No MP believes animals are not sentient, it is very misleading to suggest otherwise. Indeed, the Independent has now clarified their earlier misleading headline on this by writing “the amendment was voted down by MPs – that is indisputable – but it wasn’t necessarily a refusal to recognise sentience.”
MPs merely voted against bringing Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union into UK law when we leave the EU. Article 13 of the TFEU places an obligation on the European Union when developing certain EU policies, and on member states when developing and implementing those EU policies, to have full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.
Animal sentience is already recognised and protected in UK law under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the vote on the amendment to the Withdrawal Bill does not affect this.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare laws to become UK laws. Most of these EU laws relate to farmed animals and many were passed after Article 13 of the TFEU came into effect and actually deal with the substance of animal welfare.
Adding Article 13 TFEU to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill would make no material difference to the welfare of animals, and could lead to legal confusion. Even Caroline Lucas admitted it would have a limited practical impact. To illustrate this, just consider the practice of bull fighting in some EU countries which is permitted, even under Article 13.
I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Based on the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Animal Protection Index, maintained by World Animal Protection, rates the UK's formal recognition of animal sentience as grade A. Other EU countries such as France, Italy and Spain do not enjoy this rating, having each received grade C.
This Government is maintaining and improving on our world leading animal welfare standards. For example. The Government will introduce mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses, ban the export of live animals once we have left the EU, increase the sentencing for animal cruelty from 6 months to 5 years, ban the sale of ivory to cut out the terrible practice of ivory poaching, and ban microbeads from being used in products as they do such harm to our oceans and marine wildlife. All these measures are real action to protect animals and have been welcomed by the RSPCA.
In conclusion, animal sentience is already protected and recognised in UK law. I voted against replicating Article 13 TFEU in UK law as it would have little practical impact and could lead to legal confusion. Instead, the Government has taken real action to protect animals.
Finally, below I have include a copy of a statement on this issue from the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Animal welfare – Michael Gove
This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.
It has been suggested that the vote last week on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals - that is wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain - that is a misconception.
Ministers explained on the floor of the house that this Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings and we are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals – whether on farms or in the wild. The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.
The Prime Minister has made clear that we will strengthen our animal welfare rules. This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.
We are already proposing primary legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.
The current EU instrument – Article 13 – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – in practice its effect is very unclear and it has failed to prevent practices across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.
In contrast, here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule. We will consult on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation. We propose combatting elephant poaching with a ban on the ivory trade which is more comprehensive than anywhere else in Europe. Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”, and is certainly the strongest in Europe.
Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. We hope to say more in these areas next year.
This government will continue to promote and enhance animal welfare, both now and after we have left the EU.