step forward for animal rights to become law

  • Post last modified:May 15, 2024
  • Reading time:6 mins read

On Tuesday 14 May, the UK House of Lords passed a landmark new bill on animal welfare. Of course, it’s a major win for animal rights. However, it likely could have happened a lot sooner if not for Tory wrangling on previous bills.

Animal Welfare Bill passes through parliament

The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill prohibits the export of cattle, goats, pigs, and horses for slaughter, and fattening for slaughter.

It aims to improve animal welfare in farming by ending long, arduous journeys to other countries. These journeys regularly put animals through overcrowding, exhaustion, dehydration and stress.

However, on 14 May, the House of Lords passed the new bill that will bring this appalling practice to a close. It will now head for royal assent before becoming law.

Activists have been calling for the ban for decades. Emma Slawinski, director of policy, prevention and campaigns at the RSPCA animal charity, described it as “an extraordinary achievement” that activists had campaigned on for 50 years. She said that:

Back in the 90s we had more than a million animals going out from the UK. It’s an abhorrent trade. The suffering is intense and it goes on for a long time.

Some of those journeys were measured in days, not in hours, and they’re never going to happen again.

Activists launched particularly fierce and dedicated campaigning during this time. Notable among this was a coordinated wave of protests and direct action against the practice at the port of Brightlingsea in Essex in 1995. UK media dubbed the event “The Battle of Brightlingsea”.

In tandem with this, on February 1, 1995, Jill Phipps was one of a few dozen animal rights activists who broke through a police line at Coventry Airport in central England. She was crushed to death under a lorry as she protested against the export of live calves for veal in 1995.

Political “stumbling blocks”

While the bill marked a step forward for animal welfare, it could have come into effect sooner. Compassion in World Farming’s CEO Philip Lymbery noted how:

It has been a very difficult journey to get this policy over the line with many stumbling blocks along the way.

The legislation is part of the Conservatives boon of Brexit branding in which it promised to centre animal welfare. Specifically, the party first proposed the ban in 2017 and touted it as a benefit of Brexit because European Union trade rules prevent member states from banning live exports to other countries in the bloc. As a result, the live exports ban became a pillar of its “action plan for animal welfare” which it launched in 2021.

The Tories first had the chance to put this into action through a Commons bill in 2021. Notably, the Kept Animals Bill previously contained these provisions. In June 2023, the Tories shelved the bill at the final hurdle.

Alongside banning live animal exports, the Kept Animals Bill had offered a range of measures to improve the situation for farmed animals, non-human primates, and other species kept as pets. However, as the Canary’s Glen Black reported, the Tories mothballed the bill. Naturally, they did this to appease their friends in the hunting industry. As Black explained, the government said that instead they would:

unbundle the bill’s various measures and push them through as single-issue legislation. As HSI/UK said, this likely means through private members’ bills (PMBs).

However, as he also detailed at the time:

However, as the Electoral Reform Society recently pointed out, PMBs’ rates of success are low. And it seems it was done to protect the vile ongoing abuse of wildlife.

In other words, the private member’s bills like the Animal Welfare (Live Exports) Bill has laid cover for the Tories pander to an abusive, abhorrent, animal-killing industry.

A “truly momentous day” for animal rights

Despite the delay and diversion, this key facet of animal rights protections will now become law.

Given this, animal rights charities have celebrated the success. Compassion in World Farming’s patron Joanna Lumley said:

Finally, finally, finally, we can celebrate the news that live farm animals will never again be exported on long, horrendous journeys from our shores only to be fattened or slaughtered. For decades, we at Compassion in World Farming have worked tirelessly to bring this campaign to everyone’s attention.

The organisation called it a “truly momentous day” for farmed animals. Moreover, Kent Action Against Live Exports’ (KAALE) Yvonne Birchall hailed it as a testament to the committed work of long-term campaigners. She said:

For 29 years, KAALE and their supporters have demonstrated outside UK ports as live export shipments have been loaded on vessels bound for Europe. It has been truly heartbreaking to witness these animals crammed into trucks.”

Whatever the weather, whatever the time of day, KAALE have attended these sailings, and our members are the last friendly faces millions of animals will have seen before being exported. We are delighted that the law will finally ban this cruel trade and the people of Kent will no longer need to stand up in opposition to it.

Feature image via Compassion in World Farming

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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