The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year. But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.
So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.
5. Animal Welfare Sentience Bill
What it is
The Bill will “make provision for an Animal Sentience Committee with functions relating to the effect of government policy on the welfare of animals as sentient beings”.
It’s very short – falling into two parts, the second of which contains supplementary and general provisions. The meat of the Bill is in the first part, which sets out the terms on which the committee will be established – its members will be appointed by the Environment Secretary – and which empowers it to issue reports that the Government must respond to.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in charge of the Bill, which has begun consideration in the Lords, not the Commons – as is sometimes the case with legislation which touches on relatively abstracted matters.
The Minister who led for the Government in the Lords wasn’t Lord Goldsmith, whose responsibilities cover animal welfare, but the more eirenic figure of Lord Benyon, who deals with rural affairs.
Carried over or a new Bill?
Currently under consideration.
The argument for the Bill is inseparable from the circumstances which have produced it – namely, Brexit. Until the UK left the EU, the latter’s laws applied to animal sentience. The Government could simply have copied these over entire; it has decided instead to go its own way, believing that Britain can do better.
Which means, in this case, a committee – which recognises the principle that animals are sentient. So unless you believe that they aren’t (and the most prominent critics of the Bill to date have not taken that position), you will believe that post-Brexit Britain must have a legal framework within which animal sentience is recognised.
In a nutshell, that the legal framework is wrong, because it will empower a committee to make particular recommendations from a general principle – rather than, say, deal with animal sentience issue through detailed Parliamentary debate and legislation, such as the The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which consolidated more than 20 other pieces of legislation in a single measure.
Critics of the Bill claim that the consequences of these could include: bans on Jewish and Muslim religious slaughter; the use of animals in medical research; the law on fishing and angling – even breeding horses or rearing pigs, if the committee works outwards from an ideal of animal rights. That’s a view from the Right; on the Left, there’s a view that the committee should have more and wider powers.
The Bill is a classic example of a measure that is set to sail smoothly through Parliament – there was no Second Reading division in the Lords – only to become more controversial after it is enacted. Much depends on who this and successive governments appoint as committee members.
For while this or other governments could simply ignore the committee’s recommendations, politics in Britain doesn’t tend to work in that way. And while there is a case for, say, barring animals in medical research, it would find it harder to gain legitimacy if imposed because of a committee recommendation rather than a parliamentary vote.
Controversy rating: 5/10
It is hard to score a measure which looks to create almost no fuss at the time but which may do so later. Some will argue that the Bill illustrates the folly of leaving the EU – which balanced, say, animals welfare with religious safeguards. To which others might answer that that the Bill proves the point of Brexit: taking back control. It’s then up to Parliament to do so wisely…or otherwise.