Amendment 74

Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 17th September 2020.

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Baroness Hodgson of Abinger:

Moved by Baroness Hodgson of Abinger

74: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—“Welfare of animals as sentient beings(1) Ministers of the Crown and local authorities must, when formulating and implementing any relevant policy, have regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings.(2) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an annual report explaining how the duty in subsection (1) has been discharged.(3) For the purposes of this section—(a) “animals” are any non-human vertebrates, any member of the Class Cephalopoda and any member of the Order Decapoda;(b) “IP completion day” has the same meaning as in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020;(c) “local authorities” has the same meaning as in the Localism Act 2011;(d) “Ministers of the Crown” has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975; (e) “relevant policy” is an agricultural, horticultural or forestry policy relating to the treatment of, or taking action in relation to, animals or their habitats.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause incorporates into UK law the principles of Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which recognises animals as sentient beings and requires governments to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals in formulating and implementing agricultural, horticultural or forestry policies.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

My Lords, I believe that animals are sentient beings and that they feel pain, suffering and fear, as well as pleasure. This amendment seeks to incorporate into UK law the principles of Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which recognises animals as sentient beings and requires Governments to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals in formulating and implementing agricultural, horticultural or forestry policies.

Noble Lords will be aware of much debate over this issue during the process of the EU repeal Bill. Since then, one draft Bill has been withdrawn following criticism from the then EFRA Committee and a second new draft Bill has been promised but has not been forthcoming. At the end of last year, a petition closed having secured over 100,000 signatures, backed by 40 NGOs and charities under the A Better Deal for Animals campaign, demanding that sentience legislation be brought forward immediately to protect animal welfare as we leave the EU.

I am proud of the high-level political support that animal welfare issues have in our country. In one of his first speeches as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said:

“let’s promote the welfare of animals that has always been so close to the hearts of the British people.”

In a letter from the then Secretary of State, Michael Gove MP, to Sir Roger Gale MP, patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, in March 2019, the Minister said that we will make

“any necessary changes required to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure that animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.”

In March this year, responding to the Westminster Hall debate in the other place on the aforementioned petition, the Minister, Victoria Prentis MP, said that

“the Government have committed to introducing new laws on sentience … We had an extremely clear manifesto commitment to do that, and I confirm that we will do so as soon as we can, but I am sadly unable to say exactly when that will be.”

The Minister also said, with reference to a number of concerns about Article 13:

“Frankly, it does not provide the sort of protection for animals that we want going forward.”—[Official Report, Commons, 16/3/20; cols. 233-34WH.]

It is only three months until the end of the transition period. We do not want a gap in the statute book on this issue. If the Government are not happy with Article 13 as it currently stands, could the Minister inform the House when they will be bringing forward their own proposals? Will it be in time, before we leave the EU? If not, I am not persuaded that having nothing is better, and I hope they are willing to accept this amendment as an interim measure until they come forward with their own proposals. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I warmly support this amendment and indeed have added my name to it. I must say that I am blessed if I can understand why this causes so many problems to the Government. I can understand how the regulations about how many hours an animal should travel raise all sorts of issues, but this is a general statement and I do not see why it cannot be introduced pretty quickly. I particularly like the part of this amendment proposing that an annual report must come forward from the Secretary of State to explain

“how the duty in subsection (1) has been discharged.”

I hope that is not offputting for the Government. It seems fairly reasonable to me and I hope that it can be introduced very rapidly.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, again I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and thank her for having introduced this amendment. The amendment speaks for itself and she spoke to it well. In light of what happened on the previous amendment, I am sure we will get reassuring words from the Minister asking us to take them to heart and not press the amendment. It would be more convincing if a declaration of that kind, which I know he makes in good faith, were backed up with some specific indication in terms of timing—what will this mean and how speedily do the Government intend to act.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated

My Lords, as a number of noble Lords may know, I am a livestock farmer, and if you are a livestock farmer you have to try to ensure that the animals in your care have the highest levels of welfare. It seems to me that that is axiomatic, and I believe that, as a general proposition, it is incumbent on all us to treat animals of all kinds properly, whether farmed animals, domestic pets or whatever other category they may fall into. My concerns about the previous three amendments are that, quite honestly, they are very blunt instruments and I could not support them in the form they were drafted, for the kinds of reasons that were made clear by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the Minister.

I remember many years ago there was discussion, when I was a Member of the European Parliament, about whether it was appropriate to introduce the concept of sentience into the legislative codes of the Union in order to underpin and safeguard the position of animals. At that time, I am prepared to admit that I was unsure about that, but since then, I am beginning to think that I was wrong. I do not believe that animals have rights as such, certainly not in the sense that we have human rights, but I do think, as I have explained on previous occasions, that humans have responsibilities—indeed, they should be legal obligations —towards animals and that these should be enforced. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that something along the lines that we are discussing tonight, and was debated inter alia in the general election campaign, is appropriate, because it means that we can deal with these issues in a much more targeted and specific manner. I think that this would be much more beneficial, both for the society as a whole and for animals, than just simple, very broad, blanket statements, which is the approach that some people have adopted.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on Amendment 74 be adjourned.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 10.59 pm.