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Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 7 April 2022

Commons Amendments

Motion on Amendments 1 and 2

Moved by

1: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—

“(4A) Recommendations made by the Committee must respect legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

2: Clause 6, page 3, line 16, leave out subsection (5)

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 and 2. Amendment 1 would require any recommendations produced by the animal sentience committee to respect

“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage”.

We have carefully considered representations made by noble Lords in debate on a similar amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. Honourable Members in the other place raised many of the same concerns. We recognise the strength of feeling in both Houses. We have listened, and we have accepted the amendment.

The Government have always sought to create a targeted, balanced and proportionate accountability mechanism within this Bill. We want the animal sentience committee to be led by science and to comprise members who are experts in sentience and animal welfare. Religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage will be neither their area of expertise nor their focus. This is a role for Ministers. We expect the committee to respect provisions and customs relating to these areas when they make recommendations under Clause 2(3) of the Bill.

We have always been clear that it is not the role of the committee to make value judgments about policy or to provide recommendations that do not reflect its expertise or its remit. This amendment will provide additional reassurance on this point. I hope that noble Lords will be content to accept it. I beg to move.

My Lords, I first declare my interest as in the register. I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I thank the Minister for useful discussions during the passage of this Bill, and I hope that he is a very happy grandfather this afternoon.

I accept these amendments, particularly Amendment 1, but, as a vet and a veterinary scientist, I have to say that I do not condone some of the activities covered under the amendment in terms of,

“religious rites, cultural traditions and historical heritage.”

Some of those activities are not consistent with best practice in animal welfare science or indeed regulation, and I will take this opportunity to make a plea to those directly involved to consider very carefully and to reflect on whether practices which had some historical relevance in ancient times are relevant, necessary or at all acceptable in the 21st century. Having said that, I respect national and international laws pertaining to freedoms—in particular, Article 9 of the Human Rights Act on religious freedoms.

I will make one further point. During prolonged discussions about the Bill in this House, a number of noble Lords raised the potential threat to the use of animals in medical research. That was a fair concern, but one which could be countered—I spoke to that effect, as did others at the time—by the fact that the rigorous application and implementation of our Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was a sufficient response to the requirement for government departments to have due regard to animal welfare and the development of policies. We have thorough, world-leading regulations around the controlled use of animals in medical research.

Recently, it has come to my notice that there are changes afoot in the Home Office with regard to the implementation of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act. It is not yet clear to me what the effect of those changes might be on the welfare protection of animals used in medical research. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that any changes with regard to the implementation of the law pertaining to the use of animals in medical research should not weaken—or be perceived to weaken—that regulation, which could lead to increased legal challenge to the use of animals in medical research when the Bill becomes an Act. I support the amendment.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing the Bill to this stage. My concerns about it have not changed, but we are where we are. I want to lend my support to and associate myself in particular with Amendment 1. In doing so, I repeat that I am a fellow of the British Veterinary Association and share some of the concerns outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, regarding its practice.

I seek reassurance from my noble friend as to the response of the devolved Parliaments to the amendments. Have the Government had the chance to square the amendments with them? I further seek reassurance that in the operation of the Bill the Government, particularly my noble friend’s department, will be mindful of the role that farmers and especially livestock producers play in rearing our farm animals, and perhaps recognise that they are best placed to respect animal welfare and are masters in their own right of animal husbandry.

I hope that, in light of the short debate we had elsewhere in Questions this week, the Government will be mindful of the fact that there is still a severe shortage of seasonal workers which is impacting on abattoirs and the slaughter of animals. I hope that there will not be any undue concern over potential animal welfare consequences of that. I realise that it is not entirely within the scope of the Bill, but I wish to draw it to my noble friend’s attention. I congratulate him on accepting the two amendments before us today.

My Lords, I had thought that the Government had completely forgotten this Bill, because it has been so long threading its way through both Houses. Anyway, I am glad that it is happening. It is not the Bill that I would like to have seen passed, but I guess that we have to accept it, since it is better than nothing—although that is not exactly glowing praise. I hope that we can see some effectiveness coming from the Bill and real action, so I say well done for bringing it back and getting us to this point.

My Lords, I want first to thank my noble friend the Minister, who has put an inordinate amount of effort into discussing concerns about this Bill with those of us who have them. I congratulate him not only on becoming a grandfather but on landing this Bill, as he does today.

However, it remains a very bad Bill and I think it is worth repeating why. It is not because it entails a huge administrative reorganisation; in this House, we take huge administrative reorganisations in our stride. We have been reorganising the National Health Service over the past few weeks, which is possibly the largest organisation in the world, certainly in Europe. The Government’s defence of the measure is essentially that it is administratively very minor: it just sets up a committee; it is an advisory committee, and Ministers will make final decisions—“There is nothing to see here; move on”. But the important part of the Bill is not its administrative effects but the fact that it is a declaratory Bill. It declares something in the law of the United Kingdom for the first time to be true—that is, that animals, vertebrates and certain non-vertebrates, are sentient. I know that this appeared previously in a treaty that we were party to, but it moves it on a considerable step to incorporate it into domestic law in this way.

