Water Companies: Sewage Discharge Monitoring

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Tuesday 21st June 2022

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is not the only person who refers to Feargal Sharkey as his friend. He is someone I know and worked with when I sat on the board of River Action, which was set up to clean up rivers such as the Wye, part of which is ecologically nearly dead. That is why there is an absolute priority in my department and in this Government to make sure we are making these changes and restoring our rivers.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, have my noble friend or his department seen any assessment of the impact on rivers or consumers if, as some in this House want, the water companies were nationalised?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I have. An independent piece of research said that water bills would be considerably higher if we had not privatised all those years ago. We know that if water companies were in public ownership, the heads of those utilities would have to sit in the queue behind the health service, education, the police and all the other priorities of public spending, and our environment and water customers would get the crumbs at the end of the queue.

Ukraine War: UK Food Security

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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There is a measure in the Agriculture Act that requires the Government every three years to produce a report on our self-sufficiency, which we did at the end of last year. It has remained relatively constant, and we are not complacent. At the moment, we are 88% self-sufficient in wheat. The remainder, mostly milling wheat, comes from Canada, and is therefore not affected by this problem. We are 100% self-sufficient in poultry, eggs, carrots, swedes, soft fruit, liquid milk and lamb, and 86% in beef. However, we have a requirement from the population; for example, we have seen an increase of five times in the amount of rice that we consume. We have to address that, but this Government are very keen to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support self-sufficiency.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom has made the welcome announcement that we are abolishing all tariffs and quotas on Ukrainian imports, including agri-foods. Will my noble friend the Minister join me in urging other countries to make the same gesture, especially our allies in the European Union? Following the blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, all its goods exports must now transit across EU territory.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Supporting our friends through liberalising trade is an important way in which we can help a country such as Ukraine. It is just part of a wide range of support that we are giving over and above our defence support; we will continue to do so.

Hunting Trophies

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd February 2022

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord knows the length of time it takes for legislation to get on to the statute book, but once it is there, imported trophies will be banned. I would expect that, if the Bill comes in in the relatively near future, by this time next year the noble Lord’s ambitions will be realised.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, has my noble friend the Minister made any assessment of the possible unintended consequences of this legislation? In the late 1970s, Kenya banned trophy hunting and saw the number of its elephants plummet. South Africa and Rhodesia, as it then was, went the other way and said that, if you owned land, livestock on that land was your property. As a result, local people treated large animals as a renewable resource rather than a pest. Can my noble friend confirm whether the Government have assessed whether there might be increased pressure on the habitats of rare species as a result of this legislation?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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As part of the consultation, we heard from a number of different organisations and Governments, including those of South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Canada, Zambia and Botswana, all of which support trophy hunting as a conservation tool. There is a wide-ranging debate about the value of well-managed conservation hunting and the impact it can have on increasing the number of rare and endangered species as against badly managed hunting, which sees large amounts of rare and endangered species killed and has no value to conservation.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I also associate myself with and will support the regret amendment. I have not been able to be at the discussions on the Bill, but I followed them very closely in Hansard because it is an issue I am interested in. There is one point to note: the noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs, made a brief reference to populism. I want to speak on behalf of the public, who might well support animal welfare, but I can tell you that if you talk to anybody outside this House and tell them what the Bill contains, they are equally appalled. The irony is that it is not fair for anyone to try to say that, as a consequence, the public might somehow get the blame for this badly formed, badly written, badly drafted, philosophically ridiculous and anti-human Bill. I do not think that is fair. Although I am sure all of us are concerned with animal welfare, the Bill is not about preserving the welfare of animals. It actually takes us into very dark, deep territory, and a bureaucratic nightmare. It is completely anti-democratic and the public would be appalled if they read the debates in Hansard in great detail.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs and my noble and indestructible friend Lord Mancroft. I asked at Second Reading: to what problem is this legislation a solution? I listened carefully through Committee and Report and I did not get an answer. I am afraid that I am reluctantly thrown back to the conclusion that this was a Bill brought forward in response to a fake press release—that, at the Dispatch Box in another place, the Minister was panicked into promising legislation in response to a false story to the effect that Conservatives had voted to say that animals were not sentient. Declamatory law of this kind invites unintended consequences. It is almost a textbook definition of how not to legislate. It does not reflect well on our lawmaking process that this House has been prevented from exerting its ameliorating and scrutinising function. I hope that that function will be taken up in another place.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs. I fear I do not agree that this Bill was a waste of parliamentary time. A large number of Bills are coming forward during the pandemic that are not health related, but it is important that legislation moves forward and does not get bogged down in Covid. Similarly, I listened to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, who, unfortunately, was not able to be here at the beginning of the debate. I live in a rural community and support the rural way of life, and I do not feel the Bill threatens either the ethos or the practical way of life in rural communities. This is overstated.

