Will the new Animal Welfare Bill go far enough?

A new Bill promising to acknowledge animals as sentient beings has been introduced by the Government- but is its scope limited, and will the proposed new Animal Sentience Committee have sufficient powers?

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 8:27 am

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill.

Announced earlier this month, Defra’s new animal welfare action plan aims to strengthen animal protection.

After Brexit, EU laws recognising animals as sentient beings - i.e. having thoughts and feelings - were not retained in UK law.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill seeks to enshrine recognition of vertebrate animals as sentient and establish an Animal Sentience Committee (ASC) that may report on any Government policy with possible adverse effects on sentient animals.

The EFRA Committee will scrutinise the independence and powers of the proposed Animal Sentience Committee, and investigate the application of the provisions only to vertebrates.

The Committee is seeking written evidence on the following questions, with an initial deadline of Monday 5th July:

· Will the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill ensure that animal sentience is properly taken into account in both new and existing Government policy in England?

· Are there sufficient safeguards to ensure that the proposed Animal Sentience Committee will be (a) independent (b) have the necessary expertise and (c) have the necessary powers to be effective?

· Are the proposed requirements on the Government to respond to an Animal Sentience Committee’s report sufficient?

· How does the proposed Animal Sentience Committee compare to similar bodies, such as the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission?

· Is the Government correct to limit the scope of the Bill to vertebrate animals?

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said: “The UK is a nation of animal lovers. The Committee welcomes the Government’s commitment to uphold the recognition of animals as beings with feelings.

“We are now looking to ensure that the new Animal Sentience Committee- which will be responsible for keeping the Government in check- has the power and bite it will need.”