Better standards of animal welfare will be highlighted in the Queen’s Speech this week, ahead of several landmark UKs bills.
Among them, animal sentience and tougher penalties for animal cruelty are to be enshrined in law.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs UK Minister George Eustice detailed the plans in an interview with The Telegraph.
The Queen’s Speech marks The State Opening of Parliament. The annual event is taking place on Tuesday, May 11, and sets out the government’s agenda for the coming political year.
It is here that she confirms bills and introduces new legislation. According to multiple British media publications, she will discuss a host of upcoming animal welfare bills.
The new animal protection legislation includes The Animal Welfare Bill, Animals Abroad Bill, and Kept Primates Bill.
Does UK law recognize animals as sentient?
Currently, animals are not recognized as sentient beings under UK law. However, they do have welfare protections under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
This makes it an offense to cause ‘unnecessary suffering’ to them. Moreover, owners of animals have a ‘duty of care’ to ensure their welfare needs are met.
Politicians and campaigners have long pushed for animal sentience to be recognized in law – but MPs voted down the proposal four years ago.
Initially, politicians were blasted for not introducing the bill back in 2018. So far, it has seen three attempts in parliament.
Twice leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, was critical of the initial vote.
She said: “By way of background, in 1997 – 20 years ago – the UK Government, during their presidency of the EU, convinced the then 14 other member states that EU law should explicitly recognize that animals were sentient beings, and not simply agricultural goods like bags of potatoes that could be maltreated with impunity.
“In other words, it was a recognition that, like us, animals are aware of their surroundings; that they have the capacity to feel pain, hunger, heat, and cold; and that they are aware of what is happening to them and of their interaction with other animals, including humans.”
Campaigners were equally critical. However, the Animal Sentience Bill has resurfaced and is set to accept the feelings and emotions of animals with backbones.
Eustice told The Telegraph it’s also about considering animal sentience in future policies.
Tougher sentences for animal cruelty
In recent weeks, one of the bills received the Queen’s Royal Assent. This means the Queen has given her formal approval. This is necessary for bills to be passed.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will see tougher prison sentences for animal cruelty. For example, the maximum prison sentence is now increased from six months to five years. This comes into effect from June 29 this year.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home launched the campaign to enact the bill and has since thanked MPs for the support.
Chief Executive Peter Laurie said: “We’ve changed the future for animals in this country and now the punishment for these horrendous acts of cruelty can finally fit the crime.”
It came after the RSPCA revealed it received 1,175,193 calls to its 24-hour cruelty hotline in 2018 alone.
Other animal welfare bills
New bills are coming into play to expand on the previous Animal Welfare Act 2006. It is all part of a wider plan to deliver better standards in the UK over the next few years, following Brexit.
They have already been in the works for several years. However, politicians are hopeful they will be approved in the coming months. First, they must pass both the House of Commons and House of Lords.
One of the bills – the Kept Primates Bill – will see the ban on keeping primates as pets. And, the additional Animals Abroad Bill will ban live animal exports and hunting trophies.
In The Telegraph interview, Eustice added: “How you treat animals, and the legislation you have to govern that is a mark of a civilized society, and we should be constantly looking to improve and refine our legislation in this area.”
The bills are currently in various stages of the legislative process.
You can watch the Queen’s Speech via BBC One from 10.30 on May 11