Defra’s tiny budget would leave the department unable to cope with the new responsibilities assigned to it in the Government’s Animal Welfare Bill, MPs have warned.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee raised the alarm in a scathing new report which looked at the draft Bill.
Several expert witnesses explained to the MPs that a proposal in the Bill to give Ministers a duty to consider animal welfare in policy-making would bump up costs for Defra.
“We were told there would be a need for Defra to be given greater resources to effectively ‘sign off’ any other Department’s policy proposals on animal welfare grounds and/or prove animal welfare had been given ‘regard’”, the report read.
Defra could also be lumbered with the cost of fighting lengthy and expensive legal battles because the wording of the Bill is ‘vague and ambiguous’.
As currently drafted, the legislation would leave any Government policy – or even lack of policy – open to judicial review.
Animal law expert Mike Radford OBE told the committee: “One of the problems is that it is so vague, nobody will be sure what it means.
“The animal welfare organisations will not be sure, and policy makers will not be sure. Therefore, it will ultimately fall to the courts.”
Concerns have already been raised about Defra’s capacity to cope with Brexit after swingeing cuts halved its budget in just nine years.
The cash-strapped department has been given some extra money from the Treasury to deal with its massively increased workload, but its core budget will continue to be slashed for at least the next three years.
Neil Parish, chair of the committee, said: “It is important the Government considers the full implications of a Bill before publishing it.
“The Bill has been rushed and the legislation has suffered as a result. The UK urgently needs a new law on animal sentience but this law must be properly thought-through and worked out. This legislation is not that.”
The new Efra Committee report was published shortly after the Countryside Alliance warned the Bill could become a vehicle for an animal rights agenda.