Cat Welfare

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:18 pm on 11th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip 4:18 pm, 11th December 2018

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to our attention. I am not the Minister responsible for the matter, so I do not want to tread beyond where I should, but I have seen similar incidents and reports in my constituency. I will follow up on the very important point he raises and get back to him on how wide the review will go. I hope it will address such issues, but I will confirm that with him in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham talked about his private Member’s Bill, which takes forward a serious issue. He also highlighted how the subject has been raised in numerous petitions. The sheer number of people who have signed the petitions highlights that the Members in the Chamber are not alone; many people are very concerned about the issue. The Government recommend that any owner should microchip their cat to increase the chance of it being reunited with its owner if it gets lost. In April this year, we updated the statutory cat welfare code with the welcome collaboration of Cats Protection and others. The code now more strongly emphasises the benefits of microchipping cats.

Microchipping technology has vastly improved the chances that lost pets will be reunited with their owners. For a relatively small, one-off cost of about £25, people can have greater confidence that their beloved cat can be identified. Why would someone not want to do that? As the head of cattery at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Lindsey Quinlan, has said, while the microchipping procedure is short and simple,

“the return on their value is immeasurable”.

It is therefore good to see that the proportion of cats that are microchipped has grown in recent years.

My hon. Friend highlighted the good report by the PDSA showing that 68% of cats are microchipped. However, a recent survey by Cats Protection found that the majority of the cats taken to its adoption centres in the past 12 months were not microchipped. It is heartbreaking to think that some of those cats may not have been reunited with their families simply because of the lack of a microchip. That is why I strongly endorse Cats Protection’s campaign to promote cat microchipping. The Government will work with Cats Protection and other animal welfare charities so that the proportion of cats that are microchipped continues to grow.

In England, compulsory microchipping of dogs was introduced through secondary legislation due to the public safety risk posed by stray dogs. That does not mean that cat welfare is any less important than dog welfare; it is just that there is not the same risk associated with cats from a safety perspective. For that reason, the microchipping of cats is not compulsory, but we strongly encourage owners and breeders to do it. That is why the Government’s cat welfare code promotes microchipping on two grounds. First, as I have already mentioned, microchipping gives cats the best chance of being identified when lost. Secondly and just as importantly, a lost cat that has a microchip is more likely to receive prompt veterinary treatment when needed. In that way, micro- chipping helps to protect more cats from pain, suffering, injury and disease, as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

I am grateful to Cats Protection for its support in developing the cat welfare code. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials remain engaged with the issue. I commit to meeting Cats Protection in January, whether as part of the roundtable or separately, to take forward this important agenda.

In the limited time available, it is important to highlight some other actions I would like to take in response to this important debate. As has been said, under the Road Traffic Act 1988, drivers are required to stop and report accidents involving certain working animals, including cattle, horses and dogs. That does not currently extend to cats. However, the Highway Code advises drivers to report accidents involving any animal to the police. That should lead to many owners being notified when their cats are killed on roads. I am pleased that it is established good practice for local authorities to scan any dog or cat found on the streets so that the owner can be informed.

Following today’s debate, I will meet the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) to discuss how we can work together to further promote best practice. Highways England has clear guidelines for contractors to follow when they find a deceased dog. That process is designed with owners in mind, giving them the best chance of being informed of the incident that has occurred. The process laid out in the network management manual currently applies only to dogs. I would like to see what could be done to extend it to cats, and I hope other Members agree. The area is the responsibility of the Department for Transport. Following today’s debate, I will work with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman to explore what the Government can do in this area.

To conclude, I would like to say how important it has been to have this debate today. It has brought the issue very much to my attention as a relatively new Minister for Animal Welfare. I am extremely grateful for that. I would like to highlight how important animal welfare is to the Government and to DEFRA.