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Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Volume 816: debated on Monday 6 December 2021

Report (Continued)

Amendment 7

Moved by

7: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

“(4) No person may be appointed a member of the Committee unless they have confirmed that they—(a) are not affiliated to an organisation promoting animal rights;(b) are not a member of an organisation promoting animal rights;(c) are not currently employed and have never been employed by or been a consultant of an organisation promoting animal rights;(d) are not in receipt of, nor have ever been in receipt of, payments or funding, whether directly or indirectly, from an organisation promoting animal rights.”

I am the lucky recipient of yet another of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. He did not indicate to me why he had decoupled it from the previous group. I think the Minister has, in effect, already replied by saying that he is not prepared to put in the Bill who should be on the committee. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, effectively sets out who should not be, and I assume that the same answer will come to me.

However, I would like to say, literally in a sentence, that one of the reasons for widespread disquiet about the Bill is concern about who may or may not find places on the committee. I come from an area where the animal rights movement has been particularly virulent, especially during the badger cull, with people with balaclavas damaging farm property, threatening people, letting livestock out and so on, and, more recently, damaging all the tents at the local country fair by painting Animal Liberation Front logos on everything. As a result of that, a lot of us are concerned that some well-known public figures who purport to be friends of animals and campaign on their behalf do not condemn this terrorism. We are concerned that, whoever comes on to this committee, they should be, as the Government have indicated is their intention, people with proper scientific experience and knowledge who can contribute—not from a neutral point of view, because that is impossible, but whose judgement can be relied on—rather than people who are merely from pressure groups. I beg to move.

Very briefly, I think the concerns on this amendment were answered in the response to the previous group. As it is not necessary to have in the Bill who should be on the committee, it is not necessary to have in it who should not be on the committee.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, for moving the amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Mancroft. We have already debated this, but I understand my noble friend’s concerns regarding conflicts of interest and what they may mean for the committee.

We want the committee to succeed, and I am confident that the Bill and the draft terms of reference will ensure that that is the case. As has been said today, the Secretary of State for Defra will be responsible for appointments to the committee and appointments will be decided in accordance with the Governance Code on Public Appointments. Applicants would, in line with best practice, be required to declare any potential conflicts of interest to the recruitment panel. The draft terms of reference set out that the Secretary of State may decline to consider an application from an individual whose conduct suggests that their membership could damage the reputation or credibility of the committee—for example, their membership of an extremist organisation. My noble friend’s amendment is simply not necessary. Defra has shown that this tried-and-tested approach works. There are a number of existing Defra-owned expert bodies which give balanced, reasonable advice on animal welfare issues. Few would ever accuse the Animal Welfare Committee, for example, of being made up of zealous activists.

I say again that noble Lords can be reassured that the process of recruitment of members of the committee will be rigorous and that members will be chosen on the merits of their expertise. This is what is needed in order for the committee to perform its role. I hope that this reassures noble Lords and that, together with the reassurance given by my noble friend the Minister on the previous group, it will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Before my noble friend sits down, could she reassure the House that, for instance, Chris Packham and Mark Avery of Wild Justice would not be eligible to be on the committee?

I am afraid I am not able to give that reassurance. All I can say is that they might not be considered to be experts.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I just hope that the reassurance she has given us will be followed by future Secretaries of State. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendment 8 not moved.

Amendment 9

Moved by

9: Clause 1, leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new Clause—

“Animal Sentience Committee

(1) A Committee within the Cabinet Office, called the Animal Sentience Committee, will be established and maintained.(2) The function of the Committee will be to determine whether in the process of formulating and implementing policy it is satisfied that Ministers of State and the departments of state are having, or have had, all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is intended to reduce conflict over membership by creating an internal committee of the Cabinet Office.

My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendments 9, 11, 33 and 37 in this group, which are in my name. Noble Lords will be glad to know that I have torn up three-quarters of my speech to speed things up. I declare my interest as a fortunate owner of farmland, woodland, moorland and river. I affect the welfare of sentient animals, both positively and negatively, from time to time.

Together, these amendments would cut some of the Gordian knots that we have wrestled with today, and would deliver an animal sentience committee that reported to Parliament but was independent of Defra. The role of the committee as proposed in this amendment must be understood together with the animal welfare strategy that it would be required to produce under Amendment 11. The committee would then be required to report to Parliament on the compliance of Ministers with this process, as in Amendment 33, to which Ministers must respond, as in Amendment 37.

If the sentience committee is to ensure that animal welfare is properly considered, and to act as an accountability mechanism to Parliament, to create it as a creature of Defra raises a number of problems. It may not be welcomed by other departments, which, as the draft terms of reference confirm, are under no obligation to co-operate with it. A committee within the Cabinet Office would have a clear, overarching remit, set a cross-departmental standard and be independent of other departments, whose Ministers would still be required to respond to the committee’s reports to Parliament. The other advantage of a statutory committee within the Cabinet Office is that it avoids the problems identified at earlier stages of the Bill around who should or should not sit on the committee, which we have just discussed.

A committee within the Cabinet Office that is not a Defra committee would be better placed, I would argue, to drive change across government, avoid inter-departmental resentments—as I said earlier—and ensure that all due regard to animal welfare was properly and consistently applied. Then, as with the current proposal, it would be for parliamentarians to hold Ministers to account.

Amendment 11 would ensure that there was a clear strategy setting out how, in the process of developing, deciding and implementing policies, the animal welfare implications of those policies must be considered.

Amendment 33 largely replicates the existing Bill but takes account of the animal welfare strategy, while still allowing the sentience committee to play a role where it feels that there has been a failure of process in compliance with the strategy before a policy decision has been made. This would seem a much more impactful approach to driving change across government than the current proposals.

Amendment 37 ensures that Ministers must explain to Parliament any failure to comply with the animal welfare strategy identified by the sentience committee. It would also mean, for example, that if the matter was a policy relating to the Department of Health, it would be for the Health Secretary to respond. The Bill is not, at the moment, clear on this, although the draft terms of reference make it clear that that is what is intended. That intention should be made clear in the Bill.

I hope it is clear that these amendments are intended to be helpful and are in the spirit of trying to turn a bad Bill into a less bad Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, there is a large number of amendments in this group, so in the interests of time and the number of groups yet to be debated I shall focus on Amendment 38 in my name, which would insert a new clause after Clause 3 requiring the ASC to submit an annual report on its work to both Houses of Parliament. I shall also speak to Amendment 21, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising.

The animal sentience committee is being set up as a non-departmental public body with an advisory function. The latest available figures suggest that 63% of such bodies present an annual report to Parliament. It is clearly in the interests of accountability and transparency for MPs and Peers to be able to regularly scrutinise the committee’s work. A yearly report would also allow parliamentarians to gain a wider view of animal sentience issues over the preceding 12 months and of any emerging policy trends that impact on it. Requiring an annual report through this new clause would ensure that this essential transparency and accountability measure is sustained throughout the lifetime of the committee. I urge the Minister to consider including it in the Bill.

On Amendment 21, noble Lords have previously discussed in Committee the prescriptive wording of the question that Clause 2 requires the ASC to consider. These discussions highlighted how this wording, which specifies that only “adverse” effects should be considered, could lead to important opportunities to enhance animal welfare being missed. On the first day of Committee on 6 July, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, signalled his agreement, saying that

“the committee should be free to consider positive effects”.—[Official Report, 6/7/21; col. GC 309.]

This appears to have informed the welcome provision in the circulated terms of reference, which states:

“The Committee may consider how ministers have had a positive effect on animals as sentient beings in the policy-making process.”

We welcome this. However, the committee could also prioritise supporting government departments in minimising the possibility of any policy having a harmful effect on the welfare of animals. This is a sensible approach, which balances giving the committee the freedom to consider all opportunities to enhance animal welfare with the need to prioritise the avoidance of harmful effects.

