Opinion - Caged Animals

I take a keen interest in animal welfare, and I hope to be able to attend the debate on Monday 9th September.

I understand your concerns on this matter. I am proud that the UK has some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. There is comprehensive legislation to uphold these standards, as well as guidance on how best to protect the welfare of specific animals living on farms, such as hens, pigs and cattle. The Government has already banned cages or close confinement systems where there is clear scientific evidence that they are detrimental to animal health and welfare.

The new statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Laying Hens and Pullets came into force in August 2018. The Code provides improved and up-to-date guidance on welfare legislation and reflects the latest scientific and veterinary advice. I am also aware that all major supermarkets have said they will stop selling eggs from hens kept in enriched cages by 2025.

On pig welfare, the aim is to get to a point where traditional farrowing crates are obsolete and where any new system protects the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets. As I understand it, important steps have been made on the use of free farrowing systems, but more advances are needed before compulsory replacement of farrowing crates can be recommended.

The Government is committed in making the UK a world leader in protection of animals as we leave the EU. Legislation has now been introduced to Parliament which will increase maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months' to five years' imprisonment and statutory welfare codes are being updated. These codes strengthen guidance on how to meet the needs of livestock animals and enhance their welfare.

Regarding the welfare of farm animals in Scotland, the future of Scottish agriculture was debated recently within the Scottish Parliament where my MSP colleagues made the point that leaving the Common Agriculture Policy gives Scotland the prospect of implementing a future support system which can be used to improve support for animal welfare. I agree that while efficient food production must be at the forefront of any new agricultural policy in Scotland, it should also be built upon strong environmental and animal welfare standards.

Unfortunately, it appears Scotland is falling behind when it comes to the protection of animals. With among the lowest animal cruelty sentences in Europe, there is very little deterrent. I believe Scotland must at least match the five-year maximum term being legislated for in England. After my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament warned they would use the opposition majority to change legislation, the Scottish Government announced a consultation on animal welfare, which has now closed and the results will be published shortly.

My MSP colleagues have worked tirelessly to promote animal welfare issues such as: the better protection for police dogs and other service animals, known as Finn's Law; the improvement of pet shops licencing; and the compulsory use of CCTV in abattoirs. I am pleased that the Scottish Government has now agreed to implement these proposals, which I truly hope will be delivered.