Lorraine Platt is Co-Founder of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.
Ending live exports remains one of the most historically debated animal welfare policies of the last 40 years. Janet Fookes (now Baroness Fookes) raised this issue decades ago, and it has remained firmly on the political agenda ever since.
It is, however, only since Brexit that this issue has become distinctly Conservative. The last two Conservative manifestos, in 2017 and 2019, have both contained commitments to take action on live exports for fattening and slaughter. This was confirmed by DEFRA’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare in 2021, and again by Rishi Sunak during the leadership contest last year.
It’s safe to say few issues have taken up so much civil servant and ministerial time without ever culminating in an effective bill to show for it. Countless parliamentary questions, Westminster Hall debates, oral questions and PMQs have received assurances that this Manifesto commitment will be delivered in due course, only to be kicked further down the road.
More recently, since the Kept Animals Bill was dropped in May, DEFRA has suggested this policy will be delivered through an individual bill – most likely a Private Members Bill (PMB).
But as is the case so often in politics: actions speak louder than words. As the voice for animal welfare in the Conservative Party, we believe such a front facing commitment necessitates a far less risky path than that of a Private Members’ Bill (PMB).
The reality is that even Government-backed PMBs struggle to make the statute books. Taking the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, led by Conservative MP Henry Smith, as a prime example, it is abundantly clear the path and prioritisation of such Bills isn’t always smooth or successful. Indeed, PMBs fail far more often than they succeed.
The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is currently paralysed by hostile amendments in the House of Lords. With its First Reading more than a year ago in June 2022, it is still awaiting another session to complete its Committee stage. At present, it is the only PMB in the Lords to have not progressed further than Second Reading, or to have a date scheduled to return for its Committee stage.
Private Members Bills are vulnerable to hostile amendments, and their inability to be carried over into future parliamentary sessions make them a far from safe vehicle to deliver Manifesto commitments.
It is undeniable that strong advancements have been made on animal welfare under the Conservatives. But the reality is that progress on farm animals, which account for the vast majority of all animals in the UK, has been almost entirely stalled. With more than 30 times more animals farmed in the UK than there are pets at any time, there is an urgent need to deliver on pledges to protect their welfare too.
Without legislation, there is little doubt this cruel trade which sees young calves in transport for days without sufficient space, food, and water, will continue in the future. Numerous investigations over the last ten years have revealed the unspeakable conditions animals raised in Britain endure overseas when they are exported. Once animals leave our shores, we have no control over how they are reared or slaughtered.
Consequently, if Downing Street is serious about enacting an end to live exports and honouring this manifesto commitment, it is clear that a Government-led bill is one of the few routes forward.
Even under a Government Bill, time is limited to ensure all parliamentary stages are completed before the next election. We had to wait 18 months for an update on the Kept Animals Bill, and to put it simply, we cannot afford for this delay to be repeated. It is, therefore, critical that a Live Exports Bill is honoured in the upcoming King’s Speech.
Voters will not forgive, or forget, abandoned promises on animal welfare, an issue which time and again polls show the public care deeply about. Indeed, acting to advance our farming practices is a key concern for British consumers, with an overwhelming 98 per cent of people stating that protecting the welfare of farmed animals is important to them.
Delivering a live exports Bill will ensure this issue does not become a political battleground in 2024 and won’t be used by Labour in the run-up to polling day.
The Conservatives were voted in on a platform to take decisive action on live exports. It’s time they delivered before it’s too late.