Giles Watling: Why I’m pushing to ban the consumption of cat and dog meat in Britain

There may be no evidence that it happens here, but this law would be a powerful boost to the global prohibition campaign.

Giles Watling is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Clacton.

In certain cases, it is still legal to consume dog and cat meat in the UK and I think that needs to change.

It is quite right to argue that there are many important issues for us to focus on in Parliament at the moment, but not only can we multi-task, we can introduce a proper and comprehensive ban on this meat quickly. I also believe that such a ban will help to protect these animals, not only here in the UK, but around the world.

In 2018, there were 20 million dogs and cats in Britain, and these wonderful companions have such a positive impact on our lives. I grew up with animals of all sorts and am the proud owner of three fairly noisy but lovely dogs: Minnie, Humphrey, and Herbie. That personal experience ensures that animal welfare is always high on my agenda, and I am delighted that ministers have recently introduced a raft of new measures to better protect animals, including the ban on third-party puppy and kitten sales.

Yet, despite our positive record, which has rightly led to international renown, thirty million dogs and four million cats are still slaughtered every year for their meat around the world – indeed, 15,000 dogs and cats are killed during the ten-day Yulin Festival in China alone.

These animals are often stolen and housed in small, filthy cages with little food or water, as there is a strong (and erroneous) belief that their meat is tastier and contains better properties if they live through high levels of stress whilst being killed. This results in horrendous suffering, with animals often boiled, skinned, or blow torched alive. No animal should ever suffer such pain and trauma, and I thank the World Dog Alliance for their efforts to raise awareness of this troubling issue.

To date, these terrible practices have, thankfully, not been reported in this country. However, current UK legislation only bans the trade in dog and cat meat for human consumption, the use of dog meat in food businesses, and the slaughter of dogs in abattoirs. So a legal loophole exists and means that the private slaughtering of dogs and cats for private human consumption is still legal.

To prevent any future exploitation, that loophole needs to be closed and, encouragingly, a cross-party group of colleagues agree with me and are supporting my amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which will properly prohibit the human consumption of dog and cat meat in the UK. Bill Wiggin, my fellow MP for North Herefordshire, has also introduced the Dog Meat (Consumption) (Offences) Bill to highlight how the UK Government could stand up for animal welfare by bringing in a ban – I recommend that you take the time to watch his brilliant speech when doing so.

In addition, we have now debated this matter in Westminster Hall, where the Government committed itself to exploring what more can be done to address this matter.

In closing this loophole, we will catch up with legislation in the US, where the killing and possession of dogs and cats for human consumption recently became illegal. This was an important development and provided a real boost to the international prohibition campaign.

It is important to recognise that this is not a widespread problem in the US either, but Congress believed it was right to pass the ban regardless, to demonstrate their support for global efforts to eradicate this cruel practice. In his speech proposing the ban, Representative Jeff Denham summed it up best when he said:

“Adopting this policy signals the United States will not tolerate this disturbing practice in our country. It demonstrates our unity with other nations that have banned dog meat and bolsters existing international efforts to crack down on the practice.”

Beyond America, the consumption of dog and cat meat is already illegal in several other countries and regions, including: Germany, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Australia. It is now time for the UK to join that group.

Yes, some may call this unnecessary or ‘virtue signalling’, as it is not a problem in the UK – to which I simply say: not yet! We can be ahead of the curve on this, and get legislation in place now to head off any possible incidents further down the road. The legal loophole can also be closed at no financial or physical expense to us.

But most importantly, as with the US ban, this would send a powerful international signal of our moral opposition to this horrific practice and will encourage other nations, where this is a problem, to introduce similar measures. In fact, the Chinese have said that until we make it illegal, why should they?

We have already led the world in opposing other deplorable practices, such as ivory poaching, modern slavery, bull fighting, and whaling. We now have the opportunity to do so again by properly outlawing the consumption of dog and cat meat. As a nation of pet lovers, this is the right thing for us to do – these are our companions, not food.

