The Countryside Alliance has used the opportunity of a public consultation and parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s draft Animal Welfare Bill to raise concerns that it could be turned from a bill to protect animal welfare into a bill to promote animal rights.

The draft Bill was published shortly before Christmas by the Environment Secretary, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, in response to concerns that the legal duty to have regard to animal welfare when making and implementing policy would be lost when the UK leaves the EU. The draft Bill also seeks to increase the maximum sentences for animal welfare offences from 6 months to 5 years imprisonment.

The Countryside Alliance recognises the fact that animals are sentient beings. Those who have the task of husbanding animals and managing wildlife acknowledge and understand the fact that animals are sentient and the consequent need to avoid causing animals unnecessary suffering and of acting humanely in their dealings with animals.

Whilst the Countryside Alliance supports the general principles behind the proposed legislation, we have concerns about how the draft Bill is structured and the wisdom of creating an open-ended duty on Government Ministers to have regard to the welfare of all animals across all areas of policy. This could not only limit and curtail the activities of farmers and land managers, but also become an obstacle to policy development across government as any decision that might have animal welfare implications could be challenged in the courts on the grounds that a Government Minister had failed to have regard to “the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings”.

We have expressed these concerns in our submission to a public consultation by Defra on the proposals in the draft Bill and also submitted written evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee which is scrutinising the draft Bill ahead of any legislation being introduced into Parliament. Many of our concerns were shared by the legal experts who gave oral evidence to the EFRA Committee on 17 January.

We will continue to raise these concerns in Parliament to ensure that any proposals taken forward balance the need to take account of animal welfare with other interests, and are not used to advance an animal rights agenda.