Environment Food and Rural AffairsCommitteeOral evidence: Draft Animal Welfare (Sentencingand Recognition of Sentience) Bill 2017, HC 709Wednesday 17 January 2018 Sir Stephen Laws KCB,QC, former First Parliamentary Counsel
- Paul Flynn: I feel a sense of excitement about this Bill, because having been through the genesis of the Dangerous Dogs Act a long time ago, I think this will be a classic piece of bad legislation, in that it is prejudice‑rich, politically charged and evidence‑free. There does not seem to be any evidence that the areas to be addressed are the most severe forms or the most widespread forms of animal abuse. Neither does there seem to be any evidence that increasing sentences and fines necessarily alters behaviour. Those cases have to be made if this Bill is gone through.
We touched on the reason behind this. This Bill is not about improving the welfare of animals. It is a political stunt, because “sentience” is a highly charged word at the moment for the reasons Alan gave earlier. It is an attempt to paint one political party in a pleasant light rather than a nasty light, and in doing this it is an abuse of Parliament’s time. The effort and time that will go into this will not be worthwhile unless we can open it up and ask people to come in and say, “What are the areas of animal abuse that need to be addressed?” One would suggest getting rid of hunting altogether, and the mass rearing of animals to be shot by guns. These are the main areas, though maybe people will have others. The genesis of this Bill seems to be entirely party‑political. What are you views on that?
Chair: I do not know how much you want to get into party politics, but I will pass it over to you, Sir Stephen.
Sir Stephen Laws: It is clear that it is an attempt to reproduce an obligation that exists via European law in our law at the moment. To that extent it is about the law, but is it an efficient use of the law? You cannot actually change people’s minds by making a law that says they have to change their minds. You can change people’s behaviour, and perhaps if you change their behaviour you can change their minds as a result.
This is not something that is directed at the most efficient use of the law. The most efficient use of the law is to change people’s behaviour, which you do with specific provisions. If you create general provisions that then potentially fight with specific provisions, what you do to the law is make it unclear and make the specific provisions less valuable than they would be if they stood on their own.