Tag Archives: House of Lords

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.

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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

 

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Ensuring the Future Funding of Equine Veterinary Research and Education

A proposed change to the levy funding structure could have major implications for the future of equine veterinary research and education. The horseracing industry is heavily dependent on a levy collected from bookmakers but in recent years there has been a decline in levy funding associated with rapid increases in online and overseas gambling that are not subject to the levy. In response the Government have announced plans to modify the levy in order to widen the source of funding and ensure the sustainability of the racing industry (worth £3.5 billion to the UK economy) but there are concerns that the way the levy is modified could dramatically reduce the funding available for veterinary research and for the provision of specialist veterinary training programs.

The Horserace Betting and Levy Board (HBLB) currently collect and administer the funds that amount to approximately £70 million per year. Whilst the majority of this funding is used for the improvement of horseracing (primarily through its allocation as prize money) the levy also provides vitally important funding for equine veterinary research and education (approx. £1.8 million per year) and also for the preservation of rare-breeds of horses (approx. £115,000 per year). Several groups including the HBLB Veterinary Advisory Committee, the British Equine Veterinary Association and the British Horseracing Association have expressed concerns that these relatively small but highly significant forms of funding may not be fully recognized during the proposed modification of the levy funding structure.

Lord Trees took the opportunity of the debate last night to speak in support of the vital role that HBLB funding has played in improving the health and welfare of horses in the UK.  A transcript of the debate is available here.

Lord Trees asked the minister representing the Government for reassurance that the level of funding for equine research and education would be maintained and that it would be administered by an independent organisation. We were disappointed that the minister did not give us the full reassurance we requested however it is likely that the Government will take the concerns raised into account particularly as the Lord Trees’ views were shared by several other Peers in the debate. We will continue to seek every opportunity to press the government on this important issue in order to ensure that the importance of maintaining the health and welfare of the horses is fully recognized by the new levy system that is expected to commence in April 2017.

 

Lord Trees visits Hampshire farms with EU committee

Last week Lord Trees visited Kingsclere Estate, Manydown Farm, and Vitacress Salads Ltd  alongside other members of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. 

For the last two years Lord Trees has been a committee member of the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee that meets weekly to scrutinize legislative proposals from the EU commission. Fluctuations in the market prices for agricultural products (price volatility) poses a major threat to the financial security of farmers and to the sustainability of food supply in the EU. In response, the committee is currently working on an inquiry into creating a more resilient agricultural sector. The final report from the inquiry is due to be published in early May 2016.

The chairman of the committee,  Baroness Scott of Needham Market, said:

“Our visit to the Hampshire really brought our current inquiry to life. It was an honour to hear from farmers who have had to weather the storm of price volatility in recent months and years. What was clear from our conversations was that price volatility is here to stay and that the true potential of much of UK agriculture depends on farmers’ ability to innovate and diversify. We were impressed with the vision and the confidence of the people we met and we were grateful for the time that they took to share their thoughts with us as we begin to prepare our final report.”

Pictures:
Left: Lord Trees (centre) with Baroness Scott of Needham Market, the chairman of the Sub-Committee (second left) discussing soil structure at Kingsclere Estate.
Right: Lord Trees observing salad processing at Vitacress Salads Ltd.

The Veterinary Nurses (Protection of Title) Bill

Updated January 2016

What did we do?

On Tuesday 19 May Lord Trees submitted the ‘Veterinary Nurses (Protection of Title) Bill’ into the House of Lords Bill ballot.

As it is drawn up, the Bill would prohibit use of the title ‘veterinary nurse’ for any person whose name is not on our Register of Veterinary Nurses. Any non-registered person who used the title veterinary nurse or a name, title or description that implied they were on the Register would be guilty of an offence and may be fined or convicted under the Veterinary Surgeons Act.

Veterinary Nurse (Protection of Title) Bill

Why?

Currently the title ‘veterinary nurse’ is not protected, and this is a problem because it means anyone, even if they lack the relevant training and education, can refer to themselves as a veterinary nurse. The veterinary professions believe that this should change.

Registered veterinary nurses :

  • may give medical treatment to, or carry out minor surgery on, animals under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 under the direction of a veterinary surgeon.
  • commit to follow the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, and keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date.
  • may be subject to our disciplinary process if they should fall short of their professional responsibilities.
  • may be suspended or removed from the Register at the direction of the RVN Disciplinary Committee if found guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Consequently, we believe that it is inappropriate for people without formal training to describe themselves as a ‘veterinary nurse’, and that to do so potentially puts both animal welfare and the welfare of the individual employed as a veterinary nurse without qualification at risk.

