I agree absolutely. There has been huge support for increasing the sentences for animal cruelty, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has been particularly keen to get the law changed.
I support the Minister absolutely in his view that we need to crack down on dog fighting and hand down the sentences that are appropriate for that crime. The Dogs Trust says that the woefully inadequate sentences currently available are cause for serious concern—as the Minister said, we have some of the shortest sentences worldwide. I am pleased to hear that Wales is also to take forward these measures.
There is no parity in the law—for example, if someone harms a service dog, the penalties are much higher than if they harm a pet or a farm animal. We believe that wild animals too should be covered. There is also no consistency in sentencing: a person can be sent to prison for three years if their dog injures a guide dog, but if they beat a dog to death the maximum sentence is six months. In Northern Ireland, five-year maximum sentences are already in place. It is important that we achieve consistency across the UK. Hopefully, the recent consultation in Scotland will enable us to harmonise the law right across the UK.
The Minister mentioned the connection between animal cruelty and criminal behaviour. We know that people convicted of animal cruelty are five times more likely to have a violent crime record, and that animal abuse is 11 times more likely in domestic violence situations. That is another reason why we need to act now. The legislation will protect not only our beloved animals but people, too. In addition, the Government need to place a statutory duty on local authorities to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, so that it has proper teeth, and to give local authorities adequate resources with which to enforce the regulations under the Act.
If the Government are serious about animal welfare, they must introduce the measures in the other half of the original Bill to enshrine animal sentience in law after we leave the EU. Even better, they could get behind the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East.
Animals have the same welfare needs and any attack on them has the same impact on their welfare, regardless of whether they are a domestic pet, a police dog or a wild animal. They all feel pain; they all suffer. The people who harm them all need to feel the full force of the law.