A cold climate for younger voters

Trashing last Friday’s event is doubtless fun for Conservative commentators, but not the right course at all for the Conservative Party.

If you believe that human activity is the main driver of climate change, this Government has policies for you.  Its framework was set by the Climate Change Act of 2008 – introduced by the last Labour Government, supported by the Conservatives and sustained by the Coalition – which set a greenhouse gas reduction target.  It was to reduce emissions to 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050.  You might reply that what matters is reducing emissions, not setting targets, let alone setting them law.  But successive Governments have done so: emissions in the UK have fallen by 42 per cent since 1990 – faster than those of any other G7 nation.

This record presumably doesn’t satisfy the pupils who took a day off school on Friday – mostly unauthorised – to demand that the Government declare a ‘climate emergency”.  It doesn’t satisfy some 50 Conservative MPs, either.  They want that emissions target for 2050 to be zero.  The Parliamentarian who organised a letter that they signed was Simon Clarke.  He will be known to readers of this site as one of our most committed pro-Brexit writers.

Elsewhere, Michael Gove has picked up the green ball and run with it.  He has upped the pace of activity at the Environment Department.  There are bans galore: on microbeads and ivory, on new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 (assuming successor governments don’t back off), on plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds (at least, if Gove has his way).  Elsewhere, he is setting up a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, has slapped up CCTV in slaughterhouses, and ensured that businesses will pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste.

It is worth setting all this out in the context of the Government’s miserabalist response to the Youth Strike 4 Climate event.  Theresa May said that “disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for”.  Andrea Leadsom added that: “it’s truancy, not a strike”.  Ministers and Downing Street are overwhelmed by Brexit and most of them don’t seem to have thought their reactions through.

Yes, yes: we know.  Pupils should indeed be at school on weekdays.  The planners of the march doubtless selected Friday as the day most likely to swell numbers: choose the day before Saturday, and so make the weekend longer.  If one wants to get an accurate measure of how much young people care about the climate, try holding a march over a weekend and see how many turn up.  As it is, only 15,000 turned out of some three million secondary school children.  You will point out that there is limited utility in engaging with people who chant “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” or “f**k Theresa May”, whatever their age may be.

You will add that those who really care about the environment don’t tear up grass, and that swigging champagne in public is a novel form of environmental protest (though also not unusual, you will concede, among young people of all political persuasions, including those who pass through the Bullingdon Club).  All true enough – and beside the point.  It is one thing for a right-of-centre website to say all this; quite another for a right-of-centre party to do so.

The Conservative Party has a problem attracting younger voters.  You may not care for the response to the march of Claire Perry – who is the Government’s lead minister on Climate Change, operating out of the Business Department rather than Gove’s – but her psychology was sound: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too,” she said.  This was at least a way of beginning to gain a hearing among the mass of young people who neither went on the march nor vote Conservative.  (Some will doubtless disagree with this take, but the most vociferous of these are likely to have right-of-centre views in any event.)

Only once one has gained a hearing can one start a dialogue.  How many younger voters know about the emissions reduction record with which we opened this piece?  If they really want zero emissions by 2050, are they conscious of the potential trade-offs?  If they wish to get there now, what would that mean to the public services who rely on present patterns of energy consumption, or for poorer peoples’ electricity bills, or for younger peoples’ jobs and opportunities?

Even were voters prepared to pay this price, what about emissions in other countries – which produce the overwhelming majority of emissions?  How can we weigh the balance of the human activity in relation to climate change against that of other factors, such as the activity of the sun?  Above all – and getting down to brass tacks – what is each person doing to reduce his or her own emissions footprint?  That draws the conversation to a very conservative theme indeed: personal responsibility.

Some will doubtless claim that there is name for approaching the subject in this way: appeasement.  If this is so, then any attempt by any politician to engage with a view other than his own is appeasement.  Another name is more accurate: politics.  Political engagement by a political party means persuading those who don’t already support it to do so.  Oh, and as for “f**k Theresa May”: don’t we now hear this message each day, in effect, from rather a large slice of Conservative MPs?

