One of the recurring themes in my mailbag in the nine years I’ve been an MP is animal rights. From badger culling, to protecting bees, to battery eggs, regardless of whether you are leave or remain, younger or older, City or United, this constituency cares a great deal about the rights of our furry and feathered friends who cannot fight for their own.
We are an animal loving nation. For many of us, coming across a story or lived example of animal cruelty or neglect in our childhood or adolescence serves as one of our earliest experiences of injustice. There is little as unfair as abuse of the defenceless.
Like so many of us, I love animals. My labradoodles Clinton and Kennedy are much loved members of the family. I’ve just about stopped chortling about the week we entered them into Westminster Dog of the Year for a laugh, only to find their images broadcast everywhere from Moscow to Washington. They were indifferent to their 15 minutes of fame – perhaps not natural politicians despite their names!
But as a pet owner myself I’ve tried to raise relevant issues in Parliament, from speaking out against electric chock collars, to supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind in their campaign against the scourge of pavement parking which proves a nightmare for residents with visual impairments and their canine partners. Most recently I met with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance to lend my support for their campaign for stronger laws to prevent pet theft. Around sixty dogs a week are snatched from their homes in England and Wales, so we need to act.
I also recently had the pleasure of meeting Bill Oddie about banning trophy hunting. The disgusting pastime of killing wild game like lions, elephants, giraffes, leopards and rhinos as part of a grotesque ego trip, and selling their body parts as trophies, reduces endangered populations and is downright cruel. I was proud to sign a letter calling on the Government to ban trophy hunting imports to the UK. If there’s no market for the produce, there’s no glory.
Occasionally these issues become a disruptive issue in headline politics. In the last General Election, Theresa May faced an unprecedented backlash after declaring her personal support for fox hunting, and pledging a vote on the return of the blood sport in the Conservative manifesto. She has since u-turned on this, recognising perhaps the unbelieve strength of feeling against her backward move.
Now, there are two pieces of current legislation which may give some encouragement on animal rights. Firstly, the Agriculture Bill, which has been welcomed by the RSPCA because it defines animal welfare as a public good, promotes higher welfare standards, and reviews farming regulations. However, concerns have been raised about whether enough cash will be committed to turn these goals into a reality.
Secondly, the Environment Bill, which presents the chance to put environmental accountability at the heart of government, and force them to make good their commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. This new green governance could cover air quality, water use, landscapes, wildlife and habitats. I will be looking at it closely, including in relation to the impact of our horrific moor fires on local wildlife and habitats.
Please do keep writing to me about all creatures, great and small. Parliament has a key roll to play in ensuring we don’t turn the clock back on animal rights, and I for one will keep championing them.