Sir David Amess ( Patron of Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation) opened a debate on animal charities and the impact of the pandemic. He said since tabling the debate he had been ” engulfed by all sorts of animal charities wishing me to raise their plight in what is a very short debate. ”
He said that when assessing the impact of the pandemic, charities can often be overlooked—especially animal welfare charities. However, he argued they care for vulnerable animals and have suffered greatly because of the pandemic.
Animal rescue and care teams had been stretched to their absolute limits , he said, and stressed that farm animal sanctuaries and equine charities were just as important as the charities that focus on caring for more traditional pets.
Sir David Amess raised concerns that many households had rushed to get a puppy in lockdown and then subsequently failed to look after it properly . He highlighted a survey by the Kennel Club which showed that between March and June last year, 38 percent of breed rescue organisations saw zero dogs come into their organisations.
Mr. Mark Francois ( Con, Rayleigh, and Wickford) intervened to commend the charity Dogs Trust.
Sir David Amess agreed that they were “wonderful”, and told colleagues that the main problem for the animal charities as a result of coronavirus can be broken down into two main categories: they have less income, and they have fewer employees. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates the financial loss across the animal welfare sector last year to be £101.4 million.”
He said that as a result of having less staff, the charities had to limit the help they could offer and stressed that the behaviour problems in pets and animals as a result of the pandemic was not as widely reported, but could have long-lasting health impacts on animals’ lives.
David Amess also said that one in five respondents to the Kennel Club survey were worried about the lack of training for their puppies, which they have not received due to lockdown restrictions .
He argued that there should be support packages targeted at specific charities within the animal charity sector and advised that this was “particularly important for equine charities because, as the RSPCA revealed, 79% of equine organisations only had funds for six months or did not know how long those funds would last.”
He referenced that Battersea planned to publish a second report in 2021 and told colleagues he was a ” patron of the wonderful Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation .”
He also referenced the importance of zoos and said that the funding was welcome but that “according to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, only 26 out of 300 zoos in England have been successful with the fund.”
Sir David concluded: “In conclusion, while coronavirus has undoubtedly created unprecedented problems for multiple industries, including the animal welfare sector, it has provided an opportunity to address key animal welfare issues concerning the link between wild animals and the spread of zoonotic diseases. This should prompt a much-needed reconsideration of our relationship with animals. This pandemic may be all about our relationship with animals.
Incarcerating animals in cage systems on factory farms provides the ideal breeding ground for dangerous new strains of the virus. We have all been appalled by the huge culling of 17 million mink on industrial fur farms in Denmark over fears of a mutated form of coronavirus. Without extensive support measures directed at animal charities, the problem will continue to occur, and animals will continue to suffer long after the coronavirus pandemic is over and we return to normality.
We rely on our wonderful voluntary industry to selflessly help those more vulnerable than us. We must not forget about the animals. We need to ensure that animal charities have the resources and the finances to look after animals’ welfare. Now is the time to set out a new vision and a compassionate way forward.”
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs , Victoria Prentis , told colleagues that the Government greatly appreciated the work that animal welfare organisations do, often on a voluntary basis.
She acknowledged that many charities had suffered income shortfalls during this difficult time, and said the Government were “very keen to support the animal welfare sector and have made sure that in the Covid restrictions, the welfare needs of animals are considered and protected. “
She ran through previous Government commitment’s on animal welfare and said that they were “very keen as a Government to support the Bill to increase custodial sentences for animal cruelty.”
“It is a great pleasure to take part in this excellent debate, called by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). There is only one issue about which he feels more strongly than Southend becoming a city: animals and their welfare. Madam Deputy Speaker, if you were to read his excellent book, “Ayes and Ears”— probably available in all good bookshops—you would be aware that he is the proud patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and has devoted much of his life to campaigning on behalf of our furry friends.
Like my hon. Friend, the Government greatly appreciate the work that animal welfare organisations do, often on a voluntary basis. They protect animals against cruelty and ensure that unwanted animals are offered a loving home. We have heard some great examples this evening, not least the Dogs Trust, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois).
