‘While politicians dither, animals suffer’: frustration as welfare law scrapped

  • Campaigners have shared “frustration” and “disappointment” at the Government’s decision to scrap legislation that would have outlawed the live export of horses for slaughter.

    The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill had its first reading in June 2021, but had since stagnated. In April, World Horse Welfare led a ride to Parliament (pictured, top) to press for the passage of the bill and to raise awareness of live export to slaughter.

    The legislation would also have clamped down on horse attacks by out-of-control dogs, banned import of dogs with cropped ears and restricted the keeping of primates as pets. As well as this, it was set to deal with livestock worrying, make pet theft a specific offence and limit non-commercial movement of dogs, cats and ferrets.

    But on 25 May, the bill was dropped.

    Mark Spencer, the minister for food, farming and fisheries, blamed “political games” and “scope creep”, explaining that “the bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan”. He added that individual measures from the bill will be taken forward and that the Government “remain committed” to permanently banning live exports for fattening and slaughter.

    Mr Spencer also gave a summary of animal welfare policy advancements since 2010. He then announced the launch of both the new animal sentience committee, to advise the Government, and a consultation on new financial penalties of up to £5,000 for those who commit offences against animals.

    During the debate that followed, Mr Spencer told the Commons: “We have committed ourselves to delivering the measures in the Kept Animals Bill and we will deliver them.

    “We are very proud of our record on animal welfare. We continue to be committed in this area and we will deliver before the next general election.”

    He added: “The measures in the Kept Animals Bill will now be divided into smaller, bite-sized chunks so that we can get through them and deliver them more quickly.

    “Instead of being bogged down in endless amendments and political games, we can now get on and deliver on all these commitments and expedite the process of making sure we get them on the statute book.”

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H that for more than two years, the charity has been campaigning in support of this legislation.

    “Now it feels like we’re back to square one,” he said.

    “This sudden U-turn on the Kept Animals Bill is hugely frustrating and a bitter disappointment, especially since it could have done so much good for horses and other animals.

    “The Government’s promise to take forward elements of the Kept Animals Bill individually during this Parliament provides scant comfort and we will believe it when we see it.

    “So we urge Government to make good on its promises and manifesto commitments by setting a timetable to bring in these much-needed new laws. For our part, we will not stop campaigning until this is done.”

    Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, added that it is “disappointing” that landmark legislation on important welfare issues like sheep worrying has been “needlessly delayed for two years by MPs”.

    “The Countryside Alliance will be working with other genuine animal welfare organisations to get these important measures into law as quickly as possible,” he added.

    Emma Slawinski, director of policy at the RSPCA, said that “while politicians dither, animals suffer”, but welcomed the formation of the new animal sentience committee.

    “We have been waiting for almost two years for the Kept Animals Bill to improve the lives of billions of animals and now it’s effectively been scrapped,” she said.

    “We are frustrated and disappointed that, despite overwhelming public support, the UK Government has delayed and delayed and has now broken up the bill, leading to yet more uncertainty and lost time.”

    She added: “However, while this new sentience committee is a big step forward, if this UK Government is really serious about improving animal welfare, it needs to break the deadlock and quickly bring back all commitments contained within the Kept Animals Bill.”

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