Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:51 am on 4th February 2022.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:51 am, 4th February 2022

I wonder whether it might be in order to wish my hon. Friend James Morris an extremely happy birthday. It is good to see him in his place.

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 8 December. It introduces a new financial penalty system and gives us tools that we can use against those who commit offences against animals. We will not tolerate threats to the health and welfare of animals, the quality of our animal products or the biosecurity of our nation.

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.