Anne Marie Waters 

March 19th 2020 


On the 16th of March, MPs in our Parliament debated the welfare of animals.  This doesn’t happen often, and rarely is anything actually achieved.  For years, people have campaigned against the live export of animals, so far to no avail.  People campaign against religious slaughter, but this isn’t so much as entertained.  On this occasion however, our representatives debated the sentience of animals – something that should have been settled centuries ago.  The caging of farm animals was also up for discussion.

According to the campaign group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), two petitions were promoted by animal welfare groups, and both passed the 100,000 signature threshold to be debated in the House of Commons.

The debate was opened by Kerry McCarthy MP stating:

“A sow confined in a crate in which she cannot turn around will suffer because she will not be able to exhibit natural behaviours, even with the best care and stockmanship”

Surely this is obvious.  Imagine being so tightly confined that you cannot turn around.  This is the fate of countless sows and it must be brought to an end.  There is simply no reason that we cannot make farming far easier for animals.  All that is needed is the will.

McCarthy also pointed out that Germany and Austria have already begun to remove cages from their farming systems.

In a response that was welcomed by CIWF, Defra Minister Victoria Prentis MP announced:

“the Government are currently examining the future use of cages for all laying hens. The Government have made it clear that we remain completely committed to the ambition that farrowing crates should no longer be used for sows”  

This is great news.  Let’s keep an eye on it to make sure it happens!

On the sentience issue, it is extraordinary to think that our Parliament would debate the sentience of animals!  Of course animals are sentient.  They are aware, intelligent, and exhibit complex emotions.  They feel joy, fear, pain, and attachment.  Luckily, the Government appears to agree.

While the sentience of animals is enshrined in EU law, there are concerns that there will be no such recognition upon our departure.  Therefore campaigners are asking the British Government to close the gap and ensure that animal sentience, and its recognition, is enshrined in British law.  The response of the Government has been positive on this also.

Victoria Prentis MP said: “It has never been in dispute that, of course, animals are sentient beings… While absolutely committing to bring forward the legislation at some point, I am not committing to bringing it forward this year.”

James West, CIWF’s senior policy manager, stated the following in response:

“Compassion would like to thank all the MPs who attended the debates on animal sentience and caged farming, and particularly Kerry McCarthy MP for leading them both.

We encourage the Government to bring forward sentience legislation that needs to be introduced, to prevent a gap in our animal welfare laws, as a priority.

It is clear from the debate that many EU countries are leading the charge when it comes to stopping caged farming practices. If the UK is to not be left behind and instead be the global leader it wants to – and should – be, the Government must set about phasing out crates and cages on UK farms. We urge Defra to consult on the use of farrowing crates and enriched cages with a view to ending the cage age – improving the welfare of millions farm animals each year.”

We echo those sentiments.  Let’s make it happen.

Read our animal welfare policy here.

Anne Marie Waters


For Britain