Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:40 am on 4th February 2022.

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Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 10:40 am, 4th February 2022

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.