Animal Welfare (Kept Animals)

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Wednesday 21st June 2023

(9 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) made an accurate comment about the speed with which we have been able to support a large number of private Members’ Bills.

Many of our key reforms have also been made possible by Britain’s being outside the European Union. In respect of animal sentience, we have gone beyond the EU’s symbolic and narrow approach, which was riddled with exemptions. Departure from the EU has made it possible to ban cruel live exports from ever happening again, and to tackle puppy smuggling with tighter import controls.

As well as legislating, we have launched a pioneering animal health and welfare pathway, setting out the way forward for improving farm animal welfare for years to come and building on the work that we have already done to improve conditions for sheep, cattle and chickens. We are working in partnership with industry to transform farm animal welfare on the ground through animal health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants. In addition to all that, we have given our support to a number of private Members’ Bills which are making their way through Parliament.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I am afraid I will not give way any further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) introduced a Bill to ban the import of hunting trophies, implementing another key manifesto commitment. There have also been private Members’ Bills to ban the import and export of detached shark fins and the advertising and offering for sale here of low-welfare animal activities abroad, for which I thank the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) and my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford.

Our intention in presenting the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to the House two years ago was to implement several of our ambitions, including our manifesto commitments to ban the live exports of animals for fattening and slaughter, to crack down on puppy smuggling, and to ban the keeping of primates as pets. There were additional measures seeking to prevent pet abduction, tackle livestock worrying, and improve standards in zoos. However, as the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries—my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer)—said in his statement to the House on 25 May, there have been a number of attempts to widen the Bill during its passage, beyond the commitments made in our manifesto and, indeed, our action plan. We are seeing yet more of this political game-playing today, with an Opposition motion attempting to take control of the Order Paper. That is absolutely not in the interests of animal welfare.

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Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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This Government share the public’s concern for the welfare of animals. That is why we have delivered an unprecedented package of welfare improvements since 2010. We remain steadfast in our focus on making good on those manifesto commitments, which mean so much to the British people.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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On that point, will the Minister give way?

Roger Gale Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Roger Gale)
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Order. The Minister has made it absolutely plain that she is not giving way.

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Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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I am delighted to participate in this debate, although I honestly wish it was not necessary—and it ought not to have been necessary. I and the SNP support the Opposition day motion.

Two years ago, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was introduced. The UK Government made a commitment to improve animal welfare, and we in the SNP supported that. Now, three DEFRA Secretaries of State and three Prime Ministers later, we are not one step forward. We are exactly where we were three years ago on banning foie gras imports, which the Minister noticeably did not mention; we are exactly where we were two years ago on banning animal fur imports, which the Minister did not mention; and we are exactly where we were two years ago on tackling illegal puppy and kitten smuggling. That is why my SNP colleagues and I support the motion for the measures in the Bill to proceed.

As the Minister has conceded, there were a lot of important provisions in the original Bill. It has now been quietly dropped, and we are told that the Government will take forward individual measures. I understand that those will be private Members’ Bills—I thought that Governments were elected to govern, but apparently not. We are meant to be convinced by that display, but why should we believe it?

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way on that point about private Member’s Bills. I was pleased to support the private Member’s Bill from the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on trophy hunting imports, which is currently in the other place. However, I met campaigners just yesterday who are very concerned that, due to machinations in the other place, the Bill will run out of time and never reach the statute book. Is that what we are to expect on animal welfare from this Government?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The hon. Lady tempts me on to my next point. The Minister—ludicrously, despite her protestations—cannot tell us which provisions in the original Bill will not be brought forward as individual measures now that it has been dropped. I would really like her to tell us what measures the Government will not proceed with, how the priority list will be decided and when we will see the measures the Government are so keen to bring to this House—by whatever circuitous route. Will anything be presented before summer recess? Will we get through that priority list, such as it might be, before the next general election?

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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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I am very pleased to speak in such a vital debate, as animal welfare is of immense importance to my constituents in Pontypridd and Taff-Ely. In fact, it is regularly the No. 1 issue in my post bag each month.

I am proud to represent a community of such fierce defenders of animal rights, but they are not just in my area of south Wales—research published earlier this year showed that the Welsh care more about animal welfare than any other UK nation. So I stand here today as a proud Welsh MP, who is both proud to represent my constituents, who believe tirelessly in animal justice, and proud to represent Welsh Labour, which has worked so hard to improve the lives of animals in Wales.

Of course, there are many charities I would like to mention. I recently had the privilege of visiting Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Chester Zoo and Hope Rescue, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), to hear more about the fantastic work they do. With that in mind, I want to take the opportunity to hold this Tory Government to account on their track record.

Far too many vital Bills that could have made a real, tangible difference on this issue have been abandoned by this reckless, careless Tory Government: the Animals Abroad Bill—dropped; the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill—abandoned. It is no surprise that we are here to discuss the Government’s failure to keep its promises.

As for the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, as much as I welcome the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), the fact that he has effectively legislated Government policy on behalf of the Government somewhat begs the question, what the hell is the point of them? I need not remind the Members on the Government Benches that they were elected on a manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies. Relying on their own Back Benchers to ensure the Government keep to their promises is absurd; it shows they cannot be trusted to keep their own promises, which really is a terrible look.

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was meant to be a groundbreaking opportunity to enact world-class animal welfare legislation by clamping down on keeping primates as domestic pets, banning the import of dogs with cropped ears, banning the export of traumatised live animals for slaughter or fattening, and finally, once and for all, providing for pet theft to be a specific offence. All are enormously important policies with extremely wide support across the House and among the public. All are key components of the Government’s cornerstone action plan for animal welfare from 2021. All are now abandoned—yet another devastating broken promise from this tired and weak Tory Government.

Although animal welfare is devolved, importation and exportation remain a Westminster matter. In Wales, the Senedd stood ready to consent to and vote for the Bill also applying to Wales. When it was announced just last month that the Bill was to be scrapped and that the Government intended to proceed with elements of the original Bill just split up in component parts, we had no clear timelines and there was no clear interest in allocating parliamentary time for this before the summer recess. The vital policies look set to be kicked into the long grass.

While Tory Ministers are beholden to the hunting lobby and they dither and delay, thousands of animals are suffering in misery, or will die in horrific conditions. We have been waiting for this Bill for years. This is just not good enough. It is clear that the Tories have lost interest in legislating for animal welfare. In fact, they have lost interest in legislating for anything at all. I am pleased to say that, in contrast, Labour could not be stronger. We on this side of the House stand ready to legislate. We stand ready for Government. That is what this country needs and that is what our animal welfare laws need. We need a Labour Government.

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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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No.

I have heard a few things today about how manifestos need to be honoured. That is what we intend to do. It is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries came before the House less than a month ago to set out how that was going to be the case. I think the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), talked about not U-turning. He should perhaps give that advice to the leader of the Labour party, who has U-turned on pretty much every pledge he made to win the Labour leadership.

