“(1) The Secretary of State must prepare an Animal Sentience Strategy.
(2) The Strategy under paragraph (1) must set out how Her Majesty’s Government plans to have regard to animal sentience including plans to—
(a) respond to Animal Sentience Committee reports,
(b) require animal welfare impact assessments, and
(c) commission independent research.
(3) The Strategy must set out policies that the Secretary of State may invite the Animal Sentience Committee to review.
(4) The Secretary of State must publish an annual statement on progress on the Animal Sentience Strategy.
(5) An annual statement under subsection (4) must include a summary of changes in policy or implementation that have occurred in response to an Animal Sentience Committee report over the last 12 months.
(6) A Minister of the Crown must make a motion in each House of Parliament in relation to the annual statement.
(7) The Secretary of State must publish an updated Animal Sentience Strategy at the start of each parliament.”—(Jim McMahon.)
This new clause would place a duty on the Secretary of State to produce an animal sentience strategy, and to provide an annual update to Parliament on progress against it.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(1) The Animal Sentience Committee shall produce a report under section 2 on the adverse effects on the welfare of animals of their use by the Ministry of Defence.
(2) The report shall cover use of animals as defined by this Act in section 5(1).
(3) The report shall cover use of animals by the Ministry of Defence in—
(a) military exercises,
(b) military engagements, and
(c) experiments by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
(4) This report shall include recommendations for future government action under section 2(3) and (4).”
This new clause requires the Animal Sentience Committee to produce a report on the use of sentient animals in scientific experiments and military exercises by the Ministry of Defence and its executive agency the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.
New clause 3—Report on the use of sentient animals in animal experimentation in government policy—
“(1) The Animal Sentience Committee shall produce a report under section 2 on the adverse effects on the welfare of animals of government policy on experimentation on animals.
(2) The report shall cover both animal experimentation where alternative (non-animal based) methods of testing exist, and where no alternative exists.
(3) The report shall cover—
(a) medical testing,
(b) cosmetics testing, and
(c) weapons testing.
(4) This report shall include recommendations for future government action under section 2 (3) and (4).”
New clause 4—Animal Welfare Strategy—
“(1) The Animal Sentience Committee must publish and lay before Parliament an animal welfare strategy within 12 months of the passing of this Act.
(2) The animal welfare strategy must set out the process by which government departments and Ministers are to ensure that in the formulation or implementation of policy all due regard has been had to any adverse welfare consequences for the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
(3) Each department must notify the Committee of any policy under consideration where there is a reasonable likelihood that it would have an adverse impact on the welfare of animals.
(4) Where the Committee is of the view that in the process of formulating or implementing policy a department has not complied, or is not complying, with the process set out in the strategy and therefore may not be having, or has not had, all due regard to animal welfare, the Committee can make recommendations to that department or request an explanation from the relevant minister. Any recommendations or explanation must be made in writing and published.
(5) Recommendations and explanations need not be published if they concern a matter of national security or commercially sensitive information.
(6) Failure to comply with the process set out in the strategy, will not automatically be taken as a failure to have had all due regard to animal welfare, if the Minister can demonstrate that they have met the objective of having had all due regard by other means.
(7) Ministers and departments must provide the Committee with any information the Committee reasonably requests to enable it to carry out its function.”
This new clause would ensure that there is a clear strategy setting out how the animal welfare implications of policies in formulation or implementation are to be incorporated in the process of developing, deciding and implementing those policies. This would ensure that the same process applied across all departments.
New clause 5—Report on the impact of government policy on river pollution on sentient animals—
“The Animal Sentience Committee shall produce a report on the impact of government policy on river pollution on sentient animals.
(1) The annual report must include—
(a) the number of sentient animals killed or injured as a result of polluted rivers.
(b) a description of the actions of water companies to guarantee the protection of sentient animals.
(c) an assessment of the effect of government policy on (a) and (b).
(2) The first annual report on the impact of polluted rivers on sentient animals may relate to any 12 month period that includes the day on which this section comes into force.
(3) The annual report must be published and laid before Parliament within 4 months of the last day of the period to which the report relates.”
This new clause would require the Animal Sentience Committee to produce a report on the impact of polluted rivers on sentient animals.
New clause 6—Report on the impact of trade agreements on sentient animals—
“The Animal Sentience Committee must produce an annual report on the adverse effects on the welfare of animals of UK trade agreements.
(1) The annual report must cover how the UK government has taken the sentience of animals into account when establishing new trade deals.
(2) The first annual report on the impact of trade agreements on sentient animals may relate to any 12 month period that includes the day on which this section comes into force.
This new clause would require the Animal Sentience Committee to produce a report on the impact of UK trade agreements on sentient animals.
Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, after “must” insert “by regulations”.
This amendment would require the Animal Sentience Committee to be established by regulations.
Amendment 3, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“(1A) The function of the Committee is to determine whether, in the process of formulating policy, it is satisfied the Government is having, or has had, all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
(1B) It is not the function of the Committee to—
(a) comment on the policy decisions of Ministers or to recommend future policy or changes to existing policy, or
(b) consider other considerations of public interest, including economic, cultural and religious considerations, or impacts on different species, in the formulation and implementation of any policy.
(1C) Schedule 1 makes provision for the Committee’s membership and powers; and other aspects of the Committee’s work.”
This amendment clarifies the Committee’s role and makes clear the Committee is limited to commenting on process. It makes explicit that Ministers should take into account any other public interest considerations. It also gives effect to NS1, which sets out the structure, membership criteria and operation of the Committee.
Amendment 9, page 1, line 5, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—“(2) The regulations must set out—
(a) details of how the Animal Sentience Committee is to be composed, and
(b) its terms of reference.
(3) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument.
(4) Regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft statutory instrument has been laid before, and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”
This would require the Animal Sentience Committee to be established by regulations, which must set out its composition and terms of reference, ensuring Parliament has the opportunity to approve the final form of the Committee.
Amendment 4, page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (2).
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 3.
Amendment 5, page 1, line 6, leave out subsection (3).
This amendment is consequential on NS1.
Amendment 6, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“(4) No person may be appointed as a member of the Committee unless they have confirmed that they—
(a) are not a member of, or affiliated to an organisation promoting animal rights;
(b) are not employed and have never been employed by or been a consultant of an organisation promoting animal rights; and
(c) are not in receipt of, nor have ever been in receipt of, direct or indirect payments or funding, from an organisation promoting animal rights.”
The amendment would ensure that a person may not be appointed a member of the Committee without confirming that they are not and have never been a member of or affiliated to an organisation promoting animal rights, nor are or have been in receipt of funding from such an organisation.
Amendment 7, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“(1A) In appointing members, the Secretary of State shall have all due regard to the need for the Committee to possess appropriate expertise and experience, to include animal behaviour, animal welfare, neurophysiology, veterinary science, law, and public administration. The Secretary of State may not appoint a person as a member of the Committee if the person is—
(a) a member of the House of Commons,
(b) a member of the House of Lords,
(c) a member of the Scottish Parliament,
(d) a member of Senedd Cymru,
(e) a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly,
(f) a councillor of a local authority.
(g) is an employee, former employee, or is a consultant or former consultant to, a charity or campaigning organisation concerned with animal welfare or animal rights, or is or has been in receipt of any payments or funding from such a charity or organisation, whether directly or indirectly.
(1B) Appointments shall be subject to regulation by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.”
This amendment would clarify the range of expertise of the membership of the Committee and preclude certain categories of person. This is an alternative to Amendment 6 and uses the same wording as that found in NS1.
Amendment 21, page 1, line 8, leave out clause 2 and insert—
“Reports of the Committee
(1) The Committee must lay before Parliament an annual report setting out whether it is satisfied that all due regard has been had to animal welfare, in accordance with the Animal Welfare Strategy. The report is to be published and laid before Parliament.
(2) The report must state in the affirmative or negative whether it is satisfied that each department of state has complied with the Animal Welfare Strategy.
(3) The Committee may produce interim reports relating to individual departments and policy areas under consideration, at any time, including making recommendations, where it considers it is necessary to ensure compliance with the animal welfare strategy for the purpose set out in section 1(2).”
This amendment largely replicates the existing Bill but takes account of the Animal Welfare Strategy, while still allowing the Committee to play a role where it feels that there has been a failure of process in compliance with the Strategy at a stage before a policy decision has been made.
Amendment 10, in clause 2, page 1, line 9, leave out “or has been”.
This amendment would ensure the Animal Sentience Committee looked at policies under consideration, or proposed, not policies that have already been decided.
Amendment 12, page 1, line 9, leave out “or implemented”.
This amendment would ensure that the Committee is focused on the process of deciding policy and not the implementation of that policy. It would also ensure the Committee did not look at past policy decisions being implemented.
Amendment 13, page 1, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “must”.
This amendment would require the Animal Sentience Committee to report on all government policy across departments.
Amendment 11, page 1, line 12, leave out “or has had”.
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 10.
Amendment 14, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(2A) The report must state whether in the view of the Committee the question in subsection (2) has been answered in the affirmative or in the negative.”
This amendment would require the Committee to state clearly whether in deciding any policy the minister had, or had not, had full regard to the implications of that policy on animal welfare.
Amendment 2, page 2, line 2, 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.”
This amendment seeks to place a duty on the Committee to have regard to the balancing factors included in the Lisbon Treaty, Article 13 of Title II, to which the UK was a party before Brexit.
Amendment 16, page 2, line 17, at end insert—
“(8) In producing a report under this section, the Animal Sentience Committee must consult the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Animal Welfare Committee and publish a note in the report of the Animal Welfare Committee’s opinion and advice on the recommendations contained in the report.”
This amendment requires the Committee to consult the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Animal Welfare Committee on its reports and include a report of its opinions and advice.
Amendment 22, page 2, line 18, leave out clause 3 and insert—
“Response to reports
(1) The relevant Minister must lay before Parliament a response to the report, where a failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Strategy has been identified.
(2) The response must be laid before Parliament within a period of three months from the day on which the Committee’s report is published.”
This amendment is consequential on NC4 and ensures that ministers must explain to Parliament any failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Strategy identified by the Committee.
Amendment 15, in clause 3, page 2, line 19, after “2,” insert
“where the committee has found the question in section 2(2) to have been answered in the negative,”.
This amendment would require the Minister to respond only where the Committee has found that the minister has not had all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
Amendment 17, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“(2A) The response must contain the views of other expert committees, such as the Animal Welfare Committee, and, where they disagree with the views of the Animal Sentience Committee, the Secretary of State must state which view the Government supports and the reasons for making that decision.”
This amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State’s response to the Animal Sentience Committee report includes the views of other expert committees, and, if in conflict, the Secretary of State must state with which committee’s view the Government agrees and give the reasons.
Amendment 1, page 2, line 29, at end insert—
“(4) A Minister of the Crown must make a motion in each House of Parliament in relation to each response to a report from the Animal Sentience Committee laid before Parliament under paragraph (1).”
This amendment would require the Minister to give an oral response to Animal Sentience Committee reports, creating an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of report recommendations and the Government’s response.
Amendment 18, in clause 5, page 3, line 1, at end insert—
“‘Policy’ means any proposal or decided course of action by or on behalf of a minister in the exercise of their statutory or common law powers. Policy does not include the decisions of ministers not to act, including changing an existing policy or law.”
This amendment provides a definition of policy for the purposes of the Animal Sentience Committee.
Amendment 19, page 3, line 1, at end insert—
“(1A) Nothing in this Act applies to an animal while it is in its foetal or embryonic form, except in relation to an animal to which sections 1 (protected animals) and 2 (regulated procedures) of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 as amended apply.”
This amendment ensures consistency with existing legislation.
Amendment 20, page 3, line 4, at end insert—
“(2A) The power under subsection (2) may only be exercised if the Secretary of State is satisfied, on the basis of scientific evidence, that animals of the kind concerned are sentient, and the Secretary of State lays a report before Parliament setting out the scientific basis for determining that the species concerned is sentient.”
This amendment, as in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, seeks to ensure the power to extend the scope of sentience is based on scientific evidence and does not result from a political motivation or personal preference.
New schedule 1—The Animal Sentience Committee—
1 (1) The Animal Sentience Committee is to consist of—
(a) a member appointed by the Secretary of State to chair the Committee, and
(b) at least 8 but no more than 11 other members appointed by the Secretary of State.
(2) In appointing members, the Secretary of State shall have all due regard to the need for the Committee to possess appropriate expertise and experience, to include animal behaviour, animal welfare, neurophysiology, veterinary science, law, and public administration.
(3) A member is appointed for such period not exceeding 4 years as the Secretary of State determines.
(4) The Secretary of State may reappoint as a member of the Committee a person who is, or has been, a member. A member shall not normally be reappointed consecutively for more than two terms of office.
(5) The Secretary of State may not appoint a person as a member of the Committee if the person is—
(a) a member of the House of Commons,
(b) a member of the House of Lords,
(c) a member of the Scottish Parliament,
(d) a member of Senedd Cymru,
(e) a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly,
(f) a councillor of a local authority,
(g) an employee or former employee, or a consultant or former consultant to a charity or campaigning organisation concerned with animal welfare or animal rights, and
(h) a person in receipt of, or previously in receipt of, any direct or indirect payments or funding from a charity or campaigning organisation concerned with animal welfare or animal rights.
2 (1) The Committee may do anything which appears to it to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of, or in connection with, the performance of its function as defined in section 1(2).
(2) The foregoing includes, but is not limited to, requesting from the government such information and material as it considers necessary.
(3) So far as is reasonable and practicable, the government shall comply with any request from the Committee under paragraph 2(2). If the government declines such a request it shall provide to the Committee its reasons for doing so in writing.
(4) In the event that the Committee considers the government has failed to meet the duty in paragraph 2(3) it may make reference to this in any report produced in accordance with section 2 of this Act.
(5) It shall be for the Committee to identify those policies which in its view might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
(6) Without prejudice to the foregoing, the government shall take reasonable steps to advise the Committee of its intention to formulate or implement any policy which might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
(7) If in producing a report under section 2 of this Act the Committee considers it to be desirable that the government receives further guidance on how animal welfare might be improved in relation to the relevant policy, it may refer the matter to an appropriate committee established for the purpose of providing such advice to ministers.
(8) The Committee may invite to attend its meetings on either a permanent or temporary basis any person appointed to chair a body established by the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive to provide advice on the welfare or protection of animals in relation to the process of the formulation and implementation of policy. Persons attending in such an ex officio capacity shall not participate in any decisions of the Committee.
(9) The Committee shall publish the name and qualifications of any person invited to provide advice to the Committee and shall publish any advice given.
Independence and transparency
3 (1) The Committee shall be independent and autonomous of any other body.
(2) Within six months of its establishment, the Committee shall publish a memorandum setting out how it intends to carry out its function. The memorandum is to be kept under review and may be amended from time to time as the Committee considers appropriate.
(3) The memorandum shall include guidance as to how it expects ministers to demonstrate they have had all due regard to the ways in which a policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
(4) Within 12 months of being established, and thereafter as soon as practicable after the end of each calendar year, the Committee shall prepare and publish a report on the exercise of its functions during that year.
(5) The Committee’s reports shall be laid before Parliament.
(6) The Committee will determine the form and content of each of its reports.
Expenses and resources
4 (1) Members of the Committee, and any members of sub-committees established under paragraph 6, who are not members of the Committee, are entitled to such expenses as the Secretary of State may determine.
(2) The government is to provide the Committee with such staff and other resources as the Committee requires to carry out its function.
Early termination of membership
5 (1) A member of the Committee may resign by giving notice in writing to the Secretary of State.
(2) The Secretary of State may, by giving notice to the member in writing, remove a member of the Committee if the Secretary of State considers that the member is—
(a) unable to perform the functions of a member, or
(b) unsuitable to continue as a member.
(3) A person’s membership of the Committee ends if the person becomes—
(a) a member of the House of Commons,
(b) a member of the House of Lords,
(c) a member of the Scottish Parliament,
(d) a member of Senedd Cymru,
(e) a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly,
(f) a councillor of a local authority, and
(g) an employee of or a consultant to a charity or campaigning organisation concerned with animal welfare or animal rights, or receives any direct or indirect payment or funding from such a charity or organisation.
6 (1) The Committee may establish sub-committees.
(2) The membership of a sub-committee may include persons who are not members of the Committee but those persons are not entitled to vote at meetings of the sub-committee.
(3) The Committee must publish a list of the membership of any sub-committee where it includes persons who are not members of the main Committee.
Regulation of procedure
7 The Committee may regulate its own procedure (including quorum) and that of any sub-committees.
Validity of things done
8 The validity of anything done by the Committee or its sub-committees is not affected by—
(a) a vacancy in membership,
(b) a defect in the appointment of a member, and
(c) the disqualification of a person as a member after appointment.”
This new schedule is consequential on Amendments 3, 4 and 5. It sets out a structure for the Committee, criteria for appointments and how it is to operate.
At long last, this legislation has finally found its way through Parliament. The Government could have dealt with this years ago had they not opposed the recognition of animal sentience and had they included it in other laws that carried over in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.
The Conservatives have a track record of umming and ahhing, and they cannot seem to decide whether animal welfare is important. The truth is that, despite their warm words, the action never quite lives up to the promise. There were rumours that, due to unforeseen political concerns, the Government planned to let animal welfare legislation simply fall away at the end of the Session, for no other reason than managing internal party tensions.
It is quite clear that this issue continues to paralyse the Government Benches. That is why we have little bits of animal welfare Bills floating around here, there and everywhere, each intended to narrow the scope and avoid having to address issues such as blood sports, hunting and shooting, and each in the end destined to fall.
We should be discussing a comprehensive animal welfare Bill. That is what the country wants, and it is what the Government promised. Nevertheless, the Minister could clarify that any outstanding Bills relating to animal welfare will either be completed in this Session or, if not, carried over into the next.
Turning to this Bill, my Labour colleagues and I support enshrining animal sentience in law. My party has been saying for a number of years that that is desperately needed. We support the Bill, in the sense that it is better than doing nothing, but it feels as though the Government are more interested in using this as a photo opportunity than in seizing the moment and ensuring that we have a long-term strategy on animal welfare.
That is why my hon. Friend Ruth Jones tabled this new clause and amendment 1. Labour’s new clause 1 places a direct legal obligation on the Secretary of State to produce an animal sentience strategy, requiring annual updates to Parliament on its progress. As my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner rightly stated at Committee Stage, the Bill in its current form,
“places indirect responsibilities on Ministers”,
“they must simply establish and maintain a committee and lay written responses, rather than assuming direct responsibilities on these matters, which is what we would like to see.”––[Official Report, Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] Public Bill Committee,
This new clause would not only bring us into line with neighbouring countries, but significantly strengthen the responsibilities of the Animal Sentience Committee and ensures that the work is about more than just words and symbolism. For the same reasons, we wanted the Minister to give an oral update on the Floor of the House on the Animal Sentience Committee reports, providing a platform for parliamentary scrutiny of the report’s recommendations and the Government’s response.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge also said at Committee Stage, for the Animal Sentience Committee to have any heft at all, the Government cannot be allowed to simply shrug off the recommendations in its reports, especially if they are politically inconvenient or cause Back-Bench stirs on the Government Benches.
The new clause would require a Minister to make a motion in both Houses of Parliament, which would provide a genuine opportunity to properly scrutinise the reports and the Government’s response. Without that, the Committee’s findings will simply not be given the attention they deserve, and we will not have the right scrutiny on the critical issue of animal welfare.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West has said, as it stands the Animal Sentience Committee risks becoming just another toothless talking shop—a Whitehall committee where, in the end, the reports gather dust, while critical issues of animal welfare within policy making go unaddressed.
