Animal Welfare

Luke Pollard Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. This has been a good debate, and I thank in particular the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who stole much of everyone else’s speeches by being so comprehensive in his introduction. He was very good at pulling out the reasons why the petitioners brought forward these petitions, and the injustices that compelled them to petition Parliament to get a debate. I thank him for that. I also thank the petitioners and all those who signed the petitions—they have made a really big difference—including the nearly 1,500 people from Plymouth.

It feels like we have been here before. In fact, in this room we held an evidence session during the passage of the Ivory Act 2018, which sought to ban the sale of elephant ivory. Since the Act passed on to the statute book, not a single one of its provisions has been enforced by the Government. We must be careful about Governments, or political parties, using animal welfare as a reason to put stuff into legislation but then not enacting it. I fear there is a risk that in our hurry to pat ourselves on the back and cite our cross-party passion for animal welfare, we let the Government off the hook in what comes afterwards.

That is why some of the contributions from hon. Members have been so powerful. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), whom I want to preserve for many decades to come as he articulates it so very well—I do not want anything to happen to him and I hope he fares well in the boundary changes—talked powerfully about the need for proper enforcement. If we are to make the case for animal welfare law, we must also make the case for it to be properly enforced. The National Wildlife Crime Unit is a great example of something that is absolutely essential and completely underfunded.

The animal welfare action plan is a step forward and contains welcome words, lots of which are borrowed from the animal welfare manifesto that my party stood on at the last election. That is good, because frankly I want to see the change more than I want to see a party rosette attached to it, but we need to ensure that those words are properly enforced as well.

Hon. Members made a number of good contributions in relation to shark finning. The figures are utterly staggering. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) would need a much bigger tank if he were to rescue the 100 million or so sharks that are killed each year. Although this debate has focused on shark fins, we should be aware that it is not shark fin soup alone that is responsible for the decimation of shark populations. Greenpeace estimates a 50% decline in sharks in the last 30 years. Shark meat, illegal fishing practices and criminal fishing activities also contribute to that decimation.

The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) asked if we should ban all shark fin products. It is important that we look at that, because the wording of the action plan might be good on shark fins but not necessarily on shark fin products. We must not drive huge numbers of dead sharks through that loophole; we need to make sure that this works. Similarly, the Ivory Act 2018 bans only elephant ivory, so even if it were enforced, rhino ivory is not included. When we take the time to legislate, let us ensure that we do so in a comprehensive way.

The Shark Trust, a fantastic organisation that is based in Plymouth and operates globally, says that

“it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter responsibly sourced shark fin soup and so shark fin should be avoided.”

That is the message that we need to send. We are going into a new era where China will be more dominant, so the practices of the Chinese Government and the state-sponsored practices of illegal fishing activities around the world are more than just welfare matters. It is a matter of geopolitics.

We must be careful about how we have this debate and how we encourage others to come with us. When we talk about the illegal trade in shark fins we must ensure that we also talk about the illegal trade in people that so often accompanies it. We are talking about not just the massacre of 100 million sharks every year, but, in many cases, illegal slavery, oppressive conditions and overfishing. That is why there needs to be a comprehensive strategy on shark fins, not just a tactic to deal with pressure from well-meaning and vociferous lobbying by constituents. The strategy needs to be broader.

We have heard enormously passionate and heartfelt speeches about the ear cropping of dogs. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) spoke passionately about its effects, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who is a real animal welfare champion. When we talk about this subject, let us remember what happens to a single dog when its ears are cropped. Let us remember the risk to the animal of infection, the person who carries out the practice regularly, the owner who allows it to happen, the person who turns a blind eye to the transit of that animal, and the person who purchases the animal, who also turns a blind eye.

As has been said about the influencers who do this, let us also call out people who put an image of a cropped dog on their Instagram or TikTok to get likes, shares and followers, and who ignore the pain that comes with that dog. Let us properly call out the influencers and also make sure that animal welfare is properly included in the action being taken on online harms by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Minister knows that I feel strongly about this, and I encourage her to speak regularly to her DCMS colleagues about how the online world is driving poor behaviour in relation to animals. That needs to be addressed and it is also the responsibility of social media companies.

We have a leaky law on dog ear cropping and it is poorly enforced. Many Members, including the hon. Member for Southend West, have referred to the 621% increase in reports of ear cropping since 2015. Although that figure is shocking, it should shock only those who have not been paying attention to what has been a growing trend over many years. That is why we need proper action and a law that is not only tighter but properly enforced. There is a real boom in dog ear cropping—a disgusting criminal activity—so the cross-party message needs to be really powerful. I am certain that the Minister will echo that when she gets to her feet.

On the campaign to ban puppy imports, it feels as though its time really has come. During lockdown, thousands of people felt that something was missing from their homes—it was a pet-sized hole and more and more animals have been bought. I liked it when the Select Committee Chair asked whether the market is sustainable. It is not sustainable, but the animal welfare plan does not address that. I would be grateful if the Minister would not skip over that in her response.

We need to recognise that there are things that need to be improved in the action plan. When the legislation comes forward, I hope that some of the suggestions mentioned in this debate will be taken up. I have a lot of time for the Minister, but, speaking frankly, I fear that the Government as a whole have dragged their feet on some of these issues for too long. In addition, that is fuelling a dog abandonment catastrophe, because lack of action now is fuelling an increase in the number of animals with behavioural issues and real problems. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke passionately about dog abandonment issues, which should have had a much more prominent position in the debate.

I thank Marc Abraham and others, and The Mirror campaign, for talking about puppy smuggling. There has been a fantastic focus on this issue and now we need proper action. That should include making sure that there are no imports of puppies younger than six months.

Finally, we have a real opportunity to have cross-party consensus on bold action. I wish the Minister the very best of luck in strengthening the legislation that her Department is currently preparing. The hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) made a very good plea for the inclusion of Gizmo’s law, and I echo that. It is in these coming weeks, before the Minister publishes Bills for First Reading, that we have a chance to ensure that the proposed legislation is good not just in terms of soundbites but in terms of action. I wish the Minister the very best of luck with that, because plenty of MPs will hold her accountable if we see good soundbites but no action.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I call Minister Victoria Prentis. Could you leave a couple of minutes at the end so that Mr Colburn can respond to the debate?