Many constituents have recently contacted me about the status of animals as living beings. I nor any other MP believes that animals do not have feelings. There is no argument about the principle and I did not vote that animals cannot feel pain. It is self-evident that animals are sentient and UK law already recognises this fact. Indeed, the Government said the exact opposite. Minister Dominic Raab said in the debate: “Animals will continue to be recognised as sentient under domestic law.
Some voices have 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 plain wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. That is an outrageous misconception.
I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Ministers have been clear that they intend it to remain world-leading in the future and, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU.
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 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) came into effect.
Based on the Animal Welfare Act 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.
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. The Government has said that it will consider how the ‘animal sentience’ principle of Article 13 might be explicitly reflected in the UK when we leave the EU.
I therefore believe that existing UK legislation, which provides necessary and appropriate protection for animals in this country, will not be weakened when we leave the EU. Indeed, EU law is not a cure-all solution as farm animals can be kept in very cruel conditions without breaking a single EU law. It would be depressing if we let this be the benchmark.
The truth is that 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 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. The Government 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.
The UK has higher standards than any other country in Europe and the Prime Minister set out this week the Government’s intention to make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.
The government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a properly 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, and I have been assured by my ministerial colleagues that they are considering the right legislative vehicle.