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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:21 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:21 pm, 16th March 2020

My hon. Friend raises an important issue and, if the Minister has not yet read Labour’s animal welfare manifesto from the general election, it is very good and well worth reading. Puppy smuggling is dealt with under point 10. It is horrendously cruel, on an epic scale. There is huge public support for dealing with the cruelty that organised crime gangs perpetrate on those tiny little dogs.

The debate shows why Parliament’s online petitions are good: the fact that 104,000 people signed and 43 organisations back the petition shows that there is public support for enshrining animal sentience in law. I thank everyone who clicked on the link, then went to their email inbox to find the email and clicked the confirmation link to make sure their name could be added. I thank them for participating in earlier petitions as well as the present one, because the arguments have not changed. There may have been a slight adjustment as to which faces are around the table, but the importance of animal sentience remains.

The petition states:

EU law recognises animals as sentient beings, aware of their feelings and emotions.”

That is enshrined in the Lisbon treaty and the Government chose not to move that provision over in Brexit legislation. There was an outcry at the time and Ministers have been dragging their heels ever since, trying to make the case that although the issue is important, enshrining it in law is not really necessary. I say that it is necessary and important, and that there is cross-party support for doing it.

To be fair to the Government—I regard the present and previous Governments as one continuous Conservative Government, although I know they like to think of themselves as fresh, since December—in 2017 they introduced a Bill. They withdrew it in 2018, but we are yet to see any signs of the crucial legislation since then. However, in the intervening year, a prominent and successful Conservative Back Bencher wrote in The Guardian:

“There is currently a cross-party consensus that we should enshrine the recognition of animal sentience in statute to underpin all our existing policies and inform new ones.”

The writer was, of course, the brand new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, during his brief sabbatical from the role of Minister. One reason I have a lot of time for the Environment Secretary is that initially when he was freed from the clutches of office he made a bold, clear case for changes in agriculture, fishing and animal welfare. I hope that now he is thrust back into ministerial office—in the Cabinet, no less—the same independence of thought that he demonstrated on the Back Benches will come into play.

In the same article in The Guardian he said:

“One option might be to suggest that the US introduce a similar piece of legislation at federal level to drive the modernisation of its own laws. We could even send British advisers to Washington to help them do it as part of our trade negotiations.”

I am not certain that the US President would take kindly to British trade advisers advising him on animal welfare standards, but there is something important there: the people with whom we want to do trade deals must not undercut our animal welfare standards, in relation to agriculture, domestic pets or any element of the high levels of animal welfare we enjoy at the moment.