All 5 Baroness Deech contributions to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022

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Wed 16th Jun 2021
Tue 6th Jul 2021
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
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Committee stage & Committee stage
Tue 20th Jul 2021
Mon 6th Dec 2021
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
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Report stage part two & Lords Hansard - part two
Mon 6th Dec 2021
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
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Report stage part three & Lords Hansard - part three

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Baroness Deech Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 16th June 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this Bill is unsatisfactory on at least four grounds: it is unnecessary; it duplicates existing protections; it is retrospective; and it is filled with uncertainty.

There is already in existence the Animal Welfare Committee, which is an expert committee of Defra. Its job is:

“To provide independent, authoritative, impartial and timely advice, to Defra … on the welfare of farmed animals, including farmed animals on agricultural land, at market, in transit and at the place of killing … on any other matters that might be considered necessary to improve standards of animal welfare”.

It also gives advice to Defra

“on the welfare of companion animals and wild animals kept by people”,


“independent scientific support and advice … on the protection of animals at the time of killing”.

The Animal Welfare Committee had its remit extended to the welfare of all animals in 2019, without the need for a statute. Quite how this committee and the one proposed in the Bill will work together is unclear. We do not know what the composition of the committee will be, or whether it will be independent as well as containing sufficient expertise. It needs to be free of lobbyists. How will it or the Government consult or interact with the public?

It is not proven that a new law would improve animal welfare, but the risks in it are considerable. It was suggested that withdrawal from Europe necessitated new legislation, but let it not be argued that this country will somehow be lagging behind. Farm animal abuses are widespread in the European Union, with pigtail docking, long-distance transport and slaughterhouse practices all areas of immediate concern. Intensive farms in Europe are particularly problematic, as revealed by the European Court of Auditors, with economic interests often trumping welfare rules. The European animal welfare law in the Lisbon treaty, although it now seems pretty ineffective in protecting animals in Europe, was on paper more balanced than the remit of the committee in the Bill. Article 13 of the treaty says that animal welfare should be balanced against customs relating to

“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

whereas there is no such balance in the Bill.

The public interest in the use of animals is also absent. We need to use animals in medical research. Animal testing was vital in our successful development of vaccines against Covid-19. Studies in mice, ferrets and primates showed that the vaccines were likely to work, and other animal tests showed that the finished products were safe. Animals were also used in the basic biological research that allowed this approach in the first place. It would be tragic if the animal rights lobby got in the way of this vital progress in research, by putting animal welfare ahead of human life. Yet the committee proposed by the Bill might be so hijacked, or there might be an unwarranted attack on country sports. This is because the committee might choose to report on a policy which, in its view, has had an adverse effect on animal welfare in the past.

Despite the requirement in European law on balance, the European Court of Justice upheld last year a Belgian ban on Jewish and Muslim practices of slaughter without stunning. The argument that stunning is less injurious than non-stunning does not hold water. We should not apply double standards. The Food Standards Agency survey of 2017 estimated that hundreds of millions of animals were killed without effective stunning; gassing, in particular, causes great distress to animals killed that way. The European Food Safety Authority reported that 180 million chickens and other poultry were killed in the most recent count using insufficient electric charge. Time does not permit for the recounting of other horrors—the breaking of rabbits’ necks or the fish starved and suffocated. We even mistreat our pets, breeding them to a lifetime of ill health and depriving them of their natural habitats. If the committee were to do any good, it should concern itself with making sure that slaughter methods are carried out as they should be and that existing welfare standards are enforced.

Fish are not included in the Bill, but there is certainly a case for including crustaceans, which have been shown to react to pain and yet are killed by being broken to pieces alive or boiled alive—a fate too horrific for me ever to want to touch one. My point is that we should not see ourselves as a nation uniquely kind to animals. Nor should we apply double standards—on which note I refer to the fact that kosher killing is carried out with the utmost attention to care and science. I follow my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton in noting that, in the past, the Government have committed not to ban traditional Jewish slaughter methods. Will the Minister now repeat that commitment?

