Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union protects the legal status of animals as sentient beings. However, once we leave the EU, we will need to transfer this article into UK law, or create our own law, if we want this protection to continue.
There was an opportunity to transfer Article 13 into UK law during the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Whilst the Act was making its way through Parliament, I supported amendments to retain the rights and obligations contained in Article 13. Unfortunately, these were all defeated by the Government, despite its claim that it does recognise animal sentience.
Following a significant public campaign, the Government published a draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill. The Bill aimed to increase sentences for animal cruelty and recognise animal sentience.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee recommended that these two issues should be dealt with separately, and the Government has agreed to this. However, the Government has not made any progress on the introduction of an animal sentience bill since this happened in 2018.
My Opposition colleagues and I have repeatedly called on the Government to recognise animal sentience in law ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU. We should not leave the EU without this vital protection in place.
Last year, I supported the Animals (Recognition of Sentience) Bill 2017-19, which would have enshrined animal sentience in UK law. However, the Bill was not backed by the Government and was therefore unable to pass through Parliament before the General Election.
At the last election, the Government was elected on a manifesto which included a commitment to recognise animal sentience in law. However, the Government has not yet fulfilled this promise or said when they will fulfil it.
On 10 September 2020, the Government was asked whether it will bring forward legislation on animal sentience. Victoria Prentis, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, said:
“The Government is committed to further strengthening our world-leading animal welfare standards. We have committed to bringing in new laws on animal sentience. Any necessary changes required to domestic legislation will be made in an effective and credible way and will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.”
It is concerning that we are now in October 2020 and the Government has still not put forward a timetable for when it intends to recognise animal sentience in UK law. I can assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to ask it to fulfil its commitment to the British people and British wildlife.