Opposition Members care deeply about animal welfare. In Government, the Labour party brought forward landmark legislation in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Hunting Act 2004. We are the party of animal welfare, so we cannot help but feel that this piecemeal piece of legislation will not address the long-standing concerns on animal welfare.
The Opposition are clear that all animals deserve protection, whether they are pets, wild animals, ocean animals or farm animals. It is hard to believe that this Government are serious about animal welfare, given that they are still resisting banning foie gras and fur imports, both of which are horrifically cruel and completely unnecessary. In last year’s Queen’s Speech, the Government committed to ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter and taking further steps to limit the foie gras trade. So where is that promise? The Secretary of State could have included that piece of legislation right here, right now but, as is typical with a Conservative Government, they are big on promises and small on delivery.
It is not right to promise tougher laws in a manifesto, only to fail to see that through, and frankly it is disrespectful to Her Majesty to include in the Queen’s Speech the promise of legislation that does not arrive—especially in this, her platinum jubilee year. Will the Government confirm that reports over the weekend of their dropping legislation on trophy hunting imports are correct, or will the Secretary of State commit to addressing those imports?
Britain is a nation of animal welfare lovers. We want to lead the world on animal welfare and animal protection, but it is clear that that ambition is not matched by the Government, who, faced with minor difficulties, do not have the courage to see that through. Worse still, while we are expecting far more of British farmers and producers, the Government are signing trade deals with countries around the world with far lesser animal welfare standards than ours in the UK.
The Government could have used this Bill as an opportunity to address the animal welfare concerns in relation to those trade deals and standards—concerns raised not only by the Opposition, but by the National Farmers Union, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association and others. I have asked the Secretary of State this before, and I will repeat the question again for the benefit of the House: will he bring forward provisions guaranteeing equivalence of standards for all imported products coming into the UK?
While we will vote for the Bill, it feels like a missed opportunity. It is clear that, while the Government talk a lot about the great work they say they are doing on animal welfare, the reality is they need to be more comprehensive, and they need to go much further and much faster. This Bill may well be a start, but it cannot be the end.
I will speak to amendment 2, in my name and those of 30-odd colleagues.
The problem with the Bill is that it goes beyond the commitment made by Ministers to recognise animal sentience in British law in the same way that it is recognised in European Union law. My amendment is designed to ensure that the safeguards of the EU law are duplicated in British law. Currently, those safeguards are not in the Bill, as was the original ask of the animal welfare lobby.
It seems to me that we should have a bit of equivalence here. If this committee is set up by statute, its remit should also be defined by statute. I therefore ask the Government seriously to consider accepting my amendment as a sensible, fairly minor, but nevertheless important amendment to the remit of the committee, which recognises local customs,
“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage”.
That seems to me a perfectly reasonable thing to do. With these few words, I strongly urge my hon. Friend the Minister to see whether she cannot, on behalf of the Government, accept my amendment.
I will speak in favour of new clause 5, which would ensure an annual report including,
“the number of sentient animals killed or injured”,
as a result of pollution, a description of water companies’ actions to protect animals and an assessment of the impact of Government policy on those two things. I will also speak briefly in favour of new clause 6, which we do not intend to push to a vote, which would establish an annual report into the ways the Government have taken into account animal sentience when establishing new trade deals.
Turning to new clause 5, Cumbria contains two national parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District, the latter being a world heritage site. The richness of our biodiversity throughout Cumbria is of great importance, not least in our rivers and lakes, whose ecology is of global significance as home to countless species. Yet Government policy threatens that diversity and damages animal welfare. In 2020, across the United Kingdom, water companies were permitted to dump raw sewage into our waterways on 400,000 occasions for a total of 3.l million hours, at enormous cost to the lives of aquatic and semi-aquatic sentient animals. At the River Lune near Sedbergh, we saw the longest discharge in the country lasting for 8,490 hours. At Derwentwater, a discharge of 8,275 hours took place. Is it any wonder that only 14 % of Britain’s rivers are classed as being in a “good” state?
The Government’s Environment Act 2021 acknowledges the problem and sets an ambition to reduce the pollution in our rivers caused by the dumping of raw sewage. Of course, as we all know, the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming by Opposition Members, their own Back Benchers and members of another place to even do that.
Is the hon. Member aware that today’s papers have indicated that while some of the beaches in the UK have the blue flag designation that shows that the water should, in theory, be acceptable, that designation is sometimes not acceptable either?
Yes. Often rivers can meet an acceptable standard but in reality not be healthy places, particularly as regards biodiversity and wildlife. The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point and makes the case as to why the increased scrutiny that the new clause would bring about is that much more important.
The ambition of the Environment Act, which was given Royal Assent last year, is open-ended. There are no meaningful targets or timescales to prevent water companies from dumping raw sewage into our rivers, harming fish and other animals. In 2020, water companies made £2.2 billion in profits. At the same time, as I said, they were dumping sewage in our waterways on 400,000 separate occasions. What kind of accountability is that? What kind of justice is that? What kind of impact is that having on our wildlife? The new clause would expose that.
Between 2018 and 2021, there were only 11 prosecutions of water companies for dumping sewage in our lakes and rivers. United Utilities, which serves Cumbria and the rest of the north-west, was responsible for seven out of the 10 longest sewage leaks in 2020, but, outrageously, was not fined even once. Despite the damage done to the ecology and animal life in rivers such as the Leven, Crake, Brathay, Kent, Lune, Sprint, Mint and Gowan, discharges are permitted either because Government will not stop them or because hardly any of the offenders are ever meaningfully prosecuted. The meres, tarns, waters and lakes of our lake district are all fed by rivers into which raw sewage can be legally dumped. I am particularly concerned about the ecology of Windermere and the failure to take sufficient action to protect the animal and plant life that is so dependent on England’s largest and most popular lake. The new clause would hold Government and water companies to account so that our wildlife and our biodiversity is protected.
New clause 6 addresses the impact of trade deals on the welfare of sentient animals. This country has concluded trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, and any scrutiny of those deals is now effectively meaningless because the Government have already signed them. Yet the impact on sentient animals will be enormous. Free trade is vital to liberty, prosperity and peace, but trade that is not fair is not free at all. These trade deals are not fair on animals and not fair on the British farmers who care for our animals. In Australia, for example, huge-scale ranch farming means the loss of many times more animals than in the UK because of the absence of the close husbandry that we find on British family farms. Some 40% of beef in Australia involves the use of hormones that are not allowed in the United Kingdom. Cattle can be transported in Australia for up to 48 hours in the heat without food or water. These are clearly lower animal welfare standards. By signing these deals without real scrutiny, the Government have endorsed that cruelty and enabled it to prosper at our farmers’ expense. Lower standards are cheaper, so these deals give a competitive advantage to imported animal products that have reached market with poorer animal welfare, thus undermining British farmers who practise higher animal welfare standards. That is why the new clause is important—because it seeks to hold Ministers to account and to limit how much they can get away with sacrificing the welfare of sentient animals at home and abroad in order to achieve a politically useful deal.
Despite this, this Bill has much to commend it. However, the new clauses would allow the Government to look the British people in the eye and say that they were prepared to take on powerful vested interests in order to protect animals and our wider environment. In seeking to press new clause 5 to a vote, I urge Members in all parts of the House not to take the side of the most powerful against those creatures that are the most defenceless.
From the outset, and for the avoidance of all doubt, I am not, through any of these amendments, arguing against animals being sentient or being able to feel pain. After all, the sentience of animals has long been recognised in UK law, as evidenced by animal welfare legislation passed over the course of nearly 200 years. The purpose of amendment 2 and the other amendments in my name is to help the Government to avoid the main dangers and unforeseen consequences posed by the undefined aspects of the creation of the new Animal Sentience Committee. Crucially, under the unamended version of the Bill, it remains unclear who will be on this committee and what direct powers it will have. The unamended Bill’s draft terms of reference seem to suggest that the committee could have a role in scrutinising the substance of policies and not just the processes that led to those decisions being made. The Secretary of State will have the final sign-off on the committee’s composition, but what mechanisms will be in place to ensure that it is made up of dispassionate and genuine scientific animal experts and not ideologically driven animal rights activists with political agendas?
The amendments would protect against the Bill clumsily becoming a Trojan horse for what I would consider an extreme agenda that the Government could live to regret in years to come. Indeed, passionate supporters of the committee’s creation have already talked publicly of its not excluding animal rights extremist groups such as PETA. My amendments, especially amendments 3, 10, 11, 12, 18 and 21, new clause 4 and new schedule 1, suggest some statutory structure for the committee, how appointments to it are to be made, and how it might operate. The amendments would clarify that the committee is concerned with the process by which current policy is being formulated and not with policy decisions taken or suggesting policy changes, whether proposing new policy or changes to existing policy.
The amendments would also help to address the question of the Bill’s retrospective effect. The current drafting, confirmed by the draft terms of reference, would allow the committee to report on past policy decisions. Without my amendments, there will be no limit to how far back the committee can look, which would, in practice, allow it to draw attention to policies that have already been decided and implemented, or are being implemented. I fear that in doing so, it could start to drive a policy agenda of its own. Far from ensuring that in the process of policy making all due regard is had to animal welfare, it could raise policy issues that are not under current consideration or have already been decided, or decisions made before Ministers were expected to take account of animal sentience. The current draft terms provide little clarity, and there is little if anything binding on Ministers, whether current or future. To rely on terms of reference to provide detail in these areas is not desirable for a statutory body, as they are non-binding and can be changed at will without any parliamentary oversight.
The terms of reference state that, once established, it will be for the committee to formally ratify its objectives and responsibilities. As a committee established by statute, the committee’s objectives and responsibilities should be found in the establishing Act of Parliament. It should not be for the committee to ratify its own objectives and responsibilities. My amendments and new schedule 1 would give some clarity and certainty on that point.
