Animal programs

Two hundred years of animal welfare legislation is something to celebrate


Henry Smith, MP

3 minute read

It is often said that the UK is made up of animal lovers – so it is a privilege for me to have been re-elected Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare; a role uniquely positioned to keep the needs of pets, wildlife, farm and other animals on Westminster’s radar.

It’s an exciting time for animals, with their sentience recently enshrined in UK law – on the same day a law banning glue traps in England received royal assent. But there will be new challenges ahead – and the insights, expertise and experiences of the RSPCA, the world’s oldest animal welfare charity, will be key to understanding how to make this an even better place to be. animal growth.

It’s 200 years since Parliament first passed animal welfare legislation – the Martin’s Act – prohibiting the improper treatment of livestock. Two years later the charity, then the SPCA, was founded in a London cafe, in the presence of parliamentarians such as James Mackintosh, William Wilberforce and Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. Since then there has been significant legislative progress, including the Animal Welfare Act 2006 – a landmark achievement for the RSPCA’s advocacy work.

As the RSPCA prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary, in 2024, it will no doubt reflect not only on the radical British policy and legislative change for animals over two centuries, but also on the progression of the status of animals in the society. Animals are no longer just commodities for food, transport or sport, but are our friends, companions and family members.

As the RSPCA approaches its grand 200th anniversary, it’s time to start a conversation about the future of humans and animals together over the next two centuries.

Little highlights the impact pets have on our lives better than the Covid-19 pandemic. As the nation locked itself away from friends and family, animal companionship became even more important. Many adopted rescue animals during this time; amid unprecedented social unrest, pets have remained a constant and reassuring presence. They saved their owners just as much as the owners saved them.

This changing status of animals is one of the reasons I’m excited about the RSPCA’s plans to launch a new collection of essays, titled ‘What have animals ever done for us?’. A launch event on June 9 will showcase the collection, which brings together key thinkers – including advisers to former US President Barack Obama’s administration, journalists, environmentalists and philosophers – to reassess the society’s relationship To animals.

At the heart of this collection is a reminder that animal welfare should not be seen as an isolated issue. Just as the pandemic has highlighted — and as Robin Hewings, Program Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, explores in his essay — the role companion animals play in mental well-being is huge. Other major ethical, social and economic challenges also depend on how we treat animals. However, there should be considerations when decision makers think about how to build a better future for animals and humans. To quote animal welfare advocate Philip Lymbery’s essay: “Protecting people is also protecting animals”. The march of technology, climate change and global seismic disruptions mean we need these discussions.

The collection poses uncomfortable questions and some of the answers that we parliamentarians may not agree with, but, as journalist Henry Mance considers, are we doing enough to talk about animals in the classroom ? Or, as lawyer Paula Sparks thinks, are animals getting the legal recognition they deserve? And does public policy ever consider humans and nonhumans equally, as philosopher Jeff Sebo explores?

As the RSPCA approaches its grand 200th anniversary, it’s time to have a conversation about the future of humans and animals together over the next two centuries – and how to build a better future not just for humanity, but for the trillions of animals by our side. This is a conversation I am ready to have and I urge my colleagues in Parliament to do the same.

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