However, the wording of the Bill itself remains unchanged and continues to require the committee to only consider “adverse effects”. This contradiction could lead to complications. An ASC report focused on positive effects could be challenged, with any defence based on the licence to consider positive effects conferred by the terms of reference being undermined by the prohibition on doing so in the text of the legislation. I hope that the Minister will consider this, as it is a simple amendment. Removing the word “adverse” from the Bill text would allow a sensible approach—which is in the published terms of reference—to be safely and fully implemented by the committee.

I thank your Lordships for amendments, and I hope that I can provide some reassurance on the points made.

I start with Amendment 9, in the name of my noble friend Lord Ridley, which would establish the animal sentience committee as a committee within the Cabinet Office. I would argue that Defra is well placed to host the animal sentience committee—which I will refer henceforth to as “the committee”. Defra’s hosting allows it to be affiliated as a constituent of Defra’s animal welfare centre of expertise, alongside other expert animal welfare committees, such as the Animal Welfare Committee. This provides for these committees to draw upon one another’s expertise much more easily than if they were hosted separately.

In his explanatory statement, my noble friend suggested that, if the committee were under the Cabinet Office, it would be easier to reach agreement on membership. It is not clear how changing the host department would achieve this. We believe that our approach to recruiting experts means that the committee will have the right experts. The same considerations would apply regardless of which department was responsible for supporting the committee.

Importantly, Amendment 9 would mean that the committee would be non-statutory, with no independent existence from government. This would undermine its purpose—one of proportionate scrutiny and accountability. A statutory committee allows experts the appropriate independence to achieve its function.

Amendments 11, 33 and 37, also in the name of my noble friend Lord Ridley, would require the animal sentience committee to publish an animal welfare strategy and for the committee and the Government to undertake actions associated with this. In this Bill, we have given the committee the power to produce reports about individual policies containing its views on to what extent the UK Government are having, or have had, all due regard to the ways in which those policies might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings. We believe that it is important for the committee itself to decide which policies to report on, within the remit of the terms of reference. We would expect it to form an overview of all policy decisions with a significant effect on the welfare of animals. This need not cover every single policy decision but could cover those which are of a higher priority to animal welfare.

To ask this committee to produce reports relating to every department annually would be a significant burden and would mean less scrutiny on those policies that really matter. We want the committee to be targeted, timely and proportionate in how it operates. It is better to focus on policy decisions which have the most impact. The co-operation of departments is necessary for the committee to be able to work effectively, and Defra is already working to secure this. I believe a collaborative approach is the most appropriate one.

The committee’s role is not to set out a strategy for animal welfare nor to devise plans for future policy. These are clearly a matter for the Government. In May this year, the Government launched Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare. This sets out the Government’s current and future reform programme on animal welfare, covering both kept animals and wild animals under a series of strategic themes. I do not see the need for the committee to publish its own animal welfare strategy.

I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, feels that we have already covered Amendment 13 and the remit of the animal sentience committee in group 2. But I am happy for him to raise issues in a moment if he feels we have not.

I turn to Amendments 17, 22 and 34, in the name of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, concerning the reports of the animal sentience committee. The committee will be made up of eight to 12 members, and we anticipate it will take forward six to eight reports a year. However, Amendment 17 would require it to issue a report on all policy decisions. This is neither feasible nor desirable. We want proportionate and targeted scrutiny and accountability, and in so doing, the committee is to consider which policy decisions it deems most important. It should not be beholden to consider every policy decision regardless of its importance to animal welfare.

The question in Clause 2(2) is designed to allow the committee to express its views in an informative way to provide a proper understanding of the decision-making process followed. We believe that the committee’s recommendations are likely to be nuanced. The purpose of these reforms is not to impose a simple “pass or fail” test, which Amendments 22 and 34 suggests it should. That is not necessary, and it is likely to be unhelpful, and indeed unworkable, in many cases.

There may well be cases where the committee’s report into a policy decision does not identify major concerns but makes recommendations that would further improve future decision-making. The proposed amendments would not cater for this situation. While I understand, in principle, the rationale for limiting the requirement for Ministers to reply only to reports which identify major concerns, this would generate missed opportunities to consider valuable recommendations for improvements.

I turn to Amendments 20 and 25, in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, which query the use of the phrase “all due regard” when describing what the committee is to consider in its scrutiny of policy formulation and implementation. The technical meaning of the phrase “all due regard” in this instance is not considered to be materially different to that of the phrase “due regard”; “all due regard” emphasises that the committee should assess the extent to which all relevant factors affecting animal welfare are being considered.

I turn now to Amendments 21 and 26, again from my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, which seek to clarify that the committee can consider positive impacts on the welfare of some animals of a policy alongside the negative effects of that policy on the welfare of other animals. This point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Meeting the welfare needs of animals includes avoiding negative impacts as well as providing for positive experiences. Depriving an animal of its ability to have positive experiences, like exhibiting natural behaviours, counts as an adverse effect. I can assure your Lordships that the reference to “an adverse effect” in the Bill allows the committee to consider whether the positive experiences of an animal have been restricted.

We consider that the committee is already able to express its views on the ways in which a policy decision may not be able to maximise the welfare needs of animals, and that it may set out missed opportunities to make positive improvements to animal welfare. This is outlined in the draft terms of reference. Furthermore, I assure my noble friend that the Bill does not change existing law on pest control or impose any new restrictions on individuals or businesses.

I turn to Amendment 32 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, concerning the Bill’s scope with respect to the devolved Administrations. The committee will select policy decisions made by the UK Government on which it can issue reports. This will cover all matters that do not fall within the legislative competence of the devolved Administrations. As animal welfare policy is a devolved issue, it is a matter for the devolved Administrations as to how they wish to recognise and consider animal sentience when formulating and implementing devolved policies. It would be inappropriate for their Ministers to be held to account to the UK Parliament on matters that fall within their legislative competence.

Scotland has already used secondary legislation to establish an advisory body, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, which advises its Government on those policy areas for which they are responsible. The commission has been asked to consider how the welfare needs of sentient animals are being met by policies of the Scottish Government. The Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly are free to introduce their own legislation, should they wish. In addition, the Welsh Government have powers to set up a committee through secondary legislation if they wish to.

Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the animal sentience committee to publish an annual report. We wish to ensure that the committee is as effective as possible in undertaking its role. Reports issued by the committee will be made available on its public website. Ministers will be required to prepare a written response to these reports for Parliament, which will create opportunity to hold Ministers to account. This process will provide a great deal of transparency about the committee’s work and the policies it has chosen to consider. Further transparency will be provided through the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Records Act.

We will conduct regular performance reviews of the committee to ensure that it is fulfilling its purpose. However, we would not want to commit to an onerous annual reporting process for the committee in statute. This could take resources away from the committee’s primary scrutiny role. Ministers are required to lay timely written responses to every committee report before Parliament. This means that Parliament will be well aware of what the committee has been working on.

Finally, government Amendment 36 is a technical amendment that clarifies the time limit in which Ministers must respond to reports published by the committee. The Bill requires Ministers to lay a written response to a report before Parliament within three months of the report’s publication. This amendment excludes from that time limit certain periods in which Parliament is not sitting. We wish to make it clear that, in these limited circumstances, a Minister may submit a written response at a more appropriate time. We are committed to Ministers providing timely responses. That is why we want the time limit established by the Bill to be clear. I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for raising this issue. While we did not have the opportunity to discuss this amendment in Committee, we have considered his contribution and improved the wording of the Bill.

My Lords, I am obviously a little disappointed that my brilliant suggestion about the Cabinet Office committee has not fallen on more fertile ground. To use an analogy, you would keep a sheep dog in a kennel rather than with the sheep, but I will not pursue that one. I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.

Clause 2: Reports of the Committee

Amendments 12 to 22 not moved.

Amendment 23

Moved by

23: 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 ensures the academic robustness of the Committee’s work.

My Lords, Amendments 23 and 35 give the House the opportunity to discuss the robustness of the science on which the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is allegedly resting. I detect a lack of enthusiasm for the wide-ranging debate on this topic that might have otherwise ensued at a more timely part of the day, so I shall keep my remarks as brief as can.

