I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I wish to thank Members who co-sponsored this Bill, those who were selected for the Committee and all the other Members and supporters, such as Holly Lynch who has been very supportive but who is currently on maternity duty. They have been great supporters of this small but important change in the law, popularly known as Finn’s law. I also thank all those who have campaigned for this measure, including PC Dave Wardell, Sarah Dixon of the Finn’s law campaign, many animal charities, the media, including the “Today” programme, The Sun and the Daily Mirror, all police and crime commissioners, including David Lloyd from Hertfordshire, and mayors such as Andy Burnham. I am grateful to the Administration Committee for agreeing that Finn could attend the various stages of the Bill accompanied by PC Wardell and Sarah Dixon. I thank my Whip, my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, who has championed the Bill and helped me a great deal with this. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for your advice early on in the proceedings when you told me to keep persisting and perhaps I would get there, and it looks as though I may, so thank you very much.
This Bill, which received a Second Reading on
As other officers arrived, the suspect was apprehended. Finn was badly injured, bleeding and was taken to the vet and then on to a specialist vet. He was in a terrible shape with his lungs punctured in four places and yet he was licking his handler’s hand wound. Finn had a four-hour operation to save his life. The vet commented on his strength and bravery. PC Wardell slept downstairs with Finn for the next four weeks and I think we are all pleased that Finn made a remarkable recovery. After 11 weeks, he was ready to go back to work with PC Wardell. On his first shift, on
Finn is one of the most successful police dogs that Hertfordshire police has known. He has won national recognition for his bravery: Action Animal of the Year; Hero Animal of the Year; and the PDSA gold medal, which is known as the animals’ George Cross. However, when it came to charging the offender, it became clear that there is a problem with the law. For the assault on the officer, it was a straightforward offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but there were two potential charges for the injuries to Finn himself—either causing “unnecessary suffering” to an animal under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, or section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Neither offence properly provides for the criminality involved in the attack on Finn. In the event, an offence of criminal damage was brought, but this treated Finn as though he were simply a piece of police property that had been damaged—a bit like a police radio or something of that sort.
May I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his persistence in introducing this Bill, and say how strongly I support it? He is making the compelling case that treating these animals in the criminal justice system as items of property is entirely unjust, and it does not reflect their bravery and service.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my right hon. Friend Mr Hurd, who was here a moment ago, told me that he thought it was unpalatable to think of police animals as equipment. In addition, the penalty for criminal damage is largely determined by the value of the property that is damaged, and a seven-year-old police dog who is close to retirement is simply not worth much money. And so it proved at court, where no separate penalty was imposed on Finn’s attacker for the attack on Finn.
The offence under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act is potentially a better route, but there are two problems with it. First, the maximum penalty is only six months’ imprisonment. After a consultation, happily the Government have committed to increasing that to five years, and that has been widely welcomed. I pay tribute to the campaigners who have pressed for that, including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which is also a strong supporter of this measure. The Government’s commitment to a maximum penalty of five years clearly represents a great improvement.
Secondly, there is a difficulty with the application of section 4(3)(c)(ii) of the Animal Welfare Act which sets out that various factors must be taken into account in deciding whether the infliction of suffering on an animal can be considered unnecessary—those factors include the protection of a person or property—and currently contains no reference to the role of service animals. Clearly, the mission of a service animal is to restrain a suspect or to use its physical presence to support the actions of an officer in accordance with his or her duty, but there is no reference to that in the Act. We have heard from police dog handlers, prosecutors and all the police and crime commissioners in the country that there is concern that the provision allows defendants to argue that they are justified in applying force against a service animal in self-defence, rendering the force necessary. That has apparently been an issue in deciding not to prosecute for the offence under the Animal Welfare Act.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman—on this occasion, I will call him my right hon. and learned Friend—for the doggedness with which he has pursued this Bill, and I thank those who have campaigned outside. It is unfortunate that the campaign has been necessary. Surely we should be protecting those who protect us. In this instance, we are talking about police dogs, but the same should apply to uniformed staff and the blue-light services. We should treat attacks on them and attacks on service animals as aggravating circumstances, and the CPS should get that message loud and clear.
I certainly agree with my friend the right hon. Gentleman. He is right that such attacks are really attacks on those who keep us safe, and it is a pity if that is not adequately recognised in law. I pay tribute to him; in his support for the measure, he has been like an old dog with a bone—[Interruption.] I will not repeat the sedentary comment that has just been made.
