The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and it is right for us to cement our status as a global leader by continuing to raise the bar. All animals should be subject to the highest possible welfare standards.
It is very encouraging that the Prime Minister believes animal welfare is a priority, and I know that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs agrees, and is keen to set ambitious animal welfare goals, in particular seeking to reward farmers for environmental stewardship and improving the health and welfare of animals.
There is no place in this country for animal cruelty, and we must ensure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law. I am therefore pleased that the Government remains committed to introducing legislation which will increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years' imprisonment. I am also happy to report that a new law passed earlier this year will ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The Government will be running consultations on proposals to ban long journeys of live animals for slaughter, and restrictions on trade in hunting trophies from endangered animals.
The Government has been clear it will not compromise the high quality of British food or agricultural standards in any free trading relationship and is committed to maintaining high standards on animal welfare and food safety now that the UK has left the EU. The Animal and Plant Health Agency takes potential breaches of animal welfare legislation very seriously and investigates all allegations. Where welfare regulations are breached, appropriate action will always be taken.
The Government introduced an Agriculture Bill 2017-19 in the last Parliament which fell at dissolution in October 2019.
There are several additions to this Bill compared to the previous Bill. New measures include:
- A requirement for Ministers to consider the need to encourage the production of food in England, in an environmentally sustainable way;
- A requirement for Ministers to set out multi-annual plans about how they will use their financial assistance powers. The first plan will start in 2021 for seven years. Beyond that plans must be of at least five years’ duration;
- A requirement to report on food security at least once every five years
- Several varied measures relating to farming and the countryside.
Measures relating to agricultural tenancies, fertiliser regulation, identification and traceability of animals, and the Red Meat Levy are included.
The Government is investing in Britain’s future, and this year’s local government finance settlement includes extra funding for local services. Local authorities will have access to £46.4 billion this financial year (2019/20) to meet the needs of their residents including for the protection of animal welfare.
Local authorities can also ensure that they have fully trained inspectors to enforce the Animal Welfare Act 2006, through resources available to them to enforce The Animal Welfare Regulations 2018. These give local authorities the power to charge a recovery fee to cover the cost of enforcement of the regulations including inspections of premises. The same officers appointed under the regulations can enforce the 2006 Act.
Local authorities must be able to make decisions based on local needs, resource priorities and the local arrangements that work best for them. They have powers of entry to inspect complaints of suspected animal cruelty and prosecute where necessary, alongside the Animal & Plant Health Agency and the police. I am aware that all three often work in close partnership to ensure that the welfare of animals, including horses, is protected.
Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, anyone is able to investigate allegations of animal neglect and if necessary, take forward a prosecution. The RSPCA enforces animal welfare legislation and successfully prosecutes 800 to 1,000 people per year. Occasionally additional powers are needed, for example to seize animals. I understand in such cases the RSPCA liaises with the relevant authorities to ensure these powers are used appropriately.
In addition, the equine charity ‘World Horse Welfare’ will advise on cases of horse welfare.
Local authorities are required to enforce Licensing of Activities Involving Animals which includes businesses that hire out horses for riding, or instruction in riding, and requires inspectors to be suitably qualified. I would therefore expect most local authorities to have inspectors trained in enforcing equine welfare.
I am also encouraged that from October 2020 it will be mandatory for owners to microchip their horses, ponies and donkeys, allowing local authorities and police to track down the owners of abandoned horses and ensure that appropriate action is taken.