It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
I was very keen to take part in this debate because it is in response to a public petition. As a result, we are partaking in democracy in action and I was very keen to come along to contribute. I am also delighted to take part to ensure that I represent the many constituents of mine in Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill who signed not only this petition but the petition that was discussed in the previous debate.
Animal welfare is taken extremely seriously in Scotland and by the Scottish Government. The Scottish National party has been very vocal in addressing concerns about the caging of animals and we are currently taking steps to strengthen animal welfare legislation through our Parliament. Indeed, a consultation seeking views on proposals to strengthen the enforcement of animal welfare legislation by increasing the maximum available penalties and the use of fixed penalty notices took place in Scotland, and it has guided the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which had its stage one debate in the Scottish Parliament just last week, on
Recently, MEPs voted in Strasbourg to demand a new law to protect animals, and called on national Governments right across Europe to roll back on intensive battery farms for rabbits, and to financially reward farmers who use pens instead of cages. They have also called for the European Commission to come forward with housing guidelines for rabbits and other animals, and to ensure that imported animals enjoy the same welfare rights and the same food criteria as their domestically reared counterparts.
The SNP Scottish Government invest £20 million a year in support of animal health and welfare, and they employ highly skilled and qualified workforces across Scotland, led by our chief veterinary officer, Sheila Voas. The Government in Scotland also recently introduced an animal welfare Bill, which sends a clear message that animal cruelty and wildlife crimes will not be tolerated in Scotland, nor indeed—hopefully—across the United Kingdom. So, if the UK leads the world on this issue, as a Scotsman it is comforting to know that that once again Scotland is leading the UK; of course, that is not for the first time and not only in this particular area.
The Scottish animal welfare Bill is rightly far-reaching and punitive. If someone is found to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, whether it be a pet, livestock or an animal involved, say, in the practice of animal fighting, that will result in a custodial sentence of up to five years and the potential for an unlimited fine. These measures will go some way to combating those who make money from these inhumane and barbaric practices. If the UK needs a precursor, it need look no further than Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament.
The Bill will deliver on the Scottish Government’s commitment to create new legislation to further protect animals and wildlife. We will ensure that the welfare needs of animals are met by placing a duty of care on the people who are responsible for their upkeep and maintenance. The welfare of all our protected animals is provided for under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, which places a duty of care on pet owners and others responsible for animals to ensure that the welfare needs of animals are constantly met. The Scottish Government will produce supplementary information in the guidance for that Act, and will update that guidance regularly. The programme for Government of 2019-20 commits to increasing the penalties set out in the 2006 Act for causing unnecessary suffering, resulting in a five-year term of imprisonment and an unlimited fine, as I have previously mentioned.
We know fine well that this is an area that many people across the United Kingdom have serious concerns about; the sheer number of people who signed both the petitions that we have debated today illustrates that perfectly. The direction of travel in a post-Brexit set of nations is key in how we implement further legislation. If the UK truly wishes to be a world leader on this issue, we must enact these changes, accept that they need to be made, and show a desire to implement them.
I also agree with Kerry McCarthy, who opened this debate, that if we are going to end the use of cages and pens, we should ensure that the moneys given out go to the people who enact the policies that we want to see across the United Kingdom.