Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 10:06 am on 1st March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Moved by Viscount Trenchard

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, it is my great pleasure to have been asked to sponsor the Bill, which was introduced by my right honourable and learned friend Sir Oliver Heald in another place. I pay tribute to him for his commitment and dedication to this excellent cause. He has efficiently and smoothly guided the Bill through its various stages, and it has been heartening to note that it received unqualified support from all sides in another place. I trust that the Bill will be similarly welcomed and supported in your Lordships’ House. It is surely reassuring and comforting that there are matters relevant to communities up and down the land and on which we all agree, and that by introducing and passing measures such as this, we can make a positive difference. I hope that this will contribute to improving the public perception of what Parliament does to make laws such as this, which are universally supported by the public.

I was asked by my right honourable and learned friend if I would sponsor the Bill because I live only five miles away from Finn, who resides at Buntingford in Hertfordshire—I think even slightly closer than my right honourable and learned friend. I also declare an interest, in that I serve as president of Sir Oliver’s North East Hertfordshire constituency association.

I will briefly apprise your Lordships of the events which motivated those who launched and successfully led the Finn’s law campaign. Finn’s handler, PC Dave Wardell, who has brought Finn here today to hear your Lordships’ deliberation on this matter—they are seated in the Members’ Gallery—was engaged in apprehending a robbery suspect in Stevenage. The suspect attempted to escape by climbing over a fence and Finn, directed by PC Wardell, took hold of his lower leg to restrain him. The suspect lunged at Finn with a 10-inch knife, stabbing him in the chest several times. He then turned his attention to PC Wardell. Finn intervened to protect PC Wardell as the blade was aimed at his face. Finn put himself in the way to save the officer, who suffered a hand wound, but the dog then received serious head wounds as well as the chest injuries. PC Wardell believes that Finn saved his life. Other officers arrived and the suspect was apprehended. Finn was badly injured, with his lungs punctured in four places, yet he was licking his handler’s hand wound. Finn was taken to a vet, and then to a specialist vet. He underwent a four-hour operation to save his life, and subsequently made a remarkable recovery. After 11 weeks’ convalescence, he was able to go back to work with PC Wardell. On his first shift, on 22 December 2016, they arrested a fleeing suspect. Finn is now retired but is still living with PC Wardell, and remains fit and healthy. He is one of the most successful police dogs that Hertfordshire Constabulary has employed. He has won national recognition for his bravery: animal of the year in the IFAW Animal Action awards, Hero Animal of the Year, and the PDSA gold medal, which is known as the animals’ George Cross.

When it came to charging the offender, it became clear that there is a problem with the current law. For the assault on the officer it was a straightforward offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. However, there were two potential charges for the injuries to the dog: causing unnecessary suffering to an animal under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, or a charge under Section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. In the event, a charge of criminal damage was brought, but this treated Finn as though he was simply a piece of police property that had been damaged, such as a police radio. The penalty for criminal damage is largely determined by the value of the property that is damaged, and a seven year-old police dog who is close to retirement is not worth much money. So it proved in court, when no separate penalty was imposed on the attacker for the attack on Finn.

The offence under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act provides an alternative route, but there are two problems with it. First, the maximum penalty is only six months’ imprisonment. Happily, I understand that the Government have committed to increasing that to five years, which has been widely welcomed. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could confirm to your Lordships when winding up that that remains the Government’s firm intention. Secondly, there is a difficulty with the application of Section 4(3)(c)(ii) of the Animal Welfare Act, which sets out that various factors must be taken into account in determining whether the inflicting of suffering on an animal can be considered unnecessary. Those factors include the protection of a person or property but currently omit any reference to the role of service animals. Clearly, the role of a service animal is to restrain a suspect or to use its physical presence to support the actions of an officer discharging his or her duty, but there is no reference to that in the Act. There is concern that the provision allows defendants to argue that they are justified in using force against a service animal in self-defence, rendering the force necessary.

