I am delighted to publish today a draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill which will reflect the principle of animal sentience in domestic law and increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty tenfold, from six months to five years in England and Wales.
This draft Bill will embed the principle that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure, more clearly than ever before in domestic law. There was never any question that our policies on animal welfare are driven by the fact that animals are sentient beings, and I am keen to reinforce this in legislation as we leave the EU.
The Government is committed to raising animal welfare standards, and to ensuring animals will not lose any recognitions or protections once we leave the EU. The draft Bill I am publishing makes our recognition of animal sentience clear. It contains an obligation, directed towards government, to pay regard to the welfare needs of animals when formulating and implementing government policy.
This provision does not apply to Ministers in the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I look forward to working closely with my devolved colleagues and I will be exploring with them the best way forward on this important matter, including whether they wish to take a similar or different approach.
In addition we will not tolerate cruelty against animals and we will give the courts the tools they need to deal with abhorrent acts of animal cruelty. This draft Bill increases the maximum penalty for animal welfare offences in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 from six months to five years’ imprisonment.
This applies to the most serious offences under the Act – causing unnecessary suffering, illegally mutilating an animal, illegally docking a dog’s tail, illegal poisoning and encouraging an animal fight. My proposed increased maximum penalties will also apply to convictions relating to attacks on service animals, including guide dogs, police and military dogs. This provision will apply in England and Wales.
The draft Bill that I am publishing today is subject to a seven week consultation, ending on 31st January. It is part of a wider programme to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead. We are making CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, banning plastic microbeads which harm marine life, and have set out proposals for a total ban on ivory sales which contribute to the poaching of elephants. This is the start of our ambition to set a global gold standard for animal welfare as we leave the EU.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: