§ (1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe one or more bodies as prescribed animal welfare bodies for the purposes of this Part.
§ (2) The Secretary of State may prescribe a body only if he thinks that it is wholly or partly concerned with the protection or welfare of animals.
§ (3) The Secretary of State may make a payment by way of grant (which may be subject to conditions) to a prescribed animal welfare body."
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 18.
§ Earl Peel moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 18, Amendment No. 19:
§ Line 8, at end insert—
§ "() The Secretary of State may prescribe only an animal welfare body which does not have or has not had as one of its objectives the abolition of hunting with dogs."
§ The noble Earl said: The purpose of the inclusion of the provision for the prescribed animal welfare body is to try to get an expert body to advise the registrar. I find that a rather unnecessary step but it was, as I understand it, part of Alun Michael's original proposals. Clearly, the purpose is to look after the animal welfare dimension.1326
§ If that expert body considers that the registrar has made a wrong decision in respect of animal welfare, it can intervene. I believe that if it is to do so, it should do so without prejudice and not be allowed to be overruled by fact and evidence.
§ I should point out that, as I am sure a number of noble Lords will already have noticed, the amendment is somewhat defective: it states that no body which has expressed a view against hunting should be included. It should also clearly demonstrate that a body that has been actively involved in favour of hunting should not be appropriate to sit on such a body. I am simply suggesting that it would be virtually impossible for such a group to work constructively if one such body had demonstrated a bias against hunting and, equally, the same would apply if such a body had taken a pro-hunting stance.
§ I am interested to know what the Minister feels about this: it seems to me that, for the Bill to work fairly, it would be appropriate for animal welfare bodies to be named in the Bill, as I have already said, to ensure that we have a neutral stance on hunting. This is simply a probing amendment to try to establish whether it would be appropriate for this body to be as neutral as possible. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dearing
The noble Earl has indicated that the amendment as written is not right. I hope that he will not pursue it today. My main point is the asymmetry of this amendment. My second point is that I probably do not understand this part of the Bill. I thought that Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 were concerned with the definition of those bodies that the Secretary of State may designate as bodies which, under Amendment No. 25, the registrar had to consult. If that were the purpose, it would be a good thing if he consulted all animal welfare bodies—both for or against—because they have something to contribute. But we shall return to this matter at a later stage. I shall not pursue it any further.
§ Viscount Astor
I support the probing amendment of my noble friend. In many ways, this comes back to the definition of what will be an animal welfare body. Some of the bodies interested in animal welfare are somewhat more concerned with animal rights than animal welfare. It is important that we distinguish between the two.
The RSPCA has been criticised by many for often being more concerned with animal rights than animal welfare. In many cases those criticisms are valid. The League Against Cruel Sports is clearly more committed to animal rights than to animal welfare.
So the question to ask is this: should such bodies be part of the consultation process? It is important that animal welfare bodies are given a role to play, but should organisations that are either pro-hunting or anti-hunting also have a role? That is a question which the Committee has to decide. But we ought to be clear that we should say either that those bodies, whether pro-hunting or anti-hunting, should be involved in the process, or they should not. If they should not, the Secretary of State must have the power to appoint only 1327 the bodies that are not involved in animal rights and have no political agenda. That must be made absolutely clear.
We cannot have bodies being appointed that could exercise what might be called a "power of veto" over anything that might happen because of their own political views on the process. My noble friend therefore makes an important point and it is something on which I hope the Minister will have a view. The tribunal will he a legal entity. Given that the tribunal was the Government's idea to start with, how do they think it will work and what advice should it take?
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mancroft
In taking forward Amendment No. 18, I accept what the Government intended in prescribing animal welfare groups. In an ideal world I would have preferred not to have the provision in the Bill. Indeed, Amendment No. 18 represents a concession on our part which we would have fought against, for the reasons outlined by my noble friend Lord Peel.
