Defra has published a draft Bill on animal welfare that sets a requirement for the Government to treat animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing policy.
The draft Bill, which will increase the maximum sentence for animal abuse of domestic pets from six months to five years, has been welcomed by the veterinary profession and animal welfare campaigners.
It follows the furore over the Government vote in November to reject an amendment which sought to transfer the EU Protocol on animal sentience and enshrine Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty into UK law.
Defra said the plans underline the government’s commitment to raising animal welfare standards, ensuring there will be enhanced protections for animals as we leave the EU.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove said: “As we leave the EU we will deliver a Green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards.
“Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare.
“Our plans will also increase sentences for those who commit the most heinous acts of animal cruelty to five years in jail.
“We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too.”
After the Government was accused of trying to weaken animal welfare legislation following the Article 13 vote, Mr Gove issued a statement insisting it recognised that animals are sentient beings. “The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals,” he said.
The draft Bill is part of a wider programme of reform to cement the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare, Defra added. Earlier in the year, it announced plans to make CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses and it has committed to taking steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter.
The British Veterinary Association, which had been heavily critical of the rejection of Article 13, welcomed the draft Bill, which it said goes further than Article 13 as it applies to all areas of government policy, rather than specified areas of policy. If passed, the law would apply to the whole of the UK.
British Veterinary Association (BVA) President John Fishwick said: “Vets have been clear in our calls that the duty on the state to have due regard for animal welfare – as captured in Article 13 of the EU Lisbon Treaty – must be enshrined in UK law. This Bill captures the substantive obligation that Article 13 currently puts on the national government to consider animal welfare, as well as explicitly recognising animals as sentient beings.”
“Today’s draft Bill lays out in black and white the Government making good on its promises, to ensure the UK remains a global leader in animal welfare post-Brexit.”
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, welcomed the increased sentencing for animal cruelty, which had previously been recommended by his committee.
Green MP Caroline Lucas, who originally tabled the animal sentience amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, said the announcement represented a ‘success’ for her lobbying.
“After insisting that sentience was covered by UK law already, the Government performed a screeching u-turn and has now put forward a sensible piece of legislation that will ensure that future legislation enshrines the principle of animal sentience,” she said.