EU Protocol on animal sentience

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 15th November 2017.

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Photo of Dominic Raab Dominic Raab The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 8:00 pm, 15th November 2017

I am going to make some headway because I am mindful, Mr Streeter, of your guidance about interventions. I want to ensure that those who tabled the amendments get a chance to make interventions about their amendments.

I want to turn now to the amendments themselves. We certainly support the sentiment behind new clause 30 and the related amendments, but I am afraid we cannot accept it. Let me briefly try to explain why.

Article 13 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union places an obligation on the European Union when developing certain EU policies and on member states when developing and implementing those EU policies to have full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. The intention of the new clause is to replicate—I am not sure whether it is replicate or duplicate—that obligation in domestic law when we leave the EU.

The reference to animals as sentient beings is, effectively, a statement of fact in article 13, but even though it is, in effect, declaratory, I can reassure Caroline Lucas that it is already recognised as a matter of domestic law, primarily in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If an animal is capable of experiencing pain and suffering, it is sentient and therefore afforded protection under that Act.

We have made it clear that we intend to retain our existing standards of animal welfare once we have left the EU and, indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made clear, to enhance them. The vehicle of this legislation will convert the existing body of EU animal welfare law into UK law. It will make sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after the UK leaves the EU.

In this country—we should be proud to say this—we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, and we intend to remain a world leader in the future. Leaving the EU will not prevent us from further maintaining such standards; in fact, it will free us in some regards to develop our own gold-standard protections on animal welfare. Animals will continue to be recognised as sentient beings under domestic law, in the way I have described. We will consider how we might explicitly reflect that sentience principle in wider UK legislation.

To tack on to the Bill the hon. Lady’s new clause, which simply refers to article 13, would add nothing, however, and she was fairly honest in her speech about the limited practical impact it would have. Given that it is ultimately fairly superfluous, it risks creating legal confusion. Obviously, if she wants to propose improvements to wider UK legislation—I am sure she will, knowing her tenacity—she is free to do so, but this new clause is unnecessary, and it is liable only to generate legal uncertainty. Having addressed some of her concerns, I hope that she will withdraw the new clause, having powerfully and eloquently made her point.

I want to turn now to new clause 60, in the name of Mary Creagh, who is the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, to new clause 67, in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and to the related amendments dealing with environmental principles.

The UK has always had a strong legal framework for enforcing environmental protections, and that will continue after we leave the EU. The Bill—this legislative vehicle—will convert the existing body of EU environmental law into UK law, making sure that the same protections are in place in the UK and that laws still function effectively after exit.

The Bill will directly preserve these important environmental principles, because they are hardwired into existing directly applicable EU environmental regulations and case law. Just to take two examples, the precautionary principle is included in the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals regulation of 2006 and the invasive alien species regulation of 2014, so it will be preserved by the Bill. I hope that I have gone some way to reassuring the hon. Lady, given what she said earlier.

With the inclusion of judgments on the application of the precautionary principle, EU case law on chemicals, waste and habitats, for example, will also continue to apply and will be preserved by the Bill as a matter of UK law.