At some point, I think there was some clarity that the intention of the shadow Secretary of State was to propose the Bill as presented to Parliament and at the stage it had reached. Indeed, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), has just said that it was a good piece of legislation. Last December, a different shadow Minister—the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones)—said to the House that Labour wanted to amend the Bill to make it more fit for purpose. When they were invited by one of my predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), not to push some of their amendments which were not necessary, Labour absolutely refused to do so. That is why, I am sorry to say, there is a lack of trust in what has been tabled by the Opposition.

It is important for all politicians to be honest about what we have done already on animal welfare, and what we intend to do. That is why I am highly concerned by the publicity stunt—another misleading publicity stunt—created by the Opposition today. The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton stated that if the Government voted against the motion, which is simply about giving control of the Order Paper to the Opposition, we would be voting to continue puppy smuggling, puppy farming, pet theft and live animal exports. That is simply not true. I would go so far as to say that it is a falsehood, and it is those sorts of statements that bring this place into disrepute. That approach is now a regular feature of shadow Ministers’ speeches.

As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Minister set out our approach in an oral statement less than a month ago, building on our track record, so that we have the highest animal welfare standards in the world. I fully recognise that previous Labour Governments have helped us make that good progress. That is why I welcome the Opposition’s new-found enthusiasm for what we on the Government Benches are trying to do and have spent the past more than a decade delivering, and the manifesto commitments we have made. I have said that we will crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies, and we will, but I should point out to the House that that smuggling is already illegal. We pledged that we would end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening, and that is what we will do.

The hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton claimed that we are letting live animal exports continue. There has not been a single animal exported from this country for fattening and slaughter since we left the EU, and we will make sure that that does not happen through the necessary legislation, but let us be clear to the House and the people listening to this debate: we can only take forward that measure because we left the European Union, something that Labour and other Opposition parties tried to block. There are other aspects of the law that we are changing; if we were still in the European Union, we would not be able to change them. We are changing retained European law.

We said that we would ban keeping primates as pets. For people who have not seen our written ministerial statements today, we have already published our consultation—which is a necessity—prior to laying secondary legislation. I fully expect that secondary legislation to pass through the House before the end of the year. Making that reality happen will enable us to bring in the necessary legislation more quickly than if we had relied on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Of course, we also promised measures on animal cruelty, ivory, microchipping and animal sentience, which we have delivered.

The House may also recall the comprehensive action plan for animal welfare two years ago, which covered a total of 40 areas relating to farm animals, companion animals, sporting animals and wild animals, included both legislative and non-legislative reforms, and covered both domestic and international action. We have been delivering on our promises. We have increased penalties for animal cruelty: new, higher prison sentences are already being used in our courts. We recognised in law that animals are sentient beings, which my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) pointed out as being absolutely vital when he discussed his experience as a vet. Across Government, all policy decisions need to take that recognition into account.

We have already made cat microchipping compulsory. That was in an amendment tabled to the Bill; we have already done it. The Welsh Labour Government have failed to do so. We have brought the Ivory Act 2018 into force, and we have extended it to five more endangered species.

This is in addition to the wide array of reforms we have introduced since 2010, including slaughterhouse improvements, mandatory CCTV and improving the welfare of laying hens and meat chickens; companion animal reforms relating to breeding, pet selling and pet boarding; banning wild animals and travelling circuses; banning glue traps, and new powers to tackle hare coursing, horse fly-grazing and various dog issues. We continue to make progress on important issues by backing Bills that ban the import of hunting trophies, ban the trade in detached shark fins—I was pleased to see that it had already passed its Third Reading in the other place—and another that is under way to ban advertising here of unacceptable animal attractions abroad. We are also making strides to improve farm animal welfare, with the animal health and welfare pathway, and through vet visits supported by financial grants. We will continue to focus on delivering for animals without being distracted by, frankly, Opposition antics.

I now turn to some of the points raised in the debate. There were various questions about whether puppy farms are to be allowed. No, they are already banned. They were banned by legislation that we passed in 2018, and it was further tackled by the Lucy’s law ban on third-party sellers. On stopping primates being kept as pets, primates in the future must be kept to zoo standards. That is in the consultation and it is how we will regulate it, so that is one of the issues. On the future Government approach to a live exports ban, if the Scottish Government would like us to continue to extend this to Great Britain, we will be very happy to do that when the Bill gets presented again.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) asked whether we will commit to tackle pet theft. He will know that it is already illegal to steal pets. However, one of his proposals was that there are some other legislative vehicles we could use and that we could check the use of those powers. I will ask my officials to check that legislation to see if we can use such powers, but I am also looking at other possible legal vehicles to achieve that.

The hon. Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon) asked what we are doing about zoos. DEFRA maintains a close working relationship with the zoo sector, and we will continue to build on that to identify improvements. We aim to publish updated zoo standards later this year, which we have developed in collaboration with the sector and the Zoo Experts Committee, which raise standards and support enforcement. I enjoyed my visit to Chester zoo a few years ago. Actually, as a little girl, I used to go and see Jubilee the elephant. Of course, I went at the time of her predecessor, but I know there are Labour MPs in neighbouring constituencies who would like to close Chester zoo tomorrow, if they could.

On aspects of what there is to do, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Sir Bill Wiggin), who I think spoke eloquently. He has offered to sponsor a private Member’s Bill, which I would be very happy to take him up on.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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Will the Secretary of State give way?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I am actually answering the questions that were asked during the debate rather than taking further interventions.

On other elements, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth). I know she is passionately concerned about dog attacks, as indeed is my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson). My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) spoke powerfully about the importance of animal welfare. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) asked whether, if the legislation is introduced, there will be another consultation, and the answer is no. That would not be needed, because a private Member’s Bill can just be adopted and supported.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby); making such a contribution has been a really important element. There are many more colleagues I could thank, but I do want to thank in particular my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). I know that this is a particular passion of his. There were too many good speeches from Conservative Members to pull out, but let us come back to—

Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Friday 25th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), for whom I have a great amount of respect. I wholeheartedly agree with every word he just said. It is also a huge privilege to speak in support of this vital Bill. Many colleagues have referred to the fact that it has been a long time coming.

Let us be clear: killing animals for sport or killing animals to display their heads, horns, antlers, hides or any other part of their body is cruel and barbaric. It is utterly unjustifiable and should have no place in our society. What is worse, as we all know, is that this so-called “trophy hunting” is often used as cover for illegal poaching, as traffickers have historically been able to pass off illegal wildlife products as legal ones. This abhorrent practice is pushing endangered wildlife even closer to extinction and brings unnecessary suffering to innocent animals. This cannot and should not be allowed to continue.

This simple piece of legislation is well-supported by Members from across the House and people across the country. It is frustrating that it has taken so long for us to get to this point, but I want to place on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), the shadow Minister and the Minister, has been a vocal campaigner in supporting this legislation for some time. Thanks to all their determination and commitment we are able to finally see some progress on this issue today.

One issue that I fear may have slowed down the movement to tackle trophy hunting and the import of these products is that it can often be, incorrectly, seen as an “international” rather than a “domestic” issue. However, as research by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found, we are talking about at least 1.7 million animal trophies being traded over the previous decade. That is a colossal number, and we absolutely must pay attention.

