by David Bean

The Countryside Alliance briefing on the Remaining Stages of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill in the House of Commons is available in full here.

KEY POINTS

  • 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 amended to address any of these issues and is essentially the same as introduced. The draft Terms of Reference are not an adequate substitute for the absence of detail on the face of the Bill. We therefore urge support for a range of amendments that have been tabled to address these issues, in particular Amendment 2 tabled by Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP and those tabled by Greg Smith MP.
  • 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’ nor a 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.
  • We would also draw attention to the Lords Third Reading debate on the Bill on 13 December 2021, and in particular the comments of the Rt Hon Lord Herbert of South Downs from the Government benches and Baroness Mallalieu QC from the Opposition benches: 

Lord Herbert:

 “…The Government rejected every other amendment put to them. We pointed out that sentience is not actually defined in the legislation; apparently that does not matter. What matters is that Ministers must have regard to sentience, even if we do not know what it actually is. We asked for safeguards to ensure the expertise of the committee’s members. We were told that such protections were not necessary. We asked for constraints to the committee’s scope. We were told that limits to the committee’s unfettered remit were not necessary either. Crucially, we asked why the balancing provisions in the Lisbon treaty, which specifically exempt religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage, were not included and why the Bill goes so much further than the EU measure it claims to replace. We were told that this balancing provision was not necessary either. In fact, apparently no change was necessary.

“The Government have been able to ignore every concern expressed, largely on this side, by relying on the kindness of strangers—uncritical support for the measures that would have guaranteed the defeat of any amendment…”

Baroness Mallalieu:

“….the former Master of the Rolls, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, told us during the passage of the Bill that it creates a magnet for judicial review; when the foremost vet in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who supports the Bill, tells us that its scope needs definition and its focus sharpened on to future policy decisions; when the former Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the former leader of the party opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and many others, tell the Government that they need to think again, yet they resist and reject all amendments, save for a small number of government ones, it makes me wonder whether this House has actual value as a scrutinising House when they have the comfort of a large majority in another place and know that they are able to push defective Bills through almost unamended there…”

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