Below is my recent response to constituents who contacted me about the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill:
Thank you for contacting me about the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill that had its second reading on Tuesday 18th January. I was delighted that the bill passed its second stage in the commons.
I have long supported calls to enshrine the principle of animal sentience in UK law to prevent practices that expose both wild and domestic animals to cruel and degrading treatment. Of course, animals can feel and experience pain and we must adopt that recognition in UK law to move forward on animal welfare, rather than going backwards.
As you know, after promises made in 2017 following pressure from the public and animal welfare organisations to introduce such legislation following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the UK Government introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill in May 2021 to the House of Lords. This received its Second Reading on 16 June 2021. The Bill had its first reading in the Commons on 14th December 2021.
Animal welfare is devolved in Scotland and this Bill applies to England and Wales only. Therefore, you might also like to contact your MSP about animal welfare provision in Scotland.
I strongly welcome this Bill and believe that the formal and legal recognition of animal sentience sends a clear message that we are committed as a country to protecting the welfare of animals.
I welcome the fact that the legislation will apply across all Government departments and that it appears to include wild animals, but I am concerned that it has taken a long time to be introduced and that it is vague in many respects. For it to be meaningful, any commitment on paper must be followed up in practice and, to truly improve animal welfare, there needs to be prospective – not just retrospective – consideration of Government policies.
I also believe that the definition of an animal should be expanded beyond its current stipulations to include crustaceans and cephalopods.
Ensuring the health and welfare of sentient animals is important as a marker of social progress, and so I will continue to press for action to make much-needed improvements to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill and to ensure animal sentience is formally recognised in law at the earliest opportunity.
I also support calls from my Scottish Labour MSP colleagues in Scotland to carry out a full review of Scotland’s outdated animal welfare legislation, with a view to strengthening wildlife protection law and animal welfare. I support the introduction of a National Animal Cruelty Register to support enforcement agencies, alongside a more comprehensive approach to public education on animal welfare.
I believe the Scottish Parliament should pay full regard to animal welfare requirements when formulating and implementing policies.
Unfortunately, I was isolating with covid-19 last week, so I was unable to vote but I was paired with a Government MP, so our votes were balanced out. Rest assured, I will be thoroughly scrutinising the legislation and pressing the Government on the issues you have raised.