Lorraine Platt, Co-Founder of Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation
The British public care deeply about animal welfare. This was the case in 2019 when the Conservatives received their largest share of the vote for forty years, and it remains true today. Recent polling commissioned by Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation over the summer found two thirds of voters would feel more positively about a political party if they included a strong commitment to animal protection. In the run up to the next General Election, this is more important than ever.
Yet, with the discontinuation of the Kept Animals Bill six months ago, the dropping of the promised Consultation on ending cages for laying hens, and the recent falling of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, this sentiment has not been truly recognised by Number 10.
To be sure, the Conservatives have set world-leading legislation in motion in recent years – ending the use of glue traps, increasing penalties for animal welfare offences, and ending shark fin imports to name just a few. However, 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.
This is why the King’s Speech tomorrow represents such a key opportunity for the Conservatives to demonstrate to voters that they are serious about delivering for farmed animals. Specifically, it is critical that the Government commit to a Live Exports Bill – arguably one of the most historically debated animal welfare policies of the last 40 years. Our Patron Janet Fookes (now Baroness Fookes) raised this issue decades ago, and it has remained firmly on the political agenda ever since.
Indeed, the last two Conservative Election Manifestos in 2017 and 2019 have both contained commitments to take action on live exports for fattening and slaughter. This was later confirmed by Defra’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare in 2021, and again by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the Conservative Leadership Contest last year.
The only reason why live exports are not currently taking place is due to insufficient border controls. We should not be in any doubt: without legislation, this cruel trade can and will resume. During export, young calves barely weaned are crowded onto ships where they suffer long journeys without enough food and water. You only need to conduct a quick search online to find investigation after investigation revealing unspeakable conditions animals raised in the UK endure overseas. Because once animals leave our shores, we have no control over how they are reared or slaughtered.
We urge the Government to not waste another moment in introducing this vital legislation which has the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of animals born in this country. Parliamentary time must be set aside to secure the safe passage of a Live Exports Bill so that this critical Manifesto pledge is delivered.
Failing to honour this commitment will almost certainly see animal welfare become a political football in the 2024 General Election and used by Labour in the run-up to polling day. Let us not forget the electoral success in 2019 was built on a Manifesto which unashamedly placed animals and the environment at the forefront of the political agenda. It’s crucial for the electorate to see that when Conservatives make pledges, especially on animal welfare, we stand firm in seeing them through.