All Lord Trees contributions to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] 2021-22

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

(Committee stage)
Lord Trees Excerpts
Tuesday 6th July 2021

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am moving this amendment because my noble friend Lord Forsyth is putting the report on quantitative easing to bed at his Economic Affairs Committee, just across the Corridor, so he has asked me to move it for him. I apologise that I was not able to contribute to Second Reading, but I have read Members’ contributions to that debate, and very interesting they were, too.

This amendment would change the first line of Clause 1(1) to read:

“The Secretary of State must”,

by regulations—that is the amendment—

“establish and maintain a committee called the Animal Sentience Committee.”

That is because, in common with quite a lot of my fellow Members of the House of Lords, I have great worries about the creation of this committee at all. In the second group of amendments, we will look at the whole question of duplication. We already have an Animal Welfare Committee and it is not altogether obvious why we need another one doing much the same tasks as the old one. Surely it is the task of government, particularly a Conservative Government, to simplify legislation, not complicate it.

Therefore, by adding “by regulations”, it would be necessary for the Secretary of State to come back to Parliament and say precisely what committee he wanted. It would also be an opportunity for him to explain to Parliament how much this is all costing, which is something my noble friend Lord Robathan raised at Second Reading. Looking at this Bill, there is no evidence at all of what it will cost the taxpayer, and it is important that we know how much these things will cost. It is not ridiculous to argue that we should be told how much people will be paid for being on the committee.

Generally, there is a great worry that the committee will develop a complete mind of its own, go roaring off, interfere with many different areas of government, and become rather unaccountable. Anything that can be done to ensure that the Secretary of State comes back to Parliament should be welcomed by the Government, as we do not want this committee getting completely out of control.

A great worry about the whole of this Bill, as my noble friend Lord Hannan said, is:

“to what problem is this Bill a solution?”—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1918.]

There is an awful lot of truth in that, and it was echoed by a number of other contributors at Second Reading. We ought to be careful about creating new layers of bureaucracy and a committee with enormous powers to interfere with other areas of government, and end up not being accountable to Parliament at all. I beg to move.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, particularly those in respect of farming. I am chair of the UK Squirrel Accord and chair of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. I apologise that I, too, was unable to speak at Second Reading, but I was in the Chamber for a good chunk of it, including for the winding speeches, and I have, of course, read Hansard.

I will speak to Amendments 16 and 35 in my name and briefly to Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees. My amendments are probing. Animal sentience, of course, is not in EU retained law as it was a treaty obligation and so was not preserved by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Article 13 of Title II of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union was therefore lost in the departure process from the European Union.

EU retained law is an interesting concept. In fact, it is a snapshot of EU law at 31 December 2020, which was then transposed into UK law. Of course, if you then want to make a change, changes are made expressly and with due process. That due process would seem to me to involve asking a number of questions. What was unsatisfactory about the previous arrangements? What are the benefits of the new arrangements that are proposed? What has been done to ensure that there are no unintended consequences? The noble Lord, Lord Hannan, in his Second Reading speech, summarised that by saying,

“to what problem is this Bill a solution?”—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1918.]

I suppose I have merely tried to split that out. Thus, everything in EU retained law is anchored in the position quo ante as at 31 December last year. Things go on from there, but we knowingly make changes after that by going through a due process.

Before I go on to make some points, I thought it was probably interesting for everyone to understand the history of Article 13 a bit and how much Article 13 is a child of UK thinking. The original precursor appeared as a non-binding declaration as part of the 1991 Maastricht treaty, when, of course, there was a Conservative Government. It was proposed by the British. In 1997, with a Labour Government, it was promoted in the treaty of Amsterdam to being a binding protocol. In 2007, again under a Labour Government, it moved from being a protocol to an article in the Lisbon treaty. In each of those changes it was essentially a cross-party UK effort that put it there and placed sentience at the core of policy formation in the EU. It is a product of British thinking and part of our legacy within the EU.

This Bill is simply not consistent with Article 13 in two broad ways. Article 13 has the policy boundaries, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just referred to. It also has the balancing factors that need to be taken into account when the issue is at question. Thus, I ask my three questions. What was unsatisfactory about the previous arrangements? What benefits are there to be found in the new arrangements? What has been done to ensure that there are no unintended consequences?

I hope to hear from the Minister in due course, but I went back and looked at the debates in Hansard for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in 2018. I looked at the Conservative manifesto. I have here under my left elbow the Explanatory Notes associated with this Bill and, of course, I have read and reread the Minister’s speech on 16 June at Second Reading. I am afraid that there is not really an answer to those questions. I have to say that, in the absence of that, Amendment 16 would restore the policy area boundaries, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just said, and Amendment 35 would restore the balancing factors that must be considered. I think that the case for doing that is pretty strong.

