Lord Benyon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 and 2. Amendment 1 would require any recommendations produced by the animal sentience committee to respect

“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage”.

We have carefully considered representations made by noble Lords in debate on a similar amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. Honourable Members in the other place raised many of the same concerns. We recognise the strength of feeling in both Houses. We have listened, and we have accepted the amendment.

The Government have always sought to create a targeted, balanced and proportionate accountability mechanism within this Bill. We want the animal sentience committee to be led by science and to comprise members who are experts in sentience and animal welfare. Religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage will be neither their area of expertise nor their focus. This is a role for Ministers. We expect the committee to respect provisions and customs relating to these areas when they make recommendations under Clause 2(3) of the Bill.

We have always been clear that it is not the role of the committee to make value judgments about policy or to provide recommendations that do not reflect its expertise or its remit. This amendment will provide additional reassurance on this point. I hope that noble Lords will be content to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, I first declare my interest as in the register. I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I thank the Minister for useful discussions during the passage of this Bill, and I hope that he is a very happy grandfather this afternoon.

I accept these amendments, particularly Amendment 1, but, as a vet and a veterinary scientist, I have to say that I do not condone some of the activities covered under the amendment in terms of,

“religious rites, cultural traditions and historical heritage.”

Some of those activities are not consistent with best practice in animal welfare science or indeed regulation, and I will take this opportunity to make a plea to those directly involved to consider very carefully and to reflect on whether practices which had some historical relevance in ancient times are relevant, necessary or at all acceptable in the 21st century. Having said that, I respect national and international laws pertaining to freedoms—in particular, Article 9 of the Human Rights Act on religious freedoms.

I will make one further point. During prolonged discussions about the Bill in this House, a number of noble Lords raised the potential threat to the use of animals in medical research. That was a fair concern, but one which could be countered—I spoke to that effect, as did others at the time—by the fact that the rigorous application and implementation of our Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was a sufficient response to the requirement for government departments to have due regard to animal welfare and the development of policies. We have thorough, world-leading regulations around the controlled use of animals in medical research.

Recently, it has come to my notice that there are changes afoot in the Home Office with regard to the implementation of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act. It is not yet clear to me what the effect of those changes might be on the welfare protection of animals used in medical research. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that any changes with regard to the implementation of the law pertaining to the use of animals in medical research should not weaken—or be perceived to weaken—that regulation, which could lead to increased legal challenge to the use of animals in medical research when the Bill becomes an Act. I support the amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on bringing the Bill to this stage. My concerns about it have not changed, but we are where we are. I want to lend my support to and associate myself in particular with Amendment 1. In doing so, I repeat that I am a fellow of the British Veterinary Association and share some of the concerns outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, regarding its practice.

I seek reassurance from my noble friend as to the response of the devolved Parliaments to the amendments. Have the Government had the chance to square the amendments with them? I further seek reassurance that in the operation of the Bill the Government, particularly my noble friend’s department, will be mindful of the role that farmers and especially livestock producers play in rearing our farm animals, and perhaps recognise that they are best placed to respect animal welfare and are masters in their own right of animal husbandry.

I hope that, in light of the short debate we had elsewhere in Questions this week, the Government will be mindful of the fact that there is still a severe shortage of seasonal workers which is impacting on abattoirs and the slaughter of animals. I hope that there will not be any undue concern over potential animal welfare consequences of that. I realise that it is not entirely within the scope of the Bill, but I wish to draw it to my noble friend’s attention. I congratulate him on accepting the two amendments before us today.