Registered Charity in England & Wales No.1165941

The Kept Animals Bill

Wild Welfare's Response

The Kept Animals Bill

Georgina Groves is one of the original founders of Wild Welfare and has been working in the animal protection industry for nearly 20 years. After the recent news that the Kept Animals Bill is to be scrapped, Georgina shares her thoughts on the lack of action and the impact this will have on animal welfare.

The UK government has recently dropped their commitment to the Kept Animals Bill that was almost at completion in its passage through the commons. This is incredibly disappointing for animals as the Bill contained a range of animal welfare protection standards that would have addressed many pressing and acute welfare issues such as prohibiting the import of dogs with cropped ears, tackling puppy smuggling and seeing a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening. The Bill also planned to address the welfare issues surrounding primates as pets in captivity and review the zoo licensing standards. A response to the bill being dropped by the Environment minister Mark Spencer, said the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, will no longer go ahead over concerns that Labour was seeking to widen the scope of the bill and this multi-issue nature means there has been considerable scope-creep. 

On 12th May 2021, the Conservative Government published its Action Plan for Animal Welfare with a plan to raise the bar for animal welfare and “take the rest of the world with us”. Arguably some positive action has been taken, with a new Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act that recognises in law that all vertebrate animals and invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters and octopuses are sentient beings. Other actions include the passing of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act and extending the Ivory Act (2022) to include other species. 

However, the Kept Animals Bill was one that many NGOs had been particularly pushing for, due to its much-needed commitment to action legal protection on persistent welfare issues. Having been introduced to the House of Commons in June 2021, the Bill has passed through various stages of review, and only had a short way to go to be completed. Wild Welfare joined other groups in March 2023 asking for the Prime Minister to push forward the Kept Animals Bill and get it finally passed through the commons. 

Why is the news that this Bill won’t progress so disappointing for captive wild animals? Included in the Bill was legal oversight to effectively enact a ban on keeping primates as pets by requiring all primates to be kept at zoo-level standards. This would mean that many who currently keep primates as pets wouldn’t be able to attain these standards and must phase them out or give them to a zoo or sanctuary. One area of concern is the process of tracking and the enforcement of “zoo level standards” within private facilities, which is complex and requires expert knowledge to understand whether the standards are being met. Many NGOs feel it would be more effective to implement  an outright ban on the keeping of primates as pets, with a “grandfather clause” allowing the practice to be phased out.  However, the Bill did detail fairly extensive licensing and non-compliance procedures, and could have been a solid stepping stone towards the total ban of primates as pets. The other commitment made by the Bill was to amend the Zoo Licensing Act to improve zoo regulations and animal welfare standards as well as ensuring that zoos are doing more to contribute to conservation and education. Last year, Wild Welfare was invited to comment on proposed new Standards of Modern Zoo Practice for Great Britain.

It is disappointing that the UK conservative government has chosen not to progress with this bill. While it is welcoming to hear  Mark Spencer’s response that many of the issues defined within the Bill will be addressed independently, he appears to make no reference to the zoo standards review. While the UK has some of the leading standards in zoo animal welfare globally, the continued evaluation and evolution of standards is critical to ensure we are meeting the latest evidence-based information we have on wild animal care and conservation in captivity. The potential delay to this review could also have a knock-on effect to other zoo related animal welfare policy.

Wild Welfare urges the government to commit to its original promise to prioritise the welfare of primates as pets by bringing in legislation that will effectively ban this practice. We call on the government to urgently review and sign off captive wildlife standards so that the zoo community is directed effectively in ensuring they continue providing optimal animal care and conservation practices.

The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.