Amendment 46

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] - Report (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 6th December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Robathan:

Moved by Lord Robathan

46: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“ExpiryThis Act expires at the end of the period of 5 years beginning with the day on which it is passed.”

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, who is unavoidably detained somewhere in the country—I am not quite sure where—I beg to move this amendment. I am sorry that the Minister feels put upon, because I think he is doing a very good job defending what some people have described as indefensible, and well done him.

This is a very simple sunset clause. It is fair to say beyond peradventure that some of the arguments raised in the past six or seven hours show that there is dispute over whether the Bill is a sensible idea. Therefore, surely, we should have a sunset clause so that, after five years, we can look back and say, “Actually, it’s not working very well, let’s scrap it”—or improve it, or whatever it might be. That is all a sunset clause does, and that is why I move it.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

I support my noble friend Lord Robathan. In anybody’s language, this is an extremely controversial Bill—that has come from a number of extremely distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House. The most appalling collateral damage could be caused by the Bill which no one has anticipated. That is the problem. When you have such Bills with a mind of their own and committees that can roar off doing all sorts of things and are completely independent, it is only later that you realise that it was a very great mistake in the beginning. In all modesty, I think the Minister should seriously consider this sunset clause so that we can reconsider whether the Act, as the Bill will no doubt become, has been a good idea, whether it has achieved what it set out to do, or whether it has caused so much damage that it needs to be radically revised. A sunset clause of five years gives us a wonderful opportunity to think again, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will give the amendment serious consideration.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, as we have heard, this amendment sets a sunset clause on the Bill. Sunset clauses are quite rare and are usually associated with emergency legislation to deal with a time-specific problem. Recently, we have seen sunset clauses around the Coronavirus Act and previously, in the 2000s, in anti-terror legislation. This Bill is not a piece of emergency legislation passed to deal with something that is time specific. It is establishing the animal sentience committee for the long term, so we on these Benches do not believe that a sunset clause is appropriate or necessary.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend Lord Robathan for introducing Amendment 46 in the name of my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, which would insert a clause that would repeal the Bill after five years. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for pointing out that sunset clauses are needed more for emergency legislation.

The Government have laid the Bill before Parliament because there is an ongoing benefit from a targeted mechanism that provides greater transparency for the consideration of animal welfare in central government policy decisions. However, we know that this must be done in a timely and proportionate way. Animal welfare considerations will not cease to be relevant in five years’ time, so it is hard to understand why the committee’s work should be brought to an abrupt halt at that point. It is the Government’s considered view that it would be plainly wrong for the Bill to expire after five years, as the animal sentience committee will have plenty to contribute beyond that time.

That is not to say, of course, that there will not be a review of processes to ensure that the Bill and the committee continue to fulfil their objectives well. As indicated in the committee’s draft terms of reference, we plan to ensure that it is subject to annual performance reviews. Defra will ultimately be accountable for the committee’s ongoing effectiveness and good governance. In addition, the Bill will be subject to the standard post-legislative scrutiny process, including a review of its effectiveness. That will take place within five years of Royal Assent. I hope that that reassures noble Lords and that my noble friend will be content to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

Before my noble friend sits down, does she not feel that a sunset clause might in fact be to the great benefit of the Government, because they would not need to have the dramatic act of wrapping up the committee and the Act; it would merely come to its own conclusion? If, on the other hand—unlikely, in my opinion, but not impossible—the committee was doing extremely well, legislation could be introduced to continue it. It is not difficult to extend the life of an Act; it is much more difficult to abolish an Act altogether. If it lapsed automatically, it might be to the advantage of the Government in the future, rather than their disadvantage.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I do not agree with my noble friend, because the committee’s work will be ongoing, and it will also respond to changes in scientific research that may come out in the course of its many years of work. To introduce a hard stop—a hard deadline—to its work would be both unnecessary and impractical.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, if I might say, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Hamilton, because it is not a question of ending the work of the committee, but of saying, “Is the committee doing well after five years, and do we just continue it?”, which is very easily done. I have some experience of this in the past. However, I shall not force this to a Division, my noble friend will be pleased to know. Both my noble friends on the Front Bench will be particularly pleased to know that there is only one more clause to go. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 46 withdrawn.

Clause 6: Extent, commencement and short title