Charities Deeply Concerned for the Future of Animal Welfare Following Government’s Kept Animals Bill Decision

25 May 2023

Animal welfare charities have come together to express grave concerns for the welfare of animals in the UK and overseas, following the Government’s announcement that the long-promised Kept Animals Bill will be withdrawn from Parliament.

In a statement shared earlier today, Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, Mark Spencer MP, outlined the Government’s decision to withdraw the current Bill and bring it back as multiple pieces of legislation in the future. This would include creating separate Bills banning the importation of young, pregnant or mutilated dogs and making pet abduction an offence.

Charities including Battersea, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, Dogs Trust, RSPCA and The Kennel Club have all shared their concerns over this latest setback and what it will mean for the animals that will now continue to suffer without the protections the Bill could have provided, including victims of puppy and kitten smuggling, dog and cat abduction and the importation of dogs with cropped ears and declawed cats. This latest blow follows nineteen months of members of the Government publicly promising the Bill would progress as soon as Parliamentary time allowed.

Battersea’s Chief Exec, Peter Laurie, said: “We are incredibly disappointed by today’s announcement and the detrimental impact this may have on the welfare of thousands of animals. As we head back to square one with this legislation, we fear that many dogs and cats will continue to needlessly suffer, some of which will ultimately end up at Battersea or another rescue in desperate need of help. We hope that new legislation addressing all of the key issues will be brought forward as a matter of urgency.”

Stefan Blakiston-Moore, Advocacy and Digital Campaigns Manager for Cats Protection said: "We are extremely disappointed that after almost two years the Kept Animals Bill has been dropped. While Cats Protection believed some improvements were needed, this bill provided an opportunity to protect cats from needless suffering. Legislation is desperately needed to tackle the growing concerns around cat theft and to prevent kitten smuggling. We hope for new legislation that will address these issues without delay and urge the government to ensure cats are given adequate consideration in any new proposals."

Hannah Evans, Deputy Head of Public Affairs at Dogs Trust, said: “Dogs Trust is disappointed the UK Government has dropped the Bill created to protect the thousands of dogs that are cruelly, unnecessarily and illegally smuggled into the country each year. Not only does this go against their manifesto promise and the wishes of our nation of animal lovers, but it means that even more animals will suffer at the hands of criminals at home and abroad. Dogs Trust alone has now cared for approximately 2,256 illegally imported puppies and mothers, which is ultimately funding this inhumane activity and lining the pockets of smugglers with millions. Under their new proposals, I urge the UK Government to not neglect the key issues that the Kept Animals Bill so critically addressed.”

Dr Ed Hayes, Head of Public Affairs at The Kennel Club, said: “We’re deeply disappointed by this setback which means that our nation’s animals will continue to be without the protections that they deserve. This long-awaited piece of legislation – which has much cross-party backing and the support of the animal-loving British public - would tackle serious problems, such as the legal importation of animals into the UK that have endured the barbaric act of ear cropping, through to the paltry penalties for pet theft, which are the same for stealing a laptop as they are for stealing a beloved family pet. This is too important to fall by the wayside and we urge new legislation to tackle these issues, which are the cornerstone of our responsibilities as an animal loving nation.”

Emma Slawinski, Director of Policy, at the RSPCA said: “We have been waiting for almost two years for the Kept Animals Bill to improve the lives of billions of animals and now it’s effectively been scrapped. While politicians dither, animals suffer. We are frustrated and disappointed that, despite overwhelming public support, the UK Government has delayed and delayed and has now broken up the bill, leading to yet more uncertainty and lost time. The Secretary of State has said that she wants to proceed separately with elements of the bill like ending live exports of animals for fattening and slaughter and clamping down on puppy smuggling but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. We want to see urgent legislative progress on everything that was in the bill, including a ban on the import of dogs with cropped ears. With a General Election likely next year, it is imperative that ministers honour all their manifesto commitments for animals before that happens.”

Becky Thwaites, Head of Public Affairs at Blue Cross said: “Blue Cross is deeply dismayed by the Government’s decision to discontinue the Kept Animals Bill. The Bill contained some much-needed animal welfare measures, such as measures to tackle the scourge of dog theft and cruel and abhorrent mutilations such as ear cropping. This further delay will only condemn more animals to suffer significant welfare issues. We sincerely hope the alternative legislation announced today will be expedited as swiftly as possible to ensure these crucial measures reach the statute book without further unnecessary delay.”

One animal that could have been better protected if the Bill had progressed as promised is Yoko, the unfortunate Cane Corso. Brought to Battersea as a stray with a foreign microchip and showing signs of being repeatedly bred from, the five-year-old dog’s ears had been brutally cropped, and her tail docked – both things are illegal in the UK but currently perfectly legal to do in another country before importing the dog to the UK, something the current Bill would have put a stop to.

Meanwhile three very heavily pregnant Dachshunds were brought to one of Dogs Trust’s centres after being brought into the country illegally alongside 50 other animals. The three young dogs all gave birth in the charity’s care and sadly showed signs of trauma following their ordeal, including anxiety related behaviours. It is illegal to import dogs in their final stage of pregnancy, but stricter laws are needed to prevent this from continuing.