Amendment 39

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] - Report (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 6th December 2021.

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Lord Benyon:

Moved by Lord Benyon

39: Clause 5, page 2, line 32, at end insert—“(b) any cephalopod mollusc, and(c) any decapod crustacean.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment adds cephalopod molluscs (for example, octopus and squid) and decapod crustaceans (for example, crab and lobster) to the definition of “animal” for the purposes of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to your Lordships for your forbearance, and for your views and insights on this important piece of legislation. I will also speak to the consequential Amendment 43.

As I have said during previous debates on the Bill, the Government’s approach to recognising the sentience of animals will be guided by the scientific evidence. My department commissioned an independent review from the London School of Economics and Political Science of the evidence surrounding the sentience of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans for that very purpose. As promised, I made the findings of that review available to your Lordships for consideration ahead of today’s debate.

Sentience is broadly understood to be the capacity to feel pain. Our Animal Welfare Committee advised in 2018:

“Sentience is the capacity to experience pain, distress and harm.”

The review considered the findings of around 300 scientific studies, using a set of criteria based on brain structure, nervous system complexity and testing for adaptive behaviour to assess whether these classes of invertebrate are sentient. The report itself was subject to peer review.

The Government have given careful consideration to the contents of the final report. We accept that there is strong evidence of the sentience of these invertebrates. It is only right, therefore, that they are included in the provisions of the Bill. That means that the animal sentience committee, once established, may produce reports under Section 2 of the Bill in relation to the welfare of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans.

However, I want to be clear that this amendment does not alter existing legislation or policy. I have heard, for example, the concerns put to me by representatives of the fishing sector, and I can assure this House that nothing in this amendment, or indeed in the Bill, changes the rules governing the activities of individuals or businesses.

Naturally, in due course, the Government may wish to consider whether it would be appropriate to amend the scope of other animal welfare legislation to include cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans. While that is not the question we are discussing today, I take the opportunity to assure your Lordships that any changes to existing laws would be subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, and we would consider carefully how we would engage industry in their development.

Today, we propose simply to recognise the sentience of these invertebrates in line with the scientific evidence. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for their previous amendments on this subject. I hope that they, and the rest of the House, will support this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

My Lords, it is with some regret that I note that my noble friend at the Dispatch Box did not thank me for my previous amendment on this subject. I accepted as far back as Committee that it was likely that cephalopods and decapod crustaceans would be added to the list of sentient beings covered by the Bill, although I did not expect it to be done in the Bill but through the secondary legislation which it contemplates.

I introduced an amendment in Committee that said, beyond vertebrates, the Government can only add, to the list of sentient beings, cephalopods and decapod crustaceans and no more. This was countered, so to speak, by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, who put down an amendment that actually added those two classes of creature to the face of the Bill. Neither amendment, of course, proceeded at Committee stage. I find it rather sad and curious that, of those two amendments, my noble friend at the Dispatch Box selected that promoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and has rather ignored mine.

However, I still believe that it is appropriate that the Bill should be amended to place some constraints on the ability of the Secretary of State to add to the list without returning to this House for primary legislation. I am not entirely alone in that regard, because I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in that particular amendment. Of course, I have to achieve it now through a different set of drafting —a different mechanism. The mechanism is no longer to limit the expansion to those two classes, because they have effectively been added already, but to take out from page 2, line 33, those subsections that give the Secretary of State the power to proceed in extending the list. That is the purpose of Amendment 42.

There is nothing more to be said, because my noble friend is not being very kind this evening to that particular species of animal that exists on his Back Benches and is practising a certain form of cruelty in tandem with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and indeed the others whom he mentioned, the other noble Baronesses, who are not entirely in their place at the moment: the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Together, the Minister and noble Baronesses are going to say no to this modest suggestion. So, I will leave it there without argument, simply pellucid in its compelling character, and allow my noble friend to reject it when he rises to speak.

Photo of Lord Trees Lord Trees Crossbench 10:30 pm, 6th December 2021

My Lords, I have been up, and indeed in, many African rivers, but not the Zambezi, like the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. So, I will try to be as brief as he has been, but I want to make two comments: one about Amendment 39 and one about Amendment 42.

