I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.
As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums, a former shadow Minister for animal welfare and a committed advocate for the care and protection of animals, I am proud to be given the opportunity to sponsor this Bill. I want to thank all MPs who have co-sponsored my Bill, but there is one MP I want to thank in particular, and that is the greatest advocate for animal welfare I believe this House has ever seen—the man who should have been with Vivienne yesterday as she strutted her stuff around Victoria Gardens and was crowned winner of the 2021 Westminster dog of the year contest, my friend and our dearly missed colleague, Sir David Amess. Had he not been taken from us, he would most certainly have been here today supporting the Bill that I now lay before the House.
As a nation of animal lovers, we must not tolerate those who present a threat to the health and welfare of animals in England, or of course across our United Kingdom. We are proud of our world-leading standards and we continually strive to improve and maintain our position as world leaders in animal welfare. We already have effective, detailed and powerful laws to maintain the health and welfare of our animals, the quality of our animal products and the biosecurity of our nation. However, we lack a system of penalties to redirect behaviour when those with animals in their care are not doing things quite right. We are lacking an option that can sit between warning letters and criminal prosecution. I believe that penalty notices can be the next step in establishing the UK as a world leader in animal health and welfare.
For the most severe crimes, criminal prosecution will always be the most appropriate course of action. We all see the immense value of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) so finely championed, in introducing longer prison sentences for heinous animal welfare crimes. I know that every Member in the House would acknowledge that there is a difference between mistakenly logging a farm animal’s movements incorrectly and cruelly, intentionally abusing an animal.
Some offences can occur without the presence of ill will or due to a genuine mistake; for example, transgressions relating to the recording of livestock movements. We have a fantastic farming community in this country, who work extremely hard, around the clock, to properly look after their animals, and they understand the importance of knowing where livestock are and where they have come from.
In 2019, there were 45,000 cattle keepers and 61,000 sheep farmers in England. It is critical that movements are recorded in line with our laws to protect public health, animal welfare and the national herds and flocks. The risk is that, if livestock movements are not recorded accurately, it limits our ability to control and address animal disease. Most farmers record their livestock’s movements accurately and they respond well to advice and guidance from our enforcement authorities.
Unfortunately, however, some farmers continually fail to record accurately, which causes serious risk. This is where I would like to see penalty notices applied in a fair, transparent and proportionate way to positively change behaviours. That would help us to ultimately protect public health, animal welfare and the national herds and flocks. Yet, as I mentioned, the enforcement tools available to deal with such matters are either quite gentle or quite severe. On the quite gentle end of the spectrum, we have advice and guidance, and then, for the most severe offences, we have the option of pursuing imprisonment with unlimited fines. Until now, the cross-compliance scheme has been one of the major means of ensuring that animal health and welfare standards have been met by eligible animal keepers.
Many colleagues will be aware that cross-compliance and the way that it applies subsidy deductions is widely viewed as disproportionate and unfair, particularly by our farming communities. A system of penalty notices, which are financial penalties of up to £5,000, would be fairer and more effective than the EU’s disproportionate and convoluted cross-compliance, and that would extend beyond farm animals into companion animals, zoo animals and animal products.
These proposals would give individuals an opportunity to pay a penalty for any type of transgression, similar to a speeding ticket, as an alternative to a potential court case. We can all agree that, in the most severe cases, this will never be appropriate for those who abuse animals in the worst ways. It does not water down our ability to punish those who abuse animals; it simply provides something in between to deal with less serious transgressions. It will always be appropriate to take criminal prosecution against those who cause and commit the worst crimes against animals. However, where there is an opportunity for us to improve our ability to protect animals from mistreatment by supporting an individual to understand their responsibilities, we will be able to look to apply a penalty.
My Bill establishes powers that will enable us to determine which offences are appropriate through secondary legislation. Under the Bill, penalty notices are applicable for offences under Acts including—to name a few—the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the Animal Health Act 1981, relevant sections of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. I am delighted that by introducing the Bill we are extending much further than cross-compliance was able to achieve, and in a fairer and more transparent way. That will be an animal welfare gain.
With this Bill, we will continue to build our enforcement capabilities, which will further demonstrate our standards in England as world leading. This is a simple measure with a big impact to make sure that we respond proportionately to each transgression, which could include scenarios where pet breeders fail to include their licence numbers on online adverts for puppies and kittens. Businesses that breed animals must have a valid licence: accidentally missing the licence number from an advert or forgetting to microchip the animals before rehoming them can seem inconsequential, but proper registration is critical in ensuring that people can buy pets with confidence from a legitimate source with the high health and welfare standards that they rightly expect. A financial penalty would be a proportionate response to highlight that these actions are not inconsequential, and would have a real impact on the people who rehome the animals.