I appreciate that the Government have a busy legislative timetable on their hands, and colleagues will know that I have made clear my concerns about the potential for important Bills, some even related to my shadow ministerial brief, to time-out in this Parliament. The same can be said for the Government’s commitment to banning trophy hunting too. There really is no need for delay; we have only to consider the Government’s response to their own 2019 consultation if further evidence for action is required. When the response to the consultation was published, the Government announced they would ban the import of hunting trophies from almost 7,000 endangered, threatened and near-threatened species. At the time, the then Environment Secretary described their plans as one of the toughest bans in the world, which would go “beyond our manifesto commitment” to ban trophies from endangered species

Sadly, we know that trophy hunting is a popular practice with a few wealthy game hunters. Banning this barbaric practice can only be a positive step forward, and this Government have a unique opportunity to lead the way for other jurisdictions across the globe to follow suit. This Bill has my full support and I look forward to seeing it progress to ensure a proper end to this cruel and unnecessary practice—it must finally be outlawed.

Oral Answers to Questions

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Thursday 8th September 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right that addressing that long-standing issue will be a combined effort with everyone working together. It is really important that everyone engages in ensuring that we get the right solutions in every situation to address the problem and reduce the amount of sewage being discharged as quickly as possible.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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Diolch, Mr Speaker. The demand for pet food banks is more than doubling in parts of the UK as owners have to make heartbreaking decisions thanks to the cost of living crisis. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), said, charities are bracing themselves for an increase in the number of abandoned animals, but it does not have to be this way. What assurances can the Minister give us about targeted financial support for those charities through a really difficult winter?

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords]

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
I very much hope that the Government will adopt my amendments and that of my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). If they do adopt at least his amendment, I will not seek to press mine to Divisions, but we do have to make some significant progress to put in the protections that many of us, certainly on the Government Benches, are concerned about.
Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today on new clause 1 and an issue that is very close to my own heart, as hon. Friends will know, as well as those of many of our constituents up and down the country. Indeed, it was a privilege to secure a Westminster Hall debate last year on covid-19’s impact on animal welfare. That debate took place almost a year ago to the day and I am pleased that we are now in a very different place when it comes to legislating to protect the most vulnerable.

As has already been said by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), this Bill has been a long time coming. We have only now reached this point thanks to the hard work of Members in this place and the other place, who have campaigned ferociously on these issues for many years. They include my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), as well as the former Member for Redcar, Anna Turley, who, were she still in this place, would be speaking passionately on this issue today.

I welcome the general thrust of this Bill to ban live exports and introduce animal sentience on to the statute book for the first time. It is also encouraging to see that animal welfare organisations such as the Better Deal for Animals coalition and Compassion in World Farming, and other charities including Hope Rescue, which is based near me in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), have cautiously welcomed the Bill, too.

I rise none the less to express concerns shared by several other Members that the Bill in its current form lacks scope and ambition. By making a specific provision that will allow our understanding of animal sentience to evolve as scientific research progresses, the Bill represents a brilliant opportunity to reinforce animal welfare legislation. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.

As the Bill progressed through the other place, some sought to argue that existing laws, such as the 200-year-old Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, were sufficient to legally enshrine animal sentience, but that simply is not true. To rely on legislation from 200 years ago without seeing the need for modernisation would have been a kick in the teeth for animal lovers and activists across the country and fundamentally would have been a wasted opportunity. Our withdrawal from the treaty of Lisbon, which colleagues will be aware acknowledges animal sentience in article 13, renders those arguments completely defunct. We are now seeing the effects of how the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 failed to transfer these principles.

Contrary to those remarks in the other place, there is a gaping hole in British law regarding the welfare of animals, and it is our responsibility to make those wrongs right. The Bill will go a long way to addressing that hole by again recognising the ability of animals to feel pain, excitement, joy and comfort, but the decision by the Government to not include a proactive animal sentience strategy, which Labour calls for in new clause 1, was incredibly disappointing. Compelling the Government to publish an animal sentience strategy would ensure that the Bill did not fall short of its aim to properly underpin animal welfare. Without it, the Bill in its current form risks being weaker than the European legislation it seeks to replace.

Let me be clear: animal welfare should be a priority for us all. I am pleased to say that, in Wales, the fantastic Welsh Labour Government are again ahead of the curve. The Welsh Government published their own animal welfare plan in November last year, and again it is disappointing to see the UK Government refuse to adopt their own in the Bill. After all, let us not forget that it was a Labour Government who introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006. That is because we recognised that issues relating to animal welfare are issues that we must all be concerned by. Hope Rescue, to which I referred earlier, is one such charity that has been leading the way on animal welfare issues for some years and its sheer dedication to improving the lives of abandoned dogs is to be applauded. In partnership with other groups, such as Justice for Reggie, campaigning groups are plugging the gaps where UK Government legislation has failed.

Animal welfare is a complex, emotive issue that spans many policy areas. I am pleased to see this legislation reach its final stages in this place, but I urge the Government to be more ambitious in their approach to animal welfare more widely. I will continue to push that point wherever possible, particularly in my capacity as a shadow Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister.

As the Government seek to finally tighten up the online space, my final plea to the Minister is to work with her colleagues across Departments on animal welfare issues specific to digital spaces, such as the sale of pets online. Now is the time to get that right. Only by working collaboratively can we truly tackle the root cause of those issues once and for all.

Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate. It has been interesting to listen to hon. Members on both sides. I would argue that the Government have probably got the Bill about right, for the simple reason that Opposition Members are saying that it does not go far enough and Conservative Members are perhaps saying that it goes plenty far enough.

This legislation is better than the previous version because it will not be taken to judicial review. In about 2018, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee looked at the Bill as it was then and rightly decided, having taken legal advice and advice from others, that many of the actions that could take place could be judicial-reviewed and land up in the courts. There could have been a situation where much of our animal welfare was judged in the courts, rather than here in Parliament. Instead, it creates a committee that is put in place by the Secretary of State and then has to present a report to them. He or she will then make a decision about which route the Government will take on animal welfare. I believe that that is the right situation.

I support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). We have argued many times in this Chamber, and I even argued in the European Parliament, that European legislation often had no flexibility about it. On this occasion, of course, it did have flexibility when bringing animal welfare legislation forward. As we brought legislation over as a result of Brexit, however, we did not include those clauses, which is why we are in this predicament. I have real sympathy for the Minister because she is dealing with an interesting situation: she is trying to balance the needs of animal welfare with the perceived needs of animal rights. That is the issue.

It is interesting that, in tonight’s debate, we have talked all about DEFRA. Much of it is about DEFRA, but we must remember that the Animal Sentience Committee will deal with the whole of Government. So when someone is building a bypass or building houses, the effect of all those issues on sentience will be considered. I admit that I am still interested to know how the committee will deal with all that. How will the Secretary of State for Transport or the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities deal with it? It will have a big job to do.

