Why we need to get the Kept Animals Bill over the line
The Kept Animals Bill is a chance to show the UK is still a world leader in animal welfare.
With the new Prime Minister and his team looking to get down to business and make a difference as early as possible, they should look no further than the much-delayed – but entirely necessary – Kept Animals Bill.
This popular suite of measures, which costs the Exchequer little but would significantly reduce disease risk to animals and humans, improve animal welfare and advance much of the agenda set out in last year’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, has now been waiting a year for its Report Stage in Parliament since it passed Committee.
Passing the Bill would provide a straightforward policy win, sparing thousands of animals from suffering harmful mutilations, hitting smugglers in the pocket and preventing dangerous travel for pregnant animals. The previous Government staked significant political capital on this piece of legislation, and there is overwhelming support across the animal welfare sector for many of the proposed changes. If seen through by the new Secretary of State at DEFRA, Thérèse Coffey, it could make great strides in improving the lives of animals and showing the Government’s renewed commitment to animal welfare – as the Prime Minister referenced during the summer’s leadership campaign.
Despite the clear reasons to pass this Bill, it is still waiting to return to Parliament. after passing its Committee Stage in the House of Commons exactly one year ago. Meanwhile animals, pets and their owners are suffering the consequences of this indefinite stalling. Puppy smugglers who enjoyed a post-pandemic surge in demand operate unhindered. Breeders continue to exploit legal loopholes to flout the ban on cropping dogs’ ears, which we are seeing at Battersea in ever greater numbers. Offenders go unpunished. All of which could be addressed by pushing through the Kept Animals Bill.
And this Bill is not just good for animal welfare – it is also sensible politics. Many of these measures chime naturally with the Government’s stated desires to get costs under control, and several developments in the Bill are now achievable post-Brexit. Prevention is better and cheaper than cure as far as disease risk is concerned, and so curbing the ease of access to the UK market for low-welfare overseas puppy importers should be a key goal for ministers.
Seeing through the Bill is critical to proving Ministers can deliver on the ‘Action Plan for Animal Welfare’. Set out in May 2021, voters are still yet to see the majority of its contents come to fruition.
In this climate, passing robust legislation can only yield positive results in swaying voter sentiment. A survey commissioned earlier this year by Humane Society International revealed that almost three quarters (72%) of UK adults want the Government to pass more laws designed to improve animal welfare. Furthermore, MPs regularly tell us that animal welfare is one of the liveliest and most common topics in their postbag.
As well as the evident direct benefits to animals the Bill would bring by addressing and cracking down on puppy and kitten smuggling, it also makes good economic sense.
Without interacting with it on a day-to-day basis, the sheer scale of the commercial animal industry is perhaps surprising. But we’re not talking about small numbers here – in fact, PDSA estimates indicate that in 2021, 590,000 cats and 640,000 dogs were acquired from abroad. This figure was up significantly on 2020 levels, and has become all the more lucrative as demand grew during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As with any large industry, bad actors are finding increasingly sophisticated ways of undercutting the legalised routes that regulate pet imports. The upshot is bleak, with an estimated £150 million a year being cashed in in illicit gains – all at the expense of animals’ wellbeing.
The Bill would make operating much harder for these problem importers – by banning the import of dogs with cropped ears or declawed cats, reducing the window within which they can import pregnant animals (so passing off their offspring as “UK bred”) and reducing significantly to five the number of animals they can bring in per vehicle.
The proposed measures would therefore not only be highly effective in clamping down on these unscrupulous operators, but also could divert demand from owners towards more reputable and responsible sources.
Finally, the livestock worrying measures the Bill proposes – ensuring farmers and their livestock are better protected from dog attacks on their land – represent a straightforward and simple way of providing livestock owners with much-needed methods of redress.
Improved enforcement powers proposed, which will make it easier for the police to collect evidence and – in the most serious cases – seize and detain dogs to reduce the risk of further incidents, have long been campaigned for by rural communities.
Animal welfare groups including Battersea support these important provisions – including greater powers for enforcement authorities to penalise those owners involved – and will continue to promote responsible dog ownership and provide advice to owners on what they can do to prevent attacks.
Of course, there have been significant external crises that have controlled the Government agenda since the Bill was brought forward – from the pandemic to events in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis. However, the measures in the Bill were supported at the last election and reiterated post-Covid when the Action Plan was launched. It is not sufficient to keep saying it will be done “when Parliamentary time allows”.
So, we are now calling on the newly instated DEFRA Secretary Thérèse Coffey to get her tenure off to the best start possible by pushing this Bill over the line and showing that she, her department and the whole Government are dedicated to making the UK a global leader in animal welfare once more. Everyone will benefit if she does.
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