Animal sentience and fox hunting

Fox hunting and animal sentience: The real reason for last week’s vote.

The government’s failure to incorporate animal sentience into UK law last week, is highlighted by the otherwise dreadful Plymouth Herald article, linking it with ongoing Conservative plans to amend or repeal the fox hunting ban.

It is no secret that the Tories have deep ideological problems with the hugely popular Hunting Act 2004, and have in the past sought to repeal the Act in its entirety. Following the 2010 election of the Con/Lab coalition, the government hoped that MPs would be given a free vote to repeal the Act. But in 2012, Owen Patterson, the then Environment Secretary, said,

“At the moment, it would not be my proposal to bring forward a vote which we were going to lose. There needs to be more work done on members of parliament.” [src]

Quite what he meant by “work done on members of parliament” is unclear, but what is clear is that this postponement was definitely intended to be overturned at some point in the future, as was made clear on page 26 of the 2017 Conservative Manifesto (the first one, at least),

“We will grant a free vote, on a government bill in government time, to give parliament the opportunity to decide the future of the Hunting Act.”

According to the government’s website, the proposals to amend the Act haven’t been updated since 14th July 2015, and that these “small number of technical amendments” have been postponed, apparently indefinitely.

OK. So how does fox hunting tie in with last week’s vote on animal sentience?

Put simply? As the Plymouth Herald’s subheading states,

“Rejecting EU animal sentience laws as part of the EU Withdrawal Bill makes overturning the Hunting Ban much easier for this Conservative Government”

This is especially true considering the oft-touted Animal Welfare Act (2006) only covers domestic animals, and offers no protection for the very animals the fox hunting lobby wish to hurt.

It is difficult to argue against this line of reasoning, and as if for clarification, the Plymouth Herald continues,

“Given that our Prime Minister is pro-fox hunting – and a free vote on scrapping the Hunting Act 2004 was a 2017 election manifesto pledge – it would probably be naive to think they’ve done this because they want to ‘beef up’ the UK’s existing laws protecting our wildlife.”


The backlash

Plymouth Conservative MP, Johnny Mercer, was singled out as one of a swathe of west-country MPs that voted down the amendment to incorporate animal sentience into UK law. His response on Twitter is telling.

His Tweet has been shared by fellow Conservative MPs Nicholas Soames and Ben Wallace.

Another notable response,

Here follows the Michael Gove statement they mention in their Tweet,


The rebuttals

Mercer utters not a single word confronting the content of the article, beyond what it doesn’t contain. The Right Honorable MP for Plymouth might be surprised to note, however, that the press is not there solely to report on his jollies at local events. Indeed, the fact that the Plymouth Herald had the temerity to confront an issue important to many of his constituents, is testament to good journalism. And yet he derides it as tedious garbage. His Tweet makes no relevant claims to rebut.

So what of Michael Gove’s impassioned statement? Well, let’s break it down,

“I was surprised to read that apparently the other week we as conservative and peace had voted against animal sentience the idea that animals have feelings and can feel pain. We absolutely did not. What we voted against was current EU law.”

The glaringly obvious problem with this statement, is that it is the current EU law that legislates for recognition of animal sentience. In voting against introducing that into UK law, Gove has indeed voted against animal sentience as it pertains to UK law, specifically after our Brexit.

“And to be frank European Union law doesn’t provide the protection animals need and deserve.”

It is one thing to state that EU law doesn’t provide the protection animals need and deserve, it is quite another thing to vote down amendments that do provide the protection animals need and deserve. If there were a problem with EU law, that can be addressed in the proposed environment Bill.

This environment Bill will not be passed before the clock runs out on our EU membership. At which point, the Conservatives will, no doubt, revive their interest in amending the fox hunting ban they committed to in their manifesto, free from the shackles of propriety and laws that protect against the abuse of animal sentience. It is inconceivable that the proposed environment Bill will derail their own stated policy of fox hunting amendment, so it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that they have no intention of introducing animal sentience laws in the spirit of the current EU laws they have just actively rejected. Why would they? They have already rejected them once.

“There are practices which go on at the moment, like the live export of animals for slaughter, but we need to reform. There are practices that really need to be tackled more effectively, like puppy farming, which we can only do if outside the European Union. And that’s why I want to make sure that as we leave the EU, Brexit delivers – not just for the British people – but for animals too. And that is why I will ensure, that the principle of animal sentience – the idea that animals can feel pain and emotions, that they are creatures just like us – that that principle is there in UK law in a properly comprehensive way. And we can ensure that we deliver, not just for you the voter, but for the animals we love as well.”

The practices of the live export of animals for slaughter and the existence of puppy farms – despite being entirely worthy matters in their own right – do not touch on animal sentience themselves. Indeed, it is difficult to make an argument against these matters, without a legal basis to the notion of animal sentience. So what basis does Gove offer as the basis for dealing with those issues he raises, if it isn’t a legal recognition of animal sentience?


Instead, he stands in front of a camera, excusing his party for having voted against a principle they must defend, to give any credence to their future policy.

It has to be said, though; as an example pf weasel-worded rhetoric, it is a masterclass.


Perhaps it is best to make a conclusion in the form of a prophesy.

  1. No laws enshrining animal sentience will be on the statute come our Brexit
  2. The government will reintroduce plans to repeal/amend the Hunting Act
  3. An environment Bill will be introduced that cannot introduce animal sentience; the stated reason being, animal sentience is inconsistent with the new Hunting Bill amendments OR we would have to introduce new laws banning hunting, and we’ve just repealed that.

Mark my words.