Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Craig Mackinlay Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. I would find time for both of them, because I am also very committed to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, but I understand that animal welfare issues can be contentious and emotive. Some veterans of the last Parliament may recall that when the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 was being passed, there was a controversy about whether some largely irrelevant recitals in EU law about the existence of animal sentience should be brought into a British Act of Parliament. At the time, the legal advice was that those words would behave in a very different way when placed in a British Act of Parliament than they did as some benign, largely irrelevant recital in EU law, and that therefore we had to think more carefully about how to do that.

At the time, many Conservative MPs received Twitter abuse from people saying, “You’ve just voted to say that animals don’t feel pain.” That was always a lie. No Member of this House voted to say such a thing; people voted to say that the way the EU provision was drafted did not work correctly in UK law. That is why we had to revisit the matter, which is exactly what we did with the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. When it was introduced, there were anxieties that it could become a Christmas tree Bill, and that there would be all sorts of difficult amendments, but in the end it progressed without incident. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it turned out to be perhaps the least controversial Bill that the Government passed in the last Session. The Animal Sentience Committee is about to be set up. It already has, in Michael Seals, a sensible, illustrious chair, and it is ready to go.

I think we can avoid the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill becoming a Christmas tree Bill. It is open to the Government to determine the long titles of Bills, to ensure that they remain focused on the subject that the Government intend to address. That issue was thought about at some length when we designed the structure of the Bill, and other Bills. As a result, the Bill has a very tight long title. That was by design, not accident. Also, a huge amount of thought has already been given in the Department to a handling strategy to navigate the Bill through its various stages of Parliament. I have had discussions with the Minister on that, and I do not want to give away to those present what a concession strategy might be, but virtually every conceivable amendment to the Bill has been thought about in advance, and can be managed.

Some of us voted to leave the European Union because we really wanted to take back control. We wanted to make our own laws and be a genuinely self-governing country once again, but with that comes a responsibility, in some ways. We cannot just hide behind the EU and expect it to do our dirty work, or to do difficult, contentious things on our behalf, as we often used to on animal welfare issues. We cannot blame the European Union any more. We have to take ownership, including of difficult, contentious or even emotive issues, and we must challenge ourselves to avoid a tendency to duck and dive and get by without tackling those difficult decisions.

I hope that the Government will have the courage to grasp this Bill and move it forward, recognising that there could be some emotive or contentious issues to be managed. I believe that Parliament must develop the maturity to be able to debate these issues sensibly. There is a good precedent in proceedings on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, in that although Members in all parts of the House tabled probing amendments, they recognised that, ultimately, they had to be sensible and responsible to ensure that the Bill entered the statute book. I therefore believe that we can do this.

I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that although helpful Back Benchers—including helpful Back Benchers our side—have tabled a number of probing amendments, he should not be spooked by that. As one who started this Bill, I am willing to help Ministers and play my part in ensuring that we manage those probing amendments by explaining to certain hon. Members why certain amendments might not be necessary after all.

Craig Mackinlay Portrait Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for raising issues of Brexit in his observations. I know he will be aware, but I will emphasise it here, of the absolute fiasco that happened at Ramsgate port back in September 2012, when more than 40 animals had to be euthanised because of the appalling vessel that was used for the cross-channel live animal exports. That has been a stain on Ramsgate, and I salute Kent Action Against Live Exports and others who have kept the issue alive. My right hon. Friend came down and joined me to see what was happening there. Activists are frustrated that, post Brexit, progress has not been made. I am sure that he would join me in recommending that the Government take that to a conclusion sooner rather than later.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I remember visiting Ramsgate and having to deal with that case, which was even worse than he describes, as Thanet District Council had to pay more than £2 million in compensation to the foreign company, which took it to court for trying to put in place a localised ban. That is the kind of thing that used to happen when we were in the European Union. We now have the power to prevent that happening, and that is why I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries to work with us—with Conservative Members; we are all on his side—to ensure that the Bill is carried through Parliament. We only need about five hours for Report stage. I ask the same of Opposition Members.