Part of Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] - Report (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 6th December 2021.
I bring your Lordships back to the amendments, which are on peer review and publication, but I say one thing to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, who entertained us wonderfully with his stories of crocodiles. Why does he think that the Government—his Government—would use “ropey advice”, as he put it, to make decisions? I find that a quite extraordinary claim, particularly given the recent report on cephalopods and decapod crustaceans, which is the basis of a debate we shall be coming to shortly, which was done by the London School of Economics. I certainly would not classify the LSE as “ropey”. So why does he think that there is evidence of “ropey” scientific evidence being used by the Government in this Bill?
There is a certain amount in this that is very similar to Amendment 18, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on publication. As I said on his amendment, it concerns me that, once we start asking for everything to be published, particularly in an academic journal following peer review, we are adding a lot of time and delay to the committee’s work. Policy scrutiny reports differ in purpose, content and form from academic journal articles. The scientific evidence requirement for publication could limit the committee’s work to areas where a body of research already exists. Such research will not be in place for every policy that would impact the welfare of animals as sentient beings. In fact, I see part of the committee’s value as its ability to examine questions that have not been considered before.
The Council on Animal Affairs—a precedent body in the Netherlands, similar to the ASC being set up here —has produced some useful reports for its Government, considering new questions around policy and digitalisation in farming and biotechnology in the zoo sector. Both are areas where prior research material was very limited. The ASC should have a similar freedom to apply its core welfare question to policies where its considerations could add value, including areas not previously covered in detail by the scientific community. Again, it is important to stress that the role of the ASC is not to make detailed policy proposals but to draw attention to areas where the Government may wish to develop them.