Lorraine Platt: Ministers should not shirk from making Britain a world leader in animal welfare

9 May

Lorraine Platt is Co-Founder Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.

This Government has arguably set the most ambitious animal welfare agenda of my lifetime.

After their election in 2019, the Government followed through on manifesto promises with the publication of the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, a package of commitments within three flagship bills which together have the potential to make the UK a world-leader in animal welfare. These are the Animal Sentience, Kept Animals, and Animals Abroad Bills.

One year on from this publication, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has received Royal Assent. It enshrines animal sentience, including crustaceans, in law, and establishes an Animal Sentience Committee to scrutinise our future legislation. This is an important milestone for the UK and underpins much of the progress we need to see in improving standards for our farm animals, pets, and wild animals.

In this time have also welcomed other measures into law including the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act led by Chris Loder MP, our Patron, the recent Animals (Penalty Notices) Act led by Andrew Rosindell MP, and the Glue Traps (Offences) Act to ban the use of inhumane glue traps, led by Jane Stevenson MP.

But while the Kept Animals Bill (which would end live exports) has been carried into the next parliamentary session, recent headlines suggest the flagship Animals Abroad Bill promised in 2021 is in danger of being dropped. With the Queen’s Speech ahead on Tuesday, it is clear that this Government faces a critical juncture in deciding which legislation to prioritise in the next parliamentary session.

Indeed, the Animals Abroad Bill has prompted some debate within the parliamentary party over the last few months. Measures such as ending the import of fur, foie gras, and hunting trophies have been met with criticism from a minority of Conservative MPs, concerned that such legislation would run contrary to the philosophy of individual freedom.

These proposed laws, however, are not a question of political philosophy. As Lord Goldsmith, our Patron, wrote earlier this year: “There are some who view the issue as a matter of personal choice, but no one would extend that principle to things like dog-fighting or bear-baiting. So it’s not clear why fur farming or force-feeding geese, which arguably are associated with far greater levels of cruelty, should be any different.”

By enforcing such a ban, we are simply correcting the double standard currently at play which allows the sale of products deemed too cruel to produce in the UK. Both fur and foie gras farms were banned (in 2000 and 2006 respectively) on the basis of the unacceptable cruelty involved in production. Outsourcing these products runs contrary to our domestic legislation and sends an inconsistent message about the welfare standards we consider to be acceptable.

We urge the Government to continue pursuing the powerful legislative agenda promised in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare; policies which not only attract strong cross-party support but are incredibly popular with the British public too. A recent opinion poll carried out by Survation, for instance, shows overwhelming support for the Government’s policy of banning trophy hunting imports. While popular among voters as a whole, it is strongly backed by Conservative voters in particular – 92% of whom believe the Government should enact a ban as soon as possible.

The idea that concern for animal welfare is ‘unconservative’ is a myth, purported by a minority within the Conservative Party. From Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee within weeks of her election, to David Cameron’s ban on battery cages, it is the Conservatives which have time and time again driven forward legislation to advance animal welfare.

In this next parliamentary session, the Government has the opportunity to continue this important agenda, improve the lives of millions of animals, while bringing our laws into greater alignment with public sentiment. I believe this Government is ready for the challenge and can ultimately help make the UK a global leader in animal welfare.

Greg Smith: The Animal Welfare Bill is in danger of becoming a Trojan Horse for an extreme agenda

17 Feb

Greg Smith is the Conservative MP for Buckingham.

If the purpose of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was to attract glowing headlines, it has so far achieved anything but that. Rather, it has attracted widespread criticism and caused concern among rural groups, peers and fellow MPs over its worrying lack of detail. As I write this, the Bill currently before us risks handing the Labour Party ammunition which it can and will use to advance its own agenda.

Crucially, critique so far has not disputed whether animals have the capacity to feel pain. After all, the sentience of animals has long been recognised in UK law, as evidenced by the animal welfare legislation passed by parliaments over nearly 200 years. The concerns have centred on the Bill’s main danger posed by the creation of a new Animal Sentience Committee.

It remains unclear who will be on this Committee and what powers it will have. We know that the Committee will be given the power to report on any government policy – both past and present – and the role of the Committee will not be to scrutinise the substance of policy decisions, but the process by which those decisions were reached and whether all due regard had been given to animal welfare.

Alarmingly, however, the Bill’s draft Terms of Reference seem to suggest that the Committee could have a role in scrutinising policies. We also know that the Secretary of State for DEFRA will have the final sign off on its composition, but what mechanisms will be in place to ensure it is made up of genuine animal experts and not ideologically-driven animal rights activists with political agendas?

