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News From Westminster By David Warburton MP

One former national newspaper (its title begins with an “I”) has already – sort of – apologised, but no doubt the engines of social media will carry on regardless. This is the fuss last week about animal sentience.

It’s amazing how apparently easy it is to mislead hordes of right-thinking people.  The suggestion last week was that a rejected amendment (on New Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill) somehow signalled a weakening in the protection of animals. It was plain wrong. Voting against the amendment was not a vote against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain. That is a ridiculous misconception – and the papers knew it.

Obviously animals are sentient.  We are animals too, and to question the sentience of species would be absurd. My dog wouldn’t be too impressed with the idea.

Everyone from the PM down has been crystal clear that we will keep strengthening our animal welfare rules. The right legislative vehicle for this is not a faulty amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill: it’s new, comprehensive animal welfare legislation.

Animal welfare standards are currently being improved far beyond the scope of Article 13.  Legislation is under way to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the creation of a new statutory, independent body to uphold environmental standards.   CCTV will shortly be mandatory in all slaughterhouses – a requirement far beyond any EU rule.  Britain is also instigating the most comprehensive ban on ivory anywhere in Europe, to combat elephant poaching.  Our ban on microbeads which harm marine animals has been welcomed by Greenpeace as “the strongest in the world”, and is certainly the strongest in Europe.

Remember, it was the UK who forced the EU to adopt the principle of animal sentience in the first place.  And once we have left the EU, there is even more we could do.  EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter. EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under 6 months. Article 13 has not stopped any of these practices or bull fighting in Spain or, indeed, cock fighting in France – but leaving the EU gives us the chance to do so much better.  I’m expecting and hoping we’ll see more legislation next year.  Let’s keep up the pressure, but let’s also keep watch for the limitless trickery of the media.

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