The Government recognise the deep distress that the theft of a much-loved pet can cause, and I have met the Home Secretary and the Environment Secretary to create a taskforce to investigate the problem end to end. That work is under way and it is gathering evidence to understand the factors that may be contributing to any rise in pet theft and to recommend measures to tackle the problem. It will report to Ministers on potential solutions by the summer.
I am grateful for that response. Mandatory microchipping has been a welcome step forward, and I understand that the law is now consistent across all parts of the United Kingdom. What steps have been taken to improve the microchipping process so that owners can know where microchips are being run, when and by whom?
My hon. Friend will know that our manifesto pledge is to extend microchipping to cats as well. With regard to dogs, over 90% of them in England are now microchipped. This year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is carrying out a post-implementation review of the regulations that introduced microchipping in 2015, to see how the various databases can operate in a more co-ordinated way, and it will come forward with proposals later in the year.
Pet theft is the most scurrilous crime, and residents have spoken to me about the loss they have felt when their dog or cat has been stolen from them. Does the Minister agree that each local force should have a dedicated dog theft lead? Will he join my calls for the police and crime commissioner to have a dog theft lead for South Yorkshire police, like the one for the Nottinghamshire constabulary?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to this campaign. I am pleased to hear about his energetic efforts in this sphere and I wish him well. Decisions on priorities are, of course, a matter for individual forces, but I am sure he will want to work with his local force to achieve the laudable aims that his campaign represents.
Pet theft is a shameless and disgusting act that harms families across our country. Scumbag Malachy Doherty of Tunstall was recently sentenced to 27 weeks in prison for stealing Labradors Denzel and Welly. Twenty-seven weeks does not seem long enough to me, so does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke that, as part of the pet theft taskforce, firmer punishments and vets checking microchips at the first visit will be ways to help prevent the heartache felt by many victims’ families?
My hon. Friend always speaks with vigour on behalf of his constituents, and I wholeheartedly agree with his revulsion at this appalling type of crime. We share his deep concern, which is why the sort of ideas and proposals he outlined are very much at the forefront of Government thinking.
I thank the Secretary of State for speaking to me recently about pet theft. In the recent local election campaign in Wolverhampton, I spoke to several constituents who are now too nervous to go out to walk their dogs, especially in the evening time. Does he recognise that, for their wellbeing, and for that of their dogs, this is an urgent matter? Can he reassure me that as soon as the taskforce reports the Government will take action on pet theft reform?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her deep commitment to this issue. She is so right to highlight the wellbeing and mental health effects of the loss of a much-loved pet on her local residents in Wolverhampton and more widely. That is precisely why we took action to set up the taskforce, and we will indeed be reporting as soon as possible to address the concerns of her constituents.
Pet theft can be absolutely heartbreaking for families. I have spoken to some of the families in my constituency who have gone through this process and they warmly welcome the establishment of the pet theft taskforce. Can my right hon. and learned Friend outline what kind of solutions the taskforce is looking at?
My hon. Friend is right to reflect the views of his constituents in Bolsover and the wider community. We are looking at not just the consequences of pet theft, but ways in which the black market in the trade in animals can be dealt with. Lots of ideas and initiatives merit serious consideration as to how we can prevent the incentives for this sort of despicable crime from occurring in the first place. That is the work that is being carried out now.
It is clear today that pet theft is having a huge impact on so many families across the country. Indeed, if my mam had the choice between me and her beloved, slightly obese Bichon, Archie, it would be a close call and I would not fancy my odds. Pet theft is on the rise. The loss of a furry family member is having an impact on so many families. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm not if and how, but when we will update the law to tackle this terrible crime?
I am glad that my hon. Friend declared his interest, as is appropriate. Many other Members of this House will be dog owners. I am a cat owner, so I declare that interest. Clearly, behind that, there is a very important point about the ways in which we can help to prevent the spread of this crime. As the Prime Minister said, this is often the underbelly of more organised and serious criminality, where profit is being made on the backs of the misery of not just the pets themselves, but their owners, who suffer great distress as a result of the theft.