New Animal Welfare Bill could pose threat to angling by ‘opening the door to animal rights extremists’

The Angling Trust, the national representative body for all forms of recreational fishing, has written to Environment Secretary Michael Gove expressing 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).