Animal Sentience vote means action is needed

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, has said action is needed following the Westminster Government voting down an amendment that would have recognised the principle of animal sentience in UK law.

The idea is enshrined through EU law but following this vote its status after Brexit is unclear.

The Lisbon Treaty enshrines the principle of animal sentience in UK law. It states that “Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals”.

However, as part of the Brexit process, the Westminster Government voted against an amendment that said animal sentience should be recognised and available in domestic law after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

While 295 MPs voted in favour of the amendment, 313 MPs voted against it. Liberal Democrat MPs were part of a cross-party effort including Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party to try and ensure animal sentience was recognised, but the Conservatives joined the DUP to vote it down.

The vote has been slammed by animal welfare groups.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said this was a “truly backward step” for animal welfare. David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs, disputed the Government’s claims that the Animal Welfare Act (2006) protected animal sentience, saying:

“Animal sentience is never mentioned in the Animal Welfare Act and, crucially, only domestic animals are really covered by the provisions of the Act anyway and animals in the wild and laboratories are expressly exempt. It is simply wrong for the Government to claim that the Act protects animal sentience.”

The British Veterinary Association have described the vote as “extremely concerning”. Gudrun Ravetz, Senior Vice President, said the vote went against the “founding principle of animal welfare science” and “undermined the Government’s previous promises” on animal welfare.

Following the vote and substantial political pressure, the Government has u-turned and suggested it may seek to ensure animal sentience is recognised in UK law.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, said:

“Animal sentience is simply accepting that animals feel pain and emotions – something we can surely all agree on – so the confusion the Conservatives have caused over this is extraordinary.

“The simple fact is that by voting down the amendment on animal sentience the principle will not be covered in UK law, and it will not be covered until new measures are introduced.

“The RSCPA have been quite clear that the principle is not covered by existing domestic law. The Animal Welfare Act does not cover it.

“Farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire and beyond should be proud of the high animal welfare standards the United Kingdom upholds. I welcome the early indications that the Government is u-turning after realising its mistake and await detail of how they will ensure animal sentience remains enshrined in law.”

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