In closing, I generally have a lot of sympathy with the amendments in this group, not just the one from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, but his amendment in particular is consistent with my logic and, if he comes back with it on Report, I hope to sign it.

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend and absolutely defer to him as someone with long experience of legislation, good and bad. I am sorry if saying “Nothing to fear” caused him fear. I was seeking to remind the Committee that we are not talking about something that creates policy; rather, it can inform policymakers. There are a whole host of issues in the minds of Ministers when they formulate new legislation. The Bill allows them to take all of them into consideration and, if needs be, put to one side the concerns of the committee because, weighing them against other matters, they can take a different path.

That is really important. It is fundamental to the Bill. We are trying to reflect what the wider public are concerned about, which is an improved climate of animal welfare in decision-making. We think that what we have brought forward is proportionate. I can debate the content of the committee, its size and wider remit with noble Lords at leisure. I am sure my noble friend agrees that we do not want a committee that is too big or full of sectoral interests, or of one particular interest over another. We want a committee that has expertise and is not trying to carry out some political campaign or is weighted too much in one direction or another. It will be balanced, expert, the right size and properly resourced.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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I will just comment on Amendment 19 and, I hope, give some assurance. Many noble Lords have commented on the concerns that medical research will be impacted by this Bill, and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, speaks to that. I share that concern, but would like to assuage some of it as a vet, a veterinary scientist and a former holder of a licence from the Home Office to conduct research involving animals for medical and veterinary purposes.

I can assure the Committee that medical research is not threatened by the Bill. The function of the animal sentience committee is to ensure that due regard has been paid to animal welfare. The unambiguous answer is in the affirmative. Parliament passed the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act in 1986, which requires all individuals undertaking veterinary research and their premises to be licensed and the projects, most importantly, to be individually scrutinised and licensed. That scrutiny essentially involves an assessment of the benefit-cost ratio of animal welfare harmed in the conduct of that research versus animal welfare benefits as a consequence of it. That due scrutiny is conducted and would satisfy any particular challenge from an animal sentience committee.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarity and entirely endorse what he says.

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On Amendment 2—others have asked this, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, just now—what is the future for the much-respected Animal Welfare Committee of Defra? Is its work to be duplicated, is it to be combined in some way, or is its future limited? At Second Reading, other noble Lords—and others today—disagreed that this was a suitable committee, with of course expansion of its remit, to fulfil the role of this new committee. However, we need to know what the Government intend should be the relationship between the two. I hope the Minister will tell us in answer to Amendment 2 that he has plans for this committee which would not mean any loss of it. There would be a serious loss to animal welfare if it were to go.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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I will speak to Amendments 2 and 11, both in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, although I support one and oppose the other.

Amendment 2 would merge the Animal Welfare Committee and the animal sentience committee. I oppose this because the animal sentience committee is a raison d’être of the Bill. It was a major plank in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in 2019 and a major plank in their action plan for animal welfare, published just in May 2021, which said that an expert committee would be set up to hold the Government

“accountable for animal welfare in policy making”.

It is a scrutinising committee that holds the Government to account and in that respect it is very different from the advisory functions of the Animal Welfare Committee, which are much respected, and it itself has much to do. Therefore there are strong arguments for retaining the identity of these two committees.

Secondly, on the point brought out in Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, it will be advantageous that the relevant Minister can consult the Animal Welfare Committee for further advice or information should they be challenged by the animal sentience committee.

I support absolutely Amendment 11, again in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It succinctly lays out a bit more detail but gives discretion to the Secretary of State and, most importantly, requires a degree of parliamentary oversight of essential elements of the committee, particularly its composition. There is a threat that some of its members might not positively contribute, and it is very important that there would be parliamentary scrutiny of those essential elements, particularly composition, budget and resources, to see that they are adequate.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I shall be brief. By and large, the Government have got this reasonably okay. I can understand the sentiments of some of my noble friends and those on the other side. However, I have to say that Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean has a great deal of merit. I was a bit sorry to hear him, in his typically self-deprecating way, describing himself as an extinct volcano. He is possibly a dormant volcano, and something we should always watch—you never know when the smoke may rise—but at the moment he is still there. I regard myself more as a drumlin, as distinct from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean —that is, a small, egg-shaped glacial deposit. That is my place in life. We need to know more about the set-up of the committee and so forth. As I said, Amendment 11, which puts this so that it is in front of both Houses of Parliament, is a good solution.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading)
Lord Trees Excerpts
Wednesday 16th June 2021

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who is next on the speakers’ list, has withdrawn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Trees.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, this is a significant Bill, which, in general, I support. It can have good consequences but it could also have unintended consequences. I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I thank the Minister and the Bill team, as well as Mike Radford, reader in animal welfare at the University of Aberdeen, for useful and helpful discussions.

