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Road Traffic Collisions Involving Cats

Volume 725: debated on Monday 9 January 2023

[Relevant document: Summary of public engagement by the Petitions Committee on requiring motorists to stop and report collisions with cats, reported to the House on 19 December 2022, HC 73.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 607317, relating to requirements to stop and report road traffic collisions involving cats.

It is indeed a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Harris. The petition calls for Parliament to amend legislation

“to make it a legal requirement for a driver to stop & report accidents involving cats.”

It has been signed by 102,436 people throughout the UK, with the highest number in Tunbridge Wells. It is often said that Britain is a nation of animal lovers. As I am sure all Members’ inboxes will attest, issues of animal welfare, from the use of animals in research to livestock transport, move people from all walks of life to engage with their representatives.

As a nation, we are particularly attached to our pets. According to the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, around 52% of UK adults own a pet. Our pets play a huge part in our lives and many of us consider our pet another member of the family. Although dogs are the most common pet in the UK, cats are not far behind: one in four households are home to at least one cat. The choice of a cat as a pet is often not understood; non-cat owners may wonder what is to be gained from a pet who operates completely on their own terms. Cat owners will know that that is just one part of the mystique of having a cat. Cats Protection’s 2022 “Cats and Their Stats” report found that

“companionship, reducing loneliness, and reducing stress were collectively the top reasons for owning a cat”.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have seen, certainly during the covid pandemic, the ownership of cats and dogs increase because of the companionship that they offer? That is particularly important for people who live on their own. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that it is heartbreaking for an animal to be run over, whether it be a dog or a cat, and for the owner in many cases never to find out what actually happened. Cats are pets and should be treated in the same way as dogs.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his contribution. It is true: we love our pets and they are a huge part of the fabric of our families and our lives. He is right that we saw an increase in ownership during in covid, and that the necessary measures must be put in place so that there is not such heartache—I will go on to talk about that—when pets disappear and are unaccounted for.

We have spoken about the importance of pet cats for the wellbeing of their owners, especially during covid, and in relation to loneliness. The Cats Protection report also showed that 92% of owners see their cat as part of the family and that 67% say their cat gives them something to get up for in the morning. Alongside their independent nature, inquisitiveness and aloofness, that has helped them to be one of our favourite pets.

It is a reflection of the nation’s love of animals that the UK ranks highly on the world stage in respect of animal welfare, but there are gaps in the legislation, particularly in relation to our feline companions. We do all that we can to protect our pets, but sometimes it is not enough. The sadness of losing a pet—a part of the family—is only exacerbated by not knowing what has happened. That sad state of affairs is the reality for many cat owners across the United Kingdom. For many of them, a missing pet will lead to an assumption that the cat been hit by a vehicle and simply left by the roadside to be picked up by the local authority’s refuse services. I know that is a blunt description.

The hon. Lady is making such an important speech, and this debate is vital to many constituents. Does she agree that further support should be given to local authorities to ensure they have the necessary resources to scan cats when they are found—and dogs too—and make sure that owners are notified?

I thank the hon. Lady for that contribution. I will go on to talk about local authorities, but it is a case of them having the necessary resources to be able to scan animals and know that they are accounted for.

The petitioner, Olivia, is here in the Gallery and is an avid campaigner for the protection of cats. When we spoke before Christmas she was thankful that the situation when she lost her cat was not the same as the one I have described. Their beloved cat, who was very much part of the family, was killed by a car; however, a good-hearted neighbour who found the cat knocked on all the doors until the owner was found in order to let them know. It should not be down to luck or a good Samaritan.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Most residents of our communities would want to do the right thing. They would want to make an owner aware of the tragedy that had happened because they would appreciate the hurt and sadness the family would feel and would not want to leave them in the dark. Does the hon. Lady agree that groups such as Cats Protection Giffnock in my constituency have done really valuable work on this issue? They ought to be commended for making sure that it is kept in the public eye. I hope we see some progress.

I thank the hon. Member for her contribution. Doing the right thing gives us heart, does it not? The work of Cats Protection and all the organisations that have campaigned for cats is to be commended, because it is excellent in keeping the issue in the public eye, which is really important.

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on this issue. I introduced a presentation Bill on the compulsory microchipping of cats, and we are waiting for legislation to come in. I thank the Government for that.

The second part of my Bill was on the issue of reporting after an accident. Of course the great majority of people in our great country would do the right thing, but it comes down to a basic principle: parity of esteem. People love their dogs and cats. We currently have legislation under section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 that covers horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep, pigs, goats and dogs, but not cats. People in my constituency and throughout the country ask, “Why not?” If the primary objective is to alleviate pain and suffering, we need to make sure we have parity for cats.

I thank the hon. Member for his very good contribution. Unfortunately, the 1988 Act was not put in place with this issue in mind, but I am going to talk about the microchipping issue that he has done significant work on.

Following on from what the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said, the Government previously committed to bringing forward regulations to make cat microchipping compulsory before the end of last year. Many charities are concerned that they have not yet been laid; does the hon. Lady share those concerns?

I thank the hon. Member for her contribution. That is exactly what I am going to talk about. I agree that the microchipping legislation should be brought forward.

Under section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, drivers are required to stop and report incidents of hitting a horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti). The Act reflects an understanding of animals as having a financial value attached to them as livestock or working animals. As such, cats are not covered. The petitioner, Olivia, and organisations including Battersea and the Blue Cross want this to change.

Because there is currently no legal requirement to report, we do not know how many cats are killed by vehicles. One needs only to have a quick search through their local area’s Facebook groups to know that. It is sadly very commonplace. Some 52% of respondents to the Petitions Committee’s survey for this debate said they had lost a cat as a result of a road traffic accident, with a further 40% suspecting that their cat had been killed but without any proof.

