Tuesday 20 July 2021
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I must ask Members in the Room to wear a face covering except when seated at their desk, to speak sitting down and to wipe down their desk, chair and any other touchpoints before and after use. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including those in the Grand Committee Room, to email the clerk using the Grand Committee address if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request. The groupings are binding.
Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Grand Committee Room only. I remind Members that Divisions cannot take place in Grand Committee. It takes unanimity to amend the Bill, so if a single voice says “Not content”, an amendment is negatived, and if a single voice says “Content”, a clause stands part. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 2: Reports of the Committee
17: Clause 2, page 1, line 9, leave out “or has been”
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to move Amendment 17, which my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean had intended to move, but he is unable to be in his place today. I was unable to speak at Second Reading due to my incompetence in failing to put my name on the speakers’ list on time.
I was able to take the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act through your Lordships’ House in spring 2019, rightly removing the argument of self-defence from those who attempted to escape arrest by attacking and harming police dogs and horses. Finn’s law received unqualified support from all sides of the House, and I think it is highly desirable that, in this field, the Government should support legislation which is similarly supported by all parties.
Her Majesty set out the animal welfare programme in her gracious Speech with these words:
“Legislation will also be brought forward to ensure the United Kingdom has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare.”—[Official Report, 11/5/21; col. 3.]
I fear that, whatever the Government’s intentions, this Bill will add nothing to our excellent standards and is likely to be counterproductive.
My Amendment 17 seeks to restrict the activities of the committee to policies that are in course of formulation, or at least have not been formulated. I support Amendments 18 and 23 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, which seek to ensure that the committee is not required to review policies that are already being lawfully implemented. I also support his Amendment 29, which ensures that on any further formulation of a policy already being applied the committee is not expected to report. All these amendments are designed to remove retrospectivity from the workings of the committee and its reports and recommendations.
Retrospective laws which upset legally compliant settled patterns of life and expectations are not good policy. They undermine the security and continuity of a way of life consistent with the values of the community and a sense of its continuity. Legislation which retrospectively changes a legal activity into an illegal one is likely to have adverse repercussions on decisions made reasonably and in good faith by citizens in the past. In the context of this Bill, that might cover farming or other business plans and investment or the purchase of property in order to carry on a particular activity or country sport.
I also support Amendment 35A in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness. Measures which support conservation or biodiversity may very well not support crop protection or indeed human health. How to balance these conflicting policy areas while having to have regard to animal welfare for reasons different from those for which we look after animals so well in this country is an extremely complicated subject. Indeed, most policies that the Government might develop may well have negative consequences for at least one of the excluded areas in my noble friend’s amendment.
I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I commented earlier in Committee on the potential problem which would be created if existing policy could be reviewed by the committee. The trouble that could be caused by reviewing existing policies is as nothing compared to the turmoil which could come from the ability to go backwards and review existing law. This would be an enormous power which very easily could, and almost probably would, get out of hand. It would require almost unlimited resources and place intolerable burdens on other departments of state.
In addition to that, unlike European countries, Britain has had animal welfare laws for 200 years. Allowing the committee to recommend repealing or amending already implemented law would be a recipe for unimaginable chaos and expense. I cannot believe that this is what this Bill intends. If the Bill is to have any sensible purpose, it must be limited to recommending on future policy and legislation which, by itself, would be a monumental task, without the potential of causing almost unlimited trouble by going back historically.
I support my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising’s amendment, to which I have put my name. It strikes me that the Government have not really thought this through very carefully, because if this is going to be retrospective and it will be possible for this committee to review all legislation that has already been passed, then this will provoke a need for massive new legislation stretching into the future. The Government have the option, I suppose, of ignoring recommendations from the animal sentience committee, but if they do not ignore its recommendations, then of course that means they will inevitably get involved in more legislation in the future. I am not sure that that was really the intention of the Bill in the beginning. Surely, the original point of the Bill—not that I am a great supporter of it—was that there should be some form of oversight of government legislation to ensure that the sentience of animals was being taken into account, but if it works retrospectively, then of course it has unlimited capacity for creating ever more work and expense, as has been mentioned by my noble friend. Therefore, I very much support his amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 18 and 23, which carry my name, and in support of Amendments 17 and 29. These all rule out scrutiny of policies established in the past and are consistent with my Amendment 3, which we discussed on the first day in Committee, which laid out the function of the committee and confined it to considering policies subsequent to the committee’s establishment. The arguments for not having any retrospective powers have been well made by others.
One of the worst things in this Bill, with its miasma of uncertainty, is its retrospective effect. Along with others, this amendment is designed to cure this defect. We have to stop the committee considering, let alone making suggestions to change, policies that were established in the past, that are currently being lawfully implemented and on which people base their livelihoods, food and sporting pursuits.
As it stands, the Bill would allow the committee to reopen of its own volition policies that have been in place for perhaps a century, as some of our animal welfare laws have. It could make recommendations designed to undermine the use of animals in medical research, the practice of killing animals according to Jewish law and country sports, already hedged about with qualifications and reached by consensus a long time ago. We might accept that this committee, expert or not, will consider future proposals, but we cannot let it loose on the established law.
I say this not wholly as an advocate of the positions I have mentioned but as a reminder that retrospective legislation and changes of policy are to be assumed to be a bad thing. They may undermine settled patterns of life and livelihood, taking away certainty of freedom from criminal and civil prosecution. We cannot allow this committee to propose legislation to take away the validity of decisions made in the past and in good faith by people relying on the law as it was. In the case of the traditional Jewish way of killing animals for food, it has been permissible ever since the Jewish return to England some 350 years ago and it is established policy under UK regulations to permit it, as it was under EU legislation—although not that it could be relied on, as I explained in my last speech on this when I pointed out that the European Court of Justice allowed the Belgian prohibition of Jewish non-stunning methods.
As a legal situation, at common law, there is a presumption against retrospectivity. Article 7 of the Human Rights Act prohibits arbitrary prosecution, conviction and punishment. At common law, there is also a presumption against interference with vested interests. A leading judgment on this was in the case of Wilson v Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 2003; one of the judges in that case, my noble and learned friend Lord Hope, is happily still with us. The judgment explained that there is a powerful presumption against statutes changing the substantive law in relation to events in the past; this is precisely what could happen if the powers of this new committee are not curbed.
There is also a presumption against legislation affecting vested rights unless Parliament is expressly making a new start for the future. So, on the one hand, recommendations by this new committee to change existing practices would be a waste of time in that, if they were acted on, they would be contrary to the rule of law; on the other hand, the Bill would accord better with human rights and the rule of law by making it express that its actions must be confined to future policy.
I hope that this amendment will be supported by the Government; otherwise, I can see legal action looming ahead on the horizon. This also applies to Amendments 18, 21, 23 and 29, all of which I support.
My Lords, the conspiracy theorists among you will wonder whether the insufferable heat in this Room is a plot by me to speed up events.
However, I can assure noble Lords that that is not how I operate. I am looking forward to lengthy discussions this afternoon.
I thank my noble friend Lord Trenchard for his Amendment 17, with which I will take Amendments 18, 23 and 29 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising. I agree that we would gain little from a committee that devotes its energies to reopening old debates. We want a committee that improves the policy decision-making and implementation process now and in future.
However, policy is not a static thing. This afternoon, we have heard descriptions of policies that go back centuries. Policy is always being reassessed, reinterpreted and, above all, implemented. It would be difficult to pin down a working definition of established policy, particularly in statute, that does not shut the committee out of a number of areas where its scrutiny would be most valuable.
I remind your Lordships that the committee has a very specific role, which is to publish reports on the policies it has reviewed, giving its assessment of the ways in which they might have an adverse effect on animal welfare. Expert scrutiny of this sort is vital to good policy-making, particularly in areas such as animal sentience, where our specific knowledge is advancing rapidly.
While I am sympathetic to some of the beliefs and concerns of certain noble Lords here today, I affirm that it is for Ministers to make and account for individual policy decisions and not the committee. We simply do not have to worry that, one day, the committee will demand that we tear up a piece of legislation. It has no powers to do so, and this is simply not what it is there to do.
I would not want to prevent the committee identifying potential improvements in the implementation of existing policy, nor would I want to prevent it learning and sharing lessons from the recent past. A good driver pays a lot of attention to the road ahead, but he also needs a rear-view mirror.
I say in specific response to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that this Bill is about the government policy-making process. It is not about some method of changing the slaughter of animals for religious belief. I want to make that absolutely clear.
With these assurances in mind, I hope my noble friends will feel content not to press their amendments.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham.
My Lords, I have a quick question to ask the Minister. The cost of the committee will be very substantial indeed, with its wide-ranging remit across all government. If these amendments are passed, can he tell us exactly what would be saved in the costs of running the committee?
Yes, indeed. If these amendments are passed, they will obviously greatly restrict the remit of the committee in what I think would be a very wise manner. Can my noble friend give this Committee some indication as to what would be saved in the costs of running the committee?
I understand the question and apologise for missing it first time. No, I cannot give my noble friend that assurance, because the work programme and what the committee would look at will change from year to year as developing evidence about animal welfare takes it down different priority routes. The amendments would obviously quite dramatically restrict the ability of the committee to influence government policy, but I cannot put a monetary value on that. It would be part of the economic impact assessment, which would have to take place at a different stage in this process.
I have also received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom.
I want to follow up on the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, about ritual slaughter. We have been reading in the newspapers that, if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, it will become illegal to drop lobsters into boiling water to kill them. Is that one aspect of the thinking behind what the Government are doing? If that is the case, where does it leave pigs being slaughtered? They are highly intelligent animals and with a very high sense of smell. One might say that the slaughter of pigs does serious damage to them and to their feelings. I would just like to know where the Minister stands on this.
If my noble friend is referring to the article that I read at the weekend, it was full of inaccuracies and hyperbole, which is not what this Bill is about. At a later stage in this afternoon’s proceedings, we shall move on to talk about decapods and cephalopods. In relation to the amendments concerned, if the government Minister in the future felt obliged to include some of those species within the terms of the Bill, they could be looked at by the committee, which could advise a future Minister what they could or should be doing in terms of how different animals are treated at end of life. However, my noble friend is absolutely right to point out that there are gradations in unpleasantness involved for the animal, whether it is a pig or a lobster. The point is that the Bill does not dictate how a lobster is killed at the time of cooking or how a pig is killed at the time of slaughter. This is about informing policy using experts who can guide a Minister to take the right position. But that Minister, when considering all the factors that my noble friend mentioned, can take into account other matters, such as the value of sustainably produced seafood in a diet or the importance of the rural economy or the Government’s balance of payments in terms of rearing pigs. This Bill does not affect that, and so my noble friend can be quite relaxed about his concerns.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, and I am heartened that both my Amendment 17 and the other amendments in the group, tabled by my noble friend Lord Howard, have received such unqualified support.
I totally understand my noble friend the Minister’s response that legislation does not stand still, and it is of course reasonable that, where the Government propose a new policy that requires changes to existing legislation, the committee or the Animal Welfare Committee might be tasked with looking at how the policy impacted on the welfare of animals, including having regard to their sentience, which any look at animal welfare automatically does anyway. Nevertheless, I find his answer unconvincing because I think that there is a real danger, especially since we know nothing about any requirements for the composition of the committee, that a huge amount of public time and public money would be spent looking at all past legislation that affects animal welfare. I worry that this would be counterproductive.
However, having heard my noble friend’s response, I will at least for now withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 20.
20: Clause 2, page 1, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “must”
My Lords, before speaking to my amendments, I should just say that there is a certain underwater quality to the sound, and it has been quite difficult to follow the previous group. I think that is because somebody called John Turner has not muted. There are quite a lot of people who have not muted on the call, and I think that is giving some feedback—oh, he has now. Thank you. Let us see if that improves things.
