1. Animal welfare

1.1 Kept animals

On 25 May 2023, Mark Spencer, the minister for food, farming and fisheries at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), announced the government would not progress the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. He said “scope-creep” of the wide-ranging bill was behind the decision.[1] The bill had been introduced in the 2021–22 session before being carried over to the 2022–23 session. As introduced it would have fulfilled commitments made in the ‘Conservative Party manifesto 2019’ and the government’s 2021 ‘Action plan for animal welfare’.

Mark Spencer said that in its current form the bill risked being “extended far beyond the original commitments in the manifesto and the action plan”. He explained that the government would instead take forward some of the measures individually as single-issue bills during the remainder of the current parliament. The measures to be taken forward were:

  • banning live exports for fattening and slaughter
  • banning imports of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated dogs to tackle puppy smuggling
  • banning the keeping of primates as pets (after a consultation, this is intended to be done through secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act 2006)[2]
  • creating a new offence of pet abduction
  • introducing measures to tackle livestock worrying

A number of animal welfare organisations raised concerns about the bill not continuing.[3] The RSPCA, for example, said:

We are frustrated and disappointed that, despite overwhelming public support, the UK government has delayed and delayed and has now broken up the bill, leading to yet more uncertainty and lost time. […] We want to see urgent legislative progress on everything that was in the bill.[4]

On 21 June 2023, an opposition day debate was held in the House of Commons on a motion tabled by Labour for all remaining Commons stages of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to take place on 12 July 2023. Jim McMahon, then Labour’s shadow environment secretary, moved the motion. He said that the motion was tabled because “Britain is a nation of animal lovers who rightly demand world-leading standards and protections”. He said that members from across the House supported the bill, and that manifesto commitments should be kept. The motion did not pass.[5]

In a House of Lords oral question on the welfare of domestic animals asked on 13 July 2023, Minister of State at Defra Lord Benyon confirmed the government’s intention to legislate on pet theft in this parliament.[6] He said that the government’s “new approach” in individually legislating on measures that were previously in the bill could allow it to “go further”; for example, potentially including cats as well as dogs in the offence of pet abduction.

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill had included measures that would have amended the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, particularly ensuring that “zoos are doing more to contribute to conservation”.[7] The government has committed to publishing updated zoo standards by the end of this year.[8]

Defra also held a consultation on the government’s proposed implementation of penalty notices for animal health and welfare offences. The Animals (Penalty Notices) Act 2022 passed in April 2022, giving the secretary of state powers, through making regulations, to ‘switch on’ penalty notices for particular offences. The consultation asked which range of offences should be under the scope of the penalty notices regime, and collected views on how penalty notices would work in practice. The consultation ran from 25 May 2023 to 20 July 2023. The government has said that it expects to publish a summary of responses before the end of 2023.[9]

1.2 Private members’ bills and trophy hunting

The government has supported private members’ bills which relate to animal welfare. The Shark Fins Act 2023 and the Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act 2023 have passed. The government also supported the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill.

The bill passed all stages in the House of Commons. However, over 60 amendments were tabled ahead of the bill’s first day in committee stage in the House of Lords. These were then listed to be debated individually, meaning debate exceeded the parliamentary time scheduled and the bill did not progress further.[10] Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at Defra Trudy Harrison said:

I am disappointed that despite the overwhelming support from MPs and the public, the Hunting Trophies Bill failed to progress in the House of Lords. We will continue working to deliver this important manifesto commitment.[11]

There have been calls from the bill’s Commons sponsor, Henry Smith (Conservative MP for Crawley), the Labour Party and animal welfare groups for the government to bring back the legislation as a government bill.[12]

1.3 Dangerous dogs

The government has announced plans to bring forward a ban on American XL bully dogs following reports of increasing numbers of attacks and fatalities.[13] Ensuring that dangerous dogs legislation “continues to provide effective public safety controls” was listed as a goal in Defra’s 2021 ‘Action plan for animal welfare’.

The ban can be implemented using secondary legislation to add the breed to the list of dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, once a definition of the breed has been established. In a House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee evidence session, witnesses said that correctly identifying XL bully dogs was challenging. The RSPCA raised concerns that there is potential that a large number of dogs whose behaviour does not pose a risk to public safety could be captured within the standard.[14]

On 18 September 2023, Thérèse Coffey, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said the government intended to deliver the ban by the end of 2023. Labour leader Keir Starmer has said that “there has been a clear case for banning them for a long time” and urged the government to expedite plans.[15]

The Dog Control Coalition, whose members include the British Veterinary Association, the Kennel Club and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, opposes the plans. The coalition is critical of breed-specific bans and urges the government to instead focus on “unscrupulous breeders” and “irresponsible owners whose dogs are dangerously out of control”. A statement from the coalition goes on to say that the decision lacks data.[16]

In response to a written question on whether steps were being taken to prevent American XL bully dogs from killing sheep, Trudy Harrison restated the government’s commitment to “modernise current livestock worrying legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows”.[17]

2. Agriculture and natural environment

2.1 Agricultural funding

Agricultural payments are in transition. Since the Agriculture Act 2020, basic agricultural payments (usually linked to size of land farmed) are being replaced by funding related to ‘public goods’ provided by farmers, for example environmental and welfare measures. This is part of the government’s environmental land management approach, with 2024 marking the end of cross-compliance with the EU. Defra’s report ‘The path to sustainable farming: An agricultural transition plan 2021 to 2024’ states that “from 2024, we will introduce in full new schemes to reward farmers for producing public goods”, with direct payment schemes completely phased out in 2027.[18]

2.2 Hedgerows

A Defra consultation on protecting hedgerows closed on 20 September 2023.[19] The proposed measures aim to “support farmers to maintain standards as we move away from cross-compliance with the EU”. The government has said that secondary legislation under section 97 of the Environment Act 1995 could be used to replicate existing cross-compliance requirements. Measures include prohibiting the use of pesticides and fertilisers within two metres of the base of the hedgerow and not cutting hedgerows between 1 March and 31 August each year to protect nesting birds and their food sources.

