Rishi Sunak urged to rectify ‘huge mistake’ of dropping animal welfare plans

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak must use next week’s King’s Speech to rectify his “huge mistake” in dropping more than a dozen pledges for animal welfare – as it is a cause that really matters to the public.

The RSPCA is urging the Prime Minister to rethink his decision to drop or abandon some 14 promises for animals, including many which were manifesto pledges by Boris Johnson.

According to the RSPCA’s Animal Kindness Index, more than eight in ten people believe the government should protect animal welfare through legislation. Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns also launched a petition calling on Rishi Sunak to reverse the decision to scrap a flagship animal welfare bill introduced under Boris Johnson.

The proposed law contained Conservative 2019 manifesto commitments including a crackdown on puppy smuggling and to ban live animal exports.

The RSPCA call comes as they hold their second annual Wilberforce Lecture ahead of its 200th anniversary in 2024, where keynote speaker David Halpern CBE, president and founding director of the Behavioural Insights Team, or ‘Nudge Unit’, will explore how behavioural science can help inform policy and individuals when it comes to animal welfare.

The RSPCA believes any moves to stimulate change in how society treats animals needs to start with “action from the very top”.

Emma Slawinski, RSPCA director of policy, said:

“This UK Government promised so much for animal welfare, but sadly we have seen a litany of backsliding, U-turns and dropped pledges, and animals have paid the price.

“We know animal welfare is so important to the public – and many of the dumped policies are not only hugely important for animals, but hugely popular too.

“These dropped animal welfare pledges could be pivotal when assessing this UK Government’s page in the history books.

“From ending the live export of animals, to dealing with pet theft, and stopping the import of dogs with cropped ears, there’s so much this UK Government promised which has sadly found its way onto the Whitehall scrapheap.

“But it’s not too late. Next week, the UK Government can rectify its huge mistake of dropping so many animal welfare pledges. The King’s Speech could be something of a last chance saloon for their flagging animal welfare agenda – and we urge Ministers to rescue these pledges and prevent the suffering and misery of countless animals in the process.

“As we strive to create a society where people are kinder and more consistent in how they treat animals, we also know that to stimulate that change for animals, we need to start with action from the very top”.

Four years ago, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said on the Downing Street steps that he would “promote the welfare of animals” as a cause “so close to the hearts of the British people”. This was followed up by putting nine specific promises into the 2019 Conservative manifesto – the document on which the current UK Government was elected.

However, policy makers have recently overturned a string of popular, and important, measures to improve millions of animals’ lives – including banning shock collars for dogs and cats, introducing more transparent food labelling and consulting to end the use of cages on British farms.

Earlier this year, the UK Government abandoned its flagship Kept Animals Bill – which would have restricted keeping primates as pets, stopped the import of puppies and dogs with cropped ears, ended the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening, and tackled pet theft; all policies which are hugely popular.

According to RSPCA polling:

  • 80% of the public support prohibiting the keeping of primates as pets, including 65% who strongly support it
  • 54% of the public support a ban on live exports with only 10% against it
  • 86% of the public support a ban on the import of puppies under six months with only 8% opposing it
  • 76% of the public support a ban on the import of dogs with cropped ears with only 9% opposing it
  • 81% of the public support making dog theft a specific offence with only 4% opposing it

Tuesday’s (7 November) King’s Speech has now been labelled as the UK Government’s “last chance saloon” to save its flagging animal welfare agenda – and commit to rescuing many of these pledges ahead of an anticipated General Election in 2024.

If the pledges are not taken forward by the UK Government in the King’s Speech, the RSPCA also hopes Members of Parliament could offer a ‘rescue package’ for animals by proposing these laws as backbench legislation due for a ballot later this month.

This November, MPs will get the chance to join a ballot to try to introduce the laws they think are important. This means elected representatives still have time to make change happen for animals.

The RSPCA is urging the public to contact their MPs and tell them that they must act now to help animals and rescue these policies previously promised by the UK Government. Visit: https://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/actnowforanimals.

