I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and all Members in the House who have joined me today to help me bring my Bill to its remaining stages on the Floor of the House. I also thank the Public Bill Committee, which considered the Bill in detail on Wednesday
It is clear that we are truly a nation united by our love of animals, and my Bill has attracted strong support from all parties in this House and, most especially, from animal welfare organisations across the country. I am pleased that it has progressed through the House without a single amendment and that Members on both sides of the Chamber value not only its spirit but its content.
I am delighted by the energy shown by so many in ensuring that we get the Bill absolutely right so that it has the best possible impact on animal welfare across the country. Important conversations have been ongoing throughout its passage involving all parties in the House and key organisations outside. Ultimately, that has allowed the Bill to arrive at this final stage.
As you will know only too well, Mr Speaker, I have, like you, been an advocate for the protection of animals my entire life, and particularly during my 20 years as a Member of Parliament. My own dogs were Staffordshire bull terriers called Spike and Buster and they were the best companions anyone could have wished for. They campaigned for me in every general election, sporting their famous Union Jack waistcoats. I have fond memories of my hon. Friend Greg Smith looking after Spike during the 2001 general election, and I am delighted that he is in the Chamber to support my Bill.
As we love our country, we also love our animals. From my experience of speaking to constituents and working closely with animal welfare charities, I know the joy that animals can bring. Protecting animals should unite us all. We have a duty of care to the animals that we are privileged to live alongside—household pets, wild animals, farm animals and all creatures of land, sea and sky.
My hon. Friend mentions farm animals. I do not know of any farmers who deliberately mistreat their animals, but sometimes false accusations are made against them. There is some concern in the farming community about the appeals process if they are given a penalty charge notice. Will he assure the House that there is a robust appeals process in his Bill?
There absolutely has to be, and my hon. Friend is right to raise that point. The purpose of the Bill is to deal with fairly minor offences and act almost as guidance. It is not there to deal with serious offences, which would still be handled through the usual process. I take on board his point that when false accusations are made there must be a robust appeals process, and I know that the Minister will take that on board in dealing with any secondary legislation. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.
Our dearly missed friend and departed colleague, Sir David Amess, shared my view on the Bill. He shared all my views on animal welfare and was the greatest champion of the issue among Members of Parliament. He dedicated his life to that. We think of David today, on the first day of a new Member, my hon. Friend Anna Firth. We wish her all success as David’s successor, but no one could replace David. He was unique, and we think of him all the time. His stance on animal welfare never changed throughout his 38 years in Parliament. In fact, he introduced a private Member’s Bill in 1998 that strengthened protections for horses tethered by the roadside, and through his tireless campaigning inspired so many others to continue the fight for strengthened protection for animals. We remember him as we carry on the fight to defend and protect animals throughout the United Kingdom.
It has been an honour to have the opportunity to introduce a Bill that I believe will make a real difference to the lives of animals and help promote greater understanding of welfare. This Bill will directly benefit the health and welfare of this country’s farmed and kept animals and will increase accountability when our country’s biosecurity is put at risk. The Bill introduces enabling powers so that we can apply penalty notices to the appropriate offences and establishes the framework crucial to introducing these penalties through statutory instrument. Penalty notices will bolster our existing enforcement measures and give enforcement authorities more options to influence positive behaviour when it comes to caring for our farmed and kept animals, including companion animals and zoo animals.
As chair of the zoos and aquariums all-party parliamentary group, I recognise that this is a welcome development for that sector. Having worked very closely for so many years with the excellent British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which does so much for zoos and the care of animals in zoos and aquariums across the country, I know that it agrees that penalty notices are the right way forward. The debate in Committee highlighted the wide support for the Bill and what I believe it will achieve. I have held ongoing discussions with various non-governmental organisations, and I am delighted that there is a strong consensus that penalty notices will benefit this country and should be introduced. I share the same enthusiasm and excitement for this legislation, which I truly believe will be a gain for animal welfare across this country.
I am also grateful to the organisations that have already invested their time in engaging with myself and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to consider the Bill and how it will work for them in practice, and sharing their views so that we can make the Bill as effective as possible. The support of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the National Farmers Union, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, the National Sheep Association and the National Pig Association, as well as many other animal welfare groups across the country, has been invaluable.
I once again thank hon. Members here today for supporting this landmark Bill, and for the many contributions made at its previous stages. I hope we can agree that this important Bill should progress today, so that it may continue its journey in the House of Lords under the stewardship of the right hon. Lord Randall of Uxbridge, who has agreed to champion my Bill in the other place. The wellbeing and safety of animals is something that I know matters to us all, so as a nation of animal lovers, let us continue to lead the world in enhancing the cause of animal welfare.
I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to the Minister who is not here today, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Jo Churchill. She has done so much to support my Bill, and has been very dedicated in helping to ensure that the Bill has reached this stage. It has been my pleasure to work with her to ensure that this new legislation has arrived in this place today, and I thank the Minister in her place—the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis—for standing in and leading in today’s debate.
