House of Lords: Reform expert advises against a third house
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The Government is gearing up to introduce the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which has attracted some scepticism in the House of Lords for its timing. A new amendment has increased the scope of the living, sentient creatures included in the Bill, under which lobsters, crabs, and octopuses are now included.
The Bill followed the results of an independent review into whether certain creatures could be considered sentient.
The report, commissioned by the Government from the London School of Economics and Political Science, detailed strong scientific evidence for certain decapod crustaceans and various other creatures being sentient.
The Bill, which has passed its third reading in the House of Lords, will set up an Animal Sentience Committee, which will report to the Government on issues of sentient animal welfare.
Despite its passing, some Lords peers, including Conservative Lord Herbert of South Downs, argued that the Government is demonstrating itself to be “inclined to bend without sufficient thoughts to populism”.
Lord Herbert told the Lords: “Every one of us in this House, every one of us wants to promote animal welfare. I certainly do. I feel strongly that animals must be treated properly.
“But whatever the good intentions of those promoting this Bill, I fear that it is not a wise measure as drafted.”
He added: “In fact, if we take a step back, it is actually an incredible measure.
“It seriously proposes that the effect of any government policy on the welfare of animals may be considered by an unfettered statutory committee.
“When the Bill started this measure applied only to vertebrates.
“Now, it applies to cephalopod, molluscs and decapod crustaceans.
“That was one of the few amendments made to this Bill, and that was by the Government.”
He questioned the timing of the new bill at a point where the ongoing COVID-19 crisis continued to make the daily headlines.
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He said: “So at the height of a pandemic, which has killed thousands of people and cost our economy billions, we have decided to devote time to passing a law to ensure that no government policy can hurt the feelings of a prawn.”
Fellow Tory peer, Lord Cormack, backed up Lord Herbert’s comments on the scheduling of the Bill.
He commented that “nobody could have put it better than Lord Herbert”, he then continued on to ask: “Why is Parliament considering consuming itself with considerations for the welfare of the prawn when all around people are in danger of a deadly virus?”
He said: “It shows a completely warped sense of perspective and priorities.
“It is something of which I feel deeply ashamed.”
Lord Benyon, Minister for Rural Affairs, rebuked the accusations from the Lords, which he said appeared to “suggest that this House can’t hold two thoughts in its head at the same time.”
He conceded that some of Lord Herbert’s comments “struck home”, but played down the need to only focus on a singular government policy at any one time.
He added: “Of course, the priority of this House and the Government and all of us is to deal with a pandemic, but the idea that you can’t produce legislation on any other subject, which is the logical conclusion of his argument, is one that I’m afraid I don’t agree with.”
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