Westminster Hall Debate: Grouse Shooting & Uplands Protection
I was unfortunately unable to attend the Westminster Hall debate due to a longstanding, prior commitment. However, I have been briefed on the outcome of the debate and have considered points raised on both sides.
I completely understand your concerns regarding the impact of driven grouse shooting on uplands. However, the Government believes that grouse shooting is a legitimate activity providing benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation and investment in remote areas. I have been assured that Ministers are working with key interested parties to ensure the sustainable management of the uplands, balancing environmental and economic benefits, which includes the role of sustainable grouse shooting.
The Government considers that shooting activities bring many benefits to the rural economy and can, in many cases, be beneficial for wildlife and habitat conservation. Ministers believe that it is vital wildlife and habitats are protected and the law is respected.
Animal Welfare: The Kept Animals Bill
The UK has a long history of leading the way on animal welfare. I am pleased that now we have left the EU, the Government is committed to improving our already world-leading standards by delivering a series of ambitious reforms, outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare. Building on the Action Plan, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bring in some of the world’s highest and strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. I look forward to supporting the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.
Primates are highly intelligent animals with complex needs and require specialist care. I am pleased that through the Bill the Government will deliver on the manifesto commitment to introduce a ban on keeping them as pets, ensuring that all primates being kept privately in England are being kept at zoo-level standards and that ownership of primates at a level below these standards is phased out.
I understand that live animals can endure excessively long journeys during export, causing distress and injury. EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys, but the UK Government is now free to pursue plans which would see a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening. This Bill will ensure that the UK is the first European country to end this practice.
As a dog owner myself, I want to reassure you that I take the issue of illegal puppy imports very seriously. I am pleased that the Bill will introduce new powers to tackle the unethical trade of puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets, including dogs, cats and ferrets, that can travel under pet travel rules. It will also provide powers for the Government to bring in further restrictions on the movement of pets on welfare grounds, and allow for enforcement measures to support these restrictions. Further restrictions could include an increase in the minimum age of imported puppies, as well as the prohibition of the import of pregnant dogs and dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears and tails.
I have a high regard for animal welfare, which I am pleased is protected by robust legislation. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 already makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to any animal, including gamebirds.
This legislation is backed up by the statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes. The code recommends that when birds are housed or penned, the accommodation should be well constructed and managed and of sufficient size to ensure good health and welfare.
Specifically, the code recommends that barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used and that any system should be appropriately enriched. Keepers are required by law to be familiar with this code, which encourages the adoption of high standards of husbandry. Failure to observe the provisions of this code may be used in support of a prosecution.
These rules are enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, as well as by local authorities, who can both carry out routine welfare inspections and investigate complaints. Prosecutions can be brought where necessary.
I am pleased that the Government has taken action to ban cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare. For example, the use of battery cages for laying hens has been banned since 2012.
Whipping of Race Horses
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is the independent body responsible for regulating the sport of horseracing. It works closely with animal charities across the UK to ensure that the highest of standards are upheld. As a consequence, Britain is regarded as having one of the best regulated racing environments across the world.
I welcome the creation of the racing industry's Horse Welfare Board, which includes members from across the racing industry, veterinarians and animal health and welfare experts. The Board is committed to doing all it can to make the sport safer and I am encouraged by the publication of the Board's five-year horse welfare strategy. The strategy contains 20 recommendations for the industry aimed at ensuring the best possible safety and quality of life for racehorses.
Currently, the BHA requires that whips used in horse racing must be used responsibly, for safety reasons and only to encourage the horse. If the rules are broken, the jockey may be banned from racing for a certain number of days depending on the seriousness of the offence. The Horse Welfare Strategy recommends that, as a minimum, the penalties for misuse of the whip need to increase and that the BHA should conduct a consultation on the use of the whip. While I am aware the consultation process has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new timetable will be agreed at an appropriate point in the future.
I agree that more must be done to improve racehorse safety and welfare so I am pleased that Ministers and Officials are in regular contact with the British Horseracing Authority about the safety and welfare of racehorses, and to understand what the industry is doing to reduce the number of fatalities. While there is an element of risk with any sport, I agree that it is critical the industry does all it can to make the sport safer.
I understand that there is a great strength of feeling around this issue, and as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment I share the concerns. The Government is committed to doing all it can to support wildlife and the environment, both in the UK and internationally, and I am pleased Ministers will be delivering on the manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered species.
The consultation on controls on the import and export of hunting trophies, which closed in February 2020, was the first step in fulfilling this commitment and provided an opportunity for respondents to provide views on which species they considered needed further restrictions. I understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the publication of the Government response to the recent consultation and call for evidence on controls on the import and export of hunting trophies. However, Ministers are continuing to work on this important area and will publish a response as soon as they are able to do so.
Climate change and global biodiversity decline are interlinked threats for wildlife and people. I know that biodiversity is declining at a dangerous and unprecedented speed, and species extinction rates are accelerating, with up to 1 million species threatened. Overexploitation is one of the drivers of species extinction and additional pressures on vulnerable species can result from unsustainable or inappropriately managed activity. I believe that transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature.
In the 25 Year Environment Plan, the UK Government committed to providing international leadership in protecting and improving international biodiversity and undertaking international action to protect endangered species. This international leadership is underpinned by a strong commitment to ensuring that the UK’s domestic policy does not threaten the conservation of species abroad. While I recognise that some conservationists believe trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool, supporting local livelihoods and attracting revenues for other conservation activities, it is also important to acknowledge concerns around the practice of trophy hunting. I therefore look forward to seeing the results of the consultation and the proposed action required by the Government to address these concerns.
As a rule I do not to sign EDMs as they never have any impact on policy but do incur cost to the taxpayer. It is more effective to discuss issues raised by constituents with ministerial colleagues directly.
Whales, Dolphins & Underwater Munition
I agree we should do all we can to protect the welfare of our marine life, especially whales and other cetaceans, and from my conversations with Ministerial colleagues I know they feel the same.
I recognise the significant impact underwater noise from ordnance clearance and other activities can have on vulnerable marine species. I am therefore pleased that Ministers are working closely with the Marine Management Organisation, nature conservation bodies and marine industries to reduce underwater noise, but it is important that they ensure any clearance method used is both safe and effective.
I am aware that the underwater noise impact of using low order deflagration techniques for unexploded ordnance detonations is currently being researched. Two phases of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy funded project to characterise and contrast the acoustic fields generated by unexploded ordnance clearance using high order detonation and using low-order deflagration have been completed. I understand that a third phase has now been initiated to allow further assessment of the clearance options. A potential fourth phase of the work involving offshore field work is also being actively explored in which comparative noise measurements would be made during actual unexploded ordnance clearance campaigns using both deflagration and high order detonations.
The outcomes from the third and fourth phases will allow an informed discussion to take place, however it will be for the regulatory authorities and the statutory nature conservation bodies to consider the best available scientific evidence when providing advice on these matters. I must inform you, however, that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not expect to issue formal guidance on the use of low-order deflagration techniques until this research has been completed.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
The hedgehog is an extraordinary creature with a long and celebrated history in this country. Like you, I want to ensure its future is similarly bright. Hedgehogs are currently protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 from being killed using prohibited methods such as crossbows, traps and snares.
The Joint Nature Conservation Committee has recently commenced the seventh Quinquennial Review of protected species covered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The JNCC will, this year, make evidence-based recommendations to the Secretary of State as to which species warrant additional legal protections to secure their future conservation. I am aware, however, that it is not yet possible to confirm which species, including hedgehogs, may be included in these proposals.
The 25 Year Environment Plan sets out the Government’s ambition for nature recovery and our threatened and iconic species. While the reasons for the decline in numbers of this native species are complex, I would like to reassure you that I understand the role habitat loss plays.
It is therefore welcome that the Government is committed to creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat to provide benefits for species such as the hedgehog. Agri-environment schemes will also provide funding to restore, extend and link important habitats and boost food resources for our native species. On top of this, the revised National Planning Policy Framework sets out how the planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by providing net gains for biodiversity.