I would also like to thank those organisations and Members who have provided such valuable care to animals for vocalising their support for this Bill and giving me full confidence that penalty notices will be a welcome addition to the enforcement of animal welfare when they become available.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward this very important Bill. I think members of the public listening or watching might be surprised that this kind of Bill needs to be brought in. What changes will it make to improve the situation and assist us in making sure that people are not being cruel to animals?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point, because we need to understand the purpose of this Bill. At present, enforcing breaches of animal welfare laws means having to prosecute, so it takes a long time, and involves going to court and all those processes. However, many offences are very minor—mistakes that individuals may have made inadvertently—so, a bit like a parking ticket, the penalty notices are a way of informing people, when they have not done something very serious, that they need to do things better in future. The Bill will give the enforcement authorities greater powers to deal with minor offences speedily, rather than having to go through long processes. Of course, some of those cases will never be prosecuted, because in effect time runs out; there is not enough time to deal with the issue. This Bill will be really effective as a way of dealing with such cases quickly. That is really the nub of the Bill; it will increase the powers in animal welfare laws and make them a lot more effective. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and hope I have explained the background clearly to her.
This Bill will fundamentally reform how we enforce animal welfare, biosecurity and welfare across farmed and kept animals in England. I hope other parts of the United Kingdom will follow suit when this Bill becomes legislation. I believe it will improve this country’s response to offences and strengthen our position as a world leader in the welfare of animals, with whom we are privileged to share this planet. I sincerely hope that we will see it placed on the statute book in the very near future. This is a good Bill that will improve the lives of animals and guide the people of this nation towards better protection and welfare of the animals we all care so much about, and I commend it to the House.
I must congratulate the hon. Member in charge of this Bill.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. I think we can all agree that my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell has brought a hugely important Bill to the House. It shows that cruelty to any animal will face serious consequences, and he should be commended for such a worthwhile Bill. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, he is, if I have got this right, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums, a former shadow Minister for animal welfare, and a committed advocate for the care and protection of animals. He speaks with great experience and authority, so I will be delighted to support this Bill, which will crack down on animal offenders and establish a more consistent, targeted approach to protecting all animals from harm.
I need to be clear that animal cruelty has no place in our society, and I am so delighted that this Bill will close the gap that is being exploited by cruel animal abusers. The Bill has received significant backing from key stakeholders, as my hon. Friend has said, including the RSPCA, which has said that the measures would help to combat the suffering of farmed animals, horses and animals kept in zoos. I welcome the assurance that the animal cruelty offences will always be prosecuted and that penalties will be used in conjunction with tougher sentences to provide better safeguards for all animals. This Bill will provide a welcome powerful additional enforcement tool, providing authorities with an extra measure that could be used alongside warnings and criminal prosecution. I support this Bill, because it builds on the Government’s decisive actions to improve our already world-leading animal welfare standards, including raising the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty.
Just months after being elected, I met, as did many other Members, Finn, a former police dog who was attacked while pursuing a suspect. Finn’s story convinced me—not that I needed much convincing—of the need to increase the maximum sentence from six months to a more respectable five years. I met many service animals in my time in the armed forces, and I know that they not only work hard but that their actions have saved many lives. I remember when serving in Northern Ireland in the troubles doing 5 metre and 10 metre checks: when walking along a street, every time we stopped we had to look around to check for improvised explosive devices and command wires. We were always nervous doing that and when we had sniffer dogs with us that could smell any explosives a mile away we felt safer straight away.
In 1999, I deployed to Kosovo for the conflict. We were living in very harsh conditions, working 20 to 22 hours a day on average and living in derelict buildings at the start. We were shattered for much of the time. I remember my patrol coming back in one day and meeting one of the attack dogs—war dogs—in the operation rooms. Most of my blokes were too tired to eat, but as we walked in and came face to face with one of the British Army’s finest attack dogs, who certainly made us aware that we had got too close to him, we were all wide awake straight away.
More seriously, a friend of mine who was serving in the British special forces in Afghanistan was, unfortunately, shot in the neck and killed. As a result, the Special Air Service decided to use dogs as members of their team, so they have become an extra member of their team in operations. From knowing some of the people who have used these dogs on operations I can say that they have saved countless lives. Those are some of my personal experiences, where I have seen the love for animals and where they have saved human lives.
I also support this Bill because it provides an important educational tool that can be used before offences become more severe and can prevent offenders from repeating their mistakes—let us educate people on this issue. As a local MP, I want to do all I can to ensure that Wolverhampton becomes a safer place to live, work and visit for everyone, and that includes all the animals that co-inhabit it.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell for doing so much to further the case for animal welfare: as a former shadow Minister for animal welfare and the chair of the all-party group on zoos and aquariums, he is an advocate like no other. They say that dogs are a man’s best friend; it is no stretch to say that my hon. Friend is one of the UK animal population’s best friends.
One of my best friends is a sassy little bitch called Karen, a pomeranian chihuahua, or pomihuaha. She is a very small dog with a very big personality—the ultimate companion who can cheer me up at the end of a long day and bring a smile to my face in the toughest of times. Through my time with Karen I am reminded of the special place our pets and animals have in our homes and hearts, why Britain is a proud nation of animal lovers, and why it is so important that we protect our furry friends.
I am very proud that our Government are striving to ensure our animal welfare standards continue to be world leading. We have had the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, or Loder’s law, which has increased the maximum prison sentence from six months to five years for those who harm animals, and a new offence of pet abduction to tackle the sick and depraved individuals who would steal someone’s cherished pet and deprive them of an often-priceless relationship. We also have the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill tackling puppy smuggling and the export of live animals for slaughter. My hon. Friend’s Bill will bridge the gap between criminal prosecution and warning letters so that action can be taken and sanctions issued straightaway to protect our animals’ health and wellbeing.