The failure of the law to provide an adequate means for an officer to obtain redress for injuries sustained by the service animal with which he works led to a high-profile campaign known as the Finn’s law campaign. More than 123,000 people signed an online petition, which resulted in a debate in another place. It also inspired my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald to introduce this Bill and, with his customary doggedness, to steer it successfully through all its stages. It is a short Bill and makes only one simple but important change. It amends Section 4 of the 2006 Act to require a court to disregard the consideration in certain circumstances when assessing whether suffering was unnecessary in the context of causing such suffering to a service animal. Its scope is restricted to service animals working with a constable or a person having the powers of a constable. This means that it applies to police officers and prison custody officers, although it allows the Secretary of State to amend the list of relevant officers by regulation, subject to the affirmative procedure.

Police forces employ both dogs and horses, and the Prison Service employs dogs. According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, there are currently 1,753 police dogs in the UK. I have recently been advised that the Bill also extends to service animals employed by the police services of the Armed Forces, and would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that is indeed the case. The Bill draws from the Animal Welfare Act 2002 of Western Australia, which contains a similar provision requiring a court to disregard the right of self-defence in the case of service animals where the animal is under the control of a relevant officer and is being used by that officer in a reasonable way.

I earnestly hope that your Lordships will recognise the importance of making this change, and speedily. As I mentioned, it is my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald who has worked with the Finn’s law campaign and I pay tribute to him. It is also excellent that the Government decided to support the Bill, and I am grateful to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my noble friend the Minister. I also pay tribute to Sarah Dixon and Nicola Skelly of the Finn’s law campaign and, of course, to PC Wardell and Finn himself, who looks to me very contented.

The Bill extends to England and Wales because it amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is an England and Wales Act. I understand that the Welsh Assembly has laid a legislative consent Motion to introduce a similar measure. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether that is indeed the case and about the prospect of a similar measure being introduced in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I look forward to hearing your Lordships contributions, to your support, I hope, and to my noble friend’s winding-up speech. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 10:18 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and I wholeheartedly support the Bill and every word spoken by my noble friend Lord Trenchard.

I am not sure whether I got a different memo this morning: I thought everybody was bringing their dog today. Having had much experience with assistance dogs, it gives me even greater pleasure to speak in this debate on the issue of service animals. I thank my noble friend for introducing the Bill and speaking so eloquently and forcefully to open our Second Reading this morning. I also pay tribute to the Minister, who I know stands four-square behind the legislation’s intent. As he used to be my Whip, I am fully aware of just how determined he is when he wants to get you to follow him through the right Lobby.

I also pay tribute to my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald. As already stated, it is so much of his work, time and effort that has got us to where we are now, not least with the Bill passing so swiftly through the other place.

At this point, it is right to salute the courage and bravery of all our service men and women in the police, fire and ambulance services—indeed, all our blue-light and first-responder services. They run towards danger to protect us all. As they do so, they are not alone; they are often accompanied in the line of duty by service animals, not least dogs and horses. How can it be that, under the current law, the protection we are all afforded by those service animals is not rightly afforded back to them for their service?

All campaigns need a champion and a story to bring them to life. We could not ask for a better story than that of PC Wardell and Finn. Finn has been the cornerstone of this campaign’s success so far, so it is right and proper that he is the “poster pooch”. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard set out, PC Wardell’s story is harrowing but in no sense unique. The need for this legislative change could not be clearer. If it had not been for Finn, PC Wardell might well not be with us this morning. As a result of Finn’s actions, we are delighted to have them both with us today. There could be no greater illustration of the work and dedication of our service animals.

This is a perfect piece of Private Member’s legislation. It is clear, concise and simple—and, if passed, it will have a profound effect, affording protection to service animals that does not currently exist. My noble friend set out eloquently the case for this legislation, so I will not detain your Lordships much longer, except to say that I offer this legislation my wholehearted support. I wish my noble friend every success in getting his Bill to pass swiftly and unamended through your Lordships’ House. My only question for the Minister is: with the current situation in Northern Ireland, on the passing of this legislation, what can he say about the means of ensuring that the animals serving in the line of duty alongside the PSNI will be protected in the same way as service animals across the rest of the United Kingdom?

I hope that this legislation will unite noble Lords across the House and be passed swiftly to make this change in law. As my noble friend said, how can it be that a service animal is currently seen as a piece of equipment? This simple, effective and clear legislative change will ensure that all service animals are rightly respected for the job they do and the service they afford us, giving them not only dignity and respect but protection under the law—not as a piece of kit but as a professional, trained, loving animal with a head, a heart, a spirit and a soul. It is time for Finn’s law.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 10:24 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who reminded us most eloquently of the case for the Bill. He is an ever-present reminder of what a well-trained dog can give in service. Of course, I pay tribute also to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for introducing the Bill and to Sir Oliver Heald for taking it as a 10-minute rule Bill through the Commons to the Floor of our Chamber.