The UK zoo sector has among the highest welfare standards in the world, as well as being among the world leaders in conservation work. On behalf of all of us, I thank the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums for the magnificent work it does all year round in promoting the values of good zoos and aquariums, and for the support it offers to me as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums.
Sadly, however, a small number of zoos do not always live up to our high expectations. When local authorities find an issue, they can put a condition in place. If that condition is not met, a direction may be applied. In many cases, a zoo will respond well to the initial condition and it will improve its behaviour. For those that do not, the local authority may decide to issue a penalty notice, particularly if the condition does not directly link to the care of the animals. I would welcome the addition of penalty notices in this area to provide an additional enforcement tool alongside issuing a direction, to highlight the importance of acting in line with a set condition.
This is a simple Bill consisting of nine clauses. It initially lays out the powers that enforcement authorities will have to issue penalties under the relevant Act, as listed in the Bill. It states that the police will be responsible for applying penalty notices for offences relating to dangerous dogs committed in England and Wales. It explains that penalty notices give a person the opportunity to discharge their liability for the offence, and states that enforcement authorities will have six months to take the case to court if the penalty is not paid after 28 days. It also confirms the maximum penalty of £5,000 —or £2,500 if the penalty is paid within 14 days.
The Bill contains multiple safeguards to ensure that penalties are applied fairly. These include specified factors that enforcement authorities must take into account when considering whether a penalty is appropriate, to ensure that we take a tailored yet consistent approach. There will be official guidance laid before Parliament, which enforcement authorities will need to consider before issuing a penalty. It will be important for the Government to work closely with those that keep animals to ensure that the guidance effectively sets out how penalty notices should be applied.
This Bill sets out the enabling powers to introduce offences through statutory instruments. The majority of the Bill will come into force two months after Royal Assent, with the rest coming into force when relevant secondary legislation is in place. I want to give particular thanks to the organisations from the farming community that have engaged with me on the Bill, including the National Farmers Union, the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association Ltd, the National Pig Association and the Country Land and Business Association. I understand the difficulties that they faced in dealing with the interaction between animal welfare and the common agricultural policy. I am glad that, now we have left the constraints of the European Union, the farming community have shown their support for the fair and proportional penalty notice system in my Bill.
We are very fortunate to have so many organisations dedicated to carrying out important work for animals: Dogs Trust, Battersea, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals and the Kennel Club, among many others that do so much for the welfare of pets across our country.
When, as I hope, the Bill is enacted, we will have secured a much-needed framework for a proportionate financial penalty system. Our Government have responded to the people’s will and led the country out of the clutches of the European Union, and that has given us an opportunity—which we must not waste—to improve our standards in many areas, with animal welfare at the very top of our agenda. Today we are continuing to elevate our world-leading reputation for animal health and welfare. The Bill marks an important step in establishing new enforcement in England to ensure that we have an appropriate response to transgressions, so that we can prevent individuals from ever reaching a stage at which severe punishment is required. Today marks the start of the journey of penalty notices to further protect the animals that we are so privileged to have within our care. I thank all Members, on both sides of the House, for giving it their support today.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for introducing the Bill. We are a proud nation of animal lovers, and that includes me: my beautiful dog Poppy, a cairn terrier, is often to be seen by my side as I walk around Broxtowe.
The Bill is crucial in ensuring that we stand up for the rights of animals, and that those who do not respect those rights are held to account. It will also ensure that there is no longer a gap in legislation surrounding the prosecution of animal rights offenders, and it contains the necessary legal protections to ensure that it is not misused and is enacted only for the most serious of offences. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that it will improve the way in which we tackle animal health and welfare offences in the future.
I think it is customary to start by congratulating the Bill’s promoter, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) will bear with me for one moment while I join him in congratulating Vivienne on her victory in yesterday’s Westminster Dog of the Year contest. I am sure that Sir David Amess would have been extremely proud of her.
My hon. Friend was, of course, right to say that Sir David was one of the leading advocates for animal welfare—but so, of course, is my hon. Friend. I congratulate him hugely on bringing the Bill to the House. I know he has been working on the issue for many years. Thirteen years ago, when we were still in opposition, I was the researcher on the shadow Home Affairs team for my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt). My hon. Friend the Member for Romford had the shadow animal welfare brief and I remember his work on dogs. The other day I was particularly recalling his work on tortoise microchipping because I was pursuing our tortoise Geoffrey across the garden. It is very unfair that tortoises have this reputation for moving slowly, because they do not; they move at incredible speed, especially Geoffrey. He has this determination to try to eat pebbles the size of his head, which would be incredibly bad for him, so we have to keep an eye on him. Probably a GPS tracker might have been better than a microchip. My husband has suggested a strobe. Any other suggestions are most welcome.
Geoffrey is not the only adventurous animal in our care. We have two donkeys: Sergeant Wilson and Godfrey. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Thank you. The other week, I had to extract them from the chicken run. We have two entrances to the chicken run: the little entrance is for the chicken and the big door for the humans. They had managed to open the big door and walk into the run because they wanted to raid the chicken feed. I arrived to find two donkeys guiltily munching in there.