I was once on the Zambezi and had the opportunity to observe the crocodiles. These are largely placid animals that sit basking in the sun but, when hungry, they can move with terrifying rapidity and can kill very rapidly indeed. The person I was with, who knew about crocodiles, said—and I will stand corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, if I have got any of this wrong, of course—that the brain of a crocodile is a very small thing. The size of a pea was suggested to me, and that there was no capacity within the brain at all, neurologically, for a function that allowed for any memory. The consoling thought that was offered to me was that, since a crocodile cannot remember anything, if it did eat me, it was not personal.

We are about to enact a Bill—we are close to passing it through our House—without limitation that, as I understand it, declares a crocodile to be a sentient creature; that is, a creature that can experience pleasure and pain, and science is prayed in aid to support this. I take the crocodile simply as an example, there are other creatures with brains almost as small as a crocodile and probably even smaller that are being covered and in scope of this Bill. The difficulty of this is, they have very limited functions, partly because the size of the brain simply limits the functions that they can actually have.

No one doubts, as a matter of science, that a crocodile, as I say taken as an example, will respond in a certain way if a sufficiently strong stimulus is applied to it. That is a neurological reaction explicable by the movement of chemicals and electrons through the nervous system and in what passes for the crocodile’s brain. What we are being asked to do here goes way beyond that. How can this be extended scientifically—not by analogy, not by empathy, but scientifically—to include the concept of pain in a crocodile as we understand pain.

Pain is more than a simple neurological reaction. Pain, as we understand it, exists in anticipation. One worries about it coming in one’s direction. It exists in reflection; one thinks about it in the past. One has coping strategies for dealing with it, and so on. Most importantly, it exists as a time of abnormality. Pain is abnormal; we want the pain to go away, so that we can go back to normal. How can a creature with no memory have any conception of what normality is, let alone what abnormality is? How can it understand pain, beyond that neurological reaction, in any sense that we understand it? Yet there are scientists, or people who hold themselves forth as scientists, who say that scientifically that link can be made when it is actually almost incomprehensible for most of us. Who are the scientists in whom the Government are placing such faith for the scientific basis of animal sentience that they claim to exist? Where do they gather? Which respectable journals do that publish in? Who is this cadre of leading animal sentience scientists?

Of course, there are animal welfare scientists and veterinarians, and people like that, but this is very specialised, a very narrow and a relatively new field—only over the last 20 years. It has no leading lights at the moment; it is, I would suggest to your Lordships’ House, predominantly ideologically driven, and it is based in large measure on funding being supplied by what might be thought of as groups and foundations with a prior view.

So my question really to my noble friend, even as he trembles on the brink of his success—he is very close to getting his way and seeing this Bill through with practically no amendments—and before he commits the nation to this Bill and this version of animal sentience, is whether he should not think twice about the claims that he makes and the confidence that he rests in what is a very ropey branch of science. Should that not lead him to pull back and consider this amendment, which requires peer review of scientific reports from the committee? In fact, it requires peer review of all reports, and I realise now that that is a bit silly, because some of them will just be procedural—but we can work on the wording. On the scientific reports of the committee, could not he and I work together to get an appropriate amendment at Third Reading that would try to make sure that we rest at last on robust science and not on something ropey and partisan? If it is ropey and partisan, we will come deeply to regret it.

My Lords, I shall just comment very briefly on what my noble friend has just said. I disagreed with him on one point, when he said that there were no leading lights in the science of sentience. I draw his attention to a wonderful book published by Oxford University Press just a few months ago by the great Cambridge psychologist Nick Humphrey. Nick says, after 60,000 words of argument, as he put it to me in an email:

“My conclusions are quite radical—and at odds with both academic and popular wisdom. I argue that the only animals that have evolved to be sentient are mammals and birds, and not all of these. We really don’t need to worry about lobsters or octopuses.”

He did not add, “or crocodiles”.

So I think that there is developing science on this, and my noble friend is quite right that it needs to be peer-reviewed and investigated. I think that we will find the goalposts move on what is sentient, and that it is not a given that everything with a backbone is sentient or, indeed, that some of the decapods and others are as sentient as we have heard in recent years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Council on Animal Affairs—a precedent body in the Netherlands, similar to the ASC being set up here —has produced some useful reports for its Government, considering new questions around policy and digitalisation in farming and biotechnology in the zoo sector. Both are areas where prior research material was very limited. The ASC should have a similar freedom to apply its core welfare question to policies where its considerations could add value, including areas not previously covered in detail by the scientific community. Again, it is important to stress that the role of the ASC is not to make detailed policy proposals but to draw attention to areas where the Government may wish to develop them.

My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate. I do not want to detain the House, but I was very entertained by my noble friend Lord Moylan’s trips down the gradations of sentience that might exist across the animal kingdom. I was trying to work out whether he was a follower of Aristotle—who believed that animals lacked rational souls and therefore were outside the sphere of justice—or whether he was Descartian or Rousseauan in his view. I do not want to go into a philosophical—

It may help my noble friend—seeing as he was so kind as to ask the question, I am sure he will be interested in the answer—to know that I stand on every occasion with Aristotle on this, as on so many other matters. I just want that to be clear.

That is good to know. I am very grateful. However, I differ from him entirely if he thinks—which I do not think he really does—that the Government, of whom I am proud to be part, would engage with any form of ropey bunch of scientists. In fact we will come on to talk about, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, the degree of scientific breadth that went into the 300 different pieces of work studied by the London School of Economics in its reports on decapods and cephalopods. It is an indication of the expertise that exists out there.

I think my noble friend Lord Hannan has the advantage on me in that he believes that legislators do not need experts. I may have misunderstood him, but as I gaze around this Chamber I see precious few scientists, with one notable exception. There may be more—of course, there is the noble Lord, Lord Trees.

No, I do not include the noble Lord, Lord Robathan. Both Houses lack the kind of expert rigour that we need in decision-making. I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for his Amendments 23 and 35 concerning the academic rigour of the committee. We will ensure that the animal sentience committee is comprised of members with the right expertise. They will be best placed to decide what the committee’s priorities should be and, in doing so, they can consult others. I reassure my noble friend that the annual work plan of the committee will be made publicly available. This will ensure that its priorities and approach are fully transparent. As the draft terms of reference for the committee show, we fully intend to appoint members through a rigorous procedure of fair and open competition.

Of course, peer-reviewed evidence from academic journals has a role in informing the committee’s work. However, I do not believe it is necessary for the committee’s reports themselves to be published in academic journals. It is critical that the committee should be able to advise in a timely way—this is the key point—on policies that are being developed. To require the committee’s recommendations to undergo the full academic peer-review process would cause considerable delays in enabling Parliament to hold government to account. This amendment would severely compromise its role. I hope with those few words I have reassured my noble friend, and he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Before my noble friend sits down, although he says he does not want the committee’s work to be peer-reviewed, does he still abide by what he said in Hansard on 25 May when he was talking about pollinators? He said:

“It is right to use science as the absolute arbiter in this.”—[Official Report, 25/5/21; col. 891.]

Is science going to be the absolute arbiter for this committee?

I hope I can reassure my noble friend that science and good scientific evidence is at the heart of decision-making and that is why we need the right advice for Ministers—so, yes. However, his experience and mine will have been that one can get conflicting scientific advice, so one needs to choose scientific experts with care and make sure that they give clear, unbiased opinions to Ministers and that their information can make better policy. Therefore, scientific evidence will be at the heart of this and we will follow it in the selection of committee members.

Before my noble friend sits down, does he think that Mrs Carrie Johnson has the expertise and rigour to be on the animal sentience committee?

I will make sure that every single person who applies for the committee has the necessary expertise, whatever background they come from. We will be looking for a range of people, from those with agricultural experience, those with experience of animals at the end of life in the slaughter process, and veterinarians. I made a list earlier; I will not repeat it because there were some long words which I cannot remember, but they will undoubtedly be a factor in deciding who will be members of the committee.

