Tories accuse Sunak of breaking pledge after animal welfare U-turn
Rishi Sunak has been accused of breaking his word after dropping the government’s animal welfare legislation.
The prime minister promised Conservative colleagues during the leadership election that he would bring the kept animals bill, a key plank of the 2019 manifesto, into law. The legislation was to ban live exports of farm animals as well as clamping down on puppy smuggling and dog theft.
However, in parliament on Thursday environment minister Mark Spencer confirmed the legislation would be scrapped.
“Unfortunately this multi-issue nature means … the bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan,” he said. “In particular Labour is determined to play political games by widening the scope of this bill.” This hints at fears among some Conservatives that the bill could have been used to argue for curbs on hunting and farming.
Spencer also announced a new animal sentience committee, which will begin its work next month, and a consultation on higher fines for animal abuse and neglect.
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (Cawf) made up of influential Tory patrons including Carrie Johnson, Michael Gove and Zac Goldsmith, has criticised the decision.
Lorraine Platt, co-founder of the group, said: “Cawf is disappointed by the statement delivered today. We believe this represents a missed opportunity to further enhance the welfare and protection of animals across the United Kingdom. The kept animals bill is strongly supported by MPs, NGOs, charities, and the public alike. Its provisions, which include ending live animal exports for fattening and slaughter, and tackling puppy smuggling, resonate with the public’s priorities and deliver critical Conservative manifesto commitments.
“Almost 14 million people elected this government on a platform which promised to deliver for animals. More recently, the continuation of this bill was promised by prime minister, Rishi Sunak, in 2022 during his leadership campaign. It is these promises we call on the government to honour today, and ensure that the provisions to improve the lives of huge numbers of animals set out in the kept animals bill are carried out in legislation.”
The Boris Johnson government had promised a revamp of animal welfare laws in the UK, using so-called “Brexit freedoms” to ban foie gras and fur imports, as well as passing the kept animals bill.
However, successive governments have been less keen on these measures, with environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, having claimed there is not parliamentary time to ban fur and foie gras imports, and there has been a long delay in passing the kept animals bill, which was introduced into the Commons more than a year ago. This led animal welfare campaigners to believe it would be dropped.
These groups are now furious. Claire Bass, senior director of campaigns and public affairs at Humane Society International, said: “The government’s decision to abandon the kept animals bill is an astonishing betrayal of both animals and public trust.”
She said she believed “the bill has been dropped because of concerns that it could act as a vehicle for uncomfortable debates that the government does not want held on polarising issues such as hunting with dogs”.
“Vital protections for dogs, calves, sheep, primates and other animals have been sacrificed today at the government’s altar of self-serving political convenience. We will of course back delivery of these commitments as private members’ bills, but this is a high-risk strategy, and indicative of the low priority the government now evidently places on animal welfare.”