I congratulate the Minister on his remarks and on eventually getting this very short but important Bill to the point of being able to pass it on to the other place. I did not envisage at the start of the process that it would be so controversial in some quarters of the Government Benches, who, in their own words, have attempted to paralyse the House with boredom.

I thank the Minister for his time and that of his officials in providing briefings along the way, and for his patience in dealing with the many amendments and queries that came forward. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her time and assistance in helping to steer the Bill forward. It is always better when Front Benches are united in moving a Bill forward.

The amendments that have been accepted have improved the Bill. It will be interesting to see how the Bill is received in the other place and whether it will make any further amendments. No doubt it will be heavily lobbied by the spokespeople this afternoon. I support the thrust of the Bill and look forward to working with the Minister on future legislation.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, this is an interesting group of amendments seeking to specify the membership of the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, have set out the rationale for their amendments and there are some contradictions. Amendments 3 and 5 would remove the Secretary of State from the process altogether, whereas Amendment 8 would leave the power to appoint with the Secretary of State. Amendment 6 would ensure that certain levels of expertise were included in the committee’s membership.

I agree that certain skills and level of expertise are important, and can see immediately from the list that a single person can have more than one skill level and fulfil more than one function. For instance, the law currently requires that a veterinary surgeon must be present in a slaughterhouse. Therefore, he or she will have knowledge of the way a slaughterhouse operates.

However, whether such people will have time to sit on the animal sentience committee remains to be seen. A veterinary surgeon who no longer works in a slaughterhouse might do, depending on their current workload, but setting the membership in legislation could be something of a millstone around the neck of the chair or the Secretary of State, whoever is recruiting the membership.

The list of what the animal sentience committee can and cannot do under the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is extensive and somewhat cumbersome. I believe it could be streamlined. I look forward with interest to the Minister’s response to these issues.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, this block of amendments goes to the heart of what is wrong with the proposal. We all have an idea of who “the expert” is and what kind of person will give us the answers we want, whether that is a vet, someone banned from being a member of an animal rights movement, or whatever. The idea that there is some disinterested, impartial, patriotic expert who can somehow rise above the rest of us and be the only objective person is one of the most pernicious ideas in modern politics. We all have our opinions and starting assumptions, the “expert” more than anybody, if by “expert” we mean someone has spent his or her career in one field. They are the last person to whom we should contract out our decisions as a parliamentary assembly.

I totally understand that the Minister will want some flexibility, but a later amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising proposes a sunset clause. Maybe we could see whether the committee works out with the experts as proposed in the way the Minister assures us. If it does there will be no problem, and, if not, we will have another go at it. Perhaps that would be the wise amendment for the Government to accept.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, the amendments in this group all refer to the make-up of the membership of the committee and how it is appointed. Noble Lords who were with us in Committee may remember that when we debated membership of the committee, a number of us, including me, put forward amendments about its make-up and who should be on it. By the end of that debate, I felt that it had become absurd to prescribe exactly what kind of expert we should have and what area they should come from, because by the time we had finished it looked like the animal sentience committee would have a membership of around 170. We have to be practical and make sure we get the right kind of people on the committee without being specific in the Bill about exactly what job or experience they should have, because where do you end? At what point do you draw the line?

So it is important that within the terms of reference we have a clear understanding of what the committee’s role is; that is, to underpin and enhance a fundamental constitutional principle—namely, ministerial accountability. It is also important that the terms of reference make it clear that the committee is expected to operate and promote a culture of openness. It is therefore important that we have the right and proper people on it.