I thank Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, particularly Lord Gardiner; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend George Eustice, who is the Minister today and who was supportive at an earlier stage; and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend David Rutley, who dealt with the Bill in Committee. They have discussed the matter with me at length, and now they are supporting the Bill, which is the outcome of discussions. The Bill follows the example of the Australian Animal Welfare Act, which makes similar provision for service animals. This approach is becoming the norm in advanced countries, and that is good to see.
Clause 1 of the Bill provides that the consideration in section 4(3)(c)(ii) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 should be disregarded if the animal was under the control of a relevant officer at the time and was being used by that officer in the course of the officer’s duties, in a way that was reasonable in all the circumstances. A relevant officer is defined as a police constable or a person such as a prison officer who has the powers of a constable, or persons in analogous positions. Clause 2 makes provision for commencement in the normal way. The measure applies to England and Wales, but it is fair to mention that a campaign for Finn’s law to apply in Scotland is gaining ground, and the same is true in Northern Ireland. My hope is that this will become the law across the United Kingdom.
Taken together with the Government’s increase in the animal welfare penalty, this change in the law will mean that for the first time there is suitable protection for service animals and a proper sentence for offenders. Service animals such as Finn do a great job, and there are 1,200 police dogs in service at any time. There should be proper recognition in law of their vital role, and I commend the Bill to the House.
I was not expecting to be called to speak so soon, so it falls to me to say what an enormous debt of gratitude this House owes to Finn—I understand that he is not here at the moment, but he will be later—[Interruption.] Oh, Finn is here. Super! I look forward to meeting him later. Look, he is standing up, so we can see him—marvellous! I am sorry that those on the Opposition Benches probably cannot quite see him, but I hope that you can, Mr Speaker.
As I think we will hear from Members from all corners of the House, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Finn, to PC Dave Wardell and to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald. The Bill has not had an easy passage through this House, and I fail to see how someone without my right hon. and learned Friend’s many years of experience in a wide range of judicial and barristerial posts could have got it this far. Many congratulations to him.
It is a genuine honour to speak in support of the Bill. I am sure we all agree that service animals, from the police to the prison service, do a very important job. There are 1,200 police dogs in service, and more often than not their role is to help in unpredictable and very dangerous situations. Between April 2017 and March 2018, they were used in nearly 2,000 incidents, including 557 occasions when the suspect had a weapon. In just 99 of those incidents, the suspect escaped. I suspect that that is rather better than the statistics for humans who try to apprehend suspects.
As we know from the case of PC Dave Wardell and Finn, however, the result is not always a happy one for the dogs in the line of duty. Finn is just one of hundreds of dogs to sustain an injury while they are doing their jobs. My own local neighbourhood inspector in Cherwell, John Batty, told me about an incident that he witnessed. He says:
“I will always remember an incident in Slough when I was on firearms a number of years ago. A suspect made off from us and the dog, Tyke”— he is, perhaps, not known to Finn—
“was released to catch him. The suspect had a knife on him and he stabbed Tyke causing him to lose an eye and although he eventually recovered he had to be retired. It was very traumatic, especially for the dog handler, so anything we can do to evidence the need for such a law is well worth the effort.”
I could not agree more.
Today’s Bill brings in long-overdue changes to provide proper recognition in law of service animals’ vital role. Service animals are used widely across the prison service; police dogs are bred and trained to be brave, and, where necessary, aggressive; and sniffer dogs also have specific characteristics. Those characteristics may make life after service very difficult for such animals, and it is not always easy to rehome them. We know from well publicised cases that the retirement of military dogs can be difficult, and it may require sensitive handling. Now that we recognise that these dogs exist and we can talk about military service—at an earlier point in my career, we certainly were not permitted to do that—it is important that we talk about the needs of those dogs and their handlers. They really are a fourth or fifth emergency service. They play an essential part in keeping the brave men and women who protect us safer than they would otherwise be, and it is important that we recognise that.
I am glad to see the Minister here. I hope that he will remind us later of the Government’s commitment to increase the maximum penalty for animal welfare offences from six months to five years. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken of her desire to make sure that the United Kingdom is a world leader in the care and protection of animals. This Bill takes us one step closer to achieving that aim. This Bill is for Finn, who is sitting very quietly in the Gallery; for Tyke, who I hope is still enjoying his retirement; and for all of our brave service animals.
I, too, pay great tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald, who is the very embodiment of a sensible but compassionate Conservatism that is still, in my view, right at the heart of our party, and long may that be so. There is huge support for this measure. I have even had to bring my spectacles today to give it extra attention because of the huge importance that I attach to it. Apparently the optics are very important these days.
