The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill includes measures to protect the welfare of pets by introducing restrictions to crack down on the low welfare movements of pets into Great Britain and includes powers to introduce new restrictions on pet travel and the commercial import of pets on welfare grounds, via secondary legislation.
Under existing legislation, the Animal Plant and Health Agency is able to undertake checks on pets, including documentary, identification and physical checks. All non-commercial dogs, cats and ferrets entering Great Britain on approved routes under the Pet Travel rules undergo full documentary and identity checks by authorised pet checkers. These pet checkers are trained by the Animal and Plant Health Agency prior to being granted approval and receive annual audits of their checking and processing to ensure they uphold our requirements. I understand that the Government is not proposing to make fundamental changes to the existing enforcement regime.
Further, in August 2021, the Government launched an eight-week consultation on proposed restrictions to the commercial and non-commercial movement of pets into Great Britain. I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently analysing the responses to the consultation and will publish a summary in due course. This will allow ministers to take onboard the views of the public and interested groups on puppy smuggling and low welfare imports in order to shape future policy.
This Bill has passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Fur Free Britain
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 to note 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. Until the end of the transition period it is not possible to introduce additional restrictions on the fur trade, but at the end of that period the UK will have a unique opportunity to ensure we have the highest standards in every area of animal welfare. 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
ASRU Change Programme
I take the issue of animal welfare extremely seriously and I am proud to have supported a legislative agenda so focused on further raising standards for the treatment of animals.
I welcome that there are stringent provisions already in place to ensure compliance with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). This Act makes provision for the protection of animals used for experimental or other scientific purposes. It also adopts the 3Rs principle which seeks to use experimental procedures which either replace the use of animals, reduce the number of animals used, or refine how the animals are treated during the process.
The ASRU is responsible for the administration and enforcement of ASPA, which includes providing advice on the regulations, operating the licence system, and ensuring the compliance of licence holders and the terms of their licenses. Regarding the Change Programme, I have been assured that its core aim is to better align ASRUs activities to deliver its purpose of protecting animals in science by maintaining compliance with ASPA. The benefits of the programme include increased efficiency and more effective delivery of outcomes and services.
Furthermore, the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) is an essential part of establishment governance to ensure compliance with ASPA. All applicants for a new project licence must be evaluated by the local AWERB which is constituted to advise on how effectively the applicant is applying the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement).
Cats in the Kept Animals Bill
I am a life-long cat lover, and have always had a cat, and currently have two.
The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and it is only right that we continue to improve our world-leading standards. I welcome that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bring in some of the world’s strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals.
The Bill will 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. The Bill also contains an enabling power to allow the Environment Secretary to make regulations about the importation of cats, dogs and ferrets for the purpose of promoting their welfare.
In August 2021, the Government launched an eight-week consultation on proposed restrictions to the commercial and non-commercial movement of pets into Great Britain. I am aware that this consultation did not include proposals to increase the minimum age of kittens imported or non-commercially moved to six months or ban the import of heavily pregnant or declawed cats. This is because there is limited evidence of a significant illegal trade in cats or significant numbers of low welfare movements.
The number of movements of cats into Great Britain is much lower than for dogs, and despite the statistics you quote, my ministerial colleagues insist we are not seeing the same issues with young kittens and pregnant cats being imported. In 2020, for example, no pregnant cats and only 17 kittens (under the age of 15 weeks) were seized and detained. My ministerial colleagues are currently analysing the responses to the consultation.
The Bill has now passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Ivory is one of the world's most iconic and treasured species and it should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol.
I am therefore glad that Ivory Act 2018 will introduce one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales. This includes a ban on the purchase or hire of items containing elephant ivory and applies to UK exports and imports. The ban will cover items of all ages and the maximum available penalty for contravention will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in prison. The ban will also include certain narrowly defined exemptions for items that do not contribute to poaching, where a ban would be unwarranted.
Progress on implementing the legislation was delayed by a legal challenge which the Government successfully defended. Ministers have confirmed that the Ivory Act will come into force in the spring.
The Act will not affect the ownership of ivory items. Ministers recognise that some owners may decide it is not cost-effective to register their low value items for sale and that this is a decision for individual owners. These items may instead be gifted, donated or bequeathed rather than discarded. Ministers have committed to an awareness raising campaign to explain to owners their options.
Further, ministers have also consulted separately on extending the Ivory Act to afford greater protections to a range of ivory-bearing species, including hippopotamuses and walruses, and I look forward to reading the Government's official response to this once this has been published.
I am also encouraged that since 2015, Defra has provided over £4.2 million in funding for Asian elephants living in the wild through the Darwin Initiative and the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. This includes funding towards a project seeking to reduce the illegal ivory trade in Cambodia, and a project supporting Nepal’s world-leading community anti-poaching efforts.
Breed Specific Legislation
Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, it is a criminal offence to allow any dog of any breed or type to be dangerously out of control. It also prohibits certain types of dog that are considered a serious risk to public safety. These specific types of dogs are: Pit bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. It is for a court to decide if a prohibited dog can be kept by someone once it has considered the dog’s temperament, among other issues. Conviction under this Act can lead to a prison sentence or a disqualification order which prevents the owner from keeping dogs for a certain period of time.
Recently, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned research from Middlesex University into dog attacks. This research aimed to assess the effectiveness of current dog control measures, identify and examine the factors and situations that may cause dog attacks, and consider how to promote responsible dog ownership.
I understand that this research did not specifically extend to considering the merits of breed specific legislation. However it makes reference to the fact that some literature suggests breed specific legislation is not effective and highlights that some academic studies suggest dog breed is not a major risk factor. The report’s conclusion is that while there is no single risk factor when it comes to dog attacks, there are improvements that can be made to prevent attacks, particularly around early intervention and enforcement.
I am aware that the recommendations in the report included the statutory recording of dog attack incidents, improving the quality and availability of dog training, addressing inconsistent approaches to dog enforcement, and a register for dog owners. This could ensure that people with offences could be struck off the register and not allowed to keep dogs in the future.
I welcome that the report’s recommendations will provide the basis for consideration of further reform in the area. I understand that officials will set up a steering group with the police and stakeholders to consider these recommendations further and I will consider carefully any developments stemming from this.
I have raised this matter with the Department for Transport and their reply is as follows:
“Effective disability awareness training can help ensure that taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers have the knowledge, skills and confidence to provide passengers with appropriate assistance, so that they can travel independently and with confidence.
The Department wants every local licensing authority to require taxi and PHV drivers to complete this training and will make this clear in updated best practice guidance, due to be published for consultation later in the year.
The Government also remains committed to introducing mandatory disability awareness training for taxi and PHV drivers through new National Minimum Standards for licensing authorities when Parliamentary time allows.”
Animal Sentience Bill
I was proud to vote in favour of this bill. The Government has set out a series of ambition reforms as outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare. I am encouraged that since 2010, the Department has achieved many changes regarding improving animal welfare including banning the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, as well as making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses across England. Other measures introduced include the mandatory microchipping of dogs in 2015 and the modernisation of the licensing system for dog breeding and pet sales. Further, I welcome that the Government’s Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bring in some of the world’s strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. This includes introducing a ban on keeping primates as pets, banning the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening, and also addressing the unethical trade of puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets that can travel under pet travel rules. I welcome that the Bill has passed the Committee stage in the House of Commons and I look forward to supporting this Bill as it continues to progress through Parliament. I can assure you that the Government is committed to ensuring that these proposals are delivered to ensure that animals both in this country and overseas have the best possible welfare.
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