An­i­mals’ sen­tiency a bal­anc­ing act for politi­cians in Brexit talks

Re­ac­tion to Par­lia­ment vot­ing to re­move a line from the Lis­bon Treaty shows the UK is a na­tion of an­i­mal lovers

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By LUCY EL­DER

JUGGLING the wel­fare of an­i­mals with their use in so­ci­ety is the bal­anc­ing act faced by Par­lia­ment as it seeks to de­fine sen­tience in UK law.

The gov­ern­ment split the draft An­i­mal Wel­fare bill into two parts (news, 16 Au­gust), sen­tenc­ing for an­i­mal abuse and the def­i­ni­tion of an­i­mal sen­tience, which was wel­comed by wel­fare char­i­ties and the Coun­try­side Al­liance.

A me­dia storm erupted in Novem­ber 2017 af­ter MPs voted not to in­clude the def­i­ni­tion of an­i­mal sen­tience as set out in the Lis­bon Treaty into UK law.

In a state­ment, De­fra sec­re­tary Michael Gove as­sured the na­tion the vote was against a “faulty amend­ment” that would not have pro­vided ap­pro­pri­ate pro­tec­tion for an­i­mals, and “any nec­es­sary changes” would be made to UK law to en­sure an­i­mal sen­tience is recog­nised af­ter Brexit.

Dr Jonathan Mer­ritt, se­nior lec­turer in law at De Mont­fort Univer­sity, pre­sented Brexit, horses and an­i­mal sen­tience, of which he is a co-au­thor, at a Horses in Cul­ture, So­ci­ety and Law sym­po­sium at the Univer­sity of Buck­ing­ham on 19 Septem­ber.

He said the re­ac­tion to the re­moval of “a line or two in the small print of Brexit” shows that the UK pub­lic are an­i­mal lovers.

“We fo­cused on horses be­cause that’s our re­search ba­sis, but also be­cause there’s quite strong ev­i­dence that there is some sort of un­usual sub­lim­i­nal link be­tween the species,” said Dr Mer­ritt, adding no other species has the same re­la­tion­ship with hu­mans.

He added the “big­ger ques­tion” is whether the pub­lic can trust the gov­ern­ment to find a bet­ter def­i­ni­tion than that in the Lis­bon Treaty, which it­self has loop­holes.

Mr Mer­ritt said he pre­dicts the UK will end up with a pol­icy that recog­nises sen­tience up to a point, with­out out­law­ing is­sues such as trans­port, sport and slaugh­ter.

“I don’t think we are go­ing to get an an­i­mal wel­fare law that says, ‘You have to treat them in a quasi-hu­man way’,” he added.

“I don’t think it’s go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent from the Euro­pean one, it will say we need to recog­nise they are sen­tient but we also have to recog­nise dif­fer­ent re­li­gious prac­tices and that we need them in the ecosys­tem.”

RSPCA head of pub­lic af­fairs David Bowles said defin­ing which an­i­mals are sen­tient is “prob­a­bly the eas­i­est ques­tion to an­swer” as that is de­fined in sci­ence.

“The knotty thing is hav­ing de­cided an­i­mals are sen­tient and need pro­tec­tion, they have to work out how to do that, what the poli­cies are and bal­ance those with hu­man needs,” he said.

He added the RSPCA is work­ing with De­fra to en­sure the new pol­icy is as ro­bust as pos­si­ble, while tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion pres­sure on Par­lia­ment in the runup to the March Brexit dead­line.

The Coun­try­side Al­liance said it will “con­tinue to work with the gov­ern­ment to en­sure sen­si­ble and prac­ti­cal pro­pos­als are brought for­ward on both sen­tience and sen­tenc­ing.”

It is thought the new def­i­ni­tion of sen­tience will be sim­i­lar to EU law

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