Michael Gove says new law will recognise animals as ‘sentient beings’ after fake news row
Michael Gove has said animals will be recognised as "sentient beings" in a new law, after a fake news row over the issue last month.
The Environment Secretary pledged to prioritise animal welfare, saying he will "make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too".
It comes after the Government defeated a Commons amendment last month on animal sentience, prompting misleading headlines suggesting Tory MPs thought animals could not feel pain or emotions.
The news was widely shared on social media, with high-profile celebrities laying into the Government over what they believed to be its policy stance.
But a new draft bill published today says the Government "must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy".
Mr Gove said: "Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare...
"We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too."
The draft bill will also increase the maximum sentence for serious cruelty to animals to five years in jail.
Green Party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas, whose amendment sparked the debate about animal sentience, said today’s announcement by Mr Gove was "a screeching U-turn”.
But Steve Goody, the Deputy CEO of Blue Cross, welcomed the announcement saying: "It is also encouraging to see maximum sentences for animal cruelty being raised to five years. We hope that as pets are to be considered sentient beings in UK law, rather than simply a piece of property, a similar increase in sentencing for the theft of a pet will reflect the importance of pets as a part of the family.”
Elsewhere, the Environment Secretary has reportedly called for more of the UK’s aid budget to be spent ridding the world’s oceans of harmful plastics.
He made the call after ten rivers in Asia and Africa were found to be causing 90% of the harmful waste, according to the Times.
The paper adds that he was also inspired after watching BBC series Blue Planet II - which showed marine creatures being poisoned by plastics.