Who’s Looking Out For Animals In This Election?

* Guest blog post from Politics student James Craske *

Animal Rights. Where do the parties stand?

Human concern for animal welfare stretches back a long way. Despite the regular news of animal abuse, we have come a long way from the prevailing attitude of the Ancient Greeks that animals do not possess reason, to the recent court ruling that temporarily granted chimpanzees legal rights to personhood. Throughout the 20th century, activists have made gains in ensuring that animal health and welfare now finds itself a place in all the major political parties’ manifestos.

But what pledges have they made this coming 2015 general election?

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Labour Party

The last Labour government oversaw the first Hunting Act in 2004, which outlawed the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, and introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the first review of pet laws for 94 years. Speaking in February, Ed Miliband stated that:

‘Labour values tell us that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way’.

In continuing the work set about by the previous Labour government, the party has pledged to end the badger cull, defend the 2004 Hunting Act and ban wild animals from being exploited in circuses.

Conservative Party

David Cameron has said a Conservative government would remain committed to offering a free vote to MP’s to repeal the Hunting Act introduced by Labour in 2004 if they are given another term in government. However, a group of Conservative back-benchers are intending to resist this repeal; the Conservatives Against Fox Hunting have worked stoically since 2011 to make sure that the Hunting Act and other reforms have not been overturned. Moreover, they have doggedly criticised the government’s continuing badger cull.

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have made a number of pre-manifesto claims to ‘ensure farming support is concentrated on sustainable food productions’. Their commitments extend to improving farm animal welfare and to reducing the use of animals in scientific research by funding research into viable alternatives. Importantly, they differ from the current Environment Secretary Liz Truss, in saying they would only support extending the current cull on badgers if they have shown to be effective, humane and safe.

Green Party

The Greens have made bold and consistent moves to put animal welfare at the top of their agenda. They go further than any other party in outlining a larger vision for society by stating the need to

‘foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat,’

and thus halting the destruction of the estimated 30,000 species we are currently losing each year. The Green Party have made commitments to end factory farming, including a ban on battery hens for eggs, preventing animals from being used for medical experiments, and ending the controversial badger cull. A fuller picture of the Green’s Commitments to animal protection can be found in their 2014 Animal Protection Manifesto. 

UKIP

UKIP have said they would scrap Green targets made by both the UK and the EU. On domestic issues, the party recently stated that they would be the first party to call for a complete ban on halal meat. The party maintains that this pledge is not being intended to stir up racial division, but rather to act on the conviction that the ethical treatment of animals comes before religious practice. However, UKIP’s animal welfare policy seems to be inconsistent and contains a number of contradictions, including the promise to re-instate fox-hunting. Furthermore, within Europe UKIP has voted against a crack-down on the illegal ivory trade, and, as the New Statesman recently reported, UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has claimed that dumb seal cubs deserved to be killed.

10 Years After The Hunting Ban And We’re Still Debating It

Amongst the varied issues to be raised at the upcoming general election will be animal welfare; in particular, the 10-year old ban on hunting with dogs and the present day badger cull.

The Hunting Act was brought in by the last Labour government to protect foxes from the barbaric tradition that sees them chased for miles by a pack of dogs, until they are viciously ripped apart by the hounds. These days the methods employed by landowners to deter foxes from their fields are much more tame, though the activist group The Hunt Saboteurs would argue that many illegal fox hunts still take place.

In 2015, the British public are to ponder this Act once again, as the Tories threaten to offer a free vote to reform or entirely remove the Hunting Act, whilst Labour promise to retain it. Labour also promises broader attention to animal welfare, in their opposition to the failed Badger Cull, which has seen the inhumane slaughter of badgers supposedly infected with TB.

Labour have pledged to:

  • review the rules on breeding and selling dogs and cats
  • ban wild animals in circuses
  • end the badger cull, which has been taking place in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset for the last two years in an effort to stop the spread of bovine TB
  • defend the Hunting Act
  • reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates
  • lead the fight against global animal cruelty

Animal welfare is often a neglected issue in British politics, despite strong feeling from the public. The Green Party are clearly the most committed to exploring and resolving these issues, as they aim to:

To eliminate the wholesale exploitation of other species, foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat.

A free vote could be disastrous for foxes, as many MPs seek an opportunity to return to traditional hunting methods which some believe to be more effective. However, nearly 11 years ago we decided to no longer be a nation defined by blood sports, and it’s hard to see why we would go back on that now.