The Earl of Caithness:
Moved by The Earl of Caithness
47: Clause 6, page 3, line 5, at end insert—“(3A) The Secretary of State must set up an independent committee of experts to report on the possible consequences of this Act.(3B) The Secretary of State must publish a response to the report by the independent committee.(3C) A Minister of the Crown must make arrangements to move a motion for debate on the report of the independent committee and the Government’s response to it in each House of Parliament.(3D) Regulations under subsection (2) may not be made until the motion in subsection (3C) has been debated in each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 47. This is the last amendment to be debated and I call it the lifebelt amendment. Since 4 pm—with a couple of breaks in between, but nearly seven hours ago—the Government have heard of all the things that are possibly wrong with this Bill. There are problems with the terms of reference; problems with the setting up of the committee; and the abdication of power by the Government to the committee. My noble friend on the Front Bench has heard expert opinions from both the legal and the veterinary side about the difficulties that this Bill could pose. The zoologists are equally concerned that the terminology in the Bill is so wishy-washy that it will be very hard for some decisions to be made accurately.
I drafted this lifebelt amendment, which proposes to give the Government time for considered thought about the Bill. Yes, my noble friend has got his Bill; he has fulfilled his instructions from on high and defeated every amendment. But having got his Bill, would this not be a sensible time to set up a committee to look at the unintended consequences, of which so many have been raised, before the Bill is enacted? This would give the Government a chance to have a look again if they were persuaded, on the evidence of the committee, that the Bill ought to be redrafted in a different way. I totally applaud the sentiment behind the Bill. We want it, but we also want one that is right, so I offer my noble friend a lifebelt at the last moment. I beg to move.
My Lords, this seems quite novel as an amendment—to try, once a Bill has gone through Parliament and become an Act, to judge it afterwards. It is a novelty that I find perhaps rather difficult. I share the noble Earl’s thoughts about some of the issues around the Bill, but this is probably overly bureaucratic and, if we believe in Parliament, probably not the best way to move forward on this occasion—despite the great respect I have for him.
My Lords, I agree; I too hold the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in the greatest respect and the highest regard. Of course, he is absolutely right to say that any Government should consider seriously unintended consequences when considering any new legislation but, along with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I agree that this proposal is overly bureaucratic. Do we really need another committee? We seem to have an awful lot of them already. Expert advice will be readily available to the ASC, as we have heard, as well as to the Secretary of State.
I am very pleased that we have reached the end of Report and I congratulate the Minister on his resilience.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, and I congratulate her on hers, too—and I thank her for her help in making this Bill better, although we have more to do. I join in the praise of my noble friend Lord Caithness. In my short time in this House he has proved himself to be a redoubtable holder of the Executive to account, if that is not a tautology.
He calls this the “lifebelt amendment” but I call it the “committee on the committee amendment”. I thank him, but it would require the establishment of a committee to assess the impacts of the Bill after it had received Royal Assent but before its provisions came into force. We believe that it is for Parliament to satisfy itself about the impacts of the proposed legislation before it approves it, and not to pass legislation on the proviso that it goes through further approval before coming into force.
The Bill has been subject to exacting scrutiny in this House. It has been scrutinised by the EFRA Select Committee, and there has been no absence of scrutiny of the Bill and its implications. My officials and I remain ready to answer any questions that noble Lords may have about the Bill. Parliament remains free to seek the views of outside experts on any aspect of the Bill. I have been clear throughout its passage what the implications of the Bill are; it does not change existing law or impose new restrictions on individuals, businesses or any organisation outside the UK Government. It will establish the committee, on the purpose, structure and membership of which I have spoken today at length. I give absolute assurance that Ministers will continue to have full discretion and responsibility as to the appropriate balance between animal welfare and other matters of public interest.
I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister not only for his reply but for the backbone that he has shown throughout the proceedings today. He has done a marvellous job at resisting, and I hope that the English batsmen learn from him before they take on Australia in the Ashes. But the bowling was all from one end today; Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were mostly absent, although the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, made a superb job of playing vice-Minister today. I hope that she gets her normal verve back and becomes a proper opposition Minister for the next Bill.
I really am grateful to the Minister. I believe that he listened, but I do not believe that his brief gave him any room for manoeuvre. He has done an excellent job in fulfilling his brief and saying “resist” to every amendment and getting the Bill through. I have great pleasure in withdrawing my amendment.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendment 48 not moved.