We all know that the EU’s animal sentience protocol changed the way that animals were treated across the continent. This Bill is the Government pretending to do something about animal sentience, because they know that the general public really care. It is a PR exercise, and it will not prove adequate for the situation we face. The Minister said that this was a robust Bill. It is not. There is a lot that needs to be improved in this Bill, but it almost feels like wasted effort, because I know that the whole premise of the Bill is designed to make it completely ineffective.
We have waited some time for this Bill. I have here my speech on the EU withdrawal Bill, in which the Government tried to dump animal sentience. Many of us tried to bring it back into the Bill. I suggested then that the reason that they were dumping this and other aspects of EU law, which they had promised to bring over in its entirety, was that they wanted to use Brexit as an excuse to dump a whole set of existing EU rules that promoted social justice and environmental protections—how prescient of me.
We all know that the EU’s animal sentience protocol changed the way that animals were treated across the continent. Some 20 years ago, Britain used its presidency of the EU to ensure that animals were treated as sentient beings and not just as agricultural goods. Future legislation had to take account of animal well-being: Ministers had to pay full regard. The Government scraped a 13-vote majority on the amendment tabled in the other place by Caroline Lucas MP because the Minister at the time, Michael Gove, told the House that the animal sentience protocol was already UK law. There was a huge backlash on social media from people correcting that statement. Of course, the Government then promised to put something in another Bill—they have tried various times and it has always been totally inadequate.
The Minister said that this was a robust Bill. It is not. He also said things like, “it is targeted and proportionate”. It is not proportionate. He also said that the Bill honours the Government’s commitments. No, it absolutely does not. It worries me that the Government make so many promises and then fail to deliver. That is very poor government.
This Bill is the Government pretending to do something about animal sentience, because they know that the general public really care. It is a PR exercise, and it will not prove adequate for the situation we face. Essentially, the Government are hiving off their responsibility on animals to a committee. Sometimes, having a committee of experts is not a bad thing, because, of course, Ministers cannot be up on every single issue, but that committee has to be listened to.
On the climate change statutory instrument that some of us debated yesterday, a Minister explained all the reasons why the Government were simply ignoring the Committee on Climate Change. It had made a recommendation and the Government went against it, because they said they had their own judgment. Instead of stopping using carbon credits to make up for domestic failures to reduce CO2, which the Committee on Climate Change had suggested was the only way forward, the Government wimped out of serious action on the climate emergency and signed up to spew an extra 500 million tonnes of carbon into our damaged and delicate atmosphere.
In a way, this Bill is doing the same thing. That incident proves the inherent, intentional weakness of such advisory committees. No matter how well-meaning, how well resourced or how hard-working the committee is, the Government can simply ignore it and do their own thing. Just as they did with climate change and carbon credits, they can do with animal welfare and animal sentience.
There is a lot that needs to be improved in this Bill, but it almost feels like wasted effort, because I know that the whole premise of the Bill is designed to make it completely ineffective. This is reflected in the Long Title, which seems designed to frame the scope of the Bill so tightly around the animal sentience committee that it would not be possible to table amendments that were not focused on the committee. This will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to place any serious duties on the Government beyond those in the Bill, which in practice will be little more than listing the reasons why they are ignoring the committee.
Of course, cephalopods and decapod crustaceans should be included in the definition of sentient animals. After four years of waiting, and many Members of your Lordships’ House urging that there should not be a gap—but there has been—the Government have finally published a Bill that, if one graded it, would get an F for fail. It is a disaster waiting to happen.