There are two key things I want to talk about. First, there is the principle. I think that most of us were here when we had the Second Reading of the excellent Bill promoted by Chris Bryant to protect public servants and introduce stiffer penalties for assaults on them. In effect, the principle is the same. We are saying that where a police dog, for example, is there in the line of duty, that is not a normal procedure—it is something extra special. It is about an animal that is performing a task to protect us and to uphold public service. I very much welcome that principle.
I also want to give the local angle from Suffolk. We have had a very moving case not dissimilar to that of PC Wardell, to whom I pay tribute, up in the Gallery. It concerned a dog called Aman. During an incident in Ipswich in 2011, police dog Aman was stabbed as he attempted to stop an armed man who had stabbed a person after breaking into a home and trying to avoid capture. His handler, to whom I also pay tribute, was PC Steve Jay, who was also injured in the attack. Less than four weeks later, they were both back at work. So excellent was the performance and so vital the role played by Aman in effectively saving a life that in March 2012 he was given the police dog action and humanitarian action of the year award at Crufts—a very special award. In November 2011, the pair were together presented with a special recognition gong during the Stars of Suffolk awards.
Unfortunately, police dog Aman is no longer with us—he has passed on to a special place. However, I have this tribute from retiring Chief Constable Gareth Wilson, who has just retired as the chief constable of Suffolk:
“It’s probably timely to recognise the bravery of our police dogs following the recent death in retirement of one of our heroes, Police Dog Aman, they truly are a pleasure to watch working—well, unless you are a criminal running away from a crime scene, then it must be pretty frightening!
We often talk about the ‘police family’ and we naturally think about police officers, PCSOs, Specials and volunteers—but we also mustn’t forget our police dogs who play a key operational role and with their handlers provide a really important service to the force.”
That is an excellent tribute. In quoting it, I should pay my own tribute to the departing chief constable. Speaking as an MP, he has been an excellent support to us. He was with the Essex murder squad before he came to Suffolk, so he has a real, gritty background in frontline crime. I always found him to be approachable. He had strong views on policing. I pay tribute to him as he retires to a quieter life in Suffolk.
This is an excellent Bill that embodies a very noble principle of supporting those who protect us. We usually think of people but today it is about animals, and animals that are performing an incredible service day in, day out. I join other hon. Members in supporting the Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend James Cartlidge in this Third Reading debate. I, too, congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald on getting the Bill to this stage. I supported his Bill when it was a ten-minute rule Bill, going back well over a year now, and it was a great pleasure to serve on the Bill Committee. I have been able to see his dogged determination to get the Bill to this stage.
The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, to give it its full title, is more commonly known as Finn’s law. It is great that Finn is here today. The Bill is a much needed reform to ensure that the perpetrators who injure animals in service get the sentence they truly deserve. I was honoured to meet Finn and his handler, PC Dave Wardell, when they came to Parliament during the Committee stage of the Bill. From my childhood, I have had a fear of Alsatians and German Shepherds, so it took quite a lot of courage for me to go up to meet Finn when he was in New Palace Yard, but he was so docile and loved being made a fuss of. However, I was assured by PC Wardell that if he gave the command, the dog would have become a very, very different dog. Luckily, he did not need to give that command, so we were all safe, but we did not get to see a police dog in true action, which I know is quite spectacular. Police dogs are trained meticulously, and that is so important. They are really, really skilled animals. Just as we respect people with skills, from a human point of view, we also need to respect animals with such skills. I commend all police dogs and their handlers for those skills.
This new piece of legislation could so easily have been called Axle’s law. Police dog Axle, better known as PD Axle, is another police dog that was almost killed when he was stabbed three times in nearby Amber Valley in Derbyshire. The attacker had tried to attack a police officer while avoiding arrest earlier that day. After stabbing Axle, he threatened another police officer with a knife. I am sure that all Members will be pleased to learn that PD Axle has recovered from emergency treatment and is now back on duty. Everybody was really pleased to see that. Axle received very many good-will messages. There were posts on social media and requests to know where to send goody bags with doggy treats. Axle became quite a celebrity, just as Finn has. He has perhaps put on a few pounds from eating all the doggy treats as he was recovering.
This Bill is much needed in order to protect our heroic service animals and to ensure that all those who harm these wonderful animals get a sentence they really deserve. I am delighted to support it today.
