Amendment 23

Part of Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] - Report (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 6th December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative 9:15 pm, 6th December 2021

My Lords, Amendments 23 and 35 give the House the opportunity to discuss the robustness of the science on which the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is allegedly resting. I detect a lack of enthusiasm for the wide-ranging debate on this topic that might have otherwise ensued at a more timely part of the day, so I shall keep my remarks as brief as can.

I was once on the Zambezi and had the opportunity to observe the crocodiles. These are largely placid animals that sit basking in the sun but, when hungry, they can move with terrifying rapidity and can kill very rapidly indeed. The person I was with, who knew about crocodiles, said—and I will stand corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, if I have got any of this wrong, of course—that the brain of a crocodile is a very small thing. The size of a pea was suggested to me, and that there was no capacity within the brain at all, neurologically, for a function that allowed for any memory. The consoling thought that was offered to me was that, since a crocodile cannot remember anything, if it did eat me, it was not personal.

We are about to enact a Bill—we are close to passing it through our House—without limitation that, as I understand it, declares a crocodile to be a sentient creature; that is, a creature that can experience pleasure and pain, and science is prayed in aid to support this. I take the crocodile simply as an example, there are other creatures with brains almost as small as a crocodile and probably even smaller that are being covered and in scope of this Bill. The difficulty of this is, they have very limited functions, partly because the size of the brain simply limits the functions that they can actually have.

No one doubts, as a matter of science, that a crocodile, as I say taken as an example, will respond in a certain way if a sufficiently strong stimulus is applied to it. That is a neurological reaction explicable by the movement of chemicals and electrons through the nervous system and in what passes for the crocodile’s brain. What we are being asked to do here goes way beyond that. How can this be extended scientifically—not by analogy, not by empathy, but scientifically—to include the concept of pain in a crocodile as we understand pain.

Pain is more than a simple neurological reaction. Pain, as we understand it, exists in anticipation. One worries about it coming in one’s direction. It exists in reflection; one thinks about it in the past. One has coping strategies for dealing with it, and so on. Most importantly, it exists as a time of abnormality. Pain is abnormal; we want the pain to go away, so that we can go back to normal. How can a creature with no memory have any conception of what normality is, let alone what abnormality is? How can it understand pain, beyond that neurological reaction, in any sense that we understand it? Yet there are scientists, or people who hold themselves forth as scientists, who say that scientifically that link can be made when it is actually almost incomprehensible for most of us. Who are the scientists in whom the Government are placing such faith for the scientific basis of animal sentience that they claim to exist? Where do they gather? Which respectable journals do that publish in? Who is this cadre of leading animal sentience scientists?

Of course, there are animal welfare scientists and veterinarians, and people like that, but this is very specialised, a very narrow and a relatively new field—only over the last 20 years. It has no leading lights at the moment; it is, I would suggest to your Lordships’ House, predominantly ideologically driven, and it is based in large measure on funding being supplied by what might be thought of as groups and foundations with a prior view.

So my question really to my noble friend, even as he trembles on the brink of his success—he is very close to getting his way and seeing this Bill through with practically no amendments—and before he commits the nation to this Bill and this version of animal sentience, is whether he should not think twice about the claims that he makes and the confidence that he rests in what is a very ropey branch of science. Should that not lead him to pull back and consider this amendment, which requires peer review of scientific reports from the committee? In fact, it requires peer review of all reports, and I realise now that that is a bit silly, because some of them will just be procedural—but we can work on the wording. On the scientific reports of the committee, could not he and I work together to get an appropriate amendment at Third Reading that would try to make sure that we rest at last on robust science and not on something ropey and partisan? If it is ropey and partisan, we will come deeply to regret it.