Questions of sentience

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill appeared in the House of Commons this week, but what relevance does this have to sustainable shooting? We dissect the proceedings…

Following six months of debate in the House of Lords, MPs in the Commons got their first chance to question the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill this week. Like the House of Lords, MPs were scathing of the lack of clarity in the Bill and its potential consequences, particularly for farming, fishing and shooting.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill sets out three key measures:

  • The creation of an Animal Sentience Committee, whose members the Secretary of State will appoint based on expertise and experience. 
  • The Committee will scrutinise government policy on animal welfare, publishing a report on whether the Ministers have had all due regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. 
  • The Bill requires government Ministers to respond to the Committee’s report within three months. 

Holding government departments to account?

Across the House there was agreement that animals are sentient and are deserving of legal recognition. Many speakers expressed fears on the structure of the Committee and how best to select representatives.

There was further concern about the Committee’s ability to hold government departments to account, with the former shadow Defra minister, Luke Pollard MP, describing Defra – who will sponsor the Committee – knocking on the door of the Ministry of Defence akin “to a sardine taking on an Astute-class submarine”.


Concern from rural constituencies

The greatest concern for the Bill came from those MPs representing rural constituencies. They raised the issue, similar to that highlighted in the Lords debates, that animal rights groups could coerce the Committee into reviewing policies on farming, animal husbandry, fishing and, of course, shooting. Activist groups could then clog up the legal system with unlimited applications for judicial review.

BASC Vice President, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, said, “The Bill could deliver another weapon into the hands of litigious animal rights groups that could damage both Government and those who live and work with animals”.

He also questioned the need for another committee when there is already an Animal Welfare Committee with a wide remit covering all animals working perfectly well.

Richard Drax MP said, “This is a bad Bill, an unnecessary Bill and a Trojan Horse for those who have no understanding of, and sadly in some cases despise, the countryside and all that goes on in it”.

A key amendment

Sir Geoffrey asked the government to support his amendment that replicates Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty that gives full regards to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting “religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage”. This would meet the concerns expressed at the exclusion of animal sentience from the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The amendment places a duty on the Committee to consider the public interest and is currently open for MPs to sign. It is worth noting that Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs supported this when debating the Withdrawal Bill in 2017.

BASC supports Sir Geoffrey’s amendment and is working hard to ensure the Bill does not become a means to attack fieldsports and farming, but acts in our best interest to ensure a high level of animal welfare.

The Bill next moves to the Committee Stage where it will be considered in detail.