I commend the relentless efforts of PC Dave Wardell, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald and the entire Finn’s law team for their efforts with this Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, the Bill has incredible support, and it is so obvious why when one reads Finn’s story. It is not only about the tragic event itself but everything that followed—the agonising wait during Finn’s four hours of surgery, his 11-week recovery in which he was supported by PC Wardell’s loving family, and the wave of public support for a change in the law demonstrated by the online petition. It is an emotional account of remarkable bravery and the crucial role that service animals play in keeping us all safe. Their willingness to protect those on the frontline who protect us reinforces the need for this Bill.
The passage of this Bill would represent a lot more than a recognition of Finn’s and PC Wardell’s sacrifice. We have heard many accounts of why the Bill is needed. It would demonstrate that this House recognises the daily sacrifice that our service animals and their handlers make to protect our communities. The strong penalties that it can implement will act as a serious deterrent to those who think that they can get away with harming our police dogs. Given that at any one time there are over 1,200 police dogs in service, it is right that the whole House recognises that these animals protect us every single day.
I saw this for myself when I undertook a night shift with our local police constabulary, Whitehaven, in Cumbria, over mad Friday, one of the busiest nights of the year. I had the opportunity to meet Jamie, our dog handler, who talked about some of the scenarios in which his dogs were used, which really brought home to me the terrifying experiences a dog handler has to go through. He gave the example of having had to chase his dog as it was chasing a potential criminal and then having to face this criminal in a dark wood as they turned on him with a knife. It was his dog that used its initiative and protected its dog handler. That really brings home how necessary police dogs are in our forces and how we must protect them.
I am pleased to see the implementation of suitable protections in the Bill. The service animal must meet the following requirements: it must be
“under the control of a relevant officer”; it should be being used by an officer in the course of their duties; and it must be used
“in a way that was reasonable in all the circumstances”.
Those amendments prevent misuse of the statute and allow for a pragmatic solution.
As my right hon. and learned Friend stated, the Government are committed to the very highest standards of animal welfare, and the Prime Minister has set out that we will make the United Kingdom a world leader in the care and protection of animals. I am encouraged that the Government will ensure that any changes required to UK law are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure that animal sentience is recognised after we leave the EU.
In conclusion, I commend once again the hard work of all those involved in bringing the Bill forward, and I look forward to its progressing through the House.
I will keep my remarks fairly short, in the spirit of the debate, and given my keenness to see the Bill progress through the House today. I welcome the fact that it has made the progress that it has, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald on all the work he has done to bring it to Third Reading from where it will—hopefully, soon—head to the other place and pass through there as well. It is particularly welcome that the Bill follows the work done on the private Member’s Bill to protect emergency service workers. We are now looking to bring in this Bill to provide more appropriate sentences for those who attack service animals.
To be clear, this is not about attacking a piece of equipment; it is not like smashing a window or damaging a desk—this is about attacking a living creature. It is not much of a step up from using violence against a police dog to using violence against a police officer. Therefore, it is right that the courts have more appropriate sentencing penalties available to them when dealing with people who commit the type of offence that was committed against Finn, who, as other Members have said, is with us in the Public Gallery today.
As Members will know, I am a strong fan of animal welfare legislation, having introduced some of my own Bills. Sadly, they did not get through, but, thankfully, the ideas in them have been picked up by the Government to strengthen the penalties available to our courts against those who abuse animals. I am clear that the mindset that would justify stabbing a police dog in the way that Finn was stabbed could just as easily justify using violence against a human being. Therefore, it is absolutely right that we pass this Bill to give our courts the powers they need to sentence much more appropriately and to make it clear that a service animal is different from just any piece of equipment: it feels pain, it is sentient and it can express its own emotions. This is not like a truncheon or a light being broken, so it is absolutely welcome that the Bill will soon progress through the House and become law.
I am keen for us to make progress today and, therefore, before I resume my seat, I will just say that I very much hope that all Members—I suspect there will be cross-party consensus—
I also congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald on a very important piece of legislation. It is brilliant that Finn is here—I would say “in person”, but I should really say “in dog” I suppose. I also congratulate PC Dave Wardell and everyone who has brought forward this Bill, on all their hard work and indeed on their service to this country.
The Bill is clearly needed; there is a clear deficiency in the law. Dogs, as my hon. Friend Kevin Foster pointed out, are not just property; they are hugely sentient beings. The dog my parents-in-law have tends to whimper or cry whenever I set off back to Westminster; I do not know whether that is a comment on the state of Westminster at the moment, but it is clear proof that dogs are hugely sentient and indeed emotional beings.
