Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill

My Lords, I welcome this Bill as I have always believed that animals are sentient beings and that they feel emotions and experience pains. I was brought up in east Africa in a house with a large garden. We had a dog, cats, chickens, ducks and rabbits, and we became very fond of them and got to know them. I noticed that they had emotions and felt pain, and I shall give one example. When my mother died, I was very upset and the cat we had at that time would not stop mewing and wanted to sit on my lap. I feel that the Bill is necessary, as we need to ensure that we look after their well-being and care for all animals, whether they are pets, on a farm or in the wild.

The Bill will apply to vertebrates other than homo sapiens, but the Secretary of State may by regulation include invertebrates of any description. I agree with what has been stated.

With regard to animals which produce something we consume or use, I feel that by caring for them, we will have better milk, meat, eggs, leather, wool, et cetera. The intention of the Bill is to ensure that all animals continue to have adequate recognitions and protections now that we have left the European Union. This must be ensured by appropriate domestic legislation. We were previously subject to Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which stated that:

“administrative provisions and customs of the Member States” must respect the

“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage” of their citizens.

I ask your Lordships to note the words “religious rites”.

I am a practising Muslim and I eat halal meat. There are nearly 1.9 billion Muslims in the world and over 3.4 million Muslims in the UK, and we make up over 5% of the British population. A number of Muslims, including me, will eat only halal meat, and their beliefs need to be respected. Animal welfare is very important in Islam. The Holy Koran and Hadith state that we must recognise animals as being sentient, and we are provided with guidance regarding how to care for, handle and farm them. In addition, we are told how they should be slaughtered for food. Islam forbids mistreatment of animals and their welfare is enshrined in Muslim beliefs. The Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—said:

“A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being.”

Islam permits slaughter of animals for food but dictates that such slaughter must be exercised humanely.

There has never been conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that religious slaughter is less humane than conventional methods. In halal slaughter, the animal ceases to feel pain due to the brain immediately being starved of oxygenated blood. For the first few seconds after the incision is made, the animal does not feel any pain. This is followed by a few seconds of deep unconsciousness as a large quantity of blood is drained from the body. Thereafter, EEG readings indicate no pain at all.

I have spoken previously in your Lordships’ House about halal slaughter, and had discussions with then Defra Minister and corresponded with David Cameron, the then Prime Minister. Will the terms of reference of the committee to be appointed under the Bill include looking at the religious practices of halal and shechita? If this is to happen, I suggest that a person or persons who have a very good knowledge of these practices should be appointed. This will enable the matter to be looked into comprehensively and thoroughly. Furthermore, I suggest that the committee holds full consultations with the communities and appropriate organisations to take account of the feelings of the people. I add that I would like to see the committee being independent.

I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on the points I have raised, particularly those relating to religious slaughter. Leaders and members of the Muslim community have approached me to speak on the Bill today and raised the points which I have made.

Link to full debate on Hansard.