Will Larry the cat be celebrating bold new laws for animals at the Queen's Speech?
New poll shows nearly three quarters of voters want to see government pass more laws to protect animals.
With unfettered access to the political nerve centre of the nation, Larry spends much of his time sitting neatly in the middle of Downing Street. In addition to his important sun-bathing and grooming duties, he is perhaps wondering whether he will be able to break out the catnip on 10th May in celebration of some strong commitments to animal welfare in the Queen’s Speech.
Ask any MP what is the number one issue that most consistently fills their inbox, and they will likely tell you ‘animals’. That is not to claim that people care more about animals than critical matters such as the war in Ukraine, or the cost of living, but it is a facet of our identity as a self-proclaimed ‘nation of animal lovers’ that in spite of everything going on, we expect the government to make sustained progress to stop animals suffering.
In his foreword to the government’s May 2021 Action Plan for Animal Welfare, Environment Secretary George Eustice perfectly captured the public mood when he said: “The way we treat animals reflects our values and the kind of people we are.” Across the country, millions of Brits have an innate understanding that protection for animals, vulnerable members of society without their own voice, is a worthy and important political and societal imperative.
This sentiment is strongly reflected in a new poll, commissioned by some of the country’s leading animal protection organisations, and shared with the Prime Minister this week ahead of the Queen’s Speech. It reveals that almost three quarters (72%) of voters would like to see the UK Government pass more laws designed to improve animal welfare and protect animals from cruelty.
What sort of laws? The recently passed Sentience Act is a good start, and should be a springboard for tangible policy change for animals. And the government’s own Animal Welfare Action Plan contains many welcome animal welfare ambitions. But while words are relatively easy, political will to turn words into laws has of late proven more of a challenge.
The Kept Animals Bill, which would make good on the government’s ‘Brexit benefit’ commitment to ban live exports of animals, and ban the keeping of primates as pets amongst other measures, was introduced by the Environment Secretary almost a year ago but last given time in the Commons in November last year.
As for the raft of other commitments to improve the lives of countless animals overseas, including bans on imports of shark fins and hunting trophies, and action to address our cruel and perverse trade in fur and foie gras (for both of which production is banned in the UK on cruelty grounds), we are still waiting for the much-trailed ‘Animals Abroad Bill’ to make its debut in Parliament.
While media reports suggest that the Animals Abroad Bill has become ensnared in a Cabinet wrangle, with one or two Ministers reluctant to exercise their powers to stop trade in unethical products, our poll shows that the British public holds no such reservations. Over three quarters (77%) of voters think UK Government should ban the importation of products, such as fur, where farming and production methods are banned in the UK.
Perhaps most pertinent for MPs’ and Number 10’s consideration is the fact that these polls show that concern for animal welfare holds true for voters of all political persuasions. Caroline Lucas MP and her colleagues might well have predicted that 86% of Green voters would support a ban on imports of fur and other low welfare product imports, but Mr. Johnson may be surprised to learn that 79% of Conservative voters said they would similarly support a ban.
It is our hope that these compelling results will breathe life back into Number 10’s ambitions to be a world leader on animal welfare, and to make good on the various promises that Brexit would enable the UK to do more to protect animals, both at home and abroad.
Perhaps as Downing Street Spads work feverishly to line up a legislative agenda that will strike the right chord with the public, they will glance out of the window and see Larry parked resolutely on the tarmac. We hope that he, and these poll results, will act as a reminder that strong public desire for the government to do the right thing by animals is a popular constant. On behalf of the millions of animals whose lives the government has the power to save and improve, we hope there is cause for catnip next week.
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