The Bill is a wonderful natural complement to the private Member’s Bill put through by Chris Bryant, which aimed to protect those who protect us and to increase sentences for people who attack police officers in the line of duty. This Bill naturally builds on that and protects police animals too. The sort of person who is prepared to stab a dog with a 10-inch blade is clearly incredibly dangerous.
Research shows that such incidents are not as rare as we might think. Of the 1,920 incidents in which a police dog was deployed over the last year, 557 have involved a suspect armed with a weapon. The terrifying scenario that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire set out is therefore not rare. That is why this piece of legislation is so necessary. Of course, it also builds on some other good things that are happening at the moment: the ban on puppy smuggling; the ban on third-party and black market sales of puppies and kittens; and the ban on electric-shock dog collars that is coming in.
Without wishing to be the dog in the manger in the debate, I do think it is important to at least draw attention to the safeguards. My right hon. and learned Friend is a great legal brain, and I am reassured that the safeguards in the Bill are important. Sadly, a constituent was bitten by a police dog at a Leicester City match. It was a really terrifying incident, and he was bitten for about 90 seconds; indeed, the handler of the dog was also bitten. However, the safeguards in the Bill about the dog being used in a reasonable way in the line of duty make clear the difference between self-defence and a criminal attacking a police dog.
When I was drafting the Bill, I looked at what has happened in other countries. Australia has a similar provision to that which I am proposing, and it has worked in practice. That is why those safeguards are there.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend, who is very knowledgeable. I am not surprised to be reassured that he has thought through all the implications in full.
This is a hugely important piece of legislation. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on steering it through the House, and I hope we will pass it today to protect the police animals that protect us.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien. Like everybody else here, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald. I also welcome Finn and his handler and supporters up in the Public Gallery.
It is safe to say that our relationships with animals have stood the test of time, and none more so than that with man’s best friend. Dogs, in particular, have become an important part of the police in the post-war period. It is thought that the first ever police dog was used in 1859, when a bloodhound helped Luton police track down a murderer. Today, dogs are used in maintaining law and order, fighting the war on drugs, and supporting counter-terrorism operations.
These intelligent and dedicated animals have demonstrated time and again that there is nothing they will not do for their handlers. Finn’s story shone a light on that. We have heard how Finn, even having been stabbed in the chest with a 10-inch blade, still intervened to save his handler, PC Wardell. That is an amazing story, and it gives us such faith and hope that there are dogs such as this on our streets to protect us.
Does my hon. Friend also recognise that police dogs are incredibly capable at what they do, with a really remarkable success record? Just 5% of the 1,920 incidents mentioned resulted in a suspect escaping. That is just to reiterate how effective police dogs are in their work.
Absolutely. I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The value of dogs in the force is clear. As she says, in 95% of deployments involving dogs the suspects are apprehended.
In Sussex, our police force utilises dogs in tackling a range of criminal activity every day. Recently when Sussex police attempted to stop a car, a brief chase ended with the suspect vehicle crashing into a roundabout and all three passengers fleeing the scene. Police dog Isla was sent after the driver first, and once the dog was spotted the chase ended rather quickly. Isla then started a fresh pursuit for the first passenger. She was found sitting in front of the suspect barking continuously, as she was trained to do, until her handler back-up arrived. However, two out of three was not enough, and police dog Isla then led her handler 300 metres down the road, where she located the third and final suspect. All three were arrested for the theft of a vehicle.
As well as Isla, in the past few months police dogs Sparky, Lottie, Gonzo, Jack and Bobby have all contributed to arrests in my constituency. The great thing about this Bill is that it has given all of us the opportunity to go and meet our police handlers and the dogs, as well as to learn all about their incredible work. The police handlers told me that the dogs are frequently beaten and kicked on duty when assisting in an arrest or working to control crowds.
It is the bravery of a serving dog that has led to this debate, but it is also worth highlighting the important role that our mounted units play. This Bill will of course protect all service animals, including many of the horses we see in mounted units. I have had the experience of watching police horses actually break up a huge crowd of people in my home town of Liverpool.
Finn’s story and others highlighted in this debate show how vital these service animals are to the police—they tackle crime on our streets every day, and they keep their handlers and the public safe—so it is simply wrong not to have the protections in place that they need. I am so pleased that this Bill will put in place all the protections that they deserve:
“You can judge a man’s true character by the way he treats his fellow animals.”
