Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Animal rights and the future

Next steps for animal welfare and why Labour should take them

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MORI polling in 2005 showed that 14% of respondents said that animal welfare was an issue that would be ‘very important’ in helping to decide which party they would vote for – up 3% from 2001.

The Labour party was clearly identified as the party with the best policies on animal welfare (24% thought so compared to 9% for the Tories and 8% for the Lib Dems).

So why does animal welfare not feature more in Labour thinking, policy or public relations? It is an area where the party has a clear advantage over the other main parties.

Recent policy documents from both the Labour party (The Choice for Britain) and the Labour group of the Local Government Association (Putting Fairness First) contain not a single mention.

Hunting with hounds will be one of the defining issues in the forthcoming election. Labour banned it but, incredibly, the Tories seem determined to try to bring it back, in part, as a sop to their landed backers. Hunts have been active since the ban came into force in the hope of a Tory return and, all the while, providing focal points for anti-Labour venom and activity.

Part of the pro-hunt campaign is focused on the Vote-OK website which claims that during the last election its supporters helped to deliver 3.4 million leaflets, address 2.1 million envelopes and erect 55,000 posters – all aimed at undermining Labour candidates. This year we can expect the same and more.

It is no coincidence that Nick Herbert, the Conservative shadow secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was one of the leading lights behind the formation of the Countryside Alliance.

The Conservative party website is telling. The first two results of a search for ‘animal welfare’ refer to the European parliament. The fourth is an article by Herbert himself arguing there is a ‘compelling case to get the hunting ban off the statute book.’

While in office Labour has had a good track record. As well as the hunting ban, Labour has brought in a new Animal Welfare Act, banned fur factory farming, driftnet fishing (which helps protect dolphins and sea birds) and the testing of cosmetics, toiletries, alcohol and tobacco on animals. Labour has also refused to license any testing on great apes (such as chimpanzees) and established the National Centre for the Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of Animals in Research which provides research into alternatives to animal testing. During 2009 it was the Labour government and Labour MEPs whose work and commitment was crucial in securing a European Union-wide ban on the commercial trade in seal products.

More could and should have been done – it is a disgrace that we still allow wild animal performances in circuses, for instance – but no other government has done as much for animals. Ever.

So why is current policy discussion seemingly devoid of mention of animal welfare – do those involved in drawing up the manifesto just not get it? By contrast, David Cameron has been wooing animal welfare organisations, even appearing at a seminar attended by many of them to discuss policy. But his credibility is zero.

Perhaps the praise for Labour’s achievements so far should be directed at Labour backbenchers. It is they that shaped the legislation on hunting with hounds, shifting it away from a middle way licensing scheme, favoured by the inner circle of government, to an outright ban.

Prior to the 1997 election, a leaflet called ‘New Life for Animals’ was produced and distributed by New Labour. It was a success and could well have helped to produce the public opinion reflected in the later polls. Simply producing a new version is unlikely to be enough this time round with both opposition parties planning to outdo each other in this area.

Further evidence as to the commitment of the parties to animal welfare is provided by current and past early day motions signed by MPs. Last year 143 MPs signed one motion in support of a seal product import ban. Of those 105 were Labour members, only 9 were Conservative and, of those, at least two known animal welfare stalwarts will not be standing again. Before the Commons at the time of writing one motion calling for real fur to be labelled has attracted 159 signatures – once more with only 9 Conservatives adding their names.

The government recently missed an ideal opportunity to contribute to both climate change targets and animal welfare with Defra’s new policy for food (Food 2030) launch.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the livestock industry globally generates 18% of all human-caused greenhouse gases (GHG) – more than the entire transport sector. Even this may be a serious underestimate ignoring, as it does, the respiration of the animals themselves, the full effect of deforestation to provide grassland and the real impact of animals burping (methane). An analysis from Worldwatch shows that livestock and meat-eating may be responsible for as much as 51% of GHGs.

