Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:04 am on 8th February 2019.

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Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 10:04 am, 8th February 2019

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.