The prize for the best animal adventure has to go to our pig, Andrew. This was when my husband and I lived on his small holding in Wales and Andrew staged a break-out from the new pig pen we had built. Andrew is jet black and he wandered into the maintenance cupboard, trod in a tin of white paint and gave himself a beautiful white sock on one leg. He then trod on the back of a tube of silicone sealant and gave himself a beautiful Santa Claus beard to match his white sock. He then decided to do his bit for the environment. He managed to encounter a bag of recycling, but he did not quite get the hang of it because he proceeded to redistribute that round the farmyard. Then he managed to break into the boot room and get himself shut in the downstairs loo.
However, the penalties in this Bill are not for errant animals; they are for humans who are not treating their animals properly. I am really proud of the work that the Government are doing to protect animal welfare. We have the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which received Royal Assent earlier this year and raised the maximum prison sentence from six months to five years. We have the new offence for pet abduction, again championed by Members on all sides of the House. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which had its Second Reading earlier this week, tackles puppy smuggling, the export of live animals for slaughter, and livestock worrying. It expands the definition of animals to include alpacas—our alpacas will be very pleased to hear about that—and includes a ban on keeping primates as pets.
My hon. Friend’s Bill fills an important gap here, toughening sentences for offences that do not qualify for criminal prosecution but that are too serious to receive a warning. I was shocked to hear that the RSPCA received 57,000 complaints of animal cruelty last year. It is so important that we have tougher penalties to tackle that kind of behaviour at a very early stage and, hopefully, to act as an educational tool and to prevent things from getting much worse.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford again. I am pleased to be supporting this Bill and proud that the Government are, too. As I have said before, pets in our house are people, not property. They are our friends, our companions and they deserve nothing less.
I rise to wholeheartedly welcome the Bill and to pay my tributes to Sir David Amess, who was a great champion. I am so glad that Vivienne did win yesterday.
Pets are more than just pets. At home, they are companions. I see that in my own family. Now that all the children have moved out of the family home, my dad is stuck with three cats: Noodle, who is 21 years old, Poppy and Macy. We witnessed an attack on Noodle when he was a kitten. He came back to the house after someone, we believe, shot him with a BB Gun, making him lose all movement in his leg, which he now uses as a crutch. We were not able to identify who did that to him, and that is one thing that I hope this Bill will cover. I hope that it will not cover things such as my dad accidentally locking a cat in the fridge—we did manage to get the cat out once we found where the miaowing was coming from.
I welcome the Bill. One of the main issues in my inbox is pet theft and animal cruelty. am so glad that the Government are acting on it, because it is a huge concern for the people of Hyndburn and Haslingden. I wholeheartedly welcome this extra step to protect our animals—our loved ones.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and also to finally get to speak on a Friday, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been far too long, for various covid-related reasons, and although I put in for the two earlier debates, they were clearly oversubscribed. These Fridays are such a crucial part of our constitution and the Standing Orders of this House. Our debates today—the debates on the menopause and childcare and now this important debate—show the House at its best. I am really pleased to finally be able to participate on a private Members’ Friday.
It is also a huge pleasure to speak in favour of this Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), who, Members might not know, was my MP two decades ago. When I graduated from university, I moved to Romford to live with friends there for a while, shortly after the 2001 general election. I see that a lot of the 2019 intake are here today. We should remember that this man was the first step on our road back to a majority and back into government, because he gained that seat in 2001, and he did it by campaigning with a Staffordshire bull terrier called Spike, round the streets of Romford in a Union Jack waistcoat.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for that and for all that he has done in his career in this place to make animal welfare such a focus. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) about his work in opposition as spokesman, we have this Bill today and he is bringing forward Jasmine’s law to increase tenants’ rights to keep pets in their homes. He has done so much work, including through his role in the APPG.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, too, on what he did yesterday. We saw the beautiful pictures of him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) with Vivienne winning the Westminster dog of the year award, in memory of Sir David Amess. We all feel Sir David’s loss very keenly today, because we know that he would be here, making a speech as funny as, if not funnier than, some of the ones we have heard on these Benches, because he was such an advocate for animal welfare and such a keen advocate of private Members’ Fridays.
This Bill, as others have said, follows the Government’s already landmark legislation on animal welfare sentencing, which increased penalties from six months to five years. As my hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, the Bill will allow us to match judicial powers more appropriately to the sort of offences we see. We already have the possibility of jail for the most serious offences and we already have situations where it is clearly far more appropriate for people to be given warnings, but there is a lacuna in the middle. This Bill, which has been carefully drafted, addresses that in exactly the right way. It will prevent more cruel mistreatment of pets, zoo animals and livestock.
