The RSPCA has teamed up with the chair of the Senedd’s new Cross Party Group on Animal Welfare to urge the Welsh Government to formally recognise and consider animal sentience in Welsh law. 

Calls come after the UK Government’s Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 recently received Royal Assent; creating a landmark new Animal Sentience Committee (ASC) which will consider the effect of all UK Government policy on the welfare of animals in the near future.

When any UK Government policy is being or has been formulated or implemented, the new Committee will consider any adverse effects of that policy on the welfare of animals as sentient beings – and can make recommendations to UK Government Ministers.

For Wales, that means reserved laws – matters which are still the responsibility of the UK Government and UK Parliament – will now be scrutinised for their impact on animal sentience; but devolved policies will not, as the Welsh Government is yet to act.

RSPCA Cymru fears this will create a “scrutiny deficit” for animals in Wales; and has urged the Welsh Government to develop their own plans to ensure animals are not “left behind”.

The new UK Act essentially acknowledges animals as sentient beings in law – and in a landmark moment, extends this recognition to decapod crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters, and cephalopods, like octopus and squid. However, a lack of imminent action from the Welsh Government will mean these, and other, animals have less legal protection in Wales when devolved decisions are being made.

Senedd Members recently raised the issue with the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd – who confirmed the Welsh Government’s intention to “determine (its) own direction on sentience, recognising that animals are sentient beings”, which has been welcomed by the animal welfare charity.

RSPCA Cymru is now urging the Welsh Government to make its specific plans on sentience clear as a matter of priority.

David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said: “The UK Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 is a landmark law – ensuring all UK Government policy considers the welfare of animals as sentient beings, via a new dedicated Committee.

“However, we now risk a scrutiny deficit in Wales where devolved laws and policies are not currently going through the same process – and that isn’t good news for animals.

“We continue to urge the Welsh Government to make their plans on formally recognising sentience clear, to prevent Wales’ animals being left behind.

“It’s really welcome that the Welsh Government has stated an intention to recognise animals as sentient beings – and we hope this process will not only ensure all laws and policies consider their impact on animal welfare; but also formally recognises animals such as crabs, lobsters and squid as sentient beings, as has happened at the UK level for the first time.”

RSPCA Cymru has also suggested that the new school curriculum could be utilised as part of any plans on formally recognising sentience in Wales – by teaching future generations that animals experience feelings, and the impact of human actions on that.

Mr Bowles added: “With a new school curriculum on the way, RSPCA Cymru has long said that Wales’ new approach in the classroom is a perfect opportunity to inspire a kinder generation, who are empathetic towards all sentient beings and understand that animals have thoughts and feelings.

“We look forward to working with decision-makers in Wales; with the aim of this becoming a country that not only recognises animal sentience in law; but one which encourages people to consider the impact their actions have in ensuring their fellow sentient beings have a good life and are treated with compassion and respect.”

Carolyn Thomas MS, chair of the new Cross Party Group on Animal Welfare, added: “It is of vital importance that Wales does not fall behind the United Kingdom on animal welfare legislation relating to animal sentience. “Every day we wait to act on animal welfare is potentially another day of harm for animals. Here in Wales, we should always communicate a bold message about our commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare and those words must be backed up with firm action through robust legislation.” More information on the RSPCA’s campaigning work for animal welfare can be found online.