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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:02 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Allan Dorans Allan Dorans Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member) 5:02 pm, 16th March 2020

I am delighted to speak and represent the views of more than 150 of my constituents who contacted me to offer their support for the debate. Anyone who has been in the presence of a cow being separated from her calf, as she hurls herself repeatedly at the byre door to try to get to her baby, knows full well that animals are sentient beings. From the thousands of videos on Facebook and YouTube showing animals being released from laboratories for the first time into a space where they can see the sky and feel the grass under their feet, we know that animals experience joy. Who, watching an octopus drag ocean detritus to cover herself and hide in full view of the shark hunting her, would not feel awe at her intelligence or recognise her desire to live and protect her young?

On 27 November 2017, the Scottish Government recognised that sentience and stated that

“the Scottish Government fully accepts the principle of animal sentience and will take all appropriate action to safeguard animal welfare standards. Animal Sentience has been recognised in Scottish legislation for over a century”.

In keeping with that statement, on 29 February this year, the Scottish Government created the first independent animal welfare commission, consisting of 12 members who will provide ethical and scientific advice to the Scottish Government. It is chaired by Professor Cathy Dwyer, an eminent professor of animal behaviour and welfare.

The commission will consider how the welfare needs of sentient animals are being met by devolved policy, possible legislative and non-legislative routes further to protect the welfare of sentient animals, and the research required for an evidence base for future policy development. It will also specifically consider how current policies take account of animal sentience, the wider welfare needs of animals and what improvements could be made.

In Westminster, the Government have yet to incorporate the Lisbon treaty article 13 acknowledgement of animal sentience into law. That is quite ironic, given that the original framework was initiated by the United Kingdom when they held the presidency of the European Union in 1997. The Government have stated that the sentience of animals will continue to be recognised, with protections strengthened once we leave the European Union. We have heard on many occasions that that is the Government’s view, but no animal sentience legislation has been forthcoming. We welcome their commitment, but yet we wait. We were told in a written response on 14 March 2019 that officials continue to engage with stakeholders further to refine the Government’s proposals.

Now we have left the European Union, it is even more critical that the Government, at a very minimum, have animal sentience as a keystone value within future policy. All existing animal welfare laws instigated and passed in the House of Commons are in place because we wish to stop animals being subjected to pain. We do therefore already recognise animal sentience and should bring that recognition into law.