by David Bean

  • The Countryside Alliance fully supports legal recognition of the sentience of animals but shares the widespread concerns that have been expressed at each stage about the Animal Sentience Committee this Bill would create. Concerns have focused on the membership of the Committee and how it might be structured, operate and be resourced. The Bill has not been updated to address any of these issues and is essentially the same as introduced.
  • While providing a little more detail, the Committee’s draft Terms of Reference provide little reassurance or clarity. Terms of reference are easily changed or amended; they are not an adequate substitute for good legislation.
  • According to the Bill as written, the role of the Committee is to scrutinise not the substance of policy decisions, but the process by which those decisions were reached and whether all due regard had been had to animal welfare. By contrast the draft Terms of Reference seem to suggest that the Committee could have a role in scrutinising policies. This would be at odds with the legislation bringing it into existence.
  • The Bill allows the Committee to examine past policy decisions and implementation, so it could opine on any historical policy and report that the animal welfare consequences had not been duly considered. In highlighting and calling into question established policy it could start to drive its own agenda.
  • The Bill fails to provide any definition of what amounts to ‘policy’. Does policy include decisions not to do something as well as to do something?
  • The Bill provides no definition of sentience, perhaps because the issue is so hotly debated among scientists. Sentience is probably a scale and we are more inclined to recognise it in animals that seem to react as we do. Already recognition of sentience was extended at the Report stage to cephalopods and decapod crustacea.
  • The Countryside Alliance believes that the Bill lacks the necessary detail and safeguards to ensure the Sentience Committee cannot be hijacked or extend its reach beyond its legally defined role. There need to be safeguards to ensure that the committee does not become a Trojan horse, used to attack proper wildlife management, farming or the economic well-being and way of life of our rural communities.

You can read the full briefing note here.

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