- By Sam Francis
- Political reporter, BBC News
The RSPCA is backing Labour’s plan to force the government to revive its flagship animal welfare bill.
In May, the government quietly dropped its Kept Animals Bill which aimed to crack down on dog thefts and ban the live exports of farm animals.
But campaigners accused the government of betraying its animal welfare agenda.
David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs, said: “We fear that without quick, meaningful action on the Kept Animals Bill, the UK government’s policy agenda for animal welfare is merely smoke and mirrors.”
Labour has tabled a motion in the Commons to force the bill back into Parliament, in defiance of the government’s plans.
If passed, the motion would allocate 12 July to try to pass the bill through its final legislative steps in the House of Commons.
Mr Bowles said the vote is “crunch-time for animals in England and will be a litmus test of this government’s genuine commitment to animal welfare, its manifesto promises and the policy commitments it put at risk when binning the Kept Animals Bill”.
“The Kept Animals Bill must be revived so that practices such as the live exports of animals for slaughter and the cruel puppy import trade become consigned to history as soon as possible.”
The RSPCA has unveiled an ad campaign around Westminster, urging MPs to vote to in favour of Labour’s motion.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon has written to Conservative MPs claiming if they block the bill they “will be voting to continue puppy smuggling, puppy farming, pet theft and live animal exports”.
He told Tory MPs they “now have no excuses” and have an “opportunity to put country before party by ensuring that animal welfare is a key priority”.
Announcing the plan, Mr McMahon said: “The Kept Animals Bill is hugely important for animal welfare but it’s also vital for delivering trust in politics.
“The Conservatives promised it in their 2019 manifesto and the prime minister personally committed to bringing it into law.
Announcing in May that the bill had been scrapped, environment minister Mark Spencer put the blame mostly on Labour, saying the opposition were “clearly determined to play political games by widening the scope of this bill”.
Mr Spencer said at the time that the government would use single-issue legislation to keep to commitments on “cracking down on puppy smuggling”, “ban live exports for fattening and slaughter”, and tackle pet abduction and livestock worrying.
Livestock worrying is when a dog attacks or chases livestock on agricultural land, which can result in injury or death.
On Tuesday, the government announced plans to consult on a new system of licences to effectively ban the keeping of primates as pets.
The new licencing system, based on the results of a consultation held in December 2020, requires “zoo-level standards” of care for any primate kept in captivity in the UK.
Up to 5,000 primates – mammals which include apes, monkeys and lemurs – are living outside licensed zoos in the UK, according to RSPCA estimates.
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said: “The UK is a world leader on animal welfare and we are fully committed to maintaining and enhancing our strong track record to date.
“We are committed to delivering the Kept Animals Bill measures individually during the remainder of this Parliament and look forward to progressing these. We will be setting out next steps in due course.”