The following is a Hansard transcript of Andrew Rosindell M.P.'s contributions to a debate on the Second Reading of the Kept Animals Bill on Monday
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). I know how committed she is to animal welfare, and she made some very good points, particularly on animal testing and zoos.
The Bill will make a real difference to the lives of animals across our country. It was, of course, Mahatma Gandhi who said that the moral progress of a nation and its greatness can be judged by how it treats its animals. Well, this nation has always been at the forefront of animal welfare, and this Government are taking that historic record to new heights.
I am proud to have played a positive role in promoting animal welfare during my time in Parliament. When we were in opposition I served as shadow Minister for animal welfare, and on Friday my own animal welfare bill, the Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill, will come before Parliament. It will introduce fines for mid-ranging animal welfare and health offences, preserving criminal prosecution for all cruelty offences. However, my work as a campaigner for animal welfare could never have been achieved without the support of an even more formidable campaigner—a man who should be here today, but who tragically is not; a man who epitomised goodness in every interaction he had, whether with something on two legs or four; my dear friend Sir David Amess, the honourable Member for Southend West, whose passing we mourn so much.
I must inform the House that the Westminster Dog of the Year contest will take place this Thursday. Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), I have been asked—I have been given the honour—to enter Vivienne, the French bulldog of Sir David Amess, and we will be taking her to that contest. I know I should not lobby Members—[Laughter]—but they can vote online, on the Kennel Club’s website, to choose their Westminster dog of the year. I hope that friends and colleagues in all parts of the House will consider casting their votes for Vivienne, the dog of Sir David Amess, this Thursday.
There are three areas of the Bill that I want to discuss. The first is part 2, on dogs attacking or worrying livestock. I know that advocates of responsible dog ownership as well as our great farming industry will warmly welcome these proposals, as do I, but the enhanced provisions are likely to lead to more dogs being seized. Can the Minister reassure the House that provision will be made to ensure that all dogs seized under these measures will receive the highest standard of care and welfare?
Secondly, I want to discuss the new measures to help tackle the awful crime of puppy-smuggling, particularly the provisions that will allow for bans on the importation of mutilated animals. Anyone with an interest in animal welfare cannot have failed to notice the fantastic “flop not crop” campaign supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association, Battersea, the FOAL Group—Focus on Animal Law—Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and many other organisations. Can the Minister confirm that clause 46(2) will include dogs with cropped ears, to guarantee an end to that barbaric practice?
Thirdly, I want to turn to matters relating directly to Britain’s magnificent zoos and aquariums. I do so as chairman of the zoos and aquariums all-party parliamentary group, and having only just received a “Zoo Hero” award from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which I accepted with great pride at Marwell zoo a few weeks ago. I am endlessly impressed with the sheer diversity and breadth of the conservation work that good zoos and aquariums undertake throughout the United Kingdom. Probably the first thing we must think of in that context is their notable work on animal reintroductions—that critical work to bolster fragile wild populations. Indeed, I have seen just recently how Marwell zoo has successfully reintroduced desert antelopes into north Africa. However, while that is important, zoo and aquarium conservation work extends far beyond reintroductions. For example, I was privileged last year to visit Whipsnade Zoo—
My hon. Friend knows that zoo all too well. When I went there, I was able to see for myself how a “mammoth” bank of 30,000 thermal images taken of UK zoo elephants is directly contributing to conserving their wild counterparts. This groundbreaking work, completely dependent on zoo-based research, has led to an affordable technology solution to reduce human-elephant conflicts in a range of countries.
As well as engaging in all those unique conservation efforts, our zoos and aquariums up and down the country are bringing millions of visitors—more than 35 million each year—closer to nature. Most of those people would not be able to travel thousands of miles to see these incredible creatures in their home territories.
It is right that this Bill will push many more zoos to scale up their conservation efforts, but that must be done with diversity in mind. We must avoid falling into the trap of considering conservation only in terms of the amount spent or the number of introductions made—measures that only skim the surface of conservation. As conservation will be defined in the secondary legislation for which the Bill provides, it is important for that to be done in a way that truly captures the enormous diversity of the work of our zoos and aquariums. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State therefore make a commitment that as we raise our expectations on zoo conservation, the definition will include the full range of activities that those zoos and aquariums offer?
That, however, is not the only assurance that we need. Inherent in the Bill is the work of the Zoos Expert Committee, which will advise the Secretary of State and the Minister on the future of zoo-based conservation. However, that Committee cannot make its options known to the public or to Parliament. Why, when the Government are proposing a new animal sentience committee with the ability to publish independent recommendations, is that same ability not being afforded to the Government’s Committee on zoos? Will the Secretary of State consider that, please?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his energy and enthusiasm for this issue. Belfast city zoo is part of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and he is probably aware of its project in Belfast on the lemur, which is tied in with Madagascar. Does he agree that conservation does not always have to happen on site, and that it can happen in partnership with Madagascar and other countries that are many thousands of miles away?
The hon. Gentleman makes a really good point that needs to be emphasised more and more strongly by the day. Zoos do incredible conservation work, and they are there to ensure the survival of so many species. They are not just places that tourists go to see animals. We have an amazing network of zoos in this country that provide conservation and education, working with third world countries to protect animals in the wild and to re-inhabit animals. It is so important to emphasise that. I know that Belfast zoo does amazing work in that area, and that zoos contribute enormously to the work of animal welfare and conservation. That is why it is so important that they are included fully in this legislation.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his award and thank him for the incredible, consistent work that he does in this area. Does he agree that in most cases conservation means working with local people to invest in the animals and the landscape, not least because many in places—I am thinking of Kerala—it really helps tourism? It is a win-win all the way round.
The hon. Lady is completely correct. Without working with the local people—the indigenous people of those countries—these efforts are not going to work. We need to ensure that the people in those countries are playing their part, by including them in these projects, as our zoos are doing. That is vital for the sustainability of the projects. I thank her for her remarks.
To recap, can the Minister please give reassurances that conservation will be understood in the broadest sense at zoos and aquariums? Will the Government also seek to make the Zoos Expert Committee more accountable, because that is vital? Finally—I say this in all sincerity—I extend an invitation not only to the Minister but to all Members of the House to visit their local zoo or aquarium. We have the most incredible zoos across the United Kingdom, and it is only by seeing for themselves that Members will see the brilliant work that they do to protect the animal kingdom with whom we share this planet. Our dear friend David Amess said this in June about the forthcoming animal welfare Bills:
“I hope the House will come together, support them and get them quickly on to the statute book.”
I can think of no better tribute to him and to the animals across the United Kingdom that he so adored.