Thank you for contacting me about the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
The UK has long led the way on animal welfare. I know that ministers are enhancing our world-leading standards with ambitious reforms, as outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare - Action Plan for Animal Welfare (publishing.service.gov.uk). The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will introduce some landmark protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals. I look forward to supporting the Bill through its parliamentary passage. Although it was not possible for the Bill to complete its remaining stages in the last Parliamentary session, the Government specifically ensured that the Bill did not lapse and was carried forward into this session.
Primates are highly intelligent, complex animals that require specialist care. Through the Bill, the Government will meet its manifesto commitment to ban keeping primates as pets, creating a rigorous licensing scheme to ensure higher protections for all primates kept privately in England. The Bill will update the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 to improve enforcement and strengthen conservation requirements for zoos.
Live animals can suffer distress and injury during excessively long export journeys. EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys, but the UK Government is now able to ban 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. The transportation of animals can have serious negative effects on the animals’ welfare, especially over long journeys, due to a variety of factors, such as distress, injury from unsuitable transport, hunger, dehydration and heat/cold stress. I know that there has been longstanding public and parliamentary concern over the welfare issues arising from this trade. Following a public consultation on the Government’s manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for animals for slaughter and fattening, the Kept Animals Bill will ban the export of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and equines for slaughter and fattening beginning in or transiting through Great Britain to a third country. I understand that over 11,000 responses were received in the Government’s consultation, and 86 per cent of respondents agreed that livestock and equine export journeys for slaughter and fattening were unnecessary. As part of the consultation, ministers considered proposals covering maximum journey times, temperature conditions, space and headroom allowances and transport times.
The Bill will also tackle puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets, including dogs, cats and ferrets permitted to travel. The Bill enables the Environment Secretary to regulate the importation of cats, dogs and ferrets for the purpose of promoting their welfare. Further restrictions could include raising the minimum age that pets can travel into Great Britain and banning the import of dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears and docked tails.
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 this consultation proposed to maintain the existing requirements for cats, as there is currently limited evidence of a significant illegal trade in cats or significant numbers of low welfare movements. The consultation sought views on whether maintaining the existing requirements in relation to cats was the right approach. My ministerial colleagues are currently analysing the responses to the consultation and will soon publish a summary. I understand that the estimate of 70,000 cats detailed in the Cats Protection’s ‘Cats and Their Stats’ report appears to be based on an estimate of the number of cats obtained between March 2020 and March 2021 and the proportion of individuals that reported in a survey that they had sourced a pet from abroad during the same period. I am aware that official Government statistics show that between March 2020 and March 2021, 27,601 cats entered the UK under the non-commercial rules and 8,511 cats entered under commercial rules.
Finally, the Bill also includes a new offence of taking and detaining a dog as part of our response to a recommendation made by the Pet Theft Taskforce. The new offence, which was added to the Bill at its Commons Committee stage, is initially limited to the abduction of dogs in recognition of the Taskforce's finding that seven out of 10 pet abductions in England and Wales involved dogs. However, the Bill also includes a power to extend the offence to other pets, including cats, if necessary.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill has been carried over into the new parliamentary session and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
In addition to this Bill, the last twelve months has seen very significant Bills pass into law including the Animal Welfare Sentience Act 2022 - Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 - Parliamentary Bills - UK Parliament official recognition of animal sentience into domestic law and the Animal Welfare Sentencing Act 2021 - Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 - Parliamentary Bills - UK Parliament which introduces tougher prison sentences for those who abuse animals.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.