letters to the editor:Animal rights and human responsibilities

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The Independent Online
From Ms Maureen Duffy Sir: Polly Toynbee ("A spasm masquerading as a movement", 25 January) is surely wrong that "rights are indissolubly related to responsibilities". In Britain, because we have no written constitution, no Bill of Rights, we have only those rights conferred on us by Parliament or the judiciary in case law, which can equally be removed by Parliament as in the case of the right to silence.

Non-human animals can also have rights conferred on them by Parliament, although more obliquely. Horses have the right not to be exported for slaughter, endangered species are preserved and there is a great deal of legislation which, however inadequately, gives animals the right not to be cruelly mistreated in this country even though humans have to exercise these rights on their behalf.

The present protest isn't "a spasm masquerading as a movement" but a true humanitarian movement dating back at least 300 years in Britain to when the beginning of vivisection concentrated our minds wonderfully. It is a movement with a history, an extensive literature, and its own distinguished line of politicians. What is happening now has been provoked by an attempt to avoid laws made by Parliament, to cut down on unnecessary suffering in the case of veal calves.

It is precisely because we humans are, as far as we know, "uniquely moral" that we should behave better. It's also significant that when we want to destroy our follow humans we designate them "animals" meaning, as Polly Toynbee says, that they have no rights over their lives or deaths. As for our image in Europe - as a convinced European I can live with being thought a nutcase rather better than as a citizen of a member state that won't sign up to the Social Chapter and has the longest working hours in Europe.

Yours faithfully, Maureen Duffy London, SW6

26 January