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall start by speaking to Amendment 19 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Mancroft, and myself. It is designed to secure medical research and the UK’s world-leading place in it, to ensure that animal activists cannot interfere with future or past research, and to guarantee a safe environment for our researchers. More than that, Amendment 19 is designed to protect human welfare and sentience.

Now, more than ever, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our scientific researchers who have saved thousands of lives and given peace of mind to British people and people around the world, first in the development of the Covid vaccine, although I will give more examples. I live in Oxford and went straight to the top when investigating the necessity for this amendment and the damage that might be caused if it is not passed. Dame Sarah Gilbert, the developer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, has said that she relied on research using non-human primates, ferrets and Syrian hamsters. How could any committee dare to start pontificating about what research may or may not be carried out using animals in the face of what has so recently been achieved?

Given the age demographics of this House, it is worth highlighting the recent FDA approval for Aduhelm, the first new treatment for Alzheimer’s in more than 20 years and the first therapy to target the fundamental pathophysiology of the disease. A key researcher in this, and winner of the Breakthrough Prize and the Brain Prize, is John Hardy of University College London. It took more than 20 years of research, largely involving work on genetically modified mice, to reveal what leads to cell death and plaque formation in the human brain. According to Sir Colin Blakemore, it is inconceivable that the background knowledge for the development of treatments could have been gained without animal research.

Researchers are also using monkeys for a wide range of disorders and the Covid vaccine. Researchers use them to test the safety of vaccine compounds, and to discover how the virus works inside the body and whether it can reinfect people who have already recovered from the virus. It is vital that such research should be protected. While their use in Europe is very limited, China has recognised the opportunity that this gives Chinese researchers and huge amounts of money have been poured into primate facilities for research in China.

Sadly, some animal rights organisations have disparaged the biomedical research process during the past year. They have spread misinformation, and even seem to prefer people to die rather than study animals. The use of animals in experiments and testing is highly regulated in the UK under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which adopts the principles of the three Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement. Let us celebrate the wonderful work done here in the UK to save lives by guaranteeing through this amendment, and by a statement from the Minister, that nothing will be considered or done to impede that research.

Turning to Amendments 31 and 35, I fully support the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton. These amendments are designed to restore to the remit of the committee to be established by the Bill the balance that used to be reflected in European law. The committee will have retrospective powers—that is, it can look back over past animal issues and reopen them. If the committee were to raise issues with Jewish methods of killing animals, the Secretary of State would have to lay a response to those views before Parliament. The Government have in the past stated their commitment to protecting that custom, but the Bill could undermine that. The proposers need the Government’s assurance in this debate that, were such a situation to arise, they would guarantee their commitments to religious communities. In saying this, I support the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.

There are arguments about the least cruel method of putting animals to death. The Jewish way, after much consideration, is regarded as effective because it causes an immediate loss of cerebral perfusion. Stunning, however, is driven by speed and commercial utility and goes wrong in many more millions of cases of animal deaths than ever take place in Jewish killing.

Despite the requirement in European law on balance, the European Court of Justice last year upheld a Belgian ban on Jewish and Muslim practices of slaughter without stunning. The argument that stunning is less injurious than non-stunning does not hold water. We should not apply double standards. The Food Standards Agency survey of 2017 estimated that hundreds of millions of animals were killed without effective stunning; gassing, in particular, causes great distress to animals killed that way. The European Food Safety Authority reported that, in the most recent count, 180 million chickens and other poultry were killed using insufficient electric charge. We do not kill our animals with great attention to their welfare, leaving aside the Jewish and Muslim methods. Rabbits’ necks are broken and fish starved and suffocated. We even mistreat our pets, breeding them to a lifetime of ill health and depriving them of their natural habitats. If the new committee in the Bill is to do any good, it should concern itself with making sure that slaughter methods as they exist are carried out as they should be and existing welfare standards are enforced.

