*Update 29th April* This Bill has now received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament
Throughout my time as an MP, enhancing and protecting animal welfare has been an incredibly important subject with constituents, and one which I have received regular correspondence on. As a proud and happy dog owner, ensuring this country upholds the highest degree of animal welfare is something very close to me and my family’s hearts. I am therefore extremely pleased to say the Animal Welfare Sentencing Bill reached the Report Stage of its journey through Parliament in the House of Commons last Friday (12th March), and was thereafter introduced in the House of Lords the same day.
Current legislation and the journey towards debating the Animal Welfare Sentencing Bill
In England and Wales, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to domesticated animals, or any animals under the control of humans. The maximum penalty under the Act is currently a six-month sentence and/or an unlimited fine. In 2016, the Environmental Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in Parliament carried out an enquiry into domestic pet welfare, where a key recommendation was to increase maximum sentences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to five years. As a result, my colleagues and I welcomed the Government announcing in September 2017 that it intended to increase the maximum sentence to five years, and thereafter great strides were made when the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill was published June 2019.
Following the despicable act of abuse against a police dog who was stabbed whilst pursuing a suspect with his handler PC David Wardell, new legislation was introduced in June 2019 which prevents those who attack or injure service animals from claiming self-defence. This was very much welcomed across the nation and many constituents wrote to me sharing their support for this.
The Animal Welfare Sentencing Bill: What Next?
This Private Member’s Bill, sponsored by my Conservative colleague Chris Loder MP, has provided a worthy opportunity for backbenchers across the House to examine and debate issues surrounding animal welfare as well as sentencing perpetrators of animal abuse. Essentially, it will enable tougher prison sentences for the most serious perpetrators of animal cruelty, from the current maximum of six months to up to five years – something which I have personally been fighting for through interactions with my ministerial colleagues. I am proud to say this would be one of the toughest sanctions for animal abuse in Europe, strengthening the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare. Having reached the Remaining Stages (or Report Stage) in the House of Commons, the Bill will now travel through the House of Lords.
In the Bill’s Committee Stage on February 3 in the House of Commons, I was very much encouraged by assurances made by the Government on this front, through my ministerial colleague Victoria Prentis MP, Minister in the Department Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, telling the House:
“The Government have listened to those magistrates and thousands of others who have called for an increase in the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty. We consider it right and proper that people convicted of such offences should face the prospect of longer sentences. We have heard not only of magistrates wanting to impose longer sentences, but of cases where the maximum penalty has been the current maximum of six months, which goes over and above the sentencing guidelines. All this is evidence that stricter sentences are needed to allow the courts the flexibility to impose suitable penalties in the most extreme cases”.
The link to this debate is here
In 2019, the RSPCA investigated more than 130,700 complaints of cruelty against animals and secured 1,678 convictions. Knowing this, I believe it has been absolutely essential we as a nation do not stop with the current legislation but rather go even further. I also believe that, as elected representatives, MPs must strive to pass legislation to ensure the toughest consequences for despicable crimes against animals are made into law and I am therefore so glad these efforts are progressing positively.
My colleague Chris Loder MP, who as I said, published this Bill, has a very personal reason, alongside communication from constituents on this matter. In short, Chris has said his own dog Poppy, a Springer Spaniel, is his inspiration for the Bill. She was cruelly abandoned at the roadside in West Dorset but is now the Loder family’s much-loved farm dog. Poppy was in a very poorly condition when the MP found her and needed emergency veterinary care for long-term issues the previous owner should have addressed.
I would like to thank those constituents who have been in touch about this very important matter and I will be updating my website as this legislation moves through Parliament.