All 3 Lord Bellingham contributions to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022

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Tue 6th Jul 2021
Thu 7th Apr 2022
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Bellingham Excerpts
Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who obviously has a brilliant academic record. I declare my interests as in the register.

Like the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth, Lord Hannan and Lord Howard of Rising, my first reaction was to ask whether we actually need this Bill. Is there a particular problem that the Bill is essential to address? Is there a gap in our animal welfare legislation at the moment? Is there a gap in the protection given to animals? Should our legislation be upgraded and made more effective? Those questions certainly need answering.

The Minister—incidentally, I welcome the debut of the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, as the lead Minister on a Bill in the House—certainly put the case very strongly; no one anywhere in government has more knowledge of the countryside and animal welfare issues than him. He pointed out that, back as far as 1822, Parliament brought in the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act, which was followed by the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835. It required another 64 years to elapse before legislation was brought in to give similar protections to children. That shows just how strongly Parliament over the years has taken the subject of animal welfare.

Built around and upon the foundations of those two Acts are the numerous welfare and cruelty Bills that have subsequently been brought in. So we have an incredibly high standard of animal welfare legislation in this country. We have high standards for farm animals, protections for pets, and very strict controls on cruelty against wild animals. We also have very tight control on animal experiments. All in all, we are a beacon across the world for top-class animal welfare legislation. There have also been many examples of the successful prosecution of the tiny minority of people in this country who abuse animals; the courts have been consistently tough. Furthermore, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned, all this legislation recognises the fact that animals suffer pain—otherwise why would you have legislation? Of course animal sentience is very much at the heart of our laws.

I come back to the question of whether we need this legislation; in particular, do we need a new animal sentience committee? As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, we already have the Animal Welfare Committee, formerly the Farm Animal Welfare Council. It has an excellent reputation. It backs up its work with high-class scientific advice, it is extremely cost effective and it is well established. I urge noble Lords to look again at whether we need a brand-new committee. Would it not be easier to expand the existing committee—as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—and widen its remit to cover all animals?

As the Minister pointed out, as the Bill stands at the moment, the committee will have the task of roaming across the whole of government. It will have to be well resourced, and it will have to have a lot of staff. What will its relationship to the AWC be? Will it work alongside it? Will it complement it? Which will be the more senior committee of the two? The Minister needs to look at that very hard. Perhaps this Bill could be altered slightly, to widen the scope and powers of the existing, outstanding committee. We would save a lot of time—by not setting up a brand-new committee—if we did that.

I want to look quickly at the Bill’s provenance because, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, it all stems from Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty. That article refers to animals as “sentient beings” and makes it clear that, in stated areas of policy, member states must

“pay full regard to the welfare … of animals”.

However, it is restricted in scope to certain key areas. As a number of noble Lords pointed out, it also includes a requirement to balance animal welfare with

“customs … relating … to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

In other words, there is an absolutely crucial counterbalance to allow for particular traditions and aspects of religious heritage—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, made this point very succinctly.

I personally support halal and kosher killing, and I would like to see CCTV in slaughterhouses. But what would happen if, for example, the committee decided to wage a campaign against these two particular types of slaughterhouse? What would happen if, traditionally, all angling was to catch fish for the pot—to eat? We all know that probably 98% of angling now is catch and release. What would happen if the committee decided to ignore this regional, cultural country pursuit, which is pursued by many tens of thousands of people, and launched a campaign against it? There is no counterbalance in the law that will set up this committee to prevent it doing that. The worry is not about what might happen with this Minister but about what might happen with future Governments, when there is no counterbalance to protect the interests of many tens, even hundreds, of thousands of people in this country.

The Minister said that, now we have left the EU, we can introduce legislation to go further than EU regulations. I was under the impression that our post-Brexit ambition was to reduce layers of bureaucracy, and make the UK more streamlined and our laws more user-friendly. In my humble opinion, we are gold-plating EU regulations. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Moore, who put it very well:

“The ground is being laid for exactly the expansion of bureaucratic … power that Brexit was supposed to counter”.