Will the Minister accept these amendments and ensure that Jewish slaughter practices are protected? Not to do so would be seen as an unwillingness to make a home for those elements of the Jewish community —and the Muslim community—to whom this is of major importance.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I am speaking to Amendments 15, 39 and 45 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—I thank her for her support—and Amendment 47 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone, to which I have added my name. I will make some comments on other amendments in the group.

Amendment 15 provides the criteria for which policies are in the remit of the committee and for the committee to report on those policies while they are being formulated, while keeping the discretionary power for the committee to look at any other policies. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, if we do not do that, the remit will become far too wide to be manageable. The current text of Clause 2 allows the committee to prepare reports on any government policy that is being or has been formulated or implemented. While I welcome that wide scope, we need some organisation of activity. Without it, in the face of the overwhelming range of government policy, the committee may well struggle to take a strategic and prospective approach to its work.

Our amendment would answer concerns raised by a number of noble Lords about how the committee would cope with the potential amount of work. The policies that the Government should be looking at are ones that should be reasonably expected to have a significant effect on the welfare of animals, judged by the duration and severity of effects and the number of animals affected. Beyond those mandatory reports on policies within its remit, the committee could retain the freedom to report on any other policy that it felt might have an impact on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.

Crucially, our amendment would also allow the committee’s reports to contain recommendations on how the policy could be made to have a positive effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings. At Second Reading, the Minister suggested that the committee would be able to

“encourage policymakers to think about the positive improvements that they can make to animal welfare—not just minimising adverse effects”.—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1945.]

We very much welcome these remarks, but the text of the Bill needs to be brought into line with them, as Clause 2 currently specifies “adverse” effects being the subject of committee reports. Given that the Government believe, as we do, that the committee should have the freedom to consider how policies could enhance animal welfare, we hope that the Minister will recognise that our amendment would resolve this issue.

Amendment 39 is also designed to help to structure the way in which the committee would consider government policy with regard to animal sentience in a straightforward way by putting a duty on Ministers to inform the committee in a timely manner of relevant policy development. As I said at Second Reading, it is paramount that the committee can look at policies right across government. The Bill currently creates only a discretionary duty for the animal sentience committee to review whether a government policy has had appropriate regard to the welfare of sentient animals. There should be a mandate with a clear duty for a review of all policies that fall within well-defined criteria. A duty on Ministers to inform the committee would help to achieve that outcome.

Amendment 45 proposes a new clause that is essential to ensure that the Bill provides a functional replacement to the sentience duty that applied in law when the UK was a member of the European Union. We have heard a lot today from noble Lords about Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and its intertwined elements—recognition of animals as sentient beings and a duty to pay “full regard” to animal sentience in formulating and implementing policy. Although it was limited to certain areas of policy, Article 13 imposed a direct legal obligation on the EU and its member states to pay full regard to animal sentience. It was a direct responsibility on decision-makers, in the form of government Ministers.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 18 and 23, which carry my name, and in support of Amendments 17 and 29. These all rule out scrutiny of policies established in the past and are consistent with my Amendment 3, which we discussed on the first day in Committee, which laid out the function of the committee and confined it to considering policies subsequent to the committee’s establishment. The arguments for not having any retrospective powers have been well made by others.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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One of the worst things in this Bill, with its miasma of uncertainty, is its retrospective effect. Along with others, this amendment is designed to cure this defect. We have to stop the committee considering, let alone making suggestions to change, policies that were established in the past, that are currently being lawfully implemented and on which people base their livelihoods, food and sporting pursuits.

As it stands, the Bill would allow the committee to reopen of its own volition policies that have been in place for perhaps a century, as some of our animal welfare laws have. It could make recommendations designed to undermine the use of animals in medical research, the practice of killing animals according to Jewish law and country sports, already hedged about with qualifications and reached by consensus a long time ago. We might accept that this committee, expert or not, will consider future proposals, but we cannot let it loose on the established law.

