The Countryside Alliance has warned there is a danger the Government’s Animal Welfare Bill could be hijacked by animal rights activists.
The Bill has been brought forward to extend sentences for animal cruelty and ensure Government has to pay regard to animal welfare in formulating policy.
It is designed to replace an EU rule which forces Ministers to consider animal welfare in the development of policy in a number of limited areas, including agriculture.
But the Government’s Bill goes further, extending the duty to pay regard to animal welfare to all areas of Government policy.
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner has suggested this duty, balanced only by a need to consider the ‘public interest’, could provide an opportunity for the activities of farmers and land managers to be curtailed.
“Whilst we support the broad principles of the Bill, we immediately raised concerns that in its current form it would provide a vehicle for the animal rights movement both inside and outside parliament”, Mr Bonner said.
“Politicians, including Conservative MPs, have already stated their intention to bring amendments to any bill introduced into parliament, which would challenge Government policy on everything from badgers to game farming.
“If passed in its current form, the Bill would also lay Ministers across the Government open to Judicial Review of claims their decisions had not given sufficient weight to the welfare of animals.”
In its response to a Government consultation on the Bill, the group made clear recognition of animal sentience was not the same as acknowledging animals have rights in the same way as human beings.
The response also said public interest in a policy area should not be confused with public opinion, and called for an in-depth assessment of the potential implications of extending the duty to all policy areas, such as health and housing.
Further concerns about the timing of the draft Bill were raised given the demands on the Government’s time in the current parliamentary session.
Mr Bonner said: “This draft Bill is not an academic exercise or a political stunt, it is potentially a far reaching piece of legislation with serious consequences for those involved in livestock farming, wildlife management and indeed any Government policy which impacts on animals, however obliquely.
“The Bill is in need of significant amendment if it is not to deliver a raft of unintended consequences.”