Animal sentience must be recognised in law to protect horse welfare.

Animal sentience must be recognised in law to protect horse welfare.

Current situation 

World Horse Welfare believes that animal sentience should be recognised in law. In the European Union (EU), Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU sets out that Member States should pay full regard to the welfare requirement of animals when formulating policies in certain areas “since animals are sentient beings”. However, this principle was not incorporated into UK law when it left the EU. 

Recognising that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pleasure and pain, has strong public support in the UK. A 2021 YouGov poll showed that over two thirds of the British public are supportive of requiring animals’ interests to be taken into consideration across all relevant government policy. 

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill 

In 2021, the UK Government introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to Parliament.  The Bill will apply to all UK countries and has successfully passed through the House of Lords. We fully support the intent of this Bill and are hopeful that as it is scrutinised by MPs scrutinise it in the House of Commons they only improve on the protections already outlined in the draft legislation. 

The proposed Bill recognises that animals are sentient beings and requires that UK Ministers have due regard to their welfare needs when formulating and implementing government policy. It proposes that an Animal Sentience Committee (ASC) be established, with licence to scrutinise the extent to which the Government is considering the ways in which policies may impact the welfare of animals. The ASC will produce a report for consideration by government and the relevant Minister will be required to lay a response to any recommendations made in the report before Parliament. However, it will continue to be up to ministers, under scrutiny from Parliament, to consider how animals’ interests should be balanced against other public policy needs, including economic, environmental, social, and religious considerations. 

Proposed improvements to the Bill 

World Horse Welfare welcomes the scope of the Bill and the proposed formation of the ASC.  We are working collaboratively with other animal welfare organisations, as part of the Better Deal for Animals coalition, to improve further on the proposed legislation and help ensure it passes into law. 

There are two key areas that we believe could be improved upon, and these are: 

  • We believe all effects on the welfare of animals should be considered by the ASC; as currently worded, the Bill is limited to negative effects only. A simple amendment, removing the word ‘adverse’ from the proposed legislation, would ensure opportunities to actively enhance animal welfare through policy are not missed. However, the ASC should prioritise supporting government departments in minimising policies’ actively harmful effects on the welfare of animals. 
  • We recognise that the burden placed upon Parliament to consider animal sentience must be proportionate and not unduly onerous. However, we are concerned that the current requirement on the relevant minister to react to an ASC report with a written response is not sufficiently robust, allowing them the opportunity to discharge their duty by simply providing a one-line response. We support the proposal for the creation and maintenance of a cross-Whitehall Animal Sentience Strategy that prospectively sets out (i) how Ministers, supported by the ASC, plan to have all due regard to animal sentience (including through animal welfare impact assessments and commissioning of any necessary independent research or opinions), and (ii) which upcoming policies are determined to be within the scope of the Act and ASC review. 

Better Deal for Animals position papers can be found here.

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