In this country, we have an incredible farming community who go above and beyond to care for their livestock. We also have an amazing network of zoos that delivers incredible educational opportunities for youngsters and protects and cares for exotic and rare species to high standards. In our own homes, we are a nation of animal lovers. People across Britain love, cherish and adore their furry friends and family members, but how do we deal with the small minority who do not provide that level of care?
There is currently a gap in the powers available to deal with those people and in some cases we fail to provide a fair, firm, proportionate and prompt response before reaching the threshold for prosecution. It is devastating that last year the RSPCA received 57,000 complaints of animal cruelty. The Bill will provide the penalties and the means to tackle that behaviour at an earlier stage as well as an educational tool to prevent bad situations from getting worse. Our pets are family members and friends who deserve protection. We should give the authorities all the powers they need to tackle those who would do them harm.
I commend my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell. It is quite an achievement to secure a Bill with no amendments and cross-party support, and with everyone smiling here today. He is right that this country is united by a love of animals. I have had that reinforced in particular when campaigning on the pet theft laws that the Government are bringing in. It matters a lot to people in Stroud, where we have an amazing rural crime team. The police in particular have asked for increased protections, and the Bill will help with that among the array of tools that the Government are providing. The Government have an excellent track record in protecting animals and increasing welfare standards, and I look forward to hearing from the hard-working Minister—this is my second debate with her this week, so I know that she is always on her feet.
Stroud has an excellent track record on animal welfare and taking care for animals. We have a range of well-loved organisations set up to care for animals, including: Teckels; Cotswolds Dogs and Cats Home; Wild Hogs Hedgehog Rescue; Help a Hedgehog Hospital; Nailsworth Donkey Sanctuary; and Scrubditch Care Farm, just outside my patch, with which I have worked a lot. They are all fantastic organisations, and there are many more.
Yesterday, I was at SGS Stroud College with the skills Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart—where we met animal welfare students busy bathing guinea pigs, which was a complete novelty for the Minister. When we talked to the students and apprentices, we learned that they want to take these qualifications so that they can go on to university and become vets or perhaps go into rescue centres. They will certainly welcome the early intervention measures offered by the Bill.
I am a cat person—my brother bought me a mad cat lady action figure—but my marriage and this job stop me from having a house full of cats. I love all animals, and I know that if I ever lose this job, I will have a house full of animals—that keeps my husband campaigning to keep me in the job.
It is clear from listening to colleagues that we need the steps that the Bill brings, because relying on prosecutions, the police and the courts will not be enough—we know about the delays and pressures on our courts—and it will also not be a deterrent for people who cause problems for and are cruel to our animals. The Bill will speed up penalties for issues relating to animals and should act as a deterrent. We should all be focused on preventive action and early intervention, so I welcome that. I also note that leading lights and trusted charities such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have said that they broadly support the contents of the Bill and that they really welcome using fines for technical and low-level breaches. The Bill is good enough for organisations such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and brilliant for my local amazing charities and organisations in Stroud: it will protect our furry friends; it has cross-party support; and I am incredibly pleased that the Government are supporting it. Well done to my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell.
My hon. Friend has worked hard to champion animal penalty notices and to bring this debate before the House. The Bill is concerned not just with pets, but with zoo animals and livestock. My beautiful constituency is approximately 65% agriculture and I always enjoy seeing the variety of livestock grazing the fields as I travel through it. I have not had the benefit of having a pet myself, but I am fully aware of the love and care that families have for their pets. Indeed, that is part of the reason why I have not taken on that additional responsibility. They really do become a member of the family.
Pets are sentient beings and we must do all we can to protect animals from cruelty. I am pleased to see Government support doing just that. In June last year, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 raised the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. That is a welcome step towards increasing animal welfare and protection, but going to court is not always the most effective measure against animal cruelty, hence the need for the Bill.
I recently had a discussion with David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, about its work to keep animals safe. In 2020, the RSPCA had over 1 million calls to its cruelty line and over 140,000 welfare incidents were dealt with by the inspectorate. This issue affects all our constituencies, including my own where there were 24 investigations in 2021. However, in 2020, only 1,743 people were prosecuted for animal cruelty and only 908 were convicted of animal cruelty offences.
Those statistics demonstrate a gap in the legal system to correctly charge people with animal cruelty offences. In the current system without fixed-penalty notices, people have to be taken to court over animal cruelty offences, putting pressure on the court system and increasing the length of time taken. The Bill creates a system of financial penalties of up to £5,000 for animal health and welfare officers, including on-the-spot fines. Fixed-penalty notices are an out-of-court disposal and they serve as an important education tool to help to prevent animal cruelty.
I will leave it at that and I look forward to the contributions of other right hon. and hon. Members. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford on getting the Bill to this stage.
I join all other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell on introducing the Bill and getting this far. There is a worrying sense of unanimity in the House, which always gives me cause for concern. I will not breach it, save to highlight one or two slight concerns I have about the drafting of the Bill.
There is much to welcome in the Bill, and chief among them is the immediate impact that the levelling of a fixed-penalty notice has on both the individual who receives it and the wider community. There is a direct relation between cause and effect. We all know that speed in justice is enormously important. One of the great problems we have in society today is the delay that has bound up the criminal justice system, particularly in the Crown court but also in the magistrates court.
I also like the direct link between the severity of the offence and the penalty notice amount, with the factors, aggravating and mitigating, set out in clause 4. I recognise that there is also provision for the Secretary of State to give guidance on how those should be properly applied. That is a very important factor that needs to be taken seriously by the Secretary of State for the Bill to be properly applied.
