Tracey spoke in the House of Commons Chamber on Tuesday 18th January in support of the Government's Animal Sentience Bill. You can read Tracey's speech below.
Fear not, Secretary of State and Minister—the voice of the modern Conservative is bringing up the rear of the debate. May I start by paying tribute to the newest member of the bunny-hugging wing of the Conservative party, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French), and congratulate him on using the debate to make his maiden speech? Many of our constituents care passionately about animal welfare issues, and my hon. Friend has done an amazing job in representing them today.
As a long-time advocate on animal welfare issues, and in the past sometimes a lone voice on issues such as the badger cull, I have found it encouraging to see more Members joining the Government side of the House speaking out about the wellbeing of animals. I think that that has been helped by the fact that, over the last 10 years, Conservative-led Governments, and particularly this Secretary of State, have delivered enormous progress on these matters. We now have tougher sentences for animal cruelty offences, the world’s strongest ivory trade ban, bans on commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens and on the use of wild animals in circuses, and much more.
At present, we also have two key pieces of legislation progressing through Parliament—the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which we are debating today, and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Both will make good on various manifesto commitments and help to improve the lives of millions of animals. However, it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to press for the immediate introduction of new legislation to ban the import of horrific hunting trophies—I do not think that is more important than this debate, but I do think it is equally important.
For this debate, I read through House of Lords Hansard, and I am enormously proud of Lords Benyon and Goldsmith, previously of this parish, who were often comrades on similar matters in previous Parliaments. They have done a phenomenal job in introducing this legislation and amending it where needed.
One such amendment related to decapod crustaceans and cephalopods. I warmly welcome the inclusion of those species within the scope of the Bill and pay tribute to the numerous charities and campaigners, such as Crustacean Compassion, who worked so hard to have this included in the Bill. I am pleased that the Government listened; I thank the Secretary of State and Ministers, who took notice of what was said and acted on the overwhelming scientific evidence proving that those species can feel pain. The UK will join just a handful of countries in the world, including Australia and Switzerland, in recognising decapod crustaceans as sentient beings and will introduce steps to further improve their welfare, such as pre-slaughter stunning and a ban on ice storage while alive.
Contrary to some on the Government side of the House, I welcome the establishment of an Animal Sentience Committee and am encouraged that it will work to consider the ways in which policy across Government can have an impact on animal welfare. I hope Government Departments will work effectively with the committee, including those responsible for policy areas less obviously associated with animals and animal welfare. I also welcome the terms of reference and the fact that the committee may consider how Ministers have had a positive effect on animals as sentient beings in the policy- making process.
However, I fear the ASC may lack the operational freedom to look at different areas of policy that could be improved further; as it stands, the central focus on adverse effects suggests a minimal effort at reducing potential harms to animals. I would welcome reassurance that the committee will be able to suggest positive and proactive steps to improve animal wellbeing, as advocated by the British Veterinary Association. A dedicated budget and the inclusion of appropriate veterinary and animal welfare expertise would remove the burden on civil servants, ensure that Ministers were provided with independent, scientifically backed recommendations and help to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of best practice in animal welfare legislation.
While I welcome the fact that it will continue to be up to Ministers to assess how certain legislation may impact animal welfare and to weigh up the costs and benefits in relation to other important considerations such as social, environmental and economic matters, I do not believe it is unreasonable that the committee be able to consider other ways in which Ministers can improve regulation further. We have previously expressed a desire for the UK to go further than any other country on animal welfare legislation, improving on article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which still allows for cultural activities that cause unimaginable animal suffering. I hope we do not lose sight of that commitment.
There is much more to be done, ranging from reviewing the use of snares and glue traps—my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) has a ten-minute rule Bill on that going into Committee tomorrow—to looking again at scents in trail hunting, considering the welfare of hens, protecting seals from intentional disturbance and coming good on ending the badger cull. There is more that we can do, but I welcome the Bill we are discussing today.
Finally, I repeat my thanks to Ministers and officials in DEFRA who have worked on this important Bill, which ensures that there is no loss of legal protections for animals following our departure from the European Union. I look forward to supporting this Bill wholeheartedly and following the rest of its progress through Parliament.
You can follow the entire debate here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2022-01-18/debates/33984457-F036-…