Environment Secretary Michael Gove today published the Draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill 2017, and has given the public until the end of January to contribute to a consultation on its content.
This follows sustained pressure from animal welfare organisations (such as Compassion In World Farming), political activism groups (such as 38 Degrees), opposition MPs (such as Caroline Lucas), and the general public, after the government rejected an amendment to include the recognition of animal sentience currently enshrined in EU law within the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
The new bill is intended both to ensure that animals are defined in UK law as sentient beings, and to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years imprisonment. The government says: "This draft Bill will embed the principle that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure. It contains an obligation, directed towards government, to pay regard to the welfare needs of animals when formulating and implementing government policy."
Emma Slawinski, Director of Campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said: “Compassion warmly welcomes the government's response to our supporters and the many others who urged retention of animal sentience in British law. The duty on government to pay regard to the fact that animals are sentient beings when formulating and implementing policy is an important legal principle and we welcome the announcement that this will continue to be a cornerstone of our animal welfare laws as we leave the EU.
The animal sentience provisions do not apply to policies which have been devolved to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the devolved administrations have the ability to take the same steps.