There are two other practical reasons underlying our thinking. I shall use an analogy here which I hope does not cause offence. It would be rather odd, for example, to have a leading member of the Temperance Society on an alcohol licensing board. So to appoint someone who has been publicly campaigning against a particular activity as part of the registration process in order to license that activity seems to be a recipe for dissent and certainly not a clever way of moving forward.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some guidance that, in prescribing these animal welfare groups, the Secretary of State will do so in such a way that the entire system is not bogged down for years in endless argument, but actually facilitates his ability to make the decision and is useful and constructive. To be frank, a number of prescribed animal welfare groups would not help the registrar or anyone else. They would lead us into endless debate of the kind with which noble Lords are becoming increasingly familiar, and which would be repeated every time a registration was sought.
I make a further practical point. The reason for the registrar to consult a prescribed animal welfare group would be because of its expertise in animal welfare. There is a certain logic in that. However, one of the tests concerns utility. I am not clear how an animal welfare group, unless it happened to have that added expertise—most do not—would have the necessary expertise to advise the registrar on the question of utility. Therefore the wording of the original Bill is rather sloppy in that it would oblige the Secretary of State to consult bodies on a subject in which they have no expertise. The Bill should have said that the registrar would be obliged to consult the prescribed animal welfare groups on issues to do with the test of least suffering, which is nothing to do with the test of utility. I suppose that that is a technical point, but I 1328 raise it to demonstrate to Members of the Committee how helpful we would like to be and how simple we are leaving it. It is not a contentious point.
§ Lord Whitty
The amendment is contentious, although the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has attempted to make it more even-handed in his remarks. However, as it stands the amendment is hugely contentious.
If we opt for a registration system, Amendment No. 18 would reflect the original Alun Michael Bill, but Amendment No. 19 would utterly unbalance the position. Having passed amendments which dilute the effect of the criteria, in accepting Amendment No. 19 we would be skewing advice given to the registrar through the tribunal so that animal welfare concerns would be excluded. The fact is—this point was made clear by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor—that this is a move to exclude the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations which oppose hunting or certain forms of hunting from this structure.
This is an attempt to present the system as a balanced approach—by excluding the RSPCA and like organisations. Those organisations are not expected themselves to be balanced, but the registrar is supposed to take account of opinions, both pro-hunting and pro-animal. That would require animal welfare organisations to be engaged in the consideration. To exclude them in the form of the amendment before us would hugely unbalance that approach.
Indeed, to follow the verbal amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, if we also excluded not only those opposed to hunting, but also organisations in favour of hunting from the process, it would mean a huge loss of expertise on both sides of the argument. While that would be less unbalanced, it too would not be helpful to the registration process. I hope that we do not pass the amendment proposed by the noble Earl and that the original amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is accepted as being the one more closely aligned with the approach adopted in the original government Bill.
§ Earl Peel
I explained at the outset that I recognised that the amendment was defective. None the less, we have had a useful debate.
I am bound to say that if the body appointed by the Secretary of State is to give sensible advice to the registrar, I cannot see how the process of advice will be enhanced if we have extreme bodies from either side arguing throughout his deliberations. I suspect that it would make the situation very difficult. The thrust of my amendment is probably about right, and I think that other noble Lords who have spoken have accepted that.
My noble friend Lord Mancroft raised what I thought was a very interesting point. The tribunal is designed to give advice to the registrar on aspects of cruelty. Who will give the registrar advice on the question of utility? Would that come from the same 1329 bodies or from separate ones? Can the Minister explain how he thinks that would work because it would be useful for us to know?
§ Lord Whitty
In the balanced operation of the tribunal and the advice coming through the system, no doubt the bodies which are broadly speaking hunting-based would have a view on utility and why they hunt. It may be that animal welfare organisations have views on hunting, as would hunting organisations on animal welfare. We do not say that one aspect would come from one side and another aspect from the other side, but that both sorts of organisations should be engaged in the process.
§ Amendment No. 19, as an amendment to Amendment No. 18, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 18 agreed to.
§ Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 20:
§ After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—