Prior to last year’s Copenhagen climate change conference, Sir Paul McCartney and European parliament president Jerzy Buzek MEP launched a ‘meat free Monday’ initiative in the European parliament. Buzek urged everyone ‘to act globally to face global challenges, but not to ignore what we do at home,’ when opening the ‘less meat – less heat’ hearing on 3 December. The idea of one meat-free day a week was highlighted as a way for an individual to make a difference to global warming. ‘It is very doable,’ said Sir Paul and so it is. Eating less meat has an immediate impact. Unlike energy conservation schemes and investment in clean energy which involve long lead times and rely on others, people can play a part straight away – at no cost to themselves.

So it is disappointing that the government has not joined in and Labour seems to have no plans to.

Perhaps, as a vegetarian himself, minister Hilary Benn was wary of going down this route, fearing the wrath of the meat industry which is already flagging up the need to crank up intensification of livestock production to meet the demands of an increasing human population.
So what should happen next? As a minimum, a future Labour government should pledge to:

• Clearly label real fur products, in line with its own National Policy Forum view – consumers are buying real fur items without even realising it

• Bring in an effective strategy to enforce the ban on hunting with hounds – the current ban is being treated with contempt by some of the toffs that will never vote Labour. Breaching the act should be a notifiable offence

• Bring in a ban on wild animals in circuses – Bolivia has recently done so!

• End the factory farming of game birds for shooting – more than 45 million pheasants and partridges are mass produced each year in the UK in hatcheries and rearing sheds. The young birds are fattened and released as moving targets for shooters

• Bring in a strategy to reduce meat consumption thereby helping animals, contributing to targets for GHGs, and improving health (all in one go!)

• Extend the ban on testing cosmetic products on animals to household products and increase the investment in finding alternatives to animal testing – it’s time for more relevant, effective science

• Work with relevant agencies to provide ‘safe houses’ for pets – many women, in particular, remain in dangerous, abusive situations facing domestic violence as they will not leave the family pet behind. Providing temporary, secure homes for the animals would help victims to escape

• Bring an end to ‘pet fairs.’ Exotic animals are not good pets and the trade in wildlife is a threat to some species. Pet fairs are opposed by the British veterinary association due to their poor welfare

Such a set of measures are simple, defensible and justifiable. They would find favour with the majority of the public, particularly Labour’s core voters and would create a programme that the Tories could not and would not match.

Mahatma Gandhi said ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’ The same thought can be applied to political parties.

No election will ever be won on animal welfare policy – nor should it be – but by extending social justice to animals, the Labour party would distinguish itself from others and would secure the vote of those who associate it with compassion and fairness. It would also be doing something because – quite simply – it is the right thing to do. Not such a bad thing.

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Mark Glover

is Chair of Southwark Labour Group, representing a ward in Peckham and Managing Director of Bellenden Public Affairs


  • Battery farming of chickens is high on the list of things Joe Public considers extremely important yet you don’t mention it,there is to be an introduction of ‘enriched cages’ this is still no better it is like locking a kid in a cupboard but giving them a paper-cup to play with.

  • A good and interesting article Mark, however I have some concerns over the real commitment shown by our government.
    The 2006 Animal Welfare Act could be a good piece of legislation and, if effectively enforced, should improve many issues that cause suffering and distress to animals.
    In my understanding, the act should be enforced by officers appointed by local authorities who would investigate and deal with offences under the act within their jurisdiction.
    There seems to be a problem in enforcement as it does not seem to be mandatory on local authorities to adopt or enforce the Act so many, who do not wish to finance enforcement, chose not to.
    Who then is left to enforce the act – the Police? It seems Constabularies are not obliged to provide officers with the necessary training and experience to define and investigate offences and are reluctant to approach allegations of offences unless in support of another, more qualified authority.
    Like Councils, some do and some don’t – it is all very patchwork – very hit and miss and very messy.
    It seems the only organisation that has a uniform approach to enforcing this act is the RSPCA – a charity – a private organisation that relies on public funding.
    There are many tranches of the act that have not yet been implemented by DEFRA.
    The Act – although in place and on the statute books is not yet fully operative, yet seems to be unless you look deeper.. DERFRA seem to be short of funds – that is to say they have nothing spare to extend the scope of the act and employ officers who are sufficiently trained and equipped to effectively enforce it.
    The Act, if fully implemented and enforced, could be a great asset to animals, safeguarding them when vulnerable to abuse, neglect or simply the victims of ignorance or naivety but legislation is ineffective unless enforced.
    The full implementation and enforcement of all aspects of the 2006 Act would also go a long way to clearing up many of the problems faced by animal welfare charities that currently have to carry the weight of the failure of the government to follow it through.
    Why is the enforcement of this piece of legislation a matter of choice to the authorities who are delegated with the responsibility of enforcing it? Why are they not obliged to enforce it? The act lacks teeth. It appears to be a showpiece.
    This is certainly a major disappointment for those who wish to see Labour as a major force in animal welfare reforms.