It is worth asking why that declaration matters. It matters because it is very much part of the agenda of the animal rights movement to achieve agreement on three things. The first is that animals are sentient; the second is that sentience is the sole basis for judging moral conduct; and the third, as a consequence of that, is that humans and animals are to be treated on the same basis in moral terms. That is a complete upturning of our established view of moral conduct; it is a completely new anthropology. This Bill is therefore profoundly anti-human. It opens the door to a moral calculus in which people can ask the question: how much chimpanzee suffering is equivalent to a human baby suffering? That is why it remains a very bad Bill. It is a Bill that we will come to regret.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register. I thank my noble friend the Minister for indicating that the Government wish to agree with these sensible amendments, which merely import principles which previously existed in relation to sentience provisions in the Lisbon treaty and will create a better balance in the Bill and in the operation of the sentience committee.

I fear that I rather agree with my noble friend Lord Moylan that this remains a bad Bill and it stores up trouble for the future, but we have made all those points before. Even if the Government came to this late, they are wise to have accepted the view of the Commons that some balance needed to be injected into the measures, so we are doing the right thing by agreeing with them. I thank my noble friend for everything that he has done to get us to this place.

My Lords, I endorse thoroughly the remarks of my noble friends Lord Herbert and Lord Moylan. I congratulate the Minister on entering this whole discussion with great good humour and with a certain amount of patience as well, because we have certainly asked him many questions and put him under quite a lot of pressure, but I hope that at all times we have been courteous to him, too.

My starting point was exactly the same as that of my noble friend. This Bill really was not necessary. If one looks at the raft of legislation in this country that protects and stands up for animals, one sees that it is one of the most effective legal frameworks anywhere in the world. Some of those laws date back to the start of the last century. Flowing from those different Acts of Parliament have been numerous regulations, such as the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations, which are pretty comprehensive.

So the Bill was not necessary, but in the context of realpolitik, I understand why the Government decided that they had to move down this route. The Bill has certainly been improved by the Commons amendments, which I welcome. I once again thank the Minister for what he has done to help improve the Bill substantially from where it was when it started out.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Commons amendments to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This was a very small Bill which was trailed in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. I am not usually an advocate of following another party’s manifesto, but, on this occasion, it was necessary to bring forward the Bill in this parliamentary Session. I would have wished the Bill to have had more detail in it and perhaps to have had more support from the Government Benches, but to have amended it further would have delayed it, and it could possibly have been lost in the welter of other legislation we are dealing with.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to the shortcomings in the Bill, as have others. It is nevertheless long overdue that animal sentience should be recognised in law and on the face of legislation. This Bill fulfils that need.

The Bill, although short, received minor amendments in the other place. The first, to Clause 2, inserts the provision around religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage. It seems sensible that those who have strongly held religious beliefs should be able to have those rites and cultural traditions respected; this is the correct way to proceed. However, insertion of the provision is not necessary, as the Bill already gives the ASC the right to consider non-welfare factors, but we are content to let it stand.

The other amendment made in the other place was to Clause 6. A clause inserted in the Lords prevented any charge being placed on the people—on public funds—but it was removed in the other place. We do not oppose the removal of that amendment and hope that others similarly do not oppose its removal.

For some considerable time, animals have been recognised as being capable of feeling pain, sadness, hunger, thirst and warmth, and able to enjoy a good life. This is now recognised in legislation, and it will be the responsibility of the animal sentence committee to ensure that consideration is given to that during its work. I look forward to the reports which the ASC will produce, informing us all how it is carrying out its work and how sentient animals are being protected through its deliberations.

I thank the Minister and his officers for their time and briefings during the passage of the Bill, which was at times somewhat choppy. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her work on the Bill; it has been a pleasure to work with her to ensure its passage. We have now reached the stage where the Bill can move to Royal Assent, and those of us who care about the plight of animals can be assured that the end of the current Session is not the end of this vital Bill—and I apologise for the interruption from my phone.

My Lords, I will be brief. I thank the Minister for his clear introduction to the amendments that have come forward from the Commons and for his explanation of the Government’s acceptance and the changes to the Bill.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, will not be at all surprised when I say that I completely disagreed with absolutely everything he said. I think the debates we had in Committee and at Third Reading will have shown him exactly where I stand on the Bill and my support for animal welfare.

