Henry Smith MP (Crawley) (Con)
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity briefly to participate in this important Second Reading debate on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and it is a great pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous).
It has been really heartening this evening to hear people from across the House, the political divide and the United Kingdom supporting the Bill. Yes, there have been some nuanced differences on some of the provisions proposed by the Government, but the unifying aim of this House has been to significantly advance and improve animal welfare standards. I hope that those differences can be worked out in Committee and on Report, as well as when we listen to the Minister’s response in a few minutes’ time.
For example, the fact is that research and conservation really do need to be at the heart of what zoos do best. We have heard some wonderful examples this evening of zoos around the country that contribute worldwide to that effort. When it comes to keeping primates, the view of some in the House is that there should be a complete ban, and others think that there should be a licensing system, as the Bill suggests. The desire is to significantly improve the wellbeing of these highly intelligent and complex animals.
I am particularly pleased that livestock worrying is being addressed, although I have some sympathies with what has been said. The fines and the action proposed could perhaps be improved and sharpened up further still to make this a really effective piece of legislation. I am Vice Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare, which has been looking at the issue for some time, and I am pleased that it is very much central to this Bill.
It is great that the Bill addresses the importation of puppies, and the practices of docking tails and clipping ears. However, perhaps in Committee we could look at the number of puppies brought into this country privately, and at reducing that number to a more realistic figure.
Principally, I welcome the ban in the Bill on live animal exports for slaughter and for fattening. This is something my late mum was a great campaigner on many years ago, and it is so heartening that now that we have left the European Union, we are able to introduce this ban. To reflect the comments of hon. and right hon. Members from across the House, there is a potential loophole in the export of animals to the continent through Northern Ireland; it is important that we look to address that. Reducing the journeys of animals is also good for our environment and carbon footprint, and we have heard about the economic benefits. The ban on the live export of animals does not cover poultry, and I would be grateful if the Government looked at that.
I mention poultry deliberately, because on 22 September I had a ten-minute rule Bill, the Hen Caging (Prohibition) Bill, which is known as Beatrice’s Bill after a rescued hen. This is really very poignant for me, because our late, dearly loved colleague from Southend West, Sir David Amess, was a co-sponsor of that Bill. He sat about here on these Benches as I presented that Bill to the House, in support, and his last comments in this House on the record in Hansard were, very typically of his character, kindly supportive of the measures in that Bill to end so-called enriched cages.
Battery farming for hens was banned in this country in 2012, but enriched cages are not much bigger, and they present many animal welfare concerns. The hens are not able to display their natural behaviour. Millions of hens still live in those conditions, despite many of our main retailers, wholesalers and other suppliers moving to a commitment to 100% free-range eggs. I therefore find it poignant to mention the importance of those provisions, something that Sir David—our dear friend—cared about so much, as he did about so many other subjects that we have heard about in the last week. Last Monday, I did not have an opportunity to pay my respects and tributes to him, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so now.
I am glad that this has pretty much been a debate of consensus. “Erskine May”, our rulebook, which sits on the Table, says that it is out of order to make farmyard noises in this House. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am glad that we have not had to resort to that this evening.