My Lords, it is a great disappointment that my noble friend has not conceded the very sensible proposal I made. It was unsurprising, however. What did surprise me were the remarks from the Opposition Dispatch Box. A more thorough-going endorsement of government policy better presented it is rare to imagine coming across. The idea that the Government never take scientific advice that needs to be checked or disputed and that they would never take dodgy scientific advice, now endorsed by the Labour Front Bench, is one I will cherish and store up for reference, no doubt, on some future occasion. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 23 withdrawn.

Amendments 24 to 26 not moved.

Amendment 27

Moved by

27: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—

“(4A) Recommendations made by the Committee must respect legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to place a duty on the Committee to have regard to the balancing factors included in the Lisbon Treaty, Article 13 of Title II, to which the UK was a party before Brexit.

My Lords, I am very sorry that the Government have not appreciated the centrality of this amendment—the decent working of the whole Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment 28

Moved by

28: Clause 2, page 1, line 20, at end insert—

“(4A) Recommendations under subsection (3) must not be detrimental to—(a) nature conservation,(b) biosecurity,(c) crop protection, and(d) human health.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is to ensure that the Committee take into account the consequences of their recommendations for nature conservation, biosecurity, crop protection and human health and thus to help HMG meet its ambitions of the Environment Act 2021 and Agriculture Act 2020.

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 28 standing in my name. This is a similar amendment to the one I moved in Committee and it asks that any recommendation from the animal sentience committee is not detrimental to nature conservation, biosecurity, crop protection and human health.

As my noble friend on the Front Bench will know very well, our major concern is the unintended consequences of his project and what these could lead to. My concern is that there is huge potential for causing damage to nature conservation. We have just completed discussions on the Environment Bill, and much of what that seeks to achieve could be undermined by some of the decisions of the committee that are then translated into action by Ministers. It is the same for biosecurity, crop protection and human health. I refer to pests, in particular.

The reason that the committee could put undue influence on the Government is that Defra’s largest postbag in the last 15 to 20 years has been on animal welfare, and the Government regularly receive petitions on animal health and welfare issues. We even heard today that Her Majesty has received a petition signed by school children. It is also well known that public consultations consistently receive high response rates—for example, those on bovine TB and badger culling. It is for that reason—this intense emotional pressure—that I asked my noble friend the question about the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee in New Zealand, and whether he would follow its recommendation. He has not yet replied to me. I think he will shortly—at least, I hope he will—in which case he will set a precedent. I have been waiting three weeks for the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to reply to some of my questions, and I have been waiting 10 days for the Secretary of State to reply to my questions. So Defra is not very high in my good books for replying to questions.

It is important that the committee should understand the difference between societal ethical values and public opinion; the two are very different. Backing public opinion could lead one to unscientific and wrong recommendations. My noble friend the Minister mentioned scientific evidence. As he rightly says, there will be contradictory scientific evidence; I hope that when the committee gets scientific evidence, all the contradictory scientific evidence will be clearly reported and not ignored.

I turn to the issue of biodiversity. It is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in his place because there are important ways in which those who care for the countryside and look after it have to manage pest control. I want to ask my noble friend the Minister about this. He said in Committee on 20 July:

“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.”—[Official Report, 20/7/21; col. GC 30.]

My noble friend is right to a point: pest control is regulated—but it is not checked. If he wanted to buy some serious rat poison he would have to produce a licence, as he knows. However, you can buy the same rat poison online without any identification or licence; so, there is legislation, but it is not controlled.

With the committee able to act with the remit that it will have, there is potential for more of this to happen. I ask my noble friend to consider fox snares, which are a widely misunderstood device; a fox snare is to tether the animal, not to strangulate it. The fox snares now being used are of the highest international standard, but the animal sentience committee may choose to engage only with stakeholders and the public rather than consult those who actually know about these things. Will fox snares be an issue that the animal sentience committee can look at? What about Larsen traps? They are permitted under Section 8(1) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act; they do not meet the criteria, but they are allowed under general licence. That is a perfect example of where the animal sentience committee could cause all sorts of problems. It is hugely important that Larsen traps are effective during the breeding season to keep corvid numbers under control.

I turn briefly to rats, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hamilton earlier this afternoon. I just mentioned about being able to buy rat poison with a licence or online without a licence, but is it not highly hypocritical of us to treat rats, which will be classed as a sentient being, in a very different way to all other animals? Most people do not like rats; they turn a blind eye and do not understand that when you give a rat rat poison, it does not die on the spot but goes away and dies a slow, lingering death. We would not do this to any other animal. Will this be something that the animal sentience committee will be able to look at? If we are not able to poison rats, we will pose a huge difficulty with human health, as we have had in the past.

Another pest is the brown hare. It is a pest on arable land in the spring, but at other times of the year it is not a pest. But the hare is also a game species and it is also on the biodiversity action plan. My noble friend said that the animal sentience committee will be rigorous with its scientific analysis. However, Defra has not been rigorous in its scientific analysis, because it has included the hare in the action plan for a closed season, but there is no scientific evidence to justify that. If Defra does not use good science, as it is not using good science on issues of heather burning, then what confidence can we have that the animal sentience committee is going to use good science? Robust science is critical, and where there is not robust science, the animal sentience committee should be absolutely clear in stating this for us. I was not reassured by what my noble friend said in Committee, and I hope he will be able to reassure me later this evening.

I turn to Amendments 29 and 31, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The noble Lord is, unfortunately, stuck in Scotland and unable to get down tonight, and he has asked me to say a few words. Amendment 29 again shows the noble Lord’s concern for animal welfare. It is hugely important, when one is culling deer, that it is done as cleanly and effectively as possible. There has been a movement, which I have taken part in, to ban shooting game with lead shot, but I do not think there is yet scientific evidence that deer should not continue to be shot with a lead bullet—in fact, quite the reverse. Any non-lead bullet has been proven to be not as effective at killing deer and therefore potentially causes the animal more suffering.

Amendment 31 is about dog training collars. Again, this is an area that Defra wants to legislate on, but the scientific evidence does not stand up to scrutiny to support its position. A training collar is a very useful device for those who live in the country and for some who live in the town, where dogs are liable to run out into the road and not only do damage to themselves but potentially cause an accident. The amount of energy and shock that a dog might get—once it has gone through the beep and the vibration to come to the shock—is a very small shock that probably happens once in its lifetime, after which it knows full well that, when the beep happens, it has to change whatever it is doing and behave more rationally.

When we talk about electric shocks, we need to talk about electric fences, which are hugely important for protecting nesting birds from badger and fox predation. If any farmer or landowner had gone to the lengths that the RSPB has done in publishing a manual about electric fences, that farmer would have had his name splashed over every tabloid and been hounded out of his job. However, the RSPB produces a manual that says you should have electric fences. Not only must you have them, but for badgers you must cover the electric fence in cotton wool, soaked in honey to attract them. For foxes, you want to get the best fat you can from your roast beef and smear it on the electric fence at fox head height, which is a wonderful way to give the fox a very nasty shock.

Those electric fences are 2,000 times more powerful than any shock that a dog might have got from an electric collar. Has my noble friend been in contact with the RSPB? I understand that it has now withdrawn its manual, but I find it quite amusing that none of the tabloids has said anything about it recommending the use of electric fences and their potential hurt and damage to animals. With hedgehogs, it goes so far as to say the shock will kill them because they tend to roll up rather than run away, so they continue to get electrocuted. With the amount of power it recommends you put through an electric fence, you will do a huge amount of damage to wildlife. This is a charity really abusing its position.

There is a hugely serious point to having electric fences. The only way the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust farm in Scotland has been able to get any hatch of lapwing this year was by putting electric fences around the nests to keep the batch predation as small as possible. Even so, a great number of young chicks were lost to predators.

