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Tory MP Says Animal Welfare Needs “People Power” To Put It Back On Government Agenda

Andrea Jenkyns has two miniature schnauzers, who won Westminster Dog of the Year in 2015 (Alamy)

5 min read

Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns has said “people power” is needed to bring back government animal welfare reforms, as Conservative MPs “don’t want to cause too much of a ruckus”.

Jenkyns, who held positions in Boris Johnson and Liz Truss's governments, has launched a petition calling for the Prime Minister to reverse the planned scrapping of the government’s flagship Kept Animals Bill.

The bill, which sought to tackle puppy smuggling, ban keeping primates as pets, review zoo standards, ban the export of live non-poultry animals for slaughter, and provide greater protection to livestock from dangerous dogs, was abandoned by the government last month.

“When it got dropped, I felt so immensely frustrated,” the self-professed animal loving MP told PoliticsHome. 

“I thought, well, here's another manifesto commitment that we're not going to deliver.”

Determined to bring the bill back, Jenkyns has now taken the “unusual” move of setting up a petition alongside one of her constituents urging the government to reverse its decision to scrap the legislation and enact it into law. 

Jenkyns said she had decided that “people power” was the only way to push it through. 

“When we're behind in the polls, if the government realised that the public care about this, then that's what's going to create change,” she said. 

A vegetarian for 25 years, Jenkyns has often put her head above the Conservative parapet on animal rights issues, and has spoken out in ardent opposition to fox-hunting and the importing and sale of fur in the UK. 

Asked whether the Conservative Party needed to do more to push forward on animal welfare, Jenkyns insisted that her colleagues do “care” about these issues, but that there was little appetite to fight for them in parliament. 

“I think there's an element of people thinking they don't want to cause too much of a ruckus because we're nearing an election,” she said.

“They don't want to cause too much disharmony so are staying quiet on the issue. 

“I've seen in the MPs Whatsapp group where people are saying ‘we are saddened to hear we're dropping the bill’, so people do care, definitely.”

Jenkyns however, a former whip herself, informed the whip and the secretary of state that she could “not stay silent on this”.

She admitted that the party had “been through a lot” over the last few years, and therefore it was felt that there was limited time left to push major legislation through that the government wants to prioritise. Jenkyns, however, argued that there was plenty of parliamentary time left for the Kept Animals Bill. 

She disputed the idea that the party was too fatigued to take on the issue, but said she believed it was a “political decision” by the government not to pursue the legislation. She added that she had heard that the government was afraid Labour would try to add fox hunting and other provisions to the bill that would have angered some Tory backbenchers. 

“We've got a big majority, this got cross party support, why the heck can we not do it just for the concern of some amendments being tagged on? It's crazy to me!” she said. 

The Conservative MP believed that while the cost of living crisis did not make the public “care less” about animal welfare, it has potentially had an impact on the strength and amount of campaigning on more fringe issues. 

“I think there is probably less activism because [people] are just trying to pay the bills, just trying to work,” she said.

“Party membership across all parties is down. So I think the challenge is certainly going to be engaging people.”

Jenkyns has been speaking with animal charities about their own animal welfare petitions and said she recognised it might take a “long time” to get to the point when there are enough signatures for the issue to be debated in parliament. 

Next week, she will attempt to engage other MPs in her campaign, and is already in conversation with famous figures who are helping to promote her petition, including Countdown presenter Rachel Riley, celebrity vet Marc Abraham, and Downton Abbey actor Peter Egan.

“All you can do is try when you care about something to this degree like I do,” she said.

“It's my last chance saloon. It feels like this is our last chance to try; there's not many months left until a likely general election, so we need to move quickly on this.”

Animal welfare reform was widely touted as a potential benefit of leaving the European Union, with some Brexiteers arguing it would give the UK the opportunity to implement its own laws on live exports and puppy smuggling. 

However, when the Kept Animals Bill was scrapped, RSCPA director of policy Emma Slawinski argued the UK was “falling behind the rest of the world on animal welfare”.

“We are facing the very real prospect of a dramatic downward spiral in animal welfare,” she said. 

A staunch Brexiteer herself, Jenkyns did not feel that the scrapping of the Kept Animals Bill was a failure of Brexit and said the UK was still ahead of many other countries, citing bullfighting as an example of where animal welfare in other countries is “behind” that of the UK.

“But I think these policies would have made us more world leading if we'd have continued with them,” she added.

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