I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to contact me to share their views on animal sentience and how it is recognised by the UK, in relation to a vote during the EU Withdrawal Bill this week.
To be clear, MPs did not vote that animals weren't sentient, nor that we don't want to protect them. Some people have taken the vote to mean something that it wasn't. The question is, how to best support the highest animal welfare standards in UK law once we leave the EU. A majority of the House of Commons thought that the amendment in question wasn't the best way of doing it.
Ministers have been clear that they intend for the UK to remain world-leading in the future and as a minimum, plan to retain those standards in law once we leave the EU.
Our existing standards actually go beyond that of some of our European friends. EU law isn't a panacea - under EU law other countries still enjoy bullfighting, cockfighting, foie gras production, certain methods of raising pigs and veal, beak trimming, migrating bird shoots, the Pero Palo festival and other cruelties. We do none of those things in Britain. Animal lovers would surely not want the government to descend to those levels without questioning the laws that allow it.
To press the point further - the Animal Protection Index, maintained by World Animal Protection, rates the UK’s formal recognition of animal sentience as Grade A. Other Lisbon Treaty signatories such as France, Italy and Spain do not enjoy this rating, having each received Grade C. For your convenience, I have included a link to the Animal Protection Index, which will give you the opportunity to compare the UK with countries across Europe and the wider world. Of those measured, the UK shares its Grade A status with only 3 other countries: Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand.
Article 13 of the TFEU created a qualified obligation on the EU and Member States “to have full regard to the welfare of animals [as they are sentient beings]” when formulating and implementing EU law. So, the Government has said that it will consider how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 can be explicitly reflected in the UK when we leave the EU. I think that's a sensible approach and therefore voted accordingly, knowing that my many animal-loving constituents would want sentience reflected, and would of course want the Conservative Government to continue to do better than other European countries when it comes to animal welfare standards.
Many are rightly passionate about this, and I want my constituents to know that animal welfare is at the forefront of the Conservatives' environmental policy. The Government has recently: backed the protection of bees by supporting the restriction of neonicotinoid pesticides; announced a consultation into a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, so fewer make their way into our oceans; confirmed it will be outlawing harmful microbeads, which can infiltrate the water supply; dramatically reduced the use of plastic bags with the 5p charge and legislated for CCTV to be used in all slaughterhouses in England and Wales.
Today, the Environment Secretary has confirmed the way forward in a letter to me, and also published more in Parliament. I have attached a copy of that letter below, which I think is useful in addressing the facts of the matter.
I will continue to support the highest standards of animal welfare.