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Pet Abduction Bill

Volume 748: debated on Friday 19 April 2024

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Before we begin, I remind Members of the differences between Report and Third Reading. The scope of the debate on Report is the new clauses and amendments that have been selected. The scope of the Third Reading debate to follow will be the whole Bill as it stands after Report. Members may wish to consider those points and then decide at which stage or stages they want to try to catch my eye.

New Clause 1


“(1) The Secretary of State must publish guidance on the enforcement of the provisions of this Act.

(2) Before issuing guidance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult the Crown Prosecution Service.”—(Sir Christopher Chope.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “if” insert “without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that an offence is only committed if the acts complained of are shown to have been made without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse, so that it is not necessary for the person alleged to have committed the offence to prove their innocence.

Amendment 2, page 1, line 3, after “to” insert “permanently”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only acts where the dog is permanently removed from lawful control would fall under the offence.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 3, leave out “any person” and insert “its keeper”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only where a dog is removed from the lawful control of its registered keeper falls under the offence, rather than removal from any person.

Amendment 4, page 1, line 5, after “to” insert “permanently”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only acts where the dog is detained so as to permanently keep it would fall under the offence.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 5, leave out from “of” to end of line 6 and insert “its keeper”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only where a dog is detained so as to keep it from its registered keeper falls under the offence.

Amendment 6, page 1, leave out lines 21 to 23.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 7, page 2, line 16, leave out “(3)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 6.

Amendment 8, page 2, line 30, at end insert—

“(aa) references to a dog are only to a dog which—

(i) has been implanted with a microchip pursuant to the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023; or

(ii) has been certified as exempt from such an implant under those Regulations”.

The above Regulations provide for the compulsory microchipping of dogs and the recording of each dog’s identity and its keeper’s contact details on a database. This amendment ensures that the offence of dog abduction can only be made in respect of dogs which have been microchipped (or are certified as exempt) in accordance with those Regulations and will thereby incentivise keepers to comply with the rules about microchipping.

Amendment 9, page 2, line 34, at end insert—

“(aa) “keeper” has the meaning given to it under the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023”.

This amendment ensures that “keeper” is intended to have the same meaning as under the specified Regulations.

Amendment 10, page 2, line 39, leave out clause 2.

This amendment removes the offence of cat abduction.

Amendment 11, in clause 3, page 3, line 36, leave out “or 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 12, page 4, line 5, leave out “or 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 13, page 4, line 8, leave out “or 2(5)”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 14, page 4, line 38, leave out “or 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 15, page 5, line 6, leave out “and 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 19, page 5, line 6, leave out

“come into force in relation to England”.

and insert

“, so far as they extend to England and Wales, come into force”.

This is a technical amendment to ensure that it is clear how the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 operates in so far as those clauses extend to England and Wales (rather than just in relation to England).

Amendment 21, page 5, line 7, at end insert

“provided that the Secretary of State has fulfilled the requirement to publish the guidance required by section [Guidance]”.

Amendment 16, page 5, line 11, leave out “and 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 20, page 5, line 11, leave out “in relation” and insert

“so far as they extend”.

This is a technical amendment to ensure that the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 is dealt with in the same way throughout clause 6.

Before I begin to address the issues, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I, on behalf of myself and many others, express our condolences to Mr Speaker, who I know is unable to be present today because he is attending his father’s funeral? I had the privilege of serving with Doug Hoyle in this House from 1983 until 1992, and he was an exemplar for Back-Bench activity during that time. Our sympathies are very much with Mr Speaker.

Turning to the amendments, and particularly new clause 1, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, with whom I was privileged to have a meeting last week to discuss my amendments. They will have a better understanding of the way I work than quite a lot of other colleagues. I am pleased that as a result of that meeting there was essentially an agreement—an acceptance—that we must try to link communications about the appalling incidents of pet abduction or theft to the need for people to microchip their loved animals, particularly dogs and cats. In the course of that discussion, it was pointed out by the Minister of State that before the Bill is to become law, it will be necessary for guidance to be discussed with the Crown Prosecution Service regarding exactly what the enforcement provisions would be. I hope that in responding to this debate, my right hon. Friend will expand on that point.

