We are a nation of animal lovers and the UK has consistently led the way on animal welfare. The UK was the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals in 1822 with the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act. We pushed for a recognition of animal sentience to be included in Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 and, in addition, recognised in law that animals can feel pain and suffering through the Animal Welfare Act.
Since 2010 we have achieved remarkable things in animal welfare. On farms we introduced new regulations for minimum standards for meat chickens, banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens and made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England. For pets, microchipping became mandatory for dogs in 2015, we modernised our licensing system for a range of activities such as dog breeding and pet sales, have protected service animals via ‘Finn’s Law’ and banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens (‘Lucy’s Law’). In 2019 our Wild Animals in Circuses Act became law, and we have led work to implement humane trapping standards. But we are going to go further.
Our manifesto was clear that high standards of animal welfare are one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. We have a long tradition of protecting animals and that will continue – and we will continue to support such efforts overseas. Our departure from the EU has provided us with an opportunity to do things better.
I am glad that leaving the EU has given this country the opportunity to go further by making sure that all Government departments consider animal sentience in policy, covering all vertebrate animals from farm to forest. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, enshrines in domestic law the recognition that animals are sentient.
This Bill would also create an expert Animal Sentience Committee to review the efficacy of policy decisions in regard to animal welfare. The relevant minister must then respond to reports via statements to Parliament. Ministers would need to demonstrate that the needs of animals have been considered in relevant policy decisions. This much-awaited reform covers England and policy areas that affect the whole of the UK.
I welcome that these reforms also underpin the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which contains upwards of forty valuable reforms. I know that this Government is committed to maintaining the very highest standards of animal welfare and I am glad that this piece of legislation continues to make good progress through Parliament.
I will follow this bill through its journey in Parliament and hope that this becomes law in the near future.