Animal Welfare Bill

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: Before we commence the debates, for the benefit of hon. Members who have not already served on Committees that I have chaired, I should point out that I take a fairly relaxed view of clause stand part debates. There are occasions when it is entirely proper and helpful to discuss a clause in the round at the start of debate on the amendments to it, rather than afterwards. If the Committee chooses to do that—and I shall determine whether it has done so—I will be perfectly happy on the clear understanding that if a clause stand part debate takes place at the outset, there will not be a clause stand part debate afterwards. Hon. Members cannot have their cake and eat it.

Clause 1

Animals to which the Act applies

Bill Wiggin: I beg to move amendment No. 102, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out

    ', except subsections (4) and (5), ''animal means'

and insert

    ' ''animal'' means a vertebrate, a cephalopod or a crustacean.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, after 'means', insert 'a cephalopod or'.

No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, after 'means', insert

    'a cephalopod or a decapod crustacean.'.

No. 190, in clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert

    'and an invertebrate of the class Cephalapoda.'.

No. 103, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out subsections (3) to (5).

No. 3, in clause 1, page 1, line 21, after 'Chordata', insert

    ', ''cephalopod'' means any member of the class Cephalopoda'.

No. 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 22, after 'Chordata', insert

    ', ''decapod crustacean'' means any member of the order Decapoda'.

Bill Wiggin: I shall speak only to amendments Nos. 102 and 103. My initial feeling about the Bill was that it should include vertebrates and invertebrates, and so I tabled amendments to remove subsections (4) and (5). After Second Reading, when the Minister talked about slugs and snails, I modified my approach so that the Bill would include cephalopods and crustaceans.

Amendment No. 102 would ensure that where there was strong evidence to include more animals in the Bill, subject to clause 2 and provided that those animals were under the control of man, they would also be protected by it. The Bill would in its present form protect only vertebrates, other than man, and the inclusion of other animals is a later prospect. I accept
Column Number: 7
that there are provisions to extend the definition of ''animal'' to include invertebrates, but it is unbelievable that we may have to wait years for a decision on whether animals such as octopuses and crabs can feel pain and be protected under the Bill.

The Government have not presented sufficient evidence to prove that such animals do not feel pain, and the EFRA Committee, the Born Free Foundation and the RSPCA have taken issue with that approach, and have made a strong case for their inclusion. Animal welfare legislation in Australia and New Zealand includes some crustaceans and cephalopods, and as the EFRA Committee has stated that a strong case has been made for the inclusion of octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, crabs, lobsters and crayfish, it would not be unreasonable to include them in the Bill.

Those animals, moreover, can be kept in a man-made environment. Crabs, octopuses and squid can be kept in aquariums, and crabs and lobsters can be kept in homes and in display units. It is only right and logical that those creatures, which are often treated like fish, cats or dogs, should have the same legal protection. The common octopus, octopus vulgaris, already receives legal protection under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It would be legally inconsistent not to include them in the Bill. The amendment would bring under the Bill's protection animals that we know should now be protected.

It may amuse the Committee to know that I was once a zoo keeper at the aquarium at London zoo and our biggest problem was that the octopus kept escaping. They are extremely intelligent and capable creatures. When they escape, of course, they cannot find a suitable environment in which to live, and they die, so great security measures were taken to keep the octopus in its tank. On the basis of their ability to escape alone, they deserve protection.

Amendment No. 103 is a probing amendment intended to uncover the Government's intentions for the future inclusion of more animals in the scope of the Bill. The Minister has time and again stated his desire to exclude certain animals, such as cephalopods, from the Bill, on the basis of scientific evidence. I appreciate that subsections (3), (4) and (5) make provision to extend the definition of ''animal'', but it is uncertain when that will happen. As that is not stated in the Bill, will the Minister tell us whether it will be done on an ad hoc basis or through an ongoing review? It may be that, under the Bill, the appropriate national authority will decide on a whim to extend the definition of the animals that will be protected, and, in view of that, I should be concerned about enacting subsections (3), (4) and (5) without reassurances from the Minister. What sort of research does he intend to use to support including relevant animals?