If the committee is set up in the right way with the right people on it, so that they can make a judgment about what is right in practical terms for animal welfare, it can work, but it is very much about how it is set up, who the chair is and who the members are. We must ensure that we have a balance of opinions so that, with the right methods of building, we can build our roads and our homes and we can carry on farming in our traditional ways.

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Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Hudson
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My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is important that we have the highest standards. I note there is an animal welfare chapter in the Australian trade deal, which I welcome, but in that chapter there are non-regression clauses, and all those do is say that neither partner will get worse. I think we can do better than that. I believe we must uphold our own animal welfare standards, and drive up animal health and welfare standards around the world.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has been looking at the movement of animals. The Government have looked at some our recommendations, but the standard response, again, is that they are “consulting” or “will consult.” Let us stop consulting on a lot of these matters, and just crack on with it. On puppy smuggling, let us raise the age of the dogs coming in to a minimum of six months. Let us ban heavily pregnant dogs and cats from being moved into the country. Let us ban the import of cropped-eared dogs.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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The hon. Gentleman is a vociferous campaigner on animal welfare and he makes some excellent points. On that final point, does he share my concern that at Crufts this weekend, the “best in breed” was a British bulldog? There is concern about the breeding of those brachycephalic dogs and the impact it has on them. Does he share my concern that the Government need to do more to protect them, as well as concerns about puppy smuggling and puppy breeding of such dogs in the future?

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Hudson
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The hon. Lady makes a valid point. She is a proud champion for animal welfare on the Labour Benches. We must look at that issue closely. Brachycephalic dogs, and dogs that have had horrific mutilations—I touched on the point about cropped ears—are being popularised in culture, with celebrities having those dogs, unwittingly endorsing such procedures. We must be careful about publicly endorsing dogs and animals that have had some of those procedures, as well as some of the breeding procedures that make those animals struggle in later life. Owners take on some of these dogs in good faith, and have no idea of some of the unintended consequences of such breeding patterns.

I mentioned ear cropping in dogs. The RSPCA has reported that in the past year, the incidence and reports of such dogs has gone up by about 86%. We do not need to wait for a law to come in or for primary legislation; we can crack on with secondary legislation and ban the import of dogs that have had their ears cropped, and potentially of cats that have had their claws removed. Instead of consulting, with secondary legislation we can crack on with some of the important health checks. If animals are being moved into this country, we should be doing checks on those dogs for things such as brucella canis. We should be reinstituting the rabies titer checks. We can reverse the change that the European Union made when it removed the need for mandatory tick treatment for small animals coming into this country. We can reverse that in secondary legislation to protect the health and welfare of those dogs and animals being brought into the country and, importantly, to protect the health and welfare of animals in this country. This is about biosecurity, and health and welfare needs to be thought about in the round.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has had some thoughts and comments for the Government about sorting out the digital identification of horses. Again, I welcome that the Government are consulting on that, but we need to crack on. If we can identify those animals, we will stamp out the illegal movement of animals to the European Union for slaughter.

Cost of Living and Food Insecurity

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Tuesday 8th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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Diolch, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne), who I know is doing excellent work leading the campaign for the right to food.

We have all seen the catastrophic rise in food poverty at the hands of this Government and their decade-long cuts, and now we are faced with rising food prices and energy costs. Too many people in Pontypridd are at their wits’ end trying to deal with the crisis. In my local area, people are going above and beyond to help support those who are struggling the most with this Government’s catastrophic lack of action on the cost of living crisis. Food banks in Taff Ely and Pontypridd are incredibly busy and are supported by an army of incredible volunteers across the community, who work tirelessly to help people put food on their tables. Community groups, including some of Ponty and our city’s excellent rugby and football clubs, have been doing fantastic work in collecting food to be distributed to those most in need, but it should not be that way.

While it is of course a privilege to be able to highlight the incredible work of my constituents, it is a privilege that comes with real frustration and, to put it bluntly, sheer exasperation. I simply cannot believe that their actions are necessary in a modern, developed nation such as ours. Food bank use has skyrocketed around the country, and it is shameful that everyday people, who are desperately worried that they will not be able to put food on the table to feed themselves and their families, are getting in touch with my office. While the Government are spending their time chasing their tails and trying to defend the indefensible, campaigners such as Jack Monroe and volunteers around the country are working all hours of the day to tackle food insecurity. Raising prices and a reduction in the number of products in basic ranges has an unimaginable impact on people struggling, and while I know that in recent days some retailers have agreed to protect those products, they must all commit to making sure that those products are available and affordable for everyone who buys them.

While the Government’s £20 a week cut to universal credit may not seem like a huge amount of money to some people or our billionaire Chancellor, for many living on universal credit it is the difference between being able to put food on the table for their families or going hungry. At the bare minimum, the Government must urgently reintroduce the uplift to support those most in need. They must also set out a national strategy for food, making it clear how they will ensure access to high-quality, sustainable and affordable food for all.

When talking about food insecurity, it would be remiss of me not to highlight the controversy that surrounded the UK Government’s disastrous attempt to cut free school meals for children in England, a policy I would hope that Members from all political persuasions could see was an appalling idea from the get-go. I am a proud Welsh Labour MP, and I am proud that in Wales the Welsh Labour Government have consistently provided parents with the vital cash needed to put food on the table for children in the school holidays.

In December last year, they went one step further and committed to extending free school meal provision to all primary-aged children. There are important and wider benefits to that approach, such as giving children access to healthy food across the whole school and helping to improve social skills and attainment. I should not have to put that in terms for Conservative Members: they should know that it is simply wrong for any child to go without food. But sometimes it feels as though we are banging our heads against a brick wall.

On energy prices too, this Tory Government would do well to follow Labour’s example. The Welsh Labour Government have just doubled the warm homes discount, and Labour’s plan would see the worst-off in society receive £600 to support them in paying their energy bills—real support, not words on a piece of paper or a loan to be paid off in the distant future. The Government have the chance to take action now to stop kids and families going hungry and shivering in their homes. I sincerely hope the Chancellor, the Secretary of State and the Minister in her place today grab the opportunity while they still can.

Online Animal Sales: Regulation

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Monday 13th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Mundell and to speak in the debate today, and especially to follow the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who I know is a passionate life-long campaigner for animal welfare, just like myself.

As hon. Members across the House well know, we are a proud nation of animal lovers. Animal welfare is an issue that cuts across political divides, and I am so pleased to see Members from across the House calling for urgent reform and regulation of the sale of animals online.

Those of us with pets know first hand the joy and excitement of bringing home a new cat, dog or rabbit to become a member of the family. I am becoming something of a broken record, but bringing home Dotty and Dora—my Jack Russell puppies—nine years ago was an incredibly exciting time for my family. I was lucky: Dotty and Dora came from a friend up the road whose dog had just had puppies; I knew they had been looked after, and they had stayed with their mum until they were big enough to leave safely.

