UK Politics

Tenants should have 'default right' to pets - Labour

A dog and a cat

Labour wants to strengthen the rights of tenants to keep a pet in their properties as part of a package of proposed animal welfare measures.

Some rental agreements drawn up by landlords insist on no animals.

Tenants can seek permission to keep pets but Labour wants a default right for them to do so unless there is evidence their pet will be a nuisance.

Other Labour ideas include a ban on foie gras imports and an end to the export of live animals for slaughter.

Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman told the BBC that the party was promising action on issues that were "close to people's hearts".

She rejected claims that Labour was "playing catch-up" with the Conservatives, saying its "comprehensive, long-term" plans were in contrast to the government's "haphazard, piecemeal" approach.

In recent months, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has proposed increasing maximum sentences for serious animal cruelty to five years in jail and said a ban on pet shops and other third parties selling puppies should be explored as part of a crackdown on unscrupulous breeders.

He has also published draft legislation which would commit the government to treat animals as "sentient beings" when it makes future laws, following a political row over the issue at the end of last year.

Despite the flurry of activity from the government, Labour is insisting it remains "the party of animal welfare", citing its backing for the 2005 hunting ban and past steps to tighten the rules on the transport of live animals.

The party is now proposing to go further by prohibiting the live export of animals for slaughter or fattening and requiring all slaughterhouses to have CCTV installed.

The 50-point draft policy document - entitled Animal Welfare for the Many not the Few - also proposes:

  • ending the badger cull
  • closing "loopholes" which permit illegal fox hunting
  • creating a new zoo inspectorate to draw up revised standards
  • expanding affordable vet care for owners on low incomes
  • reviewing animal testing to focus on minimising suffering and ending avoidable tests
  • obliging motorists to report incidents where animals are injured
  • phasing in a ban on all fur imports
  • banning intensive rearing of game birds for shooting
  • protecting the marine environment around the UK through "blue belt" zone

Among the most eye-catching proposals is a plan to strengthen the right of tenants to have pets in their homes, which Labour said was a recognition of the growing number of people having to rent well into their 30s.

Under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, a landlord can only refuse permission if it is reasonable to do so, for instance on grounds of the animal's size, the damage it could cause and its impact on future rental prospects.

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Media captionDo you wish your landlord would let you have a pet?

Under Labour's plans, which it says it wants to discuss with landlords and tenant bodies, there would need to be evidence that the animal was a nuisance for permission to be refused.

The National Landlords Association said its members should have the right to refuse tenants with pets as long as they justified their actions, including in cases where properties were simply not geared up for animals.

But the group's chief executive Richard Lambert added that "tenants who keep pets do tend to stay for longer periods of time, and there are a few simple steps that landlords can take in order to mitigate the perceived increased risks" - including insisting on larger deposits.

Shelter said that while it was often difficult for landlords to enforce conditions relating to pets, tenants were at greater risk of eviction if they were in breach of tenancy agreements.

Labour also envisages creating a new post of animal welfare commissioner, to ensure government policy is continually abreast of the latest scientific evidence. This would also mean animal welfare is taken into consideration in trade deals after Brexit, and in the UK's dealings with international bodies.

'World leader'

After the UK leaves the EU, Labour says future farming subsidies must reflect the need to outlaw bad environmental practice and move away from intensive rearing techniques.

Responding for the Conservatives, MP Steve Double said "from introducing mandatory CCTV into slaughter houses to increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty ten-fold, the Conservatives will continue taking the action needed to ensure animals receive the proper protection they deserve."

It emerged earlier this month that the government is considering its own ban on the export of live animals for slaughter, and will launch a consultation in the spring.

Theresa May, meanwhile, has ruled out a Commons vote on repealing the ban on hunting with dogs during the current Parliament, reversing a manifesto commitment for a free vote.

Analysis by Reality Check

Currently, motorists only have to report an accident involving an animal if they hit certain animals.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires drivers to inform the police if "damage is caused" to horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep, pigs, goats or dogs.

This list excludes cats and poultry, but also wildlife such as badgers and deer.

Last year, a petition was launched to seek parity between cats and dogs in the reporting of roadside accidents, reaching 237,500 signatures.

Complete statistics are not produced on the amount of animals killed by vehicles each year, but information released by Highways England gives some indication of the animals most likely to be hit.

Between January 2016 and April 2017, 611 deer, 534 badgers and 471 foxes were found dead on A-roads and motorways in England.

Around 170 cats and dogs were found too; as well as one wallaby on the M1.

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