Badger Culling & Tackling Bovine TB
I understand that the badger cull has been a controversial component of the bovine TB eradication strategy, but the initial areas that have been subject to a cull have seen a significant reduction in incidence of the disease. Of course, no one wants to keep culling badgers for a moment longer than is necessary.
Ministers only ever envisaged that the badger cull would be a phase in the strategy to reduce the weight of the disease in the wildlife population. I am pleased that the consultation you referred to sets out how they intend to phase out culling and accelerate the next phases of the strategy, especially improved diagnostic testing. This consultation also includes proposals to stop issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022 and would enable new licences to be cut short after two or three years based on a review of the latest scientific evidence at that time. Under the new proposals, any new supplementary cull licences, which are granted in regions after intensive culls are complete, would be restricted to two years and would not be reissued afterwards. I understand that some form of culling would continue to be an option in exceptional circumstances to address any local disease flare-ups.
In parallel to the consultation, Ministers are also calling for views on possible future measures to accelerate bovine TB eradication in England, such as further improvements to testing, encouraging increased uptake of farm biosecurity measures, and rewarding low risk cattle purchasing behaviour. It is also encouraging that work on developing a deployable cattle bovine TB vaccine continues at pace and is on track to be completed within the next five years, with field trials scheduled to commence in the coming months.
There is no single answer to tackling bovine TB, which is why it is not currently possible to stop culls immediately. However by deploying a range of policy interventions, we can turn the tide on this terrible disease and achieve the long-term objective of eradicating it by 2038.
I would like to start by assuring you that I care very much about the welfare of all animals. I am pleased to tell you that my Ministerial colleagues are examining the evidence around the use of cages for farm animals and are considering the options. They have also committed to continuing to focus on maintaining world-leading farm animal welfare standards through both regulatory requirements and statutory codes.
Ministers have been clear that it is their ambition for farrowing crates to no longer be used for sows. Indeed, the new pig welfare code clearly states that “the aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets.” It is important that we make progress towards a system that both works commercially and safeguards the welfare of the sow and her piglets, and that we do so as quickly as possible. I am pleased to confirm the UK is already ahead of most pig producing countries in terms of non-confinement farrowing, with around 40 per cent of our pigs housed outside and not farrowed with crates. This being said, I will of course listen closely to what my colleague, Sir David Amess MP, has to say on this subject when he brings forward his 10 Minute Rule Bill in March.
I know that this Government has set itself a challenging agenda of animal welfare issues that it will tackle and is taking action on many fronts to improve the health and wellbeing of farm animals. A major example is the commitment to end excessively long journeys for live animals going for slaughter and for fattening.
Of course, if you do have specific concerns about the welfare of an animal, I would recommend reporting it to the police or to the RSPCA who can investigate and take action where necessary.
Protecting Animal Sentience in Law
First and foremost, I believe animals are sentient beings who can feel pain and suffering, and I would like to reassure you that strong action is being taken to reduce their risk of harm. I have always had pets, currently two cats and a dog, and it is manifestly clear to anyone who knows animals that they are sentient. Although just because something is true doesn’t necessarily mean there is a reason to pass legislation that it is the case (we do not need to legislate that grass is green).
I am pleased that the Government is committed to further strengthening our world-leading animal welfare standards and I understand that my Ministerial colleagues are in the process of refining proposals for the manifesto commitment on the introduction of laws on animal sentience. I know that Ministers are still considering the best legislative vehicle to bring forward these reforms when Parliamentary time allows and are engaging with interested organisations and other Government departments as necessary.
In the meantime, the Government’s policies on animal welfare continue to be driven by its recognition that animals are sentient beings. I believe that this commitment to the protection of animal welfare is demonstrated by my Ministerial colleagues continued support for the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill which passed its second reading in the House of Commons recently.