However, in the nine years since, there has been a huge shift in the way people acquire animals. The most popular way to get a new pet is online, with some 92% of all pet sales happening online via websites which allow for third-party sales or on social media. While the vast majority of people looking to get a pet that way do their best to make sure it has been properly looked after and is the right age to leave its mother, there are many tragic cases of animals being bred or transported to the UK in horrible circumstances, and then sold on to unsuspecting customers online. In the worst instances—in cases such as Reggie’s—those animals are simply too sick to survive, leaving behind devastated families.

Last week, I was honoured to join the team behind the Reggie’s law campaign at 10 Downing Street to hand their petition—which received more than 100,000 signatures —to the Prime Minister. They have turned their tragedy into a really powerful campaign. It is wonderful to see Richard and the team here today, after he walked an incredible 232 miles from his home to London to raise awareness of this important issue and to raise money to support animal charities.

One of the beneficiaries of Richard’s fundraising is Hope Rescue, a dog rescue charity working across south Wales that operates from a rescue centre in Llanharan, just across the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). I visited the charity a few months ago, and saw first hand the incredible work it does looking after rescued and abandoned dogs. I saw one five-week old puppy that had been rescued from an illegal puppy farm only a few days earlier, but he was one of the lucky ones: he is now in a place where he is loved and cared for, and has luckily suffered no long-term damage as a result of his start in life.

As Members well know, there is already a significant amount of regulation across the UK to control the sale of pets online, which, in England and Wales, is set out in the respective licensing of activities involving animals regulations, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees). Although the regulations are devolved, their provisions on pet sales are broadly the same. They require all advertisements for pets—online and offline—to display the licence number and issuing local authority, as well as a recognisable photo and the age of the animal. For dogs specifically, the regulations require the sale to be completed in person, not online, at the site where the dog was kept and, in the case of puppies, the animal to be seen with its mother.

Lucy’s law also bans the third-party sale of puppies and kittens in both England and Wales. Such animals should therefore be sold only by the person who bred them and, in Wales, from the breeders’ premises. However, it is clear from Reggie’s tragic story, and as hon. Members have said, that those regulations are simply not working well enough.

A quick online search shows that a major issue with the regulations is that they are simply not being enforced properly, which has only been exacerbated by the explosion of interest in buying a pet during lockdown. Local authorities have seen their funding slashed over the last decade, and over the last 18 months they have faced enormous challenges because of the pandemic. While I recognise that policing and enforcement is not a key responsibility of the Minister’s Department, I am hugely concerned that not enough is being done to tackle this all-important issue.

I commend the Government’s petfishing campaign and recognise that public awareness of the things to look for is vital. However, until bad actors are stopped from making huge amounts of money selling animals illegally online, there will be more sad stories like Reggie’s. I support the calls in the petition to require people who sell animals online to verify their identity, and I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the Government’s policy on that matter.

I also urge the Minister to work with her counterparts across Government and with the devolved Governments to make enforcing policies on animal welfare a priority, both at home and at the border. Without swift action, there will sadly be many more Reggies and many more Ricks and families like his forced to contend with losing a beloved family pet in horrible circumstances.

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

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.

Real Fur Sales

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Steven Bonnar Portrait Steven Bonnar (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.

Historically, the UK was the foremost leader when it came to animal welfare—the first island of nations in the world to implement legislation protecting animal rights. Fur farming has rightly been banned in the UK since 2003, yet we continue to import tens of millions of pounds of animal fur each year. If it is too cruel an industry to have on our shores, how can we justify importing fur that is farmed using the same inhumane methods that are illegal in the UK? As the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) said, all we have managed to do is outsource our animal cruelty overseas.

The slaughter methods used on fur farms are horrendously cruel. Before an animal reaches its first birthday, it will be slaughtered using one of the following methods: by electrocution, with probes inserted into the animal’s mouth; by gassing, slowly starving the animal of oxygen; or by brutally beating the animal to death. Alternatively, many animals have their necks broken or are poisoned with noxious chemicals that result in organ failure. In some particularly horrific cases, animals may even be skinned alive. How can we really, truly call ourselves a progressive and caring society when we allow such actions to take place, purely for commercial purposes?

The fur trade not only has a devastating impact on innocent animals but also creates a risk to human welfare from zoonotic diseases. Last year, we witnessed a devastating cull of mink in Europe because of large outbreaks of covid-19. Dangerous viruses thrive when animals are kept in filthy, crowded conditions. By allowing the sale of fur in Britain, we are inadvertently supporting a reservoir of deadly viruses. The UK public overwhelmingly reject these barbaric and entirely outdated practices. One YouGov poll shows that 72% of our population want to see a ban on the importation and sale of fur.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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The hon. Gentleman mentioned that 72% of people want to see a ban. In Wales, the number is actually higher: 82% of people in Wales want to see a ban on the UK fur industry. It is vital that the Minister works with all nations of the United Kingdom and all devolved Administrations to tackle this problem head-on.

--- Later in debate ---
Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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Of course I will, Ms Rees. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for bringing this debate, and all other hon. Members who have spoken today. It is obvious from the speeches and all those interventions that there is great strength of feeling on this topic. I spoke on it myself as a Back Bencher when I was in the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare. Similarly, the support for the early-day motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) has tabled shows the strength of feeling.

We know that we are a nation of animal lovers. We were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals, and we have developed a lasting legacy of improving and enhancing animal health and welfare. I do not think anyone in this room would deny that. Since 2010 we have banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, modernised our licensing system for dog breeding and pet sales, introduced the popular Finn’s Law, banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens and led work to implement humane trapping standards. However, we do have the opportunity to do more and go further. Animal welfare is an absolute priority of the Government, as I think that raft of measures demonstrates.

We have outlined our aims and ambitions for improving animal welfare in our action plan, published on 12 May. We have introduced landmark legislation in this Session that will recognise animals as sentient beings in UK law, and we are establishing an expert committee to ensure that animal sentience is considered as part of policy making. We have launched the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which will introduce new powers to crack down on puppy smuggling, a ban on the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter, a ban on keeping primates as pets, and new powers for police to provide greater protection to livestock from dangerous and out of control dogs. I think Members will agree that it is an impressive list.

As Members know, fur farming has been banned in England and Wales since 2000 and in Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2002. There are also restrictions on some skin and fur products that cannot be legally imported into the UK. Those include fur and products from cats and dogs and sealskin products from commercial hunts. There is a small exemption there for subsistence seal farming by individual groups. We have established controls on fur from endangered species protected by the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES—and we do not allow imports of fur from wild animals caught using methods that are not compliant with international humane trapping standards.

However, it is still possible to import other types of fur from abroad. In our action plan for animal welfare, the Government committed to exploring further action in this area, which we are free to do now that we have left the EU. I wanted to stress that point particularly, and it has been mentioned by a number of Members today. Bear in mind, as well, that some nations in the EU still have fur and mink farming and so on. We are building a strong evidence base on which to inform any future policy, noting information from a range of sources, including industry associated with the fur trade and notable retailers who have recently gone fur free. A list was mentioned just now, but they include the likes of Adidas, H&M, Lacoste, Mango, Marks & Spencer, charities and other organisations, as well as a range of fashion designers including Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Prada, Armani, Burberry and Chanel. I am sure lots of hon. Members and hon. Friends are wearing some of those brands today, because it is Second Hand September; I am.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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The Minister makes the important point that high street retailers and consumers want to do the most ethical thing by buying items marketed as faux fur or synthetic fur, but when tests are carried out unfortunately it turns out they are real fur, because it is cheaper to use real fur than faux fur. Can the Minister outline what she is doing to counteract this? Consumers think they are doing the right thing, but we need to make sure that they really are.