However, the reasons behind the Bill’s benefit also give me some grounds for caution as we seek to apply fixed-penalty notices as a mechanism for bypassing the normal course of the criminal justice system. One of the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Romford gave for why it is so important to have fixed-penalty notices was the delay in the magistrates courts. Surely, the best way to deal with delay in criminal justice is not to bypass it with fixed-penalty notices but to adequately fund magistrates courts and the criminal justice system that serves all of our country.
There is a requirement in clause 1(1) for the enforcement authority to be “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt”, but there is no requirement in the Bill for them to obtain or secure sufficient evidence to be satisfied. I query whether there is a risk that a prosecuting authority may see this as a shortcut past obtaining sufficient evidence to create a proper prosecution, and that fixed-penalty notices may be given more readily than a decision to prosecute otherwise would be. If that were the case, it would be a cause for concern for us all.
That leads me to who those enforcement authorities are. We see from clause 1(4) that the Bill does not tell us who they are; we are told that that will be provided by regulation. There is nothing wrong per se in secondary legislation providing further detail, but in this instance I start to get a little concerned. In clause 1(5), we are told who the Secretary of State might consider to be an enforcement authority. It says that that may be the Secretary of State himself or herself—fair enough—a local authority or, in paragraph (c),
“any other person that the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
It would be impossible to draft that definition more widely. I respectfully highlight that issue to the Minister and invite her at least to consider it in responding to the debate, because this is the very definition of a blank cheque for the Secretary of State.
I wonder whether enforcement authorities might include, for example, private prosecutors such as the RSPCA. If that were the case, it would run counter to the current considerations of the Law Commission, which is interested in considering the future for all kinds of private prosecutors. We have a recent history of significant miscarriages of justice where private prosecutors have acted. I have only to pray in aid the biggest criminal justice scandal in our nation’s history—the Horizon scandal, where the Post Office acted in the role of private prosecutor—to demonstrate why the Law Commission may not be keen to continue to allow private prosecutors right across our criminal justice system.
The reason I know that is that I approached the Law Commission myself in relation to the Care Quality Commission and its powers as a private prosecutor in the health sector because of a scandal at Cawston Park Hospital in my constituency, where three patients with mental ill health and autism, as well as Down syndrome, died over a 27-month period because of neglect and, certainly in one case, physical abuse. I therefore raise a serious concern about whether private prosecutors could amount to enforcement authorities under clause 1(4).
Finally, I turn to clause 5(2). Enforcement authorities can apply a fine of up to £5,000. Most of that money will return to the central funds, but clause 5(2) gives enforcement authorities the ability to deduct their own costs of prosecution from any fines. That is a clear financial incentive to issue fixed-penalty notices, because it pays for their own operations. I hope we will all be naturally concerned to ensure that we do not apply a parking fine company approach to this area of law. That would be wholly not what my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, or any of us, intends. It is important that the Secretary of State, when coming to the secondary legislation and regulation on this matter, thinks hard about that potentially poisonous mix of financial incentive and private prosecution.
In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford again for getting behind this legislation and bringing it to the House and, I hope, to a happy conclusion, but I ask the Minister to think carefully about potential unintended consequences. We have heard about Staffordshire bull terriers and about Spike and Buster, but let us not forget that we need to look after John Bull as well, as he is persecuted by the heavy hand of the state. We want to give him protection too, and we must ensure that our legislation is well drafted.
It is a pleasure to speak today and to congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell on bringing forward this piece of legislation. He is a Member of this House who has long been a passionate advocate for his love of animals—as well as, I like to think, spotting Conservative talent, because when he saw me before I was elected to this place he thought I had a chance of winning. He may regret that now, having seen what I am like in the Chamber, but I appreciate his kind words. I also appreciate what he is doing for animals across the United Kingdom.
I did not have a Spike or a Buster before I got elected; I now have a Bella and a Bailey. I like the idea of Union flag waistcoats, and I will try to replicate those as I go around Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke at the next general election. Perhaps I will get a few nice tweets rather than the ones I have been receiving recently for being overly zealous in the Chamber in my support of the Prime Minister.
Coming back to the Bill, this is exactly the type of legislation that organisations such as Greyhound Gap, which works in the Kidsgrove area, or Baddeley Green Hedgehog Rescue, which also does fantastic work in the constituency, want to see: showing respect for our beloved animals and ensuring that those who seek to persecute, take advantage of or simply be cruel to an animal are held to account. There is no excuse, as a human, to ever be cruel to an animal. Those people who think that that is right or is something they can do should absolutely feel the full force of the law.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew, who said, accurately, that by introducing fixed penalty notices we will free up court time, speeding up the process of punishing those who have clearly and evidently broken the law and ensuring that they feel the wrath financially—which is often where animals are mostly taken advantage of. I am proud to support this fantastic piece of legislation.
We should not forget that this affects not just our pets, but our zoo animals and livestock. I know my hon. Friend Greg Smith will talk passionately, as he has in the past, about those farmers who do a lot of really good work and look after their animals appropriately, and the tiny minority who sometimes bring a slur on the wider profession. It is important that we remember that many of our farmers do the right thing, but those who do not should be held to account, because they are ultimately profiteering from the animals they keep.