I know that the Bill has been welcomed by the Government and so many animal charities, and I assume by the Opposition, although we have not heard from them yet. I would gently say that when we have such wide cross-party support for a Bill, it is incumbent on us all as Back Benchers to scrutinise the detail, and I have done that. I have looked at the clauses, and they seem very well drafted to me, so I congratulate my hon. Friend—and, I am sure, the Clerks as well—on that.
However, I am also conscious that we should continue to scrutinise the effects of Bills after they become Acts. As a data maven myself, I therefore particularly welcome clause 6, on reporting. We will very quickly be able see the effects of the Bill through the reports that it requires the Secretary of State to make. I am sure we will do that in the years ahead and hopefully see that it is having the positive effect that I know we all want it to.
As my hon. Friend said, this Bill is fair, transparent and proportionate. Those are the qualities that we want to see in private Members’ legislation. I very much hope that it gets its Second Reading today, and that it goes through Committee and we see it back in this Chamber for Third Reading. By widening the suite of available enforcement tools, it will truly safeguard and strengthen animal health and welfare across the country, which is something that I believe all of us across the House can welcome.
I rise to support this commendable Bill, which has come at a fantastic time. In particular, I am very proud to be a Government Member under what I think is the most animal-friendly Government in the history of this country. I am also surrounded by, it appears to me, the most animal-friendly members of that Government, including my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), whose adventures in animal husbandry seem to have put her in good stead for her current job. Being a PPS is probably incredibly similar to her adventures with Andrew.
I am pleased that farmers will not be unfairly penalised and that the risk of unfairly penalising them will be reduced as a result of these measures. Putting the penalty midway between a caution and the full force of the law seems to be a sensible step to make sure that the mid-range is available to prosecutors. Farmers are possibly the biggest friends that animals have, because it is literally their job to be kind to animals. If they are not, they are doing their job badly. I am not saying that there are not rare cases of that not happening, but in general, I take my hat off to our farmers, particularly those in Milton Keynes North.
I met the fantastic people from Milton Keynes & District Cats Protection recently. We got our cats from there. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) gave an impromptu shout out to my youngest—my anarchist—so it would be remiss of me not to mention my two cats, Magic and Ninja. We have enjoyed them as lockdown cats over the last year.
Their names are a tribute to my campaigning prowess because I lobbied hard for them to be called Slash and Axl. Unfortunately, I was outnumbered in the household by just four to one. I note that the cats of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) came from Cats Protection as well. It was sad to hear that Noodle was shot with a BB gun as a kitten and, frankly, well done to Noodle for making it to 21 years.
Cats Protection wanted to talk to me about the huge increase in airgun attacks on cats in the last few years. It is right to draw awareness to animal welfare and animal cruelty issues, so I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for bringing the Bill to the House.
Having mentioned Noodle, I cannot miss the opportunity to mention Peter Britcliffe, who apparently put the cat in the fridge. As the former Mayor of Hyndburn, we always knew that he was a cool cat but apparently that is his hobby as well.
Milton Keynes is a wonderful place but, unfortunately, it struggles with some animal welfare issues, not just the unfortunate airgun incidents that have occurred in the last year. There is also an increasing risk of pet theft, so I am pleased about these measures, which would be a timely addition to our armoury in prosecutions and sentencing.
This week, we launched the Milton Keynes pet theft taskforce. I am pleased to be working with Shazna Muzammil, Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber, my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), and Councillor Alex Walker, who is the leader of the Milton Keynes Conservative group. Pet theft is an animal welfare issue, because people who steal pets will not necessarily be very nice to them, so that tool in our armoury for prosecutions is welcome.
I will end with some statistics. The 2020 RSPCA statistics mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe are more up to date than the ones I have, but were potentially affected by the pandemic. In 2019, the RSPCA investigated more than 130,000 complaints of cruelty against animals and secured 1,678 convictions. Any incidence of cruelty against animals is too much, therefore I will be supporting the Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow the very powerful and amusing speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). I will not be able to do anything near as good in the brief moments I will speak for in this debate.
I just want to start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for bringing forward the Bill, which is very important. We are a nation of animal lovers. Those are not just words. We are not just talking the talk; we are walking the walk in terms of the legislation we have been bringing forward on animal welfare protections. The Bill forms a part of a whole suite of measures that we have been bringing in. I am also an animal lover. We have two cats at home, Ragnar and Frazzle, both of whom are rescue cats. I suspect that if Frazzle is watching today—I would be amazed if he is—he might have some concerns about the measures being proposed, because he is certainly not an animal lover when it comes to the amount of mice he brings home on a regular basis, so I hope there will be exclusions for cat violence in the legislation.
It is completely right that we have a range of approaches to enforcement and not the very binary approach pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford. A variety of different measures will help people to do the right thing and support for improved animal welfare will be absolutely superb.