The reality is that not all drivers comply with the 1988 Act as it stands. For example, one particular road in my constituency has become notorious for cattle deaths at night, with the deceased animals being found by other drivers in lighter hours and reported then. Whether or not there is a place for cats in the Act, we know that it is not fully fit for purpose as it stands. How can the Government help to ensure that cat owners such as Olivia are not left in limbo when it comes to losing their beloved pet?

I had the pleasure of hosting a Cats Protection event just before Christmas. Some 76 MPs and peers turned up, which shows where the sympathies of Members lie. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a shame the Government are out of step with the view of Members and that they should look at this matter again? They have dismissed it rather out of hand in their response to the petition, but this issue goes hand in hand with microchipping. The Government said they would bring forward microchipping by the end of last year; they should now do so, in tandem with introducing provisions on reporting.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and for hosting Cats Protection before Christmas. That event really was well attended. The point of such events is to raise awareness of legislation that is not fit for purpose and to talk to peers and Members of Parliament about the importance of cats. We do not need a huge uprooting of legislation to get this right: small changes would make a huge difference to cats and cat owners.

First, we need the Government to finally make good on their promise to make it a legal requirement for cats to be microchipped. In its 2022 “Cats and Their Stats” report, Cats Protection estimated that 2.8 million cats are not microchipped, meaning they do not have any permanent identification. Microchipping is a hugely important part of responsible pet ownership, and making it compulsory for cat owners would send a vital message that it is an integral part of looking after a cat. The Government had planned to lay regulations by the end of 2022 to bring compulsory cat microchipping into force after a transition period, but sadly that has not yet happened. I would be most grateful if the Minister could confirm a timetable for the enactment of that legislation. He has a wonderful opportunity to come forward with that change, which the Government have supported.

Secondly, requiring local authorities to scan and log cat fatalities would make a huge difference. National Highways contracts already include a requirement to identify and inform the owner of any domesticated animal fatality on main trunk roads, with keepers given the opportunity to come forward and collect their pet’s remains. The local authorities that cover the rest of the road network are duty-bound to remove deceased animals but not to scan and log, although many do—the situation is inconsistent across the United Kingdom, but the infrastructure already exists.

By requiring local authorities to make attempts to identify cat fatalities, comfort and certainty can be given to owners whose cats are killed in accidents. A freedom of information request carried out by Cats Protection in May 2019 found that 92% of local councils in England have some sort of arrangement in place to scan cats, but only 75% inform the chip company. It is clear that there is a lack of consistency on this front, and intervention from the Government would only improve the situation.

It is true that cats and dogs, while both beloved choices of pet, have different legal standings. We should be creating parity between the two and making things less difficult. Dog owners are legally required to keep their dog under control in public, whereas cats are said to have the right to roam, although owners are still responsible for making sure that their cats do not cause injury or damage to property. The so-called right to roam has often ended conversations on cat welfare legislation, for reasons I have already discussed, but that need not be the case.

Unlike so many of the issues we discuss within these walls, this is not a complex problem. The infrastructure needed to implement the changes already exists and charities such as Cats Protection are already working with local authorities to provide scanners and support their work. The changes requested may not save cats, but they can prevent any added heartbreak. I extend my deepest thanks to Olivia for starting the petition and starting the conversation. She is asking not for an overhaul of legislation but just the chance for other owners to feel the closure that she has felt at such a traumatic time.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris—I genuinely mean that.

It is a pleasure to follow a speech that I did not disagree with a word of. I congratulate Olivia, who is sat in the Gallery. This is probably one of the easiest legislative exercises in the whole of this Parliament: we simply add the word “cat” into legislation and achieve what has been set out in this debate. As much as we all love goats, we should not be differentiating between animals in respect of their value. We differentiate and judge things in this House on their meaning to our fellow citizens. To me, it is utterly bizarre that the law does not take into account cats, considering how many people in this country own cats and how important they are to our fellow citizens.

I hope the Minister, well-known animal lover that he is, will listen to this debate and look into doing something straightforward that will make a lot of people very happy. Although we struggle from time to time in this House, we have the opportunity to do something that will make people extremely happy.

My hon. Friend has made the point clearly that this change is easily done if we consider the purpose behind the legislation. The Government have put forward the argument that one type of animal is a working animal of financial value; does my hon. Friend agree that legislation to require people to stop and report should be designed with regard to the alleviation of pain and suffering, irrespective of what animal it is? That ties into the Government’s commitment to animal welfare. We can move forward and do the right thing. Does he agree that that principle needs to be behind the legislation?

I am probably going to agree with everything that everybody says in this debate. My hon. Friend makes a very articulate point. If it is the Government’s position that the change is not enforceable—in the sense that stopping and reporting if a car hits a cat is somehow not an enforceable legal responsibility compared with hitting another animal—I just do not accept that. In my view, there is not a logical argument in respect of the criminal-law side of this issue. I was a criminal lawyer for a long time and it is a straightforward matter to enforce reporting. There is no ambiguity.

Let me speak to and develop some of the points colleagues have made about criminal law, and what happens afterwards. I recognise Members present who have listened to what I have had to say at least two or three times previously. I think I am on my third or fourth time of trying to persuade the Government about my private Member’s Bill. I have not been successful yet, but I continue to live in hope. My nattily titled Pets (Microchips) Bill relates to Gizmo’s law, the campaign for which was begun many years ago by Heléna Abrahams in my constituency. In essence, the proposed law would do what has been articulated in this debate. It is a campaign for a legal requirement, which sounds like a grand statement, but it basically asks local authorities to do the right thing.

