Animals are sentient beings - this cannot be disputed. The Green Party amendment in question was unnecessary which is why it was voted against and I would like to explain why in this response. I would also like to highlight that reports in certain media outlets about this vote was widely exaggerated causing a great deal of outrage and has seen a retraction by the Independent newspaper in particular. Unfortunately this type of reporting, without referencing the full facts, appears common place in modern news.
I am proud that the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Ministers have been clear that they intend it to remain world-leading in the future and, as a minimum, to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left 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.
Based on the Animal Welfare Act the Animal Protection Index, maintained by World Animal Protection, 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. It is therefore clear that our homegrown laws provide the greatest protection, not those passed down by the EU.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 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.
I therefore believe that existing UK legislation, which provides necessary and appropriate protection for animals in this country, will not be weakened when we leave the EU.
I would like to quote the Minister's response to the proposed amendment:
"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 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."
The Government is committed to making any necessary changes to UK law in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure animal sentience is legally recognised once the UK leaves the EU. This also includes ensuring the UK has an effective means of making sure that animal sentience is reflected in future policy decisions. I understand that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently engaging closely with relevant organisations and authorities to further enhance its policies on this issue.
Encouraging action is being taken to improve animal welfare at home and abroad by increasing maximum sentences for animal cruelty, banning third party sales of puppies, and introducing one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales. I believe these very welcome steps demonstrate exactly how seriously this Government takes animal welfare.