Having left the EU, the UK has the opportunity to do even more. I was pleased to have been elected on a manifesto pledge to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening, and a consultation process is now underway on proposals to deliver this commitment. Ministers will also be consulting on the commitment to implement the Ivory Act and consultations have already been carried out on the commitment to ban primates as pets, as well as on mandatory cat microchipping, which I look forward to seeing the outcomes of. I am also encouraged that this Government has committed to ban imports from trophy hunting of endangered animals.
The Fur Trade
We are a nation of animal lovers, so it is only right that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In addition to fur farming being banned in the UK, I am pleased that the import of fur products is tightly regulated. It is illegal to import furs derived from cats or dogs, or products made from them. In addition, the fur and skin of endangered animals or fish cannot be imported without a valid permit.
As well as this, it is prohibited to import furs or fur products from 13 wild animal species originating in countries where they are caught in the wild by leg-hold traps or trapping methods that do not meet international standards of humane trapping. Strict rules are also in place to ensure that animals kept for fur production are kept, trapped and slaughtered humanely.
I appreciate that there is considerable support for banning all imports of fur products. The UK continues to support higher animal welfare standards worldwide as the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane fur farming and trapping practices that are banned here. Now we have left the EU, the Government has retained all the current regulations banning imports of cat and dog fur and seal products from commercial hunts, as well as controls on products from endangered species and humane trapping. Now that the UK’s relationship with the EU has been established, there is an opportunity to strengthen UK legislation on animal welfare, and my Ministerial colleagues have told me they will be considering further steps the Government could take on fur sales. I personally would welcome a ban on fur imports, and I have spoken to ministers about it.
The UK will also be able to press for high standards through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able more effectively to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally.
The Government continues to support the restrictions on neonicotinoids to protect pollinators, and emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means. These emergency authorisations can provide short term availability of a product if the applicant can demonstrate that this addresses a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means, that the use will be limited and controlled and that the necessary protection of people and of the environment can be achieved.
Emergency authorisations are also used by countries across Europe. I know that 10 EU countries including Belgium, Denmark and Spain have granted emergency authorisations for neonicotinoid seed treatments since 2018. Under EU legislation, Member States may grant emergency authorisations in exceptional circumstances. I can assure you that the UK’s approach to the use of emergency authorisations has not changed as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU.
The application for the use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB on the 2021 sugar beet crop is for England only and the duration of authorisation is strictly limited to the period required to allow supply of the product. Furthermore, sugar beet is a non-flowering crop that is only grown in the East of England.
This exceptional use of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB will be strictly controlled and conditions of the authorisation include reduced application rate as well as a prohibition on any flowering crop being planted in the same field where the product has been used within 22 months of sugar beet and a prohibition on oilseed rape being planted within 32 months of sugar beet.
Protecting pollinators remains a priority for the Government. The National Pollinator Strategy, published in 2014, is a ten-year plan which sets out how the Government, conservation groups, farmers, beekeepers and researchers can work together to improve the status of the approximately 1,500 pollinating insect species in England.
I am an animal lover and I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. It is right for us to cement our status as a global leader by continuing to raise the bar now we have left the EU. It is welcome that the trade agreement struck with the EU recognises that voluntary cooperation on chemicals regulation can facilitate trade in ways that benefit consumers, businesses and the environment and can contribute to enhancing the protection of human and animal health. I am pleased that the agreement also notes the UK's and the EU's commitment to facilitating the exchange of non-confidential information on the issue of chemicals.
I would like to reassure you that Ministers have stated their determination that there should be no need for any additional animal testing for a chemical that has already been registered to EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). I am pleased to tell you that the Government will recognise the validity of any animal testing that has already been undertaken and so avoid the need for further testing. The grandfathering of all existing UK-held REACH registrations into the UK system will further avoid the need to duplicate animal testing associated with re-registration.
The UK will now be able to establish its own independent chemical regime. Although both the UK and EU will operate REACH frameworks, the two systems will not be linked. This means that companies wishing to retain access to the UK market will be required to notify and submit registration data to the Health and Safety Executive to confirm the registrations and ensure compliance with UK REACH.
I am pleased that the UK has been at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches could be used. This is known as the last-resort principle, which will be retained and enshrined in legislation through the Environment Bill.
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