When a deceased cat is found, whether on the highway or elsewhere, the proposed law would require the local authority to scan the chip, if there is one—that relates to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) made about the Government’s commitment to the microchipping of cats, which would clearly help. It is a simple thing. People want to know what has happened to their pet—what has happened to their cats. I spoke today to Heléna, who works 20 hours a day in her job. She has set up a website for this purpose and works with local authorities to reunite cats with their owners. That is a wonderful thing to do, because it is about love, care, commitment and doing something for people who have no other way of finding out what has happened.

As the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) said, local authorities approach this matter very differently. Some just do not scan and do not make any effort whatever—I will not name and shame them—and some are better. We are simply asking for there to be a duty to take the cat and scan it. A pet food company has agreed to provide scanners for every local authority in the country that does not have one, so there is no cost to that. All they need is a fridge or deep freezer. The cost and time involved is absolutely negligible. There is no cost.

My Pets (Microchips) Bill and Olivia’s proposal are about care, love and doing the right thing. We sometimes miss those things in our debates in this House. This is very simple and straightforward. An amendment could quite easily be made to criminal law and could quite easily be enforceable. We can certainly trust our police and other law enforcement bodies to ensure that cats have parity of treatment with other animals, and we can legislate for that. On Gizmo’s law, I hope Members will support the Pets (Microchips) Bill, which would cost nothing but would do a lot of public good and make a difference to a lot of people’s lives.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Harris. I thank all those who have participated in the ongoing campaign to have the law changed to protect cats, including those who tweeted #Act4Cats, those who signed and shared the petition, and the MPs who signed my early-day motion calling for the Road Traffic Act to be amended.

I also congratulate my constituent, Olivia Holland-Rose, who is here today; her hard work and campaigning efforts led to this debate. She started this petition in response to the tragic accident that resulted in the death of her beloved pet, D’Artagnan or Dart for short. In January last year, Olivia sadly got a knock at the door. Her neighbour gave her the tragic news that Dart had been struck by a car, killed and left by the side of the road. It was only thanks to the kindness of a stranger, who found D’Artagnan’s body and proceeded to inquire about his owner, that a neighbour was able to recognise him and inform Olivia and her husband about the accident. Had the driver who hit D’Artagnan done that, and had the law required them to report the collision, there is a possibility that D’Artagnan could have been taken to the vet in time to save his life. As section 170 of the Road Traffic Act requires drivers to report accidents involving horses, cattle, mules, sheep, pigs, goats or dogs, but not cats, the driver had no legal obligation to report the collision and so drove off.

Olivia and her partner are sadly not alone in that experience, as we have heard. Statistics about cats in road collisions are getting harder and harder to gather because the driver does not have to report the incident in the first place. A recent report from Petplan revealed that approximately 230,000 cats are run over each year, equating to 630 every day, and that 35% of drivers admit to having hit a cat. There are approximately 12.2 million cats living in UK households, so those figures are likely to be considerably higher today.

We are a nation of animal lovers, so we can all sympathise with the devastation that pet owners feel when their beloved pet passes away. I do not have any pets myself, but a member of my team has a dog that often stops at our constituency office. Coincidentally, she is called Belle, although she was not named after me—she was named years before we met her. Anyone who has visited my constituency office or has been out campaigning with me is likely to have met Belle, who has become a beloved member of the team. I know that I, my team and Belle’s owners would be absolutely devastated if she were to be struck by a vehicle, but if this were to happen, at least we would have the reassurance that the driver would be legally obligated to report it and we would stand a higher chance of getting her to a vet in time, if that were possible, to potentially save her life.

Cat owners do not have that luxury because cats are inexplicably excluded from section 170 of the Road Traffic Act. It seems ridiculous that pigs, dogs, cattle and horses are protected, but cats are not. The law was created because of those animals’ status as working animals, but we have evolved beyond appreciating animals solely for their economic value, and it is time our laws changed to reflect that.

In response to the petition, the Government stated that, rather than changing the law, they wish to make roads safer and introduce compulsory microchipping. Microchipping cats is certainly a good policy—it is one that we seem to agree on right across this House—but a cat is no more likely to survive being hit by a car just because they are microchipped. The odds are already stacked against the cat. Microchipping cats will not increase their chances of survival. While I also agree with the ambition to make roads safer, in major cities, where cars are ever present and cat ownership is high, collisions are almost always going to be likely.

Those measures must be paired with a change in the law to require drivers to stop and report the collision, thereby increasing the chances of the cat getting to life-saving treatment and potentially saving another family from losing their beloved pet—or, if they do lose their beloved pet, at least giving them the closure of knowing. There is no reason that we can see for the law to exclude cats, and there are no excuses to justify not amending the law. It is such a small change; indeed, I would like the Minister to correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is something that could be changed by a statutory instrument in a Delegated Legislation Committee. It would take just a few of us in this House very little time to insert that word, as we have heard. I am sure, or I hope, that we all agree that cats deserve to be treated the same as dogs, horses, pigs and all the other animals cited in the Act, and it is about time the law was changed accordingly.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Harris. I have to declare an interest as the owner of two very pampered and special cats: Milly, who is 14 years old, and Louie, who moved into his forever home with us during lockdown, from the comfort of the Cats Protection adoption centre in Exeter. I should also make Members aware that I have another interest, as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cats.

In my mind, a home is not a home without a cat. Both my cats could be described as sharing their house with my husband and me. They have Natalie and Caroline, who visit and look after them while we are in London, and they certainly greet us on our return—although that is probably just to secure more Dreamies.

I believe that cats should receive the same treatment as other animals under section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, under which, as has been described,

“a driver is required to…report an accident involving specified animals including horses, cattle, asses, mules”

—I will not go on; it has already been said—

“but not cats or wild animals.”

The Government have said:

“This requirement arises from their status as working animals rather than as domestic pets.”