  • Now come on guys if some members of the Labour Party has nothing more to consider than this stuff, here the minority leads olicy, then I for one won’t be voting Labour at the next election.

    Get into the real world PLEASE

  • If Fred had read all of this really very informative and timely article, he would have noticed Mark’s closing words:

    “No election will ever be won on animal welfare policy – nor should it be – but by extending social justice to animals, the Labour party would distinguish itself from others and would secure the vote of those who associate it with compassion and fairness.”

    It is possible to believe in social justice for people whilst treating animals with care and compassion. Those who are cruel to animals are often the same people who are cruel to their fellow human beings.

  • Well said Mark. This is exactly the kind of thinking Labour needs right now. Like the sound of that fur labelling motion in the Commons too – come on Labour! Get this on the agenda!!

  • Oh I read it Bill, I guarantee it would loose more votes than it gained. If the voters are made aware of the sort of priorities involved in the Labour Party’s thinking,
    We have far more urgent things to worry about, it will take up time that should be allocated to those priorities.
    This has nothing to do with cruelty to animals.

  • I’m not a Labour voter but will no longer vote Tory while the Countryside Alliance has such a firm grip on the party. I applaud Labour for the Hunting Act but do feel they could have done so much more to enforce it. The list of issues you’ve mentioned are all important but I feel they would be lost on the public forever if hashed out during an election campaign.

    We are running an ‘all party’ campaign to uphold the hunting act, and have had to fight daily in the press with commentators who quote various Labour politicians as saying that the act was all about class warfare. These statements have done so much damage to how people view the hunting act and have all but handed the Tories a truly pathetic excuse for repeal.

    By all means fight for animal rights but don’t wait for elections to talk about it and please stop making it a class issue.

  • Nice to see someone speaking up for animals. Mark’s balanced article also raises the important issue of climate change and provides a simple way for everyone to easily get involved. Hopefully those in power will take note. I for one will definately vote Labour if they take up even half of these ideas.

  • Just hang on a minute Fred, you are obviously forgetting what’s top of the tory party agenda – I suppose repealing the Hunting Act is a priority is it, not for the people, certainly not for the animals, just for a big chunk of the tory party!

  • Sorry Jane but, ill thought out and impractical legislation deserves to be repealed by any party as for being top of the agenda, I doubt it..

  • Hmm… actually, Fred, I think it pretty much is. David Cameron has made it very clear that if he gets the premiership, he will offer a free vote in government for a repeal of the ban on fox hunting. This after the hugely influential Countryside Alliance’s survey, which found that, of the 120 Conservative candidates in marginal seats, only one was against the repeal, and this opposition would only result in abstention. If you think the Tories haven’t got animals high on their agenda, you’re wrong.

  • I agree that fighting the possible repeal of the Hunting Act should not be made a class issue but fought on the sickening cruelty and moral issue that it is. I also get extremely fed up with people who have the ‘far more important things to do’ mentality when it comes to animal reform. If all people had shared that view through the ages then the RSPCA and other animal welfare groups would not exist. If we all thought like you and waited until there were no other economic or social problems before we started trying to do something about the plight of animals today then we would wait until hell freezes over.

  • Just shows how much notice I take of what the Tories have to say then, Charlie.

    Animal cruelty reform, by it’s very nature, is on going, that’s what the RSPCA are for. It will all come naturally.
    You don’t need politicians involved, it’s only vote catching propaganda.
    I’ll stick to my view Linda, there are far more important things for our politicians to get on with.

