I have received many emails enquiring about my position on a number of issues relating to animals. I can assure you of the Government’s commitment to continue to improve animal welfare through the implementation of proposed reforms on pet sales and licensing, along with making CCTV recording in slaughterhouses mandatory.

As we leave the EU, we will set up new frameworks for supporting food production and will work with farmers and food experts across the country to devise a new agri-environment system in the next parliament. The Great Repeal Bill will convert all EU law into UK law, maintaining the protections on animal welfare, farming and environmental standards. Parliament will then be free to keep, amend or repeal any law as it sees fit.

As part of the process of leaving the EU, we will also be able to take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.

Animal Experiments

The carefully regulated use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving the understanding of how biological systems work and in the development of safe new medicines, treatments and technologies. As a result of findings from animal studies, a large number of potential new drugs never get as far as being tested in humans. Some aspects of the assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will therefore be the only kind available.

In addition, without animal testing it is considered highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. However, animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives so, by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science, we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.

I agree that animals should only be used when there is no practicable alternative and I welcome the support and funding for the development and dissemination of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research (the 3Rs). The UK's National Centre for the 3Rs leads the way in this area, and has already invested over £35 million to support this work. As a result, trials into cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, as well as toxicity testing, have all seen reductions in animal use.

Advances in biomedical science and technologies are all providing new opportunities to reduce reliance on the use of animals in research. As part of this, a Non-animal Technologies Road map for the UK has been produced which offers an approach for the UK to develop, exploit and deploy new non-animal technologies for long-term economic and societal benefit.

Sentencing for Offences of Animal Cruelty

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 we have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

The courts must decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account its circumstances and the guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council. Currently, in addition to the maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, the courts can also disqualify offenders from keeping animals for as long as they consider appropriate.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in regular contact with the Ministry of Justice in relation to sentencing policy for animal welfare offences, and I understand that current sentencing practice does not suggest that the courts are finding present sentencing powers inadequate.

Wildlife Crime

The National Wildlife Crime Unit makes a vital contribution to tackling wildlife crime both in the UK and internationally and I am delighted that the Government has agreed to fund it fully until at least 2020.

The Home Office and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will each provide annual funding of £136,000, and Defra will also provide up to an additional £29,000 a year specifically to tackle wildlife crime conducted online. This will give the Unit significant financial stability, and allow it to tackle the growing problem of wildlife cybercrime. I think this demonstrates the Government's concern that the internet can be used as a route for illegal trade. Fortunately the authorities do have powers to tackle it, and the laws governing the situation are the same as for any other wildlife trading offence.

Legislation covering the Control of Trade in Endangered Species is, however, being reviewed. This work involves examining trends including the increased use of the internet, and how enforcement practices may need to evolve to combat it. A public consultation sought further information and evidence on wildlife cybercrime, and the responses are currently being considered. 

I support the Government's strong position on wildlife crime, and appreciate the Unit's contribution. In addition to its work, UK Border Force acts to prevent wildlife products being smuggled at the border and the Government also works with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime - a multi-agency body comprising representatives of the Government and voluntary bodies with an interest in combating wildlife crime.

We are working hard on this issue with overseas governments as well. In 2014 the Foreign Secretary chaired a major conference on the illegal wildlife trade, where over 40 countries agreed on decisive action to protect wildlife. This included continuing to back the elephant ivory trade ban, specifying poaching and wildlife trafficking as "serious crimes" under the relevant UN Convention and strengthening co-ordination across borders.

Ivory Trade

UK law does not permit trade in raw ivory tusks of any age, and Ministers are pressing for this approach to be taken internationally. The Government has announced plans to ban sales of modern-day ivory and will launch a consultation soon. This will put the UK's rules on ivory sales among the toughest in the world. It is an important step as we press for a complete ban and I am delighted that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has adopted a proposal calling for the closure of all domestic ivory markets.  

Ministers also recognise the growing threats to the Asian elephant from the illegal trade in live animals, fed by demand from the tourist and entertainment industries. The UK has been working through CITES to increase protections worldwide.

Whaling

I oppose whaling, which has been illegal in this country for the past 30 years.

The UK has worked hard to protect and conserve whales both around the UK and internationally. We have a long-standing commitment to maintaining the moratorium on commercial whaling and supporting ongoing work to strengthen conservation and welfare initiatives managed by the International Whaling Commission.  

I am pleased to say that a strong UK delegation attended the Commission’s latest meeting in October. Our representatives worked tirelessly behind the scenes to mobilise support behind decisions to improve the conservation and welfare of all cetaceans. This included a resolution on the need to address the alarming decline in the critically endangered Vaquita, as well as action to modernise the organisation further.  

We also voted in favour of establishing a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. Unfortunately this proposal failed to gain the three-quarters majority required for adoption, but it will be re-tabled at the next meeting in 2018, which will be hosted by Brazil.  

The Government will continue to raise its concerns, including the UK's opposition to so called 'scientific whaling', at every appropriate opportunity.

Badger Cull

Bovine TB is a serious disease and I support the Government's commitment to use all available means to address it through a comprehensive strategy for England to be TB free by 2038. This includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, improving biosecurity and controlling badger populations where TB is rife.

Cattle movement controls and testing are being strengthened to stop infection spreading between herds (with herd owners being encouraged to improve their own biosecurity) as is the regime for tackling the disease among other farmed animals, such as alpacas.

The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme has supported badger vaccination projects on the borders of the high-risk areas, but there is a worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine. Because of the need to prioritise available stocks for humans, and in line with the Welsh Government's decision, attempts to source it for badger vaccination have been suspended.

As part of a comprehensive strategic approach, culling continues to play a vital role. Overseas experience in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland shows that to eradicate the disease, the problem must be tackled in both cattle and wildlife. Leading vets have supported this approach and improvements to humaneness and effectiveness are being made following the first trial year based on recommendations from the Independent Expert Panel.

Badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset have all been successful in meeting their targets, and, following advice from the Chief Veterinary Office, seven additional licences have now been granted for parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.

I believe that all necessary measures must be used to eradicate this devastating disease, and I am pleased to note early success. The Low Risk Area, covering over half of England, is on track to be officially TB-free by the end of 2019, which would be the first time this has been achieved anywhere in England.

Farming

Antibiotics - Antibiotic resistance is the biggest threat to modern medicine and we must act now to help keep antibiotics effective for future generations. The Government has long promoted the responsible use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine and works closely with stakeholders including the farming industry and the veterinary profession.  

In September the Government announced further plans to tackle the issue, including a commitment to reduce antibiotic use in animals significantly. It is setting long term, sector-specific reduction targets to bring sustainable change across the agricultural industry, from farm to fork.  

I understand that sales of antibiotics for use in animals in the UK are at a four-year low, putting the UK on track to meet the Government's ambitious targets. British farmers and vets are setting an excellent example for others around the world to follow, upholding the UK's leading position on this issue internationally.  

The Government will continue to emphasise to the veterinary and farming communities that routine preventative use of antibiotics is not acceptable, as well as continuing to lead the global fight against antibiotic resistance.