I think it is only right to start off by saying the initial news stories and resulting petitions etc were based on a grotesque misrepresentation of the Government’s views, and were in some cases a scurrilous attack on the character of many honourable Members of Parliament. It is right that The Independent has retracted the story, and it is deeply unfortunate that many members of the public have been misled by it. People who intentionally misrepresent the views or character of MPs for partisan purposes undermine faith in our democracy as a whole.
I want to reiterate that I am committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare, and to making the UK a world leader in the field. It concerns me that some have suggested the vote my colleagues and I cast on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. It did not, and it was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. No MP from any party believes that animals are not sentient.
The vote against New Clause 30 was the rejection of a faulty amendment that would not have achieved its stated aims. 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. Ministers will instead make any necessary legal changes to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU. The Withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this, so they are considering the right legislative vehicle.
The Environment Secretary made a statement on this matter, confirming the Government’s position, which can be seen here: 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
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.
Once we have left the EU we could do even more. EU rules prevent us from, for example, restricting or banning live animal export, cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices, and leaving the EU gives us the chance to do much better. I can assure you that I will be supporting the Government’s work to improve animal welfare in the run up to Brexit and once we have left.