My hon. Friend knows a lot about this because she chairs the all-party parliamentary group on cats and has done amazing work on this issue. She is absolutely right. The reason given for why that legislation does not cover cats is because they are free-roaming. I say to everyone, “Let’s get away from technicality. Let’s do the right thing and let’s look at what counterparts around the world do on this issue.”
I am grateful to Mandy at CatsMatter. She gave me a copy of a piece of legislation, which I have with me today. It is article 26 of the agriculture and markets law from the State of New York Department of Agriculture and Markets. Rather than using the RTA, we could have a specific section in animal welfare provision. Section 601 in that document is entitled “Leaving scene of injury to certain animals without reporting”. It states:
“Any person operating a motor vehicle which shall strike and injure any horse, dog, cat or animal classified as cattle shall stop and endeavor to locate the owner or custodian of such animal”.
If the free-roaming issue is the reason why we cannot amend the legislation here—the RTA—I point out that cats are also free roaming in the United States, but there the issue has been addressed through separate animal welfare legislation.
I was going to come later to the point made by my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield, but I shall come to it now. It is absolutely at the heart of this. If an individual is going along at night and knowingly hits a cat, is there a moral obligation on them? Many people would already act, but I make to the Minister the same point that I made earlier: are cats less important than dogs? We have legislation, but we argue over a technicality. I have read Hansard for when the matter was debated previously in the other place: “Well, the issue is free roaming and we would define ‘free roaming’ this way.” Let us avoid the RTA and go with animal welfare legislation and do that because it is the right thing to do.
If someone knowingly strikes a cat, they should do the same thing as they would if they struck a dog. They would try to find the owner. If they could not find the owner, they would report the accident. This point was made to me when I asked people to clarify the matter. They said, “Should one then report it to the police? That might be onerous for the police in terms of resources.” I say, “Well, we do it for dogs, but if you don’t have to report the accident to the police, you could report it to a vet or to the local authority. You could do a number of different things.” Technicality can be avoided. This is about doing the right thing in the first place. I completely agree with my hon. Friend. That was the second part of my speech; I am grateful that it has now become the first part.
Let me quote from the wonderful charity Animals Lost and Found in Kent on the issue of compulsory microchipping:
“Our main job at Animals Lost and Found in Kent Ltd is to reunite animals, our job is extremely hard as 5 cats out of 10 are chipped, the other 5 we can’t get home and end up going through the rescue centres, that isn’t fair or the best for the cat’s welfare as the cat gets confused, upset, stressed and can shut down. Stress in cats can be very dangerous for them and can lead to big problems like a blocked bladder, urinary tract infections and urine crystals which can lead to death if not treated. Stress also brings out more sinister problems in cats like the flu. But if the cat was chipped, we could get the cat home where they belong.”
That quote is from the points given to me by Animals Lost and Found in Kent.
“In England a survey conducted for Cats Protection showed that 27% of owned cats are not microchipped. Compulsory microchipping of dogs is already in force across the whole of the UK…In the last 12 months 62% of the cats taken in by Cats Protection’s UK Adoption Centres were not microchipped. Unlike collars, microchips don’t come off, or put cats at risk of collar-related injuries.”
I say to the Minister that it would not be difficult to introduce the legislation that we are calling for. That could be done. Why is it so important? Cats Protection says:
“Failure to microchip a cat can result in the following problems:
Difficulty reuniting a cat that goes missing with its owner
Cats are needlessly rehomed because they are believed to be strays
Worry about a pet cat in the event of an accident
Vets are unable to contact cat owners in any case of emergency
Ownership disputes are difficult to resolve
Detection of cat theft may be difficult”.
Are those not good enough reasons to say that we have to act swiftly?
I have had representations from CatsMatter, Cats Protection, the PDSA and Blue Cross, which I will refer to shortly. If I send the Minister those representations, will he be kind enough to respond to all the points that they have made? In addition, will the Minister be kind enough to meet me and representatives of all the charities that I have mentioned, which have been supporting and making this case, along with my wonderful hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, who chairs the APPG?
I am looking at the time and will mention just two other points. First, the Blue Cross animal hospitals do amazing work. I am grateful to Blue Cross for allowing me to visit one of its centres and see its great work. On microchipping, it says that in 2017, 24% of cats admitted to Blue Cross were considered to be strays, but it is not uncommon for owned animals to be presented as strays because they are not microchipped or do not have updated details on their chip. I agree with those who say, “There’s no point in microchipping if you don’t ensure that the details are correct.” That has to be addressed. The other point is, where will the money come from? Charities such as Blue Cross already do the work voluntarily. The cost is not significant; it can be done. If the issue is cost, I say to the Minister: it is not that expensive; it can be done. Ways and avenues can be found, because it is the right thing to do. Blue Cross says that out of a total of 5,057 cats admitted to Blue Cross for rehoming in 2017, a staggering 80% were not microchipped. If the legislation were amended and compulsory microchipping rules brought into play, that would address a number of those points.
My second point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes has already brought to the fore, is about reporting after an accident. I say this to the Minister: if a jurisdiction in the United States addresses the issue of free roaming by covering it under animal welfare provisions, I think we should move away from amending the Road Traffic Act. That is why the presentation Bill that I put forward is called the Cats Bill. It does not talk specifically about the Road Traffic Act, because the matter can be addressed the other way round.
What I am calling for is the right thing to do. It ties in with what the Government are already trying to do. They have done a brilliant job on animal welfare, but a lot more needs to be done. I have seen the joy that cats bring. In October, for my 40th, I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, with my good friend French Hill. He is a Congressman down there and he has cats called JJ and Timber. I was not there long, but in the short time I was there, I became attached to them—I would see them when I came back after a day out. Cats are amazing creatures. They bring a lot of happiness, and I just think that if they bring us happiness, we have a moral obligation to support them—to make sure that they get the right support.
I therefore say to the Minister, who is a good man, from the bottom of my heart: can we please not just say today, “We will look to address this at some point in the future”? Short term, medium term, long term—what is the timescale now for getting this provision on to the statute book and putting it into practice?