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Animal welfare is a devolved matter. For England and Wales, a range of legislation on animal welfare was consolidated under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to domesticated animals, or any animals under the control of man. The maximum penalty under the Act is currently a six-month sentence and/or an unlimited fine.

In 2016 the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences in Northern Ireland under the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 was increased to five years, following the recommendations of a review of the implementation of the Act. The Scottish Government consulted in February 2019 on increasing the maximum sentence from one to five years under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.  The Environmental Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee carried out an inquiry into domestic pet welfare in 2016. One of its recommendations was that maximum sentences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should be increased to five years. The Government did not support the proposal at the time

Following a number of serious animal welfare prosecutions, the Government announced in September 2017, that it intended to increase the maximum sentence to five years. It published draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill in December 2017 for consultation. Following this, the Government decided that it would legislate for increased sentences as soon as parliamentary time became available, whilst continuing to work further on animal sentience proposals.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2017-19 was published on 26 June 2019. Second Reading in the Commons took place 9 July 2019. The Bill would have increased the maximum penalty under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 for the most serious animal cruelty offences in England and Wales from six months to five years.  Committee Stage of the Bill took place on 23 July 2019. The Bill was passed unamended and was due to have Report Stage in the Commons on 4 September 2019. However, this was cancelled, and the Bill fell at the end of the 2017-2109 parliamentary session.

The Queen’s Speech on 14 October 2019 set out the Government’s intention to reintroduce the Bill in the 2019-2020 parliamentary session. Following this the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019  was published on 15 October 2019 . The Bill failed to complete it passage through Parliament before the end of the parliamentary session on 6 November 2019.

In February 2020, The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019-21, was reintroduced as a Private Members’ Bill, sponsored by Conservative Member Chris Loder, with Government support. The First Reading took place on 5 February 2020 with Second Reading taking place on 23 October 2020. On 3 February 2021 the Bill passed Committee stage unamended. Report stage is scheduled to take place on 12 March 2021.

The text of the Bill is the same as that from the previous sessions. It increases the maximum sentence for certain animal cruelty offences to five years and applies to England and Wales. The Bill received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021 and will come into force on 29 June 2021.

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