Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 am on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire 9:34 am, 8th February 2019

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.