I have been contacted by many local residents regarding the Animal Welfare Bill going through Parliament. Below is my response:
Thank you for contacting me about live animal exports and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
I believe in a vision where no animal is made to suffer unnecessary pain and degradation and where we continue to drive up standards and practice in line with the most recent advances and understanding.
As animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Government, you may wish to also contact your MSP about this, as the Kept Animals Bill would not apply in Scotland.
I support the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and its measures to ban the export of livestock from Great Britain for fattening and slaughter, subject to a penalty of imprisonment, fines, or both. This is an issue on which the Opposition has campaigned for a long time.
The ban will include an exemption for breeding animals, which I support so long as provisions are in place to ensure they are transported under genuinely high welfare standards. I would also support an exemption for livestock transported across the Northern Ireland border.
Although live exports may have declined over the years, I am afraid in recent years we have still seen animals exported, particularly for fattening. What many of those animals experience in being transported for long periods of time is a real concern, it puts them in danger of food and water deprivation, overcrowding, and lack of rest. Exporting animals has always risked their slaughter in conditions that fall well below UK standards. Whilst we must ensure the system is put in place properly and is supported by our farming sector, I want to see an end to such exports.
However, the Bill ignores the obvious truth that long journeys in the UK to slaughterhouses also harm animal welfare. Nationwide, the number of local abattoirs has been significantly reduced, meaning many farmers have little choice but to send livestock long distances for slaughter. I want to see the Government commit to working to re-establish local networks of slaughterhouses to end the suffering of animals undertaking extensive journeys within the UK.
Additionally, in my view, we need proper action on the issue of puppy smuggling, and I therefore support increasing the minimum age for puppies being imported to six months. I am also concerned about the cropping of dogs’ ears and believe we need legislation that is not only tighter but properly enforced. I am concerned that the Government has not brought forward measures on these issues quickly enough.
More widely, I support the appointment of an independent Animal Welfare Commissioner to ensure that government policy is continually informed by the latest scientific evidence on animal sentience and best practice in animal welfare. The Commissioner would ensure that animal welfare standards are always considered as legislation is introduced and as Britain takes part in international bodies, trade deals and obligations.
I also support calls from my Scottish Labour colleagues in Holyrood to carry out a full review of Scotland’s outdated animal welfare legislation, with a view to strengthening wildlife protection law and animal welfare. I support the introduction of a National Animal Cruelty Register to support enforcement agencies, alongside a more comprehensive approach to public education on animal welfare.
I believe the Scottish Parliament should pay full regard to animal welfare requirements when formulating and implementing policies.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill underwent its Second Reading on 25 October 2021. It passed this stage and will be scrutinised further in Committee in due course. I will follow developments on this Bill closely.