It is my pleasure to open this debate on this group of amendments—or at least those amendments that seek to improve the committee and strengthen its functions, such as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I remind all noble Lords that this was a government promise. Something has to come out of this that is positive and that the general public, who asked for this, understand as being a reasonable policy. The Minister said that expert scrutiny is needed and that policy is not static. Can we not live 100 or 500 years in the past? Can we understand that things have to move on? As he also said, animal sentience is a fast-evolving field, and we need to make sure that we are up there, aware and legislating in the right way.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who signed my Amendments 27 and 41, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. She is unable to be here for this group but she will be here later.
My Amendment 20 is the crucial one because it would toughen up the committee. I am not very welcoming of Amendments 21 and 22, which seem designed to weaken the committee into total obscurity. Why any scrutiny body would be reduced to the position of seeking permission from those it is scrutinising to actually do the scrutinising is beyond me, but then there are those who believe in the divine right of kings and see scrutiny of the Government as a bad thing.
I am very pleased that my Amendment 20 would have the opposite effect. I would like to see a strong, broad-based animal sentience committee that conducts deep analysis of all government policy to ensure that its impact on animals has been properly considered. I would much rather that the committee looked at everything in the round than sporadically look at piecemeal bits of policy. The former seems the right way to go, especially when the Bill is premised on the fact that these animals are sentient beings with the capacity to feel, perceive and experience. I have confidence that your Lordships can improve the Bill and give short shrift to the wrecking amendments that would reduce the sentience of the committee to a lump of stone. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to these amendments because I have an amendment in my name, which I will come to in a minute. First, I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, when she said that she hoped the committee would look at policy in the round. That is what we all hope. However, we all fear that it will not. We need reassurance from my noble friend the Minister to convince us. We are not conspiracy theorists; we are practitioners who wish to see this operating sensibly in the United Kingdom.
The reason for my Amendment 38 is perhaps best illustrated when we look at Amendment 46, which is also in this group and is in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Hayman of Ullock. I look forward to hearing what they have to say on their amendment. I cannot detract from subsection (1) of their proposed new clause. It is quite right that, if a piece of legislation sets up a committee, that committee ought to report to Parliament to be properly scrutinised. But then we come to subsection (2), which is where I get a little concerned. First, in subsection (2)(b), the noble Baronesses propose
“an overview of the implementation of animal sentience requirements across government”.
As I read and understand this, if my noble friend the Minister is right that the animal sentience committee is all about—and I quote his words—“informing policy”, it should not be looking at the implementation of policy. That is for the Government and Ministers, having looked at whatever report comes out of the committee.
There is a second reason for being slightly dubious about Amendment 46, and that is that there are two animal welfare committees. There is the animal sentience committee, which the Bill is setting up, and there is the Animal Welfare Committee, which already exists in Defra and is highly respected but was not set up by legislation and, as far as I know, does not have to report to Parliament annually. So there will be a lovely turf war in Defra and Sir Humphrey is going to really enjoy it because there will be two committees doing almost the same thing, covering the same area, one of which reports to Parliament and the other, which is more long-standing and is highly respected, does not. I can see the civil servants for the animal sentience committee saying, “We are the most important committee. We were set up by legislation. We have to produce an annual report to Parliament.” I also think that, because of the way the Government have drafted the Bill, they will allow the animal sentience committee to become more powerful than the Animal Welfare Committee.
Therefore, my simple amendment, Amendment 38, requires the animal sentience committee to publish a note in the report that it makes of the Animal Welfare Committee’s opinion and advice on the recommendations. This meets two of my noble friend’s objectives: it keeps the animal sentience committee looking at the broad perspective and it makes the report of the animal sentience committee much more valuable and perhaps stronger if it is honest enough to put in what the Animal Welfare Committee has said, which might in some cases be totally contradictory.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept this amendment. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Hamilton of Epsom for supporting me on this.
My Lords, Clause 2 sets out the manner in which the animal sentience committee reports. In particular, Clause 2(2) sets out
“whether, or to what extent, the government is having, or has had, all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”
Assuming that there is an adverse effect, subsection (4) imposes a duty on the Government to have “all due regard” to this adverse effect. Amendment 44 ensures that, in making their response to the committee’s report, the Government include what steps they are going to take to remedy this adverse effect. The primary purpose of the Bill is to advance animal welfare, and the Government are setting up this animal sentience committee to provide a critique of the Government’s policies as a way of achieving this. The committee will publish reports and the Government will respond.
Amendment 44 deals with another what and when. What happens when the committee finds that the Government have not had all due regard for the welfare of animals as sentient beings? In the case of past policy, will it be repealed or amended? In the case of present policy, will it be paused? In the case of future policy, will it be suspended? What happens when a policy is found to have been answered negatively but cannot be repealed or amended? Do the Government continue with the policy in conflict with their own committee’s report? Can the Government then be subject to a judicial review? These are important questions, and it is therefore necessary that the Government in their response go to some length in trying to satisfy them so that they can continue governing.
It is equally necessary for businesses to be made aware of any changes, so that they, too, can prepare and make appropriate changes to their actions. We know what happened when Natural England suspended general licences. We cannot experience such chaos and such tragedies again. We all agree that we must do our best to prevent unintended consequences, especially ones that harm the welfare of animals and people’s livelihoods.
In short, that is what Amendment 44 seeks to do: to ensure that any actions to be taken are properly communicated and delivered in such a way as to avoid harming the welfare of animals, and in doing so to protect the associated livelihoods of those whom the action will impact. Be under no illusion: as drafted, the powers of this committee are significant. The demands on government will be even more significant and the potential consequences may be enormous. We must therefore have answers to the why, the what and the whens before this legislation becomes law; otherwise, it will be far too late.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 38, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, to which I have added my name. I was not here—because I was at a previous engagement—when the debate was held in this Room about merging the Animal Welfare Committee and the animal sentience committee. My noble friend the Minister made the point that the two committees did two different jobs and therefore there had be two different committees. That was really accepted rather too glibly. There is no reason why we should not keep one committee and give it two different jobs to do. It is a pity that we seem to be so dedicated to the spread of bureaucracy and quangos in this way, when the Government have made it clear that they do not really agree with that.
However, let us leave that and move on to the fact that there is obviously potential for conflict between the Animal Welfare Committee and the animal sentience committee, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Caithness. We have to do everything we can to avoid that and ensure that they work together—not in opposition to each other, which seems highly likely knowing the way that Whitehall works. I therefore sincerely hope that my noble friend the Minister will look hard at this amendment, because it has great value.
My Lords, although I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lord Caithness that the committee should look at policy in the round, I regret that I cannot support Amendment 20 in her name and that of my noble friend Lady Fookes. I also strongly support the objective of my noble friends Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Hamilton of Epsom in their Amendment 2, previously debated, that the duties of the animal sentience committee could better be given to the existing Animal Welfare Committee.
As my noble friend Lord Forsyth said on 6 July:
“It feels as if this is just a bit of window dressing, a bit of virtue-signalling, which is actually going to create great problems for the Government.”
My noble friend the Minister told the Committee that the Government
“want the animal sentience committee and the Animal Welfare Committee to have a constructive relationship, but it is not quite as simple as saying that we could hand over the ASC’s responsibilities to the AWC with no legal powers to back them up.”
That would of course have been far better.
I have the highest regard for my noble friend Lord Benyon, but I found his explanation as to why we need two committees completely unconvincing. It is a disproportionate and unnecessary response to the Government’s manifesto commitment. Those animal rights activists who support the Bill claim that the public want it. If you tell the man or woman on the street that there is an Animal Welfare Committee already and ask if he or she thinks we should have a second committee, you will get a different answer. My noble friend said:
“It is important to remember that the two committees have distinct roles. The Animal Welfare Committee exists to provide advice to Defra and the devolved Administrations, whereas we are establishing the animal sentience committee to scrutinise policy decision-making across the whole of government. Any relationship between the two would need to support these two distinct functions.”—[Official Report, 6/7/21; cols. GC 337-8.]
I do not think these functions are distinct in any way. Without exception, noble Lords who spoke on 6 July asked him to come back with at least some definition of the committee on Report.
I also support Amendment 16, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, which stated that the new requirements to consider animals as sentient beings in the formulation of policy should be limited to those areas covered by Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon treaty. UK Parliaments have recognised the sentience of animals since the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, and our animal welfare standards go far beyond what we were required to do under EU law. If the Government really think that they must establish a new quango of such dubious merit and opaque purpose, the four amendments in this group will at least restrict that quango’s activities to examining new policies under consideration rather than opening up the entire existing statute book to reconsideration at great expense.
Although I was unable to speak in the earlier debate, let me say that I also support Amendment 31, which would provide exceptions for religious rites and cultural traditions. Without that, a large part of Japanese cuisine —to which I am partial, having lived in that country for many years—would probably be deemed illegal.
I have added my name to Amendments 21 and 22 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. Amendment 21 could have been grouped with amendments that we have debated previously, which also sought to prohibit the committee reporting on established government policy. Amendment 22 would require the committee to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before committing taxpayers’ funds.
I cannot support Amendments 27 and 41, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, because they assume that the committee’s answer to the question is binary—that is, yes or no. The existing draft at least raises the question of the extent to which the Government are having due regard to animal welfare in the formulation of policy. Surely this is an instance where the proportionality principle should be applied.
I strongly support Amendment 38, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, to which I have added my name. If we must have two overlapping committees, at least the animal sentience committee should consult the Animal Welfare Committee and publish a note explaining its opinion on any report.
In Amendment 44, my noble friend Lord Mancroft seeks to find out what the Government might do in cases where the committee finds that they have not had due regard to the animal welfare consequences of any policy. Earlier, we debated the incorrect assumption of the Bill that any effect would be adverse. Obviously, any policy designed to make it easier for gamekeepers to cull predators has positive effects for the prey of those predators. I support my noble friend and look forward to the answer from my noble friend the Minister on this question.
I cannot support Amendment 46, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, because subsection 2(b) of the proposed new clause makes it clear that she intends that the committee’s remit should extend across government, whereas I believe that it should be limited to those areas that were previously covered by Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon treaty, as I mentioned. Furthermore, the amendment raises the question of the other activities that the committee may have undertaken during any financial year.
There seems to be no limit to the scope and remit of the Bill. Unless it is appropriately restricted, the committee will need huge resources.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 27 and 41, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Fookes; they also carry my name.
These two amendments are linked. Amendment 27 asks the animal sentience committee to answer the question asked in Clause 2(2)
“in the affirmative, or … in the negative.”
For example, if the animal sentience committee states that the Government have had all due regard to animal welfare in the formulation and implementation of policy, Amendment 41 would remove the requirement in Clause 3(1) for the Secretary of State to lay a response before Parliament. This seems to be a common-sense reduction in the obligation of the Secretary of State while retaining the fact that the report of the animal sentience committee, whatever it concludes, remains a matter of public record. It removes the burden of work on the Secretary of State.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trees. This group of amendments is varied and I am grateful for the various briefings I have received, particularly from the Better Deal for Animals coalition. I am disappointed that some Peers taking part today are asking the Minister questions which he already provided full answers to on the first day in Committee.
