Tag Archives: Animal Welfare Act 2006

A question of Animal Sentience?

This issue has been a subject of interest for us, other Parliamentarians and particularly the British Veterinary Association (BVA) for some time but rejection of the Amendment (New Clause 30) to the Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons on 15th November has heightened interest. At the Veterinary Policy Research Foundation we have compiled an Animal Sentience Briefing which summarises this fast moving situation.

The Withdrawal Bill seeks to transpose EU regulations into UK law but Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty  will not automatically become UK law as it is not an EU regulation.  Article 13 has been regarded as important by animal welfare organisations[1] as it puts an onus on EU member states, in formulating policies, to pay full regard to animal welfare requirements since animals are sentient beings. The amendment (New Clause 30) moved by Caroline Lucas MP, proposed that the principle with respect to animal sentience expressed in Article 13 should be included in the Withdrawal Bill. The amendment was rejected with a Government majority of 18.

Although much media coverage focused on this as a disagreement about whether animals were sentient or not, it has since been clarified by the Secretary of State for Defra[2], Michael Gove, that the amendment was voted down as a ‘poorly drafted and inappropriate way’ of delivering the aims of Article 13. Moreover, it is legally arguable that the Animal Welfare Act already implicitly recognises that animals are sentient.

The existing legislation within the Animal Welfare Act places the onus of responsibility for the care of animals on the keepers of those animals. Article 13 imposes duties on the state. This is the real and critical aspect of this debate.

Before and after the 15th November vote (see below) Government ministers have given assurances that they are exploring how the sentience of animals can be best enshrined in UK law.

You may rest assured that the VPRF and a number of MPs particularly associated with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW) and outwith Parliament, the BVA are actively working to hold the government to that commitment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You will see that in a debate in the House of Lords on Brexit: Agriculture and Brexit: Farm Animal Welfare on 17th October 2017 I asked within my speech a specific question with regard to sentience:

“…with regard to the withdrawal Bill and animal welfare, while the Secretary of State has given some assurances about the important legal principles set out in the EU treaties, can the Minister explain, in writing if necessary, which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the withdrawal Bill? Importantly, can he confirm whether they will apply to future government decision-making and judgments in court?” Lord Trees full spoken contribution can be found at: https://goo.gl/fhg4Fd

 

Ministerial response (Lord Gardiner) to Lord Trees question, by letter to Lord Teverson 3/11/17:

“Lord Trees asked which of the principles of animal sentience and environmental laws will be recognised as general principles under the terms of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and whether they would apply to future government decision-making and judgements in court. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare and environmental laws to become UK laws. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

The Withdrawal Bill will preserve environmental principles where they are included in existing EU legislation and case law. We recognise the importance of these issues and will listen carefully to the views of Parliament as the Bill progresses. Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) created a qualified obligation on the EU and EU Member States “to have full regard [to] the welfare of animals as they are sentient being” when formulating and implementing certain EU laws. Existing domestic law such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the various Welfare Codes made under it already protect animals where there is clear scientific evidence that they are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Its scope is capable of being extended where the science justifies.

We are exploring how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 can continue to be reflected in the UK when we leave the EU.”

 

In Parliament on 23rd November 2017, the Secretary of State Michael Gove delivered a Written Ministerial Statement in the Commons which you will find referred to in the briefing document and below [2].

 

Acknowledgement: we are very grateful to Dr. Michael Radford, University of Aberdeen for his expert legal interpretation of this issue.

[1] Compassion in World Farming

https://assets.ciwf.org/media/7431218/note-on-the-absence-of-article-13-tfeu-from-repeal-bill-002.pdf

[2] Written Ministerial Statement, Defra, 23.11.17

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-secretary-confirms-sentience-of-animals-will-continue-to-be-recognised-and-protections-strengthened-when-we-leave-the-eu

 

Advertisements

APGAW: Enforcement of animal welfare legislation

Animal welfare legislation: Does it work and is it effective?

On Tuesday, the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare met to discuss ‘Enforcement of Animal Welfare Legislation’. The very packed room listened to a Metropolitan Police Status Dogs unit Officer, an RSPCA Chief Inspector and an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) share their alarmingly similar views on the subject.

Inspector O’Hara, for the Metropolitan Police Status Dogs unit, highlighted that he and his colleagues receive enhanced training  when compared to most police forces. Whilst the police had historically relied on the RSPCA to lead on animal welfare law, he said ‘the sands are shifting’ and this was no longer the case. Elaborating further, he outlined several cases of interest and clarified that his unit have a good re-homing policy, with 118 dogs re-homed this year, where sensible and possible to their original home.

