May I join others, Mr Speaker, in thanking you and your chaplain for your service to the House? You have been particularly kind in enabling me to raise from the Back Benches many issues that really matter to my constituents, and I am profoundly grateful.
The Government have introduced a range of measures to improve animal welfare, including a rigorous ban on the ivory trade and mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses. We are considering proposals to tighten the welfare rules for animals in transit, including a ban on unnecessary and excessively long journeys to slaughter.
A year ago, a Dudley magistrates court convicted a teenager of abducting, torturing and killing a pet cat. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to protect the welfare of all cats?
We will be pressing ahead with the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill so that horrific crimes like that can meet with the appropriate punishment. We are consulting on compulsory microchipping for cats to ensure that lost pets can be reunited with their owners, and we have also banned third party sales of kittens and puppies.
One way of preventing animal cruelty would be to tighten the law on illegal foxhunting. Will Ministers undertake to introduce a system of monitoring before the foxhunting season starts in order to find out just how many illegal killings are taking place, so that we know how to address the problem?
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has said, we believe that it is crucial for all our laws to be properly enforced, including the Hunting Act, and we will continue to engage with the appropriate authorities to ensure that that is the case.
It is a great pleasure to call Dame Caroline Spelman. I am very sorry that the right hon. Lady is leaving the House. I know that she will be performing in her own right later, but she will be greatly missed by Members in all parts of the House.
That is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. I will save my tribute for the right time, in due course.
Unfortunately, as colleagues with rural constituencies may know, at this time of the year there is a steep rise in the number of abandoned horses as winter approaches. A couple of weeks ago I personally dealt with four abandoned ponies, including two foals barely weaned at 12 weeks. They were in a terrible condition: their feet had never been trimmed, their ribs were showing, and they had lice and mites. I had to get them rehomed.
I welcome the Government’s proposals to take a tougher line with those who abuse animals in this way, but can my right hon. Friend reassure me—gently, given the problem with her voice today—that the Government will support the police and local authorities in taking action and enforcing the law on these criminals?
I can of course give my right hon. Friend that assurance. This is a worrying problem, and we are keen to engage with the charities that are involved in trying to address the issue. I wish her well in her retirement and thank her for that question.
There is cross-party support for increasing prison sentences for those who hurt and cruelly kill animals, but Ministers have dithered and delayed over the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. Even in this divided Parliament, and even at this late stage, there is still a chance to get that Bill on the statute book before the election. Labour backs the Bill, the Secretary of State’s own Back Benchers back the Bill and the public back the Bill, so will she give a commitment that she will use every effort to get it on the statute book before the general election is called?
I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that, when a Conservative Government are returned to serve in this House, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will be back on the agenda and we will get it on the statute book.