But let us not forget that cats often do work, particularly in the countryside, where they keep vermin down, so I cannot see how a cat cannot be described as a working animal. The Government also say:

“To introduce such a measure within the provision of section 170 would require primary legislation.”

I would ask the Government to consider introducing the required legislation at the earliest possible time.

I would like to share something I witnessed happening in my division when I was at Cornwall county councillor. It involved a cat called Topsy, who belonged to my son’s best friend. I was following a car that hit a cat and saw the driver get out and carefully place the cat in his car. It looked like Topsy, but I was not sure. The mother of that five-year-old told me the next day that her son was distraught at the loss of his pet, who had not returned home. I relayed to her that I may have witnessed an accident involving Topsy the cat, but had not been able to get the car registration number. This story has a happy ending. The young man who had lifted the cat carefully into his car had taken her to the vets. She received treatment and an advert was placed in the local shop window, calling for the owner to come forward—I emphasise that this incident happened before social media was widely used to publicise things. Topsy was reunited with her owner and lived a long and happy life.

My own experience does not have such a happy outcome. I had a little black cat called Biscay. He would happily hunt in and around the gardens and the neighbourhood. One day, a neighbour informed me that little Biscay was seen in the driveway of a house behind mine, and when I got there, I realised that he had been injured and had died. Many more cats in my neighbourhood have suffered the same fatal ending to their lives, and as the local councillor, I explored what could be done to make this very narrow lane safer for both pets and pedestrians. I explained to council officers that the road was regularly used by primary school children, and that each cat that had suffered a fatal accident could have potentially been a child. I was told that there were no statistics kept for cats, as these incidents were not reportable. Fortunately, I persevered and managed to get road traffic calming in place on the road, to slow the traffic. This would have been far easier if each accident involving a cat had been reportable and official statistics readily available.

It is a shame that we do not hear more positive stories, such as that of Topsy. It is essential that we remember that cats are more often than not family members, and we should ensure that they are respected. We should also remember that, as I have mentioned, statistics can often be used to introduce road safety measures that help pedestrians, and I urge the Minister to explore introducing legislation as soon as possible.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairpersonship, Ms Harris.

Cats get a bad rap. They are working animals. The reason that cats are in this country and widespread around the world is because they had, and still have, a job to do in many different guises, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) said, is to keep vermin down. But they constantly get a bad rap. I am loyally owned by two rescue cats, and my family have constantly had cats throughout our lives. As a child growing up, my cats were my constant companions, and it was devastating when a cat ended up being knocked over and left for dead.

Sadly, while I was walking around my constituency with a friend this autumn, we came across a cat in a very bad state on a pavement. The cat was still alive, so I suggested that my friend went to get her car, and I did what the car owner who hit the cat should have done: I randomly knocked on doors to see who would answer. It is quite a nerve-wracking thing to do—how do you tell somebody you have never met before that they may have a very poorly pet in front of them?—but as a good neighbour and somebody who knows what it is like to lose a pet, I hope that somebody would do that for me.

I knocked on doors and managed to find the owner, and I said, “If you’ve got a black and white cat, he is still alive, but sadly I think he has been hit by a car.” Quite a few people owned black and white cats, but when I took the owner to see him, it was their family pet Stevie. Stevie was in a really bad way. I took my jacket off and cradled him with my constituent Helen Bampton, and we were able to take him to the Blue Cross. The Blue Cross was absolutely fantastic but, sadly for Helen and her family and for Stevie, his injuries were too terrible for him to survive. Sadly, he had to be put to sleep

It is really sad that, but for the insertion of just one more animal into the legislation, we are not making sure that cats are protected, although we know that that is not a panacea. Thanks to organisations such as Cats Protection, there are very few stray cats in this country; most have an owner and a family. Anyone can be involved in an accident involving a cat or another animal—it can happen suddenly because cats can move very quickly, especially if their owner is calling them and they are trying to get home—but we want people to realise that that cat is usually a pet. The police have told me that if a cat were stolen, they would treat the case as theft. I do not understand why cats are viewed as possessions important enough for the police to investigate if stolen, but are not considered important enough for it to be a legal requirement for drivers to report a collision involving one.

The hon. Member is making a good point. National Highways requires its contractors, where possible, to identify cats in such situations. That seems entirely anomalous. As far as the Government are concerned, if they require reporting in relation to collisions on major trunk roads and motorways, why do they not require it generally?

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. There is another anomaly. Rule 286 of the highway code advises that drivers need to report any accident involving an animal to the police and, if possible, to make inquiries to ascertain the owner of domestic animals such as cats to advise them of the situation. I do not quite understand why that is already advised in the highway code but we have no legal protections for owners and their cats. I would like the Minister to go back to his Department and really ask that question.

As hon. Members have said, there are more than 12 million cats in this country, which means that about 28% of homes own a cat or cats. This issue is important to people, especially to those who have experienced the loss of their cat—either never knowing or, sadly, knowing that somebody has hit their pet and deemed it not important enough to take care of the situation. Even if it is not currently a legal requirement to report such an incident to the police, people should at least be neighbourly, have some community heart, knock on a door and find out who the owner is, and provide them with some consolation. That is just the right thing to do, as everybody knows these things are rarely done on purpose. Will the Minister consider the fact that the highway code already advises such reporting for road users anyway?

I welcome you to your place, Ms Harris. I am delighted to participate in this important debate, which arises from the e-petition relating to requirements to stop and report road traffic collisions involving cats. I thank the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for opening the debate with a comprehensive overview of the situation. I also pay tribute to charities such as Cats Protection, Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, which do so much to promote the wellbeing of animals and have provided us with some important briefings for the debate. I should declare that today I am using my Cats Protection pen, which I received at the charity’s event just before Christmas.

