I’d like to reassure you that the welfare of animals is very important to me and a matter I take very seriously and, as such, the UK has long led the way on animal welfare as it is such an important topic. In 2021, the Government's Action Plan for Animal Welfare set out reforms for this Parliament and beyond. Since then, the Government has passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, recognising the sentience of vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals. In addition, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act introduced tougher sentences for cruelty, increasing maximum sentences. The Ivory Act came into force in 2022 and has recently been extended to cover five more endangered species. In April, the Government made cat microchipping compulsory.
The Kept Animals Bill, introduced in June 2021, was designed to implement several government ambitions for animal welfare, including banning the live exports of animals, seeking to prevent pet theft, and new measures to tackle livestock worrying. I am aware that the Bill’s multi-issue nature meant that there had been considerable scope creep, and it risked going beyond the original commitments in the Conservative manifesto on which I was elected and those set out in the action plan. Therefore, the Government will now be taking forward measures in the Kept Animals Bill individually during the remainder of the Parliament.
I would like to assure you that the Government and I remain fully committed to delivering the manifesto commitments on animal welfare. Having left the EU, the Government is able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter. There have been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020, but legislation will ensure that this becomes permanent. Ministers remain fully committed to delivering it.
Regarding puppy smuggling, I know that the Government will ban the imports of young, heavily pregnant, or mutilated dogs and it would be supportive of legislating to ban this through a single-issue Bill when parliamentary time allows. Regarding the keeping of primates as pets, the Government's consultation asked for views on proposals for a new specialist private primate keeper licensing regime in England. I will continue to follow this closely.
Regarding cages, I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) does not consider that the time is right to consult on cage reforms, considering the challenges that the laying hen and pig sectors have been facing. However, I am assured that the market is already driving the move away from using cages for laying hen production. The proportion of eggs that come from caged hens has steadily decreased, from 47% of total throughput in Q4 2017, to 21% in Q1 2023.
Furthermore, the UK is ahead of most other pig producing countries in terms of zero confinement farrowing, in that 40% of the national sow breeding herd farrow freely on outdoor pig units with no option of confinement. The Government’s animal welfare priorities for its Animal Health and Welfare Pathway include supporting producers to transition away from confinement systems.
Finally. Regarding your concerns on ear cropping, the practice of non-exempted mutilations such as cropping dogs' ears is abhorrent and has rightly been banned in the UK for 15 years. The cropping of a dog’s ears is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006; however, I understand that the importation of dogs with non-exempted mutilations such as cropped ears or docked tails is still allowed under the current pet travel rules. I would like to assure you that Ministers would be supportive of legislating to ban the import of dogs with mutilations as a single-issue Bill when parliamentary time allows.
My ministerial colleagues in Defra are committed to animal welfare and to delivering continued improvements, both in this Parliament and beyond.