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That point was raised by a number of Members today, including the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is no longer in her place, and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). It is a good point and the Government recognise the moral concern that some consumers have about whether the fur is real and whether labels are correct.

Information has been given to businesses requiring them to be accurate and not misleading. Labelling that contains false or misleading information, or omits material information that consumers need to make an informed decision, is prohibited. The textile labelling regulations require that the presence of fur and other non-textile parts of animal origin, such as leather and pearls, are labelled. We have a clear system and if anyone feels there is a breach it should be reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

Animal Welfare

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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Diolch, Mr Mundell. I am grateful to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), and I echo his comments regarding Gizmo’s law being brought in as soon as possible. I am also grateful for being called to speak in this debate on a topic that is close to heart for so many of us, and about which I have spoken at length in this place. The welfare of animals big and small has undeniably taken a hit as a consequence of the pandemic, but it is our duty and moral obligation to protect animals from harm. Like many others, I have fears that the Government’s action plan for animal welfare does not stretch far enough.

Residents across my Pontypridd constituency topped the signature count for the petition focused on the worrying rise in the ear cropping of dogs, so that is where I will focus my comments. Let us be clear: ear cropping is a barbaric and illegal practice that is completely unnecessary and which brings no welfare benefit to dogs. There are some fantastic charities out there that are leading the way on tackling this issue—none more so than Hope Rescue, which is a dog rescue charity based in the constituency of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). Hope Rescue does genuinely brilliant work and is a proud former partner of the “flop not crop” campaign, which is a collaboration led by the Focus on Animal Law Group and the British Veterinary Association.

The strength of feeling on ear cropping is particularly clear in south Wales, and Hope Rescue is currently caring for eight micro-bully puppies seized from a breeder. Of the eight, six have had their ears cropped. It is all very well to outlaw such cruel practices, but it is clear that in the case of ear cropping, the law is doing nothing to protect dogs that are at risk. As others have mentioned, although it is illegal to crop in the UK, it is not illegal to sell cropped dogs, import them from abroad, or take dogs abroad to be cropped. Such loopholes act as a smokescreen for illegal cropping in the UK. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic, and the overall increase in demand for dogs and puppies, has seen an increase in demand for dogs with cropped ears. It is utterly shocking that the RSPCA has reported a 621% increase in reports of dogs with cropped ears over the past five years, and this is clearly something that charities on the ground are having to cope with too. In the past few weeks alone, Hope Rescue has reported a number of breeders across south Wales to both the police and relevant local authorities, but ultimately the severe delays in the court system are having a major impact. Sadly, the ability to create meaningful change is very limited.

It is absolutely vital that when we consider issues of animal welfare, including those covered by the petitions that we are debating today, we also consider the knock-on effects and long-term problems that animals may face in years to come. Puppies that have been subjected to ear-cropping have often been subjected to poor breeding techniques that consequently impact their overall health and welfare too.

Put simply, in its current form the Government’s action plan for animal welfare does not go far enough to protect animals, both now and in the years to come. If we are truly to get a grip on tackling the abuse of animals, part of the conversation is to improve law enforcement practices. Although I welcome the recent introduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, tougher prison sentences for animal cruelty offences will do little to change the situation on the ground and are unlikely to lead to meaningful and much-needed change for animals that are suffering today.

I urge the Minister to take forward my concerns and those of colleagues across the political divide in her conversations with colleagues in the Home Office. The Government have the opportunity to improve practices, but they are dragging their heels when it comes to ear cropping. I truly hope that today’s debate will make it clear to the Minister that urgent action is required, and required now.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I now call Jim Shannon to speak. Mr Shannon, if you stick to four minutes, then the Minister and the opposition spokespersons will have plenty of time to contribute.

Covid-19: Animal Welfare

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Tuesday 16th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on animal welfare.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms McVey, and to serve under your chairship. I am delighted to have secured the debate on an issue that, if my email inbox is anything to go by, many of our constituents across the country feel very strongly about.

I want to place on the record my gratitude to some of the incredible organisations who work hard all year round to support animal welfare projects across the country. Indeed, many of those organisations—there are far too many to list—have supported me with my preparation for the debate. Locally, I am grateful for the expertise of Hope Rescue, a dog rescue charity working across south Wales who operate from a rescue centre in Llanharan, just across the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). Thankfully, Hope Rescue’s work covers the whole of Rhondda Cynon Taf and beyond, and I am extremely grateful for its engagement ahead of the debate. The same sentiments apply to Friends of Animals Wales, which has been working constantly behind the scenes to improve, educate and inform on the importance of robust animal welfare standards for all of us in Wales.

I must finally extend my thanks to the many national organisations whom I have met and engaged with ahead of today. I will try my best to name them all, but an exhaustive list is practically impossible. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, the Kennel Club, Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Cymru all have some incredible research and recommendation reports. I urge colleagues of all political persuasions to reach out and read the information readily available to us all. Finally, I am especially grateful to the House of Commons Library service, whose briefing will, I am sure, be well referred to by colleagues.

The debate feels particularly timely for two reasons. Colleagues will be aware that this is Pet Theft Awareness Week. I have specific concerns relating to the impact that the coronavirus has had on pet owners like me, and I am sure they will be echoed by others. Given that we are all increasingly spending more time out walking in our local areas, I know that, sadly, some places have seen rises in opportunistic pet thefts. I will touch on that worrying trend in my contribution.

In addition, it would seem foolish not to reference the dialogue around the issues relating to violence and abuse towards women and girls that has grown in recent weeks. There is little research connecting domestic violence with animal abuse, but thankfully this is an area of growing academic interest. We now know that pet dogs and cats are at high risk in abusive households as perpetrators direct their anger at them and use them to manipulate and control their human victims.

I am sure colleagues agree that we need to be having those conversations around welfare—whether human or animal-related—regularly in this place. It is vital that regulation and law enforcement are considered key parts of that conversation, too. I specifically look forward to hearing from the Minister about the cross-departmental work and conversations that I sincerely hope are taking place with her colleagues in the Home Office on how to tackle issues specific to crimes against animal welfare.

It is often said with great pride that we are a nation of animal lovers. From old tropes connecting Great Britain with the British bulldog to the jokes made far too often about sheep and Wales—none of which I will reference here today; I am sure colleagues can use their imagination —it cannot be denied that animals big and small are at the very heart of our global identity. That is certainly the case in my constituency of Pontypridd, and I would be hard-pressed to find a Welsh valleys resident who was not at least a lover of cats or dogs.