The fact that the fixed penalty notice
“may not exceed whichever is the lesser of—
(a) £5,000, and
(b) the maximum fine for which a person convicted of the offence is liable on summary conviction”,
is fantastic. I like to see big, hefty fines for such people. I have introduced my own private Member’s Bill, relating to rogue landowners who destroy history and heritage, and I want to see that fine go from a £1,000 cap to being unlimited, to allow a judge to use their discretion and expertise to determine the seriousness of the damage done. This case is similar, and that hefty fine will be a deterrent to those who seek to break the law.
I am also delighted to see the partisan—[Interruption.] Apologies, I am used to being partisan—the bipartisan way the House is approaching this issue, as has been the case with many animal welfare and animal rights issues, as well as the issue of waste. I note Ruth Jones, the shadow Minister, has talked passionately about north Staffordshire and Walleys Quarry and many other issues. I know she is backing the “Stop the Stink” campaign and I am grateful for her support, as the issue also affects my constituents. It is good to see that we are all working together.
It is a shame that what my hon. Friend the Member for Romford has done over his career has never been rewarded with a ministerial post. Perhaps the rumoured great reset will finally put him on the Treasury Bench, where he belongs. He is a fantastic advocate for animals and for our United Kingdom, and I am proud to support his Bill today. I look forward to hearing the following contributions.
I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell for his excellent Bill and for moving Third Reading today. I have been looking forward to speaking on it, although I must admit that I have very little experience of working with or owning animals. They tell us never to work with animals or children, and I failed miserably on the latter as a secondary school teacher. I suppose that is where the comparison should end, before I get myself into trouble.
Most of my experience with animals is from being out and about delivering leaflets on the campaign trail. I tend to step around driveways like Fred Astaire, trying to avoid various things. This brings back happy memories of the time I lived in Sweden and went on an expedition in the Arctic circle. I was pulled in a sled by dogs, and there were reindeer. My phone suddenly rang with a call from the now Secretary of State for Transport, which I was not expecting. He said, “Brendan, it is very nice to speak to you. Can I ask what you have been doing for the Eastleigh by-election?” There was very little signal and it was quite cold, as Members can imagine, so I said, “I am currently in the Arctic circle being pulled along on a dogsled.” He replied, “Okay, I believe you”—I tried to take a selfie to send to him—“but you could make some phone calls.” That was my job during one of my animal experiences.
Since being elected, I have seen the great success of Westminster dog of the year, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford is very passionate. It was a pleasure to see Sir David’s dog there this year. I was lobbied quite heavily, especially by my hon. Friend Lee Anderson for his dog Alfie. I am afraid I must confess that I did not support his dog this year, but he is not here today, so I feel safe in relaying that story.
I have a cat, which is a new thing for me. I am very fond of my cat, and pet owners are attached to their animals. It is an experience I would recommend. My first experience of owning an animal was when I had a white rabbit with pink eyes. If the legislation were reversed, the rabbit would have received many on-the-spot fines for attacking me. My second pet was a terrapin called Gary, who had a red band across his head. He was very similar to a ninja turtle.
Finally, I have the cat. We had to decide a name, and my son, who is five years old, decided on Jerry, supposedly after “Tom and Jerry”. I had to explain that Jerry was the mouse, not the cat, but one cannot argue with a five-year-old, so we called the cat Jerry, who is now one of my best friends. We regularly sit together to watch “Match of the Day”. He sits on my lap, and we discuss the issues of the day such as taking the knee or Gary Lineker’s salary. We have not had a single disagreement, which is fantastic.
Of course, the landmark Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 has come along and introduced five years’ imprisonment, and it is something of which we can be incredibly proud. I remember the fabulous Finn coming to this very building with Dave Wardell, his handler. It was one of our most popular events, which shows how well it went down with the public and with Members, too. The snaking queue was so long that at one point I thought it was an attempt to recreate the “Labour Isn’t Working” poster. I hope that my friends on the Opposition Benches will forgive me for mentioning that.
I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, has taken such a supportive approach to the Bill, as has the House of Lords. Opposition Members have also made some excellent contributions to the debate. Chris Sherwood, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has said
“Fixed penalty notices are… useful to…combat suffering of farmed animals, horses and animals kept in zoos.”
The RSPCA, he said, was pleased about the proposals for powers of enforcement and tougher sentences. It supports the Bill wholeheartedly, as do I. I think that the United Kingdom can be world-leading in animal welfare, not just through the Bills that we have already introduced, but through excellent Bills such as this. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and wish the Bill well.
I join my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith in congratulating our hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell and thanking him for all the work he has done over his career to further the cause of animal welfare. I also echo his remarks about our late colleague Sir David Amess and all the hard work that he did to protect animals during his many years in this place.
I am delighted to welcome the Bill back to the Chamber, because it is an important part of our reforms to strengthen the protection of animal welfare across the full spectrum of offences. At the most serious end, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 has increased the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. That covers, for instance, dog fighting, illegally cropping a dog’s ears, and gross neglect of animals. This Bill addresses offences at the other end of the spectrum, toughening penalties for less serious offences by creating a system of fining offenders up to £5,000. I welcome that approach: I welcome the toughening of laws at the less serious end of the spectrum, and hope that those tougher laws will serve as both a deterrent and an educational tool for many.
