Sentience bill clears last hurdle to mixed response

  • The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill has passed its final stage in parliament – but the new legislation has received mixed responses.

    An amendment to the bill was agreed in the House of Lords on 7 April, and a date for Royal Assent, when the bill becomes law, will be scheduled. The amendment, brought forward by MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, ensures the Government’s animal sentience committee will respect provisions and customs relation to regional and cultural heritage (news, 24 March). This follows cross-party debate around the bill’s wording and concerns over potential “hijacking” by animal rights activists.

    The new legislation provides recognition of animal sentience in UK law and means ministers will be “held to account” on considering the animal welfare implications of their decisions.

    “For some considerable time, animals have been recognised as being capable of feeling pain, sadness, hunger, thirst and warmth, and able to enjoy a good life,” said Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville during the parliament debate.

    “This is now recognised in legislation, and it will be the responsibility of the animal sentence committee to ensure that consideration is given to that during its work. I look forward to the reports which the animal sentience committee will produce, informing us all how it is carrying out its work and how sentient animals are being protected through its deliberations.”

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers told H&H the charity is “delighted and relieved” the bill had passed its final stage and will soon become law.

    “As part of the 50-strong Better Deal for Animals coalition we campaigned for this and have real hope that it will make a difference,” he said.

    “The fundamental principle of animal sentience has been enshrined in law and now it is a matter of putting this into practice. Establishing a balanced animal sentience committee, through having a wide range of backgrounds and varied expertise represented, will be pivotal to success. This will ensure the committee makes proportionate and robust recommendations that best protect the needs of animals when scrutinising government policy.”

    The Countryside Alliance previously raised concerns about the bill, and the Alliance’s parliament and government relations manager David Bean told H&H it “remains a bad and unnecessary law”.

    “But the amendment that the government finally accepted does give some protection to cultural and regional traditions,” he said. “This offers some safeguards against future manipulation of the committee. The Alliance will be watching closely to ensure attention is paid to the interests of people, as well as those of animals.”

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