Protection of the title is supported by the British Veterinary Nursing Association, the British Veterinary Association, the respective representative bodies for veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons in the UK, and also by their regulator, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

See more at: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/registration/about-the-vn-register/protect-the-title-veterinary-nurse

How to submit a Private Members Bill

  1. Ensure your sponsoring Peer has taken the Oath of Allegiance.
  2. Submit a Private Members Bill into the ballot.
  3. Get drawn early in the ballot to improve the chances of getting time in the chamber.

How did we do?

The Bill was submitted on time and was drawn 36 out of 44 bills entered into the Lords ballot. This relatively low position in the ballot decreases our chance of getting time in the chamber for the second reading of the Bill; in the House of Commons bill ballot, it is expected that the first seven bills drawn are usually debated in the chamber. The rest of the time in either chamber is devoted to Government-led legislation. If the Bill did make it through the Lords it would require sponsorship from an MP to pass through the Commons chamber and become law.

The introduction of the bill stimulated wide discussions and media attention and helped to raise the profile of this issue. An online petition was launched by the RCVS in August 2015 and received over 20,000 signatures (correct as of December 2015).

How did the Government respond?

Minister George Eustace discussed the protection of the title Veterinary Nurse with his DEFRA team and whilst they are extremely sympathetic with the aims of the bill we have been advised that it will not be supported by the government. The government believes that “the legal protection already in place to make sure that animals in veterinary care are treated only by individuals who are trained and qualified to do so” is sufficient and that “criminalising the use of the term “veterinary nurse” by other animal carers in a veterinary setting to be an unduly harsh solution.” To address the issue DEFRA have suggested that the “RCVS and the veterinary membership associations work with veterinary practices to encourage that only properly qualified, registered veterinary nurses should be referred to as such.”

Where do we go from here

Despite this position the government have shown willingness to continue discussions and have invited the RCVS “to discuss further with Defra how new thinking may require existing laws and regulations to be amended to bolster and clarify the role of veterinary nurses.”

 

Parliamentary Veterinary Internship applications

The Parliamentary Veterinary Internship is designed to support the activities of Professor the Lord Trees, with the successful candidate expected to work three days a week whilst Parliament is sitting (around 110-120 days a year).

The Westminster-based role is for one year (with a possibility to extend to two years), starting in October, with a salary of £17,000. The role has been advertised and applications close on Monday 27th April.

For full details of the position see the job advert.

Deregulation Bill & the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973

On Tuesday 18th November Lord Trees spoke to an amendment we had tabled on the Committee Stage of the Deregulation Bill. The Government proposal was to repeal the requirement to keep prescriptive dog breeding records under the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 on the basis that compulsory microchipping will be introduced in April 2016 and the microchip database will contain most of the information kept on the aforementioned records. Local authorities would have the option to require further information to be kept as they consider relevant. Amendments to the Breeding of Dogs Act will form part of the law of England and Wales only. They will come into force on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State in a commencement order.

Our argument is that in the light of concerns about the welfare of breeding dogs and puppy farming, this was not the time to relax regulations designed to assure the welfare of breeding bitches and that the microchipping regulations as currently drafted do not require any information about the breeding history of female dogs. Our view was supported by the the British Veterinary Association, The Dogs Trust and the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding (to whom we are grateful for alerting us to this issue).

The amendment (prepared with the assistance of the Advisory Council) meant that paragraphs 34 and 35 of the Deregulation Bill would be left out and no changes would be made to the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973.

Whilst the amendment was ultimately withdrawn (as there are no divisions at Committee stage), but the Government conceded at the end of the debate to consult post-hoc on the concerns raised:

 “If there is enough evidence to support retaining the requirement for licensed dog breeders to keep records, the Government will not commence the repeals contained in paragraphs 31 & 32 of Schedule 20.” HL Deb (2014-15) 757 col. GC 154

Subsequently, Lord Trees has spoken with the relevant Minister (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) and it is likely the consultation will go out in February or March 2015. The Minister advised us that it was never proposed that these measures would be enforced (unlike the rest of the Bill) until at least April 2016. Should the results of the consultation persuade the Government not to proceed then they will not lay a Commencement Order and these proposals will lapse.

You can find a full transcript of the proceedings of the Deregulation Bill Committee Day 7 in Hansard: Grand Committee.