Campaigners have accused the Government of a betrayal after it scrapped its plans for a flagship animal welfare bill.
Environment minister Mark Spencer told the Commons on Thursday that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would not progress, but insisted manifesto commitments would be kept through single-issue legislation.
He blamed “scope creep” and Labour for the decision, saying the legislation risked being extended “far beyond the original commitments”.
The Bill had already suffered long delays since it was first introduced in June 2021.
Senior director of campaigns and public affairs at Humane Society International/UK, Claire Bass, said: “The Government’s decision to abandon the Kept Animals Bill is an astonishing betrayal of both animals and public trust.”
She added: “It needed only a few more hours in the Commons to succeed, so parliamentary time is clearly not the real issue here.
“The real reason, Whitehall sources tell us, that the Bill has been dropped is because of concerns that it could act as a vehicle for uncomfortable debates that the Government does not want held on polarising issues such as hunting with dogs.
“Vital protections for dogs, calves, sheep, primates and other animals have been sacrificed today at the Government’s altar of self-serving political convenience.
“We’ll of course back delivery of these commitments as private members’ bills, but this is a high risk strategy, and indicative of the low priority the Government now evidently places on animal welfare.”
Chris and Lorraine Platt, co-founders of Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation said it was “disappointed”, adding: “We believe this represents a missed opportunity to further enhance the welfare and protection of animals across the United Kingdom.”
The RSPCA’s director of policy, Emma Slawinski, said: “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.”
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner said: “It is disappointing that landmark legislation on important welfare issues like sheep worrying has been needlessly delayed for two years by MPs who are fixated by hunting and other rural activities.
“Their obsession has held progress on animal welfare back.”
For Labour, shadow environment minister Alex Sobel told the Commons: “It represents a profound setback for animal welfare in the UK.
“It confirms once again that the Government is too weak to deliver their own legislation. This time it’s innocent animals who will suffer the consequences.”
Conservative former environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: “I’ve campaigned for more than two decades for an end to the live export of animals for slaughter so I have to say I do feel a sense of frustration and disappointment that the Kept Animals Bill is not going to come back to Parliament.
“Can I really appeal to the minister and the wider government – bring us a new Bill, let’s get on with this, let’s ban this cruel trade.”
Announcing the changes in a statement in the Commons, Mr Spencer said: “Unfortunately this multi-issue nature means that there has been considerable scope creep.
“The Bill risked being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan.
“And in particular, Labour is clearly determined to play political games by widening the scope of this Bill.”
We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments. And this approach is now the surest and quickest way of doing so,
The environment minister said “enormous progress” on animal welfare has already been made with “single-issue” legislation, adding: “Therefore we will be taking forward measures in the Kept Animals Bill individually during the remainder of this Parliament.
“We remain fully committed to delivering our manifesto commitments. And this approach is now the surest and quickest way of doing so, rather than letting it be mired in political game-playing.”
He went on: “Having left the EU, we are able to and will ban live exports for fattening and slaughter, and there has been no live exports from Great Britain since 2020. But our legislation will ensure this becomes permanent, and we remain committed to delivering it.
“We’re committed to cracking down on puppy smuggling, we will ban the imports of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs, and we will be able to do this more quickly with a single-issue bill than the secondary legislation required under the Kept Animals Bill.
“And we are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets and will do this by consulting before the summer recess on the primate keeping standards, and they will be applied by secondary legislation being brought forward this year.
“We also look forward to progressing delivery of the new offence of pet abduction, and the new measures to tackle livestock worrying.”
He added: “I want to assure the House that we are open to future consideration, but we will focus on delivering these key elements, delivering these measures as well as everything we have already delivered as part of and beyond the animal welfare element of our manifesto.
“It shows a Government which cares about animals.”
He also announced the launch of a new animal sentience committee, and a consultation on new financial penalties of up to £5,000 for those who commit offences against animals.