Passionate supporters of the Committee’s creation have talked publicly of it not excluding animal rights extremist groups like PETA and have written enthusiastically of its remit extending to scrutinise future infrastructure projects such as the creation of a new power plant. And what will become of future trade deals, farming and scientific research? As things stand, the Bill is in danger of clumsily becoming a Trojan Horse for an extreme agenda that this Government could likely regret in years to come.

As a Conservative MP, my concern about the committee comes not from its likely composition and activity under the current government, but from how it may be used by a future government hostile to rural interests.

After its Committee Stage last Thursday, we no longer need to speculate about the intentions of the most likely future hostile government – because the Opposition told us.

While the Minister continued to protest its benign proportionality, Daniel Zeichner, the Shadow Defra Minister, summed up Labour’s response:

“The Minister… has not been able to answer the question of where sentience currently stands, so the only conclusion we can come to is that the Bill needs to be beefed up and made much stronger. I can assure you, Sir Charles, that in a couple of years’ time, it will be.”

Kerry McCarthy, the vegan whose ethical opposition to livestock farming as a concept was felt by the previous Labour leader to be no impediment to her short-lived appointment as Shadow Defra Secretary, was even more explicit with her blatant attack on our sustainable game meat industry:

“It was disappointing that the first three Government Back Benchers to speak on Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill were very much against it and the doors it might open. Let us be frank: that was because they fear a cracking down on blood sports and hunting and shooting… If we did truly recognise sentience in law, we would be questioning driven grouse shooting and all the loopholes allowing foxhunting to proceed.”

That is what Labour sees as the logical conclusion to the process this Bill sets in train. That is the opportunity the Government risks handing to those who do not share its intentions.

Reflecting on the future of France that would follow the reign of her lover, King Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour is reputed to have said flippantly, “Après nous, le deluge.” We who appreciate the rural way of life might have hoped the current UK Government would act more responsibly.

It must recognise the long-term risks legislation such as this could have and how it could be weaponised against the interests of our hardworking farming community, those who undertake countryside management- including pest control to protect livestock – as well as the British public in the long term.

Henry Smith: The Animal Welfare Bill needs protections for laying hens, which are often subjected to significant suffering

20 Jan

Henry Smith is MP for Crawley.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is currently making its way through Parliament to enshrine sentience in UK law, recognising that animals feel suffering and pain. With this in mind it is only right that we correct animal welfare failings where we see them, and support measures to prevent suffering and pain such as those included in this Government’s world-leading Action Plan for Animal Welfare.

One area which still needs addressing is the welfare of laying hens in the UK at the end of their lives. It is important that these some 39 million animals are not overlooked in our efforts to raise standards.

In their final hours laying hens are often subject to significant suffering and injuries. Speed of human handling can result in severe bruising, bone fractures and dislocations as they are caught and loaded onto transport, and this suffering continues during the journey to the slaughterhouse where legs and wings can be trapped between crates for many hours. Alleviating this suffering is a key motivation for the amendment I have tabled to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

The UK’s Code of Practice for the welfare of laying hens allows for hens to be caught and carried upside down by their legs. Unlike other animals, hens do not have a diaphragm, meaning that the weight of their organs on their lungs when held upside down makes breathing very difficult, painful and can result in death. It is no wonder then that last year the Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal ruled that handling chickens by their legs is in breach of regulations on the protection of animals during transport. This amendment therefore seeks to improve UK standards by ensuring hens are carried upright, with no more than one in each hand.

Another key welfare concern for end-of-lay hens, which this amendment addresses, is the inadequate size of transport modules used for travel to the slaughterhouse – a journey which can take many hours. Currently these modules are based on the broiler chicken who are weaker and shorter than end-of-lay hens, meaning the latter are much taller, frequently crammed into tiny crates with their longer necks, head, wings, and legs trapped. If we are to take the welfare of these hens seriously, it is essential that they have enough room to stand upright without difficulty during transport, and that their limbs are not crushed or trapped for hours on end between devices.

While seemingly small steps, they amount to a significant change for the millions of laying hens reared in the UK. Acting to better our farming practices is also a key concern for UK consumers, with an overwhelming 98 per cent of people stating in a recent poll that protecting the welfare of farmed animals is important to them.

The UK is proudly introducing other measures to strengthen welfare conditions for livestock in transport before slaughter, and it is only right that we extend these principles to laying hens as well. In doing so we can prevent the suffering of millions of animals at the end of their lives.