I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
There have been reports of a huge, 250% increase in dog-theft crimes in a number of counties, particularly Suffolk. The Metropolitan police, who cover my area, report the highest number of dog thefts in the country. The number of stolen dogs registered on the DogLost website has increased by more than 170% since lockdown, and 2020 was the worst ever year for the theft of dogs.
We are not talking about some inanimate object; this is an animal, a pet who is part of the family like the other pets. Dogs also do hugely important jobs. Who secures this place by ensuring that we do not have bombs? Dogs. Who checks at customs that people are not importing drugs and other things? Dogs. Dogs are being trained to detect covid now, and they should have been brought into airports years ago.
The reality here is that it is very violent. The big point is that gangs are involved now. The prices of these animals have risen—we are talking about £5,000 or £10,000 for a dog—and the gangs are very violent. I have constituents who have been knocked to the ground and beaten and had their hands stamped on. There have been threats made against them, their home and their families. These are serious offences, yet right now it is almost impossible to get more than a slap on the wrist for this stuff—a fine of £250 or perhaps £500.
Dogs are not even listed in the Home Office classification—they are in among theft from the person, bicycle theft, shoplifting and other theft. Pet theft currently sits hidden from view under HOC49, alongside things that do not have a home, such as a wheelbarrow. This is wrong, it diminishes the crime and it means that many people who are devastated by pet theft, and often brutalised, have no recourse. As I said, even the sentencing side of it is very poor. We need to bring in much tougher sentences and it is important that we have a categorisation that includes dogs and other pets. We also need police to take pet theft seriously. One individual told me that when their dog was stolen, a police officer said, “Did you have anything else of value taken?” as though dogs were not of any value.
Microchips have to be put in by law, yet no vet has to scan to see whether or not a dog is stolen. That should change so we should bring that in. Other ideas include a ban on cash sales, as happened with scrap metal, to cut off such sales, and consideration of the reintroduction of licences for pet ownership.
Pet theft is a serious offence and I would like the Government, during deliberations on the Bill, to introduce changes to help people. Violence and the theft of animals are wrong. We should do something about it, and do it now.