I have only one experience of working closely with a police dog. It was many years ago, when I worked for the Labour Party and went to a conference in Blackpool with the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. The police dog assigned to us was a magnificent-looking animal. When out of sight or hearing of the Prime Minister, his handler would show us his party piece. He would say, “Harold Wilson”, and the dog would go, “Grrrrr!”—which showed just how well these dogs can be trained.

Of course, this debate has a link to Hertfordshire. I live in St Albans now. A distant relation of PC Wardell wrote to me, saying:

“I would like to hope that you will speak on our behalf as well as vote when the legislation to protect service animals from injury and death comes before the Lords. Finn, who you must know is an incredibly brave police dog, saved the life of a relative of mine. Dave is his handler and a member of my extended family and would have suffered the same attack had Finn not bravely reacted”.

We have heard his story today.

I declare another interest as a former chairman of the Youth Justice Board. One of the most worrying things about this story is that the assailant was 16 years old and carrying a 10-inch hunting knife. That puts into context the wider problem facing law enforcement officers as they deal with modern crime. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, laid out clearly the weaknesses and lacunae in the Animal Welfare Act and the Criminal Damage Act. This Bill puts the animals who serve us in the right order of priorities, in terms of both our concern for their welfare and the role they play in law enforcement. Well-trained horses and dogs are a safer way of dealing with armed and dangerous criminals, as well as crowd control. They are much preferable to the use of stun guns, water cannon, rubber bullets or live ammunition.

These animals are much-loved comrades-in-arms for the police and prison officers who work with them. This Bill gives them their proper status and proportionate protection in respect of the services they provide. For the record, I hope that the Minister will clarify how the legislation will apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We know that progress is being made in Wales, but what is happening in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

I wish this Bill a speedy passage into law. And, since every speaker so far has been quite unashamed in using a well-known cliché, I will finish with one. Every dog has his day; today is Finn’s day.

Photo of Baroness Brady Baroness Brady Conservative 10:28 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, it is a privilege—as ever—to take part in today’s debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Trenchard on his sponsorship of this important Bill, and my right honourable friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire in the other place on his leadership on this issue.

Anything that reduces Simon Cowell, that maker and breaker of lives and careers, to tears on national television is surely worthy of debate. When he was confronted with Finn’s story on “Britain’s Got Talent”, that is exactly what happened—indeed, how could it not? As we have heard, Finn the police dog was on duty with PC Dave Wardell when a robber turned on him with a knife. Finn was stabbed in the head and chest with a 10-inch blade. What is extraordinary is that despite his injuries, Finn kept up his defence of his handler and prevented the criminal from inflicting a mortal wound on PC Wardell. Who could fail to be moved by this? A robber was apprehended, an officer survived a near fatal attack, and indeed Finn himself is now happily recovered and here today. I had the great pleasure of meeting him this morning and he is very welcome. He is enjoying a well-earned retirement. What of the criminal? What justice is to be handed out to someone who attacks a canine officer in the line of duty?

This brings us to the heart of the matter today, which is a much-needed update to legislation to ensure that justice is served in such cases as Finn’s—that the punishment fits the crime. Currently, it does not. We have heard that existing animal welfare legislation is inadequate on two related counts. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 offers a loophole to criminals who can cite the protection of a person or property as a reason for harming animals. This, in turn, limits any prosecution and sentencing to criminal damage. The Bill will make amends by disregarding this loophole with respect to service animals, provided that the animal was under the control of the relevant officer at the time and was being used to carry out officer duties in a reasonable manner. This means that in the case of police dogs and indeed horses, inflicting harm on them will be more akin to inflicting harm on the officer themselves. That is as it should be.

As Matthew Ellis, the Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner has said:

“Fundamentally I am surprised that despite dogs being a key part of policing— that play such an enormous role in protecting police officers, bringing people to justice and offering reassurance to the public—attacking one attracts the same punishment as kicking in the door panel of a car. That is astonishing”.