Everyone appreciates the importance of family pets, and we can all appreciate the distress and trauma when a family pet goes missing. Thankfully, many cats who wander off on their adventures soon return home safely when they are hungry enough. However, there are cat owners whose cats wander off and never see them again; sadly, on occasion, that is due to the cat being knocked down by a car and left on a roadside, or staggering away from the scene of an accident only to die before it can reach home. Owners are left distressed, often with no information, and, sadly, as those who have pets will understand, they feel as though a beloved family member has simply vanished. Those who own pets—as I once did; I owned the much-missed Kitty sand Misty, and hope to own cats again at some point—benefit from them in so many ways. That is why they are loved as members of our families. They provide huge comfort and health benefits, and also go a long way to combating loneliness; I speak as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cats.

This petition is not party political, as has been shown by the consensus in this Chamber. It is about doing the right thing—a simple thing that will do so much for cat owners. It calls for cats to be accorded the same legal recognition as dogs, and for the same obligations to apply to collisions involving cats as to those involving dogs, under the Road Traffic Act 1988, which requires drivers to stop and report accidents involving a cat. It is not in any way a controversial request for our feline friends to be accorded parity in law with dogs when it comes to road collisions. We last debated the issue in 2019, and I honestly cannot understand why we are still debating it.

We all understand that for such a change in the law to really work, we would need joined-up thinking. We need to get to the compulsory microchipping of cats, so that their owners can be informed if they are involved in an accident. Compulsory microchipping of cats has not yet happened, but I remind the Minister—I am sure that I do not need to, but I will—that the Tory manifesto in 2019 committed to

“bring forward cat microchipping, giving cat owners peace of mind”.

That is a Tory policy that I and everybody else in this Chamber can support—and it is not often that the Minister will hear that! However, there has been no movement on that commitment, and that needs to change.

The Government’s stance has been that there is no need to legislate and create a requirement for local authorities to scan cats for microchips, because the majority already do so as best practice. Does she share my concern that that leaves policies at local authority level too open to change, for example where budgetary restrictions mean there are fewer staff available to perform the task?

Yes. Many local authorities currently work very hard to screen cats for microchips, where possible; I will talk about that in more detail later. Local councils are under pressure, but it is important that there is leadership and support from a central Government level in both Scotland and across the UK. I will talk a wee bit later about how Cats Protection provides very important support in that regard.

The Scottish Government recommend that all cat owners should microchip their pets, so that they can be reunited with their owners if they are lost or injured, but they have not yet moved towards compulsory microchipping, which is a move I want to see. However, the Scottish Government are willing to examine and reflect on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs call for evidence and the recent public consultation on the matter. I am confident that we will get to a place where cat microchipping will be a compulsory element of cat ownership, just as it is with dog ownership. Like many others, I am keen to reach that point as soon as possible, because the responsibility of owning a cat and the responsibility towards cat owners ought not to be different from the rights and benefits currently accorded to dogs and their owners.

In the UK Government’s action plan for animal welfare, which was published in May 2021, the commitment to cat microchipping was repeated. The plan said:

“We will introduce compulsory cat microchipping to ensure lost or stolen cats can be reunited with their owners as quickly as possible.”

But we are still in the dark as to what is happening with the implementation of that plan, just as we are—incidentally—with the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which ought to legislate on very important aspects of animal welfare; undoubtedly, we will debate that Bill again soon. It matters, because it is all part of the same conversation about the small amendment required to the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The vast majority of cats in Scotland—around 70%—are microchipped, which demonstrates that most cat owners understand the benefits of doing so. About 29% are still not microchipped, which amounts to about 227,000 cats with no permanent form of identification; that is a problem.

We have heard from around the Chamber of the heartbreak of cat owners who either do not know what has happened to their cat, or who have to deal with their cat being struck by a car and finding that out—sometimes by accident. The sad reality is that we do not know how many cats are involved in road traffic accidents, because it is a not a legal requirement for a driver to report a collision with a cat, but Petplan believes that about 630 cats are run over every day. That is a huge amount. Some 35% of drivers admit to having hit a cat, and it is believed that between 7 million and 9 million cats are at risk every day of being involved in a road traffic accident, given the free-roaming nature of our feline friends.

If we are seeing an increasing number of cats being microchipped, and seeking to move to a point where all cats are microchipped as soon as possible, it is important that measures are in place so that those microchips can be scanned. I applaud the work of Cats Protection, which has worked with some local authorities to provide scanners to ensure that cats found on roads can be identified. Local authorities are also working hard to ensure that they are able to do this, as revealed by the Cats Protection freedom of information request, but there is still some way to go.

The call for the creation of best practice guidance for local councils will be supported by all responsible cat owners, because it will ensure that all cats found on our roads are scanned for a microchip and have their details logged, and that owners are informed so that—as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) said—as heartbreaking as that news can be, they can find out what has become of their beloved pet.

I think we are speaking at cross purposes. As I said, there should be a legal requirement for microchipping, but we want to look at the best way that local authorities can manage that information and roll it out so that it can be completed as soon as possible. I believe that microchipping should be a legal requirement.

I echo the eminently sensible concerns expressed by Blue Cross that if all this work is done in the way we wish, in the interests of cats and cat owners—picking up on the point made by the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly)—there must be well-administered and efficient communication between database companies to ensure that microchip details and information on lost, stolen or injured pets is properly shared and centrally available.

The suggestion of a single point of access would considerably streamline and simplify the current database situation, incomplete though it is, and make it more user-friendly for the designated approved users. It would save time and resources, and provide the best outcomes for cats and their owners should the worst happen.

