The Bill started in the House of Lords and is the Government’s response to concerns expressed when it failed to transpose the recognition of animal sentience in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty into UK law, at the following Brexit.
The intention to legislate was expressed in a declaration in November 2017 and was followed by a consultation in December 2017.
Following consultation, the proposals have been suspended by Defra (237KB, PDF) as recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. This was to allow “the problematic concepts of existing Article 1 [on animal sentience] to better define.
The law project
The Animal Welfare (Feeling) Bill [HL] was introduced in the House of Lords on May 13, 2021. The Bill, in its latest version as it comes to the House of Commons, recognizes all vertebrate animals and certain invertebrate animals as sentient beings, although the sensitivity is not defined.
The bill requires the government to set up an Animal Sensitivity Committee (ASC). The CSA will be able to examine whether the government takes into account the negative effect of any policy “on the welfare of animals as sentient beings”.
The bill is short, consisting of six clauses divided into two sections. The first deals with the CSA and its role. The second section deals with transparency, the definition of animal for the purposes of the bill and its territorial scope.
The bill has been well received by animal welfare organizations. Some stakeholders have raised concerns about the implications for agriculture and activities, such as hunting and fishing.
Passage through the Lords
When the bill was passed, no opposition amendments were retained. The bill has been amended by the government to include cephalopod molluscs (such as octopus and prawns) and decapod cephalopods (such as lobsters and craps) in the definition of susceptible animals, following a evidence review by the London School of Economics and Political Science in November 2021.
The Lords’ debates on the bill raised concerns about the bill’s lack of detail on the role of the ASC and the extent of the committee’s remit. The government responded by releasing the CSA’s draft terms of reference. These also included details of how the ASC will operate and how appointments will be made. The government has stated that animal welfare will not prevail over other considerations when formulating or implementing any particular policy.
The bill covers England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, it does not extend to the powers devolved to the decentralized administrations, which are explicitly excluded in the bill.