Animal Sentience

Thank you for contacting me about animal sentience.

I am committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare, and to making the UK a world leader in this field. It concerns me that some have suggested that the recent vote my colleagues and I cast on New Clause 30 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. But that is a misconception – voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain.

Ministers explained during the debate that the Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by our recognition that animals are indeed sentient beings. We are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals, whether 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.

Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty, which this clause sought to transfer into UK law, has not delivered the progress we want to see: its legal effect is unclear and it has failed to prevent cruel practices across the EU. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill is not the right place to address these shortcomings, but the Government is presently considering the right legislative vehicle by which to make the necessary legal changes that will ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.

Here in the UK, we are improving animal welfare standards without EU input and beyond the scope of Article 13. Recent steps include making CCTV mandatory in all slaughterhouses, consulting on draft legislation to jail animal abusers for up to five years, and introducing Europe's most comprehensive ban on the ivory trade. Our ban on microbeads, which harm marine animals, has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”.

Once we have left the EU, there is even more that we could do. EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter, and from cracking down on puppy smuggling. Article 13 has not stopped either of these practices, and leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better.

The Government will continue to promote and enhance animal welfare, both now and after we have left the EU.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this issue.