The good news is that we have all appreciated animals in a new and different way over lockdown. There has been increased interest from people wanting to rehome pets, which has helped to alleviate pressure on the sector. Far fewer pets have been abandoned during lockdown. In fact, it is estimated that about 50% fewer were abandoned in 2020 than in 2019 or 2018.
The latest data from the RSPCA—although we must read this with the caveats that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned—shows that there has been a reduction in animal cruelty, with fewer calls about cruelty and fewer complaints needing to be investigated. But of course, my hon. Friend is right to highlight fears about people adopting pets when they are not suitable or do not have the ability to train those pets, and we will continue to work closely with the sector on those issues.
The less good news is, of course, that many charities have suffered income shortfalls during this difficult time, because charity shops cannot open, and it is difficult to fundraise. Charitable providers of veterinary care have also found it challenging to deliver a full service during lockdown and have just done emergency care. The Government are very keen to support the animal welfare sector and have made sure that in the COVID-19 restrictions, the welfare needs of animals are considered and protected. We have tried to ensure that we can continue to allow animal charities that concentrate on rehoming to continue to carry out their business as best they possibly can within the restrictions.
The Minister responsible for animal welfare, who sits in the other place, meets the sector very frequently, and I know that he will be watching tonight’s debate with interest and will take forward the ideas that have been raised. I particularly want to mention a meeting that he had in September with the chief executive officers of leading equine welfare charities, to discuss their specific worries about the winter horse problem, which happens annually; they were particularly worried about people who care for horses not having enough money to care for them properly this year. We feel that that is going well so far, but we are keeping a close eye on it.
The sector is a really useful source of information to my Department—for example, on rehoming rates and animal cruelty investigations. We have kept up a useful dialogue with the pet industry, local authorities, and vets, who are also useful sources of information. It has been really encouraging to see the sector working together collaboratively to safeguard animals in its care, and it has organised emergency grant schemes itself specifically to support smaller organisations.
As my hon. Friend mentioned, these charities can apply for the full range of Government support measures. The furlough scheme has made a significant difference to between 50% and 60% of animal welfare charities, although of course a certain number of staff have to be kept in place to care for the animals that are still in the home. The Charity Commission has issued really useful guidance on running a charity during COVID-19, including advice for trustees on managing reserves in restricted funds and on provisions to help charities through this difficult period.
On animal welfare generally—I think it is fair to say that my hon. Friend mentioned a wide range of issues during his speech—I would like to say that the Government, despite the pandemic, have been working hard not to take our foot off the accelerator in our agenda in this space. In March last year, I was very pleased, as a former pig keeper, to oversee the new code of practice for the welfare of pigs. In April last year, we introduced the ban on third-party commercial sales of puppies and kittens, which tied in with the earlier pet fish campaign to help people make informed choices when looking for a pet.
In November last year, we launched a new agricultural policy, more details of which will come out in the following weeks and months. An integral part of this is the animal health and welfare pathway, which is there to promote the production of animals at a level beyond compliance with current regulations. This is a way of reaching a large number of animals, and of protecting and improving the way we care for them.
On 3 December, we launched a consultation on plans to ban exports for slaughter and fattening, alongside wider proposals on animal welfare during transport. I would encourage all those with an interest in this sector to reply to that consultation by 28 January. On 6 December, we launched a call for evidence on the shark fin trade. On 12 December, we launched the primates as pets consultation. On 23 December, we launched the consultation on the compulsory microchipping of cats, which follows on from the earlier decision several years ago to make the microchipping of dogs compulsory.
We are also very keen as a Government to support the Bill to increase custodial sentences for animal cruelty. This Bill, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, is currently awaiting its Committee stage in this place.
Among the other points raised briefly by my hon. Friends was the issue of boarding kennels, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker). That is primarily a matter for local authorities, but I will pass on his words to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) raised the difficulties that Dudley zoo has been having. He has raised them many times, and most forcibly, with the Department, and I was glad to hear that he feels the zoo animals fund is more acceptable than the zoo support fund, the previous fund, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West. We feel that this package is working well with the sector at the moment, but we continue to keep the matter under review.
In brief, this Government are committed to animal welfare, as is my hon. Friend, and I look forward to continuing to work together with him in this area.”
Question put and agreed to.