It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and indeed to be speaking again in Westminster Hall. It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Mrs Murray and I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tom Hunt for his opening remarks.
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
I see that Sir David is no longer in the Chair.
I am here today to participate in this debate because—unusually—the highest number of signatures on e-petition 244530 came from my constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, in the Scottish borders. Indeed, my colleagues in neighbouring constituencies—the right hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) and for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell)—also have a high number of constituents who have signed this particular petition. It would seem that rural dwellers of the borderlands have a deep love of our pets—and who can blame us?
Being an elected Member, either in this place or in the Scottish Parliament, for over 13 years, and now travelling to London every week, it would not be fair for a pet to be left at my home in Coldstream. Indeed, I am sure that most of my friends would say that I struggle to look after myself, never mind a pet. However, being the son of a farmer, I grew up with animals and pets all around. Indeed, I am a big fan of my parents’ dog, Hector, and I understand the delights that having a pet at home can bring.
As other Members have alluded to, our pets are ever more integral to our lives. During this pandemic, our dogs and cats have been our much-needed companions and a much-needed source of perspective on the things going on around us. I fully understand the attachment that we all have for our pets and the important part they play in our family lives. They provide comfort, laughter and fun, and their energy and friendship are sorely missed when they are gone, so I fully understand the calls for making the theft of a living, breathing sentient being a separate criminal offence.
However, before I go further, I will pay tribute to Georgie Bell in my constituency. Almost two years ago, her family’s two border terriers, Ruby and Beetle, disappeared from their home near Jedburgh. Her campaign to find her dogs and to change the law on dog theft reached the local and national press. She knows the heartbreak and emotional trauma that losing a pet can cause. The Facebook page set up to help find Ruby and Beetle has over 16,000 members, who are keen advocates of this petition, which perhaps explains the huge support for it from the borders and the surrounding areas.
In the short time that I have left, I will raise a particular issue with the Minister, which I think is relevant to this debate. Mandatory microchipping has been a very welcome step forward and I understand that the law on it is now consistent across all parts of the United Kingdom. However, the case that I have just raised—of Ruby and Beetle—shows flaws in the system. The microchip of one of the dogs has been run several times since it went missing, yet the owners have no way of knowing where this has been done or by who. Apparently, this is because of data protection, yet it seems to me that this information would provide a potential lead to the stolen pets’ whereabouts. This issue has been raised this year by the BBC’s “Rip Off Britain” and I would be grateful if the Minister considered it further.
Finally, I again thank the Bell family from Jedburgh for their campaigning on this issue, as well as those in my constituency who have signed this important petition. My thanks also go to the Petitions Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich for bringing it to Westminster Hall today.