Amendment 21 restricts the work of the animal sentience committee to impending policy and prevents it reviewing existing policy, even though there may be evidence that a review is necessary. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard: I am not sure why this amendment was not included in the previous group. Amendment 22 requires the ASC to obtain consent from the Secretary of State before beginning to construct the report on its work. The noble Viscount spoke to these two amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has introduced Amendments 20, 27 and 41, which deal with ensuring that a report is produced by the ASC and that it should declare whether it is to be answered through the affirmative or negative procedure. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has supported these amendments, as do we.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has introduced Amendment 38, which is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Again, this introduces more bureaucracy into the workings of the ASC by insisting that it consults the Animal Welfare Committee. While these two committees are complementary and should share information in order for both of them to be effective, I do not believe that making it a requirement that the view of the Animal Welfare Committee should be published in all the reports of the ASC is necessary. It may well be desirable and happen as a matter of course, but making it a legal requirement in the Bill is unnecessarily bureaucratic.
I also do not feel it necessary to include Amendment 44, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. The animal sentience committee is there to provide additional evidence to inform policy rather than directing policy itself. The Minister will decide whether they wish to take notice of this, and it is therefore unnecessary to put it into the Bill. Whether the Minister should have a duty to take notice of the advice is another matter, but attempting to prove whether the advice has been adhered to is not currently a requirement of the Bill. There are examples of other countries’ animal welfare legislation which offer advice: the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission; New Zealand’s National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and its National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee; and the Dutch Council on Animal Affairs. All these bodies offer advice which their respective Governments may consider when forming policy; they do not direct policy themselves.
I put my name down on this group to be able to speak in favour of Amendment 46 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Hayman of Ullock. For animal charities and the public to have confidence in the work of the ASC, a published annual report on its work will be necessary. Transparency, rather than bureaucracy, is essential.
We have seen through the first day of debate in Committee that there is some considerable opposition not only to setting up the animal sentience committee but to the way in which it will go about its work, and the groups of animals that it can consider. The Bill currently limits the animal groups to vertebrates, which is very wide. We will return to whether this should be widened in the last group of amendments this afternoon. On the first day in Committee, several Peers wanted to limit the group of animals to be covered by certain activities such as agriculture, transport or space, with others wanting to exclude the words “sentient beings”.
Given the level of unease around the Bill and the setting-up of the committee and its work, it is essential that a report of its deliberations and advice given to the Minister should be published annually. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has also spoken in favour of a published report. As I have indicated, transparency is very important, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
In this group, I support Amendment 46 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young, to which I have added my name. This is a fairly straightforward amendment designed to enable the animal sentience committee to submit annual reports to both Houses of Parliament. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for their support. The amendment would ensure transparency and oversight of the work of the committee.
Coming to the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—I thank him for his introduction to his amendment—he referred to the three points in subsection (2) of the proposed new clause in our Amendment 46. The first is
“a statement of the policies on which the Committee has reported”,
which I cannot imagine anyone would object to, as we need to know what the committee has been looking at. Then there is
“an overview of the implementation of animal sentience requirements”,
which is the part the noble Earl raised.
The reason for this provision is that I have often seen in pieces of animal welfare legislation, covering wildlife crime, for example, that legislation is brought forward in good faith but then not enacted. It does not get enforced and is not implemented properly. Often, that legislation does not work to deliver what it was designed to deliver. We want to have oversight of that and to ensure that other government departments co-operate with the committee in the way that is expected. That is the purpose behind it and I hope I have explained it to the noble Earl. Lastly, there is
“a statement of the other activities”.
I am aware that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, took exception to that, but we think it is important that we get proper oversight of everything that the committee is currently expected to look at.
Just before I finish on these, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, introduced his Amendment 38. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that it could bring in unnecessary bureaucracy. However, there are clearly important questions that he has asked the Minister to consider.
I support Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Fookes, which would provide that the committee “must” produce a report when any government policy is formulated or implemented. Again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we need a strong, broad-based committee that looks at everything in the round. We have talked about this before: the remit and the focus are of such importance that we all know exactly what is expected from the committee once it starts working.
I also support Amendments 27 and 41, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees. I thank the noble Lord for introducing that amendment clearly. Again, this is all about proper reporting, which will be critical.
On Amendment 44, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, we agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that this does not necessarily need to be in the Bill. But in introducing his amendment, the noble Lord asked some important questions that need to be considered as we move forward.
Finally, Amendments 21 and 22, tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Etherton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, were introduced today by the noble Viscount. We believe that these amendments are unhelpful. Amendment 21 amounts to a significant weakening of the animal sentience committee because of the way it restricts the committee’s work. By not being able to report on existing government policy, it rows back from the original vision of a body that is free to consider sentience questions right across the range of government policy. I know a number of noble Lords do not think this is necessary, but we think it is very important.
We also think it is important that the initial vision is retained in the Bill so that the animal sentience committee can make a positive contribution to policy-making. It can best do that as a public body that provides expert input to inform complex policy questions that touch on the welfare of animals as sentient beings. As we and the Minister have said, this is not about the committee making policy; it is about the committee informing, answering questions, passing comment and being there as a critical friend, if you like, for policy decision-making in this area.
If we erect arbitrary barriers to that expert advice, it will impoverish the policy process. We should not make laws that prevent Ministers accessing knowledge that could improve their decision-making. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, which we know is carrying out this important work. It is an interesting example of what could be achieved if we move forward with the Bill as proposed. As the Minister said on the first day of Committee:
“In our manifesto, this Government as a whole committed to the introduction of new laws on sentience, with no suggestion of carve-outs or exemptions.”—[Official Report, 6/7/21; col. GC 288.]
We strongly support him in that ambition.
As we heard, Amendment 22 would require permission to be received from the Defra Secretary of State before a report could be prepared. We believe this would also significantly weaken the committee and reduce it from being a body that is free to consider sentience questions across government policy to basically a Defra scrutiny committee, which would then scrutinise only with the Secretary of State’s permission. We therefore cannot support the amendment.
This has been a really interesting discussion on this group. It has been good to hear all the different contributions from noble Lords. I now look forward to hearing the Minister’s contribution.
I entirely agree: this has been a really interesting discussion.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her Amendment 20, which would place a legal duty to publish reports on the animal sentience committee. This Bill makes provision to empower the committee to scrutinise Ministers’ policy formulation and implementation decisions with a view to publishing reports containing its views on whether Ministers have paid “all due regard” to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. When the committee publishes a report, this will trigger the accountability mechanism to ensure Ministers respond formally to Parliament. The committee will be able to issue reports on central government policy decisions, without exception. This includes past policies as well as policies in the process of being formulated.
Naturally, the committee will not be able to scrutinise every single policy-making decision. This would be an impossible undertaking for a single committee, so we will support the committee to identify and prioritise areas where it can have the most important impact. I am sure your Lordships would agree that the committee should focus on policies where it can add the most value.
As the experts, it is ultimately for the committee to decide how best to use its time. We therefore do not want to prescribe what it must do any further in statute, beyond the powers given to the committee in the Bill. We want to give the committee flexibility to work in a way that best suits its priorities. For example, the committee may decide to issue advice and input as a policy is being formulated. We will support the committee in identifying opportunities for this. I assure the noble Baroness that the committee will have a work plan that will be made publicly available. We think it best for the committee, as the experts, to decide what it chooses to look at.
We will, of course, work closely with the committee, which will have a dedicated secretariat to support its work. We want to ensure that the committee is appropriately resourced with sufficient membership and administrative support to make an impact and scrutinise the most important decisions but is not so large as to become unmanageable or overbearing. Your Lordships tried to pin me down on this when the Committee last met. I am happy to give a little more clarification. As has been said, your Lordships can look at the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, with its 12 members and a proportionate dedicated secretariat, as a rough indication of the scale that we are looking at.
I offer my reassurances to the noble Baroness that it is very much intended that the committee will publish reports on how Ministers have paid “all due regard” to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. This will be a key tool in embedding consideration of animal welfare into the policy decision-making process.
Turning to the noble Baroness’s other amendments, Amendment 27 and 41, which would require the animal sentience committee to categorise its reports as either affirmative or negative, I fear this approach may be unworkable in practice. Most issues are not so clear-cut. This will be a committee of experts, and experts rarely like to give a yes or no judgment—we only have to look at Covid to see that. The committee will no doubt wish to provide more nuanced views which might contain both positive messages and constructive criticism. In practice, Ministerial Statements to Parliament will be commensurate with the complexity of the issues involved and the nature of the committee’s views.
I will now turn to the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, Amendments 21 and 22. We have discussed in detail the scope of the committee where it relates to past or retrospective policies. I will therefore focus on addressing his amendment which would require the committee to seek approval from the Secretary of State in order to produce a report. The committee can publish reports on how Ministers have paid “all due regard” to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. Ministers will need to respond to these reports within three months by means of a Written Statement to Parliament.
The committee is there to raise the bar in the policy-making process. The committee’s contributions will not be realised if it gives government policies only a pass or a fail, although it can and should call out problems or omissions. Rather, it will be felt through ongoing improvements to the way the Government make decisions affecting animals. The committee’s role is not to comment on the merits of any individual policy—that will remain the role of Ministers—but it is right that the committee should have the freedom to set its own agenda. Committee members are the experts on sentience and will be able to offer informed views that Ministers can consider alongside other important social, environmental or economic issues. Asking the relevant Secretary of State for their consent before undertaking work to produce a report would undermine this role.
Amendment 38, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, would place a duty on the animal sentience committee to consult the Animal Welfare Committee. I have already addressed their relationship, but I would like again to highlight the scope for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship between the two organisations. The broad principles of this will be outlined in the animal sentience committee’s terms of reference. We are committed to sharing these in draft before Report.
I thank my noble friend Lord Mancroft for his Amendment 44 concerning Ministers’ responses to reports from the animal sentience committee. The committee will have the power to scrutinise ministerial policy formulation and implementation decisions. The committee can publish reports on how Ministers have paid “all due regard” to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. The Bill requires Ministers to respond to these reports within three months by means of a Written Statement to Parliament. I hope your Lordships agree that this mechanism helps to provide assurance that animals’ welfare needs as sentient beings are taken into consideration across government policy.
However, there may be other important policy considerations that Ministers also need to reflect in their decision-making. It is the role of Ministers to determine how these different considerations should be weighed up. The whole purpose of the accountability mechanism in the Bill is to allow Parliament to examine the Minister’s response to a committee’s report. We would expect Parliament to want to hold Ministers to account if they fail to provide an adequate explanation of the actions they propose to take in response to a committee report. For this reason, we do not think that it is necessary to prescribe what the Government’s response should include.
Finally, Amendment 46 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, would require the animal sentience committee to publish an annual report. The role of the committee is key to this Bill, and of course we want to ensure that it is as effective as possible. The committee’s reports, to which Ministers will respond in Parliament, will be publicly available. This will provide full transparency about those policies that the committee has examined and considered. It will also provide the mechanism for Parliament to hold Ministers to account.
Of course, there will need to be reviews of the committee’s work, and we intend to conduct a regular performance review to ensure that it has fulfilled its purpose. This review will cover any work that the committee has undertaken with other government departments. Defra will work with other departments to explain the committee’s role and how to engage with it most effectively. Indeed, my officials have already begun working with other government departments on this.
The success of the animal sentience committee will be felt in improvements to the policy-making process. The committee will be transparent in its ways of working, publishing all its reports. It will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Records Act. We would not want to commit to a rigid and potentially onerous annual reporting process in statute. This could take resources away from the committee’s primary role in scrutinising policy formulation. Naturally, we want the committee to succeed and will work constructively with its members to ensure that it does so.
A concern was raised by my noble friend Lord Mancroft about the likelihood of judicial review. This is a matter that has greatly exercised us through the formulation of the legislation, and I think we have got it as near right as we can. The Government’s response to a report from the committee will help to explain to Parliament why the Government may have, legitimately, reached a different conclusion from that of the committee. Alternatively, if the Government intend to review the policy decision in the light of the committee’s views they can say so. If the Government’s response is found to be wanting, it might be possible for someone to establish sufficient grounds to bring a judicial review, but we believe that, in this situation, the grounds on which a judicial review might be brought would be present irrespective of the committee’s report.
