conservation PHOTOGRAPHEr & Environmental writer
Do Gove's Excuses For Rejecting Animal Sentience Stack Up?
One can't have failed to notice the media furore surrounding the MPs vote to reject animal sentience and welfare on the 15th November 2017. One side states MPs are denying animal sentience whilst the opposing side believes "fake news" has misled the public. So do Gove’s excuses stack up?
With the #EUWithdrawalBill having reached Committee Stage, MPs are attempting to amend EU legislation as it is rapidly being copied into UK domestic law.
#CarolineLucas MP sought to reverse the dropping of the 2007 #LisbonTreaty, Article 13 of Title II. It states that 'Union and Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals.'
This has so far informed more than 20 pieces of EU animal welfare legislation including the ban on importing seal skins and cosmetic testing on animals. Not including #animalsentience in UK domestic legislation could, therefore, open animals up to abuse from those wishing to utilise them for financial gain.
Considering the far-reaching implications of the amendment, few MPs turned up to listen to Caroline Lucas's speech or engage in the debate. So although an impressive 612 MPs turned up for the vote, it is somewhat less impressive to know that they were less likely to be informed and, with no rebels, simply voting according to party lines.
The media fallout since the vote has elicited conflicting and therefore confusing coverage. Here is a synopsis of MPs' reasons for rejecting animal sentience and an analysis of their reasoning.
According to #MichaelGove, Secretary of State for the Environment, they were not voting that animals weren't sentient. They were voting against a further reading of this #NewClause30 put forward by Caroline Lucas MP.
Of course, the outcome of this is that her amendment would be dropped, and with it, animal sentience legislation. One might, therefore, interpret that MPs accept that animals are sentient but do not consider them worthy of protection.
MPs debated that the principle of animal sentience is already included in the 2006 #AnimalWelfareAct. Gudrun Ravetz, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, has since clarified that it only mentions that vertebrates are sentient but only in the explanatory notes. Responsibility for animal welfare is also shifted to the owner or keeper.
Article 13 of The Lisbon Treaty, according to Ravetz, "puts a duty on the State to pay full regard to animal welfare...and explicitly states that animals are sentient." Voting against its inclusion could allow the State to disregard animal welfare when formulating and implementing policy and make them less accountable.
Michael Gove stated on Radio 4 that including Article 13 in UK domestic law is the wrong legislative vehicle. He argues "it's better to have an absolutely well-designed piece of UK legislation rather than a poorly designed piece of EU legislation."
The problem hinges around what this legislation is and when it would happen in this BREXIT transition. Gove is unsure whether it would be covered in environmental law or criminal law and his statement that "I don't think that there will be a gap" does not inspire confidence.
Concerns of well-meaning but legally unenforceable National Policy Statements (NPS) and legislative gaps post #BREXIT are genuine cause for concern.
Gove believes Article 13 would create "legal uncertainty," but others do not see old and new legislation as mutually exclusive. The argument that two over-lapping pieces of legislation would be better than none is proving persuasive.