I am sorry that many people appear to have been misled by the inaccurate reporting of and the social media activity following the recent vote on new clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill. The Independent, which originally published the story, has subsequently clarified that its reporting was false and admitted that Conservative “MPs did not vote that animals are not sentient creatures.” Celebrities who jumped on the social media bandwagon such as Ben Fogle have now apologised for spreading the false story online.
It was falsely suggested that the vote last week 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 ridiculous and malicious misconception.
Animals have been considered sentient in UK law since the Animal Welfare Act of 2006 and will continue to be so. In fact, the globally recognised Animal Protection Index rates the UK as “A” grade for our recognition of animal sentience, whereas other EU countries such as France, Italy and Spain have received “C” grades.
This Government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience continues to be recognised after we leave the EU. The EU Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, however we are considering the right legislative vehicle.
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 current EU instrument – Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty – has not delivered the progress we want to see. It does not have direct effect in law – and has failed to prevent practices, such as bullfighting, across the EU which are cruel and painful to animals.
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.
This Conservative Government is improving animal welfare standards that go beyond the EU’s Article 13.
- We are proposing legislation to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years,
- We are creating a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.
- We are making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement which goes above and beyond any EU rule.
- We are proposing legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years – more than almost every other European nation.
- We are 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 to protect animals.
- 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.
The EU’s 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.
As the Prime Minister has set out, this Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare and will continue to promote and enhance animal welfare, both now and after we have left the EU.
I hope that this helps clear up the latest in a long line of attempts to deliberately misrepresent the votes of Conservative MPs in Parliament.
Nigel Adams MP