I thank the hon. Gentleman for his well-made point, which I think we can all support.
It is absolutely right that we should seek to increase the maximum penalty for animal welfare offences from six months to five years. Britain can be proud of having some of the best animal welfare practices and legislation in the world, and the Bill does what it needs to do to enhance that reputation. The landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006 is something that, as a Labour Member, I am very proud of, because our Government brought it forward. Now, delivering maximum sentencing through the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will ensure that our high standard is maintained and builds on those original foundations.
I am aware that many Members right across the House have campaigned for this issue and for this Bill to come forward, but I would like to make a couple of particular mentions. First my hon. Friend Anna Turley has made a huge contribution in this House, working with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to put forward her private Member’s Bill. That campaign was supported when it first came to the House by many hon. Members from both sides, and I am pleased that we are making such good progress now. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy for her hard work on this issue. I also thank the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and its Chair, Neil Parish.
The last time I spoke on this matter on the Floor of the House was in spring 2017, following the publication of the Select Committee’s excellent report covering third-party puppy sales and maximum sentencing. We then had the short-lived draft Bill that would have covered sentencing and the recognition of animal sentience. From that, however, Ministers went back to the drawing board, which is why, to some extent, it has taken so long to get to this stage. After two years’ delay, it is really good that the Government have finally brought forward this Bill, because it is important that sentences for animal cruelty should act as a deterrent. I welcome this.
We are supporting the Bill today, but we will seek to improve it in Committee. We have concerns, which are shared by a number of stakeholders, about the scope of the Bill. This has already been mentioned in an intervention. The proposals apply only to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and therefore do not apply to wild animals in the way that they apply to domestic animals. Our concern is that this creates a two-tier system, even if by oversight as opposed to intention. The same sentences should be available to judges for similar or identical crimes, regardless of whether the animal is domesticated or wild.