LONDON — A bill aimed at boosting animal welfare and championed by Boris Johnson has been shelved, the U.K. government confirmed Thursday — sparking immediate anger from some of its own MPs.
Ministers faced claims of backsliding — including from the Conservative benches — after a minister said the U.K. would drop its Kept Animals Bill, and instead only seek other means to introduce some of its measures.
Promised by ex-prime minister Johnson — who introduced other protection measures including a bill which recognized animals as sentient beings — the legislation would have imposed new curbs on puppy imports and end the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter. The bill had already stalled once, and was reintroduced to the Commons last May.
Announcing the move in the House of Commons Thursday, Environment Minister Mark Spencer insisted the government would still meet 2019 Conservative manifesto commitments on animal welfare. But he said the move was necessary to avoid the measures being “mired in political game-playing.”
“The bill risked being extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan,” he argued.
But the announcement was met with anger from the opposition and some environmentalist Tory MPs.
Tory MP Theresa Villiers, a former environment secretary, said she felt “a sense of frustration” the bill would not return to parliament, while backbench Tory MP Giles Watling told the Spectator he was “thoroughly disappointed to hear that this bill that I’ve been pushing for, for a long time now, may be dropped for seemingly no good reason.”
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation — whose members include Tory lawmakers — immediately hit out at the “missed opportunity to further enhance the welfare and protection of animals across the United Kingdom.”
The group warned in a statement: “Almost 14 million people elected this government on a platform which promised to deliver for animals.
“More recently, the continuation of this Bill was promised by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in 2022 during his leadership campaign. It is these promises we call on the government to honor today, and ensure that the provisions to improve the lives of huge numbers of animals set out in the Kept Animals Bill are carried out in legislation.”
Alex Sobel, the Labour shadow minister for nature, said the announcement was a “huge step backwards for animal welfare.”
The Humane Society, a non-profit promoting the end of animal suffering, called the decision an “astonishing betrayal of both animals and public trust.”
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