Animals as Sentient Beings

Regarding amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, specifically amendment 350 and new clauses 28 and 30 relating to animal welfare. I am disappointed at the misinformation regarding this vote and would like to clarify this. I am sure that all MPs agree with me that animals do have feelings, and I do not disagree with the principle of animals as sentient beings. I have included below Justice Minister Dominic Raab MP's comments from Hansard explaining the Government's position for your perusal.

The 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 Lisbon Treaty 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.

In recognition of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Animal Protection Index, which is 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. It is also important to remember that Article 13 is not some gold standard in animal welfare, as contentious animal rights issues such as bull fighting, foie gras production, live exports for slaughter and fur product imports are all permissible across the EU.

I am proud that the UK continues to show commitment to the highest animal welfare standards in the world, demonstrated by recent Government decisions such as increasing the minimum sentence for animal cruelty, making CCTV in abattoirs compulsory, banning the ivory trade, and backing further restrictions on the use of bee-harming pesticides.

Ministers have been clear that the UK will remain a world leader on animal welfare standards in the future and, as a minimum, we will retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU. The Government has said that it will consider how the 'animal sentience' principle of Article 13 might be explicitly reflected in the UK through separate legislation, which will mean that animal rights stand to be strengthened, not weakened, as we leave the EU.

Dominic Raab MP – European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, 15 November 2017

“I am going to make some headway because I am mindful, Mr Streeter, of your guidance about interventions. I want to ensure that those who tabled the amendments get a chance to make interventions about their amendments.

I want to turn now to the amendments themselves. We certainly support the sentiment behind new clause 30 and the related amendments, but I am afraid we cannot accept it. Let me briefly try to explain why.

Article 13 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union places an obligation on the European Union when developing certain EU policies and on member states when developing and implementing those EU policies to have full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. The intention of the new clause is to replicate—I am not sure whether it is replicate or duplicate—that obligation in domestic law when we leave the EU.

The reference to animals as sentient beings is, effectively, a statement of fact in article 13, but even though it is, in effect, declaratory, I can reassure the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) that it 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.

We have made it clear that we intend to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and, indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ​made clear, to enhance them. The vehicle of this legislation will convert the existing body of EU animal welfare law into UK law. 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.

In this country—we should be proud to say this—we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we intend to remain a world leader in the future. Leaving the EU will not prevent us from further maintaining such standards; in fact, it will free us in some regards to develop our own gold-standard protections on animal welfare. Animals will continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law, in the way I have described. We will consider how we might explicitly reflect that sentience principle in wider UK legislation.

To tack on to the Bill the hon. Lady’s new clause, which simply refers to article 13, would add nothing, however, and she was fairly honest in her speech about the limited practical impact it would have. Given that it is ultimately fairly superfluous, it risks creating legal confusion. Obviously, if she wants to propose improvements to wider UK legislation—I am sure she will, knowing her tenacity—she is free to do so, but this new clause is unnecessary, and it is liable only to generate legal uncertainty. Having addressed some of her concerns, I hope that she will withdraw the new clause, having powerfully and eloquently made her point.”