  • I know a little of how pheasants and partridges are usually raised and to call it ‘factory farming’ is typically disingenuous. From a philosophical point of view which is better, for 45m birds to be given life (albeit with a risk of getting shot), or for them to never live at all, or for them to be raised free range and almost 100 per cent of them killed ‘humanely’ for the table? Interesting debate even before you factor in the number of jobs shooting creates and how much tax gets paid to the government by the businesses involved, all of which would be lost if shooting reared birds was banned/made impossible.
    How do the 143 MPs who signed the seal products import ban motion now feel about the news that whole innuit communities have been driven to the breadline and may have to leave their ancestral homes because their livelihoods have gone to the wall as a result of the EU’s ban on such products? Will they be getting a lovely warm glow inside?
    And if you start talking about ‘controlling’ shooting you’ll inevitably scare all the UK’s 4m anglers, the vast majority of whom are probably Labour voters. Labour’s shooting and angling spokesperson Martin Salter MP has long recognised the risks involved there.
    I wouldn’t mind if the above piece made Labour sound concerned about the animals themselves, but such poorly thought out opinion simply suggests the party is really interested in securing some votes in what is certain to be a desperately fought General Election!
    As for the hunting ban, is anyone really stupid enough to think that it saved the lives of more foxes or saved more of them from suffering? The ban simply saw increased numbers of foxes shot, poisoned or snared. How would you rather die, ripped to bits in seconds or to die in absolute agony over hours?
    These are the problems we face when emotionally manipulated public opinion forces policy makers into legislating on issues they have little or no practical experience of!!!!

  • I am not a “Toff!” I live in the centre of a big city but enjoy the countryside and understand some people may have difficulty understanding that all those who have dogs and follow hounds are not “Toffs” as you put it. Please, please rest assured that the majority of hunting people are not “blood thirsty hooligans who take delight in seeing animals being ripped apart” as I have seen it put. Most are calm quiet law abiding dog lovers who appreciate the good work that is done in the name of conservation by dog and hound use. If you REALLY care about cruelty to animals and want to see how carefully dogs are used then come out any Satuday with any pack of hounds and you will find out how sympathetic we really are to the cause. By the way lots of us vote Labour!

  • Is this the only Unique Selling Point Labour can think of to differentiate themselves in the up-coming election?

    I think voters will be far more worried about the recession and our ex prime minster being a war criminal thatn animal whelfare.

    Interesing that this person completely misses the big picture about animal whelfare and the environment. People should eat meat – but not lots of cheap meat – which casues de-forestation of the rainforest, and ensures there is a market for intensively reared chickens.

    And this article is REALLY let down by the totally unnecessary use of the words ‘landed’ and toffs. How dare you assume to know who the hunting community is comprised of! If all you can do is use sterotypes – you don’t deserve to put yourself across as a serious organisation.

  • I’m vegan, so I don’t need to state which side of the case I’d be re hunting, etc. But I’m disturbed that the testing of destructive power of bombs appears to be be being carried out using live pigs previously operated to ensure certain damage patterns and that this is not mentioned in the policies above. These practices are questioned even in the US as to their usefulness, never mind the eternal ethical problem inherent in all animal testing – it may be useful, or expedient (for one group, i.e., humans) but can it ever be said to be ethically correct? The three R’s commission takes this view – or its existence makes no sense at all. Can we see a comment on warfare testing, too?

