Some readers will have seen a false claim that MPs voted in the House of Commons that animals do not have feelings. This incorrect story was sadly widely disseminated and was a perfect example of the increasing phenomenon of “fake news.”
Some sources which printed the story have had to issue a formal retraction. The truth is that of course everyone knows animals are capable of pain and suffering. Indeed, a protection for the feelings of animals has been protected in domestic legislation in this country since at least the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The Prime Minister very recently confirmed this in the House of Commons, saying: “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.”
The House of Commons recently rejected an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to include Article 13 of the Lisbon Treaty – which is the Article relating to animal sentience. Some voices suggested that this vote somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. This is plain wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. That is a ridiculous misconception, but sadly is was widely believed in certain circles.
The Minister of State for Justice Dominic Raab MP clarified this matter and explained it fully recently in the House of Commons:
“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 (Michael Gove) 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.”
The Government also further confirmed its full acceptance of the sentience of animals in this country, which you can read about by clicking on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/environment-secretary-confirms-sentience-of-animals-will-continue-to-be-recognised-and-protections-strengthened-when-we-leave-the-eu.
As you can see from what I have outlined, the fact that animals are capable of pain and suffering is protected in this country already and that the stories that claim the contrary are false.
Like most British people I am an animal lover and I would like to reassure my readers that this country has some of the highest standards for animal welfare in the world. Indeed, the Government has recently done a lot for the environment - we will:
· Ban the sale of ivory in this country
· Ban bee-killing pesticides
· Tackle plastic pollution
· Make it a requirement to have CCTV in slaughterhouses
· Reduce air pollution
· Increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years
When we leave the EU, not only will this Government maintain the current levels of animal welfare, but we will be free to enhance them even further.