On these Benches, we very much welcome the Bill, which we believe will be important. It may not be perfect, but we will be very pleased to see it on the statute book. We are also very pleased that the Government earlier accepted the amendment to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods; we believe that is an important addition to animal welfare sentience. I thank the Minister in particular for all his hard work on that particular area of the Bill.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for her support on the Bill. We have done important cross-Bench work to get to this stage. I am fully aware that not all noble Lords agreed with us, particularly on the Benches opposite, but we have got the Bill to the place where we think it needs to be and it is good to see that it will move forward and provide more protection for animals in the future.

On the further government promises on animal welfare that we have yet to see, does the Minister have any kind of update on the situation is with the animals abroad Bill, which seems to have hit the buffers? Obviously, we are very pleased that the kept animals Bill has a carry-over Motion but it would be useful if he had any further information on that.

Finally, I give the Minister my very warm congratulations on becoming a grandfather, if that is true—will he confirm it?

When it is true, it is absolutely delightful to be a grandparent—I highly recommend it to all noble Lords.

I am very grateful to noble Lords for their somewhat premature congratulations. I am waiting for a call on that particular matter—which is not a matter of state.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to today’s debate, which are very much in keeping with the very interesting and at times enthralling conversations we have had during the progress of the Bill. I had not expected to be standing here talking about it again but the Commons have made the right call, and I am glad that most noble Lords think that we have made the right call in accepting their amendments.

I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Trees, whose wisdom and understanding on this and other issues are of enormous value to me and to the department. I hope to continue to have discussions on this and other issues. He raised some important points. As he knows, the Bill is about the government policy-making process. It does not change existing law or impose any new restrictions on individuals or businesses. The Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, but we respect the rights of Muslims and Jews to eat meat prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. Strict rules are already in place which govern these slaughter methods. Official vets from the Food Standards Agency are present in approved slaughterhouses to monitor and enforce animal welfare requirements.

The noble Lord raised an important additional point about medical research. The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work in both health and disease. Such use is crucial for the development of new medicines and cutting-edge medical technologies. Central to any decision to use animals in research is the need for robust scientific evidence to justify the use of animals. As the noble Lord is well aware, the use of animals in science is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, which is implemented by the Home Office. His concerns are noted and have been passed on to my colleagues in the Home Office.

I am also extremely grateful to other noble Lords who spoke in this debate. My noble friend Lady McIntosh is right to make sure that what we are talking about is shared with our devolved colleagues. As was apparent during the progress of the Bill, Scotland already has a similar committee and others are either being formed or talked about. We regularly discuss this with our devolved colleagues to make sure that we are learning from the best from them, and they, I hope, are learning from us.

My noble friend is right to raise the issue of farmers. It is important for us to say that the vast majority of farmers are invested in the care of their animals. It makes economic sense for them, but they feel this personally, and the vast majority of farmers, who look after their animals to the highest standards of animal welfare, are wounded by those who do not. They want everyone to know that they are doing their best to care for their animals and for them to have the highest welfare standards of anywhere on this planet.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, contributed at many stages of the Bill and I thank her for it. I too share her wish that this will be an effective piece of legislation. Ministers will have at their call the best evidence they need to make the right decisions across government, not just in Defra. I hope that she will continue to take an interest in thism and I am sure that she will inform me if she thinks that we are in any way not being effective.

I very much enjoyed the discussions I had with my noble friend Lord Moylan. We delved into realms of philosophy at times, which is always fun, if testing on the Hansard scribes. My noble friend had a different opinion to me about the importance of the Bill, and I understand his concerns and those of my noble friends Lord Herbert, Lord Bellingham and others on our Benches. However, after the processes we went through, the Bill is better for their challenge. As a relative newcomer to the House, I recognise the value of being challenged and trying to make sure that we are doing the best we can.

My great thanks go to the two Front-Bench spokesmen from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Hayman of Ullock. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised a point about the other amendment, and she is absolutely right. Amendment 2 and the text it removes are both procedural formalities, but we must recognise that money-raising powers should remain in the other place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked me about the animals abroad Bill. She would seem to have the better of me with knowledge that there is some possibility that it should not happen. That quite possibly means she is better informed than me because, as far as I am concerned, we can expect to see it—in the words that irritate most people on all Benches of this House—in the relatively near future.

I also thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who has been an enormous support to me in taking this Bill through, and the Bill team, Katherine Yeşilirmak, Kalyani Franklin, Jack Darrant, Tess Hanneman, Hannah Edwins, Phoebe Harris and, from my private office, Lucy Skelton and Adam Diep.

This Bill provides recognition of animal sentience in UK law and will see Ministers held to account on considering the animal welfare implications of their decisions. These are both outcomes for which there is overwhelming public support. I look forward to seeing this Bill become law. I beg to move.

Motion on Amendments 1 and 2 agreed.