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Service Animals

Volume 637: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2018

13. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of creating a specific offence of attacking service animals. (904200)

I would like to express, as I am sure would the whole House, our immense gratitude for the role that service animals play and have played for a long time in public life. They frequently do things that humans would not do, ranging from detection of bombs and drugs to taking on violent criminals. There are serious aggravating circumstances that a judge can take into account when sentencing, and serious sentences can be given to anyone attacking a service animal—that is absolutely right.

Police dog Finn was brutally stabbed several times in my constituency while apprehending a violent criminal. The current law treats police dog Finn, a canine hero, like a piece of computer equipment—the charge is criminal damage. This is unacceptable. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) is leading a campaign to introduce Finn’s law. Will the Minister agree to meet me and my right hon. and learned Friend, so that we can provide greater protection for our service animals in the course of their duty?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and others for the very active campaign that they are leading. I would of course be delighted to meet them to discuss that law.

Given that Canada, America, Australia and many European Union states have a law similar to that being introduced by the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire—I am a sponsor of his Bill—why did the Minister order the Government to block the Bill last Friday?

As we have discussed, very significant sentences of up to 10 years can already be imposed for this kind of action, but I would be delighted to discuss the issue in more detail with the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends.

And doubtless with the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald).

I am very grateful to the Minister for that kind offer. I just make the point that there is a gap in the law. There are legal difficulties with prosecuting under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, because of the drafting of section 4. Prosecuting for criminal damage means that the value of the animal determines the sentence. However, a police dog like Finn, who was eight years old, is not worth much money—he is of course invaluable to PC Dave Wardell and the country’s police enforcement efforts, but he is not worth a lot of money. I am therefore grateful that the Minister will to talk to us about this issue.

Perhaps we could have an Adjournment debate about Finn, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not already procured such.

Very well done. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is obviously ahead of events. I was enjoying the family history he was educating us on just now.

My right hon. and learned Friend is a great authority on the law. There are a number of issues here, ranging from the exact sentences that can be imposed to the work my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is doing to introduce new sentences for animal cruelty. I look forward to discussing all those issues both in the House and over a cup of tea.