Animal sentience bill passes second reading in Parliament

An Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill passed its second reading in Parliament last month. The bill would allow animals to be recognised as sentient beings, who experience feelings, pain, and suffering.

Before Brexit, the UK had to adhere to The Lisbon Treaty, which recognised animals as sentient beings in Article 13 of title II. The new animal sentience bill will address a gap left in UK law since leaving the EU.

Blue Cross public affairs assistant Richard Woodward said: “We welcome the animal sentience bill and were pleased to see it pass its second hearing. We hope it continues to make swift progress and reaches the statute book in good time.”

The Better Deal for Animals Coalition, which consists of over 50 animal rights and welfare organisations pressured the government for a post Brexit animal sentience bill. The Coalition’s 2019 petition received over 100,000 signatures of support which led to a parliamentary debate in 2020.

Party member believes bill is long overdue

Conservative party member Patrick Wylde has campaigned with the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation to advance the welfare of farm animals. Wylde believes the bill is long overdue to prevent unnecessary needless pain for animals.

Wylde said: “I’m very pleased to see cross party support for recognition of animal sentience and charges against illegal animal trappings including glue tops.

“Following on from Brexit, the government must be held to account, with the imports of animals for exploitative acts. For example, deemed illegal with appropriate criminal charges brought.”If the bill becomes law, animal sentience will be legally recognised.

Delays to animal sentience bill

In the past, there have been delays and setbacks to the bill passage process. The government first announced its plans for a new animal sentience bill in 2017. Parliament have previously voted against Caroline Lucas’ amendment of wanting to add to the EU Withdrawal Bill in 2017. The amendment was for animal sentience to be added to the withdrawal bill.

At the time in 2017, Green MP Caroline Lucas suggested two reasons why the government had been opposed to the amendment. She said: “The governments refusal to accept this amendment is simply absurd – and their continued insistence that sentience is covered in Animal Welfare legislation is wrong.”

She said it was the government reusing changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill at the time, that stopped ministers from accepting the amendment.

The bill eventually re-emerged in Parliament and will now go through its final stages in the House of Commons before it can receive royal assent. This would mean that animal sentience would be considered when government polices are debated in Parliament.

Charity welcomes new pet theft clause in bill

Animal welfare charity Blue Cross, founded in 1897, cares for around 40,000 pets a year promoting better animal welfare and treatment, and campaigning against animal crimes and cruelty.

Blue Cross said pet theft was the most important issue for the new bill. Pet theft is currently dealt with under the Theft Act 1968 which classes pets as ‘property’ and not sentient beings.

Woodward said: “Thankfully, the Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce recently recommended a new ‘pet abduction’ offence after considering ways to better reflect the view that stolen pets are not mere property but sentient beings.”

Blue Cross welcomes the new clauses on dog theft in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. It is campaigning for pet theft to be widened to other sentient pets including cats.

Woodward said: “The recent increase in the sentence for the worst cases of animal cruelty to five years is also a recognition that animals can suffer pain and torment when subjected to abuse and violence.

“Hopefully, allied to the new legal recognition of animal sentience, it will mean that people are far more aware of the consequences of their actions on animal health and welfare.”

In the future, Blue Cross has said that in its campaign work, the legal recognition of animal sentience will provide a bedrock on which future government decisions on animal health and welfare can be based.

“For instance, can the continued use of adverse training methods, such as shock collars, be reconciled with a recognition of the sentience of the animals who are subjected to them?” said Woodward.

Animal sentience in scientific research

The animal sentience bill would also lead to safer scientific research into disease. Animal Free Research is a UK charity which aims to cure human diseases without animals suffering.

Animal Free Research UK’s CEO, Carla Owen said there were simple changes that could be made to strengthen the animal sentience bill, to ensure animals are given the consideration they deserve.

The charity hopes human relevant technologies are better used for medical research because it is good for human health, animals, and the economy.

Owen said: “The Government could be obliged to produce an animal sentience strategy and to provide an oral response to reports by the new Animal Sentience Committee. Both these measures would help to ensure greater scrutiny and accountability.

“We hope that this formal acknowledgement of animal sentience encourages scientists and policymakers to embrace ethical, animal-free research techniques, such as those funded by Animal Free Research UK.”

In 2020, 2.88 million scientific procedures were completed using animals, with 1.44 million animals being used in experimental trials according to the Home Office Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals.

If the bill is passed, it will recognise the needless suffering and violence that some animals go through in scientific trials and procedures. Animal Free Research UK said it hoped the bill would see more human relevant technologies used for medical research than techniques that cause animals suffering.

“Cutting-edge, human relevant technologies provide the best possible chance of medical progress and will help Britain become a world leader in innovative, ethical science,” said Owen.

“We will continue to provide support and funding to enable an increasing number of scientists to adopt these future-focused, animal free techniques.” 

The future of animal sentience

The animal sentience bill comes after high profile cases of animal abuse. Earlier this year, West Ham defender Kurt Zouma, 27, had his two cats removed by the RSPCA after social media videos showed the footballer kicking and slapping one of his cats.

The cats are now in RSCPA care. Zouma was given a maximum amount fine by The Premier League Club, whilst Adidas has ended their sponsorship deal with him. The animal sentience bill would recognise Zouma’s cat as a sentient being.

If the animal sentience bill passes its final stages, it will fill a gap in UK legislation since it left the EU, regarding animal welfare and rights. Animal sentience would be legally recognised and it would also see harsher consequences for animal cruelty.

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