MPs have been forced to deny that a Commons vote last week means animals are not recognised in the UK as sentient life forms.
An amendment to the European Union (withdrawal bill to transfer the EU protocol on animal sentience into UK law was defeated by 313 votes to 295 on 15 November, and since then a row has developed as to what the vote meant in practice.
Describing some of the reporting on the vote as “weird and dishonest”, Tory MP Zac Goldsmith tweeted a clarification that the vote had been about the correct legal procedure for ensuring animal welfare standards – not on the principle of whether animals are sentient.The amendment, proposed by the Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas, among others, had set out to specifically incorporate article 13 of title II of the Lisbon treaty into UK law. During debate on the amendment last Wednesday, Lucas pointed out that the origins of the clause began with the 1997 UK presidency of the EU and that from 1999 EU law had explicitly recognised that animals were sentient life forms. That protocol was subsequently included in the treaty.
Lucas told the Commons: “The government have rightly and commendably committed to transferring all existing EU law on animal welfare into UK law under the bill, but because the text of the Lisbon treaty is not transferred by the bill, the wording of article 13 on animal sentience will not explicitly be incorporated into UK law.”
She added: “The UK has no legal instrument other than article 13 of the Lisbon treaty to provide that animals are sentient beings.”
Regardless of the failed amendment, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 remains on the statute book, which although it does not specifically mention sentience, contains law regrading animals in distress.