I just want to finish by doing a big shout out to two organisations I have a huge amount of time for. First, the work of Cats Protection in supporting cats and re-homing rescue cats is absolutely brilliant. Secondly, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, rather confusingly given the name, also has a site in my constituency. I thank it for its work on supporting the welfare of animals.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on bringing forward the Bill. His passion for animal welfare is well known and admired across the House. I also associate myself with all the comments about Sir David Amess. It is absolutely right that he would have been here contributing today. We are so sorry not to have him here with us.
This is very clearly a Government Bill—it was referenced in the Government’s action plan for animal welfare—so I will treat it as such. Some of my comments will be directed as much at the Minister and the Department as at the hon. Member for Romford.
To some extent, this is a puzzling Bill. It is really about penalty notices as much as it is about animals. To see that, one just has to read the long title of the Bill, which is to
“Make provision for and in connection with the giving of penalty notices for certain offences relating to animals and animal products.”
That says to me—I am not a lawyer, but it says it to my legal friends with whom I am consulting—that this is as much about the legal system as it is about animals. I disagree with some of the comments by Government Members. I do not think it is particularly well-drafted. When I first read the Bill my worry was that there was a danger that some of the offences in Labour’s groundbreaking Animal Welfare Act 2006—Labour Members are very, very proud of the 2006 Act—were at risk of being downgraded to the level of a parking ticket.
I listened very closely to the hon. Member for Romford’s speech and I am reassured. I see what he is trying to do. I have also spoken to the Minister and she has reassured me that that is not the aim of the exercise. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) to her place. As I said to her colleague the other day, the shadow Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team is flattered that the Government have felt the need to bring in reinforcements. I wish her well in her role, which is a fantastic job to be doing. I believe her reassurance, which is why we will not be opposing the Bill. I know how Fridays work. It has happened to me before. We know how to do it, but we are not going to.
To be fair, this is not just about the hon. Member’s reassurances or the Minister’s reassurances. In their briefings, both the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home expressed support for the use of fixed-penalty notices to tackle low-level breaches of animal welfare law. That is the crunch of the question that I asked myself about the Bill: how we are sure that it is about low-level breaches.
I am not sure the Government entirely helped themselves in the way the explanatory notes set out the context for the Bill. Anyone coming to them afresh would read through them and not be entirely sure, without the benefit of the hon. Member for Romford’s speech, that they had understood it. I would have thought the starting point would have been the action plan for animal welfare, which sets out the context. In fact, the explanatory notes immediately attack CAP cross-compliance. I just say to Conservative Members: get over it. Labour Members have gotten over it. We are looking ahead. We do not have to keep looking back and replaying the arguments of the past.
If Conservative Members are congratulating themselves on how animal friendly they are, I suggest they visit their local pig farms, if they have them in their part of the country. I went a few weeks ago, and what I saw was very sad. They are overstocked, and the tail biting and aggressive behaviour, and so on, is awful for the animals—it is also pretty awful for the people working with them. I ask hon. Members to reflect, as that is perhaps one of the unforeseen consequences of recent changes. We have to find a solution, because there is nothing animal friendly about 6,000 pigs being culled on farms, with possibly more to come.
There is an attempt to link the Bill with CAP cross-compliance, which we all know has had problems—no one is saying it was a particularly successful system, although these things are not as easy as they might look. We might reflect on that. The way the Bill is framed, those cross-compliance issues have to be related to animals. Having read the explanatory notes, that is not entirely clear.
These are the kinds of things we will be exploring in Committee, because there is a concern about the lack of clarity. The positive spin is that this Bill is an extra tool in the toolbox to aid compliance, which is absolutely fine. If the Bill were to replace the penalties for quite serious offences with the equivalent of a parking ticket, that is not fine. Leaving the choice on where that line is drawn to officials and Ministers through obscure secondary legislation is also not fine.
Although animal welfare organisations support the Bill, their concerns can be discerned in some of the briefings. Battersea says the “beyond all reasonable doubt” criterion that an enforcement authority has to satisfy before issuing a fixed penalty notice could have unforeseen consequences for offences that currently require lower levels of proof. It rightly says that the guidance will be critical to ensuring that there is some uniformity of practice. I welcome the reporting proposals, but the reporting needs to be uniform so it is clear to enforcers when fixed penalty notices are the appropriate tool to use.
Similarly, the RSPCA says
“more discussion will be needed when secondary legislation is laid on which areas will be prioritised and what offences will be covered.”
In my view that is too late. There needs to be more clarity in the Bill, and the Minister has indicated that she appreciates that and that it will be considered in Committee. Indeed, she might wish to consider whether the entire system needs some oversight and whether there is a role for an animal welfare commissioner, as Labour has suggested.
