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.