I particularly thank Sir Oliver Heald for bringing forward this Bill and for his persistence in championing the cause of police dogs for so long. As in the previous stages, the Opposition will fully support this Bill as it corrects a crucial imbalance in animal welfare. Service animals are sentient beings that bravely and loyally serve the public. The law should recognise them as such and give them the protections that they deserve.
I join hon. Members in paying tribute to the brave police dog Finn. Opposition Members could not quite see him when he made his tour de force in the Public Gallery, but we look forward to being invited to the Government Whip’s Office for a photo later. This is not something that normally happens to Opposition Members. [Interruption.] Ah, there he is—brilliant. I look forward to visiting the Whip’s Office to see Finn in person, and to say thank you to PC Dave Wardell and all those who have campaigned for Finn’s law.
As we have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, Finn protected PC Wardell from an attack that might have cost him his life or at least given him serious injuries. Finn’s case was extreme but, sadly, not unusual for police dogs. Life is rough, so we are told, and police animals are routinely put in harm’s way to protect us in the name of the law. Surely the time has come for the law to protect them as well. Every service animal matters and this Bill, when implemented, will make that true for police dogs. Police dogs and police horses are valued public servants and, like Finn, can be real victims of violence and animal cruelty. The law must give them the protection they deserve.
I am sure many Members in this House are followers of Devon and Cornwall police dogs on Twitter—DC_PoliceDogs. Rightly, it is one of the most popular Twitter accounts in Plymouth and the far south-west. It is a reminder of the daily work that police dogs do not just in big cities, but in rural areas such as the far south-west. It is fantastic to see how they join up with other service animals, such as the Devon and Somerset fire and rescue service specialist search dogs. All of them deserve good protection.
Labour Members have been at the forefront of protecting animal welfare for many years. Indeed, we like to believe that we are the party of animal welfare. From bringing forward the landmark Hunting Act 2004 to protecting domestic animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, Labour has always placed the welfare of animals high on the policy agenda. At a European level, Labour secured better welfare standards for battery hens and chickens, and tightened the rules on the transport of live animals. It is a record that my party can rightly be proud of, but it is also a record that requires us to support—and ensure that we support—all those who are fighting for animal welfare. It is the reason why we are very pleased to support this particular Bill.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly mentioned that animals are not property and should not be treated as such under the law. The current law is inadequate in that respect, and the omission of service animals from the protection of animal cruelty legislation needs to change. It is fantastic and overdue that this Bill creates a specific offence for those who seek to injure service animals. They deserve appropriate recognition for the vital role they fulfil.
Recourse to the Criminal Damage Act 1971 is not good enough, and in cases such as Finn’s, it has been shown that that approach simply does not work. Some 1,200 police dogs are protecting us at any time, and their protection must be made clear in law. Labour welcomes the Sentencing Council’s updated sentencing guidelines on animal cruelty, which now include a new aggravating factor of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal that is being used in public service or as an assistance dog.
In reality, however, we know that we need to go much further. The law as it stands is not a successful deterrent, and many people who work with service animals think it is failing to offer protection. The Animal Welfare Act was a watershed moment in animal rights, but we must continue to build on the progress that we achieved over a decade ago.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that his right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw, who was the architect of the 2006 Act, is one of the Bill’s co-sponsors and agrees that this change is needed to improve that landmark piece of legislation.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention, and it is good to see on the back of the Bill the list of luminaries who are backing it. I note that my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw is among those champions. Indeed, his work in supporting the welfare of animals is something that I think all of us on both sides of the House can be proud.
I am pleased that the Government have announced increased sentences for animal cruelty. That is an important step forward for which Labour has been arguing for some time. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell the House when he intends to bring forward legislation to put that into practice. Sadly, on every single day that goes by without that strong deterrent being put into law, examples of animal cruelty are being carried out across the country for which there are insufficient criminal penalties. I would be grateful to the Minister if he clarified the position.
Let me turn briefly to implementation. This really important Bill extends to England and Wales. As was said by Sir Mike Penning on Second Reading, there is the question of how we can extend the Bill’s provisions to the entire United Kingdom, with devolved Administrations making the appropriate decisions for their locality, but may I ask in particular about Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland does not have a sitting Assembly at the moment, so the devolved legislature does not have the ability to take action. I would be grateful if the Minister outlined what discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Office about how these really important provisions can be extended to police dogs in Northern Ireland.