A number of your Lordships raised the difference between the Animal Welfare Committee and the animal sentience committee. A first key difference is in scope. The animal sentience committee will deal with England, while the Animal Welfare Committee has a responsibility across borders with devolved Administrations. The Animal Welfare Committee is advisory. The animal sentience committee’s job is scrutiny across Whitehall and all departments, whereas the Animal Welfare Committee is responsible only to Defra. My noble friend Lord Caithness spoke about a possible turf war. I would prefer to look at this with a slightly more glass-half-full approach, which I am sure some might consider naive. I believe there is scope for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship between the two committees, the broad principle of which will be outlined in the animal sentience committee’s terms of reference.
In the light of those remarks, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
I am moved to intervene briefly because the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said that the people want it—I think I quote her exactly. I think the people want animals to be well treated; I think that everyone in this Room wants them to be well treated, and we have pretty good legislation that already protects animals, both domestic and wild, from unnecessary cruelty and ill treatment. However, in my 23 years in the House of Commons—I know that the noble Baroness represented people in the London Assembly—I can certainly say that nobody mentioned animal sentience. They mentioned lots of animal welfare issues, but nobody mentioned animal sentience. I think they were about as concerned about animal sentience as about the divine right of kings, which the noble Baroness also mentioned. Although the noble Baroness cannot intervene, perhaps my noble friend the Minister might say how many people came to him when he was an MP and said they wanted an animal sentience Bill.
I will explain why. My noble friend was—as the previous Speaker used to say—a great denizen of the House of Commons for many years, as he rightly reminds us. But, sadly, he was not there when the Government of the day decided, for reasons that have always been slightly obscure to me, not to include the provisions of Article 13 in the legislation that took us out of the European Union. Those of us who were there found a tsunami of emails and letters from people who may not have understood the most detailed aspects of animal sentience but were very concerned that the Government were not reflecting their views. This resulted in rather a lot of mid-air turbulence in trying to get to this point. Without baring the soul of the discussions over that time, I respectfully correct my noble friend to say that this was something people were very concerned about in the much wider sense of where animal sentience and animal welfare combine.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very full reply. He did comment on my amendment; I will have to read what he said in the Official Report, but towards the end, he said quite rightly that the remit of the animal sentience committee was across Whitehall. That includes the devolved Administrations. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission was set up specifically to look at how the welfare needs of sentient animals are being met by devolved policy. I am now unclear—perhaps my noble friend could help me—about how much of sentience is devolved and what exactly the committee will be able to do in the devolved countries. Will it be able to go to the Scotland Office and thus up to Holyrood, look at its policy and tell Scotland that it has to change its ways? I am not quite certain how this will work in practice. As this is Committee, it is an ideal time for my noble friend to explain the Bill a bit more to us.
I am grateful to my noble friend, and I hope to be able to reassure him. The job of the animal sentience committee will not be to walk into Holyrood and instruct our friends in Scotland how they should deal with animal sentience. It is a committee based around the UK Government that, as he rightly says, covers Scotland, but these matters are devolved issues—animal welfare is a devolved issue. But, on these small islands, it would be absurd if we were not working closely across borders with the devolved Administrations to make sure that our animal welfare laws broadly align. We have livestock bred in one country and slaughtered in another, or bred in one country and fattened in another. We have other activities, such as fishing and all forms of animal welfare, which require a cross-border understanding.
The Animal Welfare Committee’s remit is right across the country. The animal sentience committee will be restricted to the UK Government and will work with the devolved Administrations to make sure that the policies it is commenting on are properly managed in respect of the department to which it is making its report.
My Lords, I think that I may be interrupted by a vote at some point so I will try to be quick, although I might not be.
I thank the Minister for his comments; I will read them in Hansard to make sure that I have understood fully where our interests overlap and where there is any divergence. I also thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I listened carefully to everybody. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton and Lord Mancroft, care deeply about these issues. Their views are valuable, but I found them quite repetitive. We have heard all this before. We have been told that the two committees will not clash and will have particular remits that will be extremely clear. I think that we perhaps underestimate the interest of both committees in terms of being able to understand where they might work together and where they absolutely must not because it is not relevant, so I do not have the same fears about any sort of overlapping.
I am happy that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, agree with the concept of policy in the round. The minute they started agreeing with me, I started to wonder whether I did not know what I was talking about, but I will look into that.
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is trying to tie the hands of the animal sentience committee. I just do not think that that is appropriate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, mentioned animal rights activists. This term has been thrown at me since we did round one of this Bill; perhaps he can tell me what he thinks he means by it in reference to me. He can always send me a private email if he would prefer.
I offer a big thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his comments and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, for their support, which is incredibly valuable. They both made an excellent summary —much better than I did. I thank them for that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, talked about the committee being a critical friend, which is incredibly valuable and something that the Government do not have enough of. I would argue that your Lordships’ House is a critical friend, but we do not always have the same opportunities to support the Government when they change their mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, talked about the tsunami of people who wanted us to put animal sentience back into legislation. Of course, most people probably had not used that term before, but they certainly had once the Government had taken it out of the EU legislation that they moved over—
I apologise to the noble Baroness but I must adjourn the Committee for five minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, the Committee is resumed and I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
Finally, I thank the Minister for his simple explanation of how the two committees will work. That is incredibly useful, and I hope that it calms the fears of the noble Lords who have worried about that during the course of the Bill. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendments 21 to 27 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 28.
28: Clause 2, page 1, line 16, at end insert “, but such recommendations may only be made after the report referred to in subsection (1) has been published in an academic journal following peer review.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to ensure the academic robustness of the Committee’s work.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 28, which is supported by my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and Amendment 42, which is linked. The purpose of these amendments is to require that any report of the animal sentience committee be peer-reviewed academically before publication and, connected to that, that the period for the Minister to respond to any such report be not three months after it is published, but three months after it is published in the said peer-reviewed journals. The second amendment is tidying up and consequential.
Science is at the heart of the Bill. Every proponent and supporter of it would agree that the claims for animal sentience must be scientific, not merely a sort of infantile anthropomorphism. At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Inglewood said rather tellingly, and rightly I thought, that Bambi was an illusion. If our approach to animal sentience is simply that animals feel and look nice—what I would call Bambi-ism—then the whole Bill is pointless. The Bill has to rest on a proper scientific basis. I thought it was worth having a few moments while we are in Committee to discuss some things about the science of animal sentience because they have not as yet been debated. These amendments give an opportunity to do that and a rationale for them as well.
When we met a couple of weeks ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, pushed back against any suggestion that there was no science behind animal welfare. Before she becomes too worried or excited, I am going to agree with her on this: there is indeed science behind it. She cited courses in animal welfare at the University of Glasgow and the University of Winchester and the Royal Veterinary College’s animal welfare science and ethics group, which specifically researches in the field of animal welfare, animal behaviour, veterinary ethics and law. What is notable and revealing about that list—as I say, I agree with everything the noble Baroness said, as a matter of fact and a matter of opinion on this point—is that nowhere in it is animal sentience.
It might be easily thought by the Committee that “Ah, you see, animal behaviour generally must include sentience” and so forth, and that it must be all wrapped up in there, but there is a genuine conflict between animal behaviourism and animal sentience as a scientific methodology. If one goes back, in the great part of the 20th century, studies of animals and animal welfare were based on behaviourism—the study of behaviour. So if you apply a stimulus, the animal reacts in a certain way; if that is repeated in other cases and experiments, you begin to establish a body of knowledge about the behaviour of animals. That scientific approach specifically eschewed trying to delve into what was happening in the animal’s mind, so to speak, because there is almost no scientific way in which one can establish that. It dealt with the epiphenomena of behaviour in trying to understand how to deal with animals and how to do so in a kind and humane fashion.
The origins of animal sentience science come much later. At Second Reading I mentioned the work of Professor Peter Singer and his seminal book Animal Liberation, published in 1975. I remind noble Lords that when a young man, Professor Singer was suddenly converted to vegetarianism and then, as a professional philosopher, later wrote a book trying to justify the choice he had made. At the root of this was the concept that what animals and humans had in common was sentience. It is not surprising that studies of animal sentience science as a discipline originated in that last quarter of the 20th century, but it is at odds with the traditional and established behavioural approach, which has not been abandoned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, illustrated when she listed the subjects of study there.
The consequence we have from this is that this scientific methodology is still contested to some extent, is operated as a relatively young science and tends to attract—I mean no disrespect—practitioners who have to some extent a prior mental, perhaps even political in some cases, disposition to certain sorts of outcomes and who, in the literature, often attract funding from organisations that have such a prior political agenda. A review of the literature will show this and can be done on the internet to some extent. For example, I printed off a paper—I will not mention the name of the academic but they are a perfectly respectable person—giving a review of where we are on animal sentience science. It is a very balanced paper and I have no complaints with it but, when I turned to the end, I saw that the financial sponsorship for it came from the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
We are not dealing with the fundamental principles of physics, about which there is no dispute. We are not even dealing with something like climate science, on which, although it is perhaps disputed at the margins, there is broad consensus among scientists. We are dealing with something that is relatively young, relatively prone to capture and still contested to some extent, and we are putting it at the heart of government decision-making. All these amendments do is say that, if it is to be at the heart of government decision-making, it needs to be on a proper academic footing. It needs to have appeared in peer-reviewed academic journals first. In a sense, I regard this as a helpful amendment, as I hope the Government will, because it would give the animal sentience committee greater credibility and show that the Government are responding to correct science.
The final question is, what are the appropriate academic journals in which that peer review should be carried out? Across science in general, there are highly respected academic journals and others where being peer-reviewed probably does not add very much to the credibility; I notice the noble Lord, Lord Trees, smiling in what I take to be agreement at that remark. When I originally drafted the amendment, I included the words “reputable academic journal” but was persuaded by the clerks that that was much too fuzzy.
I will leave that issue for the moment but, when we come back to it—I am sure that we will—we will have to hear from the Government what they think is an appropriate type of vehicle for academic peer review. As I said, it is important to think about the science and to understand that it is in a relatively new state. If it is to be credible, it needs to have academic peer review. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will see that and find a way to agree to this very modest and supportive suggestion. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to my noble friend Lord Moylan’s amendment. It brings us back to the concern expressed on previous amendments about the committee’s composition—that people who feel very strongly about this will not necessarily share the broad spectrum of views on this whole issue. I have nothing against people being vegetarians or vegans but the reason why they are is because they cannot bear the thought of animals being killed to feed human beings. If we were to have a significant number of vegetarians and vegans on this committee, it might start producing rather strange judgments about animal sentience.
My noble friend Lord Moylan is absolutely right to express concern about this. This committee will have enormous power and its composition will be critical to the judgments it will come out with; that is why it is very important that it gets subjected to peer review and that others can comment about the judgments made by it. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will say that he is determined to set this committee up in a way in which it is sensibly and broadly based and reflects all people who might have an interest in this matter, but of course it will be set up by statute and I have no doubt that subsequent Governments might have different views about its composition. That is why I think that we need some form of academic peer review so that this can be subjected to expert opinion from outside and have a bit more balance in some of its judgments. I support this amendment.
My Lords, I support Amendments 28 and 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan; I have added my name to Amendment 28. As my noble friend pointed out in his impressive speech at Second Reading, and again today, our animal welfare legislation to date has not been based on any animals rights deriving from our recognition of their sentience; it has been based on our moral obligations as rational human beings endowed with conscience. I agree with my noble friend that the scientific basis for the recognition of sentience needs to be examined. I do not believe that sentience is something that one species has and another does not. I am sure that all forms of life possess a degree of sentience—perhaps even trees and plants. It is not the reason why we should look after animals well.
