The Angling Trust has written to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to express serious concerns over possible consequences for angling as a result of the government’s Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill.
The Bill seeks to increase the maximum sentences for animal cruelty and also to write into law the concept of animals as ‘sentient beings’. However, experts have advised that this definition could open the door for endless legal challenges. Both the Trust and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) have warned the government against creating opportunities for animal rights extremists who want to see angling and other field sports banned.
In his letter to Michael Gove, Angling Trust Chief Executive Mark Lloyd pointed out that the Animal Welfare Act (2006) already acknowledged animal sentience “making further, and more demonstrably challengeable legislation, not only unnecessary but undesirable.”
He wrote: “During the passage of the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, the then Government was so concerned that their new law should not be used to challenge the legitimacy of angling as a sport and fish were specifically excluded from the definition of ‘animal’ in the legislation. Should you decide to proceed with this Bill we urge you on behalf of the UK’s three million anglers to adopt a similar approach and to ensure that one of the nation’s most popular outdoor activities is not threatened in any way.”
He added: “The Angling Trust has no issue with increasing the penalties for animal cruelty but in common with other field sports organisations we are extremely concerned that a poorly drafted piece of legislation on the issue of animal sentience could lead to a series of legal challenges by groups opposed on principle to angling.”
These concerns were given added impetus in the recent evidence to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs examination of the draft bill from Mike Radford, Reader in Law, University of Aberdeen and Sir Stephen Laws KCB, QC, former First Parliamentary Counsel. Both these experts concluded that the bill as drafted could have unintended consequences and would leave the situation open to legal challenge with final determinations made by the courts rather than parliament.
Martin Salter, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “There is a world of difference between animal welfare and animal rights and in a hurried attempt to try and gain some environmental brownie points ministers are in danger of creating a legal quagmire as botched and unworkable as the widely discredited Dangerous Dogs Act.
"We do not doubt that the government wants angling to grow and prosper on its watch but writing out a blank cheque to animal rights extremists is both foolhardy and dangerous.”
Anglers are being encouraged to send a copy of the Angling Trust letter to their MPs asking them to press for amendments that would see fish and fishing excluded from the legislation, as is currently the case (see notes below).
Download a copy of Angling Trust's letter to Michael Gove
Full transcript of EFRA Evidence session available here
Angling Trust Response to Animal Welfare Bill consultation. (Ends 31st Jan 2018):
Responses to key questions:
5. Do you consider that the term 'sentience' should be defined explicitly?
6. If you answered 'yes', what definition should we use?
While the Angling Trust believes that animals are sentient beings, the term sentience describes subjective experience and perceptions which differ markedly across species. We do not believe that there is one legal definition that meets all cases.
7. Do you consider that the term 'animal' should be defined explicitly?
8. If you answered 'yes', what definition should we use?
The term is so wide ranging that no single legal definition is likely to usefully cover all cases. However, fish, crustaceans and all invertebrates should be specifically excluded from the definition of ‘animal’.
9. Do you consider that the term 'welfare needs of animals' should be defined explicitly in the clause?
10. If you answered 'yes', what definition should be used, and should the list of needs in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 be changed?
No changes required as already adequately listed in the Animal Welfare Act. 2006.
11. Do you agree that the draft Bill should apply to all policy areas?
12. If you answered 'no', why do you not agree with this?
Fishing should not be included.
13. Do you agree that the draft Bill should adopt the term 'should have regard’?
14. If you answered 'no', how do you think the level of regard should be specified?
Potential for legal challeng.
15. Do you have any views or comments on the consequences of this new duty?
The Angling Trust is very concerned that a consequence of the draft Bill which enshrines this duty is that it will be used to tag amendments on all manner of field sports and animal rights issues which the government would not like to legislate on. We believe that legislation is a dangerous way to address this issue and hope that parliamentary draftsmen have advised that the long title of the Bill is sufficiently tight to avoid tagging amendments to the Bill.
Furthermore, the evidence to the EFRA Select Committee indicates that this legislation could be used to mount a legal challenge by those who wish to see angling banned as a point of principle.
16. Do you have any views about whether a different formulation or approach might achieve the policy objectives? Views would also be welcome on how the approaches adopted in other countries might apply here.
The Angling Trust believes that legislation is unnecessary to ensure that animal sentience is recognised in law. It is already recognised by previous animal welfare legislation (see the explanatory note to section 1 of the 2006 Act which identifies vertebrates as “currently the only demonstrably sentient animals”.)
The government should consider a statutory code on animal welfare, which would include a statement on sentience, breach of which can be used in evidence in legal proceedings.
17. Do you agree with the new maximum sentence?
The Angling Trust has no particular views on sentence length which is a matter for the judge in any particular case. Increasing the maximum provides the judge with more options and may have a deterrent value.