Mark Berry, a Local Authority EHO and member of the Companion Animal Welfare Forum, outlined the structure of service at his Local Authority, Stockton on Tees. He stipulated that his Local Authority (LA) provide a greater service than most LAs and are lucky to operate as a unitary body, rather than being spread across several departments. Mr Berry told us that statutory provision only covers stray dogs and animal licensing covering boarding, pet shops and breeding. Stockton on Tees also offer non-statutory services relating to dog-fouling, non-canine strays, unwanted animal handover, animal welfare issues including cruelty, abandonment, offences, nuisance complaints for all species, dangerous dogs, attacks on people/animals, microchipping, neutering and the promotion of responsible pet ownership. He re-iterated that many councils will only perform the first two statutory duties, yet the demand across the services in his LA is going up year on year since 2008. He believed that lack of suitably trained/qualified staff, facilities and resources, and the cost of instigating prosecutions were equally important factors behind the lack of effective animal welfare enforcement.

Dermot Murphy, for the RSPCA, stated that the three big costs for the charity and its finite resources were examination by a vet, boarding kennel fees and the cost of engaging a solicitor. He agreed with the previous two speakers that the enforcement across the country was patchwork and varied considerably from once LA and police force to another. Consequently, he felt there were currently substantial gaps in animal welfare enforcement.

In summary, all of the speakers felt that animal welfare enforcement could be improved if there were better guidance on precisely who is responsible for enforcement of the various different services outlined by Mr Berry. Furthermore, the provision of adequate resources, funding and experienced staff are key – none of which are likely to be a priority whilst the bulk of animal welfare services remain non-statutory. The question, posed by the RSPCA, of who ‘owns’ the Animal Welfare Act remains unanswered and until it is we will likely struggle on with the current patchwork cover.

Westminster Hall debates

Tuesday 4th November saw two interesting debates in Westminster Hall. In the morning Neil Parish MP moved a debate on Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods), and in the afternoon Chris Williamson MP moved a debate on Badger Culls (Assessment). I will focus on the animal slaughter side of things in this post.

Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods)

The animal slaughter debate was called following the publication of the APPG for Beef and Lamb’s inquiry into the welfare of animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites. This report identified several areas in need of further research. During the course of the debate a number of matters were discussed, including the role of exporters subject to various conditions on slaughter, the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses, the effect of animal stress on meat quality, the labelling of meat (stunned vs non-stunned) and a call to accurately record all mis-stuns and mis-cuts. A lot of well-trodden ground was once again re-covered during this debate and ultimately it boils down to the question: Does the right to freedom of religious expression outweigh animal welfare considerations?

Government response

During his response, George Eustice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“Our position is that we would prefer that all animals are stunned before slaughter, but we recognise and respect the needs of religious communities, so we have always maintained this limited exemption, which is to be used only for meat produced for Jewish and Muslim communities. Last year, the Prime Minister made it very clear in a speech that the Government have no intention of abolishing religious slaughter in this country. However, it is equally important to note that none of the derogations that we have in place, which are set out through the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, exempt anyone from the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which requires all abattoirs to avoid causing an animal avoidable pain.”

“It is not that we believe that there is no difference between the two types of slaughter, nor that we believe shechita is a more welfare-friendly method of slaughter, but because we respect the rights of religious communities. That has been the long-standing position of every UK Government, going back some 100 years.”

HOC Hansard, 4th Nov 2014, Column 168WH.

Labelling

The Minister’s round up also included (another) new date for the publication of the European Commission report on labelling – now expected to conclude in December 2014.

Mis-stunning and mis-cutting

He briefly covered the issue of mis-stunning and -cutting. Historically, the Food Standards Agency only reported incidents observed by official veterinarians in the slaughterhouse. Following review, the FSA intends to monitor and record all incidents. He reiterated the point that a mis-stunning event does not always mean the welfare outcome for a particular animal will be dire as a second, back-up stun can be applied within seconds.

CCTV in slaughterhouses

Last, but not least, the subject of CCTV in slaughterhouses is an issue. The Minister clarified that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is reviewing it as an option. The issue remains as to exactly who would monitor the CCTV footage were it made compulsory in slaughterhouses. Several supermarkets already demand that CCTV is taken in their slaughterhouses as a matter of course – perhaps the success/failure of this intervention could be investigated.

Badger Culls (Assessment)