I am sure the Minister will point it out when he speaks, but the terms of reference clearly state that appointees will be experts—I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, is of the same opinion as Michael Gove that, we “have had enough of experts”, but there we are. Appointees will be experts with the appropriate experience relating to policy decision-making and the welfare of animals and the Secretary of State may seek to promote a diversity of expertise—which is important, as we need a proper diversity of expertise—so that the committee can offer high-quality advice on policy decision-making and its animal welfare implications.

From my perspective, and that of these Benches, the concerns that we raised in Committee about what the committee should look like and who should be appointed as a member have been answered by the terms of reference, and we are happy with what we see in that document.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Lord Herbert of South Downs Portrait Lord Herbert of South Downs (Con)
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My Lords, I remind the House of my various interests in the Countryside Alliance, including chairing the organisation. I apologise for being unable to take part in this Report stage earlier, but I was isolating and was only just released less than two hours ago. However, I was watching the proceedings very carefully, and it seemed to me that there was an emerging pattern—a serial rejection of all the amendments proposed by my noble friends and others, whether on issues of retrospectivity, on the composition of the committee, or on the matter of the risk that this committee is going to present of more judicial review. I could only admire my noble friend’s élan in batting away each of these suggestions, which came from former Ministers, from a former Leader of the House and from a former leader of the party—and from a brace at least of Queen’s Counsel, as well as suggestions and advice from a former Master of the Rolls. They were all swatted away elegantly by my noble friend.

I simply wish to say that my noble friends are sentient beings, too, and I believe that we are being treated cruelly. There is a case for reference to an independent committee to make advice as to whether all these suggestions should have been taken more seriously. Perhaps, if Ministers dismiss the advice of the animal sentience committee with the same alacrity, we will have little to fear from its future proceedings.

However, the truth is that there is less of a risk to specific aspects of farming or other activities that we can identify now than, I judge, of gluing up government with a constant process of analysis and rejection, followed by review, of proposals made by the committee. Indeed, there is to be not just one committee but two and, as we heard earlier, they will refer matters to each other, in a description that reminded me very much of a passage from “Yes Minister”. Ministers sometimes, when they occupy two briefs, as I once did, are encouraged to write letters to themselves in their dual positions. Now we have two animal committees that will be encouraged to refer matters to each other. This is an overcorrection because of a promise made earlier.

The suggestion of my noble friend Lord Moylan that, at the very least, we should ensure that the advice that the committee gives is grounded in the soundest possible science and is peer reviewed seems eminently sensible. I also join his modest suggestion that this might be the exception and the one proposal that the Minister might entertain.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Moylan’s amendment. Why do we have delegated committees? Why do parliamentary bodies contract out part of their function? The only answer, it seems to me, is that you need very specific accumulated scientific expertise—in the field of economics, or whatever—that you would not reasonably have from a legislative Chamber.

When I made the point on an earlier amendment that there is no such thing as a disinterested expert—we all have our prejudices and opinions and scientists are still human beings—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that I was Luddite or, worse, “Goveian” in my attack on all experts. But this is surely having it both ways. We cannot say, “We must have this outside committee but there is absolutely no reason for them to base their recommendations on reputable science”. If we are not prepared to require the experts to rule on the basis of where the expertise is, on what possible basis are we creating this committee at all?

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I bring your Lordships back to the amendments, which are on peer review and publication, but I say one thing to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, who entertained us wonderfully with his stories of crocodiles. Why does he think that the Government—his Government—would use “ropey advice”, as he put it, to make decisions? I find that a quite extraordinary claim, particularly given the recent report on cephalopods and decapod crustaceans, which is the basis of a debate we shall be coming to shortly, which was done by the London School of Economics. I certainly would not classify the LSE as “ropey”. So why does he think that there is evidence of “ropey” scientific evidence being used by the Government in this Bill?