There is also currently no requirement for Departments to co-operate with the Animal Sentience Committee. We are merely told that DEFRA “expects” Departments to do so. A Department that fails to co-operate will simply be reported as having not co-operated. What use would such a report serve in advancing animal welfare? New schedule 1 would address that situation.
The amendments also seek to clarify that it remains for Ministers to undertake the balancing exercise between animal welfare and other public interest considerations. That would limit the likelihood of ministerial decisions being challenged in the courts. New schedule 1, which is given effect by my amendments, simply suggests some statutory structure for the committee, how appointments to the committee are to be made and how it might operate. It is worth noting that the contents of the schedule, with some relatively minor changes, are substantially those proposed by Professor Mike Radford, reader in animal welfare law and UK constitutional law at the University of Aberdeen, as part of his evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. It follows similar models for other statutory committees. While its drafting may not be perfect, the Government will I hope think carefully about clarifying the powers of the committee and ensuring that, as a statutory committee, it has a statutory framework that safeguards the committee from being misused in the future or being able to transform its role and function into something other than what Ministers intend.
Incorporated in new schedule 1, alongside amendments 6, 7 and 9, is a desire to fix some of the concerns expressed repeatedly as the Bill has made progress, including the lack of clarity about how committee members will be appointed. Despite being a statutory body, the proposed Animal Sentience Committee is entirely in the control of DEFRA, being dependent financially on DEFRA, having its secretariat in DEFRA and with the Secretary of State having control of appointment and dismissal. Under this Government, I have every confidence in the integrity of the appointments process, but it would be all too easy for it to be manipulated to support the particular agenda of any future Government of the day. If the purpose of the Bill is to ensure animal welfare is properly considered in policy making and implementation across Government, the committee would ideally be independent of any particular Department. New schedule 1 would at least help to ensure that greater independence for the committee.
New schedule 1, as well as amendment 7, would also set certain criteria for appointments to the committee to ensure the necessary expertise and exclude persons who may have other agendas—those seeking to offer not dispassionate advice, but partisan and ideological musings. At the moment, the Bill simply allows my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or whoever holds that job in the future to appoint whoever they like. The terms of reference make it clear that appointments are not regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, only that the Secretary of State will
“generally adhere to its guidelines on best practice. The Secretary of State will seek to appoint experts with appropriate experience relating to policy decision-making and/or the welfare of animals.”
There is little in the terms of reference that is binding, either on Ministers or the committee. It is expressed almost exclusively in terms of “may”, “could” or is “expected to”. That is concerning for a committee established by statute that could play an important role in the process of any Government formulating policy. With new schedule 1 and amendments 6 and 7, the potential for highly politically motivated committee members would be straightforwardly taken away.
To conclude, my concern about the committee comes not from its likely composition and activity under the current Government, but from how it may be used by a future Government hostile to rural interests. They must recognise the long-term risks legislation such as this could have and how it could be weaponised against the interests of our hard-working farming community, those who undertake countryside management, including pest control to protect livestock, as well as the British public in the long term. That is what my amendments seek to protect against and I commend them to the House.
I very much hope that the Government will adopt my amendments and that of my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. If they do adopt at least his amendment, I will not seek to press mine to Divisions, but we do have to make some significant progress to put in the protections that many of us, certainly on the Government Benches, are concerned about.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today on new clause 1 and an issue that is very close to my own heart, as hon. Friends will know, as well as those of many of our constituents up and down the country. Indeed, it was a privilege to secure a Westminster Hall debate last year on covid-19’s impact on animal welfare. That debate took place almost a year ago to the day and I am pleased that we are now in a very different place when it comes to legislating to protect the most vulnerable.
As has already been said by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Jim McMahon, this Bill has been a long time coming. We have only now reached this point thanks to the hard work of Members in this place and the other place, who have campaigned ferociously on these issues for many years. They include my good friend, my hon. Friend Luke Pollard, as well as the former Member for Redcar, Anna Turley, who, were she still in this place, would be speaking passionately on this issue today.
I welcome the general thrust of this Bill to ban live exports and introduce animal sentience on to the statute book for the first time. It is also encouraging to see that animal welfare organisations such as the Better Deal for Animals coalition and Compassion in World Farming, and other charities including Hope Rescue, which is based near me in the constituency of my hon. Friend Chris Elmore, have cautiously welcomed the Bill, too.
I rise none the less to express concerns shared by several other Members that the Bill in its current form lacks scope and ambition. By making a specific provision that will allow our understanding of animal sentience to evolve as scientific research progresses, the Bill represents a brilliant opportunity to reinforce animal welfare legislation. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by.
As the Bill progressed through the other place, some sought to argue that existing laws, such as the 200-year-old Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, were sufficient to legally enshrine animal sentience, but that simply is not true. To rely on legislation from 200 years ago without seeing the need for modernisation would have been a kick in the teeth for animal lovers and activists across the country and fundamentally would have been a wasted opportunity. Our withdrawal from the treaty of Lisbon, which colleagues will be aware acknowledges animal sentience in article 13, renders those arguments completely defunct. We are now seeing the effects of how the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 failed to transfer these principles.
Contrary to those remarks in the other place, there is a gaping hole in British law regarding the welfare of animals, and it is our responsibility to make those wrongs right. The Bill will go a long way to addressing that hole by again recognising the ability of animals to feel pain, excitement, joy and comfort, but the decision by the Government to not include a proactive animal sentience strategy, which Labour calls for in new clause 1, was incredibly disappointing. Compelling the Government to publish an animal sentience strategy would ensure that the Bill did not fall short of its aim to properly underpin animal welfare. Without it, the Bill in its current form risks being weaker than the European legislation it seeks to replace.
Let me be clear: animal welfare should be a priority for us all. I am pleased to say that, in Wales, the fantastic Welsh Labour Government are again ahead of the curve. The Welsh Government published their own animal welfare plan in November last year, and again it is disappointing to see the UK Government refuse to adopt their own in the Bill. After all, let us not forget that it was a Labour Government who introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006. That is because we recognised that issues relating to animal welfare are issues that we must all be concerned by. Hope Rescue, to which I referred earlier, is one such charity that has been leading the way on animal welfare issues for some years and its sheer dedication to improving the lives of abandoned dogs is to be applauded. In partnership with other groups, such as Justice for Reggie, campaigning groups are plugging the gaps where UK Government legislation has failed.
Animal welfare is a complex, emotive issue that spans many policy areas. I am pleased to see this legislation reach its final stages in this place, but I urge the Government to be more ambitious in their approach to animal welfare more widely. I will continue to push that point wherever possible, particularly in my capacity as a shadow Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister.
As the Government seek to finally tighten up the online space, my final plea to the Minister is to work with her colleagues across Departments on animal welfare issues specific to digital spaces, such as the sale of pets online. Now is the time to get that right. Only by working collaboratively can we truly tackle the root cause of those issues once and for all.
It is a great pleasure to speak in the debate. It has been interesting to listen to hon. Members on both sides. I would argue that the Government have probably got the Bill about right, for the simple reason that Opposition Members are saying that it does not go far enough and Conservative Members are perhaps saying that it goes plenty far enough.
This legislation is better than the previous version because it will not be taken to judicial review. In about 2018, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee looked at the Bill as it was then and rightly decided, having taken legal advice and advice from others, that many of the actions that could take place could be judicial-reviewed and land up in the courts. There could have been a situation where much of our animal welfare was judged in the courts, rather than here in Parliament. Instead, it creates a committee that is put in place by the Secretary of State and then has to present a report to them. He or she will then make a decision about which route the Government will take on animal welfare. I believe that that is the right situation.
I support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown. We have argued many times in this Chamber, and I even argued in the European Parliament, that European legislation often had no flexibility about it. On this occasion, of course, it did have flexibility when bringing animal welfare legislation forward. As we brought legislation over as a result of Brexit, however, we did not include those clauses, which is why we are in this predicament. I have real sympathy for the Minister because she is dealing with an interesting situation: she is trying to balance the needs of animal welfare with the perceived needs of animal rights. That is the issue.
It is interesting that, in tonight’s debate, we have talked all about DEFRA. Much of it is about DEFRA, but we must remember that the Animal Sentience Committee will deal with the whole of Government. So when someone is building a bypass or building houses, the effect of all those issues on sentience will be considered. I admit that I am still interested to know how the committee will deal with all that. How will the Secretary of State for Transport or the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities deal with it? It will have a big job to do.
If the committee is set up in the right way with the right people on it, so that they can make a judgment about what is right in practical terms for animal welfare, it can work, but it is very much about how it is set up, who the chair is and who the members are. We must ensure that we have a balance of opinions so that, with the right methods of building, we can build our roads and our homes and we can carry on farming in our traditional ways.
To the point that my hon. Friend has rightly made about the cross-cutting nature of the Bill across Government Departments, I quite like that. For example, the Department for Education might educate people on how to look after pets properly. There are many useful areas where the Bill could have a role.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We now have charities that take dogs into schools to ensure that people can look after a dog or their pets properly. Most families do so, but unfortunately there are families who do not. That is where it is absolutely necessary and that is why I am not negative about the Bill. I do not think we ever needed to get to this place, but, as they say, we are where we are. That is why we have this Bill. A lot relies on the Secretary of State to get it right. I believe that it can be made to work across Government, but I am still intrigued as to how all those Departments will take notice of this powerful Animal Sentience Committee.
At the opening of my hon. Friend’s remarks, he indicated that he thought the Bill was pretty good as it was and that he feels, as I do, that if the Opposition are criticising it and some Conservative Back Benchers are criticising it, it is probably about right. Does he agree that there is not a single amendment tabled by the Opposition or Conservative Back Benchers that would improve the Bill one iota? We ought to leave it exactly as it is.
I would probably make an exception for amendment 2, but my hon. Friend makes a good point that amending legislation sometimes does not work in exactly the way we want it to work. I do not often give much praise to the Government, but on this occasion they have probably worked hard on the Bill to get it where it is. It is in a much better place than it was.