Dan Watkins: Six reasons why the Conservatives deserved to win that no confidence vote yesterday

It’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, but we are still delivering for the British people.

Dan Watkins was a three-time Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in Tooting and now campaigns with Kent Conservatives.

Everything is dominated by Brexit at present, but behind the scenes the Government is still continuing to deliver the Conservative’s domestic policies, much to the benefit of the British people. So here are six reasons why the country should be positive that the Government survived the vote of no confidence.

Tackling the Deficit

We should never forget that when we came to power in 2010, the Government couldn’t afford to pay for its public services and was building up a colossal amount of debt which future generations would have to pay. Years of spending restraint, combined with healthy growth of the economy, mean that Britain’s deficit is less that a fifth of what it was and debt as a share of the economy is coming down every year.
While we remain in power, the public finances stay in balance, reducing debt and allowing us to spend less on interest and more on public services.

Improving School Standards

Through the past eight years we have been reforming teaching, boosting Academies and opening Free Schools. We know these reforms are working because school standards are getting better and better, as measured by Ofsted, as well as international league tables, which we are steadily climbing. This year will see more Free Schools open and more Academies created, ensuring more children go to outstanding schools and receive a world-class education.

Boosting NHS Funding

The NHS is a huge organisation with a huge budget. As the population gets older, the demands upon it increase and the only way we can continue to fund its expansion is by growing the economy and investing those extra tax receipts into it. We have just detailed our Long Term NHS Plan, but it requires an extra £20 billion pa and this is only possible to find if we keep growing the economy. Another Labour-led recession would stop this extra funding dead in its tracks.

Creating an Enterprise Economy

From the moment we took office in 2010, the Conservatives have been making Britain the most business-friendly economy in the world. We have made it easier to start a company and to employ staff, cut business taxes and invested in research and development to support our high growth sectors such as creative, life sciences, automotive and more. Britain has been assessed by Forbes as the best country in the world to start a business. Every year we remain in Government is another year when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour can’t undo our good work.

Protecting the Environment

Less heralded than other areas perhaps, but the results of our policies in energy and the environment have yielded excellent results. Renewal energy has expanded dramatically, carbon emissions have been slashed, plastic pollution is being tackled with radical action, and animals at home and abroad have won new protections. Michael Gove and DEFRA have more initiatives underway this year which will ensure that we continue to lead the international community on animal welfare and cleaning the environment.

Helping People into Work

Work is the bedrock of living a fulfilling life and this Government has done more than any other to give more people the opportunity to work. While welfare reforms have ensured that work always pays, the National Living Wage ensures that work pays even more.
Record numbers of people have been lifted out of the lowest paid work and the evidence shows that policies like Universal Credit help many more long-term unemployed into jobs. We need to have fully rolled out and bedded-in these initiatives before Labour get to power, so that it is much harder for them to reverse them.

At the present time, it’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, and indeed Parliament more generally, but when we’re out on the doorsteps campaigning, let’s be clear that the Conservatives are still delivering for the British people.

When does an unmanaged No Deal become a managed No Deal?

This morning, despite claims it would never happen, we seem to have a unicorn made flesh – just in time for Christmas.

David Gauke said in Cabinet this week that a managed No Deal “is not on offer from the EU and the responsibility of Cabinet ministers is not to propagate unicorns but to slay them.”  Logicians of a certain bent would have difficulty with this claim, arguing that one cannot slay what does not exist.  While literalists might balk at imagining how Cabinet ministers would go about trying to propagate the beasts.

However, the Justice Secretary was of course falling back on one of Brexit’s favourite metaphors, attributed by some to Sabine Weyand, and taken up enthusiastically by Remain-orientated critics of the Government everywhere.  But when is a unicorn not a unicorn?  Or, to give the question context from Gauke’s own example, when is a managed No Deal not a managed No Deal?

One take would be that a unmanaged No Deal would mean no arrangements at all between Britain and the EU to replace those due to end on March 29.  But it became very clear yesterday that this will not be the case.  The EU plans to allow flights from the UK into and overflying the EU for a year, hauliers to carry freight by road into the EU for nine months without having to apply for permits, and some UK financial services regulations to be recognised as equivalent to the EU’s for one or two years.

