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Interview with Dr Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas is a politician with passion. Championing environmentalism, human rights and animal welfare, the Green Party Leader and MEP is now making a bid for Westminster.

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP with Elaine Toland

Caroline is Vice President of the RSPCA. Last year she was voted the Observer's "Ethical Politician of the Year" and the Guardian listed her amongst their "Top 50 Eco Heroes". In 2006 Caroline received the Michael Kay Award from the RSPCA for her outstanding contribution to European Animal Welfare.

APA Director, Elaine Toland, caught up with Caroline in a vegetarian café in Brighton.

Did your interest in, and compassion for, animals come naturally? Or was it instilled either by your family or from spending a lot of time around animals whilst you were growing up?

I think there were a number of factors... we always had cats when I was growing up. I love cats and we have cats at home now. It's that sense of having another being around which is lovely. If you'd fallen out with your parents for instance, cats were there as a constant, loyal companion.

But also, it's more to do with a fundamental sense that when people have power over somebody else, something else or an animal there is a responsibility to use that power in a wise, just and responsible way. What makes me so angry and fires me up is abuse of power. We must learn to live much more in balance with animals and nature.

You've accomplished a lot and have a long list of accolades for your work in animal welfare and environmental protection. What contribution or achievement, particularly in animal welfare, are you most proud of - don't be shy!?

Thank you. A lot of what we do at European level involves keeping pressure up to achieve progress so it's quite hard to say. It's always a joint effort and the letters that campaigners write in really do matter.

However two things do come to mind that the Commission is focusing on as we speak. One is the ban on the importation of seal products... something I get a lot of letters on, I suppose because it's so visual ...when you see those photographs of the horrible cull of seals particularly in Canada. We pushed and pushed for a ban on the importation of seal products and for years they were telling us that it was impossible to get a ban as it would be against World Trade Organisation rules. But we pushed and we pushed and eventually they have now come forward with a proposal, which is, in theory, a ban. But the ban has a loophole that basically says that if you can prove that the particular seal hunt in question is done in a humane fashion then it can go ahead. This seems to me to be completely crazy as, number one, you can't kill seals for fur in a humane fashion and number two, how do you monitor the killing out on the ice?

So the big job now is to press for that loophole to be closed. But the achievement was in a sense that although the Commission kept saying, "it's not possible" and "we have no confidence in it", when there was enough pressure and we had a written declaration with an overwhelming majority of MEPs signed up to it, they eventually found a way to do it.

The other issue is the export of live animals; to ensure that the existing legislation on animal transport is both properly enforced and also strengthened, and ultimately to get rid of the live export of animals altogether. One thing we did succeed in doing, going back to written declarations, was to get rid of subsidies for the export of cattle from the EU to Africa.

You actively campaigned to end the import of wild birds for the pet trade. Now this ban is in place and has been shown to be effective, would you like to see it extended to mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians?

Absolutely, I think the same arguments apply. If it is wrong to be keeping these kinds of animals in artificial conditions, to transport them from A to B and all the issues surrounding the fact that many species are becoming endangered then that says to me that we shouldn't be doing it. I think that what we've done with the wild bird trade is to show that it is possible. So much of the battle in the animal welfare world involves people telling us that this can't be done or that can't be done because of some rule, which is what was said about the wild bird trade. Now that we've got that ban in place they cn't tell us it's not possible anymore. To extend the ban to other animals is the logical conclusion. I think a ban on importing wild animals for the pet trade is absolutely critical and it will come.

If you could wave a magic wand and make one big change for animal welfare, what would that be?

Where do you start! It's hard to choose but I would say an end to industrialised farming. We encounter the products on a daily basis and yet factory farming tends to be forgotten and hidden away. A chicken in a shed doesn't attract the same level of public sympathy as other issues but having been in one of those sheds and knowing that it would cost a fraction of the overall price to improve conditions, that is what I would choose.

During your career you have campaigned for trade justice, nuclear disarmament and anti-globalisation, as well as on animal and environmental issues. Do you feel that these issues are all connected?

Yes. It's a case I always make. I think the way we treat animals is a real litmus test of how civilised we are as a society. It comes back to how we use power and how we think of other beings. What put it all together for me is a book by Jonathon Porritt called "Seeing Green," written back in the mid-1980s. In that book he makes the point that all of these issues, whether to do with gender inequality, nuclear weapons, environmental degradation or poverty, are interconnected. He presents a rigorous intellectual argument about how that is the case. For me how we treat animals is ultimately a measure of how civilised we are as a society, as well as how we treat each other and the environment. So for me all those things are definitely connected and I get angry when some people imply that animal welfare is a side issue.

If you succeed in becoming the first ever Green MP are you concerned that this will limit your ability to campaign on animal and environmental issues?

No! I guess your question is based on the fact that obviously so much of this legislation is coming from Europe and that the role of an MEP in Europe is critical in terms of keeping up the pressure. But number one, if I was elected as a Member of Parliament then I would be replaced by another Green MEP. The important thing being that there would still be a Green MEP in the European Parliament. But one of the important things about getting our first Green MP in Westminster is that they'll be able to speed up animal welfare legislation - one of the big "drags" or constraints on European animal rights policy is not having the support of the Council of Ministers of the member state governments. For example on the seal ban, one of the ways we were advised to go about trying to get European level action was to first get more national bans. It's easier to press for a European response if you have a few progressive governments doing something themselves.

The Green Party has a presence in countries all over the world, does that make you optimistic about the future?

It does, but there is also an enormous sense of urgency when you consider that things need to change so dramatically. It is very exciting that there are Greens all over the world now. I received an email actually from the Taiwanese Greens yesterday saying they were reading something that I had written!

What I find particularly exciting in the European parliament is the Greens we sit with - forty Greens from other Member states. Some of them have actually been in Government and one of my good friends from the Green Party in the European Parliament used to be the Finnish Environment Minister. A few years ago, in Germany, the Greens had the role of Foreign Minister and in Belgium they have all kinds of ministers who are Greens.

What are your hobbies and what do you like doing to relax?

The West Wing is my favourite thing on TV and we now are watching the entire series the second time round! I love being out in nature as well. There's nothing like a walk in the woods

What do you like most about living in Brighton?

The sea! I also like the fact that we have this wonderful combination of the coast and the beautiful South Downs on the doorstep of a vibrant city. I could never make up my mind whether I wanted to live in the city or the countryside and being here is like having the best of both worlds.