Britain has always been a proud nation of animal lovers. Yet for decades, our laws have failed to keep up with public expectations.
Most people are unaware that the last major piece of legislation protecting animals – the Animal Welfare Act – was passed in 2006 by a Labour government. In the 13 years since then, laws have failed to keep up with developing a scientific understanding of animal suffering and environmental degradation, as well as growing public support for animal welfare.
I joined the Labour Party more than 25 years ago because I wanted to improve our society, including the way we treat animals. I wanted to see an end to barbaric practices like dog fighting, the fur trade, battery chicken farms, sow crates, puppy farms, trophy hunting and foxhunting. Britain has made progress in many areas, it has often been piecemeal, and sometimes laws have changed only following public outcry over a particular issue.
There has never been a comprehensive, joined-up animal welfare plan that addresses all the issues in one place, accurately reflecting the views of the British public as well as the needs of animals. Until now.
Since becoming Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs two years ago, I’ve been working on the comprehensive 50-point animal welfare manifesto that I’ve published this week. I held a national consultation and spoke to farmers and food producers as well as animal rights organisations, environmentalists, interest groups and the public. There were more than 6,000 responses, and I read every single one to make sure I didn’t miss any key points, large or small.
The result is the most considered, thought through and holistic approach to animal welfare policy put forward by any political party in recent times. It sets out how the next Labour government will ban trophy hunting imports to help protect endangered species, phase out animal testing by drug companies, stop the badger cull and prevent primates being kept as pets.
We will commission a review of driven grouse shooting, to gather evidence on the effect it has on our moorland landscape and the birds of prey and animals seen by many hunters as collateral damage. Traditionally, every year before the season starts, the land has been drained and dried out to prepare it for grouse shooting, increasing the risk of drought and wildfires and reducing the moors’ ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide emissions – a vital role in the fight against climate change. We need to assess whether the environmental risks outweigh the economic benefits of driven grouse shooting – and then act.
Labour will appoint a permanent animal welfare commissioner to champion the rights of animals in Westminster. The commissioner will make sure all proposed legislation affecting animals reflects our 50-point plan and is approached in a structured and coherent way, taking full account of all the different groups involved, from farmers and breeders to conservationists and ordinary pet owners.
And we will help pets and their owners by developing policies to allow elderly, disabled and homeless people to keep their pets when moving into care, sheltered accommodation or hostels, and work with landlords on measures to allow tenants to keep pets in rented properties as a default position.
The theme that brings it together is that I want everyone in this country to be proud that the animals we share it with are treated with dignity, care and respect, that our farming practices are humane and hygienic, and our pets are bred and looked after responsibly.
These things should not be controversial, they should be part of the fabric of our society. Only Labour will make sure that they are.
James Kelly is editing LabourList while Sienna Rodgers is away.