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The Bill began in the House of Lords and is the Government’s response to concerns raised when it did not transpose the recognition of animal sentience in the EU Treaty of Lisbon into UK legislation, following Brexit.

The intention to legislate was set out in a statement in November 2017 and was followed by a consultation December 2017 .

Following the consultation, the proposals were paused by Defra (237KB, PDF) as recommended by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. This was to allow “the ‘problematic concepts in the existing Clause 1 [on animal sentience] to be better defined”.

The Bill

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] was introduced in the House of Lords on 13 May 2021. The Bill, in its latest version as it arrives in the House of Commons, recognises all vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals as sentient beings, although sentience is not defined. 

The Bill requires the Government to establish an Animal Sentience Committee (ASC). The ASC will be able to examine whether the Government is taking into account the adverse effect of any policy “on the welfare of animals as sentient beings”.

The Bill is short, consisting of six clauses split into two sections. The first covers the ASC and its role. The second section covers transparency, definition of animal for the purposes of the Bill and its territorial extent.

The Bill was welcomed by animal welfare organisations. Concerns about the implications for farming and activities, such as hunting and fishing, have been raised by some stakeholders.

An Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee inquiry into the Bill began in May 2021. The Committee has not yet published its report, but its Chair has written to the Secretary of State raising some questions on how the ASC will function. This includes whether members will have enough time to do their work. Will the ASC be able to publish reports without approval of the Government. And will it have sufficient powers to fulfil its role effectively.

Passage through the Lords

During the passage of the Bill there were no successful Opposition amendments. The Bill was amended by the Government to include cephalopods molluscs (such as octopus and shrimp) and decapod cephalopods (such as lobsters and craps) in the definition of animals that are sentient, following a review of the evidence by the London School of Economics and Political Science in November 2021.

Lords’ debates on the Bill raised concerns about the limited detail in the Bill on the role of the ASC, and the broad scope of the Committee’s remit. The Government responded by publishing ASC draft terms of reference. These also included details of how the ASC will operate, and how appointments will be made.  The Government has said that animal welfare will not take precedence over other considerations when formulating or implementing a particular policy. 

Territorial extent

The Bill covers England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, it does not extend to the devolved competencies of the devolved administrations, which are explicitly excluded in the Bill.

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