I start by associating myself with the remarks of the Home Secretary on James Brokenshire, who I worked with over the last 15 years on all manner of subjects. He was a lovely man and a pleasure to know.
It is poignant to realise that Sir David would have spotted the subject of these two questions and, given his long interest in animal welfare, should in any just world be bobbing behind me now to ask a question.
Stealing a pet from its loving owner is a particularly cruel crime, causing heartbreak for the family and great distress to the pet. The Home Office is working with the police to ensure that pet thefts are recorded in a consistent manner and are readily identifiable within the information management systems of forces across England and Wales. The pet theft taskforce has recently made a series of recommendations, which we are considering, and we will introduce a new criminal offence of pet abduction.
I add my tribute to Sir David. As the Minister said, he dedicated his career to better animal welfare. This topic was very close to Sir David’s heart, and I know he had been lobbying the Minister very hard on it.
As we continue to see a rise in pet thefts by criminal gangs who use the proceeds to fund further criminal activity, does the Minister agree that we have to bring forward legislation on this as quickly as possible? We cannot delay any further. Can he give a clear timescale for when we can vote on that important legislation in this House?
My hon. Friend is right that, unfortunately, one of the effects of the pandemic, and particularly of the rise in the value of pets, particularly dogs and cats that are happily in demand by many families who look to them for companionship, has been a criminal phenomenon that we need to address. The taskforce has made a number of recommendations and, although I cannot give him an absolute timetable today, he has our undertaking that we are keen to move as swiftly as possible to give him the opportunity to put this offence on the statute book.
Like other hon. Members here, I am honoured to ask this question in memory of Sir David. I met local residents concerned about pet theft recently, in Hanmer, in my constituency. What message would the Minister give to those constituents, who have been worried about this issue locally?
It is typical of my hon. Friend that he would gather his constituents together to give voice to their concern in this area. The message I would give them is that we recognise their distress and concern. As dog and cat owners ourselves, it is inconceivable to us that our pets might be stolen; the damage and trauma that would be caused to my family if that awful event were to happen is keenly in our minds. The policy development work on this offence has begun. As I said earlier, we hope to bring legislation forward as quickly as possible, so that he and the many other Members who are very interested in this subject and recognise the distress that has been caused in communities up and down the land by this crime can exercise their free democratic will and put the offence on the statute book.