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Sentience and Welfare of Animals — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:40 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 4:40 pm, 16th March 2020

It is a great pleasure to serve once again under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to follow Kerry McCarthy, who made a very valuable speech.

I believe that animals are sentient beings and fully accept that they feel pain and suffering as well as pleasure. The amount of pleasure that we showed to our dog and that our dog showed to us served as a genuine indication that animals are genuinely sentient beings. However, we also need to consider the issue in the context of UK animal welfare standards, of which I am rightly proud, and of what we have achieved by setting them up. I would certainly pay great attention to that and ask the House to do so as well.

On the hon. Lady’s point about the law, I do not believe that the inclusion of a new clause in the withdrawal Bill was the right way to go about this. It is always convenient to add more and more to Bills until they become nothing more than Christmas trees. That would have been the case in this instance; we could have added endless numbers of things to the Bill. Under existing UK law, animals are already recognised as sentient—I will try to find the reference during my speech. We already recognise in law that animals are sentient creatures, and we should hang on to that firm belief.

I am quite exasperated by the hon. Lady’s mention of trade deals. I am not sure how much more has to be said or written to say that we are not going for cheap trade deals that bring contaminated food into the UK. The matter came up in this Chamber last week, and the Minister in that debate made the point—as indeed, did I—that that has been ruled out for very good reasons. I suggest that we remember that.

I want to raise a couple of concerns about the Government’s response. Finn’s law—the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019—which, as the hon. Lady will know, was introduced as a private Member’s Bill by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald, is a very good indication of general as well as specific thinking. Specifically, the law ensures that service animals such as police dogs and horses are offered greater protection, which is extremely valuable, and removes a section of self-defence law that is often used by those who want to harm service animals. Finn’s law is indicative of a wider appreciation of animals shown by the Conservative party, and there seems to be agreement across the House that we should show such appreciation. That is a very good indication for the future.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years. That is an appropriate sentence to apply to those who commit such offences. Since some of those issues were first raised with us in 2018, I ask the Minister why not enough has been done in the short term to bring those changes forward. Why are we still having debates like this? Why have we not been presented with Bills so that we can make our commitment plain in debates in the main Chamber? I would be grateful if the Minister responded to that point.