I am very eager that the law covers the whole United Kingdom. The position in Northern Ireland is slightly difficult because it has a different animal welfare law from the 2006 Act, which covers only England and Wales. When I looked into this with the House authorities, I found that it would be very difficult to amend my Bill to cover Northern Ireland, for example because the long title refers to the 2006 Act, which applies only to England and Wales. I was told that if I tried to amend the Bill to include Northern Ireland, I might lose it. However, this is clearly a very important thing to look at, and I am certainly supportive of doing something for Northern Ireland.
As someone who grew up watching films of dogs travelling the country to protect their owners and rescue people, I know that where there is a will, there is a way. I hope that Ministers will take forward the belief that extending Finn’s law to cover all parts of the United Kingdom is a sensible and prudent way for us to make sure that police dogs, wherever they are serving, enjoy the same protection as they will in England and Wales under the Bill.
The concerns raised by Neil O’Brien about safeguards are important, and we must also consider concerns about self-defence. I know that the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire addressed such concerns in the Bill’s early stages, but as we close one loophole regarding cruelty towards police dogs, we must not risk opening another. That is especially important when considering the implementation of the Bill and how it will be judged by the courts, and we must send the strong message today that we do not seek to create new loopholes around self-defence, especially regarding the excessive use of force.
The Opposition fully support the Bill. Animals do not have a voice in politics, and it is our job to give them one. There will be people across the country who, over the past few months, might not have looked at the House of Commons and decided that it is politics at its best, but today they will see hon. Members on both sides of the House coming together in favour of something that carries the overwhelming support and good will of the British people.
I hope that the Bill will create headlines in the media today. It is up to us all to show that when considering important matters such as protecting animals from cruelty, we will close any loopholes in the law that enable the perpetrators of such cruel violence to get away with it. That is something of which the House can be rightly proud. It has never been more important to have an ambitious animal welfare agenda, and the Opposition fully support the Bill.
I am delighted to speak in support of the Bill promoted by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald, and to follow the able contributions of so many other hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster). Each and every one of them made a great contribution, often citing specific issues in their constituencies.
I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire for championing the cause of our much-loved service animals, and promoting this important Bill in recognition of the strong support among the public for Finn’s law. In particular, I congratulate him on his persistence. The original draft of the Bill would have created a completely new offence, and he will be aware that at the time—I think that I first discussed this issue with him about a year ago—the view of lawyers was that a new offence was unnecessary. However, I had tremendous sympathy for the cause that he advocated, and I was delighted to ensure that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs engaged with him to consider how his Bill could address this challenge. Together we came up with a sensible solution that is built on a model used elsewhere in the world, particularly in western Australia. It effectively removes an assailant’s ability to claim self-defence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in circumstances involving a service animal.
The Government recognise that service animals do invaluable work that can take them into dangerous situations, and the highest level of protection for such animals should be made clear in law. That is why Government are supporting the Bill, which introduces what has become known as Finn’s law. I might add that it shows their characteristic commitment that both PC Wardell and Finn have followed each and every stage of the Bill’s passage through Parliament from the Public Gallery, and we are delighted to see them here today as well.
When the Bill becomes law, animals such as Finn will have more protection from unprovoked, callous attacks. That is because the Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006, as it applies in England and Wales, to make it clear that someone’s ability to claim that they were acting in self-defence when they attacked a service animal shall be disregarded. No longer will someone be able to inflict suffering on our much-loved service animals—police dogs like Finn, police horses, or animals that support the prison service—and say that they were simply protecting themselves.
In supporting the Bill, we agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that using offences under section 4 of the 2006 Act to prosecute attacks on police and other support animals that cause unnecessary suffering could be made more difficult due to fact that the court must consider whether the defendant was acting in fear of harm. The Bill will make it easier successfully to prosecute people for causing animal cruelty by attacking a service animal. We are also taking separate steps to help to protect all animals under our care and protection—including our heroic service animals—by increasing the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months’ imprisonment to five years. Luke Pollard asked when that measure will be introduced; it will be brought forward as soon as possible. As he noted, the House is often preoccupied with other issues at the moment, but the matter remains at the top of the Government’s agenda. It is a clear commitment, and we will bring forward that legislation as soon as possible.
The parliamentary agenda and timetable are somewhat unpredictable at the moment, but the point remains that we are committed to raising the maximum penalty for animal cruelty to five years’ imprisonment. Specifically, we will amend the maximum penalties set out in section 32(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. That will cover cruelty caused by attacks on service animals, which is the second limb of the Finn’s law campaign.