I hope my noble friend will do a lot more this evening to reassure me that pests and pest control will not be affected by this Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendment 45 in my name is in this group. I have listened to crocodiles and in the next group we will get crabs and lobsters, so I will introduce the fish. If the Minister thinks it right to put crabs and lobsters in the Bill, he might consider my amendment.

There is a very significant body of scientific evidence that fish feel pain and are sentient animals. Individuals are capable of experiencing pain and feeling emotions such as fear. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, a fish may be a protected animal if it is under the control of man, but the Explanatory Notes on Section 59 read as follows:

“This section provides that anything which occurs in the normal course of fishing is not covered by this Act … The term ‘fishing’ should be understood as applying to ordinary activities of fishermen and anglers, and also the ordinary activities of those who own and run stocked ponds in allowing fishing activities to take place on their ponds.”

My amendment proposes that precisely the same provision be placed in this Act as was put in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It would give reassurance to a great many people who enjoy fishing.

My Lords, I echo the point of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about biosecurity. The implications of not taking care of biosecurity, which is mentioned in his amendment—I do not necessarily agree with all of the amendment—are fundamental; it is an ongoing threat to biodiversity and the ecological strength of this nation. I re-echo that point on biosecurity in terms of this Bill. As we know, at the moment we have few protections for biosecurity in our current arrangements, but, hopefully, that will change in the new year when there are greater controls on imports to this country. I just wanted to re-emphasise that point in the noble Earl’s amendment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for making that point, which is incredibly important, particularly to me, as someone who lives in Cumbria, where we have so many problems with tree diseases and are losing so many trees. It is pitiful watching some of the woods being taken down around places such as Ennerdale and Loweswater.

Coming back to Amendment 28 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, he is right that we do need to look out for any unintended consequences of legislation. There are concerns that there may be an adverse impact on the environment. It is important that the Minister is able to reassure noble Lords that there will not be these outcomes from the Bill being enacted. This brings me back to the points we made earlier about how critical it is that the animal sentience committee has the right members who are highly qualified to advise the Secretary of State on these matters when any proposals are put forward.

Looking at Amendment 29, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, I say that it is not necessarily unfortunate to be stuck in Scotland at the moment; I might like to be joining him there. There was a debate on the Environment Bill about lead shot, and I will be interested to look at government progress on this.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, introduced Amendment 31 on electric dog training collars. These are opposed by the RSPCA, the Kennel Club, the Animal Behaviour and Training Council and the British Veterinary Association. I am aware that the Government have previously announced plans to look at banning shock collars on dogs, and on this side of the House we would support the Government if they wanted to go down that route.

The final amendment, Amendment 45, was introduced by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu. I thank her for it and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s responses to her concerns.

I am grateful to noble Lords for the opportunity to discuss and explain the interaction of the Bill, and the animal sentience committee, with important policy matters related to animal welfare.

Turning to Amendment 28, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, I can only apologise to him that I do not have a response at present to his point on New Zealand. I want to make sure I get it right, because I do not want to be criticised on the Floor of the House for replying to him late or giving him the wrong answer to a question—but I will reply to him.

This amendment would require the animal sentience committee to ensure that its recommendations would not have a detrimental impact on certain other matters of public interest and great importance. I agree with my noble friend that these vital matters of public interest should be properly considered in all relevant government decisions. But the animal sentience committee is not a decision-making body, and the committee will not have the kind of expertise to evaluate these kinds of impacts. I do not think it would be fruitful to impose this requirement on the committee itself.

Ministers should consider the full range of relevant factors and arrive at a decision as to the appropriate balance between them, for which they are accountable to Parliament. I fear that this amendment would mean asking a committee, which is not accountable to Parliament in the same manner, to prejudge this balance.

We should also be careful to task the right experts with particular scrutiny and advisory functions. The right people to comment on a policy’s effect on human health, for example, are doctors and medical scientists, rather than animal welfare experts. I would not ask doctors to provide an expert opinion on animal welfare issues. Ultimately, we must allow specialist expert committees to focus on their own particular remit. For these reasons, I believe there are better means to ensure that the important matters my noble friend raises are given fair consideration in policy decision-making.

My noble friend cited the example of a Larsen trap; let us follow that through. Suppose the animal sentience committee was to look at the animal welfare effect of an animal being trapped, albeit for a relatively short period, in a live cage trap such as a Larsen trap. Undoubtedly, that is an experience that the bird would not enjoy, but the Minister, on making policy, might reflect that capturing that bird in one of the most effective and humane ways possible means that a vast range of other wildlife and biodiversity can survive. So, while the Minister will see the report, they will be able to take a wider view rather than looking just at the particulars of that issue.

My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, are right to mention biosecurity. I live and breathe this, and there are diseases here, and coming our way, of trees and of animals that keep me awake at night. We want to avoid them coming here, and Defra and my team are absolutely committed to that. He is right that that is an area where a Minister will take a wider view. If it is in the interests of biosecurity or biodiversity to take a different view from the committee, he or she will be absolutely entitled to do that, and that will not be judicially reviewable as a result.

I turn to Amendment 29, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, but was spoken to by my noble friend Lord Caithness. This amendment seeks to impose a requirement on the committee to produce a report on whether the welfare of deer is served by the use of lead or non-lead ammunition in hunting. It is important that the committee retains the ability and discretion to decide how best it can add value and discharge its role effectively. In our view, this calls for the committee to prioritise which policy decisions it decides to scrutinise. As we have made clear, we would expect the committee to be transparent about its prioritisation, and the expertise of the committee’s members will mean that the committee will be well placed to understand how they can fulfil their scrutiny role to meet the aims of the Bill. For this reason, I would not wish to impose a requirement on the committee to produce a particular report on a specific issue.

Additionally, the committee is there to report on how well the policy decision under consideration took account of the welfare needs of animals affected, rather than commenting on what the policy should be in light of all relevant matters. The noble Lord’s amendment would require the committee to venture into the business of the latter.

Turning to Amendment 31, which is also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, Ministers should consider carefully how best to gather expert evidence and stakeholder views when making policy decisions. Indeed, the animal sentience committee will be established in order to help furnish accountability for properly considering the effects of policy decisions on animal welfare. As I have said before, the committee itself will not make decisions or recommendations about the substance of policy decisions themselves. The committee may only scrutinise and advise on how well individual policy decisions took account of the welfare needs of sentient animals. It will remain for Ministers to make policy decisions, having regard to all matters of public interest. Given that distinction, we do not consider it appropriate to require the committee to embark on consultation before issuing reports relating to particular policy decisions.

We believe that the committee should retain the ability and discretion to decide how best it can add value and discharge its role effectively. In our view, this calls for a prioritised approach by the committee when deciding which policy decisions to scrutinise. As we have made clear, we would expect the committee to be transparent about its prioritisation, and the expertise of the committee’s members will mean that the committee will be well placed to understand how they can fulfil their scrutiny role to meet the aims of the Bill.

Amendment 45 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, seeks to add to the Bill an exception for fishing. I can happily declare an interest as an avid angler. This is another good example of how the Bill might work. If the animal sentience committee were to take the decision to write a report on whether fishing caused pain to the animal, the Minister could then consider other, wider factors—for example, that it is the largest participation sport in the country, it has a significant effect on the rural economy and there is huge value in the work that fishing interests and riparian owners do for biodiversity in river environments. That is an example of where the balance of views will be taken into account.

The Bill recognises that animals with a backbone, including fish as well as decapods and cephalopods, are sentient. Recognising these animals as sentient in the Bill means that the animal sentience committee can consider how well individual central government policies have paid regard to the welfare of these creatures and can publish reports on this. Ministers will then be required to respond to Parliament on such reports published by the committee. That applies to all policy areas and has no exemptions.

