Tougher sentences for animal cruelty and a new law on animal sentience remain on the government’s agenda – as welfare charities say it is “imperative” new legislation is implemented “as soon as possible”.
An executive summary of The Queen’s speech of 19 December set out a commitment to introduce legislation to promote and protect animal welfare. This included measures to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years in prison and ensure animals are recognised in domestic law as sentient beings. It also included the welfare of sentient animals being taken into consideration in relevant policy-making.
Chief executive of World Horse Welfare Roly Owers told H&H the charity is “delighted” the legislation, which had been part-way through parliament when the general election was announced for 12 December, has been re-introduced.
“World Horse Welfare is currently encouraging people to call on their MPs to support tougher sentences in England and Wales, to help it become law quickly,” he said. “A five-year maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences should not only act as a deterrent, but will also give judges a greater range of options for cases that do meet the requirements for a prison sentence.
“This higher penalty is already law in Northern Ireland, and last year we welcomed the introduction of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which if approved, will increase maximum sentences for animal welfare offences to five years in Scotland. We believe it is time England and Wales follow suit.”
Mr Owers added it is “critical” local authorities work together to enforce tougher sentences, adding: “We believe this can best be achieved through a simple animal offender register.
“It is imperative the new legislation is implemented as soon as possible, showing this government’s commitment to animal welfare – and we hope a bill on sentience will follow soon afterwards.”
A spokesman for the RSPCA told H&H the charity hopes new legislation will be treated as a priority.
“We are pleased the bill to introduce tougher sentencing for animal cruelty offences is to be resurrected. We have been campaigning on this for many years and, although it got close to completion last autumn, the bill ran out of time before it could be enshrined in law,” he said.
“We have been urging that animal sentience should be recognised before the UK leaves the EU. This law, promised by the previous government, is the last piece of Brexit legislation on animal welfare that has yet to be carried across into UK law, so it was good to see a commitment to sentience recognition in the most recent Queen’s speech.
“We have already made our recommendations to Defra on how best to ensure animal sentience is recognised and look forward to working with legislators to turn these aspirations into reality.”
A spokesman for Defra told H&H the UK is a “world leader” on animal welfare.
“We are committed to raising our high standards even further,” he said. “That is why we have set out a range of measures to enhance our protection of animals including recognising explicitly in domestic law that animals are sentient beings and increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years.”
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