It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I fully support the points made by my hon. Friend Christian Matheson. There is a key role for central Government in tackling wildlife crime. That is why the Labour Government, of which I was a proud member, established the National Wildlife Crime Unit in 2006. It has a central role in examining a whole range of issues on enforcement, guidance and support, such as badger persecution, the illegal ivory trade, poaching, enforcement of the Hunting Act 2004 and hare coursing.
My first question to the Minister is whether she has yet made a decision on what is happening to central funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit post 2020. What assurances can she and the Home Office give for that funding? North Wales Police has an excellent wildlife crime unit. Like the national unit, it tackles a range of issues on the ground, such as livestock theft, livestock crime, environmental crime and enforcement of fox hunting legislation.
I particularly want to raise the issue of sheep worrying, which is of tremendous concern to farmers in my constituency. I hope to put some points on the Minister’s radar for her to respond to in her summing up. Attacks by dogs on sheep in the constituencies of my area of Wales have risen by a massive 113% over the past year, and they cost farmers in Wales and across the country £1.2 million—a tremendous amount of money. It is an absolute disgrace that dogs attack sheep because of, in many cases, irresponsible owners.
The 2017 report of the all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare made a number of recommendations on what the Government could do to give guidance to dog owners and to better enforce and modernise the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. Will the Minister respond this afternoon to some of the issues raised in that report? Her noble Friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble, who has responsibility for the issue in the Lords, said at the time that he believed the report was a useful contribution and that he was working with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to take into account the APPG’s recommendations, under the chairmanship of Angela Smith.
We recommended that the Home Office should collect statistics on sheep attacks by dogs across the country to see the scale of the problem—a point already made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester. Has that been done, or is it planned? The Ministry of Justice was charged by the report to look at sentencing under the 1953 Act, and the Agriculture Minister agreed to look at that in principle. Currently, there is a £1,000 fine, which was set in 1953. That is slightly out of date, in considering the ownership of a dog that attacks sheep and causes tremendous damage. There is no current power in the Act for an owner to be banned from owning another dog in the future, following a conviction for worrying sheep. No action can be taken to seize a dog if the same dog is responsible for multiple attacks. The Sentencing Council was supposed to review the legislation. Can the Minister tell us whether it has? This is an issue of major concern, and North Wales Police has again raised it only this week with the National Farmers Union in Wales and the National Farmers Union.