As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, Finn was stabbed by an assailant in 2016 when he assisted his handler, PC Dave Wardell, in the apprehension of a suspected offender. Finn received serious injuries, but we are all thankful that he survived and was even able to return to duty, before later retiring and attending debates such as this. In August 2018, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had the pleasure of meeting Finn and PC Wardell at DEFRA’s offices. The Secretary of State stated clearly that
“every day service animals dedicate their lives to keeping us safe, and they deserve strong protections in law.”
That was why he undertook to continue working with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire in developing this law.
The Bill is concerned with the offences under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which relate to animal cruelty or, as the Act states, causing
“unnecessary suffering to an animal”.
When considering a prosecution for cruelty, the court must currently consider whether the defendant was acting in fear of harm. Relevant here is the list of considerations in section 4(3) that the court must consider, which include whether the suffering was caused for
“a legitimate purpose, such as....the purpose of protecting a person, property or another animal”.
In other words, the perpetrator of an attack on a service animal could use that provision to claim that they were acting to protect themselves. The Bill amends section 4 so that that consideration shall be disregarded with respect to incidents that involved unnecessary suffering inflicted on a service animal that was supporting an officer in the course of their duties. It will therefore be easier successfully to prosecute people for causing animal cruelty by attacking a service animal.
Clause 1 of the Bill amends section 4 to allow the self-defence provision relating to animal cruelty to be disregarded if it concerns a service animal under the control of, and being used by, a relevant officer in the course of his or her duties in a way that was reasonable, and if the defendant was not the relevant officer in control of the service animal.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. I think that we are all delighted to be here today to pass such feel-good legislation, which we all support.
The provisions will apply to dogs and horses used by the police, and to dogs used by prison officers—they tend not to use horses, unsurprisingly. Service animals are defined in the Bill by reference to the person who is in control of them. The Bill applies only to animals that are under the control of a relevant officer at the time of the attack. The definition of “relevant officer” covers a police constable, a person who has the powers of a police constable and a prison custody officer. The type of animal is not restricted either; it can include dogs and horses, or indeed any other animal in the service of a relevant officer.
Clause 1 also provides the Secretary of State with a power to amend by regulations under the affirmative procedure the definition of relevant officer, provided that the additional persons are in the public service of the Crown. That provides the flexibility to add additional officers in the public service of the Crown who might not have been considered at this stage.
The Bill also provides for situations in which a police or prison officer may be required to use restraint against their own service animal, for example in order to protect themselves or a member of the public. It provides that new subsection (3A) will not apply in a section 4 prosecution where the defendant is a relevant officer.
Clause 2 provides for the extent, commencement and short title of the Bill, and sets out that the Act will come into force two months after it is passed, which is the normal time for the commencement of Bills following Royal Assent. It sets out that the Act will extend only to England and Wales, as does the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which it amends. The shadow Minister noted that Northern Ireland is not covered. As my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out, that is because the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which the Bill amends, extends only to England and Wales. I should point out that Scotland has its own animal welfare legislation, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and Northern Ireland has the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, so they have the powers to make their own equivalent legislation, although I take the point about the absence of an Administration in Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, the Government have put animal welfare at the very top of our agenda. We are increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. We have made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses. We propose to ban the use of electronic shock collars on pets, and third-party sales of puppies and kittens. We have also modernised animal welfare standards for dog breeding, pet sales and other licensed activities involving animals.
It was noted at the start of the debate that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire has been particularly dogged and persistent in championing this cause. I was very pleased to be able, as a DEFRA Minister, to bring forward the regulations that changed the licensing regime for puppy breeding, which is something I have championed since I was first elected in 2010. Today, let me underline the fact that attacks on service animals such as brave Finn will not be tolerated. That is why we support the Bill, which will provide additional protection for our service animals. We hope that it will now make a swift passage through the other place without amendment.
I thank all Members who have spoken today for their invaluable support, including my hon. Friends the Members for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), for Torbay (Kevin Foster), for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) and for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), as well as the Minister and the shadow Minister. I also thank the Public Bill Office, which has been very helpful, particularly Adam Mellows-Facer, and the civil servants in DEFRA and other Departments who have helped with the Bill. I wish the Bill well in the other place and thank my noble Friend Lord Trenchard, who lives in my constituency—close to where Finn lives—for agreeing to take it through that House. We heard mention today of three brave police dogs—Aman, Isla and Axle—and I think that from Chichester we heard about Sparky, Lottie and Gonzo. In a way, the Bill is a tribute to all the brave service animals in our country. I hope that it can now proceed.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.