I have always subscribed to this dictum from Lord Falkland: unless it is vital to legislate, it is vital not to legislate.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Russell of Liverpool) (CB)
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Before I call the next person, I gently remind noble Lords that the practice in Committee and on Report when noble Lords speak after the Minister is, first, to be succinct and, secondly, to deliver their comments in the interrogative form. With that, I call the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, I have a request for clarification from the Minister. I listened carefully to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Mansion House speech, when he made it very clear that the post-Brexit era must be dedicated to reducing bureaucracy and red tape. The Minister himself said that when he entered government, as I did, in 2010, the first thing he looked at was how he could rationalise the committees, quangos and arm’s-length bodies at Defra.

I am keen to see this committee get going quickly, but why can it not be subsumed into the Animal Welfare Committee? Why can the two not be combined? A budget has been set already. I need not remind him of the fact that my noble friend’s department will be under the most unprecedented spending pressure over the next few years. If we want this initiative to get going and get going smoothly—and, above all, quickly—to satisfy what he claims is public demand, surely the way to do it is through subsuming one into the other. I would be grateful if he could give further clarification on that.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Lord Bellingham Excerpts
Lord Herbert of South Downs Portrait Lord Herbert of South Downs (Con)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register. I thank my noble friend the Minister for indicating that the Government wish to agree with these sensible amendments, which merely import principles which previously existed in relation to sentience provisions in the Lisbon treaty and will create a better balance in the Bill and in the operation of the sentience committee.

I fear that I rather agree with my noble friend Lord Moylan that this remains a bad Bill and it stores up trouble for the future, but we have made all those points before. Even if the Government came to this late, they are wise to have accepted the view of the Commons that some balance needed to be injected into the measures, so we are doing the right thing by agreeing with them. I thank my noble friend for everything that he has done to get us to this place.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, I endorse thoroughly the remarks of my noble friends Lord Herbert and Lord Moylan. I congratulate the Minister on entering this whole discussion with great good humour and with a certain amount of patience as well, because we have certainly asked him many questions and put him under quite a lot of pressure, but I hope that at all times we have been courteous to him, too.

My starting point was exactly the same as that of my noble friend. This Bill really was not necessary. If one looks at the raft of legislation in this country that protects and stands up for animals, one sees that it is one of the most effective legal frameworks anywhere in the world. Some of those laws date back to the start of the last century. Flowing from those different Acts of Parliament have been numerous regulations, such as the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations, which are pretty comprehensive.

So the Bill was not necessary, but in the context of realpolitik, I understand why the Government decided that they had to move down this route. The Bill has certainly been improved by the Commons amendments, which I welcome. I once again thank the Minister for what he has done to help improve the Bill substantially from where it was when it started out.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the Commons amendments to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. This was a very small Bill which was trailed in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. I am not usually an advocate of following another party’s manifesto, but, on this occasion, it was necessary to bring forward the Bill in this parliamentary Session. I would have wished the Bill to have had more detail in it and perhaps to have had more support from the Government Benches, but to have amended it further would have delayed it, and it could possibly have been lost in the welter of other legislation we are dealing with.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, referred to the shortcomings in the Bill, as have others. It is nevertheless long overdue that animal sentience should be recognised in law and on the face of legislation. This Bill fulfils that need.

The Bill, although short, received minor amendments in the other place. The first, to Clause 2, inserts the provision around religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage. It seems sensible that those who have strongly held religious beliefs should be able to have those rites and cultural traditions respected; this is the correct way to proceed. However, insertion of the provision is not necessary, as the Bill already gives the ASC the right to consider non-welfare factors, but we are content to let it stand.

The other amendment made in the other place was to Clause 6. A clause inserted in the Lords prevented any charge being placed on the people—on public funds—but it was removed in the other place. We do not oppose the removal of that amendment and hope that others similarly do not oppose its removal.