How will animals fare under the new Coalition Government?

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So, British politics is moving into relatively uncharted territory following the election of a hung Parliament and subsequent formation of a coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Labour Party has failed to hold on to power and lost almost a hundred MPs, mainly to the Conservatives. We use the Programme for Government agreed by the coalition as a starting point for assessing the prospects for animal protection, focussing here on hunting and animal experiments.

Hunting
A key concern has to be the danger of a repeal of the hunt ban. The Conservatives had indicated their desire to legalise hunting and pledged to allow Parliament a free vote on hunting if they won the election. However, their failure to secure an overall majority means that it is far from certain that pro-hunt MPs outnumber anti-hunt members. Furthermore, the need to form a coalition with the generally anti-hunt Lib Dems appears to have watered down the Conservatives’ intention to allow Parliament a free vote.

The Programme states: ‘We will bring forward a motion on a free vote enabling the House of Commons to express its view on the repeal of the Hunting Act’ (page 18). Many commentators* think this means that there will have to be an initial vote in Parliament to approve the tabling of a subsequent motion to repeal the hunt ban. This complicates and lengthens the process compared to the Conservatives’ pre-election position.

In any case, the prospects for the hunt ban remain unclear, so compassionate citizens need to be vigilant and intensify the pressure on MPs and all the parties.

Animal Experiments
The Programme states: ‘We will end the testing of household products on animals and work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research.’

In the most recent annual statistics, animal testing of household products accounted for just 132 experiments, or less than 0.000004% of the total of 3,656,080. This type of experiment seems to be naturally dying out in the UK, so this is an easy step for the Government to take. However, every animal saved from the nightmare of poisoning tests is a victory for animals and their advocates. Nevertheless, the public need to be aware that most household products on sale in the UK are made by multinationals who still use animals in crude toxicity tests for such goods.** Progress to a ban on testing the ingredients on animals is vital, as is a prohibition on the sale of animal-tested household goods.

It’s the second clause – to ‘work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research’ – which is potentially highly significant, and is similar to point 4 of our election questionnaire for candidates. The number of animal experiments in the UK has been rising steadily over the last decade, after a policy-u-turn by the Labour Government surrendered all real responsibility for animal experiments to the animal research industry itself. Essentially, the fox was left in charge of the chicken coup.

The phrase ‘work to’ dilutes the promise, but it could potentially herald a fundamental change in Government approach from a passive ‘demand-led’ attitude (i.e. animals are left to the mercy of those who demand to experiment on them) to a more pro-active policy where the Government ensures that animal protection and public opinion are given serious consideration for the first time. In the past decade, the Government has ignored calls from expert advisors to develop and implement targetted reductions in animal testing. The new Coalition Government is giving us a tantalising glimpse of a new approach informed by ethics and science rather than dictated by the power and prejudice of the animal testing establishment.

Future steps
PAD is in discussions with animal protection organisations and senior animal advocates to save the hunt ban and persuade the Coalition Goverrnment to fulfil its promise to tackle animal experiments. In the coming weeks we will be updating this website to enable you to speak up for animals in this crucial period.

We’ll also be looking at the pre-election pledges made by the new MPs so, with your vital help, we can work with compassionate Parliamentarians to advance animal protection in this intriguing political era.

Notes

* See articles at: http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2010/05/19/121323/Fox-hunting-repeal-under-threat-after-coalition-talks.htm; http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7131334.ece; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/7738471/MPs-to-get-vote-on-lifting-Labour-ban-on-foxhunting.html

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