I will also talk briefly about new clause 5, which is an interesting amendment about water companies and pollution. The key to the water companies and pollution in our rivers is that we are about to have a new chair of Ofwat. The Secretary of State is looking at candidates and the EFRA Committee is about to look at whoever he or she might be. The new chair has a very big job to do, because—let us be blunt—the water companies have paid their shareholders and directors too much and have not put enough into infrastructure.
At one time, a previous Secretary of State was keen to bring forward legislation to ensure that more pressure was put on the water companies to deliver, because it is not just about putting up bills to get more infrastructure to stop pollution; it is about ensuring that water companies invest in building the infrastructure. I would not go as far as the Opposition parties want and nationalise the water companies, but I would apply some thumbscrews to them—only metaphorically—so that they really make a difference on the investment that they make. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know well that water companies should not be discharging into rivers when there is an overflow from treatment plants, many of which have not had the investment that they should have done over the years.
In fairness to the water companies—I do not like being fair to them—we should remember that, after going through education, health and all the other sectors, when they were nationalised they had not necessarily had the amount of investment that they had needed over the years. Since they were privatised, therefore, there has been a lot of investment by those companies, but it has not been enough, which is why we now have an opportunity to get it right. I am not sure, however, that the Bill is the right place for such a provision. I think we should be beefing up Ofwat and taking on the water companies directly.
The Opposition are saying that we are not creating greater biodiversity, but I do not accept that. I believe that we are and that all our policies are destined to do that, but we have to get the balance right. We see Putin and his dreadful regime inflicting this horrendous situation in Ukraine, murdering innocent people. Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe and, in many respects, of the world. Therefore, as we move towards greater biodiversity, we must also ensure that we have good food production, with enough food being produced. We have to get that balance right.
I may have journeyed slightly away from the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, but we have to be concerned about getting enough food. Food and energy security—these basics of life—are so important to us now. Let us get the Bill through and ensure that we set up the right committee, with the right chair, to ensure that proper animal welfare is considered, that there are practical ways of dealing with this issue across Government, so that it does not end up in the courts, and that the committee makes sensible decisions that are passed to Parliament, through the Secretary of State, to make sure that the Bill works in practice.
I support amendment 2 and I will support the Bill, but I think we have probably made very heavy work of getting here.
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish, is quite right that we have made heavy work of getting here. We have probably at times shared the view that we would not get here, so I welcome the fact that we have done so. I am not sure why some Government Back Benchers are so upset about the Bill, because it is pretty weak, although the test will be who is on the animal sentience committee once it is up and running, and what decisions they make and are allowed to make, so we reserve judgment on that.
I will speak briefly in support of new clause 1. It was rejected by the Government in Committee, although I am not sure why. It would require the preparation of an animal sentience strategy and annual statements on progress towards that. That would lead to a more proactive approach to sentience from Ministers. One of the amendments I tabled in Committee would have removed the word “adverse.” The new animal sentience committee’s job is to look at the “adverse effects” of policy. Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said that it would be able to look at kids learning in school about how to be nice to pets, but that is not the purpose of this committee. Its purpose is to look at negative things, but I think it would help if it could also look at the positive side of things.
Having an animal sentience strategy in place would force the Government to set out how they would respond to relevant reports, assessments and research, and it would be more proactive. Improving animal welfare should not just be about protecting where we are; it ought to be a constant, iterative process, because where we are simply is not good enough, whether because the laws are not strong enough or because enforcement does not happen.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree with me that although the Bill is a step forward, it is unusual to have a committee of this type without its having a strategy? As Government Members have pointed out, the committee needs to be making sensible decisions and recommendations. How can it do that without a strategy? I am sure the public would expect it to have a strategy, because the public expect us to be focused on animal welfare.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, particularly as we have a Government who cannot be trusted to keep their promises, as we have seen recently on imports of hunting trophies, fur and foie gras, for example. We need a mechanism that keeps the Government on track and creates that forward momentum, and new clause 1 would provide that.
It is clear from the Government rowing back on their promises to legislate on those imports that the Government are scared of some of their more unreconstructed Back Benchers—actually, some of the current Cabinet are pretty unreconstructed too, if the press are to be believed. On Second Reading it was noticeable how many Conservative Back Benchers stood up to criticise the Bill. The lack of enthusiasm for it—even the fear of it—was palpable, and we have read about efforts behind the scenes to neuter it, and I think that is what amendment 7 is about.
Greg Smith wrote a rather amusing article for ConservativeHome recently, saying that he had rumbled my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner and me and sussed us out—I paraphrase. After close scrutiny of our comments in Committee, he had worked out that we had a hidden agenda: we were against fox hunting. That was remarkably clever of him; it was like when Scooby Doo suddenly unmasks the villains at the end. If there is anyone with a hidden agenda, it is he and the hon. Member for The Cotswolds, and I think he ought to be clear as to what amendments 6 and 7 are about.
Why would we want to exclude anyone with past or present commitment to animal welfare issues from serving on the animal sentience committee? Amendment 7 says that anyone who is an
“employee, former employee, or is a consultant or former consultant to, a charity”— that could be the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which are pretty benign organisations—
“or campaigning organisation concerned with animal welfare or animal rights, or is or has been in receipt of any payments or funding from such a charity or organisation, whether directly or indirectly” should not be allowed to serve on the animal sentience committee. I do not understand why we would want to exclude people who have shown commitment, interest, knowledge or expertise in animal welfare from the animal sentience committee, unless the aim was to try to ensure that it was as weak on welfare and soft on sentience as possible.
I was actually just coming to that point. I was going to say that if the hon. Member for Buckingham thinks that nobody who has aligned themselves to a particular cause can be impartial, then that also ought to cover his friends in the Countryside Alliance and the rest of the hunting and shooting lobby. When he refers to extremists, I would say, certainly having been on the receiving end of it, that there are extremists on that side too. For example, Chris Packham has been subjected to a huge amount of abuse just for speaking out about the persecution of hen harriers, so there are clearly unpalatable elements on that side as well.
Amendment 7 would mean that someone such as the eminent zoologist Michael Balls CBE—father of Ed—who served as an adviser to the Government on the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and was a founding member of the Animal Procedures Committee, which advised the Home Secretary on all matters related to animal experimentation, would not be allowed to serve on the animal sentience committee, despite that expertise, because he had been a trustee of FRAME—the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments. He also, alongside the Prime Minister’s own father, came to Parliament to campaign against a huge new puppy farm in Yorkshire, where beagles were being bred specifically for purposes of animal experimentation. He is now an emeritus professor and might no longer wish to serve on Government committees, but surely someone with that sort of background would be absolutely perfect for this committee. That is not to say that we cannot also have a balance, with people who have other views. I think it is nonsense to suggest that such experts, who are drawn to campaign on animal welfare precisely because of their in-depth understanding of the science behind animal sentience—it is because of their expertise that they are concerned about animal sentience and animal welfare—should not be allowed to serve.
Finally, turning to amendment 2, I think the same thing is actually going on. The hon. Member for The Cotswolds was very brief in speaking to his amendment, but he happens to be chair of the all-party parliamentary group on shooting and conservation. It is somewhat ironic that some of those who were so vocally supportive of leaving the EU, apparently to take advantage of new freedoms, are now arguing that they want to carry over the Lisbon treaty wording, chapter and verse. I think one of the reasons why this provision was in the Lisbon treaty was to protect things such as bull fighting, which I would hope we all think should not be protected in the name of culture and tradition.
I do not have a huge problem with the amendment being made to the Bill, because I have argued from the start, going back to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill debates, that the Lisbon treaty provision should be carried over. However, having heard what the hon. Member said on Second Reading, I think what he is really trying to do, by the back door, is to turn back the clock on the hunting ban or to create legal uncertainty around its enforcement by saying—this was the old argument we had when the Labour Government banned hunting—that it is all part of our tradition and of rural culture. The fact is that, for most people, as polling shows, it is a tradition they want confined to the history books, along with bear baiting, cock fighting, sending children up chimneys and so on. The hon. Member has to accept that times have changed, and that there is no place for fox hunting in a civilised world.
I rise in support of this Bill, and I declare a strong personal and professional interest in animal health, welfare and sentience as a veterinary surgeon. I welcome the Bill, and I think it is so important that we recognise sentience in legislation, and I welcome the inclusion of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans.
As I said on Second Reading, I still think we need to be clearer on the specifics of the Bill, albeit that it is a brief and general Bill. I am disappointed, coming back from Committee, that the recommendations to put a definition of sentience into the Bill were cast aside. I draw attention to the definition put forward by the Global Animal Law Project, as adopted also by the British Veterinary Association:
“Sentience shall be understood to mean the capacity to have feelings, including pain and pleasure, and implies a level of conscious awareness.”
I do understand the reservations about putting this into primary legislation, but as I have said before, I think this could be tackled by putting it into secondary legislation. I am aware that the science will evolve and definitions may evolve, and that could be tackled in secondary legislation.
I welcome the formation of the future Animal Sentience Committee. It must have the right breadth of expertise and talent, but I want it to have some teeth and power. As has been mentioned, it has the ability to roam across Departments, and I welcome that. Clause 2 talks about how, in relation to reports from the committee, the Government will have
“all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”
I agree with the point made by Alex Davies-Jones that it is a shame the Bill still talks purely about the adverse effects. If we could put in the positive effects, that would go along with the United Kingdom being a beacon of standards on animal health and welfare. We could still consider putting that forward.
I firmly believe that animal welfare needs to be joined up across Government, and I think this Bill actually starts to do that. We need to look at Government policy across different Departments, and the Bill can reinforce that. However, there are some things that I firmly believe that we, as a Parliament and as a Government, need to act on quickly. I again urge Ministers to keep doing that, and I will quickly whip through some of the things that I think we really need to crack on with.
