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.
14. Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill
This Bill is the second piece of animal-related legislation in the Queen’s Speech. The first is the Animal Sentience Bill, covered in this series previously, and to which I returned recently on this site. The third is the awaited Animals Abroad Bill, which will place a ban on imports of hunting trophies.
The Bill itself falls into three main parts. The first concerns primates, the second dogs attacking or worrying livestock, and the third other matters – such as livestock exports; the taking of pets; powers to amend or revoke retained direct EU legislation; the import of dogs, cats and ferrets, and zoos.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in charge of the Bill. George Eustice led for the Government during the Second Reading debate on it in October.
Victoria Prentis took the Bill through committee, so it now awaits debate at report stage before moving on to the House of Lords.
Carried over or a new Bill?
Currently under consideration.
This is a multi-purpose Bill which proposes new powers to tackle puppy smuggling; a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening following our exit from the EU; a ban on keeping primates as pets; greater protection to livestock from dangerous dogs, and revised zoo regulations.
The Government maintains that the Bill “will bring in some of the world’s highest and strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals” and that “as an independent nation outside the EU we are now able to go further than ever on animal welfare”.
Labour neither voted against the Bill at Second Reading nor put down a reasoned amendment. Its front-bench spokesman, Luke Pollard, said that Eustice “has clearly read a copy of Labour’s animal welfare manifesto. It must be a well-thumbed copy, given how many of our policies appear in the Bill”.
That said, he set out a number of proposed changes to be made to the Bill. These included a lower number of puppies and kittens allowed per vehicle; making it compulsory to scan the microchips of diseased cats, requiring vets to scan a dog’s microchip before it is put down, and a complete ban on keeping primates privately.
That the RSPCA was founded in 1824, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children over 50 years later in 1889, is regularly cited as culturally significant – indicating a distinctly British sympathy for animals. So it is that political parties scramble for voter support on animal welfare.
Hence the Government’s three promised Bills in this session on animals welfare. And this Bill opens up a second front by demonstrating, in the view of Ministers, the benefits of Brexit, since leaving the EU allows the new ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening to be implemented.
Controversy rating 3/10
There will be some play for the Opposition, and for animal rights campaigners, in demanding that Ministers “go further” – just as there will always be potential for them to press about police resources, those of local authorities, or the details of licensing and enforcement regimes.
Viewed more broadly, however, this is a classic piece of British animal protection legislation – the latest feature in the pageant of welfare legislation that has succeeded the Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle of 1822. It continues under this Government as it will under future ones.