Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:01 am on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 10:01 am, 8th February 2019

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—