As the common agricultural policy payments wind down and cross-compliance is phased out, we have opportunities to improve and strengthen enforcement mechanisms by introducing a range of proportionate enforcement measures and by providing new, more consistent penalties by extending penalty notices to all kept animals—or, rather, to all those who keep animals. As I mentioned last time the Bill was debated in the House, it does not address the issue of errant animals. On that occasion, I recounted the escapades of our pig Andrew and our donkeys Sergeant Wilson and Godfrey, who staged a break-in at the chicken run. I am sorry to say that, in the month since we last debated the Bill, things have not improved.
Just a few weeks ago, we had another break-out. This time it was the alpacas, Florence, Vera and Wilbur. It was a lovely, peaceful, sunny Saturday morning, we had just enjoyed a nice breakfast and we were sitting down for coffee when my husband looked out of the window, did a double-take and said, “Where are the alpacas?” I said, “I don’t know—perhaps they have gone out of that gap in the hedge that you confidently assured me they would never escape from.”
So into the car we piled, still in our pyjamas, now in our wellies too, and bombed down our drive at about 100 miles an hour in our Land Rover—which is shaking and falling apart—scanning the horizon and the fields for a ginger head, a black head and a white head grazing peacefully, but no, we could not see them anywhere. On to the main road we went; there was no sign of them. In the village we accosted the startled-looking postman, asking, “Have you seen our alpacas?” “No, not since I came to deliver the mail; they were in the paddock then.” “Great! They can’t have gone far.” So back we went. We tried going the other way, and drove around a few more fields. Finally we found them, munching happily away, completely unaware of the drama and excitement they had caused to our Saturday morning. Life would be so dull without them, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am proud to support this excellent Bill, which offers the protections that they deserve.
I know that the Bill is welcomed by the NFU, the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Blue Cross. It is fantastic to see that huge spectrum of support. I appreciate that the NFU has raised some questions about the appeal mechanisms, as flagged up by my hon. Friend Greg Smith. I am interested to hear from the Minister what recourse there is for appeal in the case of genuine misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the facts.
Our country is a world leader on animal welfare. There is no place for those who mistreat animals and I welcome the part this Bill will play when it becomes law.
I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell on bringing forward this really important legislation, which fills a gap; a suite of legislation is coming forward to help to safeguard and strengthen our animal welfare.
Animal welfare is close to my heart and it is one of the top issues that my constituents raise with me. That is not surprising given the statistics locally. RSPCA figures reveal that about 3,000 complaints about animal cruelty are made in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire every year. Sadly, the west midlands has been one of the 10 animal cruelty hotspots over the past five years, which is why animal welfare is among my top priorities.
Animal cruelty horrifies our society, and figures tell us that there are suffering animals in Staffordshire that need help every day. It is shocking that people can be capable of such deliberate brutality towards animals. Equally, it drives us on to ensure that appropriate action is taken on animal welfare and related offences. In particular, I am grateful for the work being done locally by RSPCA staff and volunteers, who transform the lives of thousands of animals in Staffordshire every year.
I fully support the aims of the Bill, which will mean that penalty notices can fill the enforcement gap between taking no action and seeking criminal prosecution. I am delighted that today’s debate provides us with the opportunity to discuss how we can go further to improve animal health and welfare in this country.
Several of my constituents selflessly volunteer at Animal Lifeline in Stoke-on-Trent. It is a fantastic charity that has cared for dogs for more than 40 years, with approximately 100 dogs in care at any one time. Each year, the charity rescues and rehomes around 300 dogs and puppies and it has saved more than 11,000 over the years.
A volunteer recently shared with me concerns that have arisen as a result of covid. The pandemic has hit animal charities hard financially due to charity shops having to close and kennels not being able to hold their usual open day fund-raising events. Animal charities across Stoke-on-Trent and the county have had to take in more animals than usual due to owners passing away. Having a reduction in income means that they can no longer afford to keep them. Couples who are separating have not been able to cope during this time. Many people, we know, looked to animals during lockdown. Many people acquired pets and then were not able to look after them That has been compounded by the fact that animal charities have not been able to have visitors to view dogs suitable for adoption and by the inability to complete home checks of people who ring in inquiring about adopting.
I praise local animal charity staff, who have been amazing. Many have taken cuts in wages and found innovative ways to reduce costs. The cost of living challenges are also pushing up the cost of essentials such as dog food, vet bills, utility bills, fuel and wages. With all that in mind, we should all consider the options to provide sufficient support to charities to ensure that they can continue to provide a vital service to our local communities.
I have been involved in the national food strategy. Within that, we look at a range of recommendations for improving animal welfare with regards to food production. The Government are looking at that at this time. Thankfully, the UK already leads the world in animal welfare and livestock husbandry. The same cannot be said of many of the countries that we import from. Allowing cheap imports from such countries not only undermines our own standards, but undercuts our farmers. This is an issue that many people feel strongly about, with 94% of the public wanting existing food standards to be maintained in future trade deals.
The national food strategy argues that, when making new trade deals, the Government should only agree to cut tariffs on products that meet our core standards. As such, I am pleased that the Government recently launched a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will inform parliamentarians and the public about how new free trade deals are consistent with UK laws on animal welfare. The Government must go further, however, and draw up a list of core minimum animal welfare standards that they will defend in future trade deals. I am pleased that when they announced the Australian deal, they said that they would include measures to protect our standards. It is reassuring that the deal contains a chapter on animal welfare, and I urge the Government to come forward with more details as soon as possible to allow Parliament to sufficiently scrutinise that part of the deal.
Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford on bringing forward the Bill, which I am delighted is fully supported by the Government and the Opposition. I look forward to continuing my support for this legislation as it passes through the House, in addition to championing animal welfare causes in years to come, whether by calling for more support for local animal charities or for more animal welfare protection in future trade deals.
I rise to speak briefly in support of the Bill. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell, who shares my enthusiasm for animal welfare. His commitment to the cause is valuable and appreciated by many hon. Members on both sides of the House. It has also been a great pleasure to listen to many hon. Members share experiences of their pets of various shapes and sizes.
It is valuable for children and adults to have and care for a pet to learn an appreciation and love of animals. For many hon. Members on both sides of the House, it informs our choices in this place and advances the cause of animal welfare. I should mention my two Cavalier spaniels, Cromwell and Bertie, who appreciate everything I do in this place on animal welfare. I am sure they look forward to seeing me later and congratulating me.
I rise not to talk about Cavalier King Charles spaniels, but to ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that the direct impact of the fixed penalty notice being applied as soon as the relevant authority considers that there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt adds a powerful deterrent to people causing cruelty or neglect to animals.
I absolutely agree. Education and those low-level interventions will be important. At the moment there is not a good enough safety net on animal welfare, because only the most serious cases are likely to be investigated and only the most serious abusers are ever likely to be fined or prosecuted.
The Bill will do a valuable job of introducing low-grade fines and of providing the opportunity to give advice to pet owners, which is key. Some people are unintentionally not creating the best environment for their pets, but we can have a culture where they might get a warning and advice on animal welfare from an appropriate officer. That is what I most like about the Bill: it is pragmatic, it is not heavy-handed, but it will certainly raise standards broadly in animal welfare across the United Kingdom. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford again for bringing forward such a useful and important Bill as part of the Government’s commitment to improve animal welfare.
I add my voice to the tributes paid to our friend Jack Dromey earlier this week. I was unable to speak during the tributes, but I want to acknowledge the strength and inspiration of the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, and say how much I will miss Jack and all he did and meant to us all.
I will not detain the House any longer than necessary, because Andrew Rosindell has almost got his Bill through the House. At times, I wondered whether the Government were waiting in the wings to pounce, but obviously not. It can only be a matter of time before his hard work, tenacity and diligence is rewarded by ministerial office, so I just ask that he does not forget us on the way up the pole.
The Bill is important. Hon. Members will know that Opposition Members, particularly my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner, have sought at all times to be a critical friend and to provide a wise and objective view. The Bill enables the potential use of penalty notices, such as fixed penalty notices, for a wider range of primary and secondary legislation related to animal health welfare offences.
The Bill encompasses two pieces of primary legislation that affect dogs and cats: the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. It is a cross-party attempt to deliver improved health, safety and welfare conditions for animals. Like the excellent Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, we on these Benches broadly support the Bill, because it will enable statutory enforcers to take early action and provide them with the tools to deal with infringements of a technical nature.
I have been a Member of Parliament for almost three years now, and I have to admit that not all legislation has provided a clear and common focus and target, but this Bill does. I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford and all involved. I would like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of all those involved in getting the Bill through the House and wish it well as it goes to the other place. I thank the staff of the House, the Clerks, the Committee staff and the parliamentary staff in the offices of all Members involved. I also thank the campaigners, the stakeholders, the animal rights charities and the organisations who are fighting for decency and progress. It is great to see consensual politics in action and actually achieving results.
I acknowledge the hon. Members for Romford, for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), for Crawley (Henry Smith), for Gedling (Tom Randall) and for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray), and my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who all served on the Bill Committee. That is a broad coalition of the willing from across the country. I gently urge them all to maintain their interest in animal welfare issues and support the Glue Traps (Offences) Bill and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which are working their way through the parliamentary process. I know that Labour peers stand ready to act now.
I join everyone in thanking my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell for his tremendous and attentive work on this excellent Bill, and congratulate him on steering it through the House. As he and other hon. Members have mentioned, this is an occasion when we feel the loss of David Amess very sharply, although of course we also look forward to welcoming the new MP for Southend West following her election last night.
We have heard some excellent speeches this morning. My hon. Friend Stuart Anderson spoke about service animals, including Finn, and his personal experience of serving with animals on the frontline. My hon. Friend Matt Vickers mentioned the “sassy little bitch” Karen, and pointed out that the Bill is a way to prevent bad situations from getting worse. That is exactly the purpose of the Bill. My hon. Friend Siobhan Baillie pointed out that everybody in the Chamber was smiling as we consider the Bill, as was everyone in the photographs I saw of the Minister’s visit to the guinea pigs in her constituency yesterday.
My hon. Friend Mr Mohindra made the point that going to court is not always the most effective way to deal with the problem, and my hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew made some serious comments about the Bill. I can reassure him that we will go into further detail in secondary legislation and, if necessary, guidance on who will enforce the penalty notices. To give him some idea, we envisage that the Rural Payments Agency, the Animal and Plant Health Agency and local authorities will be the bodies most likely to be charged with doing this. I share his concerns about incentivising the issuing of fixed penalty notices, but I would ask him to look at the Treasury guidelines on that very point. I reassure him that that will always be at the forefront of my mind.
My hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis told us about Greyhound Gap and the hedgehog rescue centre, and made an unexpectedly bipartisan speech, which was good to hear. My hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith meets animals on the campaign trail, but I was also glad to hear about Jerry the cat’s enjoyment of “Match of the Day”. I would not have thought that such activity would be subject to the issuing of a penalty notice. My hon. Friend Ruth Edwards made an important speech, although she did sadly refer to her extremely badly behaved animals. I was delighted to visit her constituency last Friday and eat some Cropwell Bishop stilton with her for lunch.
My hon. Friend Jo Gideon rightly makes animal welfare a priority of hers, because of the sad record of her constituency in this regard. Recognising that is in many ways the best way of dealing with the problem, and I applaud her for her work in this area. My hon. Friend Jane Stevenson understands the value of pets to us all. We are about to hear a great deal more from her, and I would like to add that I enjoyed meeting Cromwell and Bertie on Zoom—they certainly hold their own in her household.
I associate myself with the comments of Ruth Jones. It was an honour to attend Jack’s funeral earlier this week. Although he was not always bipartisan, he was a model of how cross-party working can take matters forward, so I think he would be pleased with what we are doing today.
This Bill is just one of a series of animal welfare reforms being supported by the Government, building on our action plan for animal welfare. Penalty notices will be an important tool in encouraging animal keepers to follow the rules and to discourage those who break them from committing more serious offences. The Bill was in Committee on
I acknowledge the time and effort given by the animal charities listed earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, is avidly looking forward to continuing the engagement she has had with those charities and to working with them constructively as we put the flesh on the bones of the Bill in secondary legislation. That will ensure that penalty notices meet the needs of animals and help those who enforce them to change the behaviour of people who are not quite doing the right thing.
My hon. Friend Greg Smith in an intervention and my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe made some serious points about the appeals process. That point has been raised by the NFU, and I know that my officials have been working with it on this issue. It might help Members if I give a bit of an overview as to what will happen in enforcement terms in the farm animals space. The inspector will visit or identify the fault. He will then identify and discuss with the farmer what sort of fault has occurred. It might well be one of record keeping or lateness in organising a TB test, for example. The farmer will then have two weeks to rectify that fault, and only then would a penalty notice be issued. If the farmer disputes that penalty notice, the best thing to do is simply not to pay it and explain why not. If the authorities continue to wish to enforce that penalty notice, the farmer would be able to have his day in court.
I am delighted that the Government are supporting this Bill and about the commitment my hon. Friend has just made. Can she give me an assurance that within the secondary legislation that the Government intend to bring forward, instead of someone who disputes a penalty charge notice simply not paying it, there will be a channel locked in for them to give the reasons why they are disputing that, so that the inspector can consider those reasons?
I am very happy to continue to work with my hon. Friend and the NFU as we take the secondary legislation forward. I would like to reassure him that this process is intended to have discussion built in at its very core. It is there to guide people towards compliance, not penalise them for non-compliance, so we will be able to achieve the outcome that he wants.
I take this opportunity to extend gratitude once again on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds to those who so avidly engaged with the passage of the Bill. Their support is really appreciated, and their expertise has been invaluable to the robust consensus we have built. In this country, we pride ourselves on our high standards of animal welfare, and we have powerful laws to maintain them. I reiterate the Government’s unwavering support for this important Bill. I wish it well under the stewardship of Lord Randall in the other place. I add my thanks to all those mentioned by Ruth Jones, and I also add my thanks to Claire Ingham, who has managed this Bill so well to date. I hope we are able to see it on the statute book soon.
With the leave of the House, I will say a few words of thanks. I particularly thank the Minister for leading on behalf of the Government today and for her support and the reassurances she has given about how the Bill will be implemented. I thank Ruth Jones for her support and the enthusiasm she showed for the Bill. I echo her words about Jack Dromey, who was a real gentleman. We disagreed politically, but my goodness, he was a very kind and genuine person. We will all miss him, and our sympathies go to Ms Harman, who has served this place so well for so long.
I thank all Members who have spoken in the debate, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton South West (Stuart Anderson), for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew)—he made a lot of valid points that I completely take on board—for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) and for Buckingham (Greg Smith). My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham made a superb intervention. I thank all Members for their comments.
I also put on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend Jo Churchill for her work helping me to ensure that the Bill reached its final stages in this House. I also thank Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park. We have enjoyed a strong working relationship over many years, particularly over the issue of protection of animals and conservation. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to work with him on the Bill. Lord Randall of Uxbridge has my deepest gratitude for kindly agreeing to take my Bill forward in the House of Lords. I have no doubt that he will ensure that it passes all the necessary stages before—hopefully—it receives Royal Assent.
I am also eternally grateful to the team at DEFRA for their advice and guidance throughout this process, especially Claire Ingham and Kirsty Groves for their tireless efforts and regular engagement with me.
I thank very much indeed my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, who has given me great advice and guidance during the passage of the Bill and is always there when I need her.
Finally, I could not possibly fail to thank the staff in my parliamentary office, who have worked so hard, especially Elliot Keck and Stephen Reed, who unfortunately have both now left. They have been replaced working on the Bill by Scott Sherlock and Daniel Burden. I thank them for their valued and unwavering support and hard work. No Member is successful without the support of their staff, and mine have gone above and beyond the call of duty. A huge thank you must also go to the Clerks of the House of Commons, who have supported me from day one and made sure that I kept things properly on track, to ensure that we get to the successful place I hope we are reaching today.
Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you. In this historic year of the Queen’s jubilee, let this Bill ensure that the animals that inhabit our cherished land and islands will be the winners under this new legislation.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.