On pet theft, we are bringing it into law, but I want it very much expanded from dogs to include cats, but also horses and farm animals, which are being stolen as we speak. We still need to close the loophole in the Government buying standards for domestic food procurement. The loophole allows public sector bodies to buy things at lower animal welfare standards on the ground of cost, and I think that loophole needs closing now.
International trade has been mentioned, and we need to show the rest of the world that we are a beacon on animal health and welfare. Again, putting sentience into legislation confirms that, but I firmly believe we have missed an opportunity by not placing core standards into the trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. We should just draw a line, and say there are certain red line products that we find unacceptable in this country and that we will not accept them. We should say firmly that we will not undermine our fantastic British farmers, who farm to the highest animal health and welfare standards. In my constituency of Penrith and The Border, the Cumbrian farmers are right up there among the best of our British farmers, and we must not undermine those farmers in these trade deals. The Bill will help with that, and we need to put pressure on the Department for International Trade in future trade deals, as well as with the current trade deals that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the International Trade Committees are scrutinising.
Does my hon. Friend recall that when we left the European Union, one of the advantages that we were told would arise from that was that we would be able to maintain our own high animal welfare standards, and not import goods that were produced to a lower standard?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is important that we have the highest standards. I note there is an animal welfare chapter in the Australian trade deal, which I welcome, but in that chapter there are non-regression clauses, and all those do is say that neither partner will get worse. I think we can do better than that. I believe we must uphold our own animal welfare standards, and drive up animal health and welfare standards around the world.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has been looking at the movement of animals. The Government have looked at some our recommendations, but the standard response, again, is that they are “consulting” or “will consult.” Let us stop consulting on a lot of these matters, and just crack on with it. On puppy smuggling, let us raise the age of the dogs coming in to a minimum of six months. Let us ban heavily pregnant dogs and cats from being moved into the country. Let us ban the import of cropped-eared dogs.
The hon. Gentleman is a vociferous campaigner on animal welfare and he makes some excellent points. On that final point, does he share my concern that at Crufts this weekend, the “best in breed” was a British bulldog? There is concern about the breeding of those brachycephalic dogs and the impact it has on them. Does he share my concern that the Government need to do more to protect them, as well as concerns about puppy smuggling and puppy breeding of such dogs in the future?
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. She is a proud champion for animal welfare on the Labour Benches. We must look at that issue closely. Brachycephalic dogs, and dogs that have had horrific mutilations—I touched on the point about cropped ears—are being popularised in culture, with celebrities having those dogs, unwittingly endorsing such procedures. We must be careful about publicly endorsing dogs and animals that have had some of those procedures, as well as some of the breeding procedures that make those animals struggle in later life. Owners take on some of these dogs in good faith, and have no idea of some of the unintended consequences of such breeding patterns.
I mentioned ear cropping in dogs. The RSPCA has reported that in the past year, the incidence and reports of such dogs has gone up by about 86%. We do not need to wait for a law to come in or for primary legislation; we can crack on with secondary legislation and ban the import of dogs that have had their ears cropped, and potentially of cats that have had their claws removed. Instead of consulting, with secondary legislation we can crack on with some of the important health checks. If animals are being moved into this country, we should be doing checks on those dogs for things such as brucella canis. We should be reinstituting the rabies titer checks. We can reverse the change that the European Union made when it removed the need for mandatory tick treatment for small animals coming into this country. We can reverse that in secondary legislation to protect the health and welfare of those dogs and animals being brought into the country and, importantly, to protect the health and welfare of animals in this country. This is about biosecurity, and health and welfare needs to be thought about in the round.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has had some thoughts and comments for the Government about sorting out the digital identification of horses. Again, I welcome that the Government are consulting on that, but we need to crack on. If we can identify those animals, we will stamp out the illegal movement of animals to the European Union for slaughter.
We have a system up and running with which we can electronically identify the horses. We have to roll that out here and get it recognised by the European Union. There is a good animal welfare reason, as well as a good movement reason for it, and I urge DEFRA Ministers to move—dare I say it?—a little faster.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I urge Ministers to move quickly on this. We must identify horses so that we know why they are moving and can stamp out the illegal movement of hundreds, potentially thousands, of those animals that are moved for slaughter. That is important. Much as I am keen on making decisions from an evidence base, there comes a time when we do not need to keep consulting. The evidence is out there. Let us act; let us do it now.
I have raised this point with Ministers many times, as have Government and Opposition Members: if we are bringing in animal sentience legislation, let us have joined-up animal health and welfare legislation in practice now. For instance, as we speak, pig farms in the United Kingdom are still in crisis with more than 40,000 pigs having been culled on farms and not gone into the food supply chain. That is horrific. It is incredibly upsetting for the farmers, the vets, the slaughter workers and everyone concerned. It is an awful thing to do. Again, I firmly push the Government on that. I know that the Minister has been convening summits and working well with the sector, but we need action to put pressure on the food processors as well as work with the Home Office to sort out the visa situation to mitigate the crisis.
Many of those are workforce issues that have been exacerbated by Brexit and covid, but they are now having implications for our food security, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend Neil Parish. They may also become an animal health and welfare problem. Let me give an example from the veterinary sector from a professional viewpoint. Since Brexit, the number of EU vets registering in the United Kingdom has reduced by a factor of about two thirds, and about 90% to 95% of vets working in the meat hygiene sector come from the European Union, so that reduction is producing a real crisis. We are short of not just workers but vets in the slaughter sector. In parallel, in the veterinary sector there is a huge increase in the time and demands on veterinary surgeons. Throughout lockdown, people have been taking in pets—we had the puppy boom—so the pressure on small animal veterinarians has gone through the roof, and, with Brexit, the pressures from export and import certification have also gone up. We therefore have a real crisis in the sector; it is a perfect storm that we really need to address.
On the EFRA Committee, we have made recommendations about keeping an eye on veterinary workforce issues and, again, that goes cross-departmental. For instance, I have been calling for an EU-UK veterinary, sanitary and phytosanitary agreement, which would smooth the movement of animal and plant produce between the UK and the EU. That would help with trade and help solve many of the issues we face between GB and Northern Ireland. I ask the Government to work across Government and with our European colleagues, because, if we could secure such agreements, that would take pressure off some of our workforce issues. That would also be of huge benefit to the country’s biosecurity.
Finally, I urge the Government not to lose their nerve on some of the welfare promises we made in our manifesto and in policy. I sincerely hope that media reports about the Government potentially dropping the ban on imports of farmed fur and foie gras are false and that they will keep going with what they promised. Some in my party have been reported in the media as saying that it is a matter of frippery or of personal choice—they should tell that to the animals farmed for their fur and to the birds with a tube rammed down their throat who are force-fed to make their livers pathologically fatty for some culinary delicacy. I firmly believe that we should hold our nerve in the Chamber and in the Conservative party and forge ahead with our promises, because that is the right and proper thing to do.
The hon. Member is making an excellent speech. I entirely agree with him on the iniquities of fur and foie gras. Is it not that we deem it cruel enough to have banned its production in this country, so all that we are squabbling about is whether we will outsource that cruelty and allow imports? I think it was the chair of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, who talked about having to smuggle foie gras into the country on Eurostar. Surely there is hypocrisy at the heart of it as well.
The hon. Member makes a valid point. Those practices and procedures are rightly banned in this country. I firmly believe that we should not import things that we believe are wrong in this country. There has been a lot of discussion about trade deals, hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken. Rightly, those practices are banned in this country. That is one area where I do actually take the Government at their word. They are still banned, so those products will not be imported. I firmly believe we should keep our promises. If we make a promise, we should keep it.
In summary, I broadly welcome the Bill. Bringing animal sentience into the centre of UK legislation is to be welcomed. However, I want to see more signs of that being put into practice across Government Departments, so that they work together to promote the health and welfare of the animals in our care, which we fundamentally understand as sentient beings.
It is a joy to follow Dr Hudson. He set out comprehensively what he hopes the Bill will achieve. He also outlined some things that need to be done, but on which we are perhaps not there yet. I put that on the record. I am pleased, as I always am, to see the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, Victoria Prentis in her place. I know that both she and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Jo Churchill will respond to our concerns.
The Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food has responded to a number of debates I have attended on puppy smuggling, an issue I feel incredibly strongly about. The steps the Government are taking tonight will be very helpful in tackling that issue. The intention is clearly to tighten the requirements of the pet travel scheme to tackle this very cruel trade. The hon. Gentleman and others referred to increasing the age at which a puppy can enter the country, as well as banning the importation of dogs with cropped ears and heavily pregnant dogs. Those measures are vital. However, I am aware that the Dogs Trust is calling on the Government and the Minister to introduce visual checks to ensure that that good work will not be in vain, and to put a stop to puppy smuggling once and for all. I seek reassurance from the Minister that the Bill will achieve that. I hope we can achieve that, but if we cannot, what will be done to ensure that it can be stopped and to ensure that the Bill contains the correct protocol for carrying out the law?
In conversations I have had with the Minister, through debates in Westminster Hall and in this Chamber, one of my concerns has been about working alongside the Republic of Ireland and its legislation. Northern Ireland, of course, has a border with the Republic of Ireland, so it is important to get that right in relation to puppy smuggling. In the past, the Minister has reassured me on that point. Perhaps she could confirm that on the record.
Northern Ireland has led the way on microchipping dogs and cats. Indeed, in Northern Ireland we are doing many things on animal sentience. Dogs are more than a cosmetic piece for show, whenever you go somewhere. Dogs have always been incredibly important to me—all my life, I have always had a dog. I see dogs mostly as hunting dogs. I am very pleased to be a fully involved member of the sporting community, as are many Conservative Members. In particular, I commend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown for the hard work he has done with the Minister to deal with some of tonight’s issues. It is good to see that in place.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I use this intervention to inform the House that my constituent has brought 55 different databases to produce one horse database, with all the biological markings of horses on it. He is working—and I am working with him—with senior civil servants in DEFRA to produce a similar database for dogs and cats. As a further refinement, there are some rogues out there who remove microchips from dogs and put in a substitute microchip. I am working with the police to put the DNA that forces like my own collect into the database so that we can see when microchips have been removed and replaced.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and he is right in what he says. A lot of dogs have been stolen during the covid period and having microchips in place was one method of trying to find out where they had ended up. He has referred to one methodology to make sure we can improve the system, which is what he is committed to. I hope that tonight we can see more of that improvement happening.
