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Ethical and sustainable conservation can’t be achieved with endangered animals in hunters’ cross-hairs Partner content
By Earl Russell
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We cannot afford any further delay to ban live animal exports


4 min read

Like many MPs, I felt a deep sense of disappointment when I learned that the government was withdrawing the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill which would have banned the live export of animals for slaughter.

As a former environment secretary and a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, I have been involved in the campaign against live export for many years.

Despite dropping the Kept Animals Bill, the government has stated clearly and unequivocally that it is still committed to the measures it contains and it will honour the promises on animal welfare that it made in its 2019 manifesto. I very much welcome that undertaking and I will be holding ministers to account on it. The vital task now is to ensure that the live export ban and other animal welfare measures in the bill are delivered via fresh legislative proposals.

Labour must take much of the responsibility for the demise of the Kept Animals Bill

It is essential that the government delivers on its 2019 commitments, many of which were reiterated in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare and again by the Prime Minister during his leadership campaign. This is important, not just for reasons of compassion towards animals, but also because these issues matter to people when they cast their vote at the general election.

There is widespread public support for ending live exports. It would have happened years ago if EU single market rules had not prevented the United Kingdom from banning this trade. It is an important Brexit benefit. Toughening up the rules to prevent the smuggling of puppies, banning the keeping of primates as pets, and the other policies in the Kept Animals Bill also reflect the care and compassion towards vulnerable creatures felt by so many in this country.

I deeply regret the attempt made by Labour to hijack the Kept Animals Bill by seeking to bring in issues related to hunting. We already have laws on the statute book with ban hunting with dogs, laws which I strongly support. Trying to ratchet hunting into the Kept Animals Bill looks like cynical political game-playing and Labour must take much of the responsibility for the demise of the Kept Animals Bill.

But now the big question is how do we get the live export ban and other animal-related measures on to the statute book before the general election? There are some grounds for optimism. A significant number of Private Members Bill which have government support have made it through Parliament in recent months. Secondary legislation can also be used, for example, to give enhanced protection to primates by banning their being kept as pets.

But this will not be easy. More than a year on from the discontinuation and carving up of the Animals Abroad Bill, not a single one of its provisions has received Royal Assent. My colleague Henry Smith’s bill to outlaw imports of trophies hunted from endangered animals has made some real progress. But it has yet to pass through the House of Lords, despite receiving government support. As any Parliament-watcher will tell you, Private Members Bills face many hurdles and fail far more often than they succeed.

We had to wait 18 months for an update on the Kept Animals Bill. We simply cannot afford for this delay to be repeated. Front benchers and back benchers agree on the need to end live exports. Now we must work together, across parties, to get that ban on the statute book.

Although it seems that there have been no recent live exports from the UK, every day the trade remains legal, there is nothing to prevent the suffering we repeatedly see in undercover investigations. Once animals leave our shores we have no control over the conditions in which they are kept, nor the method by which they are slaughtered.

Every day we fail to legislate, we are powerless to prevent the suffering of animals exported for slaughter. Now we must act swiftly to get a ban finally implemented.


Theresa Villiers, Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet and former environment secretary

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