The 14 broken promises under Rishi Sunak

1) Caged farm animals – The UK Government had promised to consult on banning farm animals being kept in cages in England. Currently, around 10 million hens live in cages in the UK which gives them on average less usable space than an A4 piece of paper. Around 60% of UK sows (about 200,000) are kept in farrowing crates just before giving birth and for around four weeks after their piglets are born. These metal crates are so small that the sows can’t even turn around.

2) Live exports – the UK Government committed to banning live exports of farm animals for further fattening and slaughter as part of the Kept Animals Bill before it was dropped, after the legislation spent over 550 days in limbo. Although no animals have been exported since 2020, exports could resume at any time. Once an animal leaves the UK they could face an endless gruelling journey that can last days, causing suffering and go on to be slaughtered in ways that would be illegal in the UK. 

3) Livestock worrying – this was also part of the dismantled Kept Animals Bill, and would have given police extra powers to provide protection to livestock against dog control and bite incidents which can result in serious injuries and even death.

4) Puppy smuggling – the Bill was also set to increase the age of imported puppies to six months, afford greater protection around the import of pregnant dogs and limit the number of dogs an individual or vehicle can bring into the UK, in an effort to crackdown on the illegal and cruel puppy trade. Mums and puppies are still forced to travel long distances and sold to unsuspecting members of the public who often have to deal with poorly puppies and dogs with behavioural issues.

5) Imports of fur from abroad – fur farming has been banned in the UK for more than 20 years but sadly fur can still be imported from countries where animals raised for their fur often live in cramped, barren cages – with little ability to exhibit natural behaviours – and some are killed in horrific and inhumane ways. An RSPCA survey showed that 95% of the public would never wear real fur, but many items for sale in the UK are either incorrectly labelled or not labelled at all and without a ban on imports this is set to continue.

6) Sale and import of foie gras – this product can only be made through a process that is very cruel to ducks and geese. Production of foie gras has never occurred in the UK and was essentially banned as long ago as 1968, but despite pledging to ban imports of foie gras, this has now been allowed to continue.

7) Trade negotiations with high welfare standards – the UK Government vowed to safeguard high animal welfare standards in free trade agreements following Brexit. However, it has now signed three Free Trade Agreements (Australia, New Zealand, Trans Pacific) none of which included measures to ensure imports met the UK’s animal standards.

8) Food labelling consultation – plans for a consultation into mandatory welfare labelling on animal products was recently abandoned. Currently, consumers cannot make an informed choice because there is no clear labelling on the products they buy to show how the animal has been reared and cared for. This comes despite four out of five people* thinking having some knowledge about the way an animal has been cared for is important when making a purchase.

9) Pet theft – following a recommendation from the Pet Theft Task Force, the UK Government added pet abduction to the Kept Animals Bill which would have made pet theft a specific offence. Pet theft is devastating for owners who understandably see their pet as one of the family but currently the law treats the theft of a pet the same as the theft of a mobile phone.

10) Banning the use of shock collars – following a consultation showing overwhelming support for a ban on shock collars in England the Government introduced legislation in April to achieve this.  Whilst it was quickly approved by the House of Lords it has stalled and has yet to be introduced to the Commons. Although we are yet to see an actual backtrack we’re concerned that this too could be abandoned, despite Wales having a ban since 2010. 

11) Call for evidence on snares – the UK Government committed to launch a call for evidence on the use of snares in England but this was sadly dropped. The RSPCA is opposed to the manufacture, sale and use of all snares and any traps which cause suffering to an animal – and these devices were recently banned by the Welsh Government. Foxes are often the target of such traps, but also other animals such as badgers and domestic cats can be potential victims. 

12) Review of slaughter legislation – the Government committed to reviewing the slaughter legislation but no progress has occurred on this despite the Government agreeing that lobsters and crabs are sentient animals and need to have protection when being killed and that fish need specific regulations on slaughter.

13) Importation of dogs with cropped ears – despite being illegal, more than 1,100 dogs are reported to have undergone this cruel and unnecessary procedure in the last three years. Many also take advantage of the loophole as it is not illegal to import dogs with cropped ears despite these dogs suffering mutilations, often by untrained individuals without pain relief. The law would also have seen a ban on importing declawed cats – also illegal to carry out in the UK.

14) Consultation on game birds – the Government promised a consultation on updating the standards on keeping game birds but no progress has occurred whatsoever.

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