The inclusion of decapod crustaceans and cephalopods within the remit of this Bill is warranted, evidence based and consistent with current legislation with regard to cephalopods, in that they are protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, so I support this amendment. However, currently in the Bill, it appears that larval forms of decapod crustacea would also be included. These can be microscopic; they are the fauna of plankton, and then they grow up into shrimps and prawns and so on. I ask the Minister: at what point does a larval decapod crustacean become sentient? A briefing from the Marine Biological Association and the National Oceanography Centre expresses concerns particularly that, if larval forms of crustacea are included, it might compromise their environmental monitoring and research functions. I ask the Minister if consideration has been given to an amendment along the lines of Amendment 41, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Marland, that excludes embryonic forms.

Amendment 42, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, myself, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, removes the possibility, currently in the Bill, for the Secretary of State by regulation to extend the list of animals covered in the Bill. This would still be possible but would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny through primary legislation. This would recognise that, as scientific research continues, evidence may accrue from which it might be argued that other invertebrates may have some degree of sentience. Crustacea are but one group within a vast taxon of arthropods that includes many thousands of species including the insects.

In the excellent LSE report that reported on the sentience in decapod crustaceans and cephalopods, there is a matrix of criteria—eight in that report—in which evidence of varying strengths may be aggregated in varying levels of confidence to arrive at an overall judgment whether a particular group may be considered sentient. There is not a clear demarcation between sentient and non-sentient.

The inclusion of further groups of invertebrates as sentient merits very thorough and balanced political, economic and societal—as well as scientific—consideration, and should ultimately be a parliamentary decision in primary legislation.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend may not like it but I will support him—I hope he appreciates that—because he said something very sensible about Larsen traps. On a small Midlands farm I catch between 40 and 82 magpies—that is the most I have ever caught—a year. Visitors congratulate me on the huge clouds of linnets, yellowhammers and whatever that we have on the farm, so I was delighted to hear what he said about Larsen traps.

In relation to government Amendment 39, I have always thought that putting a lobster into boiling water must be cruel. People say, “Oh no, they don’t feel, they’ve got no brain”. I have no idea whether they have a brain or not, but it must be cruel, and the Government are making a very good move in seeking to protect such things. While I support the amendment, however, I am not sure that it should be in the Bill—in primary legislation. I would have thought that it could have done by SI; I am not sure that this is necessarily the right way to go about it. I will, however, on this occasion support the Government without any compromise.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I am a bit perplexed by all this. The Government have decided to include lobsters and octopi—I prefer those terms because I understand them—but to exclude fish and, if they do not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, the minute creatures that they produce. It seems to me that we are on a slippery slope here: the sentience committee could come to the conclusion one day that fish have sentience and feel harm, and then we would ban them. Once you start down this road, there is no limit to where you can go in describing creatures as sentient. That troubles me enormously, and is why I am less than enthusiastic about my noble friend’s amendment.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, with this amendment we move on to Clause 5. It rather intrigues me, because it makes an exception of homo sapiens, and I wanted to ask the Minister whether that means that the Government see us as a non-sentient species. Perhaps he will answer that: if the answer is yes, I would probably agree, on track record. However, I will not detain the House. As my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville would do, I want to thank the Government for this amendment and Amendment 43, which we very much support. I understand and greatly respect what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, but I am also aware that the recent scientific evidence on the mental facilities of species such as the octopus—how it is intelligent in a very different way from that in which mammals are intelligent—should be taken very seriously and included in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Noble Lords will not be surprised that I am absolutely delighted that the Government have tabled Amendment 39, which, as we have heard, has picked up the amendment I tabled in Committee and expands the definition of animals in the Bill to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods.

It has also been good to hear support from some noble Lords, although I am sorry that it seems to have made the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, so sad. As the Minister said in his introduction, this amendment follows the London School of Economics and Political Science’s report, which concluded that there is strong scientific evidence that decapod crustaceans are sentient and can experience pain. I will not go into the detail of the report because the Minister has done that admirably, but I draw attention to the overarching central recommendation that all cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient animals for the purposes of UK animal welfare law; they should be counted as animals for the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and should be included in the scope of any future legislation relating to animal sentience. To be honest, that could not be clearer. The LSE is a well-respected organisation.

The report also provides some helpful recommend-ations for improving best practice and welfare and for regulating existing commercial practices that are of reasonable and widespread animal welfare concern for decapod crustaceans. In addition, it is consistent with the approach other countries have taken, for example, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, some Australian states and territories and some German and Italian cities. Importantly, the report also includes recommendations about how industry can be supported through any necessary changes. Will the Minister confirm that marine industries and the food sector will have advice and help to manage any impact that a change in legislation would bring?