There is a certain amount in this that is very similar to Amendment 18, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on publication. As I said on his amendment, it concerns me that, once we start asking for everything to be published, particularly in an academic journal following peer review, we are adding a lot of time and delay to the committee’s work. Policy scrutiny reports differ in purpose, content and form from academic journal articles. The scientific evidence requirement for publication could limit the committee’s work to areas where a body of research already exists. Such research will not be in place for every policy that would impact the welfare of animals as sentient beings. In fact, I see part of the committee’s value as its ability to examine questions that have not been considered before.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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I have received three requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere and Lord Bellingham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I will call them in that order.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, this is the first time that I have intervened in the Committee stage of a Bill so I hope noble Lords will forgive the solecisms and infelicities that follow. I am afraid that listening to the response to the first two blocks of amendments has left me convinced that this is a badly drafted and badly conceived Bill, so much so that I think it will be taught eventually at politics A-level as an example of what happens when you have pointless virtue-signalling legislation.

Let us recall why we are here. A tranche of EU law was being moved over. This was not part of it, so it was not included in the read across on to our own statute book. A press release then went out saying, “Ah, this means that the Conservatives have voted against animal sentience. They have said that animals are not sentient.” On the basis of this absurd press release, the Minister in another place was panicked into saying, “Oh no, no, we will legislate.” It found its way into the manifesto and here we are with this—as my noble friend Lady Fookes says—rather skeletal, emaciated, haggard, malnourished Bill that can be expanded almost at random in any direction.

I have to say that almost all the amendments in the first two blocks have been about seeking to define, circumscribe and guard against these opportunities for mission creep and unintended consequences, whether it is to do with the composition of the committee, its powers, its relationship with the Animal Welfare Committee or specific protections for religious freedoms, medical research and all the rest. If my noble friend the Minister—who I really feel for: this is his baptism in this place—means it when he says that this is only an advisory committee and is not going to be policy-making and so on, what can be the harm of accepting or replicating in the form of government amendments some of the ideas that would simply ensure that this statutory body does not exceed its remit?

I finish by echoing the point from my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: we would like to see some recognition from my noble friend the Minister that we are not just expected to take all this on trust and that the legislation will be drafted in a way that does not allow for almost unlimited growth and producer capture.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am very grateful to my noble friend for his sympathy, though I wish my noble friends would stop sympathising with me. If they are confused, this is my I-am-enjoying-myself face.

I have tried to give some reassurances. I may have satisfied some noble Lords but I clearly have not satisfied him and I will have to do more to do so. I have already said that we will publish more detail before the next stage of the Bill and I am sure that he and others will take great interest in that.

I respectfully disagree with him. I think this is important to people. I hope that when it is up and running—and has tackled a few pieces of complicated government policy and nudged the tiller of those involved in the legislative process perhaps to change things in a way that reflects the impact that policy would have on animals—he will see that this is not a paper tiger, a white elephant or whatever words I am putting into his mouth, but something of value.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere.

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, the debate on this amendment shows the fundamental problem of what is involved when an accountable Government pass some of their responsibilities to an appointed committee. The debate on this amendment, as on the previous one, has resembled nothing so much as one of those US courtroom dramas where people argue about who should serve on a jury because they assume that the opinions will be dictated by the position of the selected juror. If we are picking people or excluding them on the basis of their professional or political affiliations, we are effectively substituting what should be a democratic decision and passing it over to people. The only difference between them and parliamentarians is that they are not really accountable to anyone.

My noble friend the Minister said, in his answer to the amendment about Members of this House serving on the committee, that politicians are not known for their strict impartiality. That is perfectly true, of course, but the idea that anyone else is strictly impartial strikes me as rather questionable. We all have our assumptions and our prejudices—indeed, experts more than anyone, if by “expert” we mean anyone who has spent their entire career in one particular field. They are the last people to be relied on to take a view in the round.

It is fine to have advice on a narrow point, but I think the concern of this Committee is that we will stray into policy-making. That is why I want to reiterate the question asked by my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising about a sunset clause. I think that would reassure a lot of Members of this Committee. My noble friend the Minister did not answer it. Perhaps he thought it was offered in a frivolous spirit, but it was a policy of the coalition Government in which my noble friend served very ably as a Minister that there should be sunset clauses when new regulation is proposed. Would that not be a guarantee—a backstop, if you will—that if this committee strayed beyond giving narrow, technical advice into setting policy, there would be a way of doing something about it?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I apologise if I did not answer that point; I am conscious that I did not. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked: if a committee is created by statute, how do you uncreate it? The answer is by primary legislation. Once this is established in statute, the only way is to unmake it by legislation. I do not think a sunset clause would give much confidence to the people we would want to serve on the committee if they felt that it was in any way a temporary feature.

