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.