I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954 to require the courts to order the disqualification for life from owning animals for any person convicted of severe cruelty to a companion animal.
I have no pecuniary interest in this matter, but I have the honour to hold the British Horse Society's award of merit for outstanding services to the horse world. Clearly, the British Horse Society is concerned with the welfare of horses.
Millions of pets are kept in Britain and, thankfully, most of them are loved and well cared for. Whatever they are—dogs, hamsters or budgies—they all play a special part in people's lives. It is well established that pet owners and pet lovers generally live longer and more healthily than others, so they gain much from their pets.
In that case, my hon. Friend will live a long time. However, it is, sadly, not true that all companion animals are loved and well cared for. In 1993, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals secured 3,065 convictions against people who caused cruelty to animals in their care, the very animals that rely on human intervention for their welfare needs.
The House should be in no doubt that the cruelty inflicted on animals comes in many forms. Animals may be starved through neglect, viciously beaten, left to die in hot cars, denied urgent veterinary treatment or simply thrown from a building for the fun of it. Some of the cases that come to court defy belief. For example, a dog died after being locked in a microwave; a cat was thrown from the top of a cathedral; a hamster was held under hot water.. thrown against a wall and then sealed in an airtight container before being dumped in a freezer; and a kitten had its claws removed by a 12-year-old boy before being thrown into a freezing pond.
However, it is not only the domestic pet that suffers at the hands of cruel owners. Some people take pleasure in organising illegal events such as dog fights and cock fights. They are evil forms of sport—so-called—which cause enormous, suffering to the animals involved. Incidentally, such events are a growing problem in the west London area and elsewhere, and all in the name of sport.
What price do people pay for inflicting needless cruelty on animals? The maximum penalty is six months in prison and/or a £5,000 fine.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. The cruelty caused to calves kept in crates is unacceptable and the country will not tolerate it. I am glad that the Government are examining what can be done, but we must keep up the pressure.
As I was saying, the maximum penalty for cruelty to animals is six months in prison and/or a £5,000 fine.
I agree that such penalties are not sufficient but even they are used only in cases of the most severe cruelty. If someone is convicted of cruelty, no matter how sickening, it is possible for him to continue to be allowed to own animals. At the moment, magistrates can order a ban on the ownership of animals, but that option is used in only a small percentage of cases.
In a recent RSPCA cruelty case, a Kent man pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary suffering to a friend's Jack Russell. In a statement to an RSPCA inspector, the man admitted kicking and beating the dog. When the inspector found the dog, it was lying outside an oven covered in grease. Traces of dog hairs were found inside the oven. Yet the man responsible for causing that appalling suffering was banned from keeping animals for only five years. In 1999 he will be able to keep pets again.
In another recent case, a young foal was fitted with a head collar when it was a few weeks old. As the foal grew, naturally, so did its head, but the noseband did not. After a while the noseband began to eat into the flesh on the animals' face, causing enormous pain—so much so that the poor creature could not bear to open its mouth to suckle from its mother. The penalty for knowingly inflicting such pain was a derisory fine. The owners were not imprisoned, nor did they receive suspended prison sentences, but they knew what they were doing. Our legal system allowed them to continue keeping horses and, to my knowledge, they still own four horses.
If such astonishing cruelty is hard to understand, it is even harder to punish. How can it be right that someone convicted of mindless cruelty should hear the magistrate order an RSPCA inspector to hand the animal back to the guilty party? How can we stand for that? It is not right or just. Anyone convicted of causing cruelty to animals should be banned for life from owning another such animal. What can be done?
The point is taken.
A mandatory life ban on keeping companion animals for those convicted of causing cruelty must be introduced. That will serve to protect animals that have already been mistreated and will prevent people causing more suffering in future. That is the basis of my Bill. I seek to extend the principle that already exists and is enforceable, and to make it compulsory—a life ban from keeping companion animals for those convicted of cruelty.
I am grateful to you for your indulgence, Madam Speaker, and for having this opportunity to raise the matter in the House. I know that many of my constituents feel extremely strongly about it. I hope that in years to come I and other hon. Members will not need to return to this issue to highlight further cruelty and suffering, when a sensible and rational change in the law will offer magistrates the power to penalise that minority of people who have so little regard for an animal's suffering. That will go a long way towards stamping out a serious and malicious evil.