There has been a lot of confusion on the recent vote on animal sentience, and in the last few days I have been contacted by constituents who have expressed their concerns that I and other Conservative MPs have voted that animals do not have feelings. This is not true.
I am committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. Not a single MP from any Party believes that animals do not have feelings, and it concerns me that some have suggested that my vote means otherwise.
During a debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill, an amendment was tabled that would have put a recognition of animal sentience into UK law. While the government accepted the principal of the amendment, it rejected the specific amendment on the basis that they felt it was flawed. Instead Ministers have said they will deliver the same result using a different route.
Ministers explained during the debate that the Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings. We are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals, whether on farms or in the wild. The vote last week was simply the rejection of a faulty amendment, which would not have achieved its stated aims of providing appropriate protection for animals.
Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty, which this clause sought to transfer into UK law, has not delivered the progress we want to see. Its legal effect is unclear and it has failed to prevent cruel practices across the EU. The Government is presently considering the right legislative vehicle by which to make the necessary legal changes that will ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. We are improving animal welfare standards without EU input, with recent steps including making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses, consulting on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years, and introducing Europe’s most comprehensive ban on the ivory trade. Our ban on microbeads, which harm marine animals, has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”, and once we have left the EU, there is even more than we can do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter and from cracking down on puppy smuggling. Leaving the EU gives us the chance to do even more to stop these practices.
The Government will continue to promote and enhance animal welfare, both now and after we have left the EU. This ill-informed outcry should not overshadow an extraordinary string of wins for animal welfare and the environment and the Government’s pledge to do more in the future. We have far higher animal welfare standards than any other country in Europe, and under this Government we will continue to raise them higher still.