The Conservative Party dropped the Kept Animals Bill on 25 May. It had bundled together a range of measures that would have had a small but meaningful impact on the welfare of captive creatures, with campaigners saying it was a “definitive step” towards the “values of a nation of animal lovers”. Yet the Tories dropped it to protect their friends in the hunting industry.
Abandoned to avoid ‘uncomfortable debates’
The Kept Animals Bill was first brought to Parliament in June 2021. It contained a number of measures that animal rights campaigners had long demanded. These included an end to live exports of farmed animals, restrictions on “illegal puppy imports” to crack down on puppy smuggling, and prohibitions on the keeping of primates as pets.
Animal rights activists have led a particularly long and bitter campaign against live exports. The practice sees livestock traders transport animals hundreds, or thousands, of miles in cramped lorries. The campaign reached a peak in 1995 when activists laid siege to the port of Brightlingsea in Essex. The nine-month period was later dubbed the Battle of Brightlingsea. However, the campaign continues to this day.
While the Kept Animals Bill had reached its third (and final) stage, the government appeared to have stalled its progress. MPs even questioned its status on the morning it was dropped, with secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs Thérèse Coffey ambiguously replying that “an announcement on the progress of the Bill” would come “very soon”.
That afternoon, minister Mark Spencer then announced that the government was dropping the bill. He laid the reason at the feet of Labour, saying:
The Bill risks being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan. In particular, Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the Bill’s scope.
As BBC News reported, Humane Society International UK (HSI/UK) revealed that the Tories were concerned about hunting. The animal welfare charity said the government dropped the bill because it doesn’t want “uncomfortable debates” on “polarising issues such as hunting with dogs”.
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However, BBC News also reported that Labour said it had no plans to add anti-hunting amendments to the Kept Animals Bill.
Kept Animals Bill: it shows why direct action is necessary
In an article for anti-hunting organisation Protect the Wild, this writer shared how the original draft of Spencer’s announcement – written by Coffey – mentioned the alleged threat of anti-hunting amendments. The fact that Spencer omitted any mention at all of hunting is itself suspicious.
Whatever the reason, the government has ditched measures that could have raised the baseline for non-human animals in this country. And it has done this to protect its fox, hare, and deer hunting mates.
HSI/UK told the Canary that:
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’ll 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.
Meanwhile, animal rights direct action group Animal Rising told the Canary:
The dropping of the Kept Animals Bill is yet another example of why we cannot trust this government to act responsibly or morally. Whilst not enough of an improvement on its own, the Bill would’ve marked a definitive step towards legislation that truly reflects the values of a nation of animal lovers.
The promise-breaking of [prime minister] Rishi Sunak shows, once more, why nonviolent direct action is necessary to bring about a national conversation about our relationship with animals and nature; clearly, those in power are unable – or unwilling – to have that conversation unprovoked.
Mask off moments
Boris Johnson’s government originally drafted the Kept Animals Bill as part of its so-called ‘action plan for animal welfare’. It published the paper in May 2021. In an attempt to generate a sense of post-Brexit freedom, its announcement claimed the plan would “reinforce [the UK’s] position as a global champion of animal rights”.
However, as the Canary reported, this claim was already in tatters just 18 months later. Tracy Keeling wrote in February that:
it appears that the ruling Conservative Party wasn’t particularly united behind the revolution. Due to this, a number of the plans were put on pause by early 2022. Many of them still hang in the balance.
The end of the Kept Animals Bill is yet another example of the Tories abandoning any pretence about their care for non-human animals.
Spencer claimed the government would unbundle the bill’s various measures and push them through as single-issue legislation. As HSI/UK said, this likely means through private members’ bills (PMBs). However, as the Electoral Reform Society recently pointed out, PMBs’ rates of success are low. And it seems it was done to protect the vile ongoing abuse of wildlife.
The Kept Animals Bill was already nearing completion. Sending all of these measures back to square one is yet another Tory act of callous disregard for all life.
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