Anti fury over animal sentience bill

Boris Johnson’s animal rights allies are spitting fur and feathers. The animal welfare (sentience) bill will receive royal assent and become law, but it does nothing for animals, they say.

Johnson’s government has fanfared the rights that the bill will give lobsters and octopuses among other wildlife. Even the House of Commons Library website acidly points out: ‘The Bill recognises all vertebrate animals and some invertebrate animals as sentient beings. Sentience is not defined in the Bill.’

Animal rights extremists wanted a law that would give animals rights. Instead, it’s a law that can change how animals are treated and used. According to the Animals24-7.org website, ‘The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill recognizes animal sentience by forming a Parliamentary committee to study it.’

The DEFRA secretary will appoint members of the new Animal Sentience Committee ‘based on expertise and experience’. The committee will scrutinise government policy on animal welfare, publishing a report on whether the ministers give due regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings. The bill requires government ministers to respond to the committee’s report within three months.

Animals24-7 adds that the ‘yet to be named members of the Animal Sentience Committee were metaphorically defanged, declawed, dehorned, pinioned, and castrated by amendment nine days before the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill cleared third reading in the House of Commons’.

The political act of violence against the committee comes from Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, British Association for Shooting & Conservation vice president and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Shooting and Conservation, and Jonathan Djanogly MP, chair of the British Shooting Sports Council. Thanks to their 15 March 2022 amendment, the new Animal Sentience Committee will now have to ‘respect legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage’.

The Clifton-Brown/Djanogly amendment solves the problem raised by many rural MPs that animal rights groups could coerce the committee into reviewing policies on farming, animal husbandry, fishing, hunting and shooting. Activist groups could then clog up the legal system with unlimited applications for judicial review, as Wild Justice has done with the government’s general licences system of allowing pest control.

None of the hunting or shooting organisations commented on the bill passing its final stages. It now waits for the final stage of Royal Assent when the Bill will become an Act of Parliament. A date for Royal Assent has yet to be scheduled.

The bill's timetable, as it awaits royal assent
The bill's timetable, as it awaits royal assent

The Animals24-7.org website provides a list of animal rights organisations that welcome the bill, including PETA, the Humane Society International (UK) and the Vier Pfoten organisation (known as Four Paws in the UK) – but says that their welcome for the bill is a reflection of their fundraising efforts. It comments: ‘The 50-odd members of Better Deal for Animals, an alliance of 50 of leading British animal welfare organizations, lost no time congratulating themselves and declaring “Victory!” to donors.’

The committee may be toothless, but it is another animal rights tank that Boris Johnson is moving into position and pointing its barrels at the countryside. It joins his other tank, the new Office For Environmental Protection, founded in November 2021, which aims to be DEFRA’s private police force, looking for criminals among people who work in the countryside or with livestock or wildlife.

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