Parliamentary intern Anthony Ridge considers the range of parliamentary activities that rarely make it into the popular press.
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The House of Lords is once again making headlines. The Government's Brexit Bill (European Union [Notification of Withdrawal] Bill) is reaching ‘committee stage’ and voting begins on possible changes (amendments) to it. This, combined with the start of a new BBC documentary series on February 27 – Meet the Lords, Mondays, 9 pm, BBC2 – will no doubt cast public attention on the role and function of the Lords. It is difficult to get a true view of parliamentary activities from the media alone.
One of my roles as intern is to monitor the upcoming parliamentary calendar for items of interest for Lord Trees. This gives me a regular overview of the breadth of work taking place behind the scenes, which is in stark contrast to the number of items that make it into the popular press. For example, today (February 27), in addition to debating the Brexit Bill, the Government will be questioned on funding for secondary schools, immigration, defence and industrial strategy and legislation on pensions, bereavement support and social security. In addition, dozens of committees and associated meetings will take place, covering diverse topics including global health, the arts, policing and the Syrian conflict.
As a vet in practice it is easy to assume that a lack of headlines on animal health and welfare equates to a lack of activity. From my perspective, I see a vast amount of work being done. Last week I attended events in Parliament on increasing the maximum sentences for animal cruelty offences, banning the keeping of primates as pets and the impact of Brexit on vets.
On Tuesday I was at an event co-organised by 10 animal welfare charities considering the impact of Brexit on animal welfare. On Wednesday, the Government Minister was questioned on bringing forward legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. The House of Lords subcommittee on environment and energy (on which Lord Trees sits) will be questioning Nigel Gibbens, Defra's Chief Veterinary Officer, on the impacts of Brexit on agriculture. Further ahead, the Government has announced proposals to tighten up and modernise licensing of animal-related activities. This includes the selling of pets online and I look forward to seeing draft legislation in the coming months.
I am constantly inspired by the efforts I see from vets and non-vets to make meaningful improvements to animal health and welfare against a shifting political backdrop. The challenge of making policy to govern millions of people is significant and is a task that's frequently oversimplified in the media. While progress can feel frustratingly slow, the gains to be had are enormous and the benefits of having veterinary expertise at the heart of this decision making cannot be overstated.⇓
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