New Clause 19 - Review of the keeping of exotic animals as pets

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 18 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) The Secretary of State must carry out of a review of the keeping of exotic animals as pets in England.

(2) In conducting this review the Secretary of State must—

(a) consider whether it is appropriate to keep certain exotic animals as pets without a licence in England;

(b) consider whether it is appropriate to establish a register for certain exotic animals kept as pets in England;

(c) consider whether the keeping of certain exotic animals should be prohibited in England; and

(d) consult the public and such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate on the keeping of exotic animals as pets.

(3) The Secretary of State must bring forward legislation based on the findings of the review within 12 months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.

(4) For the purposes of this section exotic animals include—

(a) racoon dogs;

(b) meerkats;

(c) African pygmy hedgehogs; and

(d) other appropriate animals identified by the review.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review into the keeping of exotic animals as pets in the England. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to bring forward legislation based on the findings of the review within 12 months of the Act being passed.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New Clause 19 would require that the Secretary of State conducts a review of the keeping of exotic pets in England, including examining the need for prohibition, licencing or registration for certain exotic animals. Such a review cannot come quickly enough. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that it is treating an increasing number of exotic pets each year. In 2020 alone it received 6,119 reports relating to exotic pets, which in total involved 22,865 animals. Because there is a lack of licencing or registration requirements for exotic animals, we do not have an accurate estimate of how many are present in the UK. However, given these lax regulations, their increased prevalence in the UK is a cause for concern.

Exotic animals are not cats or dogs; they are wild animals with often highly complex natural history and incompletely understood welfare needs. Caring for these animals requires a high level of expertise, which, sadly, is not possessed by all exotic pet owners. As a result, exotic animals kept in domestic settings too often experience pain and suffering. Many species have not evolved to survive in the UK and so require artificial light and heat to keep them healthy, but the necessary information and equipment is often variable in quality or unavailable to domestic owners. Diets are often poorly understood, with animals fed the wrong types of food, leading to malnutrition. Enclosures can be too small and do not allow animals to move around and explore, or express other normal behaviours. Some species need to be kept on their own, or with others of their own kind, but, again, this does not always happen, leading to behavioural problems.

The collection of live animals from the wild for the exotic pet trade has led to serious, and in some cases catastrophic, population declines in some species, in addition to the suffering that animals are put through. We feel it is a missed opportunity not to get the ball rolling with the Bill on a set of reforms that would significantly reduce the suffering of thousands of kept animals across the UK. I suspect the Minister will say that there are already provisions to regulate the keeping of exotic animals as pets in the Bill, in the form of the primate licensing system, as hinted at earlier in the discussion, and that there are measures that will allow the system to be expanded to other exotic animals at a later date. We have already touched on this in earlier debates.

New clause 19 would complement that approach, and I commend it to the Minister. It would allow a sensible and reasonable debate about which exotic pets could reasonably by kept with a licence, unlike primates, and which should not be kept as pets at all. We have helpfully added a list that could be considered, based on conversations with the organisations that have to deal with these dilemmas on a daily basis. It is not right that when we have the opportunity to do so, we leave welfare organisations to deal with the problems and dodge our responsibilities. The Government should grasp the nettle.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The welfare of exotic pets held in private residences is already protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to a kept animal or to fail to provide for its needs. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission is currently undertaking a review of exotic pets, and it published an interim report in September this year. The RSPCA and the Born Free Foundation have also recently published a report on this topic.

The Government would be interested in considering a review of exotic pets, but we do not want to duplicate the work that the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission is doing at the moment. We have had its interim report and we want to wait for the full report. We will look thoroughly at that work when deciding what further assessments are needed. We already have the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act and, as the hon. Member for Cambridge alluded to, the provisions in this Bill, so we will have the appropriate regulatory framework when the review concludes. Any future review will take into account all of the evidence, and further regulation might be needed. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that response, which was pretty much as I anticipated. I do not understand why we always have to go so slowly on everything. I know she thinks she is going at pace—that is the current term—but it seems to us that we could go more quickly. However, I have heard what she says, which confirms what I said earlier in the debate: basically, a general licensing system is being developed. I think we have it the wrong way round, but we will not pursue it any further today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

May I thank those Members who are wearing masks? It is very kind of them.