Clause 1: Animal Sentience Committee
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“(1A) The function of the Committee is to determine whether, in relation to the process of the formulation and implementation of policy subsequent to the Committee’s establishment, it is satisfied the Government is having all due regard to the ways in which the policy might have an adverse effect on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.”Member’s explanatory statement
This 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.
Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and a former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, so it will come as no surprise to noble Lords that I broadly support the Bill. Moreover, in 2018 I tabled an amendment to the withdrawal Bill to bring Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty into UK statute. That was rejected by the Government at the time, but I suspect that if Her Majesty’s Government look in the mirror of history, they may feel that they should have accepted that amendment then; it would have addressed the issue of sentience at that time and given us a foundation to build on and make changes if so wished.

Article 13 had considerable scope for unintended consequences, and this Bill, which is Article 13 with bells on, has considerably more—hence the number of amendments, particularly from the Government Benches. The Bill goes considerably further than Article 13: for example, it sets up an animal sentience committee; it covers all government policy; it has no exceptions for cultural, historical or religious practices; it includes certain invertebrates; and it specifically allows for the retrospective consideration of government policy formulation. The considerable widening of the scope of Article 13, yet at the same time the lack of detail in many places, has led to the large number of amendments that we see today.

Amendment 1 in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to whom I am grateful for their support, makes two key points. Clause 1(1) of the Bill establishes an animal sentience committee. Our amendment seeks to define, at the start of the Bill, two key aspects of that committee’s remit. The first aspect, which seeks to make explicit what I understand is Her Majesty’s Government’s intention, would introduce the word “process” with regard to the committee’s function in scrutinising the formulation and implementation of policy. It would make it very clear that the ASC did not have a function with regard to commenting on policy per se but, rather, on the degree to which the Government had taken animal welfare into account in developing that policy.

I suggest that that is a critical aspect of the Bill. For example, one of the briefings that we received says that the Bill entrusts responsibility to the animal sentience committee for considering the impact of its policies on animals as sentient beings. But it does not; it requires the ASC to consider whether the Government have considered the impact on animal welfare of the policies that they are developing. I submit that this is not mere semantics but a substantive difference, which introducing the word “process” in respect of the function of the committee makes clear. I note that other recent amendments—for example, Amendment 2 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Marland, and Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, have also included the word “process” with regard to the function of the committee and its scrutiny of the formulation and implementation of policy.

The other key point in Amendment 1, which is a feature of other amendments in this group—I think that is largely why it has been put there—is to exclude retrospective examination of policy formulation and implementation. It is exceptional that any legislation allows retrospective evaluation of actions, and I find it difficult to understand the justification of that. The ASC will exist alongside the current Animal Welfare Committee, which is advisory, and, if some historic legislation appears no longer fit for purpose or inadequate in any way, the AWC is perfectly placed to point this out and to make suggestions for either new legislation or the revision of existing legislation. That is totally within its remit. However, I would be interested to hear from the Minister of the justification for these retrospective powers, which—to judge from the number of amendments on this issue—a number of noble Lords find problematic. I beg to move.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendments 12, 14 and 16 in this group are in my name. However, I will first support Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, which seems to be both sensible and necessary to be made to the Bill if we are to have a committee in this form at all. I also support the amendments in this group in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising.

I have one query about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, which I will come to in relation to my Amendment 16. The first two, Amendments 12 and 14, underline the requirement in those amendments for the committee to deal with only future policy and when it is being formulated. Surely the value of this committee if it is to have any real effect is to perform a role not already covered by other committees, to draw attention to failures of consideration if it finds them when policy is being formulated or has just been formulated and before implementation, so that the defects can if necessary and possible be remedied before the policy is enacted.

In the Bill at present there is no limit as to how far back the committee can go. The draft terms of reference, which the Minister kindly sent us, express a hope—no more—that it will concentrate on more recent policies, but there is nothing to stop the committee going back as far as it chooses. Ministers come and go—so do civil servants. An examination of whether a past Secretary of State gave all due regard to the effect of a policy on animal welfare, possibly long enacted, will be difficult if not impossible in many cases. The additional cost of this committee, according to the terms of reference, is to be no more than half a million pounds from Defra’s budget. However, there is no calculation of how much time will be needed to be spent by other departments trying to answer the inevitable investigation into how decisions were made. It must take time from the work of those departments in each case, and of course be at public expense too. This committee surely cannot be intended to be a quasi post-legislative scrutiny committee, yet the Bill is without any limit as to its remit.

My Amendment 16 removes implementation from the committee’s remit. After Committee I looked forward to seeing the draft terms of reference because, as it stands, the purpose, remit, scope and any limits on the powers of the committee are not clear in the Bill. I hoped they would be remedied, at the very least, in guidance. Sadly, they are not. Instead, in a number of respects, the Bill and the terms of the reference are in direct conflict.

Amendment 16 removes policy that has been implemented from the committee’s remit. In this, it differs from the way in which Amendment 1 from the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is drafted. In giving all due regard to the ways in which a policy might adversely affect animal welfare, a Minister will have to balance those considerations against the effect of the policy on many other considerations. These may be transport needs, housing needs or public health needs, perhaps. In other words, is the rail link necessary despite the bats that are on the route?
Those other considerations cannot sensibly be part of this committee’s remit. It would be unlikely to have the material unless it is to rerun the Minister’s policy-making role in all its aspects, and it would almost inevitably lack the expertise to do so. The terms of reference support my view that implementation should not concern this committee, unlike Clause 2(1). The terms of reference say that the committee is not expected to consider individual operational decisions nor to consider matters of fiscal policy. Individual operational decisions are then defined as decisions for which no bespoke ministerial direction is sought or required. For example, a policy that sets up a licensing scheme would constitute policy which the committee could consider, but the granting of an individual licence under the scheme and the effects of doing so would not fall within that remit.
In Clause 2(2), the question that the committee has to answer in its report speaks of having regard to the ways in which the policy
“might have an adverse effect”
on animal welfare—not, I note, “has had” an adverse effect. Policy which has been put into effect—in other words, implemented—needs to be outside the remit. As it stands, there is confusion both within Clause 2 and between the Bill and the terms of reference.
I am sorry to say it, but the Bill is a dog’s breakfast and that has not been improved by these terms of reference. I am sorry that the Opposition, on whose Benches I sit, have not seen fit to raise the objections to what are, one would have thought, fundamental defects in legislation. If the Bill is not clarified and amended to indicate its limits and its purpose, then a great deal of public money and public time is going to be wasted on it. I still marvel at how a Government who were elected in part on a promise to reduce bureaucracy, especially that emanating from Europe, have taken the wholly uncontroversial issue of animal sentience, which no one would have argued with, and are trying to turn it into a textbook bureaucratic nightmare.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, in Committee a lot of us argued very strongly for several amendments, and one of course was to strengthen the terms of reference and ensure that the committee was free and independent from government interference. I was very happy to spend today arguing over various amendments and we have here a whole hotchpotch of them, some of which are fine. However, we also have a naked attempt to filibuster and scupper the Bill by the right wing of the Tory party. I say: “Shame on you”. This Bill is far from perfect, but it is better than it was. Noble Lords must know that the public care very much about this issue and want to see something on the books.

It was also, of course, a manifesto commitment by the Government. I should have thought that noble Lords opposite would have supported it and been loyal Conservative Party members. I shall not speak again in this debate, because I think that it is a complete waste of my time. I shall simply vote against all the spoiling amendments that noble Lords opposite have put forward.

Viscount Ridley Portrait Viscount Ridley (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and see her so loyally supporting my Government—and in the Lobbies as well, no doubt.

I shall add a point to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and, in reference to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, emphasise the question of the terms of reference and what they do to complicate the work of the committee. By the way, the chairman of this committee is supposed to spend 20 days a year on this, yet he has to look at all past policies, all future policies and all present policies in all aspects of government. That will be quite hard work for him.

The terms of reference note that the committee may seek outside input, including from “stakeholders amongst others”. If the committee is looking at process—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, made—rather than policy, why consult stakeholders? Similarly, the terms of reference suggest that the committee

“may wish to prioritise policies … which are more significant in terms of Parliamentary, Departmental, Stakeholder or public interest”.

Is this about ensuring that all due regard is had to animal welfare in the process of reaching policy decisions or about the issues and decisions themselves? Will the committee focus on animal welfare issues that are of high profile as a result of campaigning by interest groups, which does not seem to have been the original intention?

The terms of reference refer to it being

“beneficial for UK Government Departments to seek advice from the Committee to assist them in understanding the effects of particular policies on the welfare of animals”.

It seems from wording like this that the committee will look not simply at process but at the policy itself that is under consideration. I hope that my noble friend will address this point, as it seems to be an issue of mission creep that we need to understand.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I have two amendments in this group but, before I turn to them, I congratulate my noble friend on his announcement last week with regard to soil. It was a significant step forward by Her Majesty’s Government, and one that is wholly welcomed by those concerned about our farming in this country and our ability to grow crops. I thank my noble friend very much for what he did last week and for his letter on it.

I turn to the Bill in front of us, to which I have tabled two amendments. Amendment 15 basically copies that of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who has just spoken, but it also has a second part to it, which is trying to be helpful to my noble friend to get him out of this particular problem. The problem is the retrospective nature of the legislation. In the terms of reference and accompanying letter, we are told that Defra expects the committee to produce between six and eight reports a year. I asked what the likely policy issues of Defra were that the committee would look at—to which the answer inevitably came back that it was up to the committee and not to Defra. However, I cannot believe that the committee will be kept busy looking at future policy of Defra; it is supposed to look across government, but the rest of the departments have to take absolutely no notice of the committee, because the Government merely “hope” that the rest of departments will pay attention to the committee. That is a positive step.

My Amendment 18 would allow the Bill to go through as it is worded but with the condition that, if there is going to be a retrospective report on policy that has already been implemented, the committee merely needs the written consent of the Secretary of State. That, surely, is a sensible way forward. It encourages the committee to look forward and not back and stops it from going on wild fishing trips into past, established policy to try to meet its target of six to eight reports a year. So the amendment is formulated in the hope that it will allow my noble friend to make a tweak to the Bill that will achieve the same result but with a little bit more sense to it.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, following Committee, in which I took part, this Bill has not really changed at all. As one who cares deeply about animal welfare and cruelty to animals, I would like to make a general comment before I turn to the specific amendments. The Secretary of State said recently, at a meeting that I attended, that he did not want to create a “hostage to fortune” in the future, but that is exactly what this Bill does. It is enabling legislation with no real detail; it has got such broad scope that it allows almost any interpretation. Frankly, it is the most terrible piece of legislation. It is a shocking piece of legislation and the Government should be embarrassed by it. I say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that this is yet another very un-Conservative measure for the right wing of the Conservative party, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, pointed out. It will be passed with the cheers of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. As taxes get raised to their highest for 70 years, do Ministers think people will continue to vote for a party that is not recognisably Conservative, or will voters desert us as they did indeed in Chesham?

Turning to the group of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, made an extremely good speech, pointing out so many things, and I cannot better it. But I will turn to other amendments later. I say to the Minister—and we have known each for some time and are friends, I hope—that this is a terrible piece of legislation and he needs to go back to the Ministry and tell them that.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I echo my noble friend Lord Robathan’s remarks. I think this a perfectly terrible Bill, and I would like to speak to Amendment 1. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, made the point that this Bill was Article 13 of the EU with bells on. He knows a lot more about this sort of legislation than I do. I hope that the Minister, when he comes to speak to this amendment, will explain why this Bill has to have bells on. Why could it not be just Article 13 of the withdrawal agreement? Why did we have to add things on to it? Many of us are disturbed at the propensity of our government machine—Whitehall departments—to always add things on to Bills and make them even more elaborate than they were originally intended to be.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, also made the point that his amendment was about process. Process, as I see it, and certainly in the days when I was in government, was all to do with legislation. When a department produced legislation, if that legislation affected other departments, it was circulated through those departments for their comments on it before it was ever submitted to Parliament. I do not quite understand what this new committee is going to do in looking at legislation before it is actually submitted to Parliament, compared with what happened before. Presumably, if the question of animal welfare came up, it went to the Department of Agriculture and it went to the Animal Welfare Committee who looked at it and said whether it was within its remit and whether it approved of it. So what is this committee doing that the Animal Welfare Committee did not do before? Perhaps my noble friend could elucidate that when he comes to speak.

Generally, what we are doing is expanding the whole mass of quangos and we have to think about the Climate Change Committee. It always advertises itself as a committee that advises the Government but seems to have a complete mind of its own when it comes to climate change. It seems to be obsessed with CO2 emissions. It never seems to champion or recognise what has actually been done in this country to reduce CO2 emissions, and it does not seem to take any account of the collateral damage. I hope this committee is not going to be another one like that.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, I profoundly disagree with the two previous speakers, and I have no wish to be associated with the views that they expressed.

To look at one particular detail, my understanding of the committee is that it will produce reports which will then come to Parliament, where we can all see them. That publicity seems to me an excellent way of dealing with things. Of course, the committee would not be instigating legislation; it would be an advisory body. It will be up to the government departments concerned whether they choose to accept its advice, but at least we will know what this committee is thinking.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, although I do not entirely agree with her uncritical support of the Bill. I want particularly to support Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, to which I have lent my name, but also generally to support the other amendments in this group. The characteristic they have in common is that they deal with the retrospective powers of the committee—its powers to look back at existing policy and past practice—which clearly cause a degree of concern. My comments are intended to be largely helpful to the Government.

I have heard it said that the Government cannot support this amendment or the general thrust of these amendments because farming practice and husbandry practice go back decades—indeed, hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Therefore, they would say that it is impossible to look at the current situation or a change in the current situation without looking back at what it is changing or at the past. I would have a great deal of sympathy, as I think many people in the House would, with the Government if they advanced that argument. My suggestion, which I hope the Government will be able to take account of, is that an amendment could be crafted, perhaps by the Government, in response to this debate which ensured that the new animal sentience committee could look at existing and past policy only where the Government were coming forward with a specific proposal to change it—that unless there was a proposal to change it, the committee would not be able to look at current and existing policy.

I realise that is not quite the same as the amendment I have put my name to in support of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, but I do not think any of us here are trying to pin the Government down to a particular outcome—indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said that she was generally supportive of this. We are coming together around a sort of principle, which is that the ability of this committee to roam into existing policy at will should be limited, and it should be limited in ways that keep it focused on the present and the future, rather than going into the past. If my noble friend could find a way of agreeing something along those lines, I think the force of many of the amendments in this group would fall away.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend. I thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb for boosting my right-wing credentials. I think one thing the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and I have in common is that we find ourselves a little out of kilter with our respective parties in relation to the Bill before us this evening.

I have amendments in the third group, so I would just like to put two general queries to my noble friend the Minister. I would hazard a guess that, had we had this Bill in front of us when we were both serving as shadow Ministers in the Defra team some years ago, we would have been minded not to accept what is in the Bill before us today.

I would like to associate myself with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in moving his Amendment 1. I am proud to be an associate fellow of the British Veterinary Association, and I commend him for his work in flying the flag for vets—I think he is the sole flyer of that flag in this House. He adequately addressed not just the process but the retrospectivity aspect of this amendment. Could my noble friend the Minister give us a reassurance this evening that it is not intended that the work of the committee will have any retrospective effect—that is, going back over old laws in its work—should the Bill be carried in its present form?

I would also like to associate myself with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and ask for what particular reason—for some reason the manifesto did not reach me this time, possibly because we are not allowed to be candidates—

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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You have never read it anyway.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I did—my noble friend teases me, but I did. I did not always agree with every single item in every single manifesto, but my understanding was that we made a manifesto pledge to roll into national law what was effectively, as has been rehearsed here this evening, set out in Article 13 of the EU treaty—which I do not think I have read either. My understanding is that that was our commitment. So I would like my noble friend the Minister, in summing up this debate, to set out for what reason it was not acceptable simple to rehearse in UK law what we had already committed to in EU law, because I believe that that would have been acceptable.

Lord Moylan Portrait Lord Moylan (Con)
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I add for the benefit of my noble friend that the Conservative Party manifesto for the last election contained—I have looked it up—simply a pledge that

“We will bring in new laws on animal sentience.”

