Throughout my time as an MP so far I have always tried to avoid being a part of the ‘Westminster Bubble’. With there being such complex technical parts to the job as well as protocols and traditions to observe it is not hard to see how people can become rather immersed especially during a week like this when we have the European Union Withdrawal Bill and the Budget both on the agenda. However, looking at my postbag, certainly parts of the media and also social media, it’s clear that we, as a nation, care a huge amount about animal welfare and I think that is something to be proud of.
A lot of concern has been raised that we have not, as part of translating EU law into British law, sought to enshrine the status of animals as ‘sentient beings’. The reason for this is that this protection is already given in domestic law by the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. A gut instinct may be that there would be no harm in saying it twice but this leads to legal confusion and my own preference usually tends towards fewer laws rather than more. I have looked into the EU law also and its origins were it trying to clarify the legal status of animals in France where legislators explicitly rejected bans on bullfighting and cockfighting. I mention this not to bash Europe or the French but to say that as with many EU legal issues there is a common sense test here.
We all will be aware that the treatment of animals across Europe is not always as good as we would expect in this country. From Eastern European circuses to Spanish bullfights to French Foie Gras there are standards different to our own and we do not need EU laws to dictate our actions in this area. The Government is currently preparing legislation to increase the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty up to five years, is consulting on plans to ban the sale of ivory and next year CCTV with regular checks will become mandatory in all abattoirs.
Viewers of Blue Planet 2 have been understandably shaken by the effect that plastics are having on our oceans and marine life and further Government action has been promised to tackle this. Microbeads are to be banned from cosmetics and bottle return schemes are being investigated. We need a change of attitude too though. One of the most successful acts of policy making in recent years has been the introduction of the 5p charge for plastic bags. Since its introduction in 2015 there has been an 83% drop in the number of bags in circulation and millions of pounds have been raised for environmental and charity groups. The gentlest of nudges can have a dramatic effect and I hope we can tackle other plastics with the same enthusiasm.