It is hard to see these arrangements being removed once they are put in place.  To take one example almost at random – hauliers – one must look consider the context for Ireland, which publishes its own No Deal plans today.  It is reliant on transport via the UK for exports and imports.  The EU will not collectively cut off Ireland’s nose to spite Britain’s face, or the other way round if you prefer.  As Roberto Azevêdo, the WTO’s head, has suggested, trading on basic WTO terms “would not be the end of the world”.

However, as he also said, it “wouldn’t be a walk in the park either”.  To take a striking example – and one capable of launching a thousand tabloid stories – EU pet passports issued to UK owners will no longer be valid.  And never mind animals: what about people?  The rights of British nationals living in the EU will essentially be in the hands of the member hands.  All in all, the EU’s arrangements are designed to protect its own interests.  Why would it act otherwise? The financial services plans, for example, are a basic minimum.

All this none the less looks like a managed No Deal, albeit one of a very rudimentary kind.  And is well worth bearing in mind that these proposals, plus the UK’s own preparations, might not represent the end state were No Deal actually to happen.  Some Cabinet Ministers want to go further, and bung the EU some money for two years or so after Brexit day to ensure a transition-type period in which No Deal can be better prepared for.

We are dubious.  Two years from March 2018 takes us to the spring of 2020.  There is no political gain from moving the inevitable disruption of No Deal nearer a general election.  The planning pluses would have to be very clear to offset the electoral minuses.  We are bound to hear more of the scheme after the Christmas break.

But this morning, at any rate, we can see what a managed No Deal might look like: a lot better than a trade war, a lot worse than a good deal.  Lo and behold, we have a unicorn made flesh – just in time for Christmas.  Or, as the old saying doesn’t have it, if it looks like a unicorn and whinnies like a unicorn, then it probably isn’t a unicorn at all.

Eamonn Ives: No, Brexit will not threaten all creatures great and small

In certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

Eamonn Ives is a researcher at Bright Blue.

In case you hadn’t yet noticed, the United Kingdom is currently negotiating its leaving of the European Union. Whilst we do not know exactly where the country will end up after the 29th March next year, it is almost certain that Westminster will have the opportunity to legislate on policy issues which for decades it has offshored to Brussels. Nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to environmental law – of which roughly four-fifths stem from the EU.

This has, reasonably enough, put the proverbial cat amongst the metaphorical pigeons of the environmental lobby. Notwithstanding the fact that just about all of them lament Brexit, it is unsurprising that they regard the country’s vote to leave as a threat to existing standards. When anything could happen, expecting the worst might be an instinctive response. One area in particular which has attracted a considerable amount of attention is that of animal welfare regulation.

Such anxieties are, at the very least, understandable. One cannot deny that there exists a contingent of Brexit supporters – some of whom wield significant political clout – who would happily see current welfare standards watered down. However, I also believe that those fears are somewhat misplaced and overblown, and that in certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

One of the most exciting aspects of Brexit is the fact that it allows the UK to do away with divisive and much bemoaned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This byzantine framework for awarding public money to farmers and land-owners based largely upon nothing more than the amount of land they manage has a whole host of drawbacks – none less so than the consequences many, Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike, believe it has had for British biodiversity.

Mercifully, the Government has committed to replacing the CAP. In a move inspired by a report published by Bright Blue last year, future payments look set to be made to recipients for the public goods they deliver. Importantly, things which increase animal welfare (such as measures which reduce antimicrobial resistance – a threat to animals and humans alike) were singled out by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, as a possible public good which could be rewarded under the CAP’s successor. Thus, the policy rethink which Brexit fundamentally symbolises, played out in this instance as the re-evaluation of funding priorities, could easily lead to improved animal welfare in Britain.

