The Efra Select Committee is taking evidence on the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords. The Countryside Alliance has submitted written evidence, outlining our concerns with the Bill.
On the strength of our written submission, the Alliance has been invited to give oral evidence to the Committee on 19 July. Tim Bonner, Chief Executive, will answer MPs questions at around 4.15pm, alongside Dr Penny Hawkins, Head, Animals in Science Department at Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Dr Jonathan Birch, Associate Professor, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at London School of Economics.
Countryside Alliance Position
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 to act humanely in their dealings with animals. Indeed, for animals kept by or under the control of man there is the additional duty of care as set out in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which adopts the “five freedoms” also applied in EU law. Recognition of sentience and the consequent welfare needs of animals is not the same as recognising that animals have rights, in the sense that human beings have rights. It is important that animal welfare does not become confused with the animal rights agenda.
In principle, recognising sentience and holding the Government to account in this area is not of itself a bad thing, and the Countryside Alliance has always supported all genuine animal welfare measures. The existence of this Animal Sentience Committee (ASC) could ensure that animal welfare is given due consideration in policy making across government, and not just where Defra is concerned. It could drive a cultural shift across Whitehall. It is equally possible that the Bill will achieve little that could not have been achieved by other means. It could also become a Trojan horse for the imposition of an animal rights agenda in the future.
On balance, we do not believe this Bill is necessary or desirable. Recognising the political desire to have animal sentience referenced in UK law, following our departure from the European Union, we believe that this could have been achieved by a simple amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 coupled with an expanded role for the existing Animal Welfare Committee. After all the Animal Sentience Committee will not actually consider sentience but rather welfare in relation to those animals which Parliament has deemed sentient.
You can watch the session live on Parliament TV.