I congratulate Kerry McCarthy on having secured not just one debate this afternoon, but two. It is good to see that so many parliamentarians are interested in animal welfare issues, because that certainly never used to be the case. I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who organised a splendid dinner last week. There are no political divides between us when it comes to our interest in animal welfare measures, although unlike her, I am not a vegan. She has done a splendid job by having secured this afternoon’s two debates.
I was very keen to leave the European Union for all sorts of reasons. I think our animal welfare legislation is perhaps the best in the world. I will not use my brief contribution as an opportunity to attack the farming community, because it faces a number of difficult challenges, but that will not stop me speaking out about animal sentience. I am a proud patron, like you, Sir Roger, of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation. I have worked very closely with those pushing to recognise animals as the sentient things that they are. Animal welfare is undoubtedly of increasing concern among the general public.
We are in the middle of a crisis; it is a nightmare, like the worst sort of science fiction movie ever. If older people are to be asked to spend more time in their homes, animals will be of enormous importance to them. Scientists have proven that animals are capable of feeling pain. There should be no argument about that. Animals suffer fear and, as my hon. Friend John Howell said, they experience joy and comfort. Animals have evolved to give themselves the best possible chance of survival. Sentience extends to being able to identify situations that cause harm; for example, mother hens teach their chicks which foods are good to eat.
Over the years, I have been involved in most animal welfare issues, particularly the campaign to stop live exports of animals and put an end to millions of farm animals being forced to endure journeys of hundreds of thousands of miles for slaughter or fattening. I was taken by the fact that the Prime Minister, in perhaps his first speech, said:
“Let’s promote the welfare of animals that has always been so close to the hearts of the British people.”
I am sure his father and partner are a great influence in those matters, so it is good to know that the person in charge of our nation tells us that he regards this as a very high priority. Inhuman practices show a complete disregard for the fact that animals experience the pain, stress and suffering of cruel journeys.