I want to say once again a big thank you to the Minister and the Government for taking this forward and proposing its inclusion in the Bill. I am sure he is very aware that he has the strong support of these Benches.

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for those remarks. I think it might be helpful to the House if I say how this came about, as it answers the points about how we got to the stage of including decapods and cephalopods in the Bill. It is a matter of serendipity. For many years people have been pushing for work to be done, and it was done by the LSE. It just so happened that that report came into the Government’s hands over the summer while we were in the process of going through the Committee stage, and it seemed an obvious moment to take this forward when the findings of that report were so clear.

To cheer up my noble friend Lord Hamilton a bit at this late hour, I cannot think of any other species that are likely to go through this process. If there are any, I suggest that it will probably be at least a decade before someone is standing here recommending that we take that forward. It may be less; this is a fast-moving area of science, but it has taken many years—I do not know how many precisely—for decapods and cephalopods to be recognised in this way. I hope that is reassuring.

The noble Baroness asked a question about the food industry and making sure that, if the committee were to make recommendations about how one treats these organisms as part of food processing or cooking and the law is then changed because Ministers accepted that advice, there would have to be a huge amount of work with the food industry to make sure that it was prepared for it. However, this amendment does not change anything. It does not change the law; it just allows it to be within the remit of the committee to give advice to Ministers who will then take other factors into account, regarding, for example, the marine environment, fish, the economic benefits of the fishing industry to coastal communities or the importance that the Government put on fish being part of the nation’s balanced diet. These are the sort of wider factors that Governments will take into consideration.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Moylan feels put upon. I thought that I was the victim here, but clearly that is not the case. I will try to be kind to him when I come to his amendment.

I turn to Amendment 41, and here my remarks relate to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill recognises that live animals with a backbone—vertebrates—are sentient. A government amendment has been tabled to also recognise decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs as sentient, as I have said. It is our intention and expectation that the committee will concern itself with consideration of the welfare of live animals. In practice, it would be difficult for the committee and government departments to identify the way in which a policy under consideration affects the welfare needs of a foetus or an embryo, as opposed to those of the mother animal. It is unlikely, therefore, that the committee would find itself considering a policy beyond its remit. The central recommendation in the report is that these cephalopods and decapods will be regarded as sentient animals, but we carefully considered the recommendations in the review. The evidence of sentient decapods and cephalopods is clear: we are committed to being led by science when it comes to sentience, and that is why we amended the Bill.

Turning to Amendment 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan, as I mentioned, the Government are led by the science when it comes to sentience. We have considered the review’s findings carefully before amending the Bill to recognise these invertebrates as sentient. I can confirm that, at the present time, there is no intention to treat any other invertebrates, beyond decapods and cephalopods, as sentient animals. The scientific evidence that led to the Government commissioning the LSE review has been many years in the making. I can assure the House that this will continue to be the case for future extension, using the delegated powers in Clause 5.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

I note what my noble friend says about there being no plans—and I fully accept that that is so, as he has assured the House—but if there are no plans, why do the Government wish to take the powers to continue to pursue them? Would it not be better if the Minister would just accept that primary legislation will be required as and when the science demands it?

Photo of Lord Benyon Lord Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I hope I can reassure my noble friend by saying that if the Secretary of State were to use his or her powers to recommend another species or group of species to be included, that would be the subject of parliamentary oversight. It would be an affirmative resolution requiring debate in both Houses and would be subject to other areas of parliamentary scrutiny, such as Select Committees and other means by which noble Lords and people in the other place would seek to hold that decision to account. I hope that we would not wish to risk this Bill becoming out of date by removing the ability to update its scope should the scientific evidence develop.

While we are not aware of any instances on the horizon, we cannot discount the possibility that new evidence will emerge in the future that demonstrates the sentience of some additional category of invertebrate. Decapods and cephalopods were the invertebrates most likely to qualify for being regarded as sentient animals. The likelihood that another category of invertebrate might one day be shown to be sentient is small, but it is not zero. That is why we wish to leave an option to update the definition if needed. Such a power must be subject to appropriate checks and balances, of course, and I will address this point shortly.

In the meantime, I take this opportunity to clarify that the Bill is all about government policy decision-making and how well particular decisions take account of the welfare needs of animals. The Bill and our amendments do not change existing law or impose new restrictions on individuals or businesses. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the time has come to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods in the Bill and will therefore support the government amendment. I also hope that the points I have set out reassure noble Lords and that they will be content not to press their amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment 39 agreed.

Amendments 40 to 42 not moved.