Animal cruelty has no place in our society, which is why the Government are committed to increasing the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty from six months to five years. The Government are fully behind the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which will provide one of the toughest sentencing regimes in Europe.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but I have been really disturbed by recent reports in the local press regarding incidents of animal cruelty in my constituency. I certainly worry that individuals who are capable of deliberately inflicting pain and suffering on animals are capable of far worse. Will the Minster go a little further and give a guarantee that the maximum five-year sentence for the worst animal cruelty offences will be on the statute book by January 2021?
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, and we are all keen to do what we can to stamp out animal cruelty. Unfortunately, I cannot give any guarantees about the progress of parliamentary business, but the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) who is currently in his place, will take place next month. The Government fully support the Bill and hope that it will become law very soon.
I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that we will have a five-year maximum sentence for animal cruelty. The RSPCA has estimated that there were more than 100,000 instances of animal cruelty during lockdown. That is a great concern, and we want to ensure that action is taken. Will the Minister confirm that there will be greater enforcement and steps towards prosecution, to ensure that those who commit animal cruelty are brought to justice?
Enforcement is, of course, a matter for local police forces, but what we can do in this place is to make sure that the right laws are in place to give them the tools that they need to stamp out animal cruelty.
There has been much laudable support for this and many good intentions, but since 2016, when we had the Select Committee report recommendation to bring in five-year maximum sentencing, each Government have decided they are going to do it and it is still not done. My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) has put forward his Bill, so this is about making sure that the Government will support it and make time, in Government time, to get this through, because we must not prevaricate any longer. With a maximum six-month sentence, and only four months if someone pleads guilty, it is absolutely ridiculous that we cannot bring in stronger sentencing.
The Chairman of the EFRA Committee and the Committee have done their bit through their important work in this area in producing the report in 2016. The Second Reading of the Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) takes place next month, and I very much look forward to either attending the debate or following it very closely. I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) by saying that the Government strongly support that private Member’s Bill and fully expect it to be adopted very soon.