The consultation suggests an alternative approach would be to develop new legal protections for hedgerows:

This could give us more flexibility to shape hedgerows policy to help achieve environmental and net zero outcomes and allow us to consider protecting a broader range of hedgerows, beyond just those on agricultural land.

The consultation states that if primary legislation is required, this could begin “no sooner than autumn 2024”, with measures coming into force in late 2025 at the earliest. The government is currently analysing feedback received and has not yet indicated when it may respond.[20]

2.3 Water quality and waste

On 4 April 2023, the government published a ‘Plan for water’ as part of plans to deliver a “clean and plentiful” supply and healthy water environment. The plan included a roadmap to water efficiency, to be delivered over the next decade. One of the actions is to review the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999, the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016 and any other relevant legislation to address wasteful product issues with toilets and enable new water-efficient technologies.

Following reports of high levels of sewage discharge into the sea and inland waterways, the government has said it recognises the need for a “significant step change on action to protect public health and the environment” from storm overflow discharges.[21]

On 25 April 2023, Thérèse Coffey confirmed that the government would introduce secondary legislation under the Environment Act 2021 for a “clear target on storm overflow reduction”.[22] The government consulted on a ‘Storm overflows discharge reduction plan’ from 12 June to 24 July 2023 and published its response in September 2023, which included intentions to:

  • revise the storm overflow discharge reduction plan to extend the protections to all storm overflows, including coastal and estuarine waters
  • add marine protected areas and shellfish water protected areas to the ‘high priority sites’ list, to be prioritised for early action
  • explore the development of an ecological standard for estuarine waters
  • consider the application of the rainfall target and its effectiveness for preventing ecological harm at coastal sites[23]

The UK government, Welsh government, Scottish government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs for Northern Ireland are running a joint consultation on the proposed ban of the manufacture, supply and sale of wet wipes which contain plastic. The consultation opened on 14 October 2023 and closes on 25 November 2023. The proposed ban would be implemented by each UK nation’s own legislative mechanisms. In England, subject to consultation, the proposed ban will likely be enforced principally through civil sanctions set out in regulations, using powers in part 3 of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008.[24]

3. Read more

Cover image by George Hiles on Unsplash.


  1. HC Hansard, 25 May 2023, cols 494–6. Return to text
  2. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Government sets out plans to ban the keeping of primates as pets’, 20 June 2023. Return to text
  3. BBC News, ‘MPs reject attempt to revive animal welfare bill’, 21 June 2023. Return to text
  4. RSPCA, ‘The Kept Animals Bill has been dropped’, 25 May 2023. Return to text
  5. HC Hansard, 21 June 2023, cols 849–906. Return to text
  6. HL Hansard, 13 July 2023, cols 1884–5. Return to text
  7. House of Commons Library, ‘Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill’, 21 June 2023, p 6. Return to text
  8. HC Hansard, 25 May 2023, col 498. Return to text
  9. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Introducing penalty notices for animal health and welfare offences in England’, 25 May 2023. Return to text
  10. HL Hansard, 12 September 2023, cols 920–66. Return to text
  11. BBC News, ‘Call for ministers to make sure hunting trophy ban goes ahead’, 22 September 2023. Return to text
  12. As above. Return to text
  13. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Dangerous dogs (HCWS1040)’, 18 September 2023. Return to text
  14. Guardian, ‘Britons have started handing in XL bullies to be put down, MPs told’, 18 October 2023. Return to text
  15. Independent, ‘‘Get on with it’: Starmer backs calls for ban on American XL bully dogs’, 16 September 2023. Return to text
  16. British Veterinary Association, ‘Coalition responds to PM’s announcement on a ban on XL bullies’, 15 September 2023. Return to text
  17. House of Commons, ‘Written question: Dangerous dogs: Livestock worrying (198983)’, 18 September 2023. Return to text
  18. House of Commons Library, ‘Farm funding: Implementing new approaches’, 15 March 2023. Return to text
  19. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Consultation on protecting hedgerows’, accessed 5 October 2023. Return to text
  20. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Protecting hedgerows in England’, 28 June 2023. Return to text
  21. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Storm overflows discharge reduction plan’, 25 September 2023. Return to text
  22. House of Commons, ‘Written statement: Environment update (HCWS735)’, 25 April 2023. Return to text
  23. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Storm overflows discharge reduction plan consultation: Summary of responses and government response’, 25 September 2023. Return to text
  24. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Wet wipes containing plastic: Proposed ban on the manufacture, supply and sale’, 14 October 2023. Return to text