This Bill could become a Trojan horse and be used by activist groups to attack proper wildlife management, farming and the economic well-being and way of life of our rural communities. Throughout my life, I have noticed that those who genuinely care for wildlife are often the same people who engage in country pursuits and field sports. They are often the people who understand animals, birds and fish better than most. They are prominent among people who perform acts of kindness towards animals and are most determined to spare animals suffering. I worry that the Bill will be used against them and that our rich and diverse wildlife will suffer.
These amendments will ensure that the committee’s work is underpinned by robust academic findings. I ask my noble friend the Minister to confirm that the Government will accept them.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, has withdrawn so I call the noble Lord, Lord Benyon.
I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for his Amendments 28 and 42. Members of the animal sentience committee will be appointed through a rigorous procedure of fair and open competition. As I have said previously, the committee will be comprised of experts who will be best placed to decide what the committee’s priorities should be, although they will of course be able to consult others.
Peer-reviewed evidence from academic journals will have a role in informing the committee’s work. While we do not propose to dictate to the committee how it should set out its reports, it is usual for expert committees such as this to present well-reasoned reports that show their working. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, for example, publishes its reports online and includes its reasoning and references. However, I do not believe that it is necessary for the committee’s reports themselves to be published in academic journals. To require the committee’s recommendations to undergo a full academic peer-review process would be impractical and inappropriate, and would risk creating a process that would slow down the publication of the committee’s views and delay the opportunity for Parliament to hold Ministers to account.
It is key that the committee should be able to advise on policies while they are being developed. This amendment would severely compromise its role. The committee will publish reports, so it will naturally have an open way of working. I believe that this will provide transparency about its work. If a Minister felt that a report of the committee identified a need for further evidence or assessment, they would be free to highlight this in their response to the report.
Nothing would please me more than to spend time talking about the philosophy behind what we are talking about. We could even, if we had time, discuss Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, in which he said that animals possess life
“nobler than any merely corporeal grade of being”.
However, in terms of how we approach this Bill, the definition of sentience is important. Our scientific understanding of sentience has come a long way in recent years and will continue to evolve. The Bill does not therefore have a fixed definition of sentience. It is not necessary to define sentience in statute for this Bill to work. We can all recognise that animals are sentient and that their welfare should be considered in decision-making; there is no need to make it more complicated than that.
Our GB-wide Farm Animal Welfare Committee issued a definition of sentience in 2019. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission recently published a statement on sentience. There are some differences; this shows the importance of adopting a flexible approach that can evolve. It is worth noting that neither definition is set out in statute. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission’s definition is one that it has adopted for its own purposes; similarly, if the animal sentience committee considers it expedient to adopt a working definition of sentience, it would of course be free to do so, but that is a discussion for its members to have.
I hope that this reassures my noble friend and that he will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, I just want to refer to the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom. He said that he hoped that vegans and vegetarians will not be on the committee as they might sway its decisions. Can the Minister confirm that the appointment of members to the committee will not be prejudiced against those of religious persuasions or other protected characteristics?
My Lords, there is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee stands adjourned for five minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, it is time to resume. Perhaps the Minister might like to say a word in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. It would not be our intention to edit the committee’s membership by their eating habits or by any other habits or disciplines. We want a balanced committee that draws together a wide range of expertise across the whole field of animal welfare.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for contributing to the debate. I reiterate the point that the science that underlies animal sentience is of crucial importance to the Bill and deserves further debate, which may come at a future stage in the Bill. To be absolutely clear on my own position in case it was not, I am not saying that there is no such thing as animal sentience science—I believe there is such a branch of science—but I am saying that it is a relatively new, relatively specialist and slightly political branch of science. It needs the buttressing of peer review.
In that regard, I was disappointed by the response of my noble friend the Minister. He said that the Government did not want to dictate to committees such as this because they usually did well-reasoned reports. I thought “usually” was interesting. I quite understand that the Minister does not appear to want to dictate to committees that do badly reasoned reports; he wants to stand aloof from good research, from good reason and from bad reason alike. But that is not a very good basis for carrying the public with you. When this committee comes into existence and produces its reports, I think that much of what it says will be met by the challenge, “Well, that’s not really science anyway.”
It is slightly remarkable that, given the opportunity by these modest amendments to rebut that challenge and say, “No, this is science at the cutting edge. It is the best science we have and we know that because we have ensured that it is properly peer-reviewed”, the Government have turned away in distain and said that they would rather have uncertain science and not have any checks on what the committee is going to do. I am sure that, if they reflect, they will think that that is not really a sustainable or credible position. For the moment, to allow them time to reflect, I am happy to see my amendment withdrawn.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendments 29 to 35 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 35A.
35A: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—
“(4A) Recommendations under subsection (3) must not be detrimental to—(a) conservation,(b) biodiversity,(c) crop protection, or(d) human health.”
My Lords, this amendment came to me when we were discussing the Environment Bill last week. I know that it is not drafted as well as it should be; I apologise to the Committee for that. I say to my noble friend the Minister, “Forget about the drafting. It is the principle of what I am trying to get at that is important here”.
Most of our conservation work to improve our biodiversity and wealth of species has been habitat-based. It has not been very successful because when we were in the European Union, and since our exit, the Government have not focused on the critical issue of management. Management requires human decision. There are some fairly easy examples to make about species and how people will react to them, but when you look at pests, people’s opinions start to vary and that perception could be translated into legislation. That is my concern here. Take deer, for instance. You can have lots of photographs and everybody will look at Bambi and ooh and ah, but deer are a pest that need to be controlled. We discussed this in the Environment Bill and there seemed to be unanimity there. It would be an easy species for a committee to make an emotional, rather than scientific, decision on.
One can get into more questionable species. What about rats and wasps? If you analyse what people think about them, they have less feeling for them and are much more prepared to allow proper pest control of those species than they are of some others. That is why local authorities have pest divisions that deal with wasps—I have had to use them—mice and rats. What about bedbugs? Until recently, they were fairly common in this country, and in lots of places they are sadly still common. People’s perception of a bedbug is not the same as their perception of deer or seals. We need to have a scientific basis on which to approach this matter.
We could turn to brown hares. Brown hares are on our biodiversity action plan and are rated an important species but, at certain times of the year, in certain parts of the UK, the hare is a pest, and there needs to be the ability to control it. The ability to control pests in the most humane manner possible was a great omission from the badger Act, and we are paying the price for that with the increasing amount of predation of ground-nesting birds by badgers. We have seen it with lapwings and curlews. I have given examples in the environment committee of the destruction of lapwing at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust farm up in Aberdeenshire, where the badgers have actually been photographed destroying the nests and reducing species as a result.
During debates on the Environment Bill, we came across the conservation covenants. These will be an important part of the Government’s policy on improving our biodiversity and species number, but, again, action needs to be taken with management in view, not just the habitat.
So, what I am getting at with this amendment is whether the Minister, when he gives the brief to this Committee, will include management and pest control as an important aspect for the animal sentience committee to take into account so that the policies it comments on and the position it urges the Government to take do not contradict with the Government’s well-intentioned position on conservation, biodiversity, crop production and human health.
I have talked mostly about conservation and biodiversity, but I would like to give an example that was raised during the debate on the Environment Bill by my noble friend Lord Lucas, again on deer. It was about a wood that the RSPB looked after in Dorset. The RSPB got round the problem of the deer by fencing that bit of wood so that the deer were no longer a problem. However, that forced the deer on to the neighbour’s land —this is pretty bad management—and the devastation of the crops growing on the adjacent farmland was much more intense because the deer were not allowed into that bit of woodland.
As usual, there is a balance to be struck in all this. I hope that my noble friend will be able to make some comments on this. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity given by my noble friend Lord Caithness in moving his Amendment 35A to probe my noble friend the Minister and the Government a little bit more on the cross-departmental responsibilities of the animal sentience committee. I also want to explore what the relationship will be within Defra and the relationship between existing legislation and soon-to-be legislation in the form of the Agriculture Act and the Environment Bill, the latter of which my noble friend Lord Caithness referred to. We spent some time in the first day of Committee on the amendments looking at pests—particularly deer, badgers, bats, grey squirrels and insects—and sentience. It begs the question: are insects to be treated as sentient beings within the remit of this Bill?
I mention this because, recently, when my brother innocently picked up a weed from a flagstone at the farm where he occasionally stays so that he can ride out his horses, he was told by a neighbour not to do that because the weed was a living creature with feelings and obviously must not be destroyed. In our approach here, we are perhaps unleashing different feelings and priorities to those shown by Governments in the past. In the context of Amendment 35A, can my noble friend say what the relationship of the provisions will be? In particular, in making recommendations under Clause 2(3), what will be the position of the animal sentience committee’s remit in respect of the pre-existing responsibilities under the Agriculture Act and the responsibilities that we will be giving to the Government under the Environment Bill, once that is finally enshrined in law?
We also had a little debate about the animal sentience committee’s responsibilities in respect of its cross-departmental nature. I confess that I am still vague as to what the responsibility across departments will be. It would be helpful to probe my noble friend the Minister on this. I can clearly see that the Department of Health will be responsible for zoonotic diseases, which may have crossover and on which the Bill may have an impact. Personally, I do not like bats—I am fearful of them. They carry rabies and are believed to lie at the heart of the Covid pandemic; that has not been disproved at this stage. We are potentially on a collision course between the preservation of bats and the need sometimes to control their numbers. Obviously, there is the work of BEIS and other departments as well. This amendment is useful in that regard.
With those two points, I leave on the table the question for my noble friend the Minister as to what the exact crossover is with the other departments, to which he briefly referred last week, and to what extent this Bill relates to the provisions of the Agriculture Act and the Environment Bill. With those few words, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 35A.
I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness for his Amendment 35A, which seeks to ensure that the animal sentience committee’s recommendations are not detrimental to conservation, biodiversity and other matters. The House has been clear that the committee should not usurp or encroach on the role of Ministers to formulate and implement policies in the public interest. It is, and will remain, for Ministers to decide policy and for Parliament to hold us to account. If the promotion of animal welfare is ever not fully compatible with other important goals, it is for us—not a committee—to determine the best course of action.
I agree entirely with my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. They are right to state their concerns about the anthropomorphisation—I think that is the right word but I am not sure; I look to the noble Lord, Lord Trees—of species. We make gradations of cuteness in our own minds. We look at a deer and compare it to a rat; we often do not mind very much what happens to the rat but mind when it is the deer, when the latter may be more of a pest in terms of conservation and biodiversity. As one person lecturing me on forestry when I was studying land management said, “Remember”—he was referring to grey squirrels—“it is not the squirrel’s fault that it is a pain in the backside”. His point was well made. Even allegedly non-interventionist activities, such as rewilding, actually require enormous amounts of interventionism when it comes to animal welfare. If you go to Knepp, that estate still has cattle, horses and pigs to manage, so there are animal welfare considerations.
However, I reiterate that the animal sentience committee is not there to make recommendations about how Ministers should decide what policy should be. The purpose of its recommendations is to highlight certain effects on which it has the expertise to assess, so that Ministers can understand those effects better. The committee’s members will be well aware that Ministers have myriad other important factors to consider when reaching their decisions—I hope this addresses my noble friend’s point—and that their recommendations are likely to relate to one of a number of important considerations that Ministers will want to take account of.
I fear that directing the committee to prejudge recommendations based on factors other than animal welfare would risk undermining the clear distinction we have drawn and force it to assess matters beyond its expertise. It bears repeating that, rather than being some sort of power-grabbing cabal, this will be a committee of experienced scientists, veterinarians and other experts. These will be level-headed, thoughtful people who are unlikely to wish to advise on matters beyond their remit.
