It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.
I am so pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate this afternoon because it is on such an important issue to me personally and to many millions of pet-lovers in the UK. I am proud that the Government are making significant progress on animal welfare, by seeking to clamp down on puppy farms and puppy smuggling, and legislating on microchipping. I look forward to Friday this week and speaking in the debate on the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which is known as Finn’s Law Part 2. These are really valuable measures. I trust the current Government to take animal welfare very seriously, and I know how many animal-lovers there are in the Government.
However, I urge the Government to rethink the current laws on sentencing for pet theft. It is a growing crime and I feel that the law must be improved to reflect its seriousness and the impact on pet-owners of having their pets stolen. In lockdown, as the demand for pets has risen, so has the price for certain breeds of dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens are now big business. As the price of those pets increases, so do the potential rewards for criminals. With every crime there is a balance of risk and reward. With hard sentencing we could deter people from pet theft. We heard from my hon. Friend Tom Hunt that only 1% of pet thefts come to prosecution. That is clearly a failure for pet owners. Criminals must believe that they will be caught, sentenced and punished at a level that will deter other people. The maximum penalty is seven years’ imprisonment, which does sound appropriate and does sound like a deterrent but, as we have heard today, most pet theft cases stay in magistrates courts, and it is extremely unlikely that anyone would face a significant custodial sentence for pet theft.
The main point I want to focus on today is how the penalty is linked to the value of the theft. We have heard how under £500 is recommended as a category 3 or category 4 theft. At this point I will declare my own interest. My two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Cromwell and Bertie, have little, if any, financial value. They are eight years old and clapped out. One has horrific dental issues and the other has a significant heart murmur. If anything, they are a financial liability but, to me, without a shadow of a doubt they are the most valuable things in the world. In a trade-off between all my worldly goods and my two dogs I, like many pet owners, would not hesitate for a moment.
While the financial value is still considered, we will not see fairness in sentencing. Why should someone who steals my pet face a far less harsh sentence than someone stealing a designer puppy that the law decides is worth £3,000 versus my dogs that are worth no money at all? To sum up, I thank everyone who signed the petition to look again at pet theft sentencing. It is really important. It is common sense. People want to see that fairness, and I support the petition.