It is no surprise that over 102,000 people signed this petition to appeal to the UK Government to amend legislation in a simple and straightforward way to make it a legal requirement for drivers to stop and report accidents involving cats as they are already required to do with dogs. Many of us engage in the debate about whether we prefer cats or dogs, but I think we would all agree that cats deserve parity under the law when it comes to road traffic accidents. Across the UK, we love our pets, and animal welfare is important to every one of us. We just need to look at our inboxes to see that; every single Member of this House receives more emails about various aspects of animal welfare than any other issue. I have to say, that took me a little by surprise when I was first elected in 2015.

Animal welfare really matters to our constituents, and it matters to MPs across the House. Our pets keep us healthy and add to our happiness, and they are treasured family members. Cats do this just as much as dogs; some would say even more so, but that would start a whole UK-wide argument that would keep us here all day. It is clear that if we can give protection to dogs through compulsory microchipping and reporting of accidents when collisions happen, we can certainly do it for cats. There is no reason for us not to do so.

I urge the Minister and the UK Government to make the required amendment to the Road Traffic Act 1988 and give our cats and their owners the consideration they deserve. Alongside that we need to ensure that cat microchipping is an integral part of cat ownership so that they are given the protection currently accorded to dogs. Let us get on with it and stop any further delays. A promise was made in the Government’s 2019 manifesto. This is one of those rare measures that will have support from across the House—from every MP in every party—so there is no reason to delay. It will encounter no opposition, so I urge the Minister to speak to his colleagues and get it done.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Harris. I thank the Petitions Committee for allowing this important debate, which will be closely followed by many of our constituents. I also thank all Members who have contributed; they have all made extremely relevant points. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), who eloquently explained the issue, and Olivia, who some time ago started the petition, which 102,000 people have signed.

We are a country of cat lovers. I have had cats since I was a toddler and have gone through very many. I have been in the position where my cat has gone missing and we did not know what had happened to her, even though we scoured the streets and she was chipped. I only found out what had happened a few years later, by accident, when I was at the vet’s with another cat, and the woman I was sitting next to, who lived near me, could remember seeing my missing cat dead on the roadside. It took me a bit of time to get to the bottom of it, but, like most people when their cat does not come home, I eventually came to the conclusion that it had come to harm. As an animal lover, I know the pain caused by losing a pet.

Believe it or not, one day I found a cat behind my bin. I took it to the vet and had it scanned, but unfortunately it did not have a microchip. I eventually managed to rehouse it with another member of my family, as I already had three by then and had been told I could not have any more. If that cat had had a chip—if it had been compulsory for it to be chipped—we very likely would have been able to return it to its owner instead of having to rehouse it, albeit with a very nice family.

Under rule 286 of the highway code, drivers involved in an accident involving a domestic pet are advised to make inquiries to find the owner. However, the wording of the rule is quite vague and covers a wide range of driving incidents. It is time to change that and include cats. It is true that many owners ensure their beloved cats are microchipped, but it should be legislated for. Will the Minister look into updating the legislation to ensure that drivers are aware of what to do if they collide with a cat? The vast majority of drivers would want to do the right thing in such situations, but the highway code offers little in the way of guidance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gower mentioned the local authority resources that will be needed if they are to take on the responsibility of scanning animals and informing owners of the fate of their cats. I thank Cats Protection, which has done so much work to talk to people about the issue and raise owners’ awareness.

The point about local authorities needing resources for scanning absolutely needs to be looked at, but my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) mentioned the principle that local authorities should scan deceased cats so that they can be identified. How that is done across the country is a different matter, but the principle is that all deceased cats should be scanned so that they can be reunited with their loved ones; that is the change required, so that there is consistency and not a postcode lottery around the country.

I totally agree with the hon. Member’s sentiment that it should be put into legislation that it is compulsory for all cats to be scanned. That is the only way they can be identified.

I wonder how we can get around the problem about which we heard earlier—that 70% of cats who are scanned have not been registered with the microchipping company. The Government and the House should look at ways of encouraging registration or of doing microchipping differently, to ensure that it is not a waste of time or money. We must ensure that microchipping means that cats will be reunited with their owners, or that their owners will be informed of what has happened to them.

I was a little disappointed that, in their response to the petition, the Government say that they want to make roads safe for everyone. The reality is often quite different: road safety targets are non-existent; the road safety strategic framework has been delayed; and highway maintenance funding has been cut. After four decades of progress in reducing in road fatalities, since 2010 the numbers have plateaued. The Government are dragging their feet on measures to protect road users—human and feline alike.

We all know about the enormous pressures facing local authorities, and the cost of living crisis means that scarce resources are rightly focused on supporting struggling households. However, that means that if we are to be serious about this issue, additional resources for road safety, and particularly scanning, should be given to local authorities so that they can carry out the vital job of identifying cats and informing cat owners of what has happened. For that to work, there has to be some resource attached.

While we have the Minister here, I want to ask when his Department will publish the long-awaited road safety strategy framework. It would be good to see something about animal welfare in that, because it is so important to our constituents. I am also somewhat disappointed by the Government’s wider record on protecting animals, which seems to be one of delays and broken promises. Where is the ban on keeping primates as pets? Where is the action to tackle puppy smuggling? Where is the ban on fur imports? Those measures all have overwhelming public support, but this Government have been dragging their feet on all of them for too long.

I hope that the Minister will carefully consider all the points raised by Members today. The motivation behind the petition is one we all share: for beloved family pets to be better protected. We do not need more empty promises that are destined to be dropped or kicked into the long grass; we need the Government finally to take the wheel and deliver real progress to improve road safety for all users of any species, including cats. In particular, we need the Government to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988—I hope that they can do so by statutory instrument—so that no one has to wonder what has happened to their beloved cat, and that cats have the same protection as other animals.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Harris. As the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) pointed out, Britain is a nation of animal lovers, and Members on both sides have made heartfelt speeches. I want to acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly), who has had to leave early, on Gizmo’s law and the private Member’s Bill that he introduced. I am grateful to Members who have spoken in this debate on the subject of making it a legal requirement for drivers to stop and report collisions with cats. I also thank Olivia, and the thousands of people across the country who signed the petition that brings us here.