There is also a real opportunity for the committee to add value to the policy-making process. I know that some of your Lordships fear that we will be told we must sacrifice important human needs, such as crop protection, to animals. Instead, the committee will help policymakers to reach intelligent solutions which allow us to advance human interests in ways that are compatible with the welfare needs of animals. I say to my noble friend that we both want to see the committee make suggestions on how well the welfare needs of animals have been taken into account in policy decisions. But I reiterate that it is for Ministers, not the committee, to decide how animal welfare itself should be balanced against other matters of interest, such as conservation and biodiversity.
To be specific on whether the Bill will interfere with pest control, the answer is no. Pest control is highly regulated. Rules ensure that the trapping and killing of vermin is humane, using permitted methods. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that we are talking about vertebrates here. A vertebrate is an animal with a spine: mammals such as dogs, cats and cows; birds; reptiles; and amphibians, such as frogs and toads. Vertebrates do not include decapods and cephalopods —we might come to that later—arachnids, insects and myriapods. With those assurances in mind, I hope that my noble friend Lord Caithness will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lords, Lord Hamilton of Epsom and Lord Moylan. I call the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton.
My noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned the predation of badgers, which of course do not come under pest control; they are protected. He did not mention that badgers very much like eating hedgehogs. They are skilled at rolling them over and disembowelling them. When we worry about the decline in hedgehog numbers, very rarely does anybody mention that perhaps badgers are responsible for this.
Another protected species is the sparrowhawk. If you shoot a sparrowhawk you get fined £1,000 because all hawks are protected, but 34 songbirds every week account for their diet. We have to bear in mind that in nature, almost all species are predated on by others. We just want to get all this into perspective.
I would be going down a very dangerous path if I moved on to cats and how many songbirds they account for, and would probably find this getting out of hand, but my noble friend is absolutely right. What we seek to achieve through not just animal welfare provision but other legislation and regulation is a balanced countryside. We do not get it right; we are suffering a cataclysmic decline in species, which means that our children and grandchildren will not see the species that we have perhaps relied on seeing regularly. That is a tragedy that we are seeking to reverse through a variety of other policies. At the same time, when it comes to pest control, we can do it as humanely as possible, and we can have management techniques that protect both species and landscapes. It is not an exact science and it will be got wrong at certain times, but, by and large, I think there is a great unity of purpose in trying to reverse these tragic declines in species.
My Lords, given our discussion at our earlier session two weeks ago about the composition of the committee, I was struck by the Minister’s certainty that he could describe the members of the committee in such paradigmatic terms. I cannot recall his exact words—I will look at them in Hansard—but he said that the members of the committee would be knowledgeable, balanced, cautious, restrained and unwilling to rush into areas where they were not wanted. This must narrow the number of people who would qualify to sit on the committee to the point where I suspect the Minister must have a list of names already. If he has not, or is not willing to disclose it, is he at least willing to assure us that, when the public appointment process is launched and the person description drafted, the words that he has used now will be carried over verbatim into the person description for the applicants so that we get exactly who he appears to be promising us?
I am very worried about my noble friend. He appears to have a very jaundiced view of human nature. There are a great many people with those skills whom we meet every day, whether we are having our dog treated at the vets or talking to farmers or discussing wider policy areas in this field. I hope I can prove to him that his glass should be half full on this; we will find the right people.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this debate, in particular my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for her helpful contribution. When my noble friend Lord Hamilton intervened, I too immediately thought of cats and the very good debate on cats that we had before my noble friend the Minister joined the House, when the wonderful work and research done by SongBird Survival was referred to, because of the millions of birds that cats take every year.
I listened with care to what my noble friend the Minister said and was heartened by a lot of it. If what he said works in practice, I think that a lot of our concerns will evaporate. My fear is that when he goes and the Ministers change, the committee will undoubtedly change too, and then the trouble will begin. That will be a few years down the road; I do not wish my noble friend to leave his position any time in the next four years or even thereafter, because this committee will be too important.
I am grateful for what my noble friend said. I shall read it. He was absolutely right that this is not an exact science; it is not, but I fear that we have spent too much effort on habitats and not enough on management. Therefore, the problem has been exacerbated. I hope that, with my noble friend’s experience and knowledge, Defra will spend more time on management than it has in the past, because it is only through management combined with habitats, species and the right amounts of food given at the right times of year that we will be able to increase the biodiversity of this country, which has suffered in the recent past. I am happy at this stage to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 35A withdrawn.
Amendments 36 to 38 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendments 39 and 40 not moved.
Clause 3: Response to reports
Amendments 41 to 44 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Amendments 45 to 47 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 48.
Clause 5: Interpretation
48: Clause 5, page 2, line 32, leave out “vertebrate” and insert “mammal”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment limits the application of the Bill to mammals.
My Lords, there are four amendments in this group in my name, Amendments 48, 52, 53 and 57. I will come in a moment to say exactly what they would do, but I shall make some preliminary remarks that arise from something my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering said and which has not been sufficiently discussed. This is the famous metaphysical bit that the Minister has been worried about, although I hope to get through this while skirting Descartes—or anybody difficult or foreign, for that matter.
The difficulty we have is that we are asked to assess to what extent, in a meaningful way, we think that animals can feel pain. That requires us to think a little about what pain and feeling are. My noble friend Lady McIntosh brought up insects as an example of this, but it relates to other creatures as well. Pain itself, of course, is not just an interior experience; it is, to some extent, a social concept. Pain is an abnormality, but we learn from others that it is an abnormality that is expressive of something that requires a response. So, we learn as children, “Don’t put your hands on the coal. If you do put your hands on the coal, that is what we call pain; learn not to do it again.” There is a social element to it, and it is not by any means clear that that can be translated to animal experience. This is the problem of operating on a non-behavioural scientific basis.
We humans also have coping strategies for dealing with pain. When I know I am going to have an injection in my arm, I always make sure that I look the other way; that is a very small example of a coping strategy. That illustrates another thing about the human experience of pain, which is that very often it is worse in anticipation than in the experience itself. All of this is tied up with what we understand by pain: for humans, it is not simply a neurological experience that can be tracked by chemicals and electrons, although it has all those aspects to it.
It is very difficult to know how one can map that across the bulk of animals. It is easiest to do so, of course, in the case of mammals, because there we have a closer link with ourselves in terms of DNA composition and so forth. To map it to fish and birds is extremely difficult. Indeed, it is scientifically quite challenging to understand how the very limited neural capacity, or brain capacity, of fish and birds could accommodate that range of complex experiences of pain characteristic of humans and, perhaps, of primates and other higher mammals.
There is also a similar question about what it is to feel something. In ordinary English, “feel” has two aspects: I can feel a table—that is a physical sensation—but I can also feel love, disdain and other emotions. Nobody doubts at all that the vertebrates we are discussing can feel in the former sense but, simply as a matter of their neural and brain capacity, the notion that they even have the ability to feel love, affection, fear and complex emotions such as those is a very challenging one.
We really need to understand that sort of background before we do what the Bill does, which is to cast an extremely wide net. It includes all vertebrates, but it goes beyond that: it gives the Secretary of State the power, which I think is completely unprecedented, to decide that any invertebrate, including the insects referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, are in fact sentient. That is the power given to him which, as I say, is almost incredible.
I turn to the detail of what my amendments seek to do. They would cut the thing in different ways. First, Amendment 48 suggests we “leave out ‘vertebrate’” and limit the scope of the Bill to mammals. This would make it much easier for the public, and for many members of this Committee and your Lordships’ House, to accept the Bill. It could be regarded as a first stage; there would be nothing to prevent the Government coming back subsequently and saying, “Having won over opinion on the question of mammals, we could now extend it to the broader class of vertebrates.” Amendment 52 explicitly invites the removal of fish—it is playing the same tune—and Amendment 53 proposes the removal of birds. These are all different ways of coming at the same thing.
Amendment 57 is slightly different, because I still cannot get over my outrage that Parliament is proposing to give the Secretary of State the power to designate any invertebrate as sentient. Here, simply for the sake of modesty and respectability, this amendment would limit that power to “cephalopods and decapod crustaceans”, simply because one knows from conversation and debate that that is the category of animals most likely to come within scope of this unprecedented power. It should none the less, in my view, be limited.
That is the purpose of these amendments and it is important that we explore them, because I do not accept that it is easy to map notions of feeling and pain on to these classes. Perhaps I may briefly refer to—
My Lords, there is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee stands adjourned for five minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, we shall resume. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, may complete his speech and move his amendment.
My Lords, I had just finished commenting on my own amendments when we were interrupted, so it was a convenient break, but before I conclude I shall comment on a few other amendments in this group.
Amendment 50, in the name of my noble friend Lord Robathan, would exclude the actions of wild animals upon other animals from the scope of the committee’s activities, and I think that must be sensible.
Amendment 56, from my noble friend Lord Trenchard, to leave out the power to designate invertebrates is in keeping with my amendment, and I support it.
My noble friend Lord Mancroft’s Amendment 59, which would require a scientific report that a being is sentient before it is redesignated as such by the Secretary of State under this very broad power, is an absolute minimum requirement and one that is very much in keeping with my comments on the previous group.
Finally, Amendment 49, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, concerns cephalopods and decapods. As the same words are used in a different order it might easily be confused with my amendment, but on careful examination it has a very different effect. My proposal at least puts some decency on this unprecedented power so that it is confined to the most likely class of animals. I understand—and I am sure I can be corrected—that Amendment 49 effectively takes the decision for the Secretary of State and includes cephalopod and decapod crustaceans as sentient beings on the face of the Bill. That is quite different from what I am proposing, if I have understood the amendment correctly, and I do not think that without proper and rigorous scientific reports, as indicated by my noble friend Lord Mancroft, this august Committee is quite the place in which to make such a radical transformation in our understanding of the natural world. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall confine myself to speaking to my Amendment 50 for reasons of brevity. The more astute Members of the Committee will have realised that this refers to Section 2 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but this seems to me, to a certain extent, the nub of the Bill. It concentrates on what we, as people, are responsible for.
As a slight side-issue, I was asked to change the language because, of course, these days parliamentary language should be gender-neutral. However, surely everyone—however ill-educated—knows that the term “mankind”, or “man” in this context, has always included all human beings, all humanity, of whatever gender. I mention that because language is important, and this is legislation. To have been not specific about “mankind” might have been an example of lack of clarity, of which I fear this Bill is also an example.
On the substance, if I am responsible for an animal, I have responsibilities and duties to that creature, be it my dog, my rather foolish hens—which are not laying eggs at the moment—a cow or, indeed, a pheasant. However, I am surely not responsible for the rats we all live with, nor the squirrels destroying the trees I have planted, nor if my dog catches a rat—it is a terrier, and that is what terriers do. We then come on to fish in a river. Is the owner of a particular stretch of river responsible for a fish moving up and down it? Fish have backbones and are indeed sentient beings. Or is a fishing club responsible? Am I responsible if I run over a squirrel or hit a bird in the road, which I try pretty hard not to do?
I regard myself as a conservationist. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, referred to himself as such in a previous debate. However, unlike him, I see the way this Bill is phrased as paving the way for interference in anything and everything. It has been suggested that it is a Trojan horse and that there will be mission creep. I think it will be an activists’ charter. My noble friend Lord Herbert said in another debate that we need clarity.
