Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich 3:15 pm, 30th October 2018

Or whether it was vegan cheese or cheese made from milk.

I want to focus mainly on amendments 74 and 75. On amendment 74, as Members may know, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee had extensive evidence and debate on the Secretary of State’s proposed Bill covering animal cruelty sentencing and incorporating animal sentience into UK law. The Committee took the very sensible view that it was important to stiffen the sentences for cruelty without further delay. We therefore advised the Secretary of State that it would be sensible to separate the sentence on sentience from the section on sentencing. However, we felt that the whole issue of animal sentience needed to be taken seriously, and that a way should be found to take on board the significance of the issue and incorporate it into UK law once we had left the European Union. I believe that the proposed new subsection in amendment 74 covers just one of the vital areas where an adherence to the concept of animal sentience would have a material effect on agricultural practice in this country and ensure that the default support for animal welfare implied by the concept of sentience is not lost when we have left the EU.

It is not just me who believes that, but the Secretary of State as well; otherwise why did he want to pass a Bill that supported the concept of animal sentience? If he did wish to pass such a Bill—and he clearly did, because otherwise he would not have put it forward—why would he not want it to have a real effect on actual animals and their welfare? Amendment 74 is a way of ensuring that the concept of animal sentience actually has some effect, and I cannot really understand why the Government are not happy to accept it.

I am sure that the hon. Member for North Dorset made some of the comments that he has with the best of intentions, but the overall feeling appears to be, “We intend to do the right thing, so leave it to us.” That is not the way that law works; it is not the way that Bills are meant to work. The whole point of having Bills, Acts, debate, amendments and so on is to make sure that things are written down in such a way that people know what will happen and do not just have to rely on the good will of the Secretary of State.

We need to look at what amendment 75 says. Clause 1(1)(e) refers to

“preventing, reducing or protecting from environmental hazards”,

which should be good things, but only so long as they actually meet up with the protection of the environment, as we provide for in amendment 75. I will give a good example of supposed prevention, reduction or protection from environmental hazards that clearly does not meet up with the proposals in our amendment: the flood defences in Ipswich, where serious amounts of concrete and large sheets of metal were shoved in on either side of the river to prevent flooding. Clearly, I do not want Ipswich to be flooded, and I am very glad that we have flood defences. In fact, Ipswich was seriously flooded before the war, before those defences went in. However, they are not in the slightest bit environmentally friendly, and I am quite sure that flood defences in other parts of the country are seriously damaging to the environment too.

There are far better ways of doing these things now, and there are all sorts of other activities that people might want to undertake that would be damaging to the environment, even though they protected us from environmental hazards. All that we are asking for is that work done to offer protection from environmental hazards is not done in an environmentally damaging way. Again, I cannot really understand why the Government are not willing to support that amendment.