I say this not wholly as an advocate of the positions I have mentioned but as a reminder that retrospective legislation and changes of policy are to be assumed to be a bad thing. They may undermine settled patterns of life and livelihood, taking away certainty of freedom from criminal and civil prosecution. We cannot allow this committee to propose legislation to take away the validity of decisions made in the past and in good faith by people relying on the law as it was. In the case of the traditional Jewish way of killing animals for food, it has been permissible ever since the Jewish return to England some 350 years ago and it is established policy under UK regulations to permit it, as it was under EU legislation—although not that it could be relied on, as I explained in my last speech on this when I pointed out that the European Court of Justice allowed the Belgian prohibition of Jewish non-stunning methods.

As a legal situation, at common law, there is a presumption against retrospectivity. Article 7 of the Human Rights Act prohibits arbitrary prosecution, conviction and punishment. At common law, there is also a presumption against interference with vested interests. A leading judgment on this was in the case of Wilson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 2003; one of the judges in that case, my noble and learned friend Lord Hope, is happily still with us. The judgment explained that there is a powerful presumption against statutes changing the substantive law in relation to events in the past; this is precisely what could happen if the powers of this new committee are not curbed.

There is also a presumption against legislation affecting vested rights unless Parliament is expressly making a new start for the future. So, on the one hand, recommendations by this new committee to change existing practices would be a waste of time in that, if they were acted on, they would be contrary to the rule of law; on the other hand, the Bill would accord better with human rights and the rule of law by making it express that its actions must be confined to future policy.

I hope that this amendment will be supported by the Government; otherwise, I can see legal action looming ahead on the horizon. This also applies to Amendments 18, 21, 23 and 29, all of which I support.

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, the conspiracy theorists among you will wonder whether the insufferable heat in this Room is a plot by me to speed up events.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Baroness Deech Excerpts
There are so many holes in this, and there is such a lack of clarity, that I thoroughly despair for the countryside in the future. I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister—who, of course, is a practitioner, as a farmer and landowner himself, and a practical man—can give us assurances that we are not being overrun by an endless flurry of legislation where the countryside is being penalised every time it turns up and that actually the status quo can still be maintained.
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I am speaking in support of Amendment 2 and Amendment 27, to which I have added my name. In short, these amendments seek to restore so-called Lisbon treaty provisions, or balancing considerations, to our laws on animal welfare, old and new. The arguments in favour are substantial, relating to practices in this country, and legal, relating to the avoidance of judicial review—on which I hope the House will listen to the wise words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.

Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which was apparently inserted by reason of pressure from this country, says:

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s … policies”,

et cetera,

“the Union and the Member States shall … pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Far be it from me to want to continue any European law, but this particular provision did in fact mirror what was already the situation in this country. My concerns if it is not enacted relate to medical research and religious traditions in killing animals.

The Lisbon provision successfully kept issues out of court, and religious minorities were content with it. Not to include this amendment is to open the door to vigorous disagreements over traditional practices and to more judicial review—and if there is one thing this Bill was supposed to do, it was to corral the committee and the Minister in policy issues. Muslim spokespersons are likely to be as worried about halal as are the representatives of the far smaller religious Jewish community. In the past, they have lived comfortably with the Lisbon balancing factors, and we want this to continue.

The committee might decide a particular point on this, but a Minister will have to take into account the wider considerations of cultural and religious organisations and form a view in accordance with them. Without the balancing factors that this amendment would introduce, both sides are wide open to judicial review.

The last time I spoke on this, I criticised the Bill as unnecessary and I worried about restrictions on medical research, inter alia. Living in Oxford as I do has meant witnessing protests by so-called animal liberationists. As recently as April this year, they were protesting just two miles away from the laboratory where the esteemed scientist Sarah Gilbert was working on the AstraZeneca vaccine—which, no doubt, some of them would be happy to take, and if not they would selfishly put others at risk. I hope that medical research is included in the term “public interest” in Amendment 2. The reference to legislative provisions in Amendment 27 is certainly meant to include the many laws we have about research on animals.

