Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Earl of KinnoullMain Page: Earl of Kinnoull (Crossbench - Excepted Hereditary)
(3 months, 3 weeks ago)Grand Committee
Thank you, my Lords. I should like to speak to Amendment 3 in my name and Amendment 16 in the names of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan.
Amendment 3 will sit in Clause 1, which introduces the animal sentience committee, and it seems right, proper and appropriate that the clause then goes on to describe the committee’s remit. That is to some extent covered in Clause 2(2), but my amendment goes further than that clause in two important respects. First, it stresses:
“The function of the Committee is to determine whether, in relation to the process of the formulation”—
and so on. It introduces the word “process”, which is critical to understanding the function of the committee. It is not influencing the policy or commenting on it. It can comment, and it has a remit to comment, on the process by which policy is formulated and implemented with regard to considering animal welfare implications. That is important. It may be a statement of the obvious, but it is perhaps sometimes worth stating the obvious.
Amendment 3, which would extend Clause 2(2), also refers to its remit to look at policy subsequent to the establishment of the committee, which would therefore have no right to retrospective review of policies previously formulated or implemented, even if they are in process at the time. This is an issue that a number of subsequent amendments on the list repeatedly allude to. It would therefore seem sensible to include that provision right at the beginning as a limitation on the committee’s remit.
Those are the main points: the amendment sets out the committee’s remit right at the beginning of the Bill, emphasising that its role is to comment on process, and would limit its remit to policy being formulated and implemented after the committee has been established.
Perhaps I may quickly speak to Amendment 16. It would restrict policy, which the Bill does not do; the Bill refers to “any government policy”, which is a huge remit. The amendment would restrict the policy to areas that were defined in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which to some extent is the progenitor of the Bill. It seems sensible to make the scope of the committee more manageable, reasonable and pertinent by restricting that remit.
My Lords, I have tabled three amendments in this group. The first is Amendment 19, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft, which seeks to exclude from the scope of the committee any policy related to the advancement of medical science.
British medical science is at the forefront of the world, as we have seen over the last year or so, as it leads on genomic sequencing, vaccine development and large-scale randomised trials for therapeutic purposes. It must be a cause for concern that the actions and inquiries of this committee could create a degree of inhibition in the advancement of medical science and the actions of medical scientists in continuing to promote medical science, because in some cases, and under the strictest controls and with the greatest degree of humanity, it is necessary for animal experimentation to be undertaken in order for drugs to be established as safe and for other processes, which are beyond my medical knowledge but I think what I am saying is well understood, to be validated and found to be safe.
The difficulty with having a committee that can go roaming around, checking all these things in advance, which this committee in practice could, is that it trespasses on a well-worn, established set of mechanisms for ensuring that those experiments, where they are absolutely necessary, are carried out with a proper purpose and in proper circumstances.
We lead in medical science with the full support of the Government, not primarily because we see it as a source of great lucre flowing into the country—the Government’s insistence that the vaccine developed under their sponsorship should be available at cost is a good instance of that—but for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The whole human race will benefit from what we do. I think most people would recognise that that is a worthy objective and certainly one that could be settled on alongside any claims that may be made on behalf of animals and their rights. I would therefore strongly recommend, suggest and hope that this amendment can be made and medical science excluded so that the current position remains as it is. That is all I am really asking.
Moving on to the two other amendments, Amendment 26 has the support of my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, while Amendment 33 is merely consequential on Amendment 26. Amendment 26 needs a little explanation. Clause 1 requires the committee and the Government to have regard to “the welfare of animals” and then adds the words “as sentient beings”. It is worth reflecting on what that adds to the claim. When you think about it carefully, it does not add anything at all; it actually subtracts. It is perfectly possible to do harm to animals and to damage their welfare in a way that does not affect them as sentient beings.
The example that most readily comes to mind is to do with background radiation. We know that parts of the country have high levels of background radiation, which can affect humans and, I assume, animals—mammals, at least—detrimentally, but you do not know that it is happening to you. You do not feel anything. You feel neither pleasure nor pain; there is no interaction with the concept of sentience. Your health may be deteriorating, but you have no sentient knowledge of it. It would simply be plainer, and would allow the committee to look at things in the round, if it did not have to be excluded, which it would be, from considering something such as the effects of background radiation on animals. It would simply not be permitted to look at that under this legislation. I thought there might be some support from those who thought that perhaps it should. The deletion of those words would restore us to a more common-sense position of looking at the welfare of animals in general.
Those are my other two amendments, but, before I finish, as this is such a large group I shall comment briefly on three others. Amendment 31, in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, seeks to ensure that the committee at least gives due account to, or respects,
“legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
That is an important point. On Second Reading, I tried to say that there is definitely an attempt here—one may support it, one may not—to shift the hierarchical balance, if you like, between humans and animals to put us more on the same level. I do not think that is too outrageous a claim to make. Of course, part of being human—not for everybody, but for many parts of humanity—is an awareness of, an adherence to and a sensibility about religious belief. With religious belief inevitably comes community adhesion and a certain amount of ritual practice. It takes things too far for the committee to be able to trample over that in the interests of animal welfare, with or without sentience being taken into account. That area should be preserved. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth has that effect. I think that Amendment 35 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, would have a similar effect but, as he explained, he approached this more on the basis of restoring the balance that existed in the previous legislation. I am glad to be able to support that as well.
That leads me to what is in some ways the most important amendment in the group, put forward by the noble Earl as Amendment 16. I have heard it said informally by Ministers that all the Bill seeks to do is to carry forward into current legislation the legislation that previously existed that has almost been dropped by accident as a result of the legal manner in which we left the European Union, which he explained, so all that the Government are doing is restoring that position. That, of course, is not the case, because the previous position had clear limitations. If the Government were to take Amendments 16 and 35 from the noble Earl into account, a great deal of the legislation, although not all of it, would cease to be controversial or difficult. In some ways, those amendments are the key to the whole thing. If the Minister were able to say that he would accept them, we could all have a fairly short afternoon and declare victory on all hands.
My Lords, I would never have the temerity to say that anything was perfect in this world, and legislation is a messy process. I assure my noble friend that I believe that we are sailing the right path between creating something that is unwieldy and a burden on government and something that is—I hope he will agree when it is established—proportionate. It can range around government looking at important things and will inform the way decisions are made.
My noble friend mentioned the risk of judicial review. The Bill places additional legal duties on Ministers only in so far as it requires them to submit written responses on the parliamentary record to the animal sentience committee’s reports within three months of their publication. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is additionally legally required to appoint and maintain an animal sentience committee. This means that the Bill creates only two additional grounds for judicial review: a failure by the relevant Minister to respond to the committee within three months and a failure by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish and maintain an animal sentience committee. I hope that gives my noble friend some reassurance.
I can assure the noble Earl that I am open to discussions on any area of the Bill where I feel we can make it better without creating hostages to fortune. I do not want to create a feeding frenzy for lawyers by putting anything in legislation that will increase opportunities for judicial review or any other legal measure. I will clearly be having many discussions with noble Lords from across the House between now and Report. I hope that what will emerge and what we will send to the other place will be a coherent piece of legislation.