Animal sentience amendment rejected

Following the government's omission of animal sentience from the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, various MPs concerned with animal welfare (including Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, and Labour's Kerry McCarthy) tabled amendments to the Bill to reinstate the recognition on animal sentience.

On Thursday, 16 November, Caroline Lucas pressed the first of these (known as "New Clause 30", or just "NC30") to a vote.

Obligations and rights contained within the EU Protocol on animal sentience set out in Article 13 of Title II of the Lisbon Treaty shall be recognised and available in domestic law on and after exit day, and shall be enforced and followed accordingly.

The amendment was rejected - and widely (mis)reported as the government voting that animals do not feel pain.

On Wednesday, 22 November, Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that animal sentience was already recognised under the Welfare Act 2006:

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.

Yet on Thursday, 23 November, Michael Gove issued a written statement committing to recognise animal sentience in law, but saying that the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was not the right place to do so.

This government will ensure that any necessary changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is recognised after we leave ​the EU. The withdrawal Bill is not the right place to address this. However, we are considering the right legislative vehicle.

However, this is the not the first time that Michael Gove has promised to recognise animal sentience in law. On Thursday, 20 July, Michael Gove told the House of Commons that article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which categorises animals as sentient beings, would "absolutely" be part of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill - an idea that he now explicitly rejects.

Therefore, it's vital that we keep the pressure on the government.

It is still possible for animal sentience to be recognised in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, as New Clause 28 (NC28) has similar wording to Article 13 (as referenced by NC30), and has not yet been rejected.

In formulating and implementing agriculture, fisheries, transport, research and technological development and space policies, public authorities shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient being, while respecting the administrative provisions and customs relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.

But if the government rejects this Bill as the medium through which to enshrine animal sentience in UK law, we must ensure that Michael Gove does not again renege on his commitment to do so.

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