Animal sentience vote
#StopTheTories Channel has deleted a post shared to the Facebook page from The London Economic, and a second post shared from indy100, on the topic of the recent ‘animal sentience’ amendment vote in the House of Commons.
This topic went extremely viral across social media, but Conservative politicians and fellow traveller journalists have been screaming “fake news” on it.
The main Independent website has since posted a careful clarification piece, in which they summarise the problem with the viral headlines as follows:
Many of the reports did miss a very specific but very important detail of what happened. Nobody voted that animals aren’t sentient, because that wasn’t ever up for a vote. Instead, they didn’t vote that they were. A number of stories gave a misleading impression by eliding that distinction.
The amendment that would have explicitly recognised animal sentience was tabled by Green MP Caroline Lucas. She says it is important because recognition of sentience is a principle upon which later laws can be decided. If the Lisbon Treaty text is not integrated into UK law, the current explicit recognition of animals as sentient beings will disappear.
After the vote, Dr Lucas said: “It’s only an obsession with refusing changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill that’s stopping Ministers adopting this amendment now.”
In other words, a fair report of what happened is that the Tories’ increasingly desperate attempts to manage their Brexit shitstorm in the Commons were considered more important at this point in time than protecting explicit legal recognition of animal sentience.
Theresa May claimed in an answer in the House of Commons that it doesn’t matter because there are protections in place in UK law, pointing particularly to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which contains laws about animals in distress. However, Caroline Lucas says that law is insufficient because it doesn’t contain the guarantee about sentience, and it is limited only to companion animals or pets – not farm animals, lab animals or wild animals.
While this rejection is going to mostly affect farm animals, as well as wildlife and lab animals, it is a worrying sign for pets as well. Current UK law views dogs as chattel, which makes stealing someone’s dog no more serious than stealing their TV set. This makes it a very low risk crime, as well as a lucrative one, and pet theft is on the rise as a result.
Plus, a recent court case highlighted a loophole in the Animal Welfare Act which leaves breeding dogs entirely unprotected, as a council can legally issue a breeding licence to an establishment in breach of the Act.
So, the vote by Conservative and DUP MPs was justified by a complacent and misleading answer by the Prime Minister.
Yet, in the weird world of parliamentary politics, the distinction between “voting that animals don’t feel pain or emotions” and “not voting that animals do feel pain or emotions” does matter. Michael Gove has since stated on Twitter: “I will ensure that the principle of animal sentience… is there in UK law in a properly comprehensive way”. #StopTheTories Channel has no evidence to suggest this won’t happen.
Unfortunately, the over-egged headlines on social media have enabled Tories to shout down the whole topic by screaming “FAKE NEWS!”, conveniently diverting attention from what did happen and how poor it still was on the part of the Tory government.