Industry left in the dark over government abandonment of Kept Animals Bill
26th May 2023
The National Sheep Association (NSA) is extremely frustrated over the confusion left as a result of the government dropping flagship legislation after months of hard work and investment.
Defra Minister Mark Spencer announced the scrapping of the Kept Animals Bill yesterday (Thursday 25th May) despite the legislation almost having completed its journey through the Commons. Westminster has been sitting on the key legislation that would have been a significant tool in the box to tackle sheep worrying since June 2021, even though NSA had criticised the Bill for not going far enough.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker says: “It seems as though our government is in turmoil. To be informed the Kept Animals Bill is to be abandoned without any detail of what might replace it or what might follow is incredibly frustrating for all that have been involved in this piece of legislation.
“It has thrown so much of what our industry was expecting including the banning of live exports up in the air. NSA had also been waiting for the Bill to deliver greater protection against sheep worrying attacks by dogs, an issue urgently needing attention. Clarification on what will now happen is needed quickly. I assume Government had a good reason for this decision but delays and uncertainty will now follow. It’s still highly likely that Government will want to stick to its manifesto promise to ban live exports for slaughter or further finishing and the fact that there is no Border Control Point (BCP) with a live animals facility means that no one should assume this trade will resume.
“I could think that this gives an opportunity to actually further strengthen controls on dog attacks on sheep, for instance, to require dogs to be kept on leads in the vicinity of livestock, or increase the maximum fines for sheep worrying in line with Scottish legislation, but at this stage, it is difficult to make any assumptions or predictions.”
NSA’s research into the topic of sheep worrying by dogs has revealed a concerning steady increase in the number of attacks on sheep by dogs. The Association has previously commended Scottish Government’s action on the devastating issue with the introduction of Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2021 which imposes a maximum fine of £40,000 or 12 month prison sentence and although proposals within the Kept Animals Bill were not considered to go far enough to protect livestock NSA recognised that steps were being taken in the right direction.
Mr Stocker continues: “It is disappointing that nearly three years on from the introduction of the Kept Animals Bill to Parliament, attacks on livestock are increasing in occurrence and severity. To now have this legislation dropped at such an imperative time is a betrayal to farmers across the country NSA is exasperated there is still no appreciable accountability for dog owners and the disastrous impact their dogs can have on livestock. Abandoning this Bill now will increase the risk to animal welfare at a time when dog attacks are becoming common place.”
Minister Spencer has implied that commitments to animal welfare will be kept by introducing measures from within the Bill individually before the next general election - expected by the end of 2024. Also announcing 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.
Mr Stocker continues: “Using a private members bill strategy to tackle these important issues puts animals at further risk in the interim. Minister Spencer must now ensure this opportunity is not missed and must demand robust and much more significant penalties for those committing offences. Penalties act as a punishment where relevant but are also a major deterrent.
“NSA is concerned the Government is rolling back on a number of commitments while also having set the scene for the UK being world leading in animal welfare. This risks putting all the pressure and the funding of these higher standards back onto the industry and the marketplace and we are not convinced this will work. The Government needs to step up and commit proper legislation and support through Public funds to help farmers deliver and succeed financially.”