Committee (1st Day)
Clause 1: Animal Sentience Committee
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, after “must” insert “by regulations”
My Lords, I am moving this amendment because my noble friend Lord Forsyth is putting the report on quantitative easing to bed at his Economic Affairs Committee, just across the Corridor, so he has asked me to move it for him. I apologise that I was not able to contribute to Second Reading, but I have read Members’ contributions to that debate, and very interesting they were, too.
This amendment would change the first line of Clause 1(1) to read:
“The Secretary of State must”,
by regulations—that is the amendment—
“establish and maintain a committee called the Animal Sentience Committee.”
That is because, in common with quite a lot of my fellow Members of the House of Lords, I have great worries about the creation of this committee at all. In the second group of amendments, we will look at the whole question of duplication. We already have an Animal Welfare Committee and it is not altogether obvious why we need another one doing much the same tasks as the old one. Surely it is the task of government, particularly a Conservative Government, to simplify legislation, not complicate it.
Therefore, by adding “by regulations”, it would be necessary for the Secretary of State to come back to Parliament and say precisely what committee he wanted. It would also be an opportunity for him to explain to Parliament how much this is all costing, which is something my noble friend Lord Robathan raised at Second Reading. Looking at this Bill, there is no evidence at all of what it will cost the taxpayer, and it is important that we know how much these things will cost. It is not ridiculous to argue that we should be told how much people will be paid for being on the committee.
Generally, there is a great worry that the committee will develop a complete mind of its own, go roaring off, interfere with many different areas of government, and become rather unaccountable. Anything that can be done to ensure that the Secretary of State comes back to Parliament should be welcomed by the Government, as we do not want this committee getting completely out of control.
A great worry about the whole of this Bill, as my noble friend Lord Hannan said, is:
“to what problem is this Bill a solution?”—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1918.]
There is an awful lot of truth in that, and it was echoed by a number of other contributors at Second Reading. We ought to be careful about creating new layers of bureaucracy and a committee with enormous powers to interfere with other areas of government, and end up not being accountable to Parliament at all. I beg to move.
Thank you, my Lords. I should like to speak to Amendment 3 in my name and Amendment 16 in the names of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan.
Amendment 3 will sit in Clause 1, which introduces the animal sentience committee, and it seems right, proper and appropriate that the clause then goes on to describe the committee’s remit. That is to some extent covered in Clause 2(2), but my amendment goes further than that clause in two important respects. First, it stresses:
“The function of the Committee is to determine whether, in relation to the process of the formulation”—
and so on. It introduces the word “process”, which is critical to understanding the function of the committee. It is not influencing the policy or commenting on it. It can comment, and it has a remit to comment, on the process by which policy is formulated and implemented with regard to considering animal welfare implications. That is important. It may be a statement of the obvious, but it is perhaps sometimes worth stating the obvious.
Amendment 3, which would extend Clause 2(2), also refers to its remit to look at policy subsequent to the establishment of the committee, which would therefore have no right to retrospective review of policies previously formulated or implemented, even if they are in process at the time. This is an issue that a number of subsequent amendments on the list repeatedly allude to. It would therefore seem sensible to include that provision right at the beginning as a limitation on the committee’s remit.
Those are the main points: the amendment sets out the committee’s remit right at the beginning of the Bill, emphasising that its role is to comment on process, and would limit its remit to policy being formulated and implemented after the committee has been established.
Perhaps I may quickly speak to Amendment 16. It would restrict policy, which the Bill does not do; the Bill refers to “any government policy”, which is a huge remit. The amendment would restrict the policy to areas that were defined in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which to some extent is the progenitor of the Bill. It seems sensible to make the scope of the committee more manageable, reasonable and pertinent by restricting that remit.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, particularly those in respect of farming. I am chair of the UK Squirrel Accord and chair of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust. I apologise that I, too, was unable to speak at Second Reading, but I was in the Chamber for a good chunk of it, including for the winding speeches, and I have, of course, read Hansard.
I will speak to Amendments 16 and 35 in my name and briefly to Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees. My amendments are probing. Animal sentience, of course, is not in EU retained law as it was a treaty obligation and so was not preserved by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Article 13 of Title II of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union was therefore lost in the departure process from the European Union.
EU retained law is an interesting concept. In fact, it is a snapshot of EU law at 31 December 2020, which was then transposed into UK law. Of course, if you then want to make a change, changes are made expressly and with due process. That due process would seem to me to involve asking a number of questions. What was unsatisfactory about the previous arrangements? What are the benefits of the new arrangements that are proposed? What has been done to ensure that there are no unintended consequences? The noble Lord, Lord Hannan, in his Second Reading speech, summarised that by saying,
“to what problem is this Bill a solution?”—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1918.]
I suppose I have merely tried to split that out. Thus, everything in EU retained law is anchored in the position quo ante as at 31 December last year. Things go on from there, but we knowingly make changes after that by going through a due process.
Before I go on to make some points, I thought it was probably interesting for everyone to understand the history of Article 13 a bit and how much Article 13 is a child of UK thinking. The original precursor appeared as a non-binding declaration as part of the 1991 Maastricht treaty, when, of course, there was a Conservative Government. It was proposed by the British. In 1997, with a Labour Government, it was promoted in the treaty of Amsterdam to being a binding protocol. In 2007, again under a Labour Government, it moved from being a protocol to an article in the Lisbon treaty. In each of those changes it was essentially a cross-party UK effort that put it there and placed sentience at the core of policy formation in the EU. It is a product of British thinking and part of our legacy within the EU.
This Bill is simply not consistent with Article 13 in two broad ways. Article 13 has the policy boundaries, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just referred to. It also has the balancing factors that need to be taken into account when the issue is at question. Thus, I ask my three questions. What was unsatisfactory about the previous arrangements? What benefits are there to be found in the new arrangements? What has been done to ensure that there are no unintended consequences?
I hope to hear from the Minister in due course, but I went back and looked at the debates in Hansard for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in 2018. I looked at the Conservative manifesto. I have here under my left elbow the Explanatory Notes associated with this Bill and, of course, I have read and reread the Minister’s speech on 16 June at Second Reading. I am afraid that there is not really an answer to those questions. I have to say that, in the absence of that, Amendment 16 would restore the policy area boundaries, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just said, and Amendment 35 would restore the balancing factors that must be considered. I think that the case for doing that is pretty strong.
In closing, I generally have a lot of sympathy with the amendments in this group, not just the one from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, but his amendment in particular is consistent with my logic and, if he comes back with it on Report, I hope to sign it.
My Lords, I have tabled three amendments in this group. The first is Amendment 19, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft, which seeks to exclude from the scope of the committee any policy related to the advancement of medical science.
British medical science is at the forefront of the world, as we have seen over the last year or so, as it leads on genomic sequencing, vaccine development and large-scale randomised trials for therapeutic purposes. It must be a cause for concern that the actions and inquiries of this committee could create a degree of inhibition in the advancement of medical science and the actions of medical scientists in continuing to promote medical science, because in some cases, and under the strictest controls and with the greatest degree of humanity, it is necessary for animal experimentation to be undertaken in order for drugs to be established as safe and for other processes, which are beyond my medical knowledge but I think what I am saying is well understood, to be validated and found to be safe.
The difficulty with having a committee that can go roaming around, checking all these things in advance, which this committee in practice could, is that it trespasses on a well-worn, established set of mechanisms for ensuring that those experiments, where they are absolutely necessary, are carried out with a proper purpose and in proper circumstances.
We lead in medical science with the full support of the Government, not primarily because we see it as a source of great lucre flowing into the country—the Government’s insistence that the vaccine developed under their sponsorship should be available at cost is a good instance of that—but for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The whole human race will benefit from what we do. I think most people would recognise that that is a worthy objective and certainly one that could be settled on alongside any claims that may be made on behalf of animals and their rights. I would therefore strongly recommend, suggest and hope that this amendment can be made and medical science excluded so that the current position remains as it is. That is all I am really asking.
Moving on to the two other amendments, Amendment 26 has the support of my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, while Amendment 33 is merely consequential on Amendment 26. Amendment 26 needs a little explanation. Clause 1 requires the committee and the Government to have regard to “the welfare of animals” and then adds the words “as sentient beings”. It is worth reflecting on what that adds to the claim. When you think about it carefully, it does not add anything at all; it actually subtracts. It is perfectly possible to do harm to animals and to damage their welfare in a way that does not affect them as sentient beings.
The example that most readily comes to mind is to do with background radiation. We know that parts of the country have high levels of background radiation, which can affect humans and, I assume, animals—mammals, at least—detrimentally, but you do not know that it is happening to you. You do not feel anything. You feel neither pleasure nor pain; there is no interaction with the concept of sentience. Your health may be deteriorating, but you have no sentient knowledge of it. It would simply be plainer, and would allow the committee to look at things in the round, if it did not have to be excluded, which it would be, from considering something such as the effects of background radiation on animals. It would simply not be permitted to look at that under this legislation. I thought there might be some support from those who thought that perhaps it should. The deletion of those words would restore us to a more common-sense position of looking at the welfare of animals in general.
Those are my other two amendments, but, before I finish, as this is such a large group I shall comment briefly on three others. Amendment 31, in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, seeks to ensure that the committee at least gives due account to, or respects,
“legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
That is an important point. On Second Reading, I tried to say that there is definitely an attempt here—one may support it, one may not—to shift the hierarchical balance, if you like, between humans and animals to put us more on the same level. I do not think that is too outrageous a claim to make. Of course, part of being human—not for everybody, but for many parts of humanity—is an awareness of, an adherence to and a sensibility about religious belief. With religious belief inevitably comes community adhesion and a certain amount of ritual practice. It takes things too far for the committee to be able to trample over that in the interests of animal welfare, with or without sentience being taken into account. That area should be preserved. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth has that effect. I think that Amendment 35 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, would have a similar effect but, as he explained, he approached this more on the basis of restoring the balance that existed in the previous legislation. I am glad to be able to support that as well.
That leads me to what is in some ways the most important amendment in the group, put forward by the noble Earl as Amendment 16. I have heard it said informally by Ministers that all the Bill seeks to do is to carry forward into current legislation the legislation that previously existed that has almost been dropped by accident as a result of the legal manner in which we left the European Union, which he explained, so all that the Government are doing is restoring that position. That, of course, is not the case, because the previous position had clear limitations. If the Government were to take Amendments 16 and 35 from the noble Earl into account, a great deal of the legislation, although not all of it, would cease to be controversial or difficult. In some ways, those amendments are the key to the whole thing. If the Minister were able to say that he would accept them, we could all have a fairly short afternoon and declare victory on all hands.
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in the group. Amendments 24 and 30 both probe why “all” is required. Would not “due regard” by enough, as in other legislation? The extra word may risk the committee not reporting on whether due process has taken place but instead starting to opine or comment on the merits of policy and government decision. That is not its role, but it has the potential to create unnecessary delays and complications for legislation, as the remit of the committee is widened to such a degree that there is almost nothing on which it cannot express views.
Amendments 25 and 32 would give the committee a further remit—the power to consider both a positive and a negative impact on the welfare of animals. That is crucial when we consider policy that relates to pest control. The formulation and implementation of policy, having all due regard for the welfare of animals as sentient beings, must consider the particular circumstances of all animals, the welfare of which the committee is considering. Lawful pest control activities are undertaken to stop the spread of diseases and to protect livestock. The positive effect of those actions should be noted if the policy is to be reported on.
As I am sure the Minister knows, the animal world can be pretty brutal. If some of the gentler species are to survive, there needs to be control of predators. It is no accident that, where there is such control, there is a far broader range of species. I hope this will be recognised by the committee. How it seeks to balance the demands of the various sentient species is of great importance.
Amendment 34 would limit the remit of the committee to future policy and prevent it considering existing law. Amendments 18, 23 and 29 in my name, to which I shall speak later, cover the point of existing law. Limiting reports to future policy would be a sensible limitation, because if the committee was suddenly given the job of reviewing all existing policy, large amounts of government business might have to be stopped for review by the committee. Such a standstill could cause severe disruption and would place a huge burden on government departments and the committee. It is difficult to think how the committee could possibly cope from scratch with looking at large swathes of policy. The potential damage and the massive cost of stopping government work would be immensely onerous and impractical.
Amendment 36 probes why the Bill does not cover the devolved Administrations. There seems to be somewhat of a blind spot in that reports of the committee may not include any policy falling within devolved competence. After all, this debate on animal sentience only began with our departure from the European Union, as there would no longer be an explicit reference to law applicable in the United Kingdom on the sentience of animals. Should the Bill therefore not apply to the policy of all Governments?
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Royal Veterinary College and speak to Amendment 47 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. Basically, what the Bill does is set up a committee. For the animal sentience provisions to be effective, the committee has to be effective. Both my amendments, one of which is in a later group, would ensure that committee could do a good job.
Amendment 47 would ensure that committee could call witnesses, commission research and get proper access to information across government, and make sure that all government departments co-operated. It is very straightforward, and I hope the Government will accept it.
On Amendment 39, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, the remit of the committee and the range of policy on which it can report must remain wide if it is going to spot animal sentience challenges. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about restricting the scope of the committee. I do not often fall out with the noble Earl, but I find it slightly quaint that we are harking back to the Lisbon treaty. I was very much against Brexit, but it seems rather strange that we are clinging to the terms of the Lisbon treaty.
The range of policy on which the committee can report has to remain wide, but it needs a helping pointer from government departments to areas of policy which they are beginning to develop which could have animal sentience implications. Such a heads-up by government departments needs to be especially early in the process for the committee then to do its work to help the Government in good time and before things become too wedded within the department. The amendment therefore aims to be helpful to government departments rather than to hinder. It would have a beneficial effect in encouraging departments to think in advance about the animal sentience implications of policy right at the start of the policy process.
I also support Amendment 45, which would enable the committee to work with government on a framework for forward planning and review. It would mean that government was not offshoring all thinking on animal sentience to the committee and avoiding its responsibilities for being at the centre of that process.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 24 and 30 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, to which I have added my name. However, before I do, I must ask again, as several noble Lords have done before me, whether the Bill is necessary. Do we really need sentience to be recognised explicitly in UK law at all? Animal welfare laws in the UK date back to 1822. Successive Governments have also recognised that animals are sentient beings, and have done so both prior to and since our membership of the EU. Furthermore, welfare laws in this country go far beyond the minimum standards set by the EU. It is therefore unclear why putting the fact of animal sentience into law would achieve any substantive improvement in animal welfare.
The Bill also wants the Government to have “all due regard”. It is unclear how adding “all” does anything other than create a means for potential conflicts. Will the Government be found to have had due regard but not to have had all due regard? Why “all due regard”? Does it mean that, from now on, all legislation will need to be amended to insert “all” before “due regard”? More importantly, what does “all due regard” mean? How can one prove to have had all due regard? Is not due regard sufficient? Legally, “due regard” is defined as giving fair consideration and sufficient attention to all the facts, so adding “all” can create only more confusion. It is otiose, serving no practical purpose or result.
That is why I support these amendments, as I do Amendments 25 and 34, although I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has already pointed out to explain why they are also necessary.
I support many of the amendments in this group but will speak specifically to Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and Amendments 16 and 35 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I regret that the department and the Government have failed to make a case for the need to go further than what we had already agreed and accepted historically from our membership of the European Union. I do not think that that case has been adequately made. Also, I am struggling to understand why we need to create a whole new committee, which we are seeking to do in Clause 1: the animal sentience committee.
As probing amendments, the entire group will be helpful to enable my noble friend in summing up from the Front Bench to explain why the animal sentience committee needs to exist at all and why it could not either be absorbed into or be a sub-committee of the Animal Welfare Committee. The whole relationship of how those two committees are to coexist needs to be given some justification, and some consideration must be given as to how that will work.
The attraction of Amendment 3—coming from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who is steeped in working with animals and qualified as a veterinary surgeon—is that it is a prospect, looking ahead, and not retrospective. The explanatory statement
“makes clear that the Committee’s remit relates to the process of the formulation and implementation of policy but only that which has been formulated and implemented after the Committee’s formation”.
That leads very neatly on to Amendments 16 and 35 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. Amendment 16 would set out what is generally understood to have been the remit to which we had all agreed; I have not heard any strong case as to why we need to go further than that which we had already accepted and practised in this country for the last number of years. Amendment 35 again underlines the effect that this would be only prospective and that the Bill and the remit of the committee would not seek, in any shape or form, to go back over and address issues that have been agreed as our policy in this country for a significant period. With those few remarks, I look forward to what my noble friend has to say in summing up on this group of amendments.
I remind the Committee of my interests, as set out in the register. My name is down to Amendment 54 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in this group, but I also wish to support a number of others—in particular Amendment 1 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, as well as Amendment 3 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and Amendment 34 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising.
At the start of the Bill, I am still mystified as to what the Government want it to do, because so little of the essential detail is contained in it that the end result could equally be a damp squib or a bolting horse which this and successive Governments will come to regret having mounted. Surely it is not good enough to say that the deficiencies apparent in the Bill will be supplemented later by guidance. Proper parliamentary scrutiny is necessary—indeed, essential—not mere guidance, which can be changed at the whim of any future Secretary of State, so I strongly support Amendment 1.
The Government have got themselves into this unenviable position by declining, as others have said, to incorporate the policy that was covered by the aspects of the Lisbon treaty into our law, which would probably have been the sensible course. Their first attempt at a Bill was wisely withdrawn when it was pointed out that they were laying themselves open to multiple and expensive judicial reviews. I am a mere retired criminal barrister; others are involved in this Committee who are far better qualified than I am in relation to this aspect of the law but, if the department has been advised by its lawyers that the Bill poses no such threats, I would strongly advise an early outside expert opinion.
There is a long list of what we need to know from the Minister at this stage of this Bill. First, we need to know what animal sentience actually means in the Bill; we need a clear definition—and I support the one advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, when he spoke at Second Reading, which is contained in Amendment 54.
Secondly, we need to know the remit of this committee. Do the Government really want to set up a running post-legislative scrutiny committee, or do we follow the line sensibly taken by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in Amendment 3, which suggests that the committee should concentrate solely on policy that comes into effect after the committee is established? If it is to roam across every government department and every policy, which would include aspects of defence, medicine and trade, quite apart from agriculture, it has the makings of a giant and very expensive quango. Does it pick up and choose for itself what it examines? How many reports would it have to produce in a year, if that were the case? Can it commission research in itself—and, if so, who is going to pay for it? This has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, but does the policy have to be delayed while all this is done? All these questions need answers before something is created which could easily run out of control. There must be a clear remit of what it can do, a proper means of setting a programme, and a proper budget to cover it.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 15, 39 and 45 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, to which I have added my name. I am grateful to the Wildlife and Countryside Link for its briefings. Clause 2 currently allows the animal sentience committee to prepare reports on any government policy that
“is being or has been formulated or implemented”.
The scope is wide, but some rationalisation is required. Government policy is extensive, and the committee could be overwhelmed in attempting to take a strategic and prospective approach to its work.
Amendment 15, especially proposed new subsection (4A), would create a category of government policies that the committee must report on: policies that can reasonably be expected to have a significant effect on the welfare of animals, judged by the duration and severity of effects and the number of animals affected. The committee would, however, retain the freedom to report on any other policy that it felt may have impacts on the welfare of animals as sentient beings, including medicine, trade and, possibly, defence.
It is crucial, for the ASC to be successful, that it does not dilute its activity by spreading itself too thinly and investigating policies that will have no effect whatever on animals. The whole thrust of the Bill is about preventing harm and mistreatment of animals as sentient beings, but it is also important that the committee can look at policy that will make a positive improvement to the welfare of animals, not just minimise adverse effects, important though that is.
Amendment 39 would place a duty on the Minister to inform the ASC of any policy that is in preparation that comes within the remit of its work. This duty should not be onerous, as Ministers will know in advance of any policies likely to arise with an animal impact—for instance, trade deals involving shipment of live animals, or the import of meat from animals reared in a country with very different animal welfare standards from our own.
Lastly, I turn to Amendment 45, which would introduce a new clause after Clause 3 and should ensure that the ASC had a strategy that it was working to. The Secretary of State should produce an annual statement to Parliament on the progress of this strategy. Parliament, and indeed the public, will want to know how many welfare impact assessments the ASC has carried out over a 12-month period and what the outcome of that work has been.
Following Second Reading, it is clear that a wide divergence of opinions on the Bill is likely to be expressed this afternoon, most coming from the Minister’s own Benches. The Conservative manifesto made it clear that the Government would be bringing forward an animal sentience Bill in the new Parliament. This is an important matter for the voting public. However, it seems that some members of the Conservative Party did not quite understand what this would involve, or perhaps thought that the Government would quietly ignore this pledge. In all events, there is clearly a degree of disappointment in the Bill. I do not envy the Minister his role this afternoon as he seeks to negotiate a passage through some quite choppy water on the Bill, but I fully support it and look forward to his comments.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to raise a few points. I am a little confused by comments from my noble friends and those opposite that they do not know exactly why the Bill has been brought forward. I thought the Bill had a clear purpose; I thought it was replacing the recognition of animal sentience that applied from 1999 but fell out of UK law when the Brexit transition period came to an end in January 2021. That means that, for the first time in more than two decades, there is currently no requirement for the interests of animals to be considered in the policy process. The Bill, as we just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, was reflected in the Conservative manifesto, and it will fill the gap and provide that requirement. I do not think that it will bind Ministers to any particular course of action, but it will ensure that their decisions—I emphasise their decisions, not the committee’s decisions—are properly informed of any relevant animal welfare aspects.
That said, I have a couple of questions that have arisen during this debate. For example, it should be clear that this will have no effect on medical science. My noble friend Lord Howard of Rising made a good point about predator control. Perhaps because I regard myself as a conservationist, I understand that predator control is important, but that does not mean that animal sentience should not be taken into consideration. After all, I think it was in 1904 when we made pole traps illegal. As long as the methods of control are humane, I do not think there should be any cause for concern, but I would be interested to hear my noble friend the Minister’s views on that.
I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Moylan talking about the potential effects of radiation and things that you cannot necessarily see. Perhaps I should have looked at the Bill while I was sitting here to see whether the Ministry of Defence is excluded. I have been reading and I know about the release of munitions underwater by the Royal Navy, which has had a potential effect on cetaceans.
Those are the sort of things that the sentience committee would have to look at. However, as I just said, this is for Ministers to decide, not this committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
I am speaking to Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, to which I have willingly and gladly added my name.
I start with a question: why has this short Bill, which elaborates on a principle with which we can all agree—that the welfare of sentient animals is important—generated so much criticism and so many amendments? To a large extent, it is obvious from what has been said so far that this is due in part to a lack of particularity in the Bill. Such matters include who and how many will be the members of the animal sentience committee, what authorisation will be required before the committee starts work on any policy, the committee’s relationship with the Animal Welfare Committee, and what options are open to the Government in response to a report and recommendation of the sentience committee.
I suggest that the proposed amendments are in large part because the Bill is entirely negative, in the sense that it seeks to impose restrictions on the way people go about their work, the way they relax and enjoy themselves, and the ways in which they can give effect to their religious values. Such restrictions go to the heart of what we regard as a diverse society in a democratic state. They go to the heart of freedom of personal conduct and belief.
This is why Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon treaty, which recognises animal sentience and requires full regard to be paid to the welfare of animals, stipulates that member states must nevertheless respect
“the legislative or administrative provisions and customs”
of EU countries
“relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, elaborated on the history behind that provision. As he said, the UK was one of the key EU members that lobbied for Article 13, qualified in that way, so there appears to be no reason why a similar qualification is not to be found in the Bill. The provision of that minimum balance is the object of Amendment 31, which uses identical language to that in Article 13, as does Amendment 35 put forward by the noble Earl.
The need for balance in the Bill with the same or similar qualification as in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty also has a legal aspect. I am not qualified to speak about farming practices. However, recreational activity and adherence to religious practice fall within the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights. Recreational activity, including the enjoyment of country sports, falls within the protection for private and family life in Article 8 of the convention. Limited exceptions to that right are set out in Article 8(2) but, so far as I can see, the only ones that might be relevant are
“the protection of health or morals”
“the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Even so, a restriction or limitation falling within Article 8.2 is valid only if, among other things, it is proportionate. That is simply a legalistic way of describing the need for balance. Many of the amendments put forward today are essentially concerned to achieve proportionality, including, for example, no retrospectivity in the work and recommendations of the sentience committee and provisions as to its composition.
On religious rites, particularly at issue in the present context is religious animal slaughter. The importance of expressly preserving in the Bill the right of citizens to adhere to their religious practices is perfectly clear. That right, which falls within Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights is expressly and necessarily stated in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has highlighted in many cases the importance of the rights protected by Article 9 in a pluralist, democratic society. Our Human Rights Act 1998, which enabled disputes on convention rights to be resolved in our own courts, contains the specific provision in Section 13 that:
“If a court’s determination of any question arising under this Act might affect the exercise by a religious organisation (itself or its members collectively) of the Convention right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it must have particular regard to the importance of that right.”
It is not necessary for present purposes to go into the nature of religious animal slaughter in the form of shechita or its Muslim equivalent. There is scientific evidence on both sides of the debate about the humanity of this, but it is clear that the protection of the right to manifest religious belief is enshrined in the treaty obligations we already have and in our own domestic legislation. Therefore, there can be no good reason why, as in the case of Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, the considerations and recommendations of the sentience committee should not be made expressly subject to respect for religious rites. This would provide balance, clarity, certainty and compliance with Article 9 and Section 13 of the Act.
My Lords, I hope my noble friend the Minister will give us a full and detailed reply, because there have been so many questions and unfortunately, the Committee being operated in this way because of Covid, we will not be able to cross-examine him in quite the way we would have done when it was sitting normally.
I start from the basis that we ought to retain the current position, which we had just before we left the EU. I therefore support the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, in his Amendment 16. However, Amendment 1, moved by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom, is absolutely critical; that is, having the composition of the committee and how it operates controlled by regulations. It would be quite wrong for the Government to be able to set up a committee at their own whim and dictate, without coming to Parliament, exactly how it might be composed and operate. I hope my noble friend will be able to be very positive on that amendment.
Could my noble friend also confirm that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, was absolutely right? In speaking to his Amendment 3, the noble Lord drew attention to Clause 2, which says that the committee must comment on policy or what policy might be formulated. Does this mean that it cannot recommend policy to the Minister? If it were able to go off on its own and come forward with a report that says the Government ought to legislate in an area, it would broaden the scope of Clause 2. I hope my noble friend will confirm that it is strictly limited to policy generated by the Government.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Moylan on Amendment 19 and the need for medical research to continue. I hope that is fairly straightforward.
I support what my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising said on vermin. Vermin need to be controlled but they should, quite rightly, be controlled in the most humane manner possible. I raised this during the Environment Bill, when my noble friend Lord Goldsmith moved away from human to natural vermin control but, if one were to pursue that policy and way of thinking, we would have no control of the outcome at all. I hope my noble friend will confirms that, as the apex predator, man has an important role in improving biodiversity.
I conclude by agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on judicial review. One can pick a great many holes in the Bill as drafted, and I can see the judicial review process being used more heavily on this Bill than in most other legislation we have considered.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 19 and 31, beginning with Amendment 19. We must ensure we can still use animals in the advancement of medical research. A great deal of research still needs to be undertaken in the research and development of vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs. The results of this research must be properly recorded and submitted to the appropriate authorities, before any chemical, biological or surgical treatment is approved for regular use. As such, processes must remain in place for effective certification of all life-saving treatments.
For years, animals have been used as a crucial component in the development process. Pharmaceutical companies have successfully produced a range of medical advances as a result. Drugs, vaccines, surgical procedures, insulin, pain relievers and new traditional supplements—to name a few—have been developed. We are living in a changing world with new diseases or variations on existing illnesses, where there is a need for continuous research and development. For certain diseases, we have not yet found appropriate remedies and the work of R&D is not yet done. Suitable experimentation on animals must continue and improve to offer other potentially life-saving and life-improving products to those in need. It is therefore important that the practice of developing and testing on animals is continued. There should be no interference in this process, as it is for the benefit of humanity, on a global scale.
I add that, in the research and development of vaccines against Covid-19, studies and experiments were undertaken on certain animals to assure the vaccine as effective and safe for use worldwide. I therefore support this amendment, which seeks to ensure the continued existence of this essential aspect of the advancement of our understanding of medical science, for the benefit of the people of the entire world.
I should now like to speak to Amendment 31. As we have left the European Union, we must commit to animal welfare standards and uphold any recommendations or protections that were applied previously under Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The article stated that the administrative provisions and customs of member states must respect the religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage of their citizens. We should not dilute that.
I am a practising Muslim and eat only halal meat. In addition to me, there are 3.4 million Muslims in the United Kingdom and we make up 5% of the British population. Among the Islamic community in the United Kingdom, a number of British Muslims eat only halal meat. It is important that they are allowed to do so and there should be no interference on the issue of religious slaughter.
I have received representations from a number of Muslim communities that have asked me to make the points that I have raised today. In addition to Muslims, a number of members of the Jewish community would like the practice of shechita to be maintained. Unfortunately, some members of the British population are critical of halal and other slaughter practices, perhaps due to misconceived ideas of what religious slaughter entails. I should emphasise that Islam forbids the mistreatment of animals and guarantees their welfare and well-being. That is enshrined in our deeply held Muslim beliefs.
Islam, of course, prescribes how an animal can be slaughtered for food and we would like that to continue. I and other Muslims believe that when we undertake halal slaughter, we are acting humanely. Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest that halal or other forms of religious slaughter are less humane than conventional methods. I have spoken in your Lordships’ House previously on the issue of halal slaughter and discussed it with the then Ministers from Defra. I also corresponded with David Cameron when he was Prime Minister and was assured that the practice of halal and shechita would be continued. I very much hope that such matters will remain an integral part of the slaughtering process. We should therefore include Amendment 31 in the Bill in order that those practices and other matters are preserved for the sake of our religious communities.
My Lords, I shall start by speaking to Amendment 19 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Mancroft, and myself. It is designed to secure medical research and the UK’s world-leading place in it, to ensure that animal activists cannot interfere with future or past research, and to guarantee a safe environment for our researchers. More than that, Amendment 19 is designed to protect human welfare and sentience.
Now, more than ever, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our scientific researchers who have saved thousands of lives and given peace of mind to British people and people around the world, first in the development of the Covid vaccine, although I will give more examples. I live in Oxford and went straight to the top when investigating the necessity for this amendment and the damage that might be caused if it is not passed. Dame Sarah Gilbert, the developer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, has said that she relied on research using non-human primates, ferrets and Syrian hamsters. How could any committee dare to start pontificating about what research may or may not be carried out using animals in the face of what has so recently been achieved?
Given the age demographics of this House, it is worth highlighting the recent FDA approval for Aduhelm, the first new treatment for Alzheimer’s in more than 20 years and the first therapy to target the fundamental pathophysiology of the disease. A key researcher in this, and winner of the Breakthrough Prize and the Brain Prize, is John Hardy of University College London. It took more than 20 years of research, largely involving work on genetically modified mice, to reveal what leads to cell death and plaque formation in the human brain. According to Sir Colin Blakemore, it is inconceivable that the background knowledge for the development of treatments could have been gained without animal research.
Researchers are also using monkeys for a wide range of disorders and the Covid vaccine. Researchers use them to test the safety of vaccine compounds, and to discover how the virus works inside the body and whether it can reinfect people who have already recovered from the virus. It is vital that such research should be protected. While their use in Europe is very limited, China has recognised the opportunity that this gives Chinese researchers and huge amounts of money have been poured into primate facilities for research in China.
Sadly, some animal rights organisations have disparaged the biomedical research process during the past year. They have spread misinformation, and even seem to prefer people to die rather than study animals. The use of animals in experiments and testing is highly regulated in the UK under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which adopts the principles of the three Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement. Let us celebrate the wonderful work done here in the UK to save lives by guaranteeing through this amendment, and by a statement from the Minister, that nothing will be considered or done to impede that research.
Turning to Amendments 31 and 35, I fully support the remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton. These amendments are designed to restore to the remit of the committee to be established by the Bill the balance that used to be reflected in European law. The committee will have retrospective powers—that is, it can look back over past animal issues and reopen them. If the committee were to raise issues with Jewish methods of killing animals, the Secretary of State would have to lay a response to those views before Parliament. The Government have in the past stated their commitment to protecting that custom, but the Bill could undermine that. The proposers need the Government’s assurance in this debate that, were such a situation to arise, they would guarantee their commitments to religious communities. In saying this, I support the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.
There are arguments about the least cruel method of putting animals to death. The Jewish way, after much consideration, is regarded as effective because it causes an immediate loss of cerebral perfusion. Stunning, however, is driven by speed and commercial utility and goes wrong in many more millions of cases of animal deaths than ever take place in Jewish killing.
Despite the requirement in European law on balance, the European Court of Justice last year upheld a Belgian ban on Jewish and Muslim practices of slaughter without stunning. The argument that stunning is less injurious than non-stunning does not hold water. We should not apply double standards. The Food Standards Agency survey of 2017 estimated that hundreds of millions of animals were killed without effective stunning; gassing, in particular, causes great distress to animals killed that way. The European Food Safety Authority reported that, in the most recent count, 180 million chickens and other poultry were killed using insufficient electric charge. We do not kill our animals with great attention to their welfare, leaving aside the Jewish and Muslim methods. Rabbits’ necks are broken and fish starved and suffocated. We even mistreat our pets, breeding them to a lifetime of ill health and depriving them of their natural habitats. If the new committee in the Bill is to do any good, it should concern itself with making sure that slaughter methods as they exist are carried out as they should be and existing welfare standards are enforced.
Will the Minister accept these amendments and ensure that Jewish slaughter practices are protected? Not to do so would be seen as an unwillingness to make a home for those elements of the Jewish community —and the Muslim community—to whom this is of major importance.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendments 15, 39 and 45 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—I thank her for her support—and Amendment 47 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone, to which I have added my name. I will make some comments on other amendments in the group.
Amendment 15 provides the criteria for which policies are in the remit of the committee and for the committee to report on those policies while they are being formulated, while keeping the discretionary power for the committee to look at any other policies. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, if we do not do that, the remit will become far too wide to be manageable. The current text of Clause 2 allows the committee to prepare reports on any government policy that is being or has been formulated or implemented. While I welcome that wide scope, we need some organisation of activity. Without it, in the face of the overwhelming range of government policy, the committee may well struggle to take a strategic and prospective approach to its work.
Our amendment would answer concerns raised by a number of noble Lords about how the committee would cope with the potential amount of work. The policies that the Government should be looking at are ones that should be reasonably expected to have a significant effect on the welfare of animals, judged by the duration and severity of effects and the number of animals affected. Beyond those mandatory reports on policies within its remit, the committee could retain the freedom to report on any other policy that it felt might have an impact on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
Crucially, our amendment would also allow the committee’s reports to contain recommendations on how the policy could be made to have a positive effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings. At Second Reading, the Minister suggested that the committee would be able to
“encourage policymakers to think about the positive improvements that they can make to animal welfare—not just minimising adverse effects”.—[Official Report, 16/6/21; col. 1945.]
We very much welcome these remarks, but the text of the Bill needs to be brought into line with them, as Clause 2 currently specifies “adverse” effects being the subject of committee reports. Given that the Government believe, as we do, that the committee should have the freedom to consider how policies could enhance animal welfare, we hope that the Minister will recognise that our amendment would resolve this issue.
Amendment 39 is also designed to help to structure the way in which the committee would consider government policy with regard to animal sentience in a straightforward way by putting a duty on Ministers to inform the committee in a timely manner of relevant policy development. As I said at Second Reading, it is paramount that the committee can look at policies right across government. The Bill currently creates only a discretionary duty for the animal sentience committee to review whether a government policy has had appropriate regard to the welfare of sentient animals. There should be a mandate with a clear duty for a review of all policies that fall within well-defined criteria. A duty on Ministers to inform the committee would help to achieve that outcome.
Amendment 45 proposes a new clause that is essential to ensure that the Bill provides a functional replacement to the sentience duty that applied in law when the UK was a member of the European Union. We have heard a lot today from noble Lords about Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and its intertwined elements—recognition of animals as sentient beings and a duty to pay “full regard” to animal sentience in formulating and implementing policy. Although it was limited to certain areas of policy, Article 13 imposed a direct legal obligation on the EU and its member states to pay full regard to animal sentience. It was a direct responsibility on decision-makers, in the form of government Ministers.
The Bill replaces this direct duty with two indirect responsibilities on Ministers: to establish and maintain the animal sentience committee and to lay a response to the reports in Parliament. This is a weaker set of responsibilities that effectively outsources the bulk of animal sentience responsibility to the committee, which can make recommendations to decision-makers but sits outside the decision-making process. Our amendment is designed to address this gap between EU sentience duties and the proposed replacements by requiring the Secretary of State to create and maintain an animal sentience strategy that prospectively sets out how the Government propose to have due regard to animal sentience, including any upcoming policies they intend to ask the committee to review.
This early notice will help the committee plan its work and encourage strategic, proactive working between government and the committee on sentience. The new clause would also require the Secretary of State to make an annual verbal statement to Parliament, reporting on the strategy and presenting changes to policy or implementation made in response to the committee’s recommendations over the past year. This will provide a process and framework for showing how Ministers have taken the welfare of animals into consideration when making decisions. It also allows Parliament to evaluate the effectiveness and the impact of the committee.
It is important to clarify that the proposed new clause would not increase ministerial exposure to judicial review. The Secretary of State’s responsibility would be entirely discharged by creating the strategy and giving the annual strategy progress report to Parliament. It would encourage a strategic approach to sentience on the part of the Government and allow for regular parliamentary scrutiny of that approach without increasing the risk of JR.
I now turn briefly to Amendment 47 in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone, to which I have added my name. As she said, this is a small amendment but it is very important in helping the committee to be more effective as it would enable it to call witnesses and access information needed to complete its work. I ask the Minister to seriously consider it as we go forward.
I will now look at some other comments and amendments we have discussed today. Looking at what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said in his introduction to his amendment, and some of the comments from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, my understanding is that the proposed role of the committee is exclusively about process and it will have no direct influence over the substance of policy. Policy remains, as it should, exclusively a matter for Ministers and it will be no part of the committee’s role to comment on the merits of a policy. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s confirmation that my understanding is correct.
As we have heard, Amendment 16, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, would limit the scope of the committee to the areas of policy covered by EU sentience responsibilities. It had some support from noble Lords but, as we will have no need for continued alignment with the EU now that the UK has left, that gives us the freedom to widen our ambitions for animal welfare. We welcome the Government’s ambitious intentions in that aspect of the Bill.
I will look briefly at the concerns addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in his introduction to Amendment 19 and those raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in Amendment 31. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, also looked at this. Again, perhaps the Minister can give more detail about this and reassure noble Lords that my interpretation is correct. My understanding is that provided the committee is satisfied that all due regard has been given to the ways in which any policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings, the weight to be given to these considerations remains entirely at the discretion of Ministers in determining policy. Accordingly, provided all due regard has been given to adverse effects, Ministers may conclude that competing considerations outweigh those of animal welfare—for example, in medical science research, determining the future of religious slaughter policy and activities such as shooting and fishing. These decisions would then ultimately remain, as now, in the hands of government. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that I have read that correctly.
Amendment 37 would limit the scope of the committee to new policy proposed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This would significantly weaken the committee, reducing it from a body free to consider sentience questions right across government policy to ultimately just being a Defra scrutiny organisation. It would certainly mean that the committee would not be able to ensure that animal sentience was taken into account right across government policy-making, which is the stated purpose of the Bill, and would critically undermine it.
Amendment 34, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and signed up to by other noble Lords, would prevent the animal sentience committee from considering the implementation of existing law. This reduction in scope would tie the committee’s hands. The implementation of existing policy can have just as much of an impact as new policy on the welfare of animals as sentient beings. The greater the freedom of manoeuvre that the committee has, the greater its effectiveness. Crucially, Ministers will be able to disregard any recommendations, as I have already said. We have to remember that this committee is advisory, and it will still be Ministers who make any final decisions.
It has been a very interesting debate, and there is a lot on which the Minister can reassure noble Lords. I look forward to his response.
I thank noble Lords for their interest in the Bill. I feel as if I were sailing a path between Scylla and Charybdis, but I shall try to review the points raised—and I hope that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, says, I shall be able to reassure noble Lords in the process.
I start with Amendment 1 in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth and moved by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom. They raise an important point, which is that the establishment of the committee should be a transparent and collaborative process. To that end, I can commit to sharing draft terms of reference for the committee before the Bill returns to the House for Report.
My noble friend raised some points about the cost, and I can say to him that the committee will be funded from within the departmental budget. As we develop a more detailed understanding of the committee’s structure and how it wishes to approach its task, we will be able to develop an estimate of its resourcing. This process is in train, and we will share an estimate with Parliament at the appropriate juncture. We will ensure that the committee has the resources necessary to fulfil its functions, as set out in the Bill, while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. However, I would be wary of defining the terms of reference and the membership of the committee too rigidly in statute. This committee is an entirely new entity with a new and specific remit, and to some extent its first steps will involve learning and refining how it wishes to operate and what expertise it requires.
I shall take together Amendments 31 and 35. I fully agree with my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Hamilton, as well as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that policy must be made with culture, religion and both local and national heritage in mind. Ministers are, and will remain, responsible for judging the right balance between these and various other considerations. Nothing in the Bill will affect that. I am grateful for the opportunity to address any remaining uncertainty about the committee’s role and how we envisage its recommendations fitting into the decision-making process.
I can assure my noble friend that there is absolutely no attempt to force Ministers to prioritise one factor over another when taking a complex, multi-faceted policy decision. What the Bill will do is help to inform Ministers about important welfare issues that should, in the interests of good policy-making, be a part of their overall considerations. The committee is there to scrutinise the policy decision-making process and whether it has taken all due account of important animal welfare issues. It is not there to determine the substance of ministerial decisions. I hope that goes a long way to giving the noble Baroness the reassurance that she requires, but I shall come on to some of the specific points in a moment. As it prepares its reports, the committee will be fully aware of its remit, and will recognise the need for Ministers to consider other factors alongside animal welfare.
For the same reason, I do not think that my noble friend Lord Moylan, whom I thank for his Amendment 19, has anything to fear from the committee having the ability to report on policies related to advancing the understanding of medical science. I entirely agree with him and others who spoke on this matter that what is done in our scientific institutions is a “worthy objective”—I think those were his words, echoing the concerns of my noble friend Lord Sheikh, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others. The Bill will make no difference to our ability as a country to continue to improve, as we must, how we deal with diseases through testing on animals. What the committee can do is suggest changes to the regulations. As has been pointed out, this area of animal welfare in this country is one of the most highly regulated in the world. Ministers will receive that information and then be able to make a decision taking into account all the factors concerned. One of those factors may be a pandemic; it may be the need to keep hundreds of thousands of people alive. Such decisions will weigh on a Minister, and he or she will be able to take into account the findings of the committee but not necessarily be bound by them.
I again thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for his Amendment 37, which would limit the animal sentience committee to producing reports only on Defra policies. I will take this together with Amendment 16 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, which would limit the remit of the committee to those policy areas covered by Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty. The Bill reflects that animals are sentient beings, so it is only right that appropriate regard to their welfare is given in any policy-making decision where it is relevant. Although Defra has responsibility for animal welfare, and I am sure that some of its policies will be the subject of committee reports, many other departments will also have the ability to impact on animals due to our various interactions with the natural world. It is therefore important that the committee has the freedom to consider any central government policy it believes could have an impact on the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. The committee will have the discretion to focus its efforts on those policy decisions it deems most important in welfare terms. In our manifesto, this Government as a whole committed to the introduction of new laws on sentience, with no suggestion of carve-outs or exemptions. As noble Lords have said, we have previously operated under Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which goes much wider than environment, food and rural affairs, so we have operated under this type of regime before.
I will address Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and Amendment 34 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising briefly, as we will return to this important question in more detail as we move through the groups. I remind your Lordships that the committee has a very specific role, which is to publish reports giving its assessment on whether Ministers have properly considered animal welfare when making policy decisions. Expert scrutiny of this sort is vital to good policy-making, particularly in areas such as animal sentience where our scientific knowledge is advancing rapidly. Of course it is, and will remain, for Ministers to make and account for individual policy decisions. We simply do not have to worry that, one day, the committee will demand that we tear up a particular piece of legislation. That is not what it is there to do; it has no powers that would allow it to do so. That said, I would not want to prevent the committee identifying potential improvements in the implementation of existing policy, nor would I want to prevent it learning and sharing lessons from the recent past.
On Amendment 54, in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, we decided not to include a fixed definition of sentience in the Bill, because “sentience” is a term heavily influenced by the latest scientific understanding and so risks becoming rapidly out of date. Our scientific understanding of sentience has come a long way in recent years and will continue to evolve. It is not necessary to define sentience in statute for the Bill to work. We all recognise that animals are sentient. Accordingly, their welfare needs should be properly considered in government policy-making. There is no need to make it more complicated than that.
Amendment 15, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the animal sentience committee to produce reports on policy areas that have the most significant effects on the welfare of animals. The Bill allows the animal sentience committee to investigate the decision-making process for any central government policy, from formulation to implementation. I want the committee to be strategic and ensure that its work is prioritised to maximise its effectiveness in highlighting where the Government could do better.
Every Government has a huge policy agenda and it would not be possible or necessary for the committee to look at everything. We should let the committee, based on its independent expert judgment, itself decide which issues really matter and what approach it should take to formulating its work plan. The Bill, as drafted, provides the committee with the flexibility to do so. I would much rather leave the selection of policies to the committee than force it to make its decision by reference to a statutory test that could see it having to defend its selection in the courts.
Both the noble Baroness, with the same amendment, and my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, with Amendments 25, 30 and 32, have sought clarity on why the Bill refers only to “adverse” effects on animal welfare. The committee is there to raise the bar in the policy-making process. Its ultimate success will not be seen in it giving the Government’s policies a pass or fail—although it can and should call out failures or missed opportunities. Rather, it will be felt in ongoing improvements to the way the Government make decisions affecting animals. I assure your Lordships of my complete confidence that, for the purposes of the Bill, “adverse” effects include missed opportunities to create “positive” effects. It is simply a drafting convention.
Amendment 39 from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, proposes a duty for Ministers to inform the committee of policy in scope, and Amendment 45 proposes a requirement to produce an animal sentience strategy. The Bill underpins Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare, published in May. The plan lays out the breadth of our animal welfare and conservation reforms, both legislative and non-legislative, to ensure the welfare of animals meets the highest standards.
The independence of the committee is important. It is vital that the committee, as a body of experts, has the ability to set its own agenda. At the same time, we will be working across government to promote the committee’s role and ensure that departments engage constructively with it. Requiring Ministers to notify the committee of relevant policy would ask Ministers to prejudge the very questions the committee is there to help them answer. If a Minister has anticipated that a policy might affect animals, he or she is already in a good position to consider the effects. Naturally, the committee will be able to assist in ensuring that its consideration is suitably comprehensive, but its first priority must surely be to identify policy-making where the impact on animals is being overlooked altogether. This is where the committee has a valuable role to play in its engagement and overall awareness-raising.
I confirm that the animal sentience committee’s work plan will be made publicly available annually. Reports from the committee will also be publicly available, and will provide insight into the regard paid in policy-making to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. We intend to conduct a regular performance review of the committee to ensure that it is fulfilling its purpose. This will cover any work the committee has undertaken with other government departments. We do not propose to require government departments to produce animal welfare impact assessments. The proportionate accountability mechanism we are introducing with the committee will help Parliament—it is crucial that point is understood—to hold Ministers to account where appropriate.
I believe that the Bill as currently drafted, alongside the action plan for animal welfare, will achieve many of the intentions of the noble Baroness’s amendments while retaining flexibility and discretion for the committee to focus on areas it deems most important.
On Amendment 24 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard, in simple terms, by the need to pay “all due regard” to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings, we mean that the Government should pay the regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings that is appropriate in the particular circumstances. We wish to express this principle as clearly and explicitly as possible in the Bill.
I turn to another amendment from the noble Lord, Amendment 36. Animal welfare is a devolved matter. Scotland has already used secondary legislation to establish an advisory body called the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, which advises the Scottish Government on those policy areas for which they are responsible. My officials continue to work with colleagues in Wales and Northern Ireland at a working level and we will work collaboratively as we implement the Bill after Royal Assent.
I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for his Amendments 26 and 33, which would limit the scope of the animal sentience committee’s views and reports on the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. As I have said, the Bill honours a manifesto commitment. I was in the other place when we failed to move the words in Article 13, and I remember the furore in the correspondence in my inbox that I received as a Member of Parliament. That has stuck with me. I have mentioned medical science and how I hope that I can reassure my noble friend on that issue.
The aim of this legislation is to ensure that Parliament can scrutinise how the Government take the welfare of animals as sentient beings into account, alongside other considerations, in developing and implementing their policies in a way that is not overly burdensome. Removing the reference to the sentience of animals would undermine a key objective of the Bill and would be a case of one step forward, two steps back. It is crucial that we recognise the sentience of animals in law, which is a key part of our ambitions to improve animal welfare at home and internationally. There has never been any question but that the Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by the fact that animals are sentient beings.
I give the assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, required on religious slaughter. The Government would much prefer that animals were stunned before slaughter but we respect the traditions and the culture of communities that wish to see slaughter carried out in a certain way. The committee and the Bill will not change that. Ministers accountable to Parliament through legislation could or would change anything, and the Government are committed to working with those communities on these issues.
Amendment 47, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, concerns the committee’s powers and access to information. The animal sentience committee already has the means to hold the Government to account. If the committee felt that information had been withheld and that, as a result, it could not fully assess whether important animal welfare considerations had been taken into account, its report could explain this. The report could, for example, highlight that the committee had not been furnished with the appropriate information to perform its function effectively. Ministers would then have to respond and explain why this was the case and face further scrutiny from Parliament. There is, therefore, already an accountability mechanism to address this circumstance in the Bill.
We prefer to rely on the good offices of the Government voluntarily to provide the necessary materials to allow the committee to carry out its function. There may be legitimate grounds to withhold information—for example, national security or commercial confidentiality. The role of the secretariat will be critical to the committee in the performance of its functions. The secretariat will be able to work cross-government to support the committee in accessing and identifying the relevant information. I can assure the noble Baroness that the committee will have a dedicated secretariat and all the resources necessary to carry out its function.
I restate the sentiments expressed at Second Reading. We have reflected carefully and brought to the House a robust Bill that aims to deliver clear, proportionate outcomes. The Bill recognises in law that animals are sentient and provides a targeted and proportionate accountability mechanism to ensure that this is considered in decision-making, alongside other considerations.
To conclude, I welcome the scrutiny of your Lordships. My noble friend Lord Forsyth’s amendments were articulated by my noble friend Lord Hamilton—my noble friend Lord Forsyth asked me to state on the record his apology for not being here, but he obviously has a very good reason for that—and I hope noble Lords will be content not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from five noble Lords. First, I call the noble Lord, Lord Marland.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Committee for allowing me to speak, and to the Minister. I attended all of Second Reading but did not choose to speak; I am very grateful to be allowed to now.
I do not envy my noble friend the Minister taking this Bill through the Lords. Clearly, it has united all sides in condemnation of the make-up, extent and cost of the committee and led to questions of whether it is a quango or a regulator committee. To date, he has not allayed our fears on that. I should be grateful if he would let us know when he intends to do so, as he alluded to in his remarks.
He also mentioned that funding will be out of the existing Defra budget. Is that an increased budget? That does not tell us whether the budget will be increased to fulfil this funding, and he has not conceded any information on that.
I am struck and concerned by his statement that the United Kingdom is the most highly regulated country in the world in this area. We are a nation of animal lovers and we have traditionally treated our animals extremely humanely, but this obsession with overregulation and making us the most regulated in the world must be a terrible threat to our farming community as it struggles against the continual burden of regulation put on it.
Therefore, my noble friends who have raised these questions are quite right to challenge the Minister on the make-up of the committee. At what point do we stop imposing regulation on our farming community? Many will have heard the outcry from the farming community after the Australian trade deal, complaining that Australia is less regulated than our community. It makes it impossible for our farmers to export if they are not on, as they call it, a level playing field. I further amplify the comments of my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom, who rightly said that this is gold-plating the European Union’s welfare arrangements. Again, at what point do we cease to gold-plate products of something that the majority of the country decided to leave: the European Union?
As I said, I do not envy the Minister for taking on the Bill. He is a farmer himself, and a countryman to boot, but I fear that, unless strong terms of reference are imposed on the committee, we will end up destroying our countryside pursuits and making life virtually impossible for our farming and fishing community in future. I hope that, as the Bill makes its passage, he will be able to assure us—rather more, I am afraid, than he has today. I am happy to meet him afterwards to discuss it, or to receive a letter from him, if he so wishes.
I am grateful to the Minister and the Committee for allowing me to speak in this break.
On that point, I just point out to Members of the Committee that speeches after the Minister are primarily for points of elucidation.
I am grateful to my noble friend. I will write to him about the committee’s make-up and remit and repeat any points he may have missed in our conversations or in earlier proceedings about how we feel this committee should exist. Of course, we are going into a spending round and these issues will be reflected in that, but I have declared openly how the resources will be found.
I will correct my noble friend on one point. When I said “highly regulated”, I was talking about how we use animals in scientific research. That is something we can all be extremely proud of. In animal research, we have one of the most highly regulated science communities. I share his desire for less bureaucracy and less regulation for the farming community. There are changes afoot that I hope he will be extremely pleased about. We will see a simpler range of policies, which will make life easier for rural businesses. When I referred to high regulation, I did so with pride that we have an active and vibrant scientific community based on research into animals, and that it is properly regulated by probably the best regulation in the world.
My Lords, I declare my interest with various positions in the Countryside Alliance.
I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could elucidate this point: the thrust of almost all the contributions by noble Lords today has been that the Bill’s scope is too broad and that the powers of the committee that is to be set up insufficiently constrained. The architecture being established is far broader than that which exists for the Animal Welfare Committee—an issue we are about to explore—and the effect of the consideration of sentience will be far greater than the declaratory effect that sentience had in the provisions in European law. As has been raised, all this suggests that there is a greater potential for judicial review.
So far as I could see, in responding to all these points the Minister said that the remit would remain broad, sentience would not be defined and the committee’s powers would not be constrained. My simple question is therefore: does he accept the views expressed by most noble Lords this afternoon that the Bill is imperfectly drafted, that the committee’s powers are too broad and that it needs to be constrained? Is that important position accepted or not? Is the Minister dismissing all the views expressed by way of amendments today and essentially saying to us that the balance struck in the Bill is perfect?
My Lords, I would never have the temerity to say that anything was perfect in this world, and legislation is a messy process. I assure my noble friend that I believe that we are sailing the right path between creating something that is unwieldy and a burden on government and something that is—I hope he will agree when it is established—proportionate. It can range around government looking at important things and will inform the way decisions are made.
My noble friend mentioned the risk of judicial review. The Bill places additional legal duties on Ministers only in so far as it requires them to submit written responses on the parliamentary record to the animal sentience committee’s reports within three months of their publication. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is additionally legally required to appoint and maintain an animal sentience committee. This means that the Bill creates only two additional grounds for judicial review: a failure by the relevant Minister to respond to the committee within three months and a failure by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish and maintain an animal sentience committee. I hope that gives my noble friend some reassurance.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for the very interesting speech he has just made; I can see myself reading Hansard very carefully for a lot of what he said. I have just one question, on which I was hoping for some help from him. Quite early in his speech, he had some very warm words for Amendments 31 and 35, but I did not understand whether they would result in his amending the Bill or were just warm words. Could he clarify that?
I can assure the noble Earl that I am open to discussions on any area of the Bill where I feel we can make it better without creating hostages to fortune. I do not want to create a feeding frenzy for lawyers by putting anything in legislation that will increase opportunities for judicial review or any other legal measure. I will clearly be having many discussions with noble Lords from across the House between now and Report. I hope that what will emerge and what we will send to the other place will be a coherent piece of legislation.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Marland that the Government are beginning to alienate quite a large section of the rural community with their attitude towards it at the moment. It would be a retrograde step for my noble friend the Minister to continue in that way. I know that, being a farmer, he will be very sensitive to this. I have three questions for him.
My noble friend the Minister said those dreaded words, “We have nothing to fear”. If we have nothing to fear, let us put it in the Bill. It seems to me utterly logical that if all our concerns are taken care of, we will be much happier if some of our concerns are put in the Bill—which will help satisfy our concerns. I disagree with my noble friend; I still think we have quite a lot to fear from the Bill.
Turning to Amendment 16 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, my noble friend the Minister said that proposed new paragraphs (a) to (f) were too restrictive. If that remit satisfied European law and the Lisbon treaty, could my noble friend tell us why it needs to be increased now? What are the areas of concern? Where do the Government think that their policies are wrong so that they need a committee to have a look at them?
Thirdly and finally, I am grateful that my noble friend will let us see his thoughts on the composition of the committee and how it might work, but are we to be allowed to debate those thoughts and the papers that he will produce? If we cannot debate them, it is pretty unnecessary that we should bother to see them.
I am grateful to my noble friend and absolutely defer to him as someone with long experience of legislation, good and bad. I am sorry if saying “Nothing to fear” caused him fear. I was seeking to remind the Committee that we are not talking about something that creates policy; rather, it can inform policymakers. There are a whole host of issues in the minds of Ministers when they formulate new legislation. The Bill allows them to take all of them into consideration and, if needs be, put to one side the concerns of the committee because, weighing them against other matters, they can take a different path.
That is really important. It is fundamental to the Bill. We are trying to reflect what the wider public are concerned about, which is an improved climate of animal welfare in decision-making. We think that what we have brought forward is proportionate. I can debate the content of the committee, its size and wider remit with noble Lords at leisure. I am sure my noble friend agrees that we do not want a committee that is too big or full of sectoral interests, or of one particular interest over another. We want a committee that has expertise and is not trying to carry out some political campaign or is weighted too much in one direction or another. It will be balanced, expert, the right size and properly resourced.
I will just comment on Amendment 19 and, I hope, give some assurance. Many noble Lords have commented on the concerns that medical research will be impacted by this Bill, and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, speaks to that. I share that concern, but would like to assuage some of it as a vet, a veterinary scientist and a former holder of a licence from the Home Office to conduct research involving animals for medical and veterinary purposes.
I can assure the Committee that medical research is not threatened by the Bill. The function of the animal sentience committee is to ensure that due regard has been paid to animal welfare. The unambiguous answer is in the affirmative. Parliament passed the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act in 1986, which requires all individuals undertaking veterinary research and their premises to be licensed and the projects, most importantly, to be individually scrutinised and licensed. That scrutiny essentially involves an assessment of the benefit-cost ratio of animal welfare harmed in the conduct of that research versus animal welfare benefits as a consequence of it. That due scrutiny is conducted and would satisfy any particular challenge from an animal sentience committee.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarity and entirely endorse what he says.
I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for responding to my remarks on Amendment 1, which I am about to withdraw. He has honoured the pledge he made on Second Reading to tell us about the resources being made available for this new committee. I must confess, I think I am getting more naive the older I get; I was rather hoping we would have some serious figures on how much money was involved, but maybe we will have to wait a bit longer for that. In the meantime, I am very grateful to my noble friend and beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
My Lords, we will have a five-minute adjournment of the Committee.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“(1A) The Committee is to subsume the Animal Welfare Committee of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.”
My Lords, I first apologise for not being here for the earlier debate because I had to chair the Economic Affairs Committee. I thank my noble friend Lord Hamilton for moving my Amendment 1. I did not hear a lot of the arguments but judging by the length of time taken, I suspect that many of the things that I might say would repeat earlier points. I shall try to focus specifically on the two amendments in this group in my name, Amendments 2 and 11.
Amendment 2 is just a probing amendment. I have been operating under the illusion that the Government were absolutely committed to reducing the number of quangos, the amount of bureaucracy and cost to the taxpayer. We have a perfectly good Animal Welfare Committee and it seemed to me that this issue could be covered by it. The amendment suggests that instead of two separate committees, there should be only one, which would be able to carry out the function described in the Bill.
I appreciate that the Animal Welfare Committee has a specific function and reports to a specific department. However, one of the things that worries me about the Bill and the creation of the new committee is that it does not seem to be the responsibility of any one department and will be able to look at every aspect of every government department’s policy. I therefore imagine that the committee will require a large number of people supporting it, given the volume of information that would be required. It is also not clear what happens if there is a conflict between the Animal Welfare Committee and the new committee established by the Bill.
The amendment is therefore just a probing amendment to give my noble friend the Minister an opportunity to explain how this will work, how the relationship between the two committees would operate and what the expenditure and other consequences would be. Will the new committee have a separate secretariat and support or will there be support common between both committees? Which Minister will be responsible for the new committee?
On Amendment 11, I suspect that the issue may have been touched on in the earlier debate, given the many amendments that have been published. I have to say to my noble friend the Minister that he has done something quite remarkable. He has managed to unite the people who would like the Bill doing less with those who would like it to do more, because it does not set out clearly the functions of the new committee, its composition, budget and the terms of reference. I am an extinct volcano who left government in 1997. However, in my day, if one had come to the L Committee with a Bill like this, it would not have got past the front door because it would have been required to set out in specific terms the resources required by the new committee, its composition, its budget, its terms of reference and its responsibility to Ministers. The Bill does not do so.
This extraordinary Bill, for which as I say I do not blame my noble friend—I think he has just arrived and been handed this particular hospital pass—gives no information about this whatever. Hence Amendment 11 resorts to the rather unsatisfactory proposition, as I accept it is, that before the committee can be established, the Secretary of State has to obtain the approval of each House of Parliament.
I have a helpful suggestion to make to my noble friend—although I had rather expected him to do this now and that, having participated in the Second Reading debate and heard the arguments that were put there, he would have a string of government amendments that addressed the questions put at Second Reading. However, those amendments are not there. The purpose of Amendment 11 is to give my noble friend an opportunity to give us an assurance that he will come back with amendments that will make clear the composition of the committee—the budget, terms of reference, and so on—as government amendments, rather than leaving this Bill as it is. It is a bit like buying a jigsaw with 1,000 pieces and opening up the box to find that 995 of them are in the Minister’s pockets. It really is necessary for him to put these pieces back into the Bill, which is what the two amendments seek to do—to have some clarity about what the committee will do, how it relates to the Animal Welfare Committee, which Minister is responsible for it, what its terms of reference are and what its composition is.
I guess that in the last debate, the Minister gave all kinds of assurances—and I heard my noble friend Lord Caithness ask why we should not put it in the Bill. That is what these two amendments are pressing my noble friend the Minister to do. I beg to move.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I usually disagree very strongly with almost everything he says. However, something he said rang a bell with me, which was that the drafting of Bills is so much worse now than when he was a Minister. I totally agree that we are getting some very poorly drafted Bills, and perhaps he could give some advice to the Government on how to improve that situation.
In the earlier group, the Minister said that he felt as if he was navigating between Scylla and Charybdis. I am on the side of Scylla, the safest option, so perhaps he will hear all my comments with that in mind. I have tabled nine amendments to the Bill to ensure that the animal sentience committee will be a properly functioning entity that can support a meaningful improvement in recognising the sentience of animals, and what that should mean for government policy. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who has signed all nine of my amendments. She is well known for her love of animals, and I therefore see her support as an indication that I am doing something right on behalf of animals.
My first amendment, Amendment 6, starts the process of improving the committee by explicitly stating its purpose. It seems a basic drafting failure that the purpose of the committee is not laid out. It seems rather strange to have it absent from the Bill, so here I am suggesting an option. To be honest, if somebody wanted a public body to achieve a purpose, I think that they would specify that purpose in the enabling legislation.
Amendment 62 inserts a schedule for the operating of the committee. There is a lot of overlap between this schedule and amendments tabled by other noble Lords. Having a schedule seems like a tidy way to bundle all the important things together. I am sure that we can work together to make sure that we come up with something better and more agreeable by Report. I am happy to work with others to develop joint amendments that can carry this whole idea forward.
My concern is that, as the Bill is currently drafted, the animal sentience committee will not be able to achieve much and that Parliament will have missed a vital opportunity to make the lives of millions, possibly billions, of animals better. In the previous group, we heard noble Lords use particular phrases about why animal sentience is not in our legislation. Somebody said it just fell out and somebody else said it was dropped by accident. To me, that is a rewriting of history, because I remember that the Government took it out deliberately. There was such an outcry from the public and Peers that the Government realised they had to do something about it, and this is their way of doing that. So let us help the Government make sure that this Bill is the best Bill it can be.
I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, and I support my noble friend Lord Forsyth in his desire to understand the relationship between this committee and the Animal Welfare Committee. I raised that both at Second Reading and in connection with the first group of amendments, so I hope that, now the formal Amendment 2 is on the table, my noble friend will respond vigorously to our need for more information on that.
The Minister said very clearly that there are only two responsibilities on the Government in relation to this committee. The first is to give written responses to the animal sentience committee reports and the second is to appoint and maintain the committee, yet the Bill, as currently drafted, is woefully thin on detail. The details on this are missing.
I am delighted to come forward with Amendment 13, which is a standard text for a number of bodies set up by the Government in earlier legislation. It replicates a similar text that set up the Trade Remedies Authority in the context of the Trade Act, and is intended to be entirely helpful. Bear in mind that the Government are asking this committee to have a cross-cutting role, yet the department itself is meant to have a cross-cutting role in rural proofing all policies across all departments. Take, for example, the importance and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular on the National Health Service, local hospitals and the Department of Health and Social Care, and the importance of rural policy in the general work of all local authorities, and in relation to transport and housing policy; I am not entirely convinced that we have seen the rural-proofing I would hope for from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
My question to my noble friend is: why has this policy of animal welfare sentience been taken a step further, to be preferred over the role the department has on rural-proofing? Why is it farming it out to a separate committee on animal sentience? It would be helpful to see why that is.
As my noble friend Lord Hamilton said in summing up the previous group of amendments, it would be extremely helpful to see what funding will be allocated to this committee. In particular, when are we going to learn what resources the committee will have? How many staff will it have and how will they be appointed? Will it be for the chair of the committee to appoint all the staff or will that be delegated to a chief executive? In particular, in proposed new subsection (17) in Amendment 13, I have said:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make other provision about the Animal Sentience Committee including provision about … staffing … remuneration of members and staff … delegation of functions … funding … accounts and reporting.”
My understanding is that the autumn spending review —which I think will take place this year—is going to be extremely strict and will look at all departments, controlling and curbing their current expenditure. What reassurance can my noble friend give us today that, in seeking to set up a new body in the form before us this afternoon, it will actually have the resources that, in his view, it will need to do that work?
I am slightly disappointed—in fact, more than slightly disappointed; hugely disappointed—that my noble friend has simply stated that an estimate will be provided to us at an appropriate juncture. I would argue to my noble friend that that appropriate juncture is now. We are being asked to approve in Clause 1—which we shall come on to consider separately—that it will have the appropriate resources and the appropriate staff and will be able to carry out all the work appropriate to its function. I regret to say that I remain to be convinced but I hope that I will be proved wrong in the summing up that my noble friend will give on this group of amendments.
My Lords, this is a very important group of amendments, which seeks in some cases to dictate which organisations and people should be on the animal sentience committee and for how long they should serve. I have added my name to Amendments 5 and 14, both in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.
Amendment 5 seeks to benefit from a diversity of expertise on the ASC, including veterinary science, agricultural science and ethical review and provides more flexibility to the Secretary of State. It is likely that some members of the committee will have more than one area of expertise and a membership of between eight and 11 is not unwieldy. It is important that the committee is not bogged down with too many members. The more members there are, the longer the meetings are likely to last and the less likely it is to reach a satisfactory conclusion in a reasonable timeframe. The amendment also ensures the appointment of a chair for the ASC by the Secretary of State. This dedicated chair role will allow the committee to speak with an established and independent voice, boosting its effectiveness.
I am not totally convinced that limiting the length of service of members to just one term of three years is satisfactory as this would lead to a loss of expertise. The members are likely to need a short time to acclimatise themselves to the working of the committee, and then to have to stand down at the end of three years and not be reappointed is, I believe, unwise. Some members may wish to leave at the end of three years; others will feel that they still have something to offer to the committee and want to do a second term. That should be an option for the Secretary of State. The Bill should not seek to fetter his discretion in the reappointment of the membership of the ASC.
Consultation on the appointment of the chair will be key to maintaining the confidence of organisations involved in animal welfare, especially if they are not likely to be members of the committee. The Wildlife and Countryside Link has a membership of some 51 organisations and NGOs. All will have a view on the membership of the ASC. Consultation with them and other interested parties will be key to the success of the animal sentience committee.
I will comment briefly on one other amendment in this group. I am afraid that I do not agree with noble Lords who wish the animal sentience committee to be subsumed into the Animal Welfare Committee. The public must have confidence in the work of the ASC. It is therefore essential for it to be a stand-alone committee with its own reporting regime and not merely a sub-committee of the Animal Welfare Committee, which already has a fine reputation and a heavy workload. A degree of separation is needed, and the Bill provides that.
I turn to Amendment 14 in this group. In order for the ASC to be successful, it will need an adequately funded secretariat and budget. This should be sufficient for it to carry out its work and to be able to call witnesses, should it feel that is desirable. I am sure the Government intend to provide funding for the running of this committee but, as others have said, there is nothing in the Bill that gives an indication that this is the case. I think I heard the Minister say, in his answer to the previous group of amendments, that there would be funding for a secretariat. I look forward to that assurance and to the Minister accepting this amendment.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s Amendment 2 addresses the likely conflict between the proposed animal sentience committee and the existing Animal Welfare Committee by subsuming one into the other. My later Amendment 43 addresses any conflicts that undoubtedly will occur between the two committees if they remain—if my noble friend’s amendment is rejected.
The other amendments in this group seek to add flesh to the bones of the Government’s committee, about which there is no information in the Bill—as I think every other noble Lord speaking to this group has mentioned. Whether or not one agrees with the detail of these amendments—I have concerns about some of them—they all seek to fill the gaps in the Bill that my noble friend Lord Forsyth talked about. They have been tabled from all sides of the Committee, because the Bill as drafted is completely inadequate and is in effect a Henry VIII Bill—one with no content creating a creature, the animal sentience committee, with a skeleton remit and limitless ability to range across government.
I cannot support my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s Amendment 13 because it sets up a new quango—there are already far too many of those—or Amendment 62 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for the same reason. While I have some sympathy with the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, some of the detail does not stand up to scrutiny. She volunteers a pretty extensive list of expertise that members of the committee should have, including “animal welfare science”—but, of course, animal welfare is not a science. In practice, it is really a discipline. Why such a committee would benefit from expertise in “animal welfare advocacy” is unclear, but it seems to me an invitation to invite animal rights promoters on to the committee—something I strongly oppose, for reasons I shall explain when we reach my Amendment 12.
Much of what the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman, Lady McIntosh and Lady Jones, propose is more simply resolved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s Amendments 11 and 40. If Parliament has the power to set the
“composition … budget, and … terms of reference”
and the Secretary of State has the power to approve or veto the committee’s programme of work, the issues raised by the noble Baronesses will be adequately resolved. For that reason, I will support Amendments 11 and 40. I very much hope my noble friend the Minister accepts them.
My Lords, my name is to Amendment 40 and I support Amendments 2 and 11 in this group. I was a little alarmed to hear the Secretary of State say that he will allow the committee to choose what policies it examines. He also said that the money would come from the Defra budget, but surely the Secretary of State must retain some control over the work programme, or the runaway horse would certainly start to gather speed approaching something of a precipice. It is well known that the Defra coffers are scarcely overflowing and are unlikely to be topped up greatly in the immediate future. An unlimited work programme, or one that targeted matters perhaps not seen as generally important, would lead to money running out pretty quickly and fail to satisfy anyone, so I would like the Minister to reassure us that the Secretary of State will exercise proper control over both the committee’s work programme and the funds necessary to meet it.
On Amendment 2—others have asked this, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, just now—what is the future for the much-respected Animal Welfare Committee of Defra? Is its work to be duplicated, is it to be combined in some way, or is its future limited? At Second Reading, other noble Lords—and others today—disagreed that this was a suitable committee, with of course expansion of its remit, to fulfil the role of this new committee. However, we need to know what the Government intend should be the relationship between the two. I hope the Minister will tell us in answer to Amendment 2 that he has plans for this committee which would not mean any loss of it. There would be a serious loss to animal welfare if it were to go.
I will speak to Amendments 2 and 11, both in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, although I support one and oppose the other.
Amendment 2 would merge the Animal Welfare Committee and the animal sentience committee. I oppose this because the animal sentience committee is a raison d’être of the Bill. It was a major plank in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in 2019 and a major plank in their action plan for animal welfare, published just in May 2021, which said that an expert committee would be set up to hold the Government
“accountable for animal welfare in policy making”.
It is a scrutinising committee that holds the Government to account and in that respect it is very different from the advisory functions of the Animal Welfare Committee, which are much respected, and it itself has much to do. Therefore there are strong arguments for retaining the identity of these two committees.
Secondly, on the point brought out in Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, it will be advantageous that the relevant Minister can consult the Animal Welfare Committee for further advice or information should they be challenged by the animal sentience committee.
I support absolutely Amendment 11, again in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It succinctly lays out a bit more detail but gives discretion to the Secretary of State and, most importantly, requires a degree of parliamentary oversight of essential elements of the committee, particularly its composition. There is a threat that some of its members might not positively contribute, and it is very important that there would be parliamentary scrutiny of those essential elements, particularly composition, budget and resources, to see that they are adequate.
My Lords, I shall be brief. By and large, the Government have got this reasonably okay. I can understand the sentiments of some of my noble friends and those on the other side. However, I have to say that Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean has a great deal of merit. I was a bit sorry to hear him, in his typically self-deprecating way, describing himself as an extinct volcano. He is possibly a dormant volcano, and something we should always watch—you never know when the smoke may rise—but at the moment he is still there. I regard myself more as a drumlin, as distinct from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean —that is, a small, egg-shaped glacial deposit. That is my place in life. We need to know more about the set-up of the committee and so forth. As I said, Amendment 11, which puts this so that it is in front of both Houses of Parliament, is a good solution.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Forsyth may be slightly surprised, given my interest in animal welfare, to find out that I share his criticisms of the Bill’s format. Indeed, I thought there was a Cabinet committee charged with ensuring that Bills came forth fully formed; I am therefore surprised that this one got through the gate of that Cabinet committee. It verges on being a skeleton Bill—or, if not a skeleton, it is seriously underweight, which has caused a lot of the difficulties and misgivings on all sides of the Committee.
I am concerned, too, not just that the way the first clause is set out gives unlimited power to the present Secretary of State over the membership of the committee and the terms on which they will serve, but that if that stands in the Bill, it will stand for ever. We cannot tell how that might be interpreted by future Secretaries of State, which I find very uncomfortable.
This is one reason why I have supported the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. First, her proposed new subsection (2) tries to set out that the function of the committee should be set out in the Bill. Secondly, she has proposed a schedule to point out who the members of the committee might be, how long they might serve and the committee’s general powers. I am quite sure that other Members of this Committee will find fault with whatever I have put down, but it is at least a worthwhile attempt to sort out what the Government really intend the committee to do and how it is to be constituted. I am anxious to see that people of varied expertise are chosen. I have no truck with what I call animal extremists and no wish to see them on a committee of this type. I want to see a well-established committee of experts who can offer sensible advice to the Secretaries of State of the day—because this will cover more than Defra, or I imagine it should if it is to relate to animals in general.
I very much hope that we can have considerably more thinking on the Bill on the Government’s part. I would prefer to see regulations brought in giving the details of the committee and how it will work, which could at least then be considered by Parliament, even if it cannot amend them. I ask the Government to look more closely at what they are asking us to accept.
My Lords, I should like to comment on Amendments 11 and 14. I agree in principle with what has been stated about these two amendments, which are concerned with clarifying the operational capabilities of the animal sentience committee.
I love animals and care deeply about their well-being. I have pets and I was brought up in home where we had chickens, ducks, rabbits, dogs and cats. I formed a bond with these animals and know that they had emotions and felt pain. In my language we say, “An animal is not able to speak but it does have feelings”. Of course, this makes it even more important for us to care for them, which is the reason I support the Bill. However, certain improvements need to be made to address this fact. We must ensure that the animal sentience committee is able to undertake its work as adequately as possible to fulfil its range of responsibilities.
I am a businessman and have been the chairman and chief executive of a successful public company. In business, if a company wants to undertake a project, it must thoroughly work out the details. Thereafter, adequate resources must be provided, including funding, the provision of appropriate staff and the sourcing of suitable accommodation.
Similarly, we must set out quite clearly what we are trying to achieve, and we must set out our objectives throughout. If the intention is to establish and maintain an effective committee, the terms of reference among other things need to be set out in clear terms. Amendments 11 and 14 address these requirements by setting out provisions, making adequate resources available for staffing composition as well as defining the relationship and appropriate consultation between the Secretary of State and the committee. I support all that is set out in the amendments but would like them to be streamlined and consolidated in one properly worded clause.
My Lords, I support the amendments put forward by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, which expand on what we discussed on an earlier amendment. They set out the very minimum that one should expect the Secretary of State to be able to do, particularly Amendment 11. I was interested by what my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering said when she contrasted the rural proofing committee and the proposed committee. Can my noble friend explain to us what the difference will be and how the two committees will be looked at by Defra? A lot of us have pushed hard to give the rural proofing committee more opportunities to work proactively across government departments in much the same way as my noble friend would like this committee to do, but this committee needs an Act of Parliament whereas the rural proofing committee was set up without any reference to Parliament. I would be grateful if my noble friend could explain the difference.
On financing, will my noble friend also take time to tell us what programmes in Defra will be cut or not pursued in order to fund the animal sentience committee? Defra finances are under some strain, and it would be nice if we knew where the cuts were going to be. Perhaps the rural proofing committee will get less funds in order that this one can succeed.
On an associated amendment after Clause 6, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and supported by my noble friend Lady Fookes, neither of them mentioned paragraph 1(5) of their proposed new schedule, which states:
“The Secretary of State may not appoint a person as a member of the Committee if the person is … a member of the House of Lords.”
I can think of two or three people sitting not very far away from me who would be excellent members of the animal sentience committee. I wonder whether my noble friend agrees that to exclude people sitting in any of the Parliaments, here or in the devolved assemblies, is the right way to proceed.
Perhaps this is the right opportunity to pick up a point made at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, when he mentioned the report due from the LSE. That is crucial to this Bill and how we understand it. What progress has been made on that report? I took advice on putting forward a delaying Motion on this Committee that we do not consider the Bill further until we see that report because it is so relevant to this Bill. If my noble friend cannot help us further, I might consider doing that on Report, because we really need to see the report and its relevance to our discussion on the proposed committee.
I shall speak first to Amendments 5 and 14, which are in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. The noble Baroness laid out Amendment 5 quite clearly. It would ensure that the committee benefited from a diversity of expertise, including, for example, veterinary science, agricultural science and ethical review.
It is essential that such a wide range of informed viewpoints informs the work of the animal sentience committee, and this diversity needs to be guaranteed in the Bill. Under the current text, future Secretaries of State will have full discretion to appoint committee members. Our concern is that that could enable a very narrow committee which could be dominated by one industry or sector. I note that other noble Lords have tabled amendments that also consider the expertise of the committee’s membership, so there is clearly much interest in getting it right—noble Lords have talked about it this afternoon. The committee needs to be able to draw on a real diversity of knowledge so that it can give properly balanced consideration to animal sentience issues across the whole scope of government policy.
Our amendment also lays out further detail on the make-up of the committee and stipulates the appointment of a chair. It is very important to have a chair who is both independent and respected within government and further afield. If you have that, the committee will be listened to with real respect in all the different areas that it will look at. As the noble Baroness said, this will help make it much more effective in its work.
Amendment 14 is designed to ensure that the animal sentience committee is adequately resourced; several noble Lords have talked about resourcing. By that, we mean staffing, accommodation and any other necessary resources to fulfil the tasks the Bill places on it. A small secretariat and other facilities are essential to committee functioning, and should not place an undue burden on public funds. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that the Bill is very thin in this area, and I agree. Much of her Amendment 13 covers similar ground. We need to look at this very carefully.
I jotted down some examples of previous annual costs for a committee in Defra. There is quite of range of costs that committees can incur to government. The former Farm Animal Welfare Committee operated on a similar basis as is proposed for the animal sentience committee. It required less than £300,000 a year in funding. Clearly, this committee will have a much broader remit, but to put that in context, a 2016 Cabinet Office review found that 141 bodies advising government typically each had an annual budget of between £100,000 and £1 million. That is a hugely broad range. Considering that a number of noble Lords have expressed concern that resourcing needs to be properly done, I should be interested to know what work has been done on the resourcing that may be required and whether the Minister can yet clarify what he believes will be adequate for the committee to carry out its work effectively. It is vital that appropriate resourcing is made available. I also support the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in hoping that this is without cuts to any other department.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Fookes, have tabled Amendments 6 and 62, which would also secure a welcome diversity of expertise and an independent chair, as well as ensuring that the committee received early notice of any policy that could have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, is right to ask for more detail in this area.
As we have heard, Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, suggests merging the Bill’s animal sentience committee with the existing Animal Welfare Committee. We would support what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said about this. We do not believe it is a practical suggestion, as the Animal Welfare Committee and animal sentience committee will have very different roles.
The Animal Welfare Committee provides scientific advice when asked to by Defra and works only with that department, primarily on farm animal and welfare issues. It is fundamentally different from what is proposed for the animal sentience committee, which will proactively review government policy decisions across all departments. It will also have the power to choose which policies to review and a scope that covers companion animals, farm animals and wild animals. Merging these two, very different committees into one would be an error and reduce the effectiveness of both, so we cannot support this amendment. However, we need clarity on how the relationship between the committees will work.
I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for recognising some merit in my Amendment 5, but I clarify for noble Lords that animal welfare science is a reality. You can study for a degree in animal welfare science at a number of universities—for example, Glasgow and Winchester—and the Royal Veterinary College has an animal welfare science and ethics group which specifically researches in the fields of animal welfare, animal behaviour, veterinary ethics and law. I hope that clarifies that.
I thank noble Lords for their amendments and hope to provide some reassurance and clarity. I start with Amendment 2, in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, who, as my noble friend Lord Randall reminded us, referred to himself as an “extinct volcano”. Volcanologists will probably warn of an eruption if I do not achieve some degree of reassurance.
The first reassurance I will give my noble friend is that, when I arrived as a Minister in Defra in 2010, we had inherited 92 arm’s-length bodies, which we reduced to 33. It was a brutal process, but we got it about right. It shows a desire for simplicity, and direct accountability to Parliament is something I hold dear.
My noble friend Lord Forsyth has concerns about the animal sentience committee’s relationship with the Animal Welfare Committee, which have also been articulated by other noble Lords. I emphasise that the two committees have important roles and different remits. The Animal Welfare Committee provides substantive policy advice on request to Defra, as well as to the Scottish and Welsh Governments. By contrast, the animal sentience committee will review and scrutinise the Government’s policy-making and, in doing so, facilitate Parliament’s scrutiny of the Government. It would be rare for the two committees to address precisely the same questions in the normal course of their work, nor do we want to prevent them delivering their distinct roles.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the committee possibly becoming a runaway horse. In that unlikely event, it would be reined in. There will be performance reviews of the committee and, if it is ineffective, action will be taken to change its membership.
Amendment 11, also in the name of my noble friend, would have the structure and make-up of the animal sentience committee established by regulations or otherwise subject to parliamentary approval. My noble friend raises an important point, which is that the establishment of the committee should be a transparent and collaborative process. I have already committed to sharing draft terms of reference for the committee before this Bill returns to the House on Report. I would, however, be wary of defining the terms of reference and the membership of the committee too rigidly in statute.
This committee is an entirely new entity with a new and specific remit and, to some extent, its first steps will involve learning and refining how it wishes to operate and what expertise it requires. Normal practice with such committees, in line with Cabinet Office guidance, is that they are funded from within a departmental budget. We are clear that the committee should be made up of members who collectively have the appropriate expertise to enable the committee to perform its role. The code on public appointments provides a robust framework for appointments to the committee.
However important the Bill and the committee it establishes, the fact is that parliamentary time is limited and must be used to best effect. Discussing the substance of the reports, where noble Lords and honourable Members in the other place wish to do so, will be far more illuminating than debates on, say, the precise nature of the committee’s composition.
The animal sentience committee will be a committee of experts that publishes reports. It will not make policy decisions, nor will it be a delivery body. It therefore lacks the sorts of responsibilities described in the Public Bodies Handbook that might warrant use of parliamentary time to oversee the committee’s membership and internal processes. Although I would not wish to place the terms of reference in statute, I reiterate my commitment to share them in draft for your Lordships’ consideration, ahead of Report.
Looking around this Room, I see people who have great experience of legislating down the years from within the Government, the Executive, and the legislature and it is entirely right that people in my position are pushed as far as they can be to give details. But to those of us who have been in government, I say that we also want the flexibility to make sure that what we are creating here works. Sometimes, if we are too rigid in our legislation we make that more difficult to the point whereby it could become ineffective and a point of continuing debate. I want to give flexibility to the new committee and future Ministers to create something that is not only effective but can be held to account for what they do.
I turn to my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s last amendment in the group, Amendment 40, concerning the work programme and resourcing of the committee. It will be comprised of experts. It is they who will be best placed to decide what the committee’s priorities should be, although they can of course consult others. I can 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. It is right that the committee should have the freedom to set its own agenda. Committee members are the experts on sentience and will be able to offer informed views that Ministers can consider alongside other important social, environmental, cultural or economic issues.
Both my noble friend Lord Forsyth and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, in her Amendment 14, have rightly highlighted the need to furnish the committee with the appropriate resources to perform its function. I can confirm that we shall do so. There will be a dedicated secretariat.
I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and her Amendments 6 and 62, with which I will consider the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, Amendment 5, all concerning the membership and operation of the animal sentience committee. The committee has a specific, well-defined function set out in the Bill. It is there to provide assurance that the Government are having all due regard to the effects of policy decisions on animal welfare. The ultimate objective of the committee is to raise the bar on how animal welfare implications are considered as policy across government, and how that is made and implemented. This task demands that the committee’s members have a breadth of expertise and experience.
The committee will, of course, not exist in isolation. I hope it reassures a number of noble Lords that the committee will be able to consult other able external specialists as required. If, for example, the committee felt that it wanted to reach out to a government advisory body such as the Animal Health and Welfare Board, it would be free to do so. We want to ensure that there are high-quality applicants for vacancies on the committee, and we want to find the very best people for the role. We also want to future-proof the committee as far as possible. As our scientific understanding of sentience develops, so too could the appropriate balance of expertise. That is crucial. If we restrict the membership of the committee to just a few types of people, that may not be appropriate in the future.
I turn to some of the other suggestions made by the noble Baroness. I can assure her that the Secretary of State will appoint no MPs to the committee. I clearly take the point of my noble friend Lord Caithness that there are Members of this House who have or might have in future the kind of expertise we are looking for, but I want to keep politics out of it. We politicians are not always known for our strict impartiality. We will have to find other means to contribute to the animal welfare cause. However, as we all know, there are Members of this House who are not affiliated to any political party.
The noble Baroness’s amendment talks about powers for the committee to request information from the Government. The committee may request any information which would assist it in producing its reports. In the vast majority of cases, the committee can expect to receive what it asks for, but, on occasion, there may be perfectly legitimate grounds for government departments to withhold information—for example, as I said previously, national security and commercial confidentiality.
If government departments do not provide good reasons for withholding certain information, the committee, frankly, can use its report to name and shame. Ministers would need to address that criticism in their statements to Parliament, allowing MPs and Peers to form their own judgment. The committee has the absolute right to do this. There is no need to spell it out in the Bill.
I can confirm that the Bill, as drafted, most definitely allows the committee to make recommendations relating to positive effects that policy may have on animal welfare. An adverse effect can be taken to mean a missed opportunity to bring about a positive effect. I am of one mind with the noble Baroness that the committee should be free to consider positive effects and am happy to confirm that it will be encouraged to do so.
I can also confirm that it will receive all the administrative resource it needs to do its job. This will include a dedicated secretariat. Committees such as this are financed, as I said earlier, from the sponsoring department’s budget. I repeat that, while this committee is hugely important, it is not an operational or policy-making body, which, under the public bodies handbook, would require the use of parliamentary time to set a specific budget.
More generally, I understand that your Lordships are keen to have further detail on how the committee will function and its ways of working. We intend these details to be set out in the terms of reference for the committee, which will be shared in draft before the Bill returns to the House for Report.
Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for Amendment 13, concerning the organisation of the animal sentience committee. Rural-proofing is my responsibility in Defra. My noble friend Lord Caithness talked about a rural-proofing committee, which does not actually exist; there is a Rural Affairs Board, chaired by one of our non-executive directors, Lizzie Noel, and I am the Minister responsible for making sure that rural-proofing works. I intend to carry it out to the best of my ability right across government. It is really important to us and is very relevant to the ambitions of the Government in areas such as levelling-up, so I can assure my noble friend that this is important to me and I will keep the House informed. However, there is no committee vying for funds, if you like, against this one.
There are some valuable suggestions in my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s amendment. I agree with her that the chair of the committee should have some input into how it is configured and that the committee should have space to decide its working methods. However, this flexibility will be easier to provide without prescribing the structure of the committee in detail in statute, as this amendment would do. Appointments to the committee will be a matter for the Secretary of State, and it would be only natural to consult the sitting chair. We do not need provision in the Bill to tell us that. The Governance Code on Public Appointments provides a robust framework. The Secretary of State will determine remuneration and conditions for committee members in line with the governance code and current practice for similar bodies supported by Defra.
I also respectfully wonder whether it is necessary to include such detailed provision on the structure of the committee in legislation. We fully intend to ensure that it has the resources and expertise necessary to fulfil its functions, but we are not seeking to create a sprawling, multi-tiered organisation. Does the committee need a chair and a chief executive, executive members and non-executive members? I would rather it were free to adopt a streamlined structure which allows it to focus on its core responsibilities.
I hope I have given some reassurance to your Lordships and that my noble friend Lord Forsyth will feel able to withdraw his amendment and other noble Lords not to press theirs.
I have received three requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere and Lord Bellingham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I will call them in that order.
My Lords, this is the first time that I have intervened in the Committee stage of a Bill so I hope noble Lords will forgive the solecisms and infelicities that follow. I am afraid that listening to the response to the first two blocks of amendments has left me convinced that this is a badly drafted and badly conceived Bill, so much so that I think it will be taught eventually at politics A-level as an example of what happens when you have pointless virtue-signalling legislation.
Let us recall why we are here. A tranche of EU law was being moved over. This was not part of it, so it was not included in the read across on to our own statute book. A press release then went out saying, “Ah, this means that the Conservatives have voted against animal sentience. They have said that animals are not sentient.” On the basis of this absurd press release, the Minister in another place was panicked into saying, “Oh no, no, we will legislate.” It found its way into the manifesto and here we are with this—as my noble friend Lady Fookes says—rather skeletal, emaciated, haggard, malnourished Bill that can be expanded almost at random in any direction.
I have to say that almost all the amendments in the first two blocks have been about seeking to define, circumscribe and guard against these opportunities for mission creep and unintended consequences, whether it is to do with the composition of the committee, its powers, its relationship with the Animal Welfare Committee or specific protections for religious freedoms, medical research and all the rest. If my noble friend the Minister—who I really feel for: this is his baptism in this place—means it when he says that this is only an advisory committee and is not going to be policy-making and so on, what can be the harm of accepting or replicating in the form of government amendments some of the ideas that would simply ensure that this statutory body does not exceed its remit?
I finish by echoing the point from my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: we would like to see some recognition from my noble friend the Minister that we are not just expected to take all this on trust and that the legislation will be drafted in a way that does not allow for almost unlimited growth and producer capture.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for his sympathy, though I wish my noble friends would stop sympathising with me. If they are confused, this is my I-am-enjoying-myself face.
I have tried to give some reassurances. I may have satisfied some noble Lords but I clearly have not satisfied him and I will have to do more to do so. I have already said that we will publish more detail before the next stage of the Bill and I am sure that he and others will take great interest in that.
I respectfully disagree with him. I think this is important to people. I hope that when it is up and running—and has tackled a few pieces of complicated government policy and nudged the tiller of those involved in the legislative process perhaps to change things in a way that reflects the impact that policy would have on animals—he will see that this is not a paper tiger, a white elephant or whatever words I am putting into his mouth, but something of value.
Before I call the next person, I gently remind noble Lords that the practice in Committee and on Report when noble Lords speak after the Minister is, first, to be succinct and, secondly, to deliver their comments in the interrogative form. With that, I call the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham.
My Lords, I have a request for clarification from the Minister. I listened carefully to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Mansion House speech, when he made it very clear that the post-Brexit era must be dedicated to reducing bureaucracy and red tape. The Minister himself said that when he entered government, as I did, in 2010, the first thing he looked at was how he could rationalise the committees, quangos and arm’s-length bodies at Defra.
I am keen to see this committee get going quickly, but why can it not be subsumed into the Animal Welfare Committee? Why can the two not be combined? A budget has been set already. I need not remind him of the fact that my noble friend’s department will be under the most unprecedented spending pressure over the next few years. If we want this initiative to get going and get going smoothly—and, above all, quickly—to satisfy what he claims is public demand, surely the way to do it is through subsuming one into the other. I would be grateful if he could give further clarification on that.
I said, with what I thought was clear reasoning, which has been backed up by others, why these two committees are different. The Animal Welfare Committee advises Defra and is not a statutory body. The animal sentience committee will work across government to reflect whether sentience of animals has been considered in legislation. They have two very different functions, so we cannot subsume the two. I am with my noble friend on his desire, and that of the Chancellor, to make sure that we are living within our means. The Defra that I returned to three weeks or so ago is a very different organisation from the one that I was in during the coalition Government, when we transacted large amounts of policy that was created elsewhere. Now policy is created in this country, in this Parliament, by a Government who are elected, so it is a very different place, which I hope will be reflected in the spending review.
I would call the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but we have a problem with her—but a person put his name forward late, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
My Lords, I listened with care to what my noble friend said, and I apologise to him if I did not pick up the comment he made, but did he make any comment about the LSE report? It is so relevant to the work of this committee. Has he received it and are we going to see it? What is its relevance to the Bill?
The noble Earl refers to the LSE report on decapods and cephalopods, I assume.
I refer to the one that was commissioned from the LSE, to which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred at Second Reading.
I think we are coming to that in a later group of amendments. It has been completed but not peer reviewed and I have not seen it, but it will be available to noble Lords before the next stage of the Bill.
We will make one more attempt to call the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. No, it is not working. I call the mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Fookes, although slightly surprised that she was surprised that I would be surprised that she was agreeing with me. We agree on many things, and I share her concern for animal welfare. I was reflecting that the fact that the Bill excludes people means that the Minister will not be covered by it. I am beginning to feel that this Committee is a bit of a cruel and unusual practice for a new Minister. I am not absolutely convinced that he would be reading out his departmental briefs if he had known what was going to happen during the course of this afternoon. My advice to him is to take on board the pretty much unanimous desire in this Committee—there are people coming from every direction—to see a little more meat on the bones of this legislation.
I am grateful to find myself in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on the second amendment, about the composition of the committee. I was slightly surprised—I think he let the cat out of the bag—when my noble friend the Minister said that if the committee members did not perform, they would be replaced. I thought he was arguing that this would be an independent committee. Is it independent or not? It is certainly not independent if members are going to be replaced by Ministers. In his case, I would be very happy for him to replace people, but this piece of legislation will apply to all Ministers and all future Governments. He is here today but, while I hope he will not be gone tomorrow, Ministers come and go and policies change.
If my noble friend the Minister is so anxious that Ministers should retain complete flexibility about this, why are we having a Bill and a statutory committee at all? It is perfectly open for him to appoint any committee, give it any brief and appoint any people he wishes to on an advisory basis. We are setting up something in statute that will apply to all future Governments. That is why, on all sides of this debate, people are asking for the kind of rigour and clarity contained in my rather modest Amendment 11. My noble friend Lady McIntosh’s amendment expands that somewhat, but they are all on the same theme—that nature, and committees of this House, abhor a vacuum.
My noble friend also said that the committee would have a secretariat. How many people will that involve? Suppose that the committee decided to look at the impact on animal welfare of HS2, for example—this is across every area of government policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, suggested that the resources could be up to £1 million. I was told by the previous Chairman of Committees that just the Select Committees of this House cost £250,000 a year. A committee of this kind will consume enormous resources, so it needs to be constrained in some way, and there is nothing in the Bill.
I accept the points made about merging the two committees and the degree of independence, but the purpose of that amendment was to get my noble friend to explain how it would work if there was a conflict, which was the superior committee, and the difference between advice and the ability to achieve a debate on the Floor of both Houses. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trees. He is probably right about the amendment, but it was a probing amendment.
I think my noble friend needs to come back on Report with some substantial amendments from the Government. Otherwise, he will be in very considerable difficulty with this Bill.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 4. I advise the Committee that if Amendment 4 is agreed, I cannot call Amendments 7 or 9.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—
“(2) The regulations must set out—(a) details of how the Animal Sentience Committee is to be composed, and(b) its terms of reference.(3) Regulations under this section must be made by statutory instrument. (4) Regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, tempted as I am to make all the same arguments about why we need details of how the committee is to be composed and its terms of reference, and the regulations under this clause having to be made by statutory instrument, we have probably done these arguments to death. I hope my noble friend will take them on board.
I am conscious of the hour—it is 5.50 pm—and I thought it was pretty optimistic that the Government thought they could conclude this Committee today. I am always happy to help the Government and assist the Whips in their efforts, so I do not propose to add anything further to what I have said in support of the principles contained in Amendment 4. I beg to move.
My Lords, there are two amendments in this group with my name on them. The first is Amendment 8, which is also supported by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and which goes to the question of the composition of the committee. I have some sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Forsyth just said, but I would like to develop a slightly different point on the basis of this. One can say that there is almost universal agreement across the Committee that this topic should be addressed in the Bill. The question would be what it should say, if there were questions of difference. However, I do not think there is support on the Committee for the idea that the Government should simply have a clear run and be able to make it all up when it suited them.
The proposal here is that at least 50% of the members of the committee should have recent commercial experience of animal husbandry, livestock farming, the management of abattoirs and the management of game and fishing stocks. It may be thought that this is a sort of ignoble attempt to stack the committee in one direction rather than another, but it is not at all. I want to make a rather different point.
We will have an opportunity in the penultimate grouping, whenever we get to it, to discuss the science and indeed the metaphysics of sentience. However, I want to make this point now, anticipating that. One can approach sentience as a neurological phenomenon: that is, the central nervous system of the animal, the brain and the other features work together to create something which can be tracked by way of the movements of electrical signals, changing chemical compositions and things like that. All that can be tracked to some extent by science. However, it is also the case that sentience as we talk about it is a lived experience; it is the experience of pain and the undergoing of suffering. We as humans, ourselves undergoing pain and knowing that suffering, can sympathise with it when we see it in animals, vertebrates and mammals—different classes of animal.
For us to understand and for a committee to benefit from a real understanding of sentience, it is terribly important that people who have a direct experience of working with the animals that are in the scope of the Bill should be fully represented on the committee. Otherwise, we risk the possibility that it simply ends up as a sort of neurological exercise, and the direct and lived experience of sentience is ignored by the committee as it is packed with all these scientists. That was the point I wanted to make about that. It is not a question of stacking the committee but of trying to understand what sentience is and how we translate it into policy.
While the Minister wants to move away from this topic, and I understand that, he must realise by now that, given the almost total absence of any definition of what the committee is doing or any constraint on its activities, the question of who is sitting on it is about 90% of the meat of the Bill. Therefore, it is not possible for him to carry on brushing this away.
My second amendment, Amendment 9, concerns the term limit. Again, there seems to be almost universal acceptance that the Bill should impose some term limits on the membership of the committee, and there seems to be a sort of consensus that three years is a good idea for a term. If there is a matter of difference, it is simply on the question of whether it should be non-renewable, which is what my amendment says, or whether it should be perhaps renewable for one single further term, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said. I am sure that some consensus on that point can be achieved by the Committee, even if the Government themselves do not want to do so. That was simply the second point; it is a sensible amendment, and I hope that the Government respond to the widespread views on this topic in the Committee.
I am delighted to follow my noble friend. There is some coalition of thought behind his Amendment 8 and my Amendment 10. I have known my noble friend the Minister for a substantial number of years and we served together on the Front Bench in opposition. He is not normally this shy in coming forward and sharing details with us; he is normally only too keen to pay tribute to the excellent department in which he finds himself. I am delighted to see him back in his place.
The purpose of Amendment 10 is to tease a little out from my noble friend. I know he is reluctant to, but he could share a little soupçon of who he imagines will be on the committee. I hark back to what my noble friend Lord Marland said in connection with the first group of amendments, and the pressures and challenges facing farmers. I echo that and pay tribute to their devotion to livestock and animal rearing and their sense of animal husbandry. They feel they are facing an onslaught from the department and this Government, the likes of which we have never seen before under a Conservative Government. I hope my noble friend gives some reassurance to the Committee that he imagines the animal sentience committee will at least have a veterinary surgeon, an active farmer or person with knowledge of livestock production or land management, and a person with knowledge of slaughterhouses.
I pay tribute again to my noble friend Lord Moylan, who managed to extract the animal welfare policy paper, which seems almost to be shrouded in mystery. If the Government really wanted us to share the enthusiasm they no doubt feel for this Bill—which at the moment is fairly weak on my part—surely they would shout this from the rooftops or at least pay passing reference to it in the context of the Bill before us. With those few remarks, I hope the Minister will look favourably on the plea to see the three categories I have set out, in addition to those set out by my noble friend Lord Moylan, appear in some shape or form when the committee is set up.
My Lords, I was going to speak in favour of Amendment 10, particularly relating to the appointment of a person with knowledge of slaughterhouses. I feel there is no need for me to do so, in view of the assurances given by my noble friend the Minister that there will be no interference in the continuation of religious slaughter practices. I am grateful to my noble friend for giving these assurances.
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the next speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 8. Very briefly, the reason for this, as has been said by my noble friends Lord Moylan and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who has a similar amendment, is that we need some practical experience on the committee. Amendment 5, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, sets out some useful ideas for the more theoretical side of animal sentience, but it is equally important to have representatives of those who do these practical jobs in everyday life. Sentience cannot be defined by a single word or sentence; it is much more complicated than that. Therefore, one needs that practical experience besides the theory. I hope my noble friend will tell us a little more of his thoughts on that.
My Lords, I shall be brief and wish to ask for further reassurance from the Minister. I totally understand that he does not want to be too prescriptive in the Bill as to the composition of this committee, but I was troubled by a word he used earlier—“balance”. The composition of the committee is crucial to its success. The people he puts on it surely need to be independent, expert, properly qualified and not drawn from pressure groups on either side of the animal welfare debate.
They also have to be brave, because they are highly likely to be heavily lobbied at some points in their careers on the committee. The Minister will know that the animal rights movement in this country, limited though it is in number, is very well financed and expert at using bullying online, making people’s businesses suffer and mass lobbying. In extreme cases it is proficient at criminal damage and serious violence.
Already I see some jockeying for roles on this committee, and so often the most unsuitable are the most vocal and those who come forward with their hands up to volunteer. Independence and determination to be guided by the evidence and science—not by sentimental or uninformed opinion, even if it is mass opinion—are surely the prime essentials. Those people are not going to be that easy to find.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising.
I am sorry but I thought I had withdrawn from this group of amendments.
In that case I call the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer, as set out in the register. My remarks on the Bill are as a farmer, particularly as a livestock farmer. I support Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, but my remarks apply also to other amendments to Clause 1, covering the issue of the membership of the animal sentience committee.
It is the vagary of intention, purpose and operation of the Bill that causes worry among those who deal with animals in the course of either work or play—or any number of things in between. The farming sector in particular is concerned by this lack of detail. In this situation, the best assurance that can be provided is a balanced and knowledgeable committee that can properly and impartially adjudicate on the issues before it.
To illustrate my point, the following concerns have been highlighted but not thoroughly resolved: the lack of definition of animal sentience, respect of religious and local customs, distinction between wild and tame animals, control of predators, the agenda of the animal rights lobby, the position on the welfare of foreign animal imports—dead or alive—and consideration of public interest. I could go on. Others have spoken and will speak eloquently on all those points, but the list explains why the composition of the committee is so important. Reassurance is required.
Most importantly, it should be specified, as in Amendment 10, that there should be at least one of the following: the commercial livestock farmer, the vet and someone with knowledge of slaughterhouses. I add to that a representative from the food service and retail sector. In order to ensure a representative range of expertise and insight and to enable informed policy oversight, the committee must include those with practical animal husbandry experience in the agricultural sector. Farmers are involved in the day-to-day care of livestock and have a practical understanding of their animals. It is therefore vital that a proportionate number of members of the committee has this background and expertise in order to provide a practical insight into how livestock husbandry can support improvements.
In other amendments, there are lists of potential membership qualifications, such as scientific knowledge, expertise in animal behaviour and neurophysiology, or experience in fishing, game shooting, animal welfare, ethics, law and public administration. A committee with all these will agree on nothing, particularly if it is full of scientists and lawyers, who will even argue about what is black and what is white. Add to this a failure to define “sentience”, and we end up with the ingredients of indecision and worse. The Minister needs to add some clarity on all these issues and to tell us why there is the need for a learning period—how long will this be?
These decisions affect real people and real livelihoods; they are not academic. I therefore request that the Minister clarify the membership of the committee as a matter of urgency and to ensure that it is composed of people with practical knowledge and, most of all, common sense.
The amendments in this small group look particularly at the make-up of the committee’s membership, some of which align with our Amendments 5 and 14, which we have previously debated.
Amendment 4, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, provides that the composition of the committee and its terms of reference must be set out in regulations and approved by both Houses. It is clear that the committee’s composition and terms of reference are considered extremely important by noble Lords, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, we have covered this in the previous debate, so I shall move on.
Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, would provide that a committee member’s term may not be longer than three years and may not be renewed after the first term. As the noble Lord explained in the explanatory statement to his amendment, this is to ensure that the committee
“benefits from fresh knowledge and new perspectives”.
We have some sympathy with that proposal and agree with the noble Lord that the term should be no longer than three years, but we believe that there may be circumstances where it would be helpful to reappoint a member for a further term of office if that was considered appropriate.
Amendment 10, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, provides that the committee’s membership must include, among others, a veterinary surgeon, a farmer or person with knowledge of livestock production and land management, and a person with knowledge of slaughterhouses. On this amendment and the other amendments we have looked at about who should be on the committee, I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that we need practical experience—that is important—but although we have talked about Defra legislation, we need to remember that the committee will be looking right across government. It will also need people who have experience in how to manage that and what needs to be looked at. I am beginning to think that we are going to have the largest committee ever created if we have all these people on it. The Minister needs to take away the debate that we have had on both this group of amendments and the previous one and think about how we can practicably move forward to ensure that the committee has the membership it needs but is also flexible enough to cover all the work that it will need to do.
Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, would require 50% of the committee to have had recent commercial experience of farming or managing game or fish stocks. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said that it should not be interpreted as stacking the committee, but we need to make sure that we do not end up with a committee with a bias towards one group—the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said that it was important that we make sure that we do not have an imbalance one way or another. We need recommendations that come from a diversity of viewpoints and proper knowledge bases. It is absolutely right that we look at all these membership criteria, but we need to think about where we are going, what we want the committee to achieve and what its priorities will be. We need more clarity about its focus; otherwise, we will have membership of the committee from everything under the sun. On that basis, I will hand over to the Minister to take that headache away.
The noble Baroness very eloquently makes the point I was going to make. I have clearly had representations from a lot of parliamentarians and different interest groups, saying that they must be represented or that this or another interest should be represented on the group and I start wondering whether the Albert Hall will be big enough to contain this committee.
Of course, I would have to be a Minister of very little brain if I did not have a view on the sort of people I think should be on the committee. The problem is that if I start listing them to the Committee now, although it would have the virtue of giving some of the clarity that certain noble Lords seek, it could also constrain the creation of a committee that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others have said, should contain practical experience and common sense. I entirely agree with him on that.
I take the point made eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that the committee should not contain representatives of pressure groups, particular groups who are obsessed with one narrow field of animal welfare. If I, or the Bill, were to constrain the membership of the committee so that a particular interest had to be represented, if that individual was off sick or had not been reappointed following the end of their term, and the committee made a decision in that particular area of expertise, noble Lords can see that this would create opportunities for legal challenge. I am not going to satisfy the Committee because I cannot give clarity on the type of people that we want to see on the committee. I will try to give the reassurance that I know what noble Lords are thinking and I hope that we can achieve a committee that has balance, practical experience and common sense.
I will try to address in more detail some of the points that have been made and I apologise if I slightly repeat myself; I will try not to. My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean proposed Amendment 4, suggesting regulations that the animal sentience committee might adhere to. Although I would not wish to place the terms of reference in statute, I reiterate my commitment to share them in draft ahead of Report for your Lordships’ consideration.
This committee is an entirely new entity with a new and specific remit and to some extent, its first steps will, as I have said before, involve learning and refining. We are clear the committee should be made of members who collectively have the appropriate expertise to enable it to perform its role. I refer noble Lords to the Governance Code on Public Appointments, which provides the framework from which we will be operating. As I have said, it will be a committee of experts who publish reports. It will not make policy. It therefore lacks the sort of responsibility described in the Public Bodies Handbook that might warrant parliamentary time to oversee its membership and internal processes.
I will take together Amendments 8 and 9 in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan with Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I think we have covered membership. It is not the role of the committee to consider the interests of those who work with animals or to identify an appropriate balance between their interests and animal welfare. That is for Ministers to weigh up and decide. That is why I take this opportunity to dispel any notion that a sector could find itself at a disadvantage if it is not physically represented on the committee. That would be a misunderstanding of the committee’s role and how it will interact with Ministers. It takes a wealth of knowledge and experience to understand the implications of central government policy on particular aspects of animal welfare, more than any one person or any one group of people could ever possess. There is, of course, a practical limit to the size of the committee so, naturally, we expect that that it will seek the views of other specialists who exist outside the committee to assist in its understanding of specific issues.
We are in the process of gathering views on the best range of expertise the committee can have to support it in its specific remit. We will also want to consult its chair. I would most certainly welcome contributions from your Lordships, but again I caution against creating a precise list in the Bill.
I entirely share my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering’s view that livestock farmers know their animals exceptionally well and that their advice could be of great value to the committee, whether it counts them among its membership or not. I entirely endorse what she says. Animals that are properly looked after tend to be in better condition and make more profit for their owners, and there is sometimes a lack of understanding that farmers live and breathe this. As someone who has been around livestock all my life, I am absolutely determined that the interests of those who care for our livestock are understood by the members of this committee.
As is standard practice for organisations of this nature, appointments to the committee should be a matter for the Secretary of State, subject to the provisions of the Governance Code on Public Appointments. The Secretary of State is accountable for ensuring, for example, that the recruitment process is meritocratic and open. The Governance Code on Public Appointments is clear that the ultimate responsibility for appointments and thus the selection of those appointed rests with Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament for their decisions and actions.
These amendments would run the risk of limiting competition for appointments. The more specific the expertise we mandate the Secretary of State to seek, the harder it becomes to attract several high-quality candidates for each vacancy. The committee’s biggest asset will be a dynamic, enthusiastic membership. It would be most regrettable if recruitment to the committee were reduced to a tick-box exercise, where perhaps a more mediocre candidate was nodded through because they were the only applicant possessing certain expertise.
My noble friend Lord Moylan talked about a three-year term; there may be circumstances where it would be expedient, for example, to extend a committee member’s term by one year to ensure that a certain type of expertise remains represented on the committee. Various Ministers have responded to disruption caused by Covid to recruitment to expert committees by applying short-term extensions. Setting rigid terms on appointments may have an unintended consequence. If, for example, a member’s term ended in the middle of producing a report they were critical to, this could cause disruption to the committee’s work. Committing to a fixed appointment length limits our ability to act pragmatically like this; setting rigid terms may have unintended consequences. Additionally, we should allow some room for manoeuvre in exceptional circumstances.
I hope I have provided some reassurance to your Lordships. I get the message that noble Lords want more clarity and I will seek to provide that. I hope my noble friend Lord Forsyth will feel content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Robathan.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as a farmer, with a livestock farm in Leicestershire. I do not wish to detain the Committee long or to repeat all the arguments already made, nor do I wish to further irritate my noble friend the Minister, who is making a good fist of a fairly difficult job. I have two questions for him.
Ensuring the committee has people with real knowledge—to quote the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, “proper knowledge”—of animals, perhaps people who rely on those animals for their livelihood, is extraordinarily important. I am not talking about owning cats or dogs; I have several cats on the farm which helpfully keep down the rats—they do a rather good job—and I also own a dog, but that does not make me an expert on animal sentience. However, those who work with animals the whole time do have a lot of knowledge of animal sentience.
Slaughterhouses and abattoirs have been mentioned. Anyone who has been to an abattoir knows how awful they are; they are extremely unpleasant. But while we remain omnivores and eat meat, they will be necessary.
My noble friend said he will not construct a membership on areas of expertise, but I ask him a different question: will he ensure that nobody without knowledge is appointed to the committee? By that I mean somebody who thinks he has a lot of knowledge, such as Chris Packham, but does not actually have any knowledge of living off the work with animals. Secondly, does he consider that animal rights movement members have “appropriate expertise” or would be “dynamic” members of the committee?
My noble friend takes me down a rabbit hole. I do not think I can add to what I already said. The serious point is that we want people with real expertise and knowledge, and the committee must not be too big—so there is a challenge for me, if I am the Minister, or for the Secretary of State. We have to create something that delivers a real understanding of the wide range of issues it will look at, from fishing practices on the high seas through to—as he states—abattoirs and other areas.
I have received inspiration, which I will share with my noble friend. As I have said, appointments will be decided in accordance with the code on public appointments. Applicants would, in line with best practice, be required to declare any potential conflicts of interest to the recruitment panel. It would then be for the panel to determine whether an applicant would proceed. Members of the committee will declare any relevant interests, and the committee will make a list of these interests publicly available.
My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about the need for experience across the board. I was hugely impressed by the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. His emphasis was on agricultural issues, but the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a really important point: this committee can look at any aspect of government policy. On my reading of the Bill, government departments are meant to share with this committee any new policies they are thinking of applying that could have an impact on sentient animal welfare. That is a huge, enormous task. If you are to have a committee capable of looking at all these government departments and what they are up to, you will need people with expertise.
My noble friend suddenly found some inspiration. I do not think it was very good inspiration; he should send it back. I compare, to put it delicately, the Government’s record on public appointments and the security provided—I am thinking here of non-executive directors of government departments, for example—with the sort of strictures that the Treasury and the Bank of England quite rightly put on me as chairman of a bank in deciding on the composition of a board. We were required to show what levels of expertise were met, to recruit accordingly and to have an arm’s-length process, all of which is appropriate. If it is good enough for financial services and regulated businesses, why should it not be good enough for government, government bodies and, in this case, a statutory body?
When my noble friend says he has a good idea in his head of what the Committee is thinking—his head is much better than mine—but is not going to share it with us because it might cause difficulties, he is really saying: “I would really like this legislation on the statute book, so that I can do what I like and it will be too late for all of you to complain.” That is another way of putting it, perhaps rather brutally.
I am just thinking of Michael Gove, who at one stage during the Brexit campaign said he had had enough of experts. I was quite sympathetic to that, but in this case I think we want experts and people who are independent. We need to know who these people are and how on earth this committee, with its very broad remit, will carry out its functions.
Of course I will withdraw my amendment, but I am not persuaded by my noble friend. I hope whoever provided him with his inspiration has listened to this debate, in Committee, and will go back to the drawing back and consider how this committee will meet its enormous role.
Just on that little bit of last-minute inspiration that reached him, it was suggested that the committee would look for conflicts of interest. Actually, you want people on there who have conflicts of interest, because that means experience and expertise. If we exclude people who have conflicts of interest, we might not have somebody who, for example, knows about slaughterhouse, because they may have some interest. It is not clear to me how this committee will be composed or who, in their right mind, would take on its chairmanship of such a committee, with such a broad brief and ill-defined role. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendments 5 and 6 not moved.
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert “for a period of three years”
I will move Amendment 7 briefly. I have listened carefully to what my noble friend has said in response to other debates and I accept his request for flexibility, rather than having something set out prescriptively in statute. But I cannot think of another committee or Bill that has been set up without us having any indication, at all, of how long the periods of appointment will be and whether they will be renewable. Is he asking the committee to give the chairman complete carte blanche to make these appointments? I accept that he wishes to consult the chairman on them, and accept his confirmation that public appointments procedure will be followed. It would be surprising if he said anything different to that.
Clause 1(2) states that
“The members of the Committee are to be appointed by the Secretary of State”,
and no more than that. Can the Minister give an indication of the period of appointment and the reason why there is no consistency? Why is Clause 1 completely silent on whether it will be for three or five years, and whether it will be renewable?
Secondly, we should in mind that my noble friend Lord Caithness established earlier that there is no longer a rural affairs commission or committee. I do not think that was set up by statute, but was a creature appointed internally by the department. Perhaps my noble friend would be good enough to confirm that. But what is his estimate for the life of the animal sentience committee? Does he envisage that it will last for three or five years? If it is being set up by statute, will it then need to be disbanded by statute, if that is the wish of the Government? It might be a future Government down the line; it may not be this Government or the Minister in situ. What is his view of the life of the committee? Having been created by primary legislation, would we need another Bill to disband it in future?
The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, has withdrawn from this group, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising.
My Lords, I apologise for not declaring an interest, in that I have a farm. It is just that farming seems to be so much about shuffling paper now, rather than anything to do with animals, that I forgot—but I apologise. Since putting down my name to speak on this amendment and listening to noble Lords, I have revised my opinion of the time limit applying to members of the committee, and wonder if the Minister agrees that a sunset clause on the whole Bill would be even more appropriate.
I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for her amendments concerning term-lengths for members of the animal sentience committee. I can confirm that the Government are committed to adhere to the Governance Code for Public Appointments. The code contains a number of rules designed to ensure public confidence in the accountability and integrity of organisations such as the committee. These include mandating open recruitment, public declaration of members’ interests and the strong presumption that no individual should serve more than two terms, or serve in any one post for more than 10 years.
I take this opportunity to address a point made by my noble friend Lord Forsyth on an earlier group. I entirely agree that having a conflict of interest is not a precursor to not being allowed to be on the committee. We want people who are actively involved in the issues we are talking about. That may mean that they have a business or other related issue in their lives that could be seen as a conflict. As long as there is transparency, and those matters are declared, that is a good thing. The more of the right sort of conflict, the better. That may be misinterpreted, but I think noble Lords know what I mean.
We will boost accountability by ensuring that any recruitment to the committee is conducted openly and fairly by advertising campaigns and, as the governance code requires, the Secretary of State will make the appointment based on merit. A register of members’ interests be published alongside the committee’s minutes and reports. Ministers will be accountable to Parliament through the usual channels for how the committee is appointed and run. We decided not to put detailed rules in the Bill on the appointment of the committee’s members, as we believe the governance code already provides that robust framework. Setting these details out in legislation—as I have said before, and I apologise for repeating it—may unduly constrain an approach to recruitment that best fits with the work of the committee and the normal public appointment rules.
As I previously highlighted, setting rigid terms for appointments may have unintended consequences. If, for example, a member’s term ended in the middle of producing a report to which they were critical, it would cause disruption to the committee's work. Additionally, we should allow some room for manoeuvre in exceptional circumstances. The ongoing pandemic, for example, has disrupted recruitment across government. Being able to just nudge people on for a year has been much appreciated in the work they are doing. I hope our commitment to accountability and good governance is clear and that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister: from the noble Lord, Lord Marland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Marland.
I am very grateful to noble Lords for letting me speak again, as I want to press the Minister further. Having taken on board this very strong opinion from all parties that the committee should come under scrutiny and there should be a much more detailed plan as to its make-up and how it will operate, what is the timetable for the Minister and his department to explain this to us to allay our fears? We would all love to help him, of course; he might not want that, but we would all love to help him structure this properly. Has he thought of taking time out to discuss it with us as a group to make sure that it is done properly?
An overused phrase in corporate-speak and in government is that my door is always open, but in this case it is true. I am always open to suggestions. If we can be more explicit on Report, I hope that will satisfy my noble friend and others. In saying that, I hope that it is not an invitation to be too prescriptive, because I am determined that the committee will evolve over the years to reflect issues that arise and emerging scientific evidence. Therefore, too much constraint will not receive a favourable response from me—but constructive ideas as to the sort of people who could be on the committee are definitely what we want to hear.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu.
My Lords, I think there are crossed wires. I certainly do not want to extend matters; the email that I sent to the clerk was asking to withdraw from making three further points for which I had put down my name. I have no further questions for the Minister on this one.
I should remind the Committee of my declaration of interests in this area—sadly, none of which are remunerated, but I am very grateful to have the honorary positions as set out in the register. I also wanted to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his support on the earlier group, and for setting out so eloquently the reasons why it is necessary to have candidates of calibre and experience across the piece.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marland, for suggesting that perhaps we could bend the Minister’s ear in a more face-to-face and private way. I express disappointment that there is a clear lack of consistency in the detail in the Bill and, I regret to say, in the response from my noble friend the Minister. There is some merit in the idea put forward by my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising of a sunset clause in connection with this part of the Bill. But we will have other opportunities to explore that later in the proceedings and on Report. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 to 11 not moved.
12: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“(4) No person may be appointed a member of the Committee if they—(a) are affiliated to an organisation promoting animal rights;(b) are a member of an organisation promoting animal rights;(c) have been employed by an organisation promoting animal rights; or(d) are employed by an organisation promoting animal rights.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that any person who is a member of, is affiliated to, was employed by, or is employed by an organisation promoting animal rights cannot be appointed a member of the Animal Sentience Committee.
My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is to promote and advance animal welfare, which is something that we all want to do, and no one opposes. Animal welfare is based on science and evidence; it is well understood but, in casual conversation, it can be confused with animal rights, which are a very different thing and often in conflict. It is a political ideology not concerning the care and welfare of animals but rather their legal status. I am one of those who are absolutely clear that animals do not enjoy the same rights as human beings and should not be granted them. I share with others the view that you cannot have rights without responsibilities and that to impose on animals responsibilities that they cannot possibly fulfil is wrong and is in itself a form of cruelty.
The late Lord Jakobovits was strongly of the view that the enhanced status of animals in Nazi Germany allowed that regime to reduce and ultimately ignore the rights of human beings, and thus contributed to the Holocaust. It is something that my noble friend Lord Moylan touched on earlier in our debates. Those who support animal rights often deliberately seek to muddle up the rights of animals with their welfare, knowing that most people are in favour of promoting the welfare of animals. But animal rights is an extreme doctrine; those who believe in animal rights are opposed to all use of animals for food, science, medicine and sport and the ownership of pets.
Only last month, activists targeted a game farm to release some young pheasants into the wild. They presumably believed fundamentally and ideologically that pheasants should be free and that it is the pheasants’ right to roam—but what happened last month when a lock was deliberately broken to release 400 pheasant chicks was that all 400 chicks were killed by a fox. In their pen they were fed, watered and looked after. The animal rights activists thought they knew better, and their actions caused the suffering, stress and death of 400 pheasant chicks.
How could anyone who held such beliefs be in a position to report to Ministers on the welfare of animals in consequence of any government policy that condoned continued use of animals in the fields of farming, science or sport? Their beliefs would inevitably lead them to condemn all such policies, regardless of the welfare aspects. It is important to remember that animal rights is not a mainstream doctrine. It is by its very nature the territory of extremists. These are not people with whom one engages in rational debate. Violent discourse and physical violence are never far beneath the surface in the world of animal rights, as my family and I have been on the receiving end of that on more than one occasion.
The reason why so many amendments have been tabled to define the parameters of the proposed sentience committee is that many noble Lords are concerned about where the committee might venture in the future, way beyond the remit set out by this Government. Your Lordships need only to venture a short way on to social media and the platforms of the animal rights movements today to see that they are already rubbing their hands with glee at the prospects held out by this committee. These are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, people who excel at entryism, as we saw in the case of the RSPCA—a much-loved institution almost brought to its knees by extremists with an animal rights agenda, all of whom got themselves voted on to the ruling council as reasonable people. Those same people are aiming their sights at this new sentience committee.
We have spent a lot of time this afternoon talking about who might go on to this committee. My amendment talks about people who should not be allowed on it and allows my noble friend the Minister to explain how the Government are going to ensure that political extremists who do not share his higher purpose are not in the future able to wheedle their way on to the committee for their own purposes. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not think that I could improve on what my noble friend Lord Mancroft has said, but people in the animal rights movement are extremists and do not have respect for the animal kingdom. They have an agenda, but the respect for animals themselves is not included. It would be detrimental to allow people like that on to the committee, which would then devalue its work to which the Government attach importance.
The noble Lords, Lord Hamilton, Lord Moylan and Lord Sheikh, have all withdrawn from this debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. Has she withdrawn as well?
I am still going.
I am sorry, I was told you had withdrawn. I beg your pardon. Please go ahead.
Perhaps I should make clear that I emailed to withdraw from groups 7, 8 and 10. This is my last shot, noble Lords will be glad to hear.
The animal rights movement believes, as we have just been told, that animals have rights, it is wrong to kill animals and, in some cases, it is wrong to use them in any way for the benefit of humans—whether that is for food, research or, in extreme cases, sport or even pets. The animal welfare movement, to which I suspect everyone who has spoken in this debate belongs, believes in a duty, where we can, to improve the welfare of animals and not to cause unnecessary suffering to them.
Parliamentarians, not just in this House but in the other place when the Bill comes to them—they have other animal welfare Bills in front of them—should be aware that the animal rights movement seeks to gain respectability for its views under the cover of mainstream charities. Many noble Lords may be aware of a document released at the end of May by the RSPCA, of which I am a member, entitled Act Now for Animals. It contains 40 recommendations for changes to animal-related legislation and calls itself a “green paper”. It was introduced with a foreword from Mr Chris Packham and at the back are the logos of 50 organisations, among them well respected animal welfare charities such as the Horse Trust—of which I am president—the Dogs Trust, the Donkey Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare. However, also there are the logos of a number of animal rights organisations, among which are those that oppose legal trail hunting, horse racing, shooting and even catch-and-release fishing.
The document was presented to influence the debate on this and other animal welfare Bills which the Government have promised. It purports to have a list of recommendations endorsed by all—in fact, the words “speak with one voice” appear in it. Noble Lords should know that they were not. I am aware that not all the organisations were either told who else had contributed or even shown the recommendations beyond those to which they had themselves contributed. Most of the recommendations in that document are reasonable, but some are not. The Horse Trust, I am aware, does not campaign against foie gras, or World Horse Welfare against pheasant rearing or trail hunting. Its supporters would have differing views on those and other subjects in the list of 40 demands.
That document was misleading, and the mainstream charities and organisations should be aware of being used by those with a very different agenda, as should we in Parliament. The membership of this committee must be independent of pressure groups, from whichever side they come.
Amendment 12, which would ban anyone from the committee if they had involvement with animal rights groups, seems to come from the viewpoint that the Bill and the committee that it establishes will be hijacked by a radical animal rights agenda.
A commitment to animal welfare requires us to treat animals humanely, compassionately and properly. To treat animals properly, we must factor in the key facts about them, including the sentience that we know they possess. I am sure the Minister will be able to reassure noble Lords that the membership and remit of the committee will be based on expertise, including from those with animal welfare expertise and experience, but will also use scientific analysis and the right knowledge when required. We have discussed this point in great detail, and I am sure the Minister will be able to reassure us on it.
Amendment 43, also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, would require a Minister responding to a report by the animal sentience committee to include the views of other expert committees, such as the Animal Welfare Committee. We certainly agree that the committee should consider the views of other experts, be they committees or independent experts. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether he is looking at that as useful in the setting up of the committee. If that is the case, how will that relationship be developed? We have discussed the relationship between the Animal Welfare Committee and the animal sentience committee. How will the joined-up thinking come forward from other expert committees as well?
I am grateful to noble Lords and to my noble friend Lord Mancroft for his Amendments 12 and 43. There is much I could say that would repeat what I said on earlier groups about the make-up of the committee, but I am grateful to him and others for highlighting an important consideration for Ministers as and when the Bill reaches the statute book. As my noble friend said, it is not just about who we put on the committee but about who we do not. I am clear that we want people who will take a collegiate view and who are not there to represent some narrow sectoral or even extreme point of view. The committee will look at issues such as the eating of meat and how we get meat from field to fork. The process of rearing stock and taking it to slaughter is something that we want to make sure we get absolutely right. If somebody’s opinion about that is clouded by an extreme view that the whole process is wrong, it will not be an effectively functioning committee with that individual in place, so I totally hear what has been said.
I could repeat all I said before about not wanting to constrain things by putting details about what sort of people we want to do this in the Bill. We want this to be an expert committee of professionals who really good people will want to work with. If they feel that the committee is being hijacked by extremists or, indeed, one sectoral view, it will not be working by the terms in which, I hope, it will be put on the statute book by Parliament.
I have already spoken about the very important points made about how the committee will work with other organisations, not least the Animal Welfare Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made an important point. There will undoubtedly be scope for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship between the two organisations and the broad principles of this will be outlined in the animal sentience committee’s terms of reference.
Indeed, the animal sentience committee may wish to draw on the expertise of other bodies and experts where it sees fit. The Bill places no limits on this. It will then be for the committees to decide where and how it would be most productive to work together within that framework. This might not always result in outputs so reassuringly concrete as the report on reports envisaged by this amendment. The freedom to co-operate and to inform each other’s thinking, where useful, is there.
I could go into more detail. We may tease out aspects of the points raised by noble Lords in subsequent questions, but I hope my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hannan of Kingsclere.
My Lords, the debate on this amendment shows the fundamental problem of what is involved when an accountable Government pass some of their responsibilities to an appointed committee. The debate on this amendment, as on the previous one, has resembled nothing so much as one of those US courtroom dramas where people argue about who should serve on a jury because they assume that the opinions will be dictated by the position of the selected juror. If we are picking people or excluding them on the basis of their professional or political affiliations, we are effectively substituting what should be a democratic decision and passing it over to people. The only difference between them and parliamentarians is that they are not really accountable to anyone.
My noble friend the Minister said, in his answer to the amendment about Members of this House serving on the committee, that politicians are not known for their strict impartiality. That is perfectly true, of course, but the idea that anyone else is strictly impartial strikes me as rather questionable. We all have our assumptions and our prejudices—indeed, experts more than anyone, if by “expert” we mean anyone who has spent their entire career in one particular field. They are the last people to be relied on to take a view in the round.
It is fine to have advice on a narrow point, but I think the concern of this Committee is that we will stray into policy-making. That is why I want to reiterate the question asked by my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising about a sunset clause. I think that would reassure a lot of Members of this Committee. My noble friend the Minister did not answer it. Perhaps he thought it was offered in a frivolous spirit, but it was a policy of the coalition Government in which my noble friend served very ably as a Minister that there should be sunset clauses when new regulation is proposed. Would that not be a guarantee—a backstop, if you will—that if this committee strayed beyond giving narrow, technical advice into setting policy, there would be a way of doing something about it?
I apologise if I did not answer that point; I am conscious that I did not. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked: if a committee is created by statute, how do you uncreate it? The answer is by primary legislation. Once this is established in statute, the only way is to unmake it by legislation. I do not think a sunset clause would give much confidence to the people we would want to serve on the committee if they felt that it was in any way a temporary feature.
My noble friend made another, wider point about whether advisory and expert committees have any place in government. I yield to his undoubted abilities as a parliamentarian, but as a layman on most of what I deal with—despite coming from a background which has put me in touch with many areas in my ministerial responsibilities—I rely on experts to inform me about how I take forward the day-to-day warp and weft of government, including legislation. Experts have a distinct place in our legislative process and in how we form policy, and therefore I respectfully disagree with my noble friend.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for answering my Amendment 12. I am not sure that there really is an answer to it. We spent an earlier part of Committee talking about who should be on the committee and I just wanted to raise the dangers of those who should not be on it. I am ably supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who made the point much better than I could have, as she always does. I am grateful that my noble friend the Minister has taken that point on board.
I did not speak to my Amendment 43 because your Lordships may have been slightly amazed by its appearance in this group. It got there in the same way Pontius Pilate got into the Creed—by mistake. It really should have been in an earlier group, I think group 2, where we had those sorts of debates. This does not require an answer now, but there was within it one point about the two committees which I thought needed to be aired—maybe we should do that later in these debates. What happens if the two committees—the Animal Welfare Committee and the sentience committee—give the Government conflicting advice on the same policy? Whose advice do the Minister and the Government take? Will not the Government inevitably be challenged in the courts or elsewhere for taking the wrong piece of advice? The conflict between the two committees worries me, and it has not been touched on yet. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister may think about that overnight and come back with a wonderful answer the next time we have a chance to discuss this in Committee. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
In view of the debates we have had all afternoon, I am not entirely convinced that Clause 1 should form part of the Bill. I realise that we cannot put the question at this stage, but I hope the Minister will put my mind at rest on this before we leave Committee.
In the Explanatory Notes, which are meant to add a bit of flesh to what we consider to be a skeleton Bill, we are told:
“This clause requires a new committee … to be established and maintained.”
We have not focused too much on how it will be maintained. My noble friend the Minister rather glossed over the fact that resources must not just be allocated but kept under review and, obviously, updated. He did not respond to the point I and others had raised about the onslaught: all the spending of all departments will be kept under strict review—my noble friend Lord Caithness raised this as well.
We are then told, as we have rehearsed this afternoon, that the Secretary of State will “establish and maintain it” and will
“take reasonable steps to ensure that the Committee, once established, remains extant and has the resources necessary to conduct the business specified in this Bill.”
I am grateful to my noble friend for confirming that if the Bill is passed, it will take a further Bill for the animal sentience committee to reach its end of life.
We then consider the fact that
“the members of the Committee will be appointed by the Secretary of State. Standard public appointments rules apply to appointments made by the Secretary of State (e.g. a fair recruitment process is required).”
That begs the question of who will be the judge of whether the recruitment process is fair. I presume my noble friend will confirm that it will be for the appointing panel to set that out.
Finally, the Explanatory Notes specify that
“the terms of appointment, such as appointment length and remuneration, may be determined by the Secretary of State.”
I conclude from this that we are being asked, as a Committee and a Parliament, to take an awful lot on trust. We have not seen the terms of reference. We are not informed what the budget will be. We have been told that an estimate will be laid at an appropriate juncture, which I presume will be before we reach Report; my noble friend will be able to confirm that.
We have no definition of animal sentience. That takes on immense importance when we come on to consider Clause 2, which refers to whether the department has had
“regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”
I believe that too many issues have been left hanging in the air. We have had no real detail on the appointment of the chairman. We understand the chairman will be left to appoint the members of the committee.
At Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Hodgson raised the issue not just of the relationship to other committees such as we have discussed—the Animal Welfare Committee—but of what the animal sentience committee’s relationship to the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be. I do not recall having an answer to that. It would be helpful to know when the Trade and Agriculture Commission round 2 will be appointed. I do not know whether my noble friend can share that information with us.
My noble friend also did not answer the little question of the rural-proofing commission, as I think it was called. Was that an internal body of the department? I am extremely wedded to the rural-proofing policy; it is an extremely important role that my noble friend has undertaken and I wish him extreme success in fulfilling it. Why has animal sentience been given a higher priority in the hierarchy than rural-proofing? I argue that in many instances rural-proofing should have an equal, if not higher, regard.
We have raised a number of issues during the debate that have been left very unsatisfactorily hanging in the air. I would like to hear compelling reasons from my noble friend why Clause 1 should remain part of the Bill.
My Lords, I have a few slightly disconnected remarks that fit in well here. It is a delight and a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and to support her in this course of inquiry.
The first is that noble Lords might be under the impression, from references made earlier in the debate and at Second Reading, that we are under the cosh of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto. My recollection of that manifesto is compendious but, in case noble Lords did not believe that, I have looked it up in the course of the afternoon. All it says on this is:
“We will bring in new laws on animal sentience.”
That is a very fine pledge but nothing at all committing us to a committee, or indeed to laws that did not abolish animal sentience. As far as the manifesto is concerned, we are under no obligation to take forward any particular measure in the Bill; we just have to pass some legislation.
The second thing is—as I say, these are slightly disconnected points—that I have heard Ministers involved in this, although not my noble friend, say that this committee will roam across Whitehall, holding the Government to account. There is a real constitutional question here. I am very new in this House, but I was brought up to believe that it was Parliament’s job to hold Governments to account. Although I have every sympathy with my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, I have a slightly different take on this topic. It is not that I am worried that this committee will go off making decisions that the Government have delegated to it, but I am really dispirited that it is going to go off to hold the Government to account on the basis of something that we have effectively delegated to it as a Parliament.
The right role and location and the proper place for this committee, if it is to exist at all, is not as a statutory body holding government to account; this committee should be a creation of Parliament reporting to us and giving us expert advice on how we should do our job holding the Government to account. I very much hope that my noble friend will take that on board and pursue it, because it would certainly allow us to get rid of Clause 1 very easily and put in place something that was much more constitutionally reputable.
I come to a third slightly disconnected point, which will be my last, more or less. The Minister has correctly stated the position—and, no doubt, I can already hear him preparing to state it correctly again a number of times before we rise this evening—that this committee will not make or change any laws and that that is entirely for Ministers and Parliament and, therefore, we need have no fear because Ministers will always have the final decision—or at least Parliament will, or some combination of the two—and they can be trusted to hold everything in balance. But of course, although that is the correct constitutional position, I suspect that my noble friend the Minister is perfectly aware that that is not the point of this Bill at all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who is a seasoned campaigner and activist, does not support this Bill because she thinks that it will allow the committee to make laws that we will all live under. She is perfectly well aware that this Bill in itself does nothing for animal welfare. She wants it because she wants to see a group of like-minded people—I am not saying violent activists—installed at the heart of Whitehall, going round, summoning Ministers and holding them to account. What she wants is to shift what I think is called the Overton window so that we all have to discuss animal welfare the whole time and it becomes impermissible not to discuss it every time a Bill comes up.
My noble friend may not understand that that is what drives concerns—not that we are worried that the committee will itself go and make laws and impose decisions on us, since we are perfectly well aware that it will not have the power to do that, but that Ministers will find themselves constantly on the back foot on topics like this, constantly giving ground and accepting what is still a relatively narrow agenda. That is what we are worried about. Sadly, I do not believe that my noble friend, to whom I have listened with great attention in the course of this afternoon, has so far either today or at Second Reading made the case as to why this committee, which is there to advise him and other Ministers, needs to be on a statutory footing at all. Therefore, I am very comfortable in supporting my noble friend Lady McIntosh in suggesting that this clause be removed from the Bill.
I support what my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Moylan have said, especially on the role of the committee. Having listened to the Minister speak confidently about the committee just reporting and having no other role, he underestimates the inherent growth of any form of Whitehall committee: it never reduces its power; it constantly expands it and its role, and interferes in things in which it does not necessarily have a place. The efforts that have been made to concentrate on reducing the role of the committee and placing its remit statutorily, so that it cannot expand outside of what it was set up to do, are of fundamental importance. I urge the Minister to consider the many very good points that have been made.
I join my noble friend Lady McIntosh in opposing this clause standing part, because any Conservative—and, I think, any sensible parliamentarian and the Minister—should be concerned about setting up committees, per se. We have a proliferation of committees everywhere and, here we are, creating yet another one. If this committee were doing something uniquely special that was not being done by anybody else, it might have more to say for itself, but we already have the Animal Welfare Committee. Does my noble friend not consider it possible to amalgamate the activities of both committees, so that we do not end up with two doing similar things, but with one?
As my noble friend Lord Mancroft said, there could easily be conflict between the two committees anyway. Which advice would the Government take if the advice between the two varied? This is a recipe for chaos. To constantly set up committees is not the right way to run government. As my noble friend said, they develop a life of their own, get bigger and bigger, and more officious and difficult. This is not the way to deal with problems of cruelty to animals. We all want to see people punished for being cruel to animals, and I do not think an animal sentience committee is the way forward at all. I would like to see this clause voted down and the whole idea of an animal sentience committee dismissed. We already have a committee dealing with this and should not have two, because that is a recipe for chaos.
I would like to follow those last comments from the noble Lord. Earlier, we discussed the difference between the animal sentience committee, the Animal Welfare Committee and other committees. The sentience committee is not being set up as just an advisory committee, as the Animal Welfare Committee is. It is designed to have a different role and remit, and will need different expertise to the Animal Welfare Committee. It has its own important role to play in something that is strongly supported by the general public.
It is important for the Minister to hear that noble Lords are concerned by the lack of detail in Clause 1. People feel that the Bill needs improvement, and there have been many issues raised during the debate. From my perspective, more clarity and focus are needed, if it is to achieve what the Bill intends and answer many noble Lords’ concerns. We do not support voting to remove Clause 1 from the Bill, but there is work to do in the time between now and Report. I urge the Minister to work across parties to look at how we can improve the Bill and address many of the concerns that have been raised.
I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for the opportunity to explain the approach behind Clause 1. Before I do that, perhaps I should clarify once and for all that there is no rural-proofing committee. There never has been. There is something called the rural affairs board, which is chaired by a non-executive director of Defra and brings together senior officials, and I am the Minister responsible for rural affairs. Rural-proofing does not need a Bill; it does not need legislation. It just needs a will across government to do it.
My noble friend asked why this is being prioritised before rural-proofing. It is not. Rural-proofing is something we have yet to perfect. We have yet to get to where we want to be but, with all the vigour I can put behind my voice, I suggest that there is not a competition between rural-proofing and animal welfare. Both are important and both can be taken forward in different ways. This is a piece of legislation; rural-proofing does not need one. She asked about the trade and agriculture committee. I am afraid I do not know the details of that. It is not an area for which I have direct responsibility, but I am sure we can find out.
My noble friend Lord Hamilton asked why there are two committees. We have worked through this one quite thoroughly and I cannot say better than the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on that.
My noble friend Lord Moylan looks down the telescope one way and sees all these bodies roaming around Whitehall interfering with the nice tidy world of executive power. There is another direction in which to look. We get better legislation if we employ experts in a modest and proportionate way to look at things in an expert way. I suggest that that is perhaps the perspective from the end I am looking down. We may never have a meeting of minds on this, but I can keep trying.
Clause 1 requires the Government to create and maintain the animal sentience committee. As has been discussed, the committee will hold the Government to account on animal welfare, creating a proportionate accountability mechanism to support the Bill’s legal recognition of animal sentience. I understand that some noble Lords have questioned the need for the committee or have suggested that it may be constituted without legislation as part of the Animal Welfare Committee. I will try to address this.
Our approach creates a dedicated committee whose role is to support Parliament’s scrutiny of the policy decision-making process. While the committee is not there to impose decisions on Ministers, it will perform a valuable role in encouraging us to make sure that we have properly considered the effects of policy on the welfare of animals. Creating the committee and placing it on a statutory footing is the best way of ensuring that the Bill’s recognition of sentience is given meaningful but proportionate effect.
The committee must act within the legal parameters the Bill sets. At the same time, we consider the obligation on Ministers to respond to the committee’s reports fundamental to the transparency and meaningful scrutiny of government policy-making. Ministers do not have to accept the committee’s findings and recommendations, but they have an obligation under the Bill to respond to them promptly and openly. We feel that this approach strikes an appropriate balance. We would struggle to give the committee sufficient traction if it lacked a statutory basis. We want the animal sentience committee and the Animal Welfare Committee to have a constructive relationship, but it is not quite as simple as saying that we could hand over the ASC’s responsibilities to the AWC with no legal powers to back them up.
It is important to remember that the two committees have distinct roles. The Animal Welfare Committee exists to provide advice to Defra and the devolved Administrations, whereas we are establishing the animal sentience committee to scrutinise policy decision-making across the whole of government. Any relationship between the two would need to support these two distinct functions. I therefore ask my noble friend not to oppose the clause standing part.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I call the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
My Lords, I was just reflecting as I listened to the Minister. He said how important it was to have expert advice. I thought the whole raison d’être of this House was that it provided expert advice on legislation to government. Therefore, my question to the Minister is, having sat through nearly five hours of people questioning the efficacy of Clause 1 and giving him advice to come back with some further thoughts on the composition of the committee, and having heard all of that, will he undertake to bring government amendments back on Report to deal with the issues of composition which have been raised? I have to say to him: if he does not do that, there is no way—we are not able to vote that Clause 1 stand part—but there is no way that I would support it as it stands because it is an empty shell. Without repeating all the arguments that have been put by the Committee, it will lead the Government into great difficulties.
I listened very carefully to what he said. Does he really believe that it is necessary to have a statutory committee to achieve his declared purpose? I heard what he read out, but, putting it unkindly, what he was saying was: we are using legislation as a sort of poster board on which to say how much we care about animal sentience. It is perfectly within his powers as a Minister to set up a committee and give an undertaking that the committee’s reports will be debated within three months in Parliament. It would be great if Ministers did that for existing Select Committees of this House. I have one outstanding for nearly two years for the Economic Affairs Committee.
It feels as if this is just a bit of window dressing, a bit of virtue-signalling, which is actually going to create great problems for the Government. My question is: will the Minister now give us an undertaking that he will come back with amendments to Clause 1 which give it some substance, given the very strong views which have been expressed by everyone? Without exception everyone has said that this clause is inadequate because it does not define the composition of the committee.
The Minister said, quite rightly, that he needs flexibility, but when I was Secretary of State for Scotland, I had to make a huge number of appointments to committees. The legislation often provided, in more general terms, the composition of the committee. It might say that you must have somebody with technical expertise in this area or that, and that the balance of the committee should be X, Y and Z. The people giving him advice in his department are perfectly capable of coming up with a form of wording that would meet the requirements expressed today by the Committee and allow for flexibility.
As to the point about what would happen if someone left the committee after three years, again, in the commercial world, people are expected to do succession planning and look at the composition of the committees. One would expect Ministers to do the same. So, can we have an undertaking that the Minister will bring forward amendments on Report to save us the trouble of having to do so and having yet another extended period of debate? I do not think the clause as it stands will wash.
It would be the height of arrogance to say that I was just going to walk into this Committee Room, sit here and leave without taking note of what noble Lords have said. We will be studying Hansard very closely on what has been discussed today and we will reflect on trying to make this Bill more workable for all sides of the House.
I recognise that creating legislation is always a complicated process and nothing, not even a small Bill like this, is devoid of differing views and perspectives. My noble friend has expressed one forcefully today. I think he would much prefer to be spending this afternoon doing something else and not having to worry about this piece of legislation. Others absolutely, vehemently want this piece of legislation to get on the statute book, so, sailing my route between Scylla and Charybdis, I can certainly guarantee that I will reflect on what he and other noble Lords have said. I hope that we can bring something forward at the next stage which will satisfy—not everybody—but some.
The noble Lord’s point about succession is absolutely right: in the corporate world, you manage the succession of your boards, think ahead and make sure that gaps are filled. I have done that for 40 years, but it does not always work: you get gaps, and you have to have the flexibility in order to continue with the work of the committee effectively as and when they occur. However, I totally take his point, which he is right to make.
My Lords, I ask the Minister to completely disregard anything that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said about me. I do not mind him calling me a “seasoned campaigner and activist”, but his daring to state what I am thinking and what I believe is totally wrong and deeply offensive. I ask the Deputy Chairman if it is possible to strike those remarks from Hansard because they are offensive and totally inaccurate. The only person who is qualified to say what I am thinking is me and perhaps occasionally my noble friend Lady Bennett. Quite honestly, to have the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, come out with a stream of rubbish about what I am thinking is offensive, and I need an apology from him.
Does the Minister wish to respond?
The noble Baroness has made her point very clearly, and it is on the record.
Just to be clear, it is not within my powers to strike anything from Hansard. I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I am grateful to all who have spoken in this debate, particularly those who have expressed their support: my noble friends Lord Moylan and Lord Howard of Rising. My noble friend Lord Moylan is very brave to take on the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—I call her my noble friend—and I am sure that we can all get together and make up afterwards.
I listened very carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said about there being no appetite on her Benches to support the deletion of the existing Clause 1. My noble friend Lord Forsyth pre-empted what I was going to say. It is customary to invite my noble friend the Minister to come forward with government amendments at this stage—I say so because I fear that the overwhelming mood of the Committee this afternoon is that we stand prepared to do our work of scrutiny extremely carefully, and I do not think that we take kindly to the fact that this will be delegated to a body the complexion, remit and resources of which we are as yet unaware. I urge my noble friend to meet us and come forward with appropriate amendments before we reach the next stage—but I withdraw my opposition to Clause 1 at this stage.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 14 not moved.
Clause 2: Reports of the Committee
Amendments 15 and 16 not moved.
The Committee stands adjourned. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the room.
Committee adjourned at 7.28 pm.