Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:02 pm on 10th July 2019.

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Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling) 3:02 pm, 10th July 2019

I would like to join the Minister in thanking all the Members who have brought us to this point over the years—13 years, according to Bill Wiggin. I would like to thank my hon. Friend Anna Turley in particular, as well as Neil Parish and my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, who have pushed this forward over the last two years. It is good to see something that was promised to us two years ago finally come to the House.

My hon. Friend Mr Cunningham made a point about what the maximum sentence would apply to. It is worth saying that the Bill is not about inadvertent mistreatment; it is about serious and deliberate cruelty. Several Members have made the point that deliberate cruelty to animals is an indicator of likely cruelty to humans, and especially domestic violence.

I agree with the hon. Member for North Herefordshire that eventually, it will be possible to save money if the number of prosecutions reduces. To achieve that, we need to create the expectation among people who are thinking of being cruel to animals that they will be prosecuted and, in extreme cases, face heavy sentences, which means we must ensure that the Bill is put into place properly and properly policed. If we can deter this sort of cruelty, it will help to deter domestic violence. Any law-abiding society that applies the law properly saves money. Even if it does not save money in the short term, due to imprisonment or court costs, it will save money in the long term through encouraging and forcing people to abide by the law. We should not be counting the cost when it comes to abiding by the law; we should be ensuring that we are a law-abiding society.

Much of the cruelty that takes place is part of serious criminal activity. We are not just talking about lone criminal acts. In some cases, we are talking about international dog-fighting rings, with serious money involved. To clamp down on these rings, we need serious sentences. Dog fighting is a good example of where I part company with the hon. Member for North Herefordshire. It is not a human being hurting a dog—it is a dog hurting a dog—but what happens to animals in most cruelty cases is a direct result of the attitude of the human beings who are responsible for those animals. We cannot say that we will not prosecute a case simply because another animal has created that violent situation. If a human being is meant to be responsible for that animal, they need to be responsible for what that animal is doing. I look forward to dog fighting becoming as much a part of the past as cock fighting and bear baiting.

There are serious issues about which animals should be covered by this legislation. The Opposition are not necessarily convinced that every animal that needs to be covered will be covered. Wild animals and farmed animals have been mentioned. Several campaigning organisations have contacted us—I am sure they have contacted other Members—to suggest all sorts of areas where the Bill could be improved. At some stage, we will need a comprehensive and effective animal welfare Bill, as Giles Watling said. I believe that a Labour animal welfare Bill will probably be more comprehensive and effective, but that is something for the future.

We do not want to allow our wish to improve the Bill to get in the way of passing it. We will put forward things that we think might improve it, but the most important thing is that we get a quick resolution of this specific issue and pass the Bill. I am proud and delighted to join my hon. Friend Sue Hayman in commending the Bill to the House.