As a Back Bencher, I spoke out in support of microchipping in Westminster Hall less than two years ago. I reassure right hon. and hon. Members that the Government take road safety extremely seriously; it is at the core of the Department’s agenda, and any death or serious injury on our roads is unacceptable. Our deepest condolences go out to the victims of road traffic incidents and their families. A focus of the Government is to make roads safer for all users; that will in turn help reduce the risk to all animals on them. We must all be clear about the heartbreak that the loss of pets—particularly cats, as we have discussed—cause people. For many, it is like losing a family member, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) said. Other Members reflected on how, during the pandemic, in what was a particularly difficult time, pets, especially cats and dogs, were particularly important to people’s mental health and physical wellbeing.

The Department is working on the road safety strategic framework, which—to give the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) some assurance —we hope to publish in spring this year. That framework will be based on a safe system approach, and we are considering what supporting indicators on casualty reduction might be appropriate. The key principle in a safe system approach is to recognise that people make mistakes and things can go wrong. The approach accepts that responsibility is shared, and that collisions can be the result of a combination of factors that can be mitigated. The road safety strategic framework provides the instruction needed to deliver a safe system approach effectively and efficiently. That approach has been accepted in many other sectors, including health and safety and public health. It is already adopted as best practice in other countries that have gone on to make further significant reductions in road deaths and casualties. While Britain has some of the safest roads in the world, we can always do more, and we intend to do just that.

Let me quickly address an issue raised by the hon. Members for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy), and for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough: I have been advised by officials that primary legislation, and not a simple statutory instrument, would be required to change the law in this area. However, if that does not prove to be the case, I will write to both hon. Members to clarify further.

I thank the Minister for giving way, and for all he does on road safety. On stopping and reporting after an accident, is the Minister saying that the road safety review will specifically look at what parliamentarians have said today about adding cats to section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988? At the moment, it is not clear whether it will.

I am happy to take that question back to the Department, and will write to my hon. Friend about that, as well as to the hon. Member for Gower. That is something that we need to look at urgently.

I am most grateful to the Minister for clarifying that the question will be taken back to the Department. The Prime Minister said in his speech in January that the Government would look at doing things differently—at innovation, and at trying new ideas. Will the Minister look at amending the legislation, so that it does not simply deal with the value of the animal or whether it is wildlife, and so that its aim is to alleviate pain and suffering and ensure parity? That would be in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment, and with what has been said today.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that issue forward. It is an important issue, and I will take it back to the Department and write to him about it.

As I have been saying, we are looking at the holistic, best-practice approach that has been adopted in other countries, and that we have adopted for public health and health and safety legislation, in order to both minimise the impact of road traffic accidents on humans, and prevent further injury and accidents involving animals. For example, not that long ago, when I was in the Department as a special adviser, we brought forward some road signage designed to protect small mammals. The change is something that the Government are prepared to look at, but as I have said, primary legislation would be required.

I would like to speak more broadly on this issue, because Members have brought up different aspects of the legislation, including microchipping, which I would like to touch on.

Just to be clear, the Minister is saying that he is 100% sure that the change has to be made through primary legislation, so what exactly would he be getting back to us about, if that is not flexible?

That is what I was advised, but if that is not the case, I will write to the hon. Lady and make it clear what can be done. My understanding at the moment is that primary legislation is needed.

If the change can be made through secondary legislation, will the Minister take steps to bring that forward?

If the change can be made through secondary legislation, we would have to look at that, but I am assured by officials that it has to be done through primary legislation. That would obviously require a significant piece of legislation to go through both Houses. It is not a quick fix. We then get into timetabling and all sorts of other issues well beyond my remit as a junior Minister. On whether the change can be made through secondary legislation, I will definitely write to the hon. Lady.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that if primary legislation is needed, Members may be able to bring forward a ten-minute rule Bill or private Member’s Bill that amends the Act?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If primary legislation is needed, then the way to change the law could indeed be via a private Member’s Bill. Whether it would get Government support and time is a matter for others, but that would be a way to do it.

While we must do all we can to improve the safety of our roads, we must be careful not to make any decisions that could make things worse or have unforeseen effects in a rush to resolve concerns about how the law operates. Hon. Members from across the House have made important points about doing the right thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) gave the personal example of Stevie, and set out how she stepped in and did the right thing.

The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) also said that doing the right thing is particularly important. As hon. Members have pointed out, although there is no obligation to report all animal collisions on the road, rule 286 of the Highway Code advises drivers to report any collision involving an animal to the police; if possible, they should make inquiries to ascertain the owner of a domestic animal, so as to advise them of the situation.

As Members, including the hon. Member for Gower, have made clear, cats tend to roam unaccompanied and are likely to go out at night. Drivers may not realise that they have had a collision with a cat in some instances, as they are small animals, similar to rabbits or other wild animals that can cross roads late at night. There are also hazards associated with stopping to check whether animals are alive after people have knocked them over, especially with very small animals. A requirement to report road collisions involving a cat would be difficult to enforce, especially when, as hon. Members have made clear, Petplan suggests there might be hundreds of thousands of these incidents brought forward a year.

