As an owner of two dogs and an animal lover myself, please be assured that I recognise the importance of this issue. i also welcome that the UK has long led the way on animal welfare. In 2021, the Government's Action Plan for Animal Welfare, set out reforms for this Parliament and beyond. Since then, the Government has passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, recognising the sentience of vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals. In addition, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act introduced tougher sentences for cruelty, increasing maximum sentences. The Ivory Act came into force in 2022 and has recently been extended to cover five more endangered species. In April, the Government made cat microchipping compulsory.
The Kept Animals Bill, introduced in June 2021, was designed to implement several government ambitions for animal welfare, including banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft, and new measures to tackle livestock worrying. I am aware that the Bill’s multi-issue nature means that there has been considerable scope creep, and it risks going beyond the original commitments in the Conservative manifesto on which I was elected and those set out in the action plan. Therefore, the Government will now be taking forward measures in the Kept Animals Bill individually during the remainder of the Parliament.
I am assured that the Government remains fully committed to delivering its manifesto commitments on animal welfare. Having left the EU, the Government is able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but legislation will ensure that this becomes permanent. Ministers remain committed to delivering it.
Regarding puppy smuggling, I know that the Government will ban the imports of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs and it would be supportive of legislating to ban this through a single-issue Bill when parliamentary time allows. Regarding the keeping of primates as pets, the Government's consultation asked for views on proposals for a new specialist private primate keeper licensing regime in England. I will continue to follow this closely.
I would like to assure you that the Government is committed to cracking down on puppy smuggling and will ban the imports of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs. Applying strengthened penalties will send a clear message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated and will enable our courts to take a firmer approach to cases where pets are illegally imported. The UK has one of the most rigorous pet travel border checking regimes in the world and I am aware that every dog travelling into Great Britain on approved routes has its microchip and paperwork checked to make sure they are all properly vaccinated and are old enough to travel.
Ministers have also taken action to tackle the practice of puppy farming. Following the introduction of Lucy’s Law in 2020, everyone must now buy directly from breeders or consider adopting from rescue centres, which is a major step in stopping the illegal pet trade. If an individual sells puppies or kittens without a licence, they could receive an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months.
I know that the Government takes the issue of livestock worrying very seriously and my ministerial colleagues and I fully recognise the distress this can cause farmers and animals, as well as the financial implications. I understand that Section 3 of the Animals Act 1971 provides that anyone who is the keeper of a dog which causes damage by killing or injuring livestock will be liable for that damage.
Further, I am aware that farmers can obtain and claim on their insurance in relation to losses incurred as a result of livestock worrying incidents. As highlighted in the Government’s 2021 Action Plan for Animal Welfare, Ministers are considering additional measures to tackle livestock worrying. I will continue to monitor this issue very closely.
I would like to assure you that my ministerial colleagues and I fully recognise the impact that the theft of a much-loved pet can have on both pets and families. I am aware that in 2021, the Government set up the Pet Theft Taskforce to investigate concerns about a perceived increase in pet theft. This taskforce gathered, researched and commissioned work to build a clear evidence base of the issue and worked with police, law enforcement, and experts to formulate recommendations. Since publication of the report, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have worked on implementing the taskforce’s recommendations.
Regarding the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, I am assured that the Government remains committed to tackling pet theft, as well as other issues such as tackling puppy smuggling and banning the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter. I am aware that the Government will be taking forward these measures individually through the remainder of this parliament. I will continue to follow this issue closely.
My ministerial colleagues in Defra are committed to animal welfare and to delivering continued improvements, both in this Parliament and beyond.