As a dog owner myself, I am very aware that animals feel pain and fully recognise that every effort should be made to prevent animals from suffering. Therefore, I am proud that the UK has consistently led the way on animal welfare. The UK pushed for a recognition of animal sentience to be included 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 glad that this country has the opportunity to go further 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 in domestic law the recognition that animals are sentient.
I am encouraged that this Bill would create an expert Animal Sentience Committee to review the efficacy of policy decisions in regard to animal welfare. The relevant minister must then respond to reports via statements to Parliament. Ministers would need to demonstrate that the needs of animals have been considered in relevant policy decisions. This much-awaited reform covers England and policy areas that affect the whole of the UK.
I welcome that these reforms 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 glad that this piece of legislation continues to make good progress through Parliament.
Furthermore, I know there is a lot of interest in 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 glad that this is reflected in the Government’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. 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.
I welcome, therefore, that crabs, octopus and lobsters, as well as all other decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs, are to be recognised as sentient beings. I am aware of a government-commissioned review by the London School of Economics and Political Science, which concluded that there is strong evidence that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs are sentient.
Finally, I am aware that a number of new clauses, including new clauses 2, 3, 5 and 6 were tabled to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill at Remaining Stages, which would require the Animal Sentience Committee to produce reports on specific areas. I know that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs considers it important that ministers do not dictate the committee’s work plan, as the members of the committee are the experts and are therefore best placed to know where they can add value regarding animal sentience.