My noble friend made another, wider point about whether advisory and expert committees have any place in government. I yield to his undoubted abilities as a parliamentarian, but as a layman on most of what I deal with—despite coming from a background which has put me in touch with many areas in my ministerial responsibilities—I rely on experts to inform me about how I take forward the day-to-day warp and weft of government, including legislation. Experts have a distinct place in our legislative process and in how we form policy, and therefore I respectfully disagree with my noble friend.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 16th June 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a neighbour and, I flatter myself, a friend of the Minister. I have observed him in his natural habitat, and I know him to be a countryman of deep passion and knowledge, whose excitement when he happens on a rare beetle or some such is utterly infectious. None the less, I listened in vain in his opening statement for any rationale.

The first question we should ask of any legislation is: to what problem is this Bill a solution? When I say “we”, I particularly mean we in this House. I may be misunderstanding this—I have only been here a short while—but anyone who has done A-level politics will tell you that this is a revising Chamber. It is precisely here to ensure that legislation is proportionate to an identified problem—not to tabloid headlines; to an off-the-cuff pledge made at the Dispatch Box in another place to get a Minister out of a temporary problem; or indeed to a social media campaign based on a misapprehension. To what problem is this Bill a solution?

The Minister, in his opening remarks, listed the extensive animal welfare legislation we have, going back to mid-Victorian times. My noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs trumped him and pushed that back to the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act from 200 years ago. That plethora of extensive and powerful animal welfare legislation has in common that it is sensitive: it distinguishes between different situations and categories; it distinguishes between wild fauna and pets; it distinguishes between livestock and vermin; it distinguishes between endangered species and pests.

I think all of us agree—if any noble Lords disagree, I have yet to hear from them—on sentience being a reality. We do not need a Bill to tell us something that is uncontentious. I was very struck by some experiments in 2019 on tiny, darting, blue fish called cleaner wrasse, which exist in reefs. They passed the most basic cognition test by recognising themselves in a mirror. You place a blob on the forehead of one of these fish—Labroides dimidiatus they are called—and they respond.

This is a level that human toddlers get to at around 18 months. I experimented on my own with this one day. They suddenly go from laughing at the baby with the dot in the glass to realising it is them. That moment, at least as far as I can tell, goes hand in hand with lots of other developmental movement. They suddenly become self-aware. And they become, by the way, able to make moral choices. For the first time, you are conscious that they sometimes know they are being naughty, which until that moment they have been unaware of. The Abrahamic religions make exactly that link: the moment of the fall in the Judaeo-Christian tradition comes from self-knowledge. It comes when Adam and Eve eat the fruit:

“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”


That is the moment they become capable of making moral choices.

I do not think any of us is going to argue that animals make moral choices—sentient and conscious or not. When, to pluck a recent example, a good friend of mine in the other place had a dog that chased some deer, it was not the dog that was put on trial. I think we would all agree that it would be bizarre for the dog to be put on trial, because a dog is not a reasoning creature. When a dog is punished, it is not in the hope of contrition; it is not because we are hoping to persuade the dog that it has made wrong moral choices. What we mean by “training”, when we train an animal, is that we induce different desires, not that we inculcate an ethical sense. As the great philosopher and the first economist Adam Smith put it:

“'Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair … exchange of one bone for another with another dog.”


It is possible to acknowledge sentience and consciousness without making an animal a legal person with rights. That is precisely why I do not want sensitive moral issues of this kind contracted out to a committee. We may have all sorts of criteria in our animal protection. They may be to do with how we grade the animal; they may be to do with the purposes to which it is being put. Lord Macaulay observed:

“The Puritan hated bearbaiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”


Well, fair enough. But we have banned bear-baiting in this country on those grounds—I would be surprised if any of your Lordships wanted to bring it back—but we make a different argument about, say, horseracing. It may well be that horseracing causes distress to the horse. It is probably a fair bet that a foal’s idea of a good life, if it could express it, would not involve having a bit placed in its mouth and being ridden around by a whip-wielding ape. But we, none the less, are able to draw that distinction, and that is why we need to have these issues debated properly and sensitively, coming up from the people and not being handed down by organs of the administrative state.