All our talk about inclusivity and diversity demands due respect for what is important to minorities and to others who have for centuries had a special relationship with animals and wildlife. We do not want today’s cancel culture extending to interference with medical research and peaceful coexistence, and Article 13 would be a safeguard. Moreover, the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights could, through the Lisbon treaty, be brought to bear in this amendment.

On religious rites, particularly at issue in the present context is religious animal slaughter. The importance of expressly preserving in the Bill the right of citizens to adhere to their religious practices is perfectly clear. That right falls within Article 9 of the European convention and is reflected in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has highlighted in many cases the importance of the rights protected by Article 9 in a pluralist democratic society. Our own Human Rights Act 1998, which enabled disputes on convention rights to be resolved in our own courts, contains a specific provision, in Section 13, that:

“If a court’s determination of any question … under this Act might affect the exercise by a religious organisation … of the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it must have particular regard to the importance of that right.”

It is not necessary for present purposes to go into the nature of religious animal slaughter in the form of shechita or its Muslim equivalent. There is scientific evidence on both sides of the debate about the humanity of this. In fact, when one reads about the terrible cruelty, referred to earlier in this debate, that we routinely inflict deliberately or by accident—in the electrocution of chickens, the killing of pigs, the decapitation of rabbits, the suffocation of fish, the boiling alive of lobsters, et cetera, which we will get to—we really have nothing to be proud of in all our practices of killing animals.

It is clear that the protection of the right to manifest religious belief is enshrined in the treaty obligations we already have and our own domestic legislation. Therefore, there can be no good reason why, as in the case of Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, the considerations and recommendations of the sentience committee should not be made expressly subject to respect for religious rites and medical research.

On 6 July, the Minister gave an assurance about respect for halal and kosher traditional killing, but in the same breath he reminded the House that anything could be changed. Therefore, it behoves the Government to proactively accept Amendment 27—and indeed Amendment 2—both to safeguard religious rites and medical research and to minimise judicial review challenges. I cannot think of any good reason why the amendment should be rejected.

We hope to change the Minister’s mind before Third Reading, and I shall continue to press for this safeguard today and later. As the Bill stands, the committee is not required to respect medical research and rites and traditions, yet the Minister will be bound to consider them when receiving the committee’s recommendations. Without this amendment, his decision and legal position will be much more vulnerable and difficult. I therefore urge him most strongly to accept the amendments which place the Lisbon treaty back where it should be in this country.

Viscount Ridley Portrait Viscount Ridley (Con)
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My Lords, I intervene very briefly to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has just said, particularly with respect to medical research. I have looked up which kinds of animals were used in the development of treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 in the last couple of years. They include humanised mice bred to have human ACE2 genes in them. Experiments on SARS-like viruses were being done on these mice in one city in particular for many years before the pandemic: Wuhan. The animals also included Syrian hamsters, because they have similar symptoms to human beings; monkeys, because vaccine safety always has to be tested in non-human primates; ferrets, because they have very similar symptoms when they get respiratory diseases; pigs, on which vaccines were tested; and sheep, which were used for plasma for purifying antibodies. All of these were vital to the extraordinary speed with which treatments and preventions for Covid-19 were pursued in the last year.

Nobody is suggesting that the existence of this committee will result in the banning of such research or anything like that. But it is possible that, in formulating a research proposal of this kind, you might find you run up against legislation that, in deference to the sentience committee, says that an extra step needs to be taken to check that it is really necessary to use animals in this way. Be in no doubt: all of these animals suffered, and they suffered deliberately from diseases that we gave them as a result of this work. I would hate to think that this Bill would result in anything that slowed down the urgency of medical research in a situation like this.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Moved by
27: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
“(4A) Recommendations made by the Committee must respect legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to place a duty on the Committee to have regard to the balancing factors included in the Lisbon Treaty, Article 13 of Title II, to which the UK was a party before Brexit.
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, I am very sorry that the Government have not appreciated the centrality of this amendment—the decent working of the whole Bill. I beg to move.