  • The ONLY party wth real policies for protecting animals is the Green Party. I well remember the pre-election brochure “New Labour, New Life for Animals” and I’m afraid I’ve replaced the word Life with Lies. The only bits that have been carried out are: a) the fur ban – not too difficult when we consider the few fur farms that existed and their tiny contribution to the economy; b) the hunting act – but so full of holes and get out clauses that hunts are flouting it all over the country; c) the testing of cosmetics on animals – promise kept.
    But I remember there was a promise to ban live exports by “strictly enforcing the regulations” – yet we saw regulations being bent and twisted to allow the exports (which aren’t happening now but no thanks to Labour).
    Worst of all, animal experiments have risen considerably over the last few years; Labour has helped to prop up Huntingdon Life Science despite it being exposed 6 times for a range of breaches of regulations and animal cruelty; and the amount of money put into researching alternatives is paltry compared to that used for animal experiments.
    And as Mark rightly points out – where is the support for cutting down on meat consumption?
    And they failed to enforce a ban on wild animals in circuses – now how easy would that have been? Yet we still see the misery of these beast trucked around the country for a short performance and then back in the wagon.
    You’ve had years Labour to really do something for the animals but as far as I’m concerned it was mostly spin. Sorry!

  • This is a great article, and clearly very thought-provoking – just look at all the comments you’ve attracted Mark! Personally, I feel this is a very succinct and well-balanced argument. I particularly like your advocation of Paul McCartney’s ‘Meat Free Day’ initiative. What a brilliant and easy way to help animals and fight the green fight against Climate Change. I don’t agree with the comments stating that Labour has not done much for animals. The three examples of what they HAVE done listed in Sue’s comment show just how much has been achieved. This is particularly significant because, let’s face it, had the other main part been in power, i.e. the Conservatives, none of these victories for the pro-animal welfare movement would have been reached. The progress made by Labour (and animal welfare organisations, not JUST the RSPCA, but IFAW, WSPA, Respect for Animals, the National Animal Welfare Trust, Humane Society International, and many more). Alright, maybe Labour could have done more for the protection of animals, but as has been pointed out, animals are never at the absolute top of a party’s political agenda, even if they do range high. If Labour continues to act for animals as they have, and follow the instruction of Mark Glover re the animal cause, then I will definitely be voting for them in the coming election!

  • I’m one of the 14%. And I agree with Mark that it is as pertinent to judge political parties on their animal welfare policies as it is on other policies. I’m disappointed too that new legislation hasn’t been followed up by appropriately resourced enforcement. And even animal welfare legislation that has been around for some time has been rendered impotent by poor enforcement. For example, reptile dealers up and down the country continue to illegally trading at pet fairs with impunity because local councils claim they lack the resources to bring prosecutions under the Pet Animals Act 1951. This is a growing problem and has serious consequences for species conservation and human health. Many of those who will not vote Conservative on animal welfare grounds need to be convinced that Labour has the commitment to see through genuine improvements in the way our society treats animals. If Labour intends to build on its achievements for animals then let’s hear about it!

  • Much as I respect Sue Baumgardt I think a reality check is needed. The Green party can say an awful lot becuase it will never be in power. Let’s not forget too that in recent times it has put forward as a candidate Tracey Worcester, the arch pro hunter who lives on the Beaufort hunt estate and has had big cash donations from right wingers who are now big donors to the Tory party. If people vote Green they will simply help usher in a Tory government that is in deep with the hunting fraternity. I understand people are dissapointed in some things but politics is not a pot noodle fix and progress comes through hard slog and being practical and level headed. The Greens will be a huge ally to the Tory party if they take votes from animal welfare campaigners.

    You do not make progress for animals by running away to the woods or shouting from the barricades, you stay at the table and influence the agenda.
    If Sue is encouraging people to vote Green then the Countryside Alliance will be very happy.

  • Oh dear, where to start? Should we first consider the complete lack of ethical foundation beneath your argument, or perhaps the twisted nature of your determination to pursue class war through social stereotyping? Or what about the fact that the hunting ban was so poorly drafted that it has been entirely impotent in it’s objectives? The problem, as ever, is your staggering lack of perspective. Those who you like to brand ‘toffs’ have long been an economically inert force in British society. You pursue them because you hate what they represent, not because they constitute any sort of threat to social mobility. The greatest threat to social mobility is a Labour government bent on destroying the symbols of the past rather than addressing the challenges of the future.

  • I am to a great extent impressed with the article I have just read. I wish the writer of can continue to provide so much useful information and unforgettable experience to readers. There is not much to say except the following universal truth: Just because you know the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, it doesn’t mean that it all suddenly makes sense. I will be back.

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