In the UK we have a deservedly proud history of protecting animal welfare, from 1822 to the present, as the noble Lords, Lord Herbert, Lord Forsyth, and several other noble Lords mentioned. All that legislation implied recognition of animal sentience without specific reference to it.

Animal sentience was incorporated into Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU by virtue of the Lisbon treaty of 2009. That article requires member state Governments to have full regard to animal welfare in formulating and implementing policy, as animals are sentient beings. Article 13 differs from the Bill in that it defines a limited number of policy areas to which it applies, whereas, as has been mentioned, the Bill applies to all government policy. Moreover, Article 13 significantly exempted

“religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage”,

as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and other noble Lords mentioned. Thus, the Bill is very wide-ranging, covering all policy without exception, and it also implicitly includes wild animals. In placing obligations on government, the Bill will complement our excellent Animal Welfare Act, which places obligations on individual keepers of animals.

There were earlier attempts to enshrine the principle of Article 13 into UK law during the Brexit process, both in the other place and in this House, and the Government introduced their own Bill in 2017. This was scrutinised by the EFRA Committee in the other place, which received legal opinion that highlighted the serious risk of endless judicial review, partly related to the ambiguity of the meaning of “sentience”.

This Bill does not define sentience. Defra has commissioned a report from LSE Enterprise on this issue—which is germane to this debate but which, regrettably, is not yet available. Definitions of sentience range from

“having the power of perception by the senses”

to

“the quality of being able to experience feelings”.

The Global Animal Law Project says:

“Sentience shall be understood to mean the capacity to have feelings, including pain and pleasure, and implies a level of conscious awareness.”

Clearly, most life forms have the ability to sense most harmful stimuli and, if they are mobile, to avoid them.

Undoubtedly, as scientific evidence is accumulated, it is likely that certain invertebrates will be added to the coverage of this legislation. Since octopuses and related species are already provided protection within the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, it would be consistent to add cephalopods, as Clause 5(2) provides. There are also credible calls for decapod crustaceans to be included, on which the LSE Enterprise report may comment. With further research, even more animals might be argued to be sentient, which raises the question: where in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom does sentience end?

I raise this as something that will need to be considered at some time, although the Bill quite rightly leaves it to the Secretary of State and hence Parliament to make regulations and to determine which animals to include in the Act. I can foresee that as the frontier of evidence shifts, the Secretary of State may be called upon to choose between scientific evidence and broader policy considerations.

The current Bill will create an animal sentience committee to survey government policy, which may report to the Secretary of State if it feels that the commitment with regard to animal welfare is not honoured. Clause 2(1) says that it “may produce a report”, thus the extent of scrutiny is not clear. I note that the committee will be empowered to publish its report in whatever way it wishes and that the Secretary of State must lay a response to the report before Parliament, thereby ensuring political accountability. I welcome both measures, but there is much important detail about the committee currently lacking in the Bill.

If we are to have an animal sentience committee, in my opinion it is important that that committee is independent and quite separate from the current Animal Welfare Committee—as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said—since it will be a statutory committee, whereas the Animal Welfare Committee is advisory. I suggest that it is also important that the sentience committee is adequately resourced for its huge task and that its membership is appropriate and balanced. I support the idea of adopting some parliamentary process to ratify the membership; for example, as well as scientific expertise in animal welfare, veterinary science and biology, it could include appropriate expertise in policy and impact assessment.

I recognise that the issue of sentience is a huge populist impetus and has become totemic, and I understand the Government’s desire to introduce this. With a measured, pragmatic and balanced approach—as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, among others, mentioned—this Bill could be a force for good with respect to animal welfare. But there are concerns in my mind about unintended consequences, which other noble Lords have raised. I feel that we cannot ignore them, but I hope that they do not materialise.

Finally, there is much detail lacking about the committee’s role—on resourcing, its obligations, its composition, its powers and powers of inquiry, and, perhaps most important of all, its powers of sanction if its recommendations are ignored. When and how will more detail on these important operational questions be provided?

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.