Obviously, no debate on animal welfare would be complete without reference to my own two gorgeous Jack Russells, Dotty and Dora. I got them when they were just a few weeks old, and in September they will both turn nine. They have truly seen me through thick and thin, the good and the bad. Family aside, they really are my world. If anything, coronavirus has made our bond stronger than ever before, and I know that sentiment is shared by many others in my community.

Since I was elected in December 2019, I have received more emails from constituents concerned in one way or another about animal welfare than I have on any other topic—second only to inquiries about coronavirus. They cover a huge range, dealing with badger culling, puppy smuggling, fur imports and concern about bee-killing pesticides. In applying for the debate, I wanted an opportunity to touch on some of the ways the coronavirus epidemic has had an impact on animal welfare across the country.

For many of us, the pandemic has meant that we could spend more time than ever before with our pets. For Dotty and Dora, that has been a wonderful thing. I am lucky to be surrounded by the gorgeous Welsh valleys and to have plenty of open space to take my two out and about whenever possible. It is one of the only benefits that the coronavirus pandemic has brought us, I think—the opportunity to spend time with family and pets.

Sadly, for other animals the coronavirus pandemic has been anything but a good thing. During the first lockdown, calls to the RSPCA’s national cruelty and advice lines halved from their 2019 level. At face value, that sounds like a good thing, but on looking at the stats in detail we can see a worrying picture developing. There are concerns from the sector that that was simply because lockdown meant people did not see incidents of neglect or cruelty as they usually would. When restrictions began to be lifted, from May to July, the number of calls to the RSPCA rose above 2019 levels, and there are concerns that we have not yet seen the real impact of the pandemic on domestic animals.

Another worrying trend is the fact that there have been significant increases in the demand for animals, as more people than ever before have seen the benefit of having pets, especially when we are all spending so much time at home. Research conducted by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home found that 31% of people who acquired a dog or cat during the first lockdown had not even thought of becoming pet owners before. Its research also found that online searches about buying a dog increased by about 217% between February and April 2020.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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We keep springer spaniels and cocker spaniels, because we do hunting and shooting. My son sold a dog last year for £150 and the pups this year are making £2,500. The value is absolutely abnormal and as a result dog thefts have risen dramatically. Does the hon. Lady agree that better co-operation on dog sales is needed between all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to ensure an end to dog thefts, and an end to the dispersal of dogs around the UK—or at least better regulation?

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. There has been a dramatic rise in pet theft throughout lockdown and, sadly, those pets are being transported across all four regions of our United Kingdom, so it is vital to have a joined-up approach to tackling the issue.

I am sure that the majority of the people who have acquired pets during the lockdown will go on to become loving pet owners, but impulse purchases are hugely worrying for rescue centres, which anticipate a surge in the number of animals being brought to them when life returns to normal. It is important to note that a dog is for life, not just for lockdown. The RSPCA has concerns that as the economic consequences of covid-19 continue to take hold, more and more larger animals, including horses, will face neglect and abandonment too.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, the increase in demand for animals has had a huge impact on the incidence of pet theft, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said. The Minister will be aware—I am sure she is as concerned as I am—of the response to a recent freedom of information request stating that in five policing areas there was a double-digit increase in the number of dog thefts reported between January and July 2020, compared with the previous year.

I know at first hand how worrying those incidents can be for communities. Community Facebook groups in my area are full of posts from people worrying about dog thefts, vans driving around suspiciously and chalk prints being put on houses where a dog is known to be present. I should be interested to hear the Minister’s comments about conversations with colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about the spread of misinformation, and social media companies’ responsibility to regulate fake news, particularly in the context of animal welfare. Pets really are part of our families, so I fully understand why such posts and the threat of pet theft cause such alarm in communities.

Given the heightened demand for animals during the lockdown, there has been a rapid increase in the number of dogs entering the country for commercial reasons. Some of the recent responses to written parliamentary questions have revealed that the number of intra-trade animal health certificates issued for dogs from May to August 2020 was almost 16,000. That is double the figure for the same period in 2019.

Animal welfare groups also, justifiably, have major concerns about puppy smuggling, where animals are illegally transported into the UK in horrendous conditions. Puppies are often bred in terrible conditions and are taken away from their mums at increasingly early ages. They then face a perilous 33-hour-long journey to the UK, often with no food, little water and no exercise. Recent research from Dogs Trust has also found that, increasingly, heavily pregnant dogs are being imported into the UK, often at the late stage of their pregnancies, in order to circumvent the ban on commercial third-party puppy sales, which came into force in England in April last year.

The Government have a responsibility to act to stop these barbaric practices, and I urge the Minister to work with charities that have the expertise in this area to achieve lasting change for our four-legged friends. Although I am pleased to see that the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill just about managed to clear Report stage in the Commons on Friday, and I congratulate the hon. Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) on his fantastic work campaigning on this issue, without the adequate funding and support, how are the police supposed to enforce such changes to the law? I recognise that policing and enforcement are not a key responsibility of the Minister’s Department, but I am discouraged by responses that I have received from her colleague, Lord Goldsmith, on this particular issue.

We all know and recognise the importance of an inter-agency, Government departmental approach to tackling social issues, and the policing and enforcement of these abhorrent crimes against animals should be no different. Indeed, I remind the Minister that since 2010, the number of police officers in our forces across England and Wales has fallen by more than 14%. Worryingly, we also now find ourselves with one of the lowest ratios of police officers per 100,000 inhabitants compared with our friends in the EU.

Estimates suggest that the current scale of the increase in the backlog of cases before our courts would take 10 years to clear at pre-pandemic rates. That is clearly outrageous, and I shudder to think of the impact that that will have on the victims of crime in this country, who will be forced to wait years for their day in court. What does this really mean for animal cruelty cases? Well, I suspect that, with our courts and police forces stretched beyond breaking point, there simply will not be capacity to deal with the animal cruelty offences.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that there is one rule for them and another for us. When the Prime Minister’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, drove across the country with symptoms of coronavirus, the rest of us were struggling through lockdown at home—obeying the rules. The same was true with the Government’s absurd exemption to the coronavirus rule of six for hunting in autumn 2020. Not only that, but over Christmas, when so many of us were unable to spend time with our families after a difficult year because of the pandemic, the Tory Government introduced yet another exemption to enable Boxing day hunts to take place. It is no surprise when you find out that the Tories and the Prime Minister have taken more than £1 million from donors linked to hunting. If that does not tell you what this Government think about animal welfare, I do not know what does.

Still, after years of campaigning from animal rights groups, the import of so-called hunting trophies into the UK is legal, as long as the animal is licensed under the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora. However, the trade is exacerbating the decline of threatened species and is causing unnecessary suffering to animals. Even worse, it is often being used as a cover for illegal poaching, as traffickers pass off illegal wildlife products as legal.

I welcome the UK Government’s decision to hold a consultation on options to restrict the import and export of hunting trophies into the UK, but the consultation closed on 25 February 2020. It has been over a year since the consultation closed and still the Government have not responded. I implore the Minister to confirm when her Department will formally respond to the consultation, and I look forward to an update in her remarks later.