The most a criminal can get for harming a police dog, however brutally, is six months in prison. This should offend any sense of national justice we have in this House. Indeed, I suspect that it does, given the cross-party support this Bill enjoys, and I am pleased to see that similar legislation is in the works in Wales. I also look forward to the Minister’s update on what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom. If we pass this Bill, that six-month maximum sentence will be increased to five years. Five years certainly feels better to me.

It is too late for Finn’s attacker to get his comeuppance, but given that from April 2017 to March 2018 police dogs were deployed in nearly 2,000 incidents, the stakes remain high. We need a deterrent in place now that gives proper sentences for the guilty and that serves justice for those animals put in harm’s way to protect their officers and, of course, the general public.

It is of course right that we debate such issues properly and, however emotive the issue may be, ensure that the legislation is robust, fit for purpose and avoids any unintended consequences. This Bill does just that. We should take notice that it has passed through the other place unamended and I hope it does likewise here. Although it began its parliamentary journey as a Private Member’s Bill, it now enjoys official support from the Government through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. However, PC Wardell put it best when he said:

“This campaign and Bill is my way of saying thank you to Finn for saving my life”.

I find it hard to argue with that.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 10:33 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Trenchard and my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Heald for bringing forward a very timely Bill. It is also a delight to see PC Wardell and Finn in the Chamber. That gives us an opportunity to thank police officers and their heroic hounds for all the work they do. I welcome the Minister, my noble friend Lord Gardiner, to his position at the end of what has been a particularly busy week for his department in the House of Lords.

This Bill is especially welcome because it will close a loophole, but I would like to press my noble friend on a number of details to ensure that it is not only small and perfectly formed, but that it will cover all current and future circumstances that may arise. What the case of Finn has demonstrated is that while such attacks are not a frequent occurrence, they create a wave of public revulsion and we need to respond to that in a timely way.

I associate myself with the changes that were brought to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The Dangerous Dogs Act itself showed that when all parties subscribe to a particular piece of legislation without proper scrutiny, sometimes we have to revisit it. That Act is very much a case in point.

I pay tribute to the work of Defra and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on which I have served. We looked closely at preventing attacks and creating a stronger offence and penalty for attacks on guide dogs and assistance dogs, as has been referred to so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Holmes. I will spare his blushes, but while it is fair to say that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, are particularly popular Members of your Lordships’ House, they cannot compete with the popularity of Lottie and Barney as their companions.

The Government have committed to introducing legislation to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. I understand that as recently as 8 February, the Government stated in the other place that they will introduce legislation to this effect when the parliamentary agenda and timetable allow. Is this not that moment? Does the parliamentary timetable on a Friday morning not allow for a small amendment to incorporate that sentence? It would send out shockwaves and give teeth—if you will pardon the expression—to this Bill. Will my noble friend consider whether this is the opportunity to increase the maximum penalty for the offence from three years’ imprisonment—under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, as I understand it—to five years? That would complete the work of my noble friend Lord Trenchard and Sir Oliver.

Also, as my noble friend mentioned, can the Minister confirm that all military service dogs will be included, as appropriate? I was MP for the Vale of York for five years, and a number of animals policed the RAF establishment. They do a fantastic job of work, often in the background. Will they be covered by this law? If not, could we amend the Bill, ideally by the Government bringing forward an amendment that we could all support to extend this provision to all military service dogs, as my noble friend suggested.

Does this Bill covers police horses? Finn suffered horrendous injuries, but horses have also been injured. Those injuries may not have been fatal or life-threatening, but there is the potential for that. Can we close that loophole as well, before we need to introduce another law after a future tragic incident? Will my noble friend look favourably at bringing forward a government amendment to extend this provision to horses—unless he can confirm that horses are covered? The point is not made clear in his department’s Explanatory Notes or in the excellent notes prepared by the House of Lords Library, for which I am grateful. I am sure that we would all support such an amendment.

I conclude by adding my congratulations to my right honourable friend Sir Oliver, whose work is being carried forward today by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I enthusiastically support the Bill because it recognises the work of heroic hounds such as Finn, and their heroic handlers like PC Wardell.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 10:38 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I rise briefly to tell noble Lords the story of the campaign run by Redhill Prep School in Haverfordwest in support of this Bill. It is a school in the western part of Wales. This debate gives me an opportunity to offer to all noble Lords a happy St David’s Day, especially in a week when our national pride was so enhanced last Saturday.

