advocate of it.

To cut to the chase very quickly, I am probably going to disappoint the Chamber today by being unable to announce the date that Members have yet to hear from the Dispatch Box. However, I think I will be able to reassure colleagues, who have raised a number of matters this afternoon, that the Government take the Bill very seriously and are very keen to get on with it. What we have seen today is the House at its best—united and very keen to move forward. Colleagues across the Chamber have been huge advocates for animal welfare.

I have been asked on a number of occasions not to give stock answers and not to justify why the Bill has not made progress so far, but it would be remiss of me not to gently say to colleagues that matters that were not in the manifesto have overtaken events. There was no mention of coronavirus in the Conservative party manifesto of 2019, because we did not know we were going to be hit with a huge global pandemic. There was no mention of how we would respond to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, his illegal war and his persecution of the people of Ukraine. We have had to bring forward a number of matters that have put pressure on the parliamentary calendar.

That does not mean that we cannot deliver on the things that we have committed to. The Bill will make progress as soon as we have parliamentary time that will allow us to move forward. The remaining stages will be announced in the usual way. I know that is a stock answer, but it is a commitment to move forward. For those who look for conspiracy theories that the Bill is being objected to or blocked in some way, I would say that it was introduced to the House in May as a carry-over Bill. Hon. Members may recall that the remaining stages were due to take place on 19 September. That did not happen because the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took place on the same day. The Government tried to move forward, and we will come back to the Bill very shortly.

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is just one part of the Government’s ambitious plans to improve animal welfare standards at home and abroad. We have made significant progress in taking forward the reforms set out in the action plan. We have been overwhelmed by the support from stakeholders, for which we are very grateful. Let us not forget all the excellent work our farmers do to follow the highest welfare standards, showing their dedication and commitment to caring for animals every single day.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 became law in the last parliamentary session, and we are in the process of setting up an animal sentience committee to advise the Government on polices that impact on the welfare of animals. We have introduced new powers for the police and courts to tackle the illegal and cruel sport of hare coursing through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The Ivory Act 2018 came into force in June this year to ensure protection for elephants.

We have backed Bills to increase the maximum penalties for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years—I know that was pushed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder)—to introduce penalty notices for animal welfare offences and to ban glue traps. They all received Royal Assent. The Government are supporting private Member’s Bills, which include one on shark fins, as has already been mentioned. We have announced that we will make cat microchipping compulsory, and we are updating the dog microchipping regulations. We are also continuing to explore evidence and considering reforms in several other areas across the animal welfare agenda. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that the action plan is a long-term reform agenda, and that we cannot do everything at once.

If we are going to move forward—there have been hints of this during the debate—we are going to have to progress together and in a way that will ensure we can deliver this important legislation. I say gently to hon. Members and peers in the other place that, in a packed legislative programme, parliamentary time is severely limited. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth hinted, it would therefore be helpful if those considering new animal welfare reforms for inclusion in the Bill or tabling amendments to existing clauses bore in mind the impact on the progress of the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.

I do not intend to detain Members much longer. In conclusion, I thank all those who participated in the debate. There is clearly strong support across the House for the measures in the Bill to reach the statute book as soon as possible. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will play a small but significant part in delivering higher standards of animal welfare to address specific concerns relating to pets, livestock and kept wild animals. I look forward to working with hon. Members to build on our already high welfare standards to deliver for all animals here and abroad.