Thank you very much for emailing me about animal sentience with regards to the EU Withdrawal Bill and the vote last week.
You can read the full transcript of Caroline Lucas’ amendment and input from other MPs on the subject here.
I am reassured that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Animal sentience is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering, it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under that Act. The Government intends to retain the UK’s existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made it clear that he hopes to enhance them.
The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will convert the existing body of direct EU animal welfare laws to become UK laws. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU. 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. For this reason I feel that my vote has not jeopardised Britain’s high animal welfare standards either current or in the future, once we leave the EU.
If you are still not reassured by my words, please be made aware of what the Prime Minster had to say on the issue today:
‘I am happy to give my hon. Friend that commitment. As she and others will know, we already have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and as we leave the EU, we should not only maintain, but enhance them. We have already set out our proposals to introduce mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses; to increase sentences for animal cruelty to five years; to ban microbeads, which damage marine life; and to ban the ivory trade to help bring an end to elephant poaching. We also recognise and respect the fact that animals are sentient beings and should be treated accordingly. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides protection for all animals capable of experiencing pain or suffering which are under the control of man. But I reaffirm to her that we will be ensuring that we maintain and enhance our animal welfare standards when we leave the EU.’
Alternatively, you can watch the video here.