Last month’s Queen Speech was noteworthy for how little it contained, with the only rabbit out of the legislative hat being (appropriately enough) the Animal Sentience Bill.
But now the proposed legislation, which would give vertebrates a legal right to feel happiness and suffering, has started to attract serious scrutiny as it enters the committee stage of the House of Lords. On Sunday Mr S noted that Lord Goldsmith’s response to a parliamentary question hinted that crabs, lobsters and other invertebrates could be included in the scope of the proposed protections.
Now it appears parliamentarians have begun to take note, judging by yesterday’s debate in the Upper House. Peers queued up to pick holes in the proposed new law, which would create an animal sentience committee to judge the effect of government policy on the welfare of animals as sentient beings.
Lord Herbert, the Countryside Alliance chairman, opened the batting by quoting Jeremy Bentham – ‘The question is not ‘can they reason?’ nor ‘can they talk?’ but ‘can they suffer?’ Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?’ – and arguing that Parliament had already answered the question by ‘passing a canon’ of animal welfare laws over the past two centuries.
Former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth declared ‘In more than 35 years in both Houses, I have never seen a more badly drafted bill’ and pointed out that both an animal welfare committee and the concept of sentience are in existence and enshrined in law, respectively. Jibing at advocates of the bill he continued ‘to me, sentience means ability to feel pain—but some of the advocates of the Bill are talking about emotions and discussing animals in anthropomorphic terms.’
Lord Howard of Rising, Enoch Powell’s former private secretary, warned ‘there is a danger that, with a little imagination, anyone wishing to act in a vexatious manner could use its good intentions to stray into unintended areas.