But potential animal welfare gains triggered by changes to agricultural policy do not stop there. If one considers where the majority of animal welfare abuse occurs, an obvious starting point would be with animals which are reared for their meat. Whilst this is not to tar every livestock farmer with the same brush, examples of animal abuse in the industry are undeniable, and are now frequently appearing in the national media as reporting improves.

And yet, society is today closer than ever before to being in a position where it could virtually eliminate all such suffering. Cultured meat, more commonly known as lab-grown meat, has, of late, made great leaps forward in terms of its commercial viability. The costs associated with producing it have fallen exponentially: one start-up which was producing cultured meat at $325,000 per burger in 2013, had it down to a mere $11 just two years later. Venture capitalists and philanthropists are flocking to invest in cultured meat, with industry figures believing it can become cost competitive in just a couple of years’ time.

So where does Brexit play into this? Unfortunately, the EU gives me little reason to think that it will embrace this potentially game-changing technology with the open arms anyone who is interested in animal welfare (and indeed climate change, biodiversity, and much more else besides) might wish it would. The EU’s long-standing opposition to genetic modification, and more recent hostility towards the much less controversial ‘gene editing’, means that one can be forgiven for being pessimistic about the EU forgoing the hyper-precautionary mindset which it has displayed in the past.

Furthermore, given that we know how successful the farming lobby has been in capturing the EU (at its peak, 71 per cent of the EU’s total budget funded the CAP), there is again good reason to believe it could act as a formidable stumbling block to the EU affording cultured meat a favourable regulatory regime. Already, the European farming lobby has mobilised the European Court of Justice to ban plant-based alternatives from using ‘dairy style’ naming words for cheese and milk substitutes: what’s not to say they won’t do the same for cultured meat?

For the arguments expressed above, I believe that the UK’s leaving of the EU does not jeopardise animal welfare – far from it. Brexit gives the UK a golden opportunity to rethink the frameworks which underpin agricultural and countryside management, to the betterment of animal welfare. It also permits the Government to prevent some of the most flagrant examples animal abuse.

Finally, whilst admittedly unclear at present, if we do indeed witness the same proclivity from the EU to regulate against the innovation of cultured meat as demonstrated with respect to gene editing and genetic modification, being outside of that regime can only be positive for animal welfare.

What the Americans can teach us about local democracy

It should be easier to call local referendums in the UK. Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.

On Tuesday we saw Americans in 37 states vote on a total of 157 “propositions” or “initiatives”. These are referendums on an array of issues. Some are significant – others symbolic or of little consequence. Often there are highly controversial or emotive issues that make it onto the ballot paper. There are other decisions which sound, to an outsider at least, rather tedious and mundane.

Let us take California. This year Californians had 11 different propositions to vote on. (One can see how the queues get rather long when there is a high turnout.) In order to get something put to the vote a petition is needed with a sufficient number of signatures. The tally must come to at least five per cent of the number who voted in the last election for Governor. So that might be around 600,000. Some of us have fond memories of Howard Jarvis’s  Proposition 13 which was passed in 1978 and cut property taxes in California by 57 per cent. (Rather equivalent to the “Proposition 13” in Wandsworth the previous month when the Conservatives gained control of the Council from Labour in the local elections.)

Tax is still a subject which crops up – although generally Californians are less keen on cutting it than they were. This year we had Proposition 5 on the ballot, which I’m sorry to see did not pass. The “California Association of Realtors” (what the Americans call estate agents) had helped gather up the signatures. It proposed allowing pensioners wishing to downsize to pay the same level of property tax. Usually moving involves an increase in property tax as it is based on the amount you paid when you bought the house. So if someone wants to move – perhaps due to disability or to be nearer their relatives – they are penalised. That would also free up the housing market and increase the supply available for others. “Exactly,” responded the critics claimed these “realtors” would benefit from extra commissions. I’m sure they would have – but so what if the change would be of wider benefit? Anyway no point in rerunning the Proposition 5 campaign. I feel it is important to accept the result of a referendum.

Californians also voted against extending rent controls, to increase the amount of space farmers must provide for their hens and pigs, and to allow private sector emergency ambulance employees to be required to remain on-call during work breaks. They voted against cutting fuel tax and to end Daylight Saving Time.

The Vox website reports that among votes elsewhere, Massachusetts saw backing for “transgender rights” – effectively that men who identify as women can use the women’s lavatories and vice versa. Here are some of the other decisions:

“Alabama and West Virginia voters passed measures that cease to recognize and protect a woman’s right to have an abortion, while Oregonians rejected a measure to ban public funding for the procedure. But unless the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade, the restrictions protecting the sanctity of life remain symbolic, since they’re not decided at the state level.

“Florida passed the historic Amendment 4, which will allow up to 1.4 million ex-felons to regain their voting rights. Maryland, Nevada, and Michigan are hoping to enact laws that allow same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration, or both, while Arkansas and North Carolina wish for voter restrictions by issuing changes on voter ID laws.

“Arkansas and Missouri both voted to increase the minimum wage, which will give raises to a combined total of 900,000 workers in the two states. And several states voted on whether to expand the legalization of marijuana: Michigan fully legalized marijuana, while Utah and Missouri voted to legalize medical marijuana, and North Dakota rejected a measure to legalize marijuana.”

Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, notched up a victory in North Carolina:

“In the Tar Heel State, voters have lowered North Carolina’s constitutional income tax cap, currently set at ten per cent, to seven per cent. Voters passed the Income Tax Cap Amendment with more than 57 per cent of voters approving of the measure.

“The state’s income tax rate stands at 5.499 per cent and is scheduled to drop to 5.25 per cent on January 1, 2019. Governor Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Democratic Party came out against the measure, even though the reduced income tax cap of seven per cent would still permit a more than 33 per cent state income tax increase.”

Voters in Washington, Missouri and Utah rejected various proposals for energy and fuel taxes.

The scale of all this popular decision making is pretty extraordinary. The debate about the respective merits of direct democracy and representative democracy has been with us for a long time – the ancient Greeks agonised about it as do the Americans today. I am not suggesting we should go anywhere near as far as the United States. There would, for instance, be no point having a referendum to legalise cannabis in Enfield – as Enfield Council would not have the power to carry out such an instruction from its residents. In any case it would seem an unlikely idea to decide a matter on such a local basis. Would not the junkies from Broxbourne, Barnet, Haringey and Waltham Forest be encouraged to move in. One of my favourite films, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, is an anti referendum classic.

Yet I would suggest that we should take a few cautious steps in the American direction. Brexit should not only mean more decision-making in the House of Commons but also some powers being passed down to town halls. The existing power to bring in (or remove) the system of a directly elected Mayor offers a chance to shake things up when they are working badly. The effective veto on excessive Council Tax due to the requirement to hold a referendum has worked well – although allowing increases of twice the inflation rate before this kicks in is too lenient. There should also be the power to challenge Council Tax levels that are already extortionate. As with California, it is right that the requirement for signatures on a petition should be pretty onerous. But if such a hurdle is met then residents should be able to trigger a petition to cut the level Council Tax.

What about a referendum on weekly bin collections? Or a planning policy that would ban new tower blocks? The petition threshold is a safeguard against too many issues being put forward – or of them being too frivolous or too complicated and obscure to be understood.

I am familiar with the retort that if people don’t like what their councillors are doing they should vote them out. Should the alternatives not appear much better they can stand themselves. Certainly that is the fundamental remedy. But in much of the country it is not working. Our local politics is ossified. Membership of political parties fluctuates a bit, but is on a long term downward trend. Low calibre councillors are seldom deselected – and so can drift on for years in safe wards claiming allowances. Cynicism has eroded the public service ethos and so good people are discouraged from taking part.

In short, politics has become too important to be left to the politicians. Making it easier to hold a referendum would invigorate the system. Inevitably council leaders will not like having constraints put on their power – especially the amount of our money that they can spend. Rather than undermining council elections, interest and participation would be enhanced. Perhaps some of those motivated to get involved by campaigning on a single local issue might then broaden their interest and become local councillors.