In 2021, there were 348 reported road collisions in which both an animal and a person were involved directly. That is just an animal and a person. If we were talking about hundreds of thousands of cases, there would be a huge extra impact and administrative burden, especially given the free-roaming nature of cats. It is for that reason that the Government do not plan at present to make it a legal requirement for drivers to stop and report collisions with cats, but I would like to go into what we are attempting to do in this space, because we recognise how painful it is for owners to lose a pet. I remember going home from school as a youngster and learning—this was when I first realised that animals could die—that my family dog had sadly passed away. I think we have all had that experience at some point in our life.

In the last few years, we have pushed microchipping. It is the best way of reuniting owners with pets that have been tragically killed, stolen, or had a variety of other issues. Since the introduction of compulsory microchipping for dogs in 2016, over 90% of the dog population has been microchipped. That has been particularly successful in increasing reunification rates for stray dogs.

As hon. Members from across the House have pointed out, we have a manifesto commitment to introduce compulsory cat microchipping, and we consulted on that last year. The consultation showed that there was well over 99% support for that measure, which is fantastic. I spoke about the issue in Westminster Hall a couple of years ago, and both my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) mentioned it. We are committed to introducing it, and we will lay the legislation for England before Parliament in the coming weeks. I hope that the devolved Administrations will follow closely, as this is a devolved issue in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I welcome the words of the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). She has used her platform in this place to press for similar action in Holyrood and across the rest of the United Kingdom. I recognise that it is terribly sad when a cat is injured or killed on the roads, and it does not matter what side of the border it is on.

As the hon. Member for Gower mentioned, National Highways already requires its contractors to record details of any cats or dogs found on the roadside, and the location in which they were found. Some of that is due to the importance of strategic roads. We do not want stray animals on the national highways, so we want to know of any gaps in fences and so on. There is a different health and safety dynamic to that, but it is something that we implemented. National Highways is under the Department for Transport and so is a direct responsibility of the Government. National Highways must also scan for a microchip, and store the animal, with the aim of reuniting it with its owner where possible.

Similarly, we understand that the overwhelming majority of local authorities have arrangements in place to scan cats and dogs found by the roadside, and to endeavour to reunite the animal with its keeper. Many pets will therefore be reunited, but we recognise that there may be challenges to successful reunification in some cases. For example, sadly reunification may not be possible if the nature of the animal’s injuries affect the functionality of the microchip, or if a microchip’s records are out of date. That is particularly the case with cats.

I am delighted to hear the Minister talking about moving towards making microchipping compulsory for cats. Does he share the view put forward by Blue Cross, which is that cats should be registered on a single database, to make attempts at reunification as efficient and successful as possible?

The hon. Member makes a very good point, and I am just about to come on to the best practice issues that she raised. The legislation on compulsory microchipping that will be brought forward is England only, because this matter is devolved to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I hope that these issues will be looked at by the devolved Administrations in the coming months.

Local authorities may adopt different approaches to reuniting cats and dogs found by the roadside. As the hon. Member for Gower mentioned, 92% of local authorities have the necessary facilities, but only 75% use them. It is important that we address that inconsistency. To show our commitment to the issue, we will shortly commission a research project to help us better understand any barriers and to explore best practice. We will then work with local authorities and other stakeholders to develop and promote best practice in this area, which is particularly important.

I pay tribute to Cats Protection and other volunteers, including Mandy and her team from CatsMatter, Heléna Abrahams and the team behind Gizmo’s legacy campaign, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North for their tireless efforts to help reunite animals found by the roadside with their owners. We recently consulted on improvements to the pet microchipping regime, which the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran mentioned. We are analysing the results and will publish them soon.

A key area of the consultation was about how to make it easier for approved users, including local authorities, to access database records, and that will be covered in the response to the consultation. We also consulted on the introduction of a single point of portal search, which would allow approved users to quickly search compliant databases for animal records without needing to contact the database operator directly, which can obviously be time-consuming and can act as a deterrent, as I found when speaking about this issue to vets in my constituency of North West Durham. Quicker access to database records also supports other campaigns that seek to make better use of microchip scanning, as we have all discussed.

I pay particular tribute to Sue and Dawn, who are behind the Tuk’s law campaign, which would require vets to scan microchips and check for rescue back-up contact details prior to euthanising a healthy animal. Members from both sides of the House have been glad to get behind that. We worked closely with the campaign and the veterinary profession to find an approach that worked for everyone, and have incorporated the principle of scanning before euthanasia into the guidelines that underpin the code of professional conduct for veterinary surgeons. That is now in place.

The new single point of search will also support the aims of the Fern’s law campaign, led by Debbie Matthews, which calls on vets to scan the microchip of an animal at the first presentation to check whether it is stolen. That issue can also affect cats, which, as we know, have a tendency to roam a little further than other animals.

In summary, the Government believe that microchipping is the most effective and quickest way of returning a cat to its owner. We are progressing further with it, both through the call for evidence and through the new best practices guidelines that are coming down the line. In coming weeks, microchipping legislation for England is being introduced, and we hope to see that happen across the rest of the United Kingdom as well. We remain committed to microchipping; we look forward to the introduction of legislation that will make it compulsory, and to making further improvements later in the year.

Ms Harris, I know how much your cat, Benji, means to you and your beloved husband and family. I am 51 years of age, and we have always had a pet in the family; I know how much it hurts to lose a pet. I thank the Minister for what he said about the legislation on compulsory microchipping that will be introduced in the coming weeks. On behalf of our petitioner, Olivia, I hope that Members from across the House will seek to introduce a ten-minute rule Bill or private Member’s Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988, because it is not fit for purpose.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) for his private Member’s Bill, which goes a long way to helping pets owners, including cat owners, to be reunited with their pet. I thank everyone who signed the petition, the Petitions Committee for bringing about the debate, and all Members who participated.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 607317, relating to requirements to stop and report road traffic collisions involving cats.

Sitting suspended.