As we have said, the Bill is all about providing assurance that central government policy-making is well grounded. The Bill does not change existing law and is not capable of imposing any new restrictions on individuals or businesses. More specifically, it does not change any current legal requirements on the fishing industry. I really hope, even at this late hour, that fishing interests may be watching or listening, or perhaps they will read the reports tomorrow, because I do not want to read any more headline articles saying that this legislation is about banning activities that, frankly, I feel passionate about protecting. It is about making sure that Ministers have better access to information on the policies they make, and that they are able to make it on the basis of wider considerations if they have to.

Defra will continue to work with stakeholders, including the seafood industry and any other fishing interests, whether inland or marine, to make improvements to animal welfare. I hope that I have been able to offer greater clarity and reassurance about the implications of the Bill and that my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for coming in on biodiversity—I am glad he was in his place for this amendment—and to the Minister, who has gone further than he did in Committee.

As we know, the animal sentience committee has to consider whether an animal has been deprived of one or more of its five welfare needs as set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. One of those is the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury or disease. That opens up a huge ambit for the committee. At the moment, we are extremely fortunate in having a Minister in Defra who understands the countryside, how it works and the need for balance. What many of us are concerned about, given the emotion and public opinion that some who are less concerned about that balance are able to generate, is that future Ministers who are not so attuned to the countryside and what happens there—I can think of quite a number in the past who were not—will not be as strong and forthcoming as my noble friend Lord Benyon. That is where we are concerned, and it is why we are trying to alter the Bill in some respects.

I have clearly failed to persuade my noble friend. He has the brief that I so often had, which at the top right-hand corner says “Resist”. His resistance is going to overcome my willingness to change, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 28 withdrawn.

Amendments 29 to 33 not moved.

Clause 3: Response to reports

Amendments 34 and 35 not moved.

Amendment 36

Moved by

36: Clause 3, page 2, line 21, at end insert—

“(3) The following do not count towards the three months referred to in subsection (2)—(a) any day in a period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, and(b) any day in a period of four or more days during which both Houses of Parliament are adjourned.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment has the effect that periods when Parliament is dissolved, prorogued or adjourned for 4 or more days do not count towards the period in which the Minister is required to respond to a report by the Committee.

Amendment 36 agreed.

Amendments 37 and 38 not moved.

Clause 5: Interpretation

Amendment 39

Moved by

39: Clause 5, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

“(b) any cephalopod mollusc, and(c) any decapod crustacean.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds cephalopod molluscs (for example, octopus and squid) and decapod crustaceans (for example, crab and lobster) to the definition of “animal” for the purposes of the Bill.

I am grateful to your Lordships for your forbearance, and for your views and insights on this important piece of legislation. I will also speak to the consequential Amendment 43.

As I have said during previous debates on the Bill, the Government’s approach to recognising the sentience of animals will be guided by the scientific evidence. My department commissioned an independent review from the London School of Economics and Political Science of the evidence surrounding the sentience of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans for that very purpose. As promised, I made the findings of that review available to your Lordships for consideration ahead of today’s debate.

Sentience is broadly understood to be the capacity to feel pain. Our Animal Welfare Committee advised in 2018:

“Sentience is the capacity to experience pain, distress and harm.”

The review considered the findings of around 300 scientific studies, using a set of criteria based on brain structure, nervous system complexity and testing for adaptive behaviour to assess whether these classes of invertebrate are sentient. The report itself was subject to peer review.

The Government have given careful consideration to the contents of the final report. We accept that there is strong evidence of the sentience of these invertebrates. It is only right, therefore, that they are included in the provisions of the Bill. That means that the animal sentience committee, once established, may produce reports under Section 2 of the Bill in relation to the welfare of cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans.

However, I want to be clear that this amendment does not alter existing legislation or policy. I have heard, for example, the concerns put to me by representatives of the fishing sector, and I can assure this House that nothing in this amendment, or indeed in the Bill, changes the rules governing the activities of individuals or businesses.

Naturally, in due course, the Government may wish to consider whether it would be appropriate to amend the scope of other animal welfare legislation to include cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans. While that is not the question we are discussing today, I take the opportunity to assure your Lordships that any changes to existing laws would be subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, and we would consider carefully how we would engage industry in their development.

Today, we propose simply to recognise the sentience of these invertebrates in line with the scientific evidence. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for their previous amendments on this subject. I hope that they, and the rest of the House, will support this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is with some regret that I note that my noble friend at the Dispatch Box did not thank me for my previous amendment on this subject. I accepted as far back as Committee that it was likely that cephalopods and decapod crustaceans would be added to the list of sentient beings covered by the Bill, although I did not expect it to be done in the Bill but through the secondary legislation which it contemplates.

I introduced an amendment in Committee that said, beyond vertebrates, the Government can only add, to the list of sentient beings, cephalopods and decapod crustaceans and no more. This was countered, so to speak, by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, who put down an amendment that actually added those two classes of creature to the face of the Bill. Neither amendment, of course, proceeded at Committee stage. I find it rather sad and curious that, of those two amendments, my noble friend at the Dispatch Box selected that promoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and has rather ignored mine.

However, I still believe that it is appropriate that the Bill should be amended to place some constraints on the ability of the Secretary of State to add to the list without returning to this House for primary legislation. I am not entirely alone in that regard, because I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in that particular amendment. Of course, I have to achieve it now through a different set of drafting —a different mechanism. The mechanism is no longer to limit the expansion to those two classes, because they have effectively been added already, but to take out from page 2, line 33, those subsections that give the Secretary of State the power to proceed in extending the list. That is the purpose of Amendment 42.

There is nothing more to be said, because my noble friend is not being very kind this evening to that particular species of animal that exists on his Back Benches and is practising a certain form of cruelty in tandem with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, and indeed the others whom he mentioned, the other noble Baronesses, who are not entirely in their place at the moment: the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Together, the Minister and noble Baronesses are going to say no to this modest suggestion. So, I will leave it there without argument, simply pellucid in its compelling character, and allow my noble friend to reject it when he rises to speak.

My Lords, I have been up, and indeed in, many African rivers, but not the Zambezi, like the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. So, I will try to be as brief as he has been, but I want to make two comments: one about Amendment 39 and one about Amendment 42.

The inclusion of decapod crustaceans and cephalopods within the remit of this Bill is warranted, evidence based and consistent with current legislation with regard to cephalopods, in that they are protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, so I support this amendment. However, currently in the Bill, it appears that larval forms of decapod crustacea would also be included. These can be microscopic; they are the fauna of plankton, and then they grow up into shrimps and prawns and so on. I ask the Minister: at what point does a larval decapod crustacean become sentient? A briefing from the Marine Biological Association and the National Oceanography Centre expresses concerns particularly that, if larval forms of crustacea are included, it might compromise their environmental monitoring and research functions. I ask the Minister if consideration has been given to an amendment along the lines of Amendment 41, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Marland, that excludes embryonic forms.

Amendment 42, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, myself, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, removes the possibility, currently in the Bill, for the Secretary of State by regulation to extend the list of animals covered in the Bill. This would still be possible but would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny through primary legislation. This would recognise that, as scientific research continues, evidence may accrue from which it might be argued that other invertebrates may have some degree of sentience. Crustacea are but one group within a vast taxon of arthropods that includes many thousands of species including the insects.

In the excellent LSE report that reported on the sentience in decapod crustaceans and cephalopods, there is a matrix of criteria—eight in that report—in which evidence of varying strengths may be aggregated in varying levels of confidence to arrive at an overall judgment whether a particular group may be considered sentient. There is not a clear demarcation between sentient and non-sentient.

The inclusion of further groups of invertebrates as sentient merits very thorough and balanced political, economic and societal—as well as scientific—consideration, and should ultimately be a parliamentary decision in primary legislation.

My Lords, my noble friend may not like it but I will support him—I hope he appreciates that—because he said something very sensible about Larsen traps. On a small Midlands farm I catch between 40 and 82 magpies—that is the most I have ever caught—a year. Visitors congratulate me on the huge clouds of linnets, yellowhammers and whatever that we have on the farm, so I was delighted to hear what he said about Larsen traps.

