Parliamentary intern Gabrielle Laing followed last week’s political shenanigans in response to Lord Trees’ attempt to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
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An amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill taking the Lisbon Treaty’s idea of recognising animals as sentient beings (and therefore requiring the state to pay due regard to their welfare), was originally defeated by the government in the Commons in November 2017, to much public outcry.
The government reacted by rushing out a draft animal welfare Bill, which was then heavily criticised by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. With so much Brexit legislation competing for a finite amount of parliamentary time, there is now a high risk that any new legislation won’t be in place before the end of the implementation period.
An amendment to the withdrawal Bill could solve this problem (albeit temporarily), but it was clear last week that the government wasn’t keen to accept one.
Shenanigan 1: On the morning of the debate, The Times accused environment secretary Michael Gove of having backed opposition peers to push through the changes he wanted. Later it was suggested the story might have been a leak from Number 10 to discredit Gove.
Shenanigan 2: The Brexit minister kindly agreed to meet to discuss the amendment but, at the last minute, changed the time preventing Lord Trees attending his weekly crossbench meeting (where support can often be garnered). The meeting with the minister offered no concessions, not even a commitment to a timeline for the new Animal Sentience Bill.
Immediately afterwards, Lord Trees met with the Labour, Lib Dem and Green peers also named on the amendment, and collectively decided they had little to lose by pushing for a vote (division).
Shenanigan 3: In the debate, business progressed rapidly, and it seemed we would be called sooner than expected. With a government three-line whip (the most serious instruction the whips can place on peers), but only a two-line whip in place for other parties, a later vote would favour the government (and rejection of the amendment) as peers subject to a lesser whip drift away.
In the gallery, I watched as a clearly rattled government made the unprecedented call for an early dinner break, which would delay proceedings and any call for a vote. It was such an obvious move to support its cause that, as the jeers went up from the opposition benches, I felt a little embarrassed on its behalf.
Finally the long-awaited debate began. There was a mixed response, generally in support of animal welfare, but raising some nuances of legal wording.
It was an exciting wait as peers filed through the lobbies to cast their votes. The result was not in our favour –169 content to 211 not content with our amendment. We were obviously disappointed, but this won’t be the end of the battle!
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