Finally, if we are to base our definitions on scientific evidence—and we should—we should be consistent throughout the Bill. From time to time we get a bit emotional about certain types of animal, and take a scientific view of others. We should try to be consistent.
Column Number: 8

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he was speaking only to amendments—

The Chairman: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but in case hon. Members are wondering what is going on, it is always my custom to call hon. Members who have the lead name on amendments before calling members on both sides of the Committee, as one would normally expect.

10.45 am

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman said that he was speaking to amendments Nos. 102 and 103. Those amendments and amendment No. 104 go in the same direction for the reasons that he set out. There is a scientific case for giving these categories of animal the protection of the Bill. As the Minister knows, last month the scientific panel of animal health and welfare of the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the largest decapod crustaceans are complex in behaviour, have a pain system and considerable learning ability. According to the panel, cephalopods have a nervous system and a relatively complex brain similar to many vertebrates, sufficient in structure and function for them to experience pain. Therefore, there is clearly some evidence at least that they should be included in the Bill. For example, cephalopods can learn to avoid, and can experience, the pain and the distress of electric shocks. The hon. Gentleman referred to octopuses—I was told off by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) for not knowing my Greek from my Latin and saying ''octopi'' as the plural of octopus.

I suppose that the appropriate national authority will at a later stage consider the position of octopuses and others, which, if they are that intelligent, could escape across the border, as it were, so that they can be included within the terms of the proposal under the appropriate national authority.

The cautionary principle should be applied in this case. If there is any doubt that these animals can suffer pain, they should be protected for humane reasons and included in the Bill, as that, after all, is what it is about. There is a body of scientific opinion—as far as I know, it has not been challenged—that suggests that these animals can suffer pain, and that means that we can tick the boxes that would mean their inclusion in the Bill.

I fail to understand why the Government do not simply include these animals now rather than waiting for some other scientific evidence—I do not know what they require—that might be forthcoming at an unspecified later date. That is what I am not sure about. First, what is to be lost by including them now? Secondly, what further scientific evidence do the Government require for them to be included?

I am worried that the unspecified later date may never occur. Legislation down the ages is littered with provisions that allow something to happen later on, which never actually occurs because the Government take their eye off the ball—they have other things to deal with, naturally—and there is no space in the legislative timetable. We have waited almost 100 years for an animal welfare Bill of this nature, and we should
Column Number: 9
not be projecting future dates for convincing evidence to be forthcoming.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. I am sure you will take a great interest in the debate. As you mentioned your interests, I put it on the record that I am a patron of the Blue Cross animal hospital fundraising committee in Cleethorpes, which raised money to build a new animal hospital that is now up and running.

In respect of definitions, although I appreciate the intentions of the hon. Member for Leominster, I was a tad confused that he included all crustaceans in amendment No. 102. By my reckoning, there are about 50,000 species of crustaceans, which include woodlice and barnacles, for example. I have not had much correspondence from people asking for protection for woodlice, although we are all probably happy for them to scurry around under our plant pots. The amendment is possibly a little too wide. The hon. Gentleman's subsequent amendment would delete the phrase ''other than man''.

Bill Wiggin: I thought I opened my remarks by saying that I had amended the amendment because I wanted to include all invertebrates, and that is why subsection (5) remained. However, the hon. Lady is right in what she says.

Shona McIsaac: Yes, the original amendment inadvertently gave protection to humans.

I feel, however, that the Minister must consider what has been said about cephalopods. The hon. Member for Lewes was right to say that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 originally excluded cephalopods; they were added to the Act in the early 1990s, when it was realised that they needed protection. In fact, the Animal Procedures Committee recommends that such protection is extended to all octopus, squid and cuttlefish. The Home Office was advised that they should be offered protection, but the Bill is a little ambivalent about the matter. I seek the Minister's assurance that he will seriously consider the matter, so that the Bill is at least in line with the 1986 Act.

Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 17 January 2006