In relation to government Amendment 39, I have always thought that putting a lobster into boiling water must be cruel. People say, “Oh no, they don’t feel, they’ve got no brain”. I have no idea whether they have a brain or not, but it must be cruel, and the Government are making a very good move in seeking to protect such things. While I support the amendment, however, I am not sure that it should be in the Bill—in primary legislation. I would have thought that it could have done by SI; I am not sure that this is necessarily the right way to go about it. I will, however, on this occasion support the Government without any compromise.

My Lords, I am a bit perplexed by all this. The Government have decided to include lobsters and octopi—I prefer those terms because I understand them—but to exclude fish and, if they do not accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, the minute creatures that they produce. It seems to me that we are on a slippery slope here: the sentience committee could come to the conclusion one day that fish have sentience and feel harm, and then we would ban them. Once you start down this road, there is no limit to where you can go in describing creatures as sentient. That troubles me enormously, and is why I am less than enthusiastic about my noble friend’s amendment.

My Lords, with this amendment we move on to Clause 5. It rather intrigues me, because it makes an exception of homo sapiens, and I wanted to ask the Minister whether that means that the Government see us as a non-sentient species. Perhaps he will answer that: if the answer is yes, I would probably agree, on track record. However, I will not detain the House. As my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville would do, I want to thank the Government for this amendment and Amendment 43, which we very much support. I understand and greatly respect what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, but I am also aware that the recent scientific evidence on the mental facilities of species such as the octopus—how it is intelligent in a very different way from that in which mammals are intelligent—should be taken very seriously and included in the Bill.

Noble Lords will not be surprised that I am absolutely delighted that the Government have tabled Amendment 39, which, as we have heard, has picked up the amendment I tabled in Committee and expands the definition of animals in the Bill to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods.

It has also been good to hear support from some noble Lords, although I am sorry that it seems to have made the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, so sad. As the Minister said in his introduction, this amendment follows the London School of Economics and Political Science’s report, which concluded that there is strong scientific evidence that decapod crustaceans are sentient and can experience pain. I will not go into the detail of the report because the Minister has done that admirably, but I draw attention to the overarching central recommendation that all cephalopod molluscs and decapod crustaceans should be regarded as sentient animals for the purposes of UK animal welfare law; they should be counted as animals for the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and should be included in the scope of any future legislation relating to animal sentience. To be honest, that could not be clearer. The LSE is a well-respected organisation.

The report also provides some helpful recommend-ations for improving best practice and welfare and for regulating existing commercial practices that are of reasonable and widespread animal welfare concern for decapod crustaceans. In addition, it is consistent with the approach other countries have taken, for example, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, some Australian states and territories and some German and Italian cities. Importantly, the report also includes recommendations about how industry can be supported through any necessary changes. Will the Minister confirm that marine industries and the food sector will have advice and help to manage any impact that a change in legislation would bring?

I want to say once again a big thank you to the Minister and the Government for taking this forward and proposing its inclusion in the Bill. I am sure he is very aware that he has the strong support of these Benches.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for those remarks. I think it might be helpful to the House if I say how this came about, as it answers the points about how we got to the stage of including decapods and cephalopods in the Bill. It is a matter of serendipity. For many years people have been pushing for work to be done, and it was done by the LSE. It just so happened that that report came into the Government’s hands over the summer while we were in the process of going through the Committee stage, and it seemed an obvious moment to take this forward when the findings of that report were so clear.

To cheer up my noble friend Lord Hamilton a bit at this late hour, I cannot think of any other species that are likely to go through this process. If there are any, I suggest that it will probably be at least a decade before someone is standing here recommending that we take that forward. It may be less; this is a fast-moving area of science, but it has taken many years—I do not know how many precisely—for decapods and cephalopods to be recognised in this way. I hope that is reassuring.

The noble Baroness asked a question about the food industry and making sure that, if the committee were to make recommendations about how one treats these organisms as part of food processing or cooking and the law is then changed because Ministers accepted that advice, there would have to be a huge amount of work with the food industry to make sure that it was prepared for it. However, this amendment does not change anything. It does not change the law; it just allows it to be within the remit of the committee to give advice to Ministers who will then take other factors into account, regarding, for example, the marine environment, fish, the economic benefits of the fishing industry to coastal communities or the importance that the Government put on fish being part of the nation’s balanced diet. These are the sort of wider factors that Governments will take into consideration.

I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Moylan feels put upon. I thought that I was the victim here, but clearly that is not the case. I will try to be kind to him when I come to his amendment.

I turn to Amendment 41, and here my remarks relate to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill recognises that live animals with a backbone—vertebrates—are sentient. A government amendment has been tabled to also recognise decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs as sentient, as I have said. It is our intention and expectation that the committee will concern itself with consideration of the welfare of live animals. 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 an embryo, as opposed to those of the mother animal. It is unlikely, therefore, that the committee would find itself considering a policy beyond its remit. The central recommendation in the report is that these cephalopods and decapods will be regarded as sentient animals, but we carefully considered the recommendations in the review. The evidence of sentient decapods and cephalopods is clear: we are committed to being led by science when it comes to sentience, and that is why we amended the Bill.

Turning to Amendment 42 in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan, as I mentioned, the Government are led by the science when it comes to sentience. We have considered the review’s findings carefully before amending the Bill to recognise these invertebrates as sentient. I can confirm that, at the present time, there is no intention to treat any other invertebrates, beyond decapods and cephalopods, as sentient animals. The scientific evidence that led to the Government commissioning the LSE review has been many years in the making. I can assure the House that this will continue to be the case for future extension, using the delegated powers in Clause 5.

I note what my noble friend says about there being no plans—and I fully accept that that is so, as he has assured the House—but if there are no plans, why do the Government wish to take the powers to continue to pursue them? Would it not be better if the Minister would just accept that primary legislation will be required as and when the science demands it?

I hope I can reassure my noble friend by saying that if the Secretary of State were to use his or her powers to recommend another species or group of species to be included, that would be the subject of parliamentary oversight. It would be an affirmative resolution requiring debate in both Houses and would be subject to other areas of parliamentary scrutiny, such as Select Committees and other means by which noble Lords and people in the other place would seek to hold that decision to account. I hope that we would not wish to risk this Bill becoming out of date by removing the ability to update its scope should the scientific evidence develop.

While we are not aware of any instances on the horizon, we cannot discount the possibility that new evidence will emerge in the future that demonstrates the sentience of some additional category of invertebrate. Decapods and cephalopods were the invertebrates most likely to qualify for being regarded as sentient animals. The likelihood that another category of invertebrate might one day be shown to be sentient is small, but it is not zero. That is why we wish to leave an option to update the definition if needed. Such a power must be subject to appropriate checks and balances, of course, and I will address this point shortly.

In the meantime, I take this opportunity to clarify that the Bill is all about government policy decision-making and how well particular decisions take account of the welfare needs of animals. The Bill and our amendments do not change existing law or impose new restrictions on individuals or businesses. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the time has come to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopods in the Bill and will therefore support the government amendment. I also hope that the points I have set out reassure noble Lords and that they will be content not to press their amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment 39 agreed.

Amendments 40 to 42 not moved.

Amendment 43

Moved by

43: Clause 5, page 2, line 35, at end insert “, where they are not already within that meaning”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on Lord Benyon’s first amendment to Clause 5.

Amendment 43 agreed.

Amendments 44 and 45 not moved.

Amendment 46

Moved by

46: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—


This Act expires at the end of the period of 5 years beginning with the day on which it is passed.”

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, who is unavoidably detained somewhere in the country—I am not quite sure where—I beg to move this amendment. I am sorry that the Minister feels put upon, because I think he is doing a very good job defending what some people have described as indefensible, and well done him.

This is a very simple sunset clause. It is fair to say beyond peradventure that some of the arguments raised in the past six or seven hours show that there is dispute over whether the Bill is a sensible idea. Therefore, surely, we should have a sunset clause so that, after five years, we can look back and say, “Actually, it’s not working very well, let’s scrap it”—or improve it, or whatever it might be. That is all a sunset clause does, and that is why I move it.

I support my noble friend Lord Robathan. In anybody’s language, this is an extremely controversial Bill—that has come from a number of extremely distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House. The most appalling collateral damage could be caused by the Bill which no one has anticipated. That is the problem. When you have such Bills with a mind of their own and committees that can roar off doing all sorts of things and are completely independent, it is only later that you realise that it was a very great mistake in the beginning. In all modesty, I think the Minister should seriously consider this sunset clause so that we can reconsider whether the Act, as the Bill will no doubt become, has been a good idea, whether it has achieved what it set out to do, or whether it has caused so much damage that it needs to be radically revised. A sunset clause of five years gives us a wonderful opportunity to think again, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will give the amendment serious consideration.

My Lords, as we have heard, this amendment sets a sunset clause on the Bill. Sunset clauses are quite rare and are usually associated with emergency legislation to deal with a time-specific problem. Recently, we have seen sunset clauses around the Coronavirus Act and previously, in the 2000s, in anti-terror legislation. This Bill is not a piece of emergency legislation passed to deal with something that is time specific. It is establishing the animal sentience committee for the long term, so we on these Benches do not believe that a sunset clause is appropriate or necessary.

I thank my noble friend Lord Robathan for introducing Amendment 46 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, which would insert a clause that would repeal the Bill after five years. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for pointing out that sunset clauses are needed more for emergency legislation.

The Government have laid the Bill before Parliament because there is an ongoing benefit from a targeted mechanism that provides greater transparency for the consideration of animal welfare in central government policy decisions. However, we know that this must be done in a timely and proportionate way. Animal welfare considerations will not cease to be relevant in five years’ time, so it is hard to understand why the committee’s work should be brought to an abrupt halt at that point. It is the Government’s considered view that it would be plainly wrong for the Bill to expire after five years, as the animal sentience committee will have plenty to contribute beyond that time.

That is not to say, of course, that there will not be a review of processes to ensure that the Bill and the committee continue to fulfil their objectives well. As indicated in the committee’s draft terms of reference, we plan to ensure that it is subject to annual performance reviews. Defra will ultimately be accountable for the committee’s ongoing effectiveness and good governance. In addition, the Bill will be subject to the standard post-legislative scrutiny process, including a review of its effectiveness. That will take place within five years of Royal Assent. I hope that that reassures noble Lords and that my noble friend will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Before my noble friend sits down, does she not feel that a sunset clause might in fact be to the great benefit of the Government, because they would not need to have the dramatic act of wrapping up the committee and the Act; it would merely come to its own conclusion? If, on the other hand—unlikely, in my opinion, but not impossible—the committee was doing extremely well, legislation could be introduced to continue it. It is not difficult to extend the life of an Act; it is much more difficult to abolish an Act altogether. If it lapsed automatically, it might be to the advantage of the Government in the future, rather than their disadvantage.

I do not agree with my noble friend, because the committee’s work will be ongoing, and it will also respond to changes in scientific research that may come out in the course of its many years of work. To introduce a hard stop—a hard deadline—to its work would be both unnecessary and impractical.

My Lords, if I might say, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Hamilton, because it is not a question of ending the work of the committee, but of saying, “Is the committee doing well after five years, and do we just continue it?”, which is very easily done. I have some experience of this in the past. However, I shall not force this to a Division, my noble friend will be pleased to know. Both my noble friends on the Front Bench will be particularly pleased to know that there is only one more clause to go. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 46 withdrawn.

Clause 6: Extent, commencement and short title

Amendment 47

Moved by

47: Clause 6, page 3, line 5, at end insert—

“(3A) The Secretary of State must set up an independent committee of experts to report on the possible consequences of this Act.(3B) The Secretary of State must publish a response to the report by the independent committee.(3C) A Minister of the Crown must make arrangements to move a motion for debate on the report of the independent committee and the Government’s response to it in each House of Parliament.(3D) Regulations under subsection (2) may not be made until the motion in subsection (3C) has been debated in each House of Parliament.”

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 47. This is the last amendment to be debated and I call it the lifebelt amendment. Since 4 pm—with a couple of breaks in between, but nearly seven hours ago—the Government have heard of all the things that are possibly wrong with this Bill. There are problems with the terms of reference; problems with the setting up of the committee; and the abdication of power by the Government to the committee. My noble friend on the Front Bench has heard expert opinions from both the legal and the veterinary side about the difficulties that this Bill could pose. The zoologists are equally concerned that the terminology in the Bill is so wishy-washy that it will be very hard for some decisions to be made accurately.

I drafted this lifebelt amendment, which proposes to give the Government time for considered thought about the Bill. Yes, my noble friend has got his Bill; he has fulfilled his instructions from on high and defeated every amendment. But having got his Bill, would this not be a sensible time to set up a committee to look at the unintended consequences, of which so many have been raised, before the Bill is enacted? This would give the Government a chance to have a look again if they were persuaded, on the evidence of the committee, that the Bill ought to be redrafted in a different way. I totally applaud the sentiment behind the Bill. We want it, but we also want one that is right, so I offer my noble friend a lifebelt at the last moment. I beg to move.

My Lords, this seems quite novel as an amendment—to try, once a Bill has gone through Parliament and become an Act, to judge it afterwards. It is a novelty that I find perhaps rather difficult. I share the noble Earl’s thoughts about some of the issues around the Bill, but this is probably overly bureaucratic and, if we believe in Parliament, probably not the best way to move forward on this occasion—despite the great respect I have for him.

My Lords, I agree; I too hold the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in the greatest respect and the highest regard. Of course, he is absolutely right to say that any Government should consider seriously unintended consequences when considering any new legislation but, along with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I agree that this proposal is overly bureaucratic. Do we really need another committee? We seem to have an awful lot of them already. Expert advice will be readily available to the ASC, as we have heard, as well as to the Secretary of State.

I am very pleased that we have reached the end of Report and I congratulate the Minister on his resilience.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, and I congratulate her on hers, too—and I thank her for her help in making this Bill better, although we have more to do. I join in the praise of my noble friend Lord Caithness. In my short time in this House he has proved himself to be a redoubtable holder of the Executive to account, if that is not a tautology.

He calls this the “lifebelt amendment” but I call it the “committee on the committee amendment”. I thank him, but it would require the establishment of a committee to assess the impacts of the Bill after it had received Royal Assent but before its provisions came into force. We believe that it is for Parliament to satisfy itself about the impacts of the proposed legislation before it approves it, and not to pass legislation on the proviso that it goes through further approval before coming into force.

The Bill has been subject to exacting scrutiny in this House. It has been scrutinised by the EFRA Select Committee, and there has been no absence of scrutiny of the Bill and its implications. My officials and I remain ready to answer any questions that noble Lords may have about the Bill. Parliament remains free to seek the views of outside experts on any aspect of the Bill. I have been clear throughout its passage what the implications of the Bill are; it does not change existing law or impose new restrictions on individuals, businesses or any organisation outside the UK Government. It will establish the committee, on the purpose, structure and membership of which I have spoken today at length. I give absolute assurance that Ministers will continue to have full discretion and responsibility as to the appropriate balance between animal welfare and other matters of public interest.

I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister not only for his reply but for the backbone that he has shown throughout the proceedings today. He has done a marvellous job at resisting, and I hope that the English batsmen learn from him before they take on Australia in the Ashes. But the bowling was all from one end today; Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were mostly absent, although the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, made a superb job of playing vice-Minister today. I hope that she gets her normal verve back and becomes a proper opposition Minister for the next Bill.

I really am grateful to the Minister. I believe that he listened, but I do not believe that his brief gave him any room for manoeuvre. He has done an excellent job in fulfilling his brief and saying “resist” to every amendment and getting the Bill through. I have great pleasure in withdrawing my amendment.

Amendment 47 withdrawn.

Amendment 48 not moved.