Nothing more was said in any detail.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Moylan for that remark.

I am going to go on and query the path the Government have gone down and why aspects of the committee may be subject to judicial review in connection with this Bill, whereas every other Bill that has been put forward by this Government has not been deemed to be subject to such a judicial review. If the Minister will reassure me that there will be no retrospective effect and that we will revert, if possible, to the very limited effect of Article 13, I think it would have the unanimous support of the House today.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, these amendments broadly consider the remit of the committee regarding policy. Clause 1 sets up the committee. The stated purpose of the Bill is to make sure that animal sentience is taken into account when developing policy across government, but policy is not always set in aspic and I find it concerning that the majority of the amendments that have been put down in this group would prohibit the ASC considering policy formulated and implemented before the committee’s formation.

At the start of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about unintended consequences, but we should also look at the unintended consequences of this group of amendments if they are accepted. We believe that the prohibitions that are being put forward would prevent the committee considering how the ongoing implementation of recent and historic legislation affects the welfare of animals as sentient beings. The impacts can be significant. To take an example, the primary legislation used to prosecute hare coursing is the Hunting Act 2004 and the Game Act 1831. We believe that the ASC should be free to consider how the implementation of those laws affect the welfare of hares as sentient beings. While the ASC will be likely to focus its work on emerging policy, we believe it needs the freedom to consider existing legislation where it feels it is appropriate to do so.

Amendment 18, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, would require scientific evidence to be published. It is very important that scientific evidence is taken into account right across the committee. It is clear from the terms of reference that that will be an important part of its work. But again I have concerns: requiring things to always be published before being presented to Parliament could place an unintended scientific barrier in front of the committee. I worked in publishing for many years, and I know that sometimes it can take a long time. I would not want to see the committee’s work hugely delayed as an unintended consequence of this amendment.

I will keep my comments brief throughout Report. We discussed at length in Committee many of the amendments before us again today. I do not want to waste time going back over issues that we have already spent a lot of time on, but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to people’s concerns.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and my noble friends Lord Howard and Lord Caithness, for their amendments on the subject of the animal sentience committee’s remit with respect to existing policies. My remarks will address all the amendments.

This is the first piece of legislation I have steered through the House. I am conscious that I am in the presence of experienced legislators and people very much more experienced, perhaps, that I was in the other place where, when a piece of legislation was described as “terrible” or “poorly drafted” it was usually code for the fact that the speaker did not agree with it. Here, I am sure that that is not the case and that noble Lords are much more discerning, and I will seek to answer their points, be more conciliatory in my remarks and address their concerns.

I thank noble Lords for their discussion on this issue, and for the opportunity to put on record a clear statement on the remit of the committee. The Bill is already drafted so as to ensure that animal sentience is actively considered in current policy-making and implementation and, in line with its statutory function as set out in the Bill, the committee will be expected to prioritise current or recent policy decisions. Prioritising policies that the Government are currently pursuing fulfils the committee’s statutory function under Clause 3. This clause requires the Secretary of State to respond to the committee’s reports and is the only legal consequence the committee reports have. As I have repeatedly stated, the purpose of the Bill is to provide a proportionate, targeted and timely accountability mechanism. There are limits to how far you can hold a current Government to account for the decisions they did not make, and this would certainly not be timely. I hope this addresses points made by my noble friends Lord Moylan, Lady McIntosh and others.

However, the value of the committee is in looking at policy issues that are live in some way, and the committee would not be acting in the public interest if it did not do that. There would be no benefit for animal welfare, for the public, for Parliament or for the Government in discussing policies that have long been customary, revised or resolved. To put it more simply, the committee would not be doing its job properly if it sought to rake over old coals and to reignite past policy issues that are now closed. If this happened, it is something that would need to be raised with the committee chair as part of the performance management and governance processes that will be in place.

Seeking to impose a rigid form of words in legislation on these matters risks excluding the committee from areas where its scrutiny would be valuable. Attempts to distinguish current policy from established policy in statute would leave the committee wide open to challenge if interpretations of the wording differed. We are also of the view that, for the committee to provide targeted and effective parliamentary accountability, the committee’s report should not be subject to approval or preselection by Ministers. I would caution against the approach proposed my noble friend Lord Caithness, which would require Ministers to agree to the preparation of any report.

The noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about process. Clause 2(2) envisages that the committee can examine what adverse effects a policy might have on the welfare of animals and whether the Government are aware of all those possible adverse effects and fully understand them so they can properly take them into account in their decision. This is clearly about the process followed in decision-making.

My noble friend Lord Ridley talked about the committee’s ability to consult stakeholders. He is right that the committee may choose to engage with a range of external bodies and individuals, as it sees fit. This stakeholder engagement is important as it will allow the committee to prioritise policies that are more significant in terms of the nature and scale of their effect on animals or the extent of parliamentary, departmental, stakeholder or public interest.

A number of general comments were made about the Bill. It honours a manifesto commitment and provides a legal recognition that animals are sentient beings. The legislation will provide assurance about how animal welfare will be taken into account in central government policy decisions.
My noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom raised the issue of where the committee sits. We are creating an animal welfare centre of expertise in Defra, which covers all government expert advisory groups that support policy decisions affecting animal welfare. Within this centre, the animal sentience committee will consider how individual central government policies take account of animal welfare. It aims 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. The new arrangements are proportionate, timely and targeted.
With those comments, I hope that I have been able to reassure noble Lords and that they will feel able and content not to press their amendments.
Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Before my noble friend sits down, could he answer the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, that this is Article 13 with bells on? Why is so much added into this legislation, which goes way beyond Article 13?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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It does not go way beyond Article 13, but it does create a committee that did not exist. There were other measures in the European Union which sought to give substance to the wording in Article 13—we will come on to talk about some of them, perhaps in the next group of amendments—by referring to cultural and other issues that were of concern to member states. We have tried to transpose the legal wording recognising animal sentience into UK law and have sought to make the Government’s decision-making better by giving them an expert committee to advise them.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Is not the noble Lord, Lord Trees, one of the most eminent and respected veterinary surgeons in our country? Could we not take his advice?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right. I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, a lot in my few months in this role. I respect his views and his counsel and, wherever possible, I take it.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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Perhaps I may press my noble friend, because I did not follow what he said about retrospectivity—or perhaps he did not say anything. Will he confirm that there is no retrospective effect? I listened very carefully to what he said about animal sentience; I hesitate to say it, but I think he is confusing animal sentience and animal welfare. I think the mood of the House is to keep Article 13 on animal sentience and let the other committee that is already set up to look after animal welfare do the perfectly good job it is already doing.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. I will not detain the House by repeating the paragraphs I have put on record in relation to the prioritising policies that the committee will look at. That will be for the current Government and the policies they are currently pursuing, and it will fulfil the committee’s statutory function under Clause 3. I went on to say—I hope this was clear—that the committee would not be doing its job properly if it sought to rake over old coals and reignite past policy issues that are now closed. My noble friend and noble Lords will know that words said by Ministers at the Dispatch Box hold sway when people try to interpret legislation. I hope I have been as clear as I possibly can be about the remit of this committee and the kinds of priorities it will look at. I hope that has reassured my noble friend.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who has contributed to this short debate, and I thank the Minister for his answers. I note the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, which I and many others, I think, share, about the time, expense and bureaucracy that may be entailed in the legislation having retrospective force. I would still, however, say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, that I do not see why the animal sentience committee cannot look at current legislation and policy and comment on it. It is a statutory committee. I have huge respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and her passion for animal welfare, which I share, but I think that she said it was an advisory committee. The committee is statutory. It is a very powerful committee and is there to hold the Government to account, which is why more detail about its remit could usefully appear in the Bill. I respect the explanation by the noble Lord that the terms of reference are very clear about this, that and the other, but as I recall the committee itself can alter its terms of reference, because they are not made explicit in the Bill.

This issue of process is cardinal, and I hope it does not come back to bite us all. Having said that, I am not one to make futile gestures; I appreciate that the Opposition are not supporting amendments and that there is a strong government Whip. I support the essence of this Bill in toto, but one wishes to make constructive suggestions that might improve it. I very much appreciate the kind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. With that, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.