1. Animals Abroad Bill

The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto included a commitment to introduce a ban on imports of hunting trophies. This was included in both the October 2019 and the December 2019 Queen’s speech. The Cabinet Office’s briefing for the 2021 Queen’s speech said the Government intended to introduce an Animals Abroad Bill. It said this bill would include a ban on the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals abroad. A bill banning imports of hunting trophies has yet to be introduced.

In November 2019, the Government launched a consultation on proposals to introduce a ban on both importing and exporting hunting trophies. The proposed ban would apply to species of global conservation concern. This consultation ran until February 2020. In its response to the consultation, the Government confirmed it intended to introduce legislation to enact this ban. This commitment was repeated in the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, published in May 2021.

In March 2022, the Guardian reported the Government intended not to introduce the ban, saying the bill faced opposition from within the Conservative Party. However, in the same month, the Leader of the House of Commons, Mark Spencer, said the Government would bring forward the legislation as soon as parliamentary time allowed.

The Government has said it is considering other animal protection measures in this bill. The Government said it was considering:

  • Introducing a ban on the import and export of detached fins.
  • Taking action against low welfare animal attractions, activities or experiences.

The BBC has reported the Government has not decided to proceed with proposals to include a ban on foie gras and fur imports in the bill. However, in February 2022, during an oral question on trophy hunting, Lord Benyon, a Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told the House of Lords that he was aware of speculation in the press. However, he said this was not something that had been discussed with him in his department.

2. Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 8 June 2021. The bill is intended to protect the welfare of certain kept animals including pets, farmed animals and kept wild animals. The bill includes a ban on the keeping of primates as pets. The Government has also said measures in the bill would help tackle puppy smuggling and live-stock worrying.

During the 2021–22 session, the bill received second reading and was considered at committee stage in the House of Commons. However, it did not proceed to report stage before the end of the session. In April 2022, the House of Commons passed a motion tabled by the Government to carry this bill over into the next session. In March 2022, Victoria Prentis, Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Government remained committed to the bill. She said the Government would ensure the bill progressed as soon as parliamentary time allowed.

The Opposition has stated its support for the bill. However, during second reading of the bill in October 2021, Luke Pollard, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said Labour would seek to amend the bill to include new provisions concerning fox hunting. During committee stage in the House of Commons, Labour MPs tabled several amendments concerning kept hunting dogs. This included a new clause introducing new licensing requirements for owners of dogs used for hunting (new clause 10). This clause was defeated in a division and the remaining amendments were not moved.

3. Gene editing

Gene editing is the process by which parts of an organism’s genome are precisely replaced or removed from DNA. In July 2018, the European Court of Justice issued a ruling that organisms produced through gene editing should be regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Government has said gene editing should be allowed in certain circumstances. The Government has argued it had the potential to improve the productivity and sustainability of farming. In 2021, the Government said it intended to introduce primary legislation to amend the definition of a GMO to exclude organisms where the genetic changes could have been achieved through traditional breeding or which could occur naturally.

In April 2022, the Sunday Times reported the 2022 Queen’s Speech would include a bill to liberalise the rules concerning the use of genetically edited plants in agriculture. A similar story had been published in the previous year by the Financial Times. However, this bill was not included in the 2021 Queen’s Speech.

Although the Government did not introduce primary legislation during the 2021­–22 session, it did introduce the Draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2022. The regulations proposed easing some of the prohibitions on the use of gene-edited plants in England. The Government said this would only apply to genetically modified organisms which could have been produced by traditional breeding methods. The Government said the purpose of these regulations was to enable field tests of some gene-edited organisms. It said the change would not apply to plants produced for consumer sale or food.

The regulations were debated in the House of Lords on 14 March 2022. Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Green) tabled a motion for the House to decline approval of the regulations. During the debate, Baroness Bennett argued the Government had not provided a clear enough definition of what kinds of genetically modified plants might be permissible under the regulations. At the end of the debate, Baroness Bennett’s motion was disagreed to. The regulations were passed by both Houses and are now in force.

In March 2022, Jo Churchill, a Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the Government was taking “a cautious and proportionate stepwise approach, based on science” to relaxing the regulation of gene editing in plant breeding. She said the Government was considering the next steps in enabling gene-edited plants and plant products to be brought to market.

4. Landscapes review

In 2018, the then government commissioned the journalist Julian Glover to conduct a review into national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) in England. The Government published the final report of the independent landscapes review in September 2019. The review considered whether the protections provided to designated national parks and AONBs were sufficient. It also considered the case for extending or creating new national parks and AONBs and how these designated areas were financed. The review made several recommendations, including establishing management plans for those in charge of national parks and AONBs which set priorities for improving the natural environment. It also recommended the creation of a national landscapes service. This new body would coordinate actions across different national parks and AONBs.

The Government published its response to the landscapes review in January 2022. The Government accepted most of the review’s recommendations but did not agree with the creation of a national landscapes service. It argued creating a new body risked adding a layer of complexity to an already complex system. Instead, the Government proposed the creation of a national landscapes partnership. It said this new partnership would build on existing partnerships between national parks, AONBs and other existing organisations. The goals of this partnership would include running national campaigns, including campaigns to promote tourism. It would also seek to generate additional private income for national parks and AONBs through green finance initiatives and joint funding bids. The Government also proposed changing the name of AONBs to national landscapes.

The Government’s response included the following proposals that it said would require changes to primary legislation. The Government said it would amend the rules for how the various governance boards for national parks and AONBs operate. It said these changes would include measures setting new performance standards for board members. The Government also said it was considering removing the restrictions requiring certain ratios of national, parish, and local authority members on boards. It said it would also consider on a case-by-case basis whether to reduce the number of members on certain boards.

The Government also said it was considering options for protecting country public rights of way and unsealed unclassified roads, known as ‘green lanes’. It said one option it might consider could be introducing restrictions on the use of certain motor vehicles on unsealed roads. If introduced, the government said this would also require changes to primary legislation.

In January 2022, the Government launched a consultation on its proposals for implementing the review’s recommendations. This ran until April 2022. The Government has not yet published its response to this consultation.

5. Read more

Cover image by Gozha Net from Unsplash.