The Redhill Prep School decided to support and has been campaigning for Finn’s law. In so doing, it found a way of using parliamentary procedure to make that happen. As part of its campaign to understand what happens in this Parliament, it is engaging in a Parliament week in May and has invited, through the Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools scheme, one of us to attend. I shall go to the school to talk about this law in particular. I also pay tribute to Sir Oliver and to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for bringing forward this Bill, which is common sense and understandably a short Bill. It does one thing simply: protect the animals that protect us.

The Peers in Schools scheme has enabled the Redhill Prep School to examine this Bill, as part of the process of understanding how the House of Lords and the House of Commons work. Part of its exercise has been to campaign with its local Members, both of the National Assembly for Wales and the House of Commons. In fact, it campaigned vigorously with the local MP. I would not say it hauled him in, but it invited him in to discuss matters political and then confronted him with this Bill. I was told that the honourable Member for that part of Wales ended the whole session in tears, not because he had been driven into the ground but by the passion with which these young children had spoken about this law. I pay tribute to them. It is also a message to us all that the Peers in Schools process that the House of Lords has put in train, the Lord Speaker’s programme here, does have an effect. It may give us an example of how we can use parliamentary procedure. This is a straightforward, two-clause Bill, which means it is straightforward to understand its purpose. That is helpful, and this is one way we can use Bills of this sort.

In supporting this Bill, I also look forward to understanding the timetable of legislative consent Motions in the National Assembly for Wales. I reassure this House, as I will reassure the children of Redhill Prep School, that the National Assembly for Wales is doing its job properly. I would not want the Members of the National Assembly to be subject to the wrath of these young people by finding themselves delaying the laying of a legislative consent Motion that would bring such a conclusion to this Bill, which we very much hope will become a law very rapidly indeed. I place on record my support for it. I hope that everyone will listen to the children of Redhill Prep School and their support for this Bill, and use it as an exemplar of how we can very well connect young people with the work this House does.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:42 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for his work in taking over the baton on this Bill from his colleague, Sir Oliver Heald, and for the eloquent way in which he has set out the purpose of this Bill. I am also very pleased that Finn, PC Wardell and the Finn’s law campaigners are here to witness what I hope will be a historic day.

In the Commons the Bill received widespread cross-party support, and nothing I will say today will deviate from that approach. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that I do not think the cross-party support demonstrated here means that the Bill is in any way flawed or will not stand the test of time. I have absolute confidence that we are doing the right thing here.

The Bill represents a small but important change to the Animal Welfare Act. As colleagues have said, it is unthinkable that highly trained service animals such as police dogs and police horses can somehow be written off as property or equipment rather than sentient beings that deserve our protection. It is simply not acceptable that those who cause grievous harm to police dogs in the course of their duty have to be charged with criminal damage rather than animal welfare offences. Even those found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal have a maximum prison sentence of six months.

The noble Viscount referred to the bravery of police dog Finn, who was badly injured by being stabbed numerous times but still went on to protect his police handler, who was also being attacked. Since this case has been highlighted, numerous other examples of police dog bravery have come to light, and I pay tribute to them all.

We already have a precedent in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. This Act provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for those who allow their dogs to attack an assistance dog, redefining it as an aggravated offence. This approach now needs to be applied to those attacking service animals.

When this Bill was debated in the Commons, the then Minister, George Eustice, made it clear that the Government would support the swift passage of the Private Member’s Bill through all stages of the Commons and the Lords, and I very much hope the Minister will continue that refrain. But he also knows we need to go much further to strengthen animal welfare legislation. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was a significant step towards progressing animal rights, but we have to continue to build on that progress.

Our party has always been at the forefront of animal welfare, from the 2006 Act to the landmark banning of hunting in 2004, but we recognise that much more needs to be done. Meanwhile, the Government have been painfully slow to enact any of their promises to the animal welfare organisations. There have, of course, been lots of consultations on potential legislation. While we welcome proper consultation, when those consultations finish the results seem to disappear into a black hole. For example, I recently put down a Written Question to the Minister asking what had happened to the promised Bill to increase the penalties for animal cruelty beyond the current six-month prison sentence limit. The proposal received widespread support during the consultation. In his response, the Minister accepted that the consultation had taken place and said the Government’s next steps were published in August last year. He went on to say:

“Legislation will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

We have hardly been stretched here recently, and you would have thought the Government could have found some legislative time in the last seven months to bring this Bill forward.