It is perhaps worth asking some basic questions about why the current system does not work, or about the extent to which it does or does not work. Where is the empirical evidence? Has the research been done? If so, can we see it? How many prosecutions have been brought under the various legislation? How many were successful, and what was the effect? How much recidivism has there been?
A cynic might wonder whether this Bill should actually be called the “complete failure of the Tory criminal justice system, (attempt to clear the backlog)” Bill. Although some might see that as unfair, it is the Opposition’s job to ask questions, and we will. If we do not get the answers, we will draw our own conclusions.
We all want the legislation we pass in this place to work, and Sir David and I had exactly this discussion in the Chamber some months ago on his attempt to address the long-standing, vexed issue of tethered horses. He made the good point that if Acts of Parliament are not properly enforced, we find ourselves having the same debate 17 or 20 years later. It is crucial that we get it right.
I am happy to give the Minister the benefit of the doubt. I am not entirely convinced but, provided proper safeguards are introduced in Committee—I am sure I have her word on that—we can go forward together.
I am proud to support this Bill, as everybody has said today. I pay tribute to every comment about who is not here but should be.
To lighten the mood somewhat, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). He is a champion for all animal rights issues. I have not been home for two weeks, because last weekend my family came to London and I was checking out his wonderful work as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums with a visit to London zoo. He is right about the magnificent work and conservation that our zoos do in this country. I commend my hon. Friend on his handling of Vivienne, but he also had quite a job handling my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois). [Laughter.] He took his time.
It is fitting that we are talking about this Bill in the same week as the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. As we have been mentioning people’s pets, I cannot fail to highlight my pets briefly. There are my two children’s rescue guinea pigs. If Members are given the option of rescuing guinea pigs, do take it. The only use they serve is keeping the grass very short. The other pet is a rescue cat clearly named after the greatest guitarist of all time, Clapton. His rescue name was Eric.
I am delighted to reinforce our position that we are a global champion for animal rights. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) said, it is worrying that so many complaints are made about cruelty to animals. In particular, there is the statistic that every 30 seconds, someone raises a call to the RSPCA in England and Wales. I hope the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford will start to address that. It is a bridging Bill, so it will do that. It is between where custodial sentences are not sufficient and crimes at the other end of the scale where the Bill will begin to take effect.
I have been asked to keep my speech short, but I mention that in North Norfolk, we are clearly an area of enormous animal lovers. You are somewhat in the minority if you are not found on the beach on a Sunday morning with a lead in hand walking the dog. For that reason, I welcome the pet theft taskforce launched in the summer. Many of us in rural constituencies have had huge numbers of animal thefts reported over the pandemic. The Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs all coming together to try to tackle this issue is very welcome. Having constituents too scared to go out and walk their dog for fear of having it stolen is a sad reflection on society. I am very proud and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford enormously for the work he is doing to bridge the gap and penalise those who do such a dreadful thing in society as harming animals.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on bringing forward this vital private Member’s Bill today. He has been a long-time campaigner for animal welfare and rights throughout his two decades in this place, and I am proud to support him today.
We must be clear that there is no place in our society for those who abuse and mistreat animals. I know that view is shared by many of my constituents in Darlington. Now that we are free of EU regulations, we are making the most of our ability to strengthen animal welfare laws, increase penalties and stop this heinous crime. I know that is a desire of my hon. Friend, and I know it was a cause close to the heart of our colleague Sir David Amess. I place on record my sadness at the loss of our dear friend. As has already been said, Sir David would have been here today, ecstatic at Vivienne’s victory.
My household is made complete by my three girls: Clemmie, my nine-year-old Jack Russell; Peppy, my seven-year-old Labrador; and Ebony, my four-year-old Labrador—each unique and all providing incomparable special companionship to me and members of my family, particularly my partner’s late grandmother and now my mother-in-law, who lives with us.
I am particularly glad to learn that my hon. Friend’s Bill has the endorsement and whole-hearted support of the RSPCA. It is welcome that the chief executive, Chris Sherwood, has highlighted the impact and effectiveness it would have to quickly combat the suffering of farmed animals, horses and animals kept in zoos. This Bill is another step on the journey to becoming one of the best countries in the world for animals, and I am delighted to support it.
I rise to give my wholehearted support to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for this timely and important Bill, which will close a really important gap. It is not right that, in effect, the two options available for those committing animal cruelty are a slap on the wrist and a bit of guidance or a prison sentence. To introduce fines that vary depending on the criminality involved would be a fundamentally good thing, and I am pleased to hear a lot of support for the Bill from across the House.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) for her entertaining tales about her own menagerie. One thing that she said really struck me: pets are people in her household. It is exactly the same for me. I live alone, but I do not because I have my rescue puppy, Carter. I got him from the Dogs Trust in Sadberge, which was fantastic in how it handled the entire adoption process. I adopted him as a puppy, but adopting a terrier puppy is always difficult and came with some challenges.
