Animals as sentient beings

November 2017

I have received correspondence from a number of constituents about the status of animals as sentient beings.

Neither I, nor my parliamentary colleagues, have denied that animals are sentient beings. It is self-evident that animals are sentient beings and contrary to misleading media reports, that is not the principle being debated here. This was reiterated by the Prime Minister on 22nd November when she stated during Prime Minister’s Questions that animals are sentient beings and should be treated accordingly.  

I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and the Prime Minister recently reaffirmed that we should not only maintain but enhance our already high animal welfare standards. I am confident that the Government is committed to ensuring that our animal welfare standards remain world-leading and do not think our standards will be weakened by our departure from the EU.

The EU (Withdrawal) 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 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) came into effect. Article 13 of the TFEU 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.

The issue here is simply whether or not this specific Article should be transferred to UK law as part of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Under existing UK legislation, if an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Although animals are therefore already recognised as sentient beings under our domestic law, during debates on this issue the Government has said that it will consider how the 'animal sentience' principle of Article 13 might be explicitly reflected in the UK when we leave the EU. You can read the debate that took place here

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, has also released a statement which again confirms that sentience of animals will continue to be recognised and protections strengthened when we leave the EU. You can access it here

I reject the implication that by choosing not to transfer this piece of EU protocol, the UK is somehow lowering its animal welfare standards or weakening its commitment to animal welfare. The UK has higher animal welfare standards than any other country in Europe and has introduced a number of animal welfare initiatives in recent months. This is reflected in the Animal Protection Index, which 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.

As the MP for a rural constituency I take the issue of animal welfare very seriously and I would hope my constituents know that I would not, in good conscience, vote to weaken the current legislation we have in place for animal welfare. I have welcomed the Government's many recent announcements on animal welfare legislation, including a ban on harmful pesticides and increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty. Earlier this month, I called a parliamentary debate on the issue of puppy smuggling and I clearly stated that I did so because I knew it was an issue of great concern to my constituents and I wanted to raise awareness about this awful trade. You can read more about the debate and watch it in full here

I hope this provides some clarity on this issue.