The Minister, for whom I have a very high regard—we go back quite a long way and he called me, I think, a “denizen” of the last Chamber we served in—said earlier today that there is a very specific role for the committee. What is that role? It is not clear to me, and I am afraid that the debates so far have not clarified the situation. I hope this amendment may go some way towards clarifying the situation: that we are responsible for those animals for which we are responsible and not responsible for those which we cannot be responsible for.
My Lords, the next three speakers—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean—have all withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 59 in this group. Clause 5(2) gives the Secretary of State the power to bring any invertebrate of any description within the meaning of “animal” and thus within the scope of the Bill—thus declaring them sentient in law. My noble friend Lord Moylan has already drawn attention to the extraordinary breadth of this new power. At Second Reading, he said:
“The clause that strikes me as most extravagant, however, is the one that gives the Secretary of State the unfettered power to declare, should he wish, that an earthworm is a sentient being. This is a power greater than that given by God to Adam in the Garden of Eden, which, as I recall, was restricted to the power to naming animals. Here, we are giving the Secretary of State the power to reclassify them almost without check.”—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1921.]
I do not feel qualified to comment on the powers that God gave to Adam, so I will, if noble Lords forgive me, confine myself to this Bill.
Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Randall, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, called for decapod crustaceans, including lobsters, crabs and crayfish, and cephalopods, including octopus, squid and cuttlefish, to be included in the scope of the Bill. Some argued this point on the basis of a film called “My Octopus Teacher” and were advised to have tissues on hand to watch it. However, the evidence contained in a tearjerker does not seem to be the best foundation for the law of the land. The law should be based on hard evidence—hard science and sound evidence—and that is where the problems on animal sentience start and lie.
While everyone agrees that animals are sentient, philosophers and scientists are still arguing about what that means. Does a dog, for example, have the same feelings as a crab, or a crayfish the same feelings as a cow? Perhaps that is why there is no definition of sentience in the Bill. Scientists are not agreed, despite the fact that in the previous debate the Minister gave us two separate definitions of sentience, although neither of them are included in the sentience Bill, which strikes me as a bit odd. So how will a committee opine on something that is neither defined and on which there is no widespread agreement, in fact, on which there is widespread disagreement?
The Government have commissioned an independent review of the sentience of decapod crustaceans and cephalopods. This amendment would require only that where the Secretary of State declares an invertebrate sentient, the scientific evidence on which the declaration is based should be published. It seems unarguable that such transparency on the science must be good, and I cannot imagine any arguments for hiding the evidence and not publishing it. If the Minister rejects the amendments, perhaps he can enlighten the Committee about why the science and the evidence should be hidden away.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, whose name is next on the list, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, the last group of amendments is quite long and seeks to limit the scope of the Bill and the groups of animals considered to be sentient.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has spoken in favour of Amendment 48, which would remove vertebrates in favour of mammals, Amendment 52, which would add fish, Amendment 53, which would add birds, and Amendment 57, which would limit the classification of invertebrates to cephalopods and decapods. The noble Lord makes a claim that animals are capable of feeling pain but not other emotions, such as pleasure. I fear I do not agree. A family pet dog is very capable of showing pleasure. When I get home after a week in London, our collie is overjoyed to see me, and there is no mistaking his enthusiasm. As regards the scope of sentience, we should be led by the science available for each group of animals.
Amendment 50, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, is to apply to domesticated animals in the British Isles,
“under the control of man”
and not living wild. I am certain that he would have been supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, if he had not withdrawn. I support the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, in not changing the wording of proposed new subsection (1)(b). He is correct: we all understand what is meant by mankind, and I am not personally offended by the use of that word. While I sympathise with these amendments, I am not sure why it is necessary to limit the group of animals to be included or excluded. It is likely that by adopting Amendment 50 in particular, some animals which are being farmed and also live wild, such as deer—not really cute ones—are likely to be treated differently depending on their status. That is likely to cause unnecessary confusion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, put her name to Amendment 51, which we support. I am speaking in particular to Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and I have also added our names. At Second Reading, reference was made to the evidence on decapod crustaceans and cephalopods being sentient beings. I am not naturally squeamish, but I found the deliberate shocking of shore crabs to see whether they were capable of feeling and remembering pain somewhat unpleasant. The experiment having been conducted during trials, the result is conclusively that they are sentient and have some advanced cognition. Similarly, the octopus is capable of feeling and remembering pain, so I believe both groups should be included in the Bill rather than being left to be added at some later stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, has raised some interesting publicity on the fate of lobsters and how those destined for the restaurant trade should meet their end. Given that the vast majority of lobsters reach restaurants in a live condition, I cannot see that the Bridlington lobster trade will be adversely affected by how lobsters are prepared for the table.
I can also see that some will think that the Bill is a back door to banning angling and the shooting of game birds. I believe that we are a long way from reaching that conclusion; I would not support it if that were the case.
I fully support moves to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods in the classification of sentient creatures. I will listen carefully to the arguments in favour of the rest of the amendments in this group and the outcomes their tablers are looking to achieve.
In response to a question on the first group, the Minister gave the impression that the inclusion of these groups is something for another Minister. I hope he can confirm that the classification of animals included in this Bill should be widened at this stage and not at some date in the future.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, whose name is next on the list, has withdrawn.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Robathan’s Amendment 50 and have added my name to it. It would be a sensible and logical addition to the Bill. It is absolutely right that where men and women are in charge of an animal they are responsible for it being treated in the most humane way possible, but if that same animal is running free and is wild, then it cannot possibly be under the control of a human being. Therefore, the words that my noble friend wishes to include in the Bill would make the position absolutely clear. I support him on that basis.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who is next on the list, has withdrawn.
My Lords, a crucial aspect of the Bill is determining which animals within the vast animal kingdom are sentient. Crucially, of course, that depends on how sentience is defined. The Bill does not attempt to define sentience, and various expert opinions, which I respect, have suggested that that is sensible. But we can be sure that, if and when the Bill becomes law, there will be those who will start to question the limit currently in the Bill or that proposed in Amendment 57, which I support. It is almost certain that at least some scientific opinion will be arguable and credible to propose further extending the range of animals included.
Current definitions of sentience include capacity to have feelings. I know of no way of determining what animals feel, but we know that many lifeforms sense and avoid potentially harmful stimuli, which we do, of course. Although we would sense pain on that occasion, we can only guess at the feeling the animal has, but presumably it is not a pleasurable sensation. Of course it is important to consider the science, but extremely respected scientists can and do differ even when confronted with the same data.
The frontiers of what sentience is will likely shift. I listened yesterday to the evidence given to the EFRA Committee in the other place by Jonathan Birch of the London School of Economics. He is the lead author of the LSE report referred to on the first day of Committee, which has yet to be published but has been carefully considering whether to include cephalopods and decapod crustaceans as sentient beings. Professor Birch commented yesterday with respect to the definition of sentience that the science is evolving. Indeed, the Minister commented in much the same way today.
Clearly it would raise huge issues were more and more animal taxa credibly—and, indeed, scientifically—argued to be sentient. So, although I accept that Amendments 59 and 60 are improvements on the current Bill, I feel that the range of animals included in the Bill should be a political decision determined by the Secretary of State and with the complete and full consideration of Parliament, where the cost-benefit considerations can be properly weighed—taking scientific opinion into account, of course, but not being bound by it.
Thus I support Amendment 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. It would limit the extension to cephalopods—they are already protected in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act so there would be consistency there—and decapod crustaceans; there is mounting evidence that the latter are sentient beings. They are protected in the animal welfare legislation of many other countries and are a subject on which the LSE report is about to pronounce. This amendment would provide a hard stop at that point. It implies that, should there be further pressure to extend the range of animals, this can be considered but through primary legislation duly debated, considered and scrutinised in Parliament.
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for not being here earlier in the afternoon when noble Lords debated amendments to which I added my name. Unfortunately, there was an additional meeting of the Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, meeting on a different day and at a different time. However, I am here now. I will speak to Amendment 51 in particular; in that connection, I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, to say that they fully support the remarks I intend to make about it.
I make no apology for wishing to see cephalopods and decapods included in the realms of sentience and not left until some future date. I am aware that the Minister is awaiting the LSE report to which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred. I would be interested to know from the Minister when we might expect to see that report and whether it is likely to be in time to make a decision about including these creatures in the Bill before it reaches its final stages. For my part, I believe that there is already sufficient hard evidence to make it perfectly acceptable to include them here and now.
It is interesting that, way back in 2005, the European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare considered these animals sufficiently sentient to be included. Since then, a lot of work has been done by Professor Robert Elwood of Queen’s University; I believe that he has provided good scientific evidence. I am happy to accept scientific evidence. I think mention was made earlier of one experiment where hermit crabs, which like to retreat to quiet places, were given an electric shock if they entered one refuge but not if they entered another. It soon became evident that they knew which one to choose and that they remembered it. Shortness of time forbids me from giving any further examples, but I firmly believe that there are good examples that give hard evidence. We know, too, that a number of other countries are ahead of us on this issue. They include, for example, New Zealand, some of the Australian states, Austria and even, surprisingly, Italy.
The final point I want to make is that I commend to the Minister the precautionary principle. Great publicity was given to it in the Environment Bill as one of five principles. It was given a good boost. I suggest that the precautionary principle is one to adopt here and now. As I understand it, it means that, if there is some evidence, you do not have to wait until something is proved to the hilt before you take action. On that basis, I have no hope that the Minister will accept Amendment 51 as it stands, but I hope for better things before the Bill reaches the statute book.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, whose name is next on the list, has withdrawn.
I am speaking to Amendment 49 in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I thank them for their support. Before I move on, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that he has understood the purpose of my amendment completely correctly. We also support Amendment 51 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Fookes.
Clause 5 currently defines “animal” as any vertebrate other than homo sapiens. Amendments 52 and 53 talk about adding “fish” and “birds” to the scope of the Bill. I know that they are probing amendments, but they are vertebrates—
Okay. As I was saying, they are probing amendments that are basically asking for animals to come in that are already covered, as they are vertebrates. I am just a bit confused about that. If we look back to the European Council directive in 1998 which preceded the Lisbon treaty, fish and birds are included all the way back to then. I will be interested in what the Minister has to say and why the probing amendments are felt to be necessary.
Looking at Clause 5(2), we have had some debate about the fact that the definition could be widened in future to include invertebrates if evidence of sentience among invertebrates comes forward. We have put forward this amendment because we believe that evidence of sentience among two groups of invertebrates, cephalopods —for example, octopuses—and decapod crustaceans, is already established and has been for a number of years.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, spoke about the importance of scientific evidence in the debate on an earlier group, so I am sure he will be interested in the fact that back in December 2005, the Panel on Animal Health and Welfare of the European Food Safety Authority published a report that examined the scientific evidence about the sentience and capacity of certain invertebrate species to experience pain and distress. It concluded that decapod crustaceans and cephalopods can experience pain and distress, and that the largest decapod crustaceans are complex in behaviour and have a pain system and considerable learning ability.
As regards cephalopods, the scientific panel concluded that they have a nervous system and a relatively complex brain similar to many vertebrates and sufficient in structure and function for them to experience pain. Notably, they can experience and learn to avoid pain and distress, such as avoiding electric shocks. In addition, they have significant cognitive ability, including good learning ability and memory retention, elaborate communication systems and individual temperaments. More recently, a number of scientific papers strongly point to the conclusion that both cephalopods and decapod crustaceans are capable of experiencing pain and suffering.
Even more recently—the noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred to this—evidence was given to the Select Committee in July, this month, by Dr Jonathan Birch from the LSE, who is, of course, the author of the report that Defra is producing. He provided written evidence, along with Professor Nicola Clayton and Dr Alexandra Schnell from the University of Cambridge, and Dr Heather Browning and Dr Andrew Crump from the LSE. These are serious academics, who are the kind of people we should listen to when we consider scientific evidence in making decisions. If noble Lords will bear with me, I just want to pull up a couple of their points on this Bill. They say:
“In our opinion, the evidence vindicates the 2012 extension of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to cover all cephalopod molluscs. We now have a very strange situation in the UK: all cephalopod molluscs are protected in science but they are not protected by robust animal welfare laws outside scientific settings.”
