Tracey Crouch is the Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford and a Patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation
At the end of last year, I spoke at a Westminster Hall Debate on finding time to bring back the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. It was clear from the variety of contributions from Conservative colleagues and others that there remains strong political will to see the Kept Animals Bill become law.
Outside of Westminster, the British public has demonstrated clear support for bringing this important Bill back to Parliament. More than 107,000 people signed the petition to make time for the Bill to return, which was the prompt for December’s debate. Any move to enact this much-needed measure will receive a positive response from voters. Time and time again, the British public have demonstrated their support for advancing animal welfare.
Fourteen months on from its last stage in Parliament, there is a sense that enough is enough. Coinciding with the debate, Sir Roger Gale, my fellow Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation Patron, delivered a letter to the Prime Minister signed by 34 Conservative MPs urging him to return this Bill as promised during his leadership campaign. Meanwhile, another letter led by my Conservative colleague and former vet Dr. Neil Hudson was signed by 63 MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum.
Indeed, there is growing frustration from colleagues within my own party and other parties that the delay has gone on too long. Some have even taken the unusual step of offering to stay in Parliament for additional hours to make time for this critical legislation to be delivered.
Yet more than a year on from its last phase, the Bill now faces new challenges. Namely, suggestions that it could be dismantled and replaced by separate Private Members’ Bills.
With the Kept Animals Bill having already passed through to Report Stage, it feels peculiar to discard so much progress. George Eustice, the former Environment Secretary and the bill’s engineer, has estimated it will only require around five hours of parliamentary time to pass. To embark on separate bills and the additional time and resource this will involve would represent a clear contradiction given the reason cited for the bill’s current delay is a shortage of parliamentary time.
When the Animals Abroad Bill was dropped, there were similar suggestions from certain quarters that the measures promised would be delivered through Private Members’ Bills. However, only one of these measures has survived and been adopted by the Government – the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill. And despite receiving backing from the Government, this has been no smooth process; with more than seven months passing between First Reading and Committee Stage. Carving up the Kept Animals Bill will only serve to impede the progress of its parts.
Inevitably, dismantling the legislation means saying farewell to many of the critical measures it includes. Specifically, we risk losing our manifesto commitment, enabled by Brexit, to end live animal exports for fattening and slaughter, as well as important measures to end puppy and kitten smuggling, introducing a ban on keeping primates as pets, and tackling livestock worrying.
Undercover investigations have repeatedly revealed the unspeakable conditions young calves endure as they are transported from their British farms to foreign countries for fattening and slaughter. We have seen the horrific footage of workers kicking and hitting month-old calves as they struggle in transport overseas. Once animals leave our shores, we have no control over the conditions they are kept in, and the methods by which they are slaughtered. Without legislation, we are powerless to prevent this suffering in the future.
While there are, understandably, a number of pressing matters for the Government to address in the year ahead, this Bill fulfills key manifesto pledges and must be honoured. I, and every other Conservative MP, stood for election in 2019 promising a clear commitment to improving areas of animal welfare. We must not neglect to deliver on these key promises – not just for the welfare of animals but for our own political reputation.
MPs, Peers, charities, NGOs, and voters are all concerned that the Kept Animals Bill has been lost, though we are constantly reassured that it will return “when parliamentary allows”. It is time we are told the truth about the future of the Kept Animals Bill and cement the time for its safe passage towards becoming law.