The manifesto was obviously for the election towards the end of last year, and we then had a Queen’s Speech. One would have thought that if there was a manifesto commitment to do something as soon as possible, the Bill would have been mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. I appreciate that there are pressures on DEFRA and I certainly appreciate that there are many more pressures on the Government now than there were back then, but I do not think that we can use the coronavirus as an excuse for not having put something in the Queen’s Speech when none of us knew about that at the time. My concern is that the Minister seems to be trying to have it both ways by saying, “We will legislate; we have promised to legislate,” while also saying, “We don’t really need to legislate.”
This might genuinely be the Government’s view: “We do not feel that we need to legislate; we already have protections in law, but we know that at some point we will have to bring in a law, because we promised to do that to get out of an awkward situation.” We saw that with the Bill that became the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019. That was a far smaller matter, but again there was, I think, an Opposition day debate, and a huge number of people were supporting the change. Then it was dragged out; there was pre-legislative scrutiny and all sorts of things for a tiny little Bill that applied to, I think, 21 animals. It took forever.
My fear is that the Minister is trying to kick this issue into the long grass in the same way as the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill was in the long grass for an awfully long time. Many people outside the House will not be happy at all with this situation. Therefore, I will conclude by saying that there was a commitment to bring the concept of animal sentience into UK law. There was not a commitment to show people or illustrate by examples that it is already covered in UK law. We had that argument.
The commitment was to put this into UK law. There was then a manifesto commitment to put it into UK law as soon as possible. This is all very much Brexit related, and it was meant to be done by exit day—the end of January this year. Perhaps the transition period will be extended. Who knows? But the Government have made a clear commitment, and everyone expects them to live up to that commitment.