Part of Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] - Report (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 6th December 2021.
My Lords, I remind the House of my various interests in the Countryside Alliance, including chairing the organisation. I apologise for being unable to take part in this Report stage earlier, but I was isolating and was only just released less than two hours ago. However, I was watching the proceedings very carefully, and it seemed to me that there was an emerging pattern—a serial rejection of all the amendments proposed by my noble friends and others, whether on issues of retrospectivity, on the composition of the committee, or on the matter of the risk that this committee is going to present of more judicial review. I could only admire my noble friend’s élan in batting away each of these suggestions, which came from former Ministers, from a former Leader of the House and from a former leader of the party—and from a brace at least of Queen’s Counsel, as well as suggestions and advice from a former Master of the Rolls. They were all swatted away elegantly by my noble friend.
I simply wish to say that my noble friends are sentient beings, too, and I believe that we are being treated cruelly. There is a case for reference to an independent committee to make advice as to whether all these suggestions should have been taken more seriously. Perhaps, if Ministers dismiss the advice of the animal sentience committee with the same alacrity, we will have little to fear from its future proceedings.
However, the truth is that there is less of a risk to specific aspects of farming or other activities that we can identify now than, I judge, of gluing up government with a constant process of analysis and rejection, followed by review, of proposals made by the committee. Indeed, there is to be not just one committee but two and, as we heard earlier, they will refer matters to each other, in a description that reminded me very much of a passage from “Yes Minister”. Ministers sometimes, when they occupy two briefs, as I once did, are encouraged to write letters to themselves in their dual positions. Now we have two animal committees that will be encouraged to refer matters to each other. This is an overcorrection because of a promise made earlier.
The suggestion of my noble friend Lord Moylan that, at the very least, we should ensure that the advice that the committee gives is grounded in the soundest possible science and is peer reviewed seems eminently sensible. I also join his modest suggestion that this might be the exception and the one proposal that the Minister might entertain.