Draft bill on animal rights is welcomed by Green Party
Green Party NI leader Steven Agnew has said he is relieved that the UK government has made an apparent U-turn over animal sentience.
Last month, MPs voted not to include part of a European Union treaty into the Withdrawal Bill recognising that animals could feel emotion and pain.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove later promised new legislation to ensure animal sentience is recognised.
Some MPs had claimed sentience was covered by existing UK animal welfare legislation, but this was specific to pets and did not extend protection to wild animals, or those in labs or other forms of captivity.
Now the Government has published a draft bill that says it must treat animals as sentient beings when it makes laws and increases the maximum sentence for serious animal cruelty to five years in jail.
Mr Agnew said it was "vital that our high animal welfare standards be enshrined in law".
"This is a very welcome development and we hope that it will copper-fasten protection for animals in a post-Brexit UK," he added.