The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year. But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.
So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.
10. Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill
This is the second of no fewer than three animal-related bills in the Speech. We’ve already covered the first, the Animal Welfare Sentience Bill, in this series.
This Bill aims to “protect pets, livestock and wild animals”. Ministers claim it will “improve welfare standards through a wide range of measures”, and the Government refers specifically to three aims: enhancing protections for kept animals in Great Britain, new powers to tackle puppy smuggling and livestock worrying, and delivering the Bill in the context of its Action Plan for Animal Welfare.
As with the Animal Welfare Sentience Bill, the Department of the Environment. But unlike that measure, it is being introduced first in the Commons, not the Lords.
None of the Commons Defra Ministers have responsibility for animal welfare, but Victoria Prentis took a Westminster Hall debate on the Action Plan recently. So she will presumably deal with at least part of the Bill in committee.
Carried over or a new Bill?
Currently under consideration – it received its First Reading in June.
Essentially, that animal welfare legislation needs updating from time to time, and that, beside combatting puppy smuggling and livestock worrying, it is now right to ban the keeping of primates as pets. And to increase the minimum age of imported puppies, as well as restrict the import of pregnant dogs and dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears and tails.
The Bill also proposes to end the ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening. The UK’s capacity to do so was a feature of the Brexit debate. “Live animals can endure excessively long journeys during export, causing distress and injury. EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys,” the Government claims.
One might be this Bill is unnecessary – because all three of the animal-welfare related Bills should have rolled into a single piece of legislation. MPs are unlikely to queue up in order to argue that the Bill goes too far: for example, that people should have the freedom to keep primates as pets (or, say, wild cats without a licence, like the 1960s lady who walked a leopard through the streets of London).
They are more likely to maintain that the Bill doesn’t go far enough. So for example, statements from Labour MPs about the Bill include calls for: tougher measures on pet theft, animal welfare to be included in the consideration of online harms, and establishing an independent Animal Welfare Commissioner.
Ministers will doubtless fall back on procedural and legal arguments in making the case for three animal welfare-related Bills rather than one. But the real point of these legislative arrangements is political. Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta ComRes, has said that animal welfare is unlikely to ever feature on pollsters’ metrics when voters are asked about the issues that matter to them.
However, he adds that it may play a more symbolic role in voter decisions, and that “animal welfare issues are about detoxifying the brand”. Carrie Johnson will make a difference to the Government’s approach. But a Tory shift was visible before the last election – see for example, the increases in sentences for animal cruelty and the ban on puppy farming during Michael Gove’s term at Defra.
Controversy rating: 4/10
Our score would be higher had not Ministers closed off most of the main avenues for criticism. We make no comment in this article over whether the Government was right to give priority in the Kabul departures to Pen Farthings’ cats and dogs. But the support he has gained in some media outlets helps to explain why politicians sometimes treat animals at least as well as people.