Coming to Amendment 57 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—and perhaps to answer his considerations about this—they also say that:
“Regarding decapod crustaceans: although it would be possible for animal welfare law to protect some infraorders while excluding others, this has the potential to generate significant confusion. A better approach would be to protect all decapod crustaceans in very general legislation such as the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill”.
Having made that point, I would like to look at the work of the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission. In February this year, it issued a definition of sentience to cover both groups we have been discussing in light of the accumulating evidence, and that preceded the evidence I have just read out to noble Lords. Our amendment acknowledges this growing amount of evidence and seeks to embed it within the Bill by extending the definition of “animal” to cover cephalopods and decapod crustaceans. We know that they are already protected in some other countries—Australia, Switzerland, Norway and New Zealand—and in some states in the United States and Australia. The recognition of cephalopod and decapod crustacean sentience has already been acknowledged within the scientific community, so in our mind there is no good reason to delay acknowledgement of it within the Bill.
The independent review has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. There is huge expectation that this report will be published soon, and it has a significant role to play in informing the Bill we have been debating in this Committee. It would be extremely useful if the Minister could give us an update on its progress because to have it before us before Report is very important.
Before I finish, I want to speak very briefly to a couple of the other amendments. First, on Amendment 50 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I just feel a bit disappointed that it has been tabled to remove wild animals from the scope of the Bill. I do not think there is a case for their removal. I heard the noble Lords’ concerns around responsibility, and I would be very keen to hear some clarity from the Minister on this area. I really think that if we accept that animals are sentient by virtue of their biology, sentience applies whatever the condition an animal is in, whether it is wild, farmed or kept as a companion. Human activity—what we do—impinges on wild, farm and companion animals alike. So, consideration of how our activity impacts on the welfare of sentience should cover all animals that would come under the scope of the Bill at the moment.
Amendment 48, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and other noble Lords, would limit the Bill’s coverage to mammals, as we heard in the introduction. I would just like to make this point: when we consider whether an animal is sentient, we should not be affected by how like it is to us. That is not the point of sentience. As noble Lords, we need to consider this fact very carefully, and that is borne out again by the scientific evidence. On that basis, being an invertebrate should not automatically preclude sentience, so the limitations proposed by the amendment would then become an entirely arbitrary limitation given the overwhelming evidence I have just expressed concerning the fact that sentience exists across vertebrates.
I am aware that there has been quite a bit of press interest in our amendment. I know we are not allowed to use props, but I have a newspaper here, the Times, whose editorial on 8 July said, “Considering the Lobster” —it is almost getting a bit Lewis Carroll, is it not? The subheading was:
“Ministers are right to ban the practice of boiling shellfish alive.”
In light of this, I urge the Minister to take action and accept our amendment.
I will start with Amendment 48 in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan. With it, I will take his Amendments 52 and 53, together with Amendment 59 in the name of my noble friend Lord Mancroft and Amendment 60 in the name of the noble Lady, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.
It is evident that there is a rather wide range of views in the Committee about which animals should be recognised in this Bill as sentient. Some noble Lords wish to see the scope of the Bill immediately broadened to include decapods and cephalopods; others additionally wish to see the exclusion of certain classes of vertebrates. As drafted, the Bill defines an animal as a non-human vertebrate—that is, an animal with a backbone. The scientific evidence is clear that vertebrate animals can experience pain and suffering. It is on that basis that the definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 extends to vertebrates.
Government policy will continue to be guided by scientific evidence. That is why we have future-proofed the Bill with a delegated power for Ministers to add different species of invertebrates to the definition of “animal” by regulation. We will use this power where supported by robust scientific evidence. This corresponds to the similar delegated power contained in the Animal Welfare Act. I am mindful, of course, that this House has mixed feelings about the inclusion of delegated powers such as this in public Bills. It is rightly expected that Ministers offer a good reason for their inclusion. I can assure your Lordships that we would not have taken the trouble to seek this power if we were not prepared to use it when needed. I can confirm that new additions to the remit of the Bill—new species—are subject to an affirmative resolution, so noble Lords can scrutinise them.
On Amendment 56, my noble friend Lord Trenchard would, had he been able to speak to it, have sounded a note of caution regarding the delegated power in the Bill. I can assure him that such a power will be exercised appropriately, as I said. That is why the affirmative resolution process applies; Parliament will have the final say on any extension to the Bill’s scope. If either House is not satisfied that Ministers have good evidence to justify their use of the delegated power, then its use can be vetoed. We know that scientific research is a continuous process and new evidence on sentience will emerge over time as our understanding increases. That is why we have included the delegated power. I am aware there may be different views on the inclusion of a delegated power in the Bill. However, this power is necessary to allow us to recognise other species as sentient if there is sufficient evidence to support it, and I can confirm we intend to use the power if that is the case.
Naturally, when we talk of possible extensions to the Bill’s scope, many noble Lords are thinking primarily about its extension to decapods and cephalopods. This is reflected in Amendment 57 in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan, as well as Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. As noble Lords know, my department has commissioned an independent review of the available scientific evidence on sentience in decapod crustaceans such as crabs and lobsters as well as sentience in the cephalopod class, which includes octopus, cuttlefish and squid. I can confirm that the report will be published before the Bill returns to the House on Report.
We want this Bill to stand the test of time. Our understanding of animal sentience has developed in recent years and will continue to do so. I say to my noble friend Lord Moylan that I would be reluctant to do away with the ability to extend the Bill’s scope to other species, subject to parliamentary approval, if that is what the evidence calls for.
Turning to Amendments 55 and 58, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I am not sure whether there is anything to be gained from explicitly excluding or including foetuses and embryos from the committee’s remit, as the noble Baroness’s amendments would require. In practice, it would be difficult for the committee and government departments to identify the way in which a policy under consideration affects the welfare needs of a foetus or embryo, as opposed to those of the mother animal. It is therefore unlikely that the committee could find itself considering a policy beyond its remit.
To conclude my remarks on what species the Bill covers, I recognise that there are strong views advocating for many different directions. We want to ensure that any extension of the recognition of sentience is informed by engagement with the evidence from experts and stakeholders. Parliament can expect us to weigh the evidence carefully, with the assurance that it will always have the final say on the matter.
I saw and was profoundly affected by the documentary “My Octopus Teacher”, which has been frequently quoted. Other than the beauty of that particular animal, it also showed the healing power of nature for the individual who made that film. It is one of the most remarkable programmes that I have seen for a very long time.
I turn now to Amendment 50, in the name of my noble friend Lord Robathan, which seeks to refine the scope to kept animals. Your Lordships might wonder what is the point of recognising the sentience of animals that are outside human control, such as wild animals—the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made this point. It is simple: these animals are sentient and equally capable of feeling pain and suffering. Sentience is not a capacity limited to those animals under the control of man, nor does government policy impact solely on kept animals. There are numerous ways in which a government policy might affect wild animals. Crucially, we share an environment. Hence we should not limit the committee to considering the sentience of kept animals alone.
I will answer various points that have been raised. To my noble friend Lord Moylan, I will quote Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men: animals should be part of natural law
“less because they are rational than because they are sentient”.
I do not usually pray him in aid—his writings led to the French Revolution and the Terror—but I think that, in this case, he was right.
Like many others, my noble friend Lord Robathan referred to the words “Trojan horse”. I do not understand why they keep being used in the context of the Bill. The Trojan horse was a special forces operation, as he should be well aware, and it led to the sacking of a civilisation. I do not see that it has any corresponding circumstances here.
Finally, my attention was drawn to something in Hansard on 25 July 1979—so in the first few weeks of the then Conservative Government—where an MP who then went under the name “Miss Fookes” asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
“what progress has been made with the Government’s review of their animal welfare policy”.
She was clearly on the march on animal welfare matters even then. In his reply, the Minister, Peter Walker—obviously late of this parish—set out the parameters that he thought were important for the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which is obviously a different organisation. However, his reply clearly sets out the level of expertise and—I say this to my Conservative colleagues—an enduring determination to improve the welfare of animals. It finishes:
“The actions the Government intend to take will provide a more efficient and effective means of furthering the interests of animal welfare.”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/07/1979; cols. 295-98W]
I could not have put it better than that in the context of this Bill.
Finally, as this is the last group, I thank every one of your Lordships who has spoken on the Bill today and at the previous session. As a new Member of this House, I can certainly say that its reputation as a place of careful consideration and scrutiny is well deserved. I hope that my noble friend will feel content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham.
My Lords, does the Minister think that there is a fundamental difference between a lobster and a prawn? If an image of a prawn is magnified many times, we see that it is not dissimilar to a lobster. Of course, when children go shrimping or catching prawns, whelks, cockles or mussels, those creatures are all put into boiling water, pretty well killed immediately and cooked. Does the Minister feel that there is a fundamental difference between those bigger crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs and the smaller ones?
I am not an expert, and that is why I want an animal sentience committee that will advise me and my successors on the rights and wrongs of dispatching species of all kinds. I cannot answer my noble friend. I understand the point that he makes. He is a seasoned political debater. This is an issue which requires people who will make decisions about such matters, and that should not be lay men like me.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to other noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments, particularly my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lord Robathan and Lord Mancroft. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, felt able to express support for Amendment 57 in my name.
I also want on this occasion to thank the Minister for handling us so well. These have been two afternoons of extremely informative and at the same time very good-natured debate, and he has taken everything that we have thrown at him and come back with a dazzling display of intellect and sympathy, though it is mildly regrettable that the only philosophers he cites are all French—maybe he should have a closer look at that for the future.
I apologise for expressing myself badly if I conveyed to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that I did not think that dogs could feel pleasure. That is not what I intended to say. In fact, one of my amendments specifically preserved mammals as part of the scope of the Bill. I was trying to say that, while we can certainly understand pleasure and indeed pain in a dog or in the higher mammals, it is very difficult to understand what that means in any meaningful sense when one is talking about fish, for example. It was simply that point that I was trying to make; I am sorry if I did not express myself well.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that Amendments 52 and 53 would add fish and birds to a clause that excepts—it is an exception clause—so that it would except homo sapiens “and fish” and so on. It takes them out of the scope of the Bill. Clearly, the noble Baroness does not want them taken out. However, she was never going to express support so, in a way, it does not matter.
As a final point, I want to pick up on what the noble Baroness said about cephalopods and decapod crustaceans, and it is a bit of commentary on much of the Bill. I think that we are all agreed that the Bill has to say something, and we have a Bill here which is so empty of content that it would almost be a scandal if it passed in its current circumstances. Today and on previous occasions, we have discussed how it ought to say something about composition and about term limits—which we discussed last time. Perhaps there is a feeling that it ought to say something too about cephalopods and decapod crustaceans. Where we might differ around the Committee, because we have not sufficiently coalesced, is on what exactly it should say on those issues, but I think that many of us sitting here, from all political parties and groups, can probably agree with me if I say to the Minister that as the Bill stands, it is not good enough, and that when it comes back on Report we expect many things that we have said to be heard and the Bill to be improved in a number of respects.
I wish the Minister well in his endeavours to make the Bill better so that we are all as happy with it as we have been with him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
Amendments 49 to 60 not moved.
Amendment 61 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6 agreed.
Amendment 62 not moved.
Bill reported without amendment.
My Lords, that concludes the Committee’s proceedings on the Bill. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 5.45 pm.