This legislation is mostly UK-based and England-based. Like Tim Farron, and indeed the Minister, I am keen to see steps in the right direction on water quality. I very much welcome the stance we have taken in this House on fur and foie gras. Like others, I seek the Minister’s assurance that we have a duty to prevent the importation of fur and foie gras. Will she confirm whether that is something that could rightly be achieved in this Bill? If it is not, what forthcoming legislation could address it? I, for one, agree with the comments on this of the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), among others. I am probably a plain eater, but the general public out there are probably very much opposed to those two things.
The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border referred to the issue of food quality, and it is important to have that in place.
Dr Hudson made a powerful point on the standards that we adopt here in the UK. My hon. Friend will know that our Northern Ireland farmers lead the way on animal welfare standards. Does he agree that it is vital that this Government ensure in any future trade deals that our markets are not flooded with cheap, substandard products that do not adhere to the high welfare standards that we have in this country?
I certainly do, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know that the Minister agrees with it, and I know that what we have tonight is a commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland can retain its standards, and that the deals with Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere will not have an adverse impact on the great sector we have in Northern Ireland and indeed in the whole UK. For us in Northern Ireland it is so important to have these standards in place, because we export 80% of our product.
I have one more point to make, and I make it as an animal lover. It relates to the protection of our pets and animals, which is a passion of mine. Since I was a wee boy in Ballywalter, which was not yesterday but back in the 1960s, I have always had a dog. After I met my wife, we always seemed to have a cat. My mailbag has been replicated throughout the whole constituency of Strangford, and again I seek some reassurance that we are in the last stages of getting this right. We are making vast steps in the right direction, but there is a balance between animal welfare and our obligations to the farming community. I declare an interest, as a member of the Ulster Farmers Union, which is the sister body of the National Farmers Union here on the mainland. This delicate balance must be kept, even in these last stages of amending and pushing through this legislation. Again, I am pleased to work with and support the Government on what they are bringing forward. Others have also made magnificent contributions to help get the legislation to where we want it to be.
We heard again, in the opening remarks of Jim McMahon, that ours is a nation of animal-lovers, and that view has been reflected in contributions from Members on both sides of the House tonight. I have considerable sympathy with the observation made by many—particularly Alex Davies-Jones—that if we are to remain a nation which fulfils that ambition, we must update our legislation from time to time. The UK is a country known throughout the world for what is often a very good process for identifying effective and proportionate regulation. That is reflected in the Bill, which is why I support it so strongly.
My constituency is unashamedly suburban in character. Given that past debates of this kind have been characterised as pitting town against country, it is enormously helpful for me to be here as the representative of a constituency where there are more than 80 farms and where fishing and fishing-associated businesses are very much present, but which also contains a significant number of members of animal welfare and, indeed, animal rights organisations. Throughout the Bill’s progress, I have been struck by the messages that have emerged and have shown how strongly people feel about the need for us to ensure that the update in the Bill is turned into practical reality. We sometimes have lengthy debates in the House and pass laws that appear to be stringent, but then fail to ensure that they are reflected in the experience of the people or, as in this context, the animals that they are designed to protect.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what was said by Tim Farron, although like many others I am not sure whether this Bill is the right place for his new clause, because in my constituency the River Colne has been hugely affected by sewage discharges. That has in turn affected fishing lakes and businesses involved in, for instance, water sports. We need to ensure that the measures outlined in the House during the passage of the Environment Act 2021 find their way into rigorous enforcement so that our constituents see cleaner, safer water, both for livestock and for human use, as part of their day-to-day lives.
I am a greater fan of the EU lawmaking process than, perhaps, many other Members. My experience has been mainly on the education side, but I think that ensuring that every stakeholder has the opportunity to contribute so we can ensure that the laws that emerge from their contribution reflect the widest possible range of concerns and are as effective as possible is a very worthwhile process. My right hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale expressed concerns in this regard. In the spirit of trying to create legislation that constitutes an effective compromise and will make the difference to animal welfare that we want to see, I wholly endorse amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, and I hope that the Government will adopt it enthusiastically tonight.
Both my right hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy spoke of the need to ensure that we make a real difference. Whether we are talking about dogs or horses, animals kept as pets, animals that are part of our food industry, animals in our farms, animals in our rivers or animals that may be bred for sport, we must not just refer sentimentally to the highest possible standards, but ensure that our laws are in step with those in other countries, especially when it comes to trade deals. The food businesses in my constituency need to see high standards in the United Kingdom that reflect the high standards they expect to find in the markets with which we trade, and we need to ensure that those markets can trade freely with us on the basis of a high degree of parity.
My hon. Friend has been extremely generous in his comments about my own remarks. The briefing from the Countryside Alliance on amendment 2 indicates that this would reintroduce the terms of the Lisbon treaty, which was designed to protect bullfighting, and by implication would also protect foxhunting.
That is no doubt a valid concern in the context of the Lisbon treaty, but when it comes to protecting events that are part of our heritage, those events need to be already taking place and legal in the country to which the rules apply. An element that was designed to protect bullfighting in Spain, which has never been present in the United Kingdom, would not fall to be protected within that legislation.
My hon. Friend Greg Smith made some extremely clear and effective remarks. He made a valid point about the need to ensure that in the composition of any committee, we exclude not those with connections to interest groups but those who have expressed a view that would prejudge their position on a matter where they were required to be independent. That is an essential consideration. We make that same requirement for those who sit on juries or deal with court cases. For example, we require magistrates to declare any reason for excluding themselves from sitting in judgment on a case. The same applies to local authority councillors dealing with a planning application when they have a direct stake in the process. My hon. Friend has raised a valid point there, and in the light of other comments from across the House, there is clearly an opportunity to develop that a little further to take into account the widest possible audience of stakeholders. The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet about the Countryside Alliance was also valid, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has taken that on board.
I will conclude by repeating that amendment 2 represents a sensible compromise and a step forward. It would ensure that we had good, effective animal welfare legislation to bring about the high welfare standards that my constituents with an interest in animal rights and animal welfare expect to see, while also respecting the need to ensure, in our trade deals, in the way we conduct our business and in the way we respect the heritage of the different communities in the United Kingdom, that we have laws that will be acceptable to all and observed by all and that can be enforced in practice—as we have heard from Members with experience in the veterinary world—so that we can produce a genuine improvement for animals in the United Kingdom, rather than simply an opportunity to express a sentiment about being a nation of animal lovers.
I rise to speak to new clauses 2 and 3. Many Members will be aware of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, which was established by the Scottish Government in 2020. The commission’s evidence-based and expert-driven approach offers a good model for the English Animal Sentience Committee, and I would urge those who have expressed misgivings about how the committee will be constructed to look to Scotland to see that it is working and that recommendations are regularly made to Ministers who then act on them. However, although animal welfare is devolved, some issues still fall under reserved areas, and the SNP new clauses focus on those issues.
Of course we support the Bill, because it will enable the setting up of a committee similar to our own, but it could be strengthened to recognise the rights of sentient animals undergoing scientific testing and military experiments used by the Ministry of Defence. Last month, this House debated a petition calling for legislation to include laboratory animals in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It is unacceptable that, in this nation of professed animal lovers, laboratory animals are not protected from unnecessary suffering under that legislation. Instead, the current rules on animals used in research are set out in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Home Office is responsible for regulating and enforcing that law. However, much of what goes on behind closed doors at animal testing sites in the UK is hidden from view and shrouded in secrecy, as the law blocks access to information about the animals’ treatment during experiments. Section 24 of the 1986 Act makes it a criminal offence for that information to be disclosed.
A requirement for the Animal Sentience Committee to provide assessments to the Government on such tests would help to ensure that the sentience of those animals was equally recognised and accounted for. New clause 2 therefore requires the Animal Sentience Committee to produce a report on the use of sentient animals in scientific experiments and military exercises by the MOD and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Between 2009 and 2020, the MOD carried out over 60,000 experimental procedures on mice, rabbits, primates, pigs and other animals. Similarly, new clause 3 requires the committee to produce a report on the use of sentient animals in tests relating to medicine, cosmetics and weapons in Government policy. As I said on Second Reading, although those specific issues are still reserved to Westminster, polling of Scottish and Welsh residents shows that a majority want to see deadlines for phasing out animal testing. Those surveyed expressed a very strong aversion to testing on dogs, cats and monkeys. Despite these public concerns, the UK remains one of Europe’s top users of primates and dogs in experiments.
We do not believe the general public are aware of the extent and nature of these experiments, or of which animals are used in them. Statistics for 2020 reveal that more than 4,000 procedures were carried out on dogs, almost all of them beagles, which are chosen for experimentation because of their size, docility and submissiveness. Most drug testing sees dogs repeatedly force-fed or forced to inhale substances for between 28 and 90 days to measure the effects of repeat exposure on the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart and nervous system.
There is enough evidence to show there are better, more accurate and more humane methods than resorting to testing on animals. Recent developments in evolutionary biology, developmental biology and genetics have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value for human responses to drugs or the pathophysiology of human diseases. Nevertheless, the Home Office says it has no current plans to review the use of animals in science. Meanwhile, the EU is moving away from cruel experiments on animals and towards cutting-edge replacements. The European Parliament recently voted in favour of developing an action plan to phase animals out of EU science and regulation.