I hope the Minister, in his response, will welcome this Bill and agree to aid its progress. But I also hope he can provide some clear timeline for when the Government intend to address all the other outstanding animal welfare legislation issues, starting with the animal welfare Bill. I look forward to his response.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:47 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, the Government are delighted to be able to support this Bill. I pay tribute to my right honourable and learned friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire in the other place for championing the cause of our much-loved service animals and for bringing forward this important Bill in recognition of the strong feeling and support among the public for Finn’s law. As the Minister responsible for animal welfare and health—it was probably in 2017—I remember meeting my right honourable and learned friend as a prelude to this Bill, and I can confirm his commitment and determination to strengthen the law. The word “tenacity” would probably be a more emphatic description of his sense of purpose. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who is in charge of this Bill in your Lordships’ House. The Government wish my noble friend every success.

The Government have taken a keen interest in this legislation, and therefore the Bill has been considered and scrutinised by parliamentary counsel to ensure that it is legally sound. In addition, the Explanatory Notes in support of the Bill have been prepared by Defra with the consent of my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I can also confirm that it is the Government’s view that the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

I endorse the point made by my noble friend Lord Trenchard that this Bill is small—just two clauses—and its scope very narrow, yet it addresses an important issue in relation to service animals such as Finn. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord German, that there could not be a better example of a distinct Bill with a distinct purpose, and Redhill Prep School in Haverfordwest should see this as an exemplar of Parliament—particularly given the contributions from your Lordships’ House this morning—in wholehearted support of what I would describe as a distinct feature of animal welfare legislation.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond absolutely articulated that service animals undertake exceptional service for the public, which the Government entirely recognise. That takes them into dangerous situations. The highest protection for our service animals needs to be made clear in law, and I agree with my noble friend Lady Brady that we need to have this clarity—hence this Bill. That is why we support the Finn’s law campaign and the Bill.

Finn himself is a distinguished example of the bravery of our service animals. As many noble Lords have said, it was a privilege to meet Finn this morning. I think he feels very much at home. I identified that by his keenness to get on House of Lords sofas, which is a distinguishing sign of what an extraordinary animal he is as well as being a service animal. Along with noble Lords, I was shocked about the events that led to Finn’s near death in assisting and protecting his handler, PC Dave Wardell, while they sought to apprehend a suspect following a robbery. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard described, despite receiving life-threatening injuries from the attack in October 2016, which involved Finn being stabbed by a 10-inch bladed knife which punctured his lung, Finn made a full recovery. Finn then returned to service some 11 weeks later, and on their first outing together in December 2016 PC Wardell and Finn were able to arrest a fleeing suspect.

It is great news that Finn is now enjoying his well-deserved retirement from a distinguished life of service to the public. But today, as noble Lords have observed, it is important that we also remember all those to whom we owe so much—police officers, fire officers and all in the emergency services across the kingdom—and indeed the bravery of PC Wardell. I was struck by what my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond said about running towards danger. Most of us would tend to run away from danger; the brave people who look after us run towards danger, as we saw not only on the Parliamentary Estate but see around the country so often.

With noble Lords’ support, when the Bill becomes law, service animals such as Finn will have more protection from callous individuals. That is because the Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to make it clear that the ability for someone to claim that they were acting in self-defence when they attack a service animal should be disregarded in such circumstances. No longer will someone be able to inflict pain and suffering on our service animals, such as police dogs like Finn—and having studied the Explanatory Memorandum, it is clear in paragraph 3, “Policy background”, that the Bill includes police horses and other animals supporting the Prison Service—and say that they are simply protecting themselves.

In supporting this Bill, we agree with the points articulated by my right honourable and learned friend in the other place that using the offences under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to prosecute attacks on police and other support animals that cause unnecessary suffering, could be made more difficult due to the fact that the court must consider whether the defendant was acting in fear of harm. Relevant here is the list of considerations at Section 4(3)(c)(ii) for the court to consider if the suffering was caused for,

“a legitimate purpose such as … the purpose of protecting a person, property or other animal”.