I suspect that, as the father of animal rights, the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, puts it, our circles of morality will continue to expand. It may well be in our lifetime that all sorts of things we now regard as quite normal are looked back on very differently. It may be that in the future we will ban horseracing, zoos, the treatment of pets or the passion of my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—fly-fishing. It may be that we will wonder why it was ever acceptable to drag a fish into a chamber of poisonous vapours with a hook lodged in its throat. I do not know, but I do know that those decisions should not be contracted out to a standing apparat. If we are not prepared, here and in another place, to take responsibility for decisions of this kind, what the blithering flip are we here for?

Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment Committee Report

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Thursday 10th June 2021

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, perhaps I may add my voice to those who have welcomed back the noble Lord, Lord Sentamu. His has always been an original and powerful voice, often raised on behalf of those who have no other voice. Its echoing around this Chamber will enrich and elevate our counsels.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for bringing his trained scientific mind to this important issue. I wanted to focus on one statistic that he quoted from the report, which was that in order to follow the recommended dietary guidelines, for the richest 10% it would require 6% of their post-housing disposable income, and for the poorest decile 74%. Please bear those figures in mind when we hear people talking dismissively of cheap food. When did “cheap” become an insult? The fall in price of high-quality and nutritious food has been transformative for people around the world. One rarely hears the word “cheap” used in that way by the 70% of human beings who cannot yet afford a washing machine.

Of course, the price of food is not the sole or even the main determinant of poverty. One could argue that the price of housing and the knock-on impact is more immediate. Indeed, one could argue that poverty is bound up with a number of other non-economic factors such as substance abuse, family breakdown and poor educational qualifications. However, the thing about the price of food is that we can do something about it easily and at no real cost to anyone else, because all we need to do is remove some of the obstacles between the suppliers and the people who want to get it.

I am struck by how often there seems to be a mismatch in the way in which people discuss this issue. Noble Lords in this Chamber and many more outside will talk, on the one hand, about the need to address food poverty and then, moments later, make a paradigm shift and start talking about how dangerous all these trade deals are, and how we need to protect our domestic farmers and markets and to keep prices up. It is as though there are two circles that do not overlap —but they should do. The idea that it is progressive and humane to be in favour of cheaper food but somehow cold, capitalist and heartless to be in favour of free trade would have seemed utterly bizarre at almost any moment in the past 200 years.

Free trade was always a progressive cause and seen as a way to end the racket whereby poorer people subsidised wealthier people. If you consider free trade’s great exponents, they were all, by the standards of their day, what we would now call progressives. The Adam Smiths and the David Ricardos were campaigners for abolition, a wider franchise and reforms of the Poor Law. All over Europe there was a strong overlap between people who favoured freer trade and people who favoured the reduction of monarchical and aristocratic power, the extension of the franchise and so on.

Let me quote, more or less at random, the leader of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union in 1884, who said:

“The natural effect of Protection is to restrict trade, and restriction means less of everything for the working classes.”


That would have been a recognisable Labour sentiment well into the mid-20th century. Philip Snowden used to talk about that as the “free breakfast table” because he understood that the best way to improve the lives of people on low incomes would be to remove the unnecessary costs that were there to protect domestic cartels. Why has that changed? Why do we now have this peculiar debate whereby we have, if one likes, gone back to those pre-modern notions of protection? It is natural, almost inevitable, in politics for there to be a shift from consumer to producer interests, especially where those producers are either politically connected or have a sentimental hold on the imagination.

Part of that, I have to say, seems to be a little bit of nostalgia about having left the European Union. I am struck by how many people, including some noble Lords, make the argument that we should have absolutely unrestricted free trade in food with the 27 countries of the EU but not really with anyone else. It must be one or the other. We heard a little hint of that from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, a moment ago when he was talking about freer trade with Australia somehow being bad for consumers in this country. Australia has exceptionally high food and welfare standards. The idea that restoring the commercial relationship that we had with Australia before the 1970s is somehow going to be deleterious to British consumers is seen as absurd by British consumers, as a mountain of polling evidence shows.

