MPs have voted to reject a bill that recognises that animals feel pain and emotion.
This relates to the EU Withdrawal Bill, the clause would have been entered into UK law and would mean recognition that animals feel pain and emotion, an admission currently covered by EU law.
Around 80% of animal welfare legislation currently comes from the EU but after March 2019 EU law will no longer apply in the UK.
Most EU law relating to animals will be automatically brought over into UK law, but this will not apply to the recognition of sentience.
The clause, part of the Lisbon Treaty – known as NC 30, submitted by Green MP Caroline Lucas, was rejected 313 against, 295 in favour, the vote was lost by only 18 and Michelle Donelan, our MP, voted no to it passing.
So what does sentient mean?
It’s simply defined as being able to perceive or feel things such as pain, or emotion.
Here is the wording of NC 30: “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
In other words, when implementing policy relating to animals, policymakers must take into account that animals are sentient.
It has been stated that the reasons for voting against this clause is because many believe it’s covered under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, but the RSPCA’s Head of Public Affairs David Bowles stated this:
“Animal sentience is never mentioned in the Animal Welfare Act and, crucially, only domestic animals are really covered by the provisions of the Act anyway and animals in the wild and laboratories are expressly exempt. It is simply wrong for the Government to claim that the Act protects animal sentience.
“In the EU, we know that the recognition of animals as sentient beings has been effective in improving animal welfare across the region.
“If the UK is to achieve the Environment Secretary’s objective of achieving the highest possible animal welfare post-Brexit, it must do the same.”
What do you think? Can we easily differentiate sentience between domestic pets and other wildlife? Is there actually a difference at all?
While at the time of writing Michelle Donelan has not released a statement regarding this issue, Justin Tomlinson, MP for Swindon had this to say on his Facebook page:
The vote last week was on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill. It was NOT on whether we recognise animals as sentient beings.
I have said it above and will say it again: Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain – that is a completely wrong & misleading thing to suggest.
Ministers explained on the floor of the house that 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 they are domestic, on farms or in the wild. 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 sentience of animals will continue to be recognised and protections strengthened when we leave the EU.
This Government is committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare. As the Prime Minister has set out, we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals.
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 very 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. We 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. We hope to say more in these areas next year.
We will continue to promote and ENHANCE animal welfare.
Ben Fogle (who initially believed the misleading article) has tweeted the following: I have now deleted the misleading threads and welcome the governments clear line on animal welfare.
Michelle Donelan has released a statement on her website addressing the issue.