I am proud that the UK has consistently led the way on animal welfare. It was one of the key EU members that lobbied for the recognition of animal sentience in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 and, in addition, recognised in law that animals can feel pain and suffering through the Animal Welfare Act.
Now that the UK has left the EU, I am pleased that this country has the opportunity to go further to promote animal welfare by making sure that all Government departments consider animal sentience in policy, covering all vertebrate animals from farm to forest. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, enshrines the recognition that animals are sentient in domestic law. It also creates a proportionate accountability mechanism to help reassure that central government policymaking takes this into account.
I am encouraged that this Bill will create an Animal Sentience Committee with experts which will produce reports on how well policy decisions have paid all due regard to the welfare of animals. The relevant Minister must then respond to reports via statements to Parliament. From now on, Ministers will need to be ready to show that the needs of animals have been considered in relevant policy decisions. This much awaited reform applies to all policy areas and to all stages of Government policy making and implementation which is not explicitly devolved. This means it covers England and policy areas that affect the whole of the UK.
I also understand the concerns raised on this issue of the welfare of decapod crustaceans, such as the crab and lobster, and cephalopod molluscs, such as the squid and octopus. There is clear evidence that animals with a backbone are sentient and I am pleased that this is reflected in the Government’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. However, I am assured that the Bill also gives the Secretary of State a power to extend the recognition of sentience to particular invertebrates in future on the basis of evidence.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned an independent review of the available scientific evidence on sentience in decapod crustaceans, as well as sentience in the class cephalopoda. I understand that the review will report shortly, and I look forward to reading its conclusions, which I know Ministers will respond to as part of their ongoing work to protect the welfare needs of animals.
Finally, I am pleased that these reforms will also underpin the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which contains upwards of forty valuable reforms. I know that this Government is committed to maintaining the very highest standards of animal welfare and I am delighted that this piece of legislation has now been introduced.