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Service Animals

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018

8. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of creating a specific offence of attacking service animals. (904901)

My hon. Friend, along with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) and the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson), are campaigning strongly and tirelessly on this issue; I was very pleased to meet them on 17 April. I am not aware of any specific conversations that the Secretary of State has had with his Cabinet colleagues, but the Government are sympathetic to the intention behind the Bill, although we believe that the offence is already caught by other legislation.

Police dog Finn from my constituency was stabbed in his stomach with a 10-inch blade. When the offender tried to stab his handler, police dog Finn jumped up and took another stab wound to his head to save the handler. If the handler had not been given a little scratch to his hand, the offender could not have been sent to prison, because the current legislation does not work. The Service Animals (Offences) Bill, which is promoted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), has its Second Reading this Friday. I am grateful to the Minister for the meeting that she had with me, but will she support the Bill on Friday because it can make progress only with Government support?

I am aware of the case and I was very pleased to discuss it. Police dog Finn did a remarkable thing, and I know that he has been recognised for his work. The Government are looking at the issue.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill is in the hands of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and it will respond.

May I update my hon. and learned Friend? Some 34 out of the 41 police commissioners in this country support the Service Animals (Offences) Bill, and lawyers up and down the country, including Sarah Dixon, who runs the Finn’s law campaign, have identified a gap in the law. Is it not time that the Government backed my Bill?

I am grateful for a third opportunity to address this issue and to speak again—this is the third time that I have heard my right hon. and learned Friend express his support for the Bill in the Chamber. As I have said, the Government are looking at this issue, and the matter is primarily for DEFRA.

In so far as the right hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) seeks my advice, and he might not do so, my advice to him, to put it bluntly, is to follow Churchill’s adage: KBO—keep buggering on at all times. Just keep going, man!

I congratulate hon. Members on their work in this area. As an animal rights campaigner, I think it is simply wrong that criminal damage is the highest charge that can be brought to punish someone who attacks a service animal. What are the Government doing to change the legal oversight, to protect our brave service animals, and to ensure that those who attack and injure service animals are subject to the full weight of the law?

My hon. Friend raises a technical point about the offences that are available. In fact, there are two: criminal damage; and an offence under animal welfare legislation. Both attract a penalty of up to six months and, as she may be aware, DEFRA has identified that it is looking to increase the sentence to five years.