I will share an anecdote about my little dog being a little bit naughty. Polling day is supposed to be as stress-free as it possibly can be. We all know that that is never going to happen, but my stress levels were massively heightened at one in the afternoon when someone came to the door of one of the houses we were using as a committee room. The door opened, and my puppy Carter was straight out, like a shot, through the gate and on to a main road—an A road. However, I must commend him for playing his part in tackling obesity by making me run a mile and a half down the road to retrieve him before he got hit by traffic. Thankfully, it was not a sad tale on polling day; it turned out fine. I absolutely told him off, burst into tears and gave him a big cuddle because, as my hon. Friend said, pets are people, and my little boy is definitely a valued member of my household. Once again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and give his Bill my wholehearted support.
I associate myself with the comments made by many hon. Members across the House about Sir David Amess. I know from speaking to him when he was in the Chamber that he was generous to Back Benchers such as me. He will be sadly missed. I am so glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) were able to pay extra tribute to him yesterday with Vivienne’s victory.
I have met and remember Carter, the small and very active puppy who belongs to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison). However, today I am thinking in particular of Cookie, my family dog, who was on my election campaign in 2019 but sadly died last year. The Government have done a huge amount on animal welfare and this Bill would go another step in that direction. In the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill that is passing through the House, we are looking to tackle puppy smuggling and attacks on livestock, ban live animals for export and clamp down on issues around primates. One of the most excellent things about this Bill is that it treads the same middle ground on fine levels as other legislation that is going through the House.
I also associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) about pet theft, which has been a massive issue in my constituency. It is great to see the Government doing something about that.
Finally, I pay tribute to the great work of Farplace Animal Rescue in Weardale, which has centres across the country, and Westway Vets, which has done a huge amount to push me to support measures in this area. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford continues his great work. Perhaps microchipping could be the next animal welfare campaign that he could really push on.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on introducing the Bill. He rightly praised the late Sir David Amess for his passion on animal rights issues, but we should also recognise his commitment. He speaks with passion on a number of subjects, but it is on animal rights and animal welfare that he speaks with the most passion of all. I am sure that he is proud to introduce the Bill, which follows in a long line of measures introduced by the Government.
The Government have a good recent record on animal welfare issues, from banning wild animals on travelling circuses to cracking down on live animal exports, passing the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021—that Act is popular with my constituents—and introducing the pet theft taskforce and the pet abduction offence that has arisen from that. Pet abduction is of great concern among many constituents who have written to me. This Bill should be seen as following in that tradition. As others have explained, with the cross-compliance system under the common agricultural policy being wound down as CAP payments are being wound down, there is an enforcement gap between issuing the advice and pursuing a criminal prosecution, which can allow offences to slip through the net. This Bill will fill that gap. It is great to see that in this House we are able to realise some of the benefits of Brexit by introducing a simpler and more efficient system, and I look forward to this Bill coming on to the statute book very shortly.
As was the case for everybody, my first and pleasurable task is to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for introducing this important Bill and for the passion and commitment he has shown on this issue, not only today, but for decades—many Members have referred to that. He has been concerned with caring for and looking after, and I, too, think that there is no more fitting tribute than that picture we saw this morning of him with Vivienne in his arms, which was just beautiful. I hope that our friend Sir David Amess is looking down and smiling on two individuals of whom he could not have been fonder.
Penalty notices will be an important tool in encouraging animal keepers to follow the rules and discourage them from committing more serious offences. The Bill is meant to be there in the middle for the redirection of behaviour, as has been so ably explained. It has the Government’s full support and we will do all we can to make sure that its passage through the Commons and Lords is as collaborative as possible, because I agree with my hon. Friend that getting legislation right is what we are all here to do.
I pay tribute to all those who contributed today: my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Darren Henry), for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker), for Darlington (Peter Gibson), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and for Gedling (Tom Randall). I think that in only two contributions were we not shown that we are a complete nation of pet lovers, in not only the way we articulate it, but in the fact that we spend our lives rescuing and loving those four-legged friends, who, in the main, behave, Andrew notwithstanding. I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Poppy, Godfrey, Andrew, Geoffrey, Magic, Ninja, Frazzle, Clapton, Clemmie, Peppy, Ebony, Carter, Cookie and any I may have missed. I think the guinea pig has a hard time and it did not actually get named. I would love to add to that list my special Wellington, who is at home with a bit of a lampshade on at the moment.
Some 44% of us in this country keep a pet, and in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs we understand the importance of that. We also understand that farming is more than just a job, as my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North pointed out, and the majority of our farmers could be no better examples of people who love our animals. I am proud that this Government will continue to elevate our reputation for animal health and welfare in this country. We have a long tradition of protecting animals, as has been said. The UK was the first country in the world to pass legislation on this, with the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822. Recently, this House paid tribute to Sir David, but I just wish to reference the fact that he campaigned so diligently for animal welfare, as it was so important to him. He was responsible for introducing the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988 and if this Bill goes forward to Committee, we could discuss how it might help take things forward in that area—my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) mentioned the issue only yesterday. It is precisely the sort of area we may wish to introduce this penalty notice in.