Kerry McCarthy made an excellent contribution. Although I support new clause 1, which makes worthwhile, reasonable suggestions on the details of the Animal Sentience Committee and its responsibilities, on which Ministers have been rather sketchy, and I urge the UK Government to take new clause 1 into consideration, the Bill is almost entirely concentrated on setting up an Animal Sentience Committee—largely based on our Scottish Animal Welfare Commission set up in 2020—in England, and therefore we will not be joining Her Majesty’s Opposition in the Lobby.
The hon. Lady expressed considerable concern about amendments 2 and 7, and it is equally tempting to vote against those amendments. Amendment 2 is a Trojan horse to cover up the enthusiastic support of Conservative Back Benchers for continuing what are euphemistically referred to as “country pursuits” exactly as they have been practised for centuries. Amendment 7 is a disgracefully blatant attempt to carve out those who have a very strong interest in the protection of animals from membership of the Animal Sentience Committee. I found it hard to read that amendment, let alone to contemplate the Government accepting it.
The willingness of the Scottish Government to act on the guidance of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission’s advice demonstrates their commitment to maintaining or exceeding the high EU animal welfare standards before Brexit. However, as long as animals are used in testing and military experiments and are denied full recognition of their sentience, Scotland and the rest of the UK will fail to keep pace. I urge hon. Members to vote to maintain the UK’s proud history of supporting animal welfare by backing new clause 3.
As a starting point, we all agree not only that the issue of animal welfare and sentience is extremely important in this House, but that it has great resonance across the country. I say very gently, because our debate has been extremely wide-ranging, that my hon. Friend Neil Parish put it most succinctly: this is a simple six-clause Bill, and all it seeks to do is direct that a committee be set up and that a Minister come forward with a report from across Government. If hon. Members are worried that it will not reach all parts of the Government, I would like to assure them that it will.
I will take the amendments in order and then address other comments from right hon. and hon. Members. New clause 1, which was moved by Jim McMahon, would compel the Government to make an animal sentience strategy. The action plan for animal welfare already sets out the Government’s current and future work on animal welfare and conversation. The Government’s plan is clear, and there is no need to mandate it in statute. I very gently point out that the reason we are here today is to bring forward one of the points in the action plan; as hon. Members have said, sentience has been a while coming, but we are all here tonight to make sure that we deliver on the promises.
New clauses 2, 3, 5 and 6 would mandate that the Animal Sentience Committee to produce reports on specific areas. It is important that we do not dictate the committee’s work plan. Its members are the experts, not us, and are best placed to know where they can add value. The very first thing that the committee in Scotland did, as Deidre Brock said, was set out its own definition of sentience. As my hon. Friend Dr Hudson pointed out, the understanding of sentience is always evolving, so we want to leave it to experts from the world of science and so on—I am sure he can name them much better than I could—to define it. We are not saying that sentience should not be defined; we are asking those who have the skills to do that work. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that that is in good faith where we are trying to go.
I would like to clarify the Government’s position on some areas raised during the debate. I say gently to the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith that the committee is best placed to decide which topics to focus on.
It is worth noting that the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory does not use animals in developing offensive weapons. To go further, let me reassure hon. Members that within that capacity, military working animals play an essential role, often in life-saving operations. They are looked after within the military by military vets and are much-loved members of the team.
I have been clear that we do not want the committee to duplicate work that is already taking place across government. That is why its terms of reference make it clear that it should not go over the same ground as the specialist Animals in Science Committee.
As Tim Farron said, the Environment Act 2021 was passed last year, on
My hon. Friend Greg Smith tabled amendments 3 to 9, 13, 21 and 22, and new schedule 1, all on the committee’s governance and remit. I thank him for the constructive conversations we have had on the issue. The governance arrangements for a committee of the size that we propose do not warrant as much parliamentary time as would be warranted by the involvement of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, to which my hon. Friend referred in amendment 7. We are not creating a new non-departmental body like the Office for Environmental Protection. His proposal would be more appropriate for a body much larger than the one we propose. We have listened to his comments and those of others and we agree that the optimal size for the committee is around eight to 12 members, which would keep it smaller and focused.
The draft terms of reference already provide transparency about how the committee will be run. I say gently that DEFRA is the best Department to host the committee because that allows it to be part of the animal welfare centre of expertise, along with the three other committees that are already based in the Department. The Secretary of State will be responsible for appointments, in line with the governance code on public appointments, under which we can already exclude people from extremist organisations. Applicants from any organisation—we have heard on several occasions both sides of the argument —must declare potential conflicts of interest, in order to be transparent and so that we can rely on the judgments. We do not necessarily want to exclude certain individuals from the committee because that could mean the loss of valuable expertise. Equally, it is not proportionate to exclude anyone who has worked for an animal welfare group. That would, for example, exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, because he has been a member of the British Veterinary Association. It is extremely important to make sure we get the right balance.
I agree with the comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that the committee should be driven by scientists and led by those who know the science in this policy area. I hope he will be pleased that we are already developing non-statutory guidance to help Departments to follow best practice. That will be better than holding Departments to a one-size-fits-all model based in statute. I do not wish to require the committee to report on all Government policy across all Departments: it would be too much work for the committee and prevent it from carrying out its statutory function.
The terms of reference clearly state that the committee will be
“expected to prioritise considering current or recent policy”.
It is not to look retrospectively back at policy or to change existing legislation. The committee is to provide timely accountability and would not be fulfilling its role were it to look back, because much of current and future policy across Government will be in its focus. The terms of reference clearly set out that the committee’s focus will be on recent decisions and offers a definition of “policy”, which was asked for in amendment 18.
It is our intention and expectation that the committee will concern itself with the welfare of live animals. It would be difficult for the committee to identify a way in which a policy affected the welfare of a foetus or embryo as opposed to those of the mother. For example, where a pregnant cat was denied adequate nutrition, that would obviously affect the health of the kittens.
As I have said, we are committed to being led by the science when it comes to sentience and the use of the delegated power in clause 5 must be approved via the affirmative resolution. Both Houses must vote on any changes to the definition of “animal” within the Bill. These things can change. For example, following the findings of the LSE report, the other place accepted the addition of decapods and cephalopods to the definition of sentient beings. For the purpose of the Bill, “animal” is defined as
“any vertebrate other than homo sapiens, any cephalopod mollusc and decapod crustacean”.
Anybody who tried to change that on a whim and did not go through the proper procedure, bringing forward the affirmative resolution and so on, would have a pretty hard time not only within this House but without.
Amendments 14 to 17 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham relate to the reports produced by the committee. Forcing the committee to make a yes/no judgment risks losing those important nuances, because things in this area are rarely that clear.
The Animal Sentience Committee and the Animal Welfare Committee have very different functions. We look on the Animal Welfare Committee to give expert advice, whereas the Animal Sentience Committee is there to scrutinise policy decisions with an eye to the science and to aid Ministers in the collection of evidence to give them the tools they need to base decisions on the best available information. Both the Animal Welfare Committee and the Animal Sentience Committee will be affiliates of the animal welfare centre of expertise, bringing that information together. Having scope to co-ordinate work plans and operate a joint referral mechanism will help to avoid duplication when we look at this across the piece.
In reference to the reports that we requested in new clauses 2 and 3, can the Minister describe to me by what mechanism the Scottish Government or other devolved nations could express their concerns about the areas that we have raised here on animal testing, cosmetic testing and the use of animal experimentation in the Ministry of Defence? What mechanism could they use to raise those concerns with the committee and eventually encourage it potentially to produce reports on those issues?
I would make two points. First, the hon. Member is presupposing that there will not be members of those devolved authorities on the committee. If people hold the most appropriate expertise, they may be there as a full member, or they may be co-opted in to look at a particular area of reference. There are other mechanisms that we always use in this place to hold the Minister to account. The Minister is bound to report to this place within three months of parliamentary sitting time. All the mechanisms will be in place, as well as those behind the scenes where we talk to devolved Ministers and so on, to make sure that things are raised in the appropriate way.
Amendment 2, which is in the name of my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, would require the committee’s recommendations to respect religious rights, cultural traditions and regional heritage. We have heard the strength of feeling on this matter both here and in the other place, and I assure him that we have listened and decided to support the amendment.
I thank my hon. Friend for her careful consideration of my amendment. I think it is a sensible, proportionate amendment that will allow a committee with limited resources to focus on those really egregious areas where animal sentience is being abused, and not run into some of the less important areas. I thank her for accepting the amendment, and I thank all my hon. Friends who supported and signed it.
I thank the Minister for giving way, and I take this opportunity to thank her and the Secretary of State for having met colleagues on multiple occasions and listened. Many communities are fearful of the implications of this and, while I have not fallen in love with the Bill, the fact that amendment 2 will be made to it means that there will be a balance that was otherwise lacking. I congratulate her on listening.
I thank my hon. Friend. As many people who contributed to this debate have said, what we are seeking here is that balance.
Turning lastly to amendment 1 in the name of Ruth Jones, we do not want to clog up parliamentary time with automatic debates on committee reports. We went over that in the Bill Committee. Hon. Members have parliamentary questions, Westminster Hall debates and the Backbench Business Committee, should they wish to use them.
In short, the Bill has been carefully drafted to create a targeted, proportionate and timely accountability mechanism on animal welfare. It is designed to support the House’s scrutiny of Government, and I look forward to all those in the House making good use of it.
This has been an insightful debate and it was good to hear the passion on both sides from hon. Members who really care about this issue. New clause 1 only asks the Government to perform good governance, in that we want them to have a plan, to report on the plan and to be held accountable for the plan. The right place for that to happen is here in Parliament.
I hope the Government have listened to the concerns in the House about support for British farmers. I absolutely believe that they are the best in the world and that we have raised the bar on animal welfare standards and food production alike, but farmers often feel as though they are fighting alone, with a Government who just do not get it and are not on their side. We have seen that through procurement, fair funding, trade deals and more. I ask the Government to listen to those concerns not only on the Opposition side, but across the House, and to ensure that, when we demand so much of British farmers, we are on their side in everything we do.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided: Ayes 179, Noes 286.
Question accordingly negatived.
More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (