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.