Sir David also campaigned to stop the testing of domestic products on animals, tackled the illegal wildlife trade and fought to end puppy farming. If he were here today, he would be joining this debate, with his humour. It is such a sad loss that we do not have him here.
We are continuing in the vein of innovating with legislation on this matter. Earlier this year, we published the action plan for animal welfare, setting out our aims and ambitions across the piece. In spring 2022, we will launch the animal health and welfare pathway, starting with a fully funded vet visit eligible to all farmers. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 gained Royal Assent this year, as has been mentioned during the debate. We are planning further improvements to the lives of animals in a number of other areas, including setting up a pet theft taskforce. However, it strikes me that many areas are beating us to it. Through the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill that was debated in this place on Monday, we have begun steps to ban primates as pets. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford also spoke on that Bill. We will certainly also make good on the manifesto commitments to introduce compulsory microchipping for cats, and to address the issue of excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening.
Robust enforcement for animal health and welfare touches the hearts and minds not only of individuals in this place, but of each and every constituent we have, no matter where we sit in this House. The Bill will fundamentally reform the way in which we enforce animal health and welfare across all farmed animals and kept animals in England. It will strengthen and safeguard animal health and welfare, building on the skeleton of the existing domestic enforcement framework. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romford said, there are currently few options beyond prosecution or that guidance, so we are widening the suite of available enforcement tools.
This will be one of the first opportunities to reform how we enforce our high animal health and welfare standards for farm animals now that we are outside the EU and as we move away from cross compliance, hopefully supporting our continued position as a world leader in animal health and welfare. The new system will use a mix of sanctions, advice and guidance to deliver high domestic animal health and welfare standards, thereby enhancing productivity, stopping the spread of disease and so on, and giving confidence to consumers and international trading partners.
Let me turn to a couple of comments made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). He asked whether there will be proper safeguards. We can look at the numbers through the reporting mechanism. I agree with him that more discussion needs to take place, and it will. We are committed to working with non-governmental organisations, relevant industries and enforcers pre-consultation to identify appropriate priority offences.
Does the Minister have any views on to what extent this is an issue on which we can lead the world? We are proud of our high animal welfare standards in the UK and we have a new global outlook. Are there opportunities to influence the rest of the world for the better on this issue?
It is always better to lead in areas of good behaviour than to follow. Perhaps if we work together, we can find ourselves in that sweet spot where we have the right suite of tools to ensure that where there is inappropriate behaviour, we are firm; where there is inappropriate behaviour at a low level because of a lack of knowledge, we can guide; and where there is something in between, we can use my hon. Friend the Member for Romford’s penalty notice to ensure that we can redirect that behaviour. We will be identifying priority offences to establish clear and effective guidance, and to ensure that serious offences continue to go through the court, which I think was the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford made to me yesterday and on the Floor of the House today.
Let me reiterate the Government’s unwavering support for this legislation. I give my commitment that I will do all that I can as the Bill proceeds through the House.
Before handing over to the Member in charge, may I say that the spirit of Sir David Amess has filled the Chamber today throughout this debate? I have no doubt whatsoever that had the tragedy not befallen Sir David, he would have been here today: he would have spoken and it would have been both caring and comical in equal measure. We miss him.
This is a great day because we have new legislation that will enhance animal welfare in our country, but it is sad because, as so many Members have mentioned, we are missing the greatest champion of animal welfare, Sir David Amess. We do miss him, but he will be looking down, giving us his support today, and Vivienne’s victory yesterday is an enormous tribute to him and everything he stood for in championing animal welfare in his entire time in Parliament.
I thank all hon. Members for their incredible support and very kind remarks today. I will not mention everybody, but it is lovely to know that the work of not only myself but all Members over the years to get to where we are today in being such a world leader in animal welfare has been acknowledged. There was a time when animal welfare was not on anyone’s agenda very much, but today it is a cross-party thing: all of us in this Chamber are absolutely committed to the highest standards of animal welfare we can possibly attain.
My Bill is going to bridge the gap in respect of those who do not care for animals in the way they should. It is not just about cruelty, but about mismanagement, things that are missed, and dealing with things in a proportionate way. I am very pleased that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) has been reassured and has acknowledged that this is a good piece of legislation; we can amend it in Committee and look at ways to improve it, and I know the Minister is committed to doing that as well, but I hope it will unite all of us. I say that because almost all our constituents are animal lovers; we are a nation of animal lovers. So let us be true to them and true to the animals in our care, and pass this legislation and work together cross-party to ensure that we continue in the United Kingdom to be the world leader in animal welfare.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).