In other words, the perpetrator of the attack on the service animal could use this provision to claim that they were acting to protect themselves. The Bill before us amends the 2006 Act such that this specific consideration should be disregarded with respect to incidents involving unnecessary suffering inflicted on a service animal supporting officers in the course of their duties.

A number of points were made by noble Lords about the territorial extent. This Bill applies to England and Wales. That is because the Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is an England and Wales Act. The Welsh Government are extremely supportive of the change. I understand that a legislative consent Motion was laid on 17 January and is due to be considered on 5 March, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will be able to reflect that in his visit to Haverfordwest.

In Northern Ireland, as noble Lords understand, we very much hope that the Assembly will return and government resume in Northern Ireland. As noble Lords will know, Northern Ireland has separate legislation in the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. Therefore, this particular Bill could not be used to amend that piece of legislation. I know that there is enthusiasm within Northern Ireland, but at this time there are no current plans to take forward any necessary changes. Clearly, this is a matter that people in Northern Ireland are conscious of and would be one very good reason that I look forward to the Assembly returning.

The Scottish Government are also very positive about Finn’s law and are looking to apply the measure in Scotland to their animal welfare laws. The example of England and Wales is very much understood, and I believe will be followed. It is a case of getting the legislation through in those phases.

I should make it clear to my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Trenchard that parliamentary counsel have studied the Bill in detail and acknowledge that animals used by branches of the military police in England and Wales to apprehend or control people will be covered by this amendment to the 2006 Act. That is because members of the military police in England and Wales will be covered by the definition of constables or persons within new subsection (3B)(b) as,

“a person (other than a constable) who has the powers of a constable or is otherwise employed for police purposes or is engaged to provide services for police purposes”.

Noble Lords asked about a second limb of the Finn’s law campaign which would see an increase in the maximum penalty for animal cruelty. My noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lady Brady particularly raised that, as did my noble friend Lord Trenchard. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I are on the same page in our desire to get this done. The Government are clear that we are fully behind—the Secretary of State has been emphatic about this—the wish to increase the maximum penalty from six months’ imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment. The Government wish to make progress on this as soon as we can. Obviously, I am constantly passing back messages from noble Lords on all sides of the House about our desire to get this matter done. My bona fides are very strong on this. I am fully seized that it is an important part of our work.

I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the reason this Bill has gone through in the way that it has in the other place—and, I hope, will here—is because of its narrowness of scope. It has a precise purpose, which is to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in this particular regard. We all know that it is always tempting to add matters to a Bill, but the experience of many noble Lords in this House is that, the moment you start tinkering with the narrow purpose of a very important Bill, you get into timetabling difficulties, so I say to my noble friend that I understand her bona fides in these matters, but there is a very strong desire that this distinct Bill has a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House. It is distinctly to address the terrible time suffered by Finn and PC Wardell. The Bill covers attacks on service animals—horses and dogs—and there is provision for further animals to be considered. I express as strongly as I can that the Government and the department support this Bill because it provides further protection for our service animals, such as Finn.

I very much hope that this Bill promoted by my noble friend Lord Trenchard will be successful in achieving a swift passage through your Lordships’ House and will complete all stages to Royal Assent. There surely could not be a more deserving Bill to acknowledge our gratitude to animals such as Finn and the debt we owe them.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 11:01 am, 1st March 2019

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and I appreciate their strong support. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond spoke movingly. He is most qualified to speak on this matter. I was very pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who reminded us that he lives in Hertfordshire. As he said, today is Finn’s day. My noble friend Lady Brady pointed out that at present the punishment does not fit the crime, and Finn’s law will go a long way to ensure that it does.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh’s speech was very interesting. I am delighted to have heard the Minister’s reassurance that horses are covered and that he will pass back the strong message to government that this House asks that measures are taken at an early date to increase the maximum penalty to five years.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord German, for his interesting speech illustrating how well both Houses can work together. I was most grateful for the strong support from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. It is heartening to have support from all sides of the House.

I appreciate the Minister’s very supportive remarks, and I thank the clerks and the officials at Defra for the guidance and support they gave me in preparing for this Bill. I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.