Then there is the biggest change. I go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said in another passage of his speech about our being attracted to salt and sugar because we have those ancient instincts. That is absolutely right. We have those caveman heuristics—intuitions that were evolved for an altogether hungrier world. We are not designed for this life of skyscrapers and super-abundance. One of those instincts is a deep genetic desire to hoard food. We want to be able to see it and to know that we are able to get through the winter. The idea of depending on strangers for food that we cannot see, which is the basis of a modern economy, does not come naturally. It offends our inner caveman.

For that reason, it is always possible to get a certain amount of popular support by saying, “We should be self-sufficient. We should grow more of our own stuff”. One would be speaking to and for all those Neolithic inner cavemen wandering the savannahs of Pleistocene Africa. The trouble is that every country that has tried to do that has made itself not just poorer but hungrier. I illustrate that with examples from two ends of the spectrum. The country that has most obsessively pursued self-sufficiency in food and elevated it to the supreme governing principle is North Korea. It is called Juche. Everything that is imported can be substituted. The country at the other end of the scale, which imports everything, barely produces one edible ounce and relies on imports for its food, water and electricity, is Singapore. It has the cheapest and most secure food supplies in the world. Where would you rather live, my Lords? Where would you rather be as a person in the bottom decile? North Korea is the last place that has manmade famines; Singapore is a place where people simply would not recognise a debate like this about absence of food.

It is our role as a Chamber to overcome the misleading algorithms inherited from our hunter-gatherer past. We are here as an upper House precisely to be a cool, rational and cautious voice, to stand against those intuitive but sometimes incorrect promptings. That is why I hope that this House will take the opportunity to restate its support for freer commerce, especially in those commodities that make up the biggest share of the income of the poorest people. Free trade is the ultimate mechanism of poverty reduction, conflict resolution and social justice.

Common Organisation of the Markets in Agricultural Products (Wine) (Amendment, etc.) Regulations 2021

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Excerpts
Thursday 15th April 2021

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Hannan of Kingsclere Portrait Lord Hannan of Kingsclere (Con)
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My Lords, viticulture is one of our great prospects in this country. In the two years leading up to lockdown there was a 35% increase in the number of people employed by the sector. More of our acreage is given over now to the commercial growing of wine than at any time certainly since the dissolution of the monasteries and possibly ever. Wine producers are making a calculated gamble on a warming of temperature in this region. Not only is a lot of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire growing as a wine-producing area, but traditional champagne houses are buying up land because they too are able to see the way in which temperature is moving.

As my noble friend the Minister says, this SI deals in effect with an oversight that in itself is a minor issue. What is not a minor issue is the question of geographical indications and how to get them right. One of my neighbours in Hampshire produces an outstanding English sparkling wine—I say outstanding because it wins every blind tasting and is the only foreign sparkling wine served at the George V in Paris; not the only English wine, the only foreign wine—yet he has to get a name for it, a recognised brand, that will allow him to charge what it is intrinsically worth abroad.

We need to be aware of treading the line between consumer protection and accurate information for customers and, if you like, barriers to entry. These classification schemes are often set up deliberately to be a racket. They sometimes have rather amusing anomalies; for example, Stilton cheese can be produced in half a dozen places in the East Midlands, none of which is actually Stilton. It is not in the area allowed to produce that cheese and has to call it something else. Sometimes they are very obviously a racket. The most outstanding example within the wine trade is of course the 1855 Bordeaux classifications, from which you cannot move down. We need a response that is flexible, guards against producer capture and rewards innovation and start-ups.

My noble friend the Minister mentioned the trade bodies. WineGB’s chief executive, Simon Robinson, has a nice phrase, saying that our producers will be

“the New World in the Old World”,

by which he means that we will replicate the innovative, experimental approach of new world producers, who of course are much less tied to the concept of the appellation contrôlée than the European Union and continental wine producers are.

I hope that the Government will take on board what the industry is calling for, which is that, as we repatriate control, we should not simply replicate EU rules on geographical designations. We should have a UK regime, but it should be very light-touch. What is it that the prayer book says of marriage? We should approach it “reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly”—if “soberly” is the right word to use when talking about the wine industry.

I finish on a light note. Did noble Lords know that it can only be called “repartee” if it is said in the Repartée region of France, otherwise it is just sparkling wit?