I am afraid to say that this is not the only area where the UK Government have been too slow to act. Three years ago, the Government promised, after much pressure from public and animal welfare organisations, to include animal sentience legislation in law after Brexit. Well, the transition period has now ended and still no legislation is forthcoming from the Government. What we need now is action, and I fear we are simply stuck in a climate of consultations. I look forward to hearing in the Minister’s update how the Government plan to bring forward legislation on animal welfare protections beyond the current parliamentary Session.

For the animal welfare sector, who work so hard to ensure that every animal lives in a safe and loving home, the pandemic has, of course, sadly brought its own set of financial challenges. Indeed, research by the brilliant Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, who have partnered with the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes to conduct a survey of over 100 centres in January this year, found that nine out of 10 rescue centres had experienced a drop in income, with a third losing over half of their income. According to the RSPCA, the total predicted financial loss for the sector was over £101 million for 2020. Like so many sectors up and down the country, animal welfare charities need specific support from the UK Government in order to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

I sincerely wish, on behalf of animals in need across England, that the UK Government showed a level of commitment to providing funding for charities in line with the support on offer from the fantastic Welsh Labour Government. In Wales, our Welsh Labour Government have ensured that animal welfare charities have access to emergency funding grants, including local authority rates grants, the third sector resilience fund, the voluntary services recovery fund and sector-specific funds via Business Wales. Sadly, it is not the same for colleagues in England, where funding for charities has largely been given to national funders for distribution, such as the National Lottery, which often excludes animal welfare charities.

I have said it before and I say it again: I urge the Minister, if she is serious about animal welfare, to consider following the approach in Wales and to work with colleagues in Her Majesty’s Treasury to provide access to funding for the charities that need it the most. Indeed, I am aware that the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes has specifically lobbied her Department for sector-specific funding—but that has not been forthcoming, despite zoos and aquariums being awarded such funding.

It is also somewhat ironic that the greyhound racing industry was awarded emergency funding through the sports package. That sends a clear message to me and to others across the country that the Government are willing to engage in animal-related pursuits, but only when there is a gain to be made. Hunting and greyhound racing are two examples of such pursuits that put animals at great risk, yet both appear to have the support of the UK Government.

I conclude by referring to two specific animal welfare concerns that I truly believe the Minister’s Department needs to pay close attention to. First, she may be aware of the alarming rise in the number of ear-cropped dogs in the UK. I am sure she knows that the practice of ear cropping is illegal in the UK—quite rightly. The barbaric practice involves the unnecessary and painful mutilation of ear flaps, and often takes place without anaesthesia or pain relief. I should clarify that it also has absolutely no welfare benefit. However, the RSPCA has reported a 621% increase in reports of ear cropping between 2015 to 2020.

Although it is illegal to crop dogs’ ears in the UK, it is not illegal to sell ear-cropped dogs, to import them from abroad, or to take dogs abroad to be cropped. These loopholes act as a smokescreen for those who are illegally cropping dogs in the UK. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic and the overall increase in demand for dogs and puppies have led to an increase in demand for dogs with cropped ears. These are often Dobermans or American Bullies. Hope Rescue, which I referred to earlier, currently has eight seized puppies from their local area, and six of the eight have cropped ears. This issue really is closer to us than many people may imagine or understand.

Indeed, the Minister may be aware of the petition, which is currently live, to stop this barbaric practice. At the moment, it has more than 67,000 signatures, which just goes to show the widespread feeling about it. I am proud that Hope Rescue is partnering with the “Flop Don’t Crop” campaign, but really things should not be happening this way.

It would also be remiss of me, in a debate on animal welfare, not to mention breed-specific legislation. Too many harmless dogs are being destroyed simply because they are a banned breed—they are destroyed because of what they look like, regardless of their temperament. We must recognise that all dogs can bite and that any animal can be dangerous in the wrong hands, regardless of breed or type, or the fact that they look a certain way. Any action to tackle dog bites and all other instances of canine aggression must be focused on the deed, not the breed.

The RSPCA believes that breed-specific legislation is ineffective in protecting public safety, and results in the unnecessary suffering and even the euthanasia of many dogs. It believes that breed-specific legislation should be repealed and that the issues surrounding human safety should be tackled using education and effective legislative measures that do not unnecessarily compromise dog welfare. Sadly, to comply with the current legislation, the RSPCA has had to euthanise hundreds of dogs, and many other rescue centres have had to do the same. Many of these dogs would have been suitable for rehoming.

I am particularly looking forward to hearing the Minister’s specific comments about what her Department is doing to work with local authorities and law enforcement organisations to review the current legislation and to prevent the barbaric practice of ear cropping.

Taken together, it is clear to me that the issues raised in this debate show the urgent need for a comprehensive animal welfare Bill to be introduced by the Government, yet legislation is only a stepping stone to solving the issues that we see far too often with the regulation of animal welfare practices. Parcelling up individual policy ideas into announcements might work well for the Government’s press office, but it does not truly address the animal welfare problems in this country.

With a Queen’s Speech just around the corner, I urge the Minister to bring forward specific legislation on this issue and, crucially, to ensure that police, courts and local authorities are properly funded to ensure that such legislation is enforced.

Diolch.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (in the Chair)
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Back Benchers will now be called, followed by the Scottish National party spokesperson, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson and the Minister. I will look to call the first Front-Bench spokesperson no later than 3.30 pm. We have plenty of time—approximately 10 minutes—for each of the Members to speak.

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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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Diolch, Madam Chair. It truly has been a pleasure to take part in today’s debate. I am grateful to all colleagues for their contributions and for their excellent pronunciation of the name of my constituency—da iawn. I said at the beginning, and I know, that animal welfare is an issue that cuts across the political divide. Given the incredible cross-party support for some of the issues, I truly believe that.

I recognise that we are living in extraordinary times. People have seen their incomes cut, the job market is increasingly competitive and I know that for many, animal welfare may not be an issue that sits at the top of their priorities. However, we are fortunate to have the opportunity, as elected representatives, to debate important issues and I am grateful to be able to air my concerns, as well as those I have received from constituents in Pontypridd. I welcome the Minister’s comments. She has always been open to discussions with me on animal welfare issues and I thank her for that co-operation. I am glad that she recognises the issues with animal abuse, particularly the comorbidity with other violent and abusive behaviours. I hope that close attention is paid, and that the Minister will take up the issues raised today with colleagues at the Home Office for further discussion.

I welcome the Minister’s comments on pet theft and look forward to hearing more about the discussions she has with the MOJ and the Home Office on that issue. I also welcome the report on puppy smuggling and the movement across borders, and look forward to seeing what help can be given in that area.

Much has been said today about law enforcement. I would like to bring colleagues back to my earlier point about the importance of having laws that both protect and can be readily applied in cases of animal abuse. The Minister’s comments will help us move in the right direction and I am very grateful for that. I look forward to seeing her promises enacted in future legislation from the Government. Diolch.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on animal welfare.