Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:08 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:08 pm, 10th July 2019

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady’s point, which is why I am sure the House welcomes what she has said and also the progress on the Bill.

The hon. Member for Redcar referred to filming and to making this an aggravating factor. I think this is a very useful point, and we will certainly raise it with the independent Sentencing Council. As I have said, it has already indicated that it will consider and revise the guidelines once this Bill has become legislation.

One of the things my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned was the enforcement of this. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is for local authorities, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and indeed the police, which all have powers of entry, to inspect complaints of suspected animal cruelty and take out prosecutions, where necessary. It is for local authorities to make decisions about what they consider to be local priorities, rather than for the Government to decide. However, it is important that local authorities have the opportunity, as they do now, to continue to work in close partnership with others. We know that the RSPCA does investigate allegations of cruelty. It has successfully prosecuted between 800 and 1,000 people on average every year, and in doing that, it does a very valuable job.

My hon. Friend Giles Watling mentioned the impact of animals being held in kennels. I think it is fair to say that we do not necessarily expect a large number of cases to come before the Crown court, where the issue about the length of time may arise. At present, we estimate that about 25 cases that would previously have been held in the magistrates courts may well now be held in the Crown court. However, we consider that only a very small number of animals may need to be held in kennels for an extended period.

We cannot say from the Dispatch Box today precisely what decisions will be made about which animals would need to be taken away from the owner while somebody is awaiting sentencing, and such an action would not necessarily follow. However, it is also important to state that the Animal Welfare Act has provisions that allow a court to disqualify anyone from having animals, if necessary for life, if they have been convicted of an offence.

The court can also issue orders under section 3(6)(b) of the Bail Act 1976 to prevent the commission of further offences while on bail. The courts can make the sale of existing animals, and indeed a prohibition on owning animals, a condition of a defendant’s bail. It is important to stress that courts already have the power not only to prevent people on trial for animal welfare offences from acquiring new animals, but to remove the animals they already have. I do not believe we need further legislation to bring that about.

On what was said by the hon. Member for Bristol West, this legislation does apply to farmed animals. It is about animals that are under the care and protection of humans. I am pleased that she recognises the things we have done on animal welfare.