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The Bill 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 from the Governemnt in November 2017 and was followed by a consultation on a draft Bill  in December 2017 .

Following the consultation, the proposals were paused by Defra as recommended by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in January 2018. This was to allow “the problematic concepts” of animal sentience included in the Bill to be better defined.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL] was introduced in the House of Lords on 13 May 2021.

What does the Animal Sentience Bill cover?

The Bill recognises all vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals as sentient beings. Sentience is not defined in the Bill. 

The Bill requires the Government to establish an Animal Sentience Committee (ASC). The ASC will be able to scrutinise and report on whether the Government is taking into account the adverse effect of any policy “on the welfare of animals as sentient beings”. The ASC will not have an advisory or enforcement role.

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 wrote to the Secretary of State raising some questions on how the ASC will function. This includes whether members of the ASC will have enough time to do their work. Will the ASC be able to publish reports without requiring approval from Government. And will it have sufficient powers to fulfil its role effectively.

Passage through the House of 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 decapod crustacea (such as lobsters and crabs) 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.

Passage through the House of Commons

There were no amendments to the Bill during Second Reading and Committee Stage in the House of Common. A number of opposition amendments were debated and voted on during Committee but failed to pass. This included amendments that would have added a definition of sentience in the Bill; increased the scope of the ASC; and required the Government to publish and report on an Animal Sentience Strategy.

Report and Third Reading of the Bill were due to take place in the House of Commons on 7 March 2021 but were postponed.

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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