Debates between Baroness Mallalieu and Baroness McIntosh of Pickering during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 6th Jul 2021
Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage
Thu 23rd Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Mallalieu and Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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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.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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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.

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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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.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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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.

Agriculture Bill

Debate between Baroness Mallalieu and Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. I am delighted to support Amendment 255 and I entirely endorse his comments. Subject to his decision, I would be willing to support a similar amendment on Report, if that is helpful at this stage.

I shall confine my remarks to the amendments in this group that relate to labelling and marketing, particularly Amendment 256 in my name. I am delighted to have the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I am very grateful to them for their support.

If this wording is familiar to the House and to my noble friend the Minister, indeed it should be. It is the form of words that was adopted by my noble friend Lady Fairhead during the Trade Bill, which I think was technically the rollover Trade Bill, that we debated a year ago but which then did not pass because of the general election. I was delighted that after some toing and froing and lots of debate in Committee, on Report my noble friend Lady Fairhead literally adopted this wording, so I therefore take it to be government policy. Obviously I have adapted it, taking advice, to make sure that it fits the remit of the Bill before us today.

I take great heart from the fact that my noble friend said again, in winding up a previous debate, that the Government will keep and raise our own environmental standards. What concerns me here is that we seem to be disadvantaging our own farmers and producers in two ways. One is that while we are keeping the same high standards that we currently have and possibly raising them even higher, we seem to be contemplating importing produce of lower standards in marketing, environmental health, animal welfare and hygiene. That to me is just not a Conservative thing to do; I cannot believe we are even contemplating it. That is why the thrust of my Amendment 256 is that the regulations within this clause cannot be used to make provisions that will have the effect of lowering animal health, hygiene or welfare standards for agricultural products below those established in the EU or the UK.

This is something that we are already familiar with, having been members of the European Union since 1973. I remember that in my days briefly in practice as a European lawyer we relied very heavily on the original Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome, which basically set out a limited number of exceptions to the free movement of goods, specifying that if it was deemed necessary on the grounds of the protection of the health and life of humans, animals or plants then under Article 36 an exemption could be applied for to prevent those products from coming into another European country from a neighbouring country or another member state. I see that that is now increasingly coming into trade deals that are negotiated multilaterally or bilaterally under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, so I am hoping that my noble friend will say that when it comes to the end of the transition period, this is where we will be.

I caution against something that Minister Prentis said in the other place: that the Government are considering consulting on mandatory labelling at the end of the transition period. Labelling seems very attractive. It is something that we looked at after the horsemeat scandal, because I am afraid that supermarkets were caught a little on the hop; they had not conducted a full test of the probity of the supply chain, and that is why we had the case of fraud and the passing off as beef, lamb and other products what was effectively horsemeat.

The difficulty is that labelling does not encourage people to eat home-produced meat, which is something we have discussed in the context of other clauses in the Bill. Another example I would give in this regard is what happened when we unilaterally banned the use of sow stalls and tethers. Technically, the Red Tractor label is meant to advise people that the pork, lamb and beef that we produce in this country—particularly, in this instance, the pork—is produced to those high standards. But that is not the basis on which people buy their food; they buy on price. It can have as pretty a red label as you like, but people will often still buy the cheapest cut of meat.

The other issue with labelling is this. How am I, as a consumer eating out in a restaurant or other catering establishment, to know that what I am eating is from this country and meets the high standards that the Government have asked our own producers to meet? This could create a two-tier system and mean that only those who can afford the higher prices of our home-produced food would be able to buy it.

As for what we are being told, I shall repeat again what the Minister, Victoria Prentis, said in Committee on the Agriculture Bill in the other place. She said that

“we are retaining existing UK legislation, and at the end of the transition period, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert on to the UK statute book all EU food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. That will ensure that our high standards, including import requirements, continue to apply.”—[Official Report, Commons, Agriculture Bill Committee, 5/3/20; col. 372.]

As was helpfully pointed out to us by a letter from the Food Standards Agency, the difficulty with that—I will take as long as it takes here, because this is the crux of the Bill—is that those standards are enshrined in statutory instruments, so primary legislation is not needed to amend them; only a subsequent statutory instrument would be needed.

I hope that we can learn from previous mistakes and will seek to maintain the high standards that we have and ensure that we refuse to accept any standards lower than those that our own producers meet.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu [V]
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My Lords, I share some of the concerns that the noble Baroness has just raised, but I take a different view about the need for mandatory labelling of animal products. I shall speak just to Amendment 258, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord De Mauley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who will speak shortly.

On 29 June, Peers received an open letter from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, which said:

“The Government has committed to a rapid review and consultation on the role of labelling to promote high standards and animal welfare, and remains committed to delivering informative food and drink labelling and marketing standards to protect consumer interests, ensuring that consumers can have confidence in the food and drink they buy.”

I welcome that, and I thank the noble Lord, but I would like the Minister to tell us, first, what the word “rapid” means to Defra. Will he give us the proposed timetable for the initial consultation and the review, and then for publishing the proposals that follow, and for making the necessary regulations? My amendment suggests six months from the passing of this Act—which I hope will mean March 2021—for the earlier steps, and 12 months for the regulations to come into force, in about September 2021. I hope that he will agree with that.

The regulations on labelling are urgent because, as a result of the new trade deals we are, we hope, about to receive—they are being negotiated—we shall shortly see new products coming on to our markets from overseas. People will, as the letter says, need to have

“confidence in the food and drink they buy.”

That means they need to be confident that those meet the high standards that we were promised, but which the Government would not, apparently, put into the Bill.

The Government say that they are concerned about tackling obesity, encouraging healthy food choices, making more use of local produce, reducing food miles, limiting carbon outputs and improving animal welfare—and I am sure they are. But if consumers are not given the information on the packet, how are they to know where it comes from, how it was produced or whether it complies with any of those objectives?

I am also afraid that if you do not give sufficient information then, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has just suggested, consumers will simply select on price—some will do that anyway—and highest animal welfare standards considerations will simply not feature. The result will be that producers who meet high standards, which are usually more expensive, will simply go to the wall.

Consumers surely need to know the country of origin, particularly in these times. Amendment 254 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, makes that point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with great force in our debates on Tuesday. That does not mean simply where the chicken was processed, but where it was reared. They need to know the method of production. We already do it for eggs; we have free-range, barn-reared, organic and so on, but we do not do it routinely for milk, meat or egg products. We should. The consumer needs to know whether his meat comes from a feedlot, was intensively reared or was pasture-fed. Some people will not care—they will just go for the cheapest—but more and more people do care and are looking. They could be told simply in words or, with enough publicity as to what they mean, through symbols.

The method of slaughter matters too, and to some members of the public it matters a great deal. I accept that this Bill is not the place to argue for the abolition of non-stun slaughter, which I very much want to see. However, it is the place to argue that consumer choice matters. Whether you require meat slaughtered in accordance with the requirements of your religion or meat which has been pre-stunned before slaughter because you have animal welfare concerns, you want to know, one way or the other, from the label of the joint you pick up at the supermarket. You want “confidence”, to use the Minister’s word, that you have picked the one you want and are getting the type of meat you selected. Will the Minister share his timetable and plans for doing what Amendment 258 suggests?