Following that discussion, I thought I would table a new clause about guidance, so that any references in the debate could include references to the specific issue of guidance that would be issued following the enactment of the Bill. I would like that guidance to set out clearly the position for people who do not microchip their cats and dogs. Microchipping of dogs is mandatory and has been since 2010, but we know that something between 5% and 10% of the 9.5 million dogs in this country are not microchipped. In early June, it will be mandatory for all cats to be microchipped, and probably about 70% have been microchipped by now.

I hope that we can send out a message, in discussing this important legislation, that if someone does not have their cat or dog microchipped, they should not expect the law to rush to their assistance in the event of their cat or dog being abducted. Apart from anything else, if they complain to the police that their dog or cat has been abducted and it has not been microchipped, it is all the more difficult to identify it, search for it and so on. On that great principle of English equity, it seems to me that if someone seeks the protection of the law, they should come with clean hands. In this context, that means they should be able to say that they have complied with the law in respect of the pets for which they have responsibility and have microchipped them. I hope people will realise that if they do not—I hope that the Government will point this out in the guidance—have their pets microchipped, they will not be able to take advantage of the benefits and special provisions in this legislation.

My hon. Friend is making a fair point that if people want help when their dogs have been stolen, they should have them properly chipped in accordance with the regulations. I do not think puppies are included in that. It is important that we think about the pet owners for whom we are trying to get this Bill through. I know that he is not seeking in any way to block it, but these people would almost certainly have complied with the law, and I understand that the amendment would make it far more difficult for the police. While I understand the sentiments, I hope he will not press this to a Division.

I will hold my counsel on that until I hear the Minister’s response. If I said now that I agree with the Minister before he has even said anything, I would be closing off an important option. Despite the temptation from my right hon. Friend, I will not do that. She herself has said to me in private that she thinks there is a lot to be said for what I am trying to achieve on microchipping. I have a specific amendment linking microchipping to the text of the Bill. The guidance is perhaps another way of achieving the same objective.

My right hon. Friend reminds me that when the Bill came out of Committee, it was originally put on the list of Bills to be considered without debate on a Friday, on the basis that everything that could have been said about it had already been said and it should now proceed directly to the statute book. It was with wry amusement that I saw that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), the promotor of the Bill, has now taken advantage of the opportunity provided by having a debate on Report to put down her own amendments to the Bill. She could not have done that if her original intention of having the Bill go through all remaining stages on the nod had been implemented. I hope she will thank me for that.

Since the Bill was first produced, the Government have brought forward some important new measures related to microchipping to deal with the problems of the conflicting or complementary microchipping databases. The pet theft taskforce was commissioned to look into these issues of pet abduction, and it strongly recommended that something be done to ensure that there is one consistent database for microchipping that is accessible to vets, the police and local authorities. I was pleased to see that the Government have issued guidance, and that there will potentially be new regulations, on that. When we met, the Minister told me that that will come into force before the end of this year. Hopefully that will make the use of the microchip database easier and reduce the costs of enforcement.

Obviously, the priority that a Bill or an issue has in the House depends largely on the views of right hon. and hon. Members. The Government obviously believe that pet abduction is an important issue, as indeed it is, but we need to keep it in context with the burden on the enforcement authorities of bringing in new laws and, with that, new penalties and essentially new pressure for prosecutions. That is why the guidance will be important.

The latest figures that I have show that in 2020, with 9.6 million dogs in the country, there were only 2,000 reports of dog theft. By contrast, the latest figures show that in England and Wales in 2022-23, 130,521 motor vehicle thefts were reported—one every five minutes. We therefore need to keep the issue in context. There seems to be an exponential increase in the incidence of motor vehicle theft and an inability of the police and the prosecuting authorities to investigate thoroughly and prosecute the perpetrators. The number of motor vehicle thefts being resolved by the prosecution and enforcement authorities seems to be derisorily low. I therefore do not think we should have guidance that essentially says to the police that dealing with the potential prosecution or investigation of a theft of an unmicrochipped dog or cat should take precedence over trying to find the perpetrators—often gangs—who are stealing motor vehicles to order off the streets, and in some cases even from people’s garages or drives.

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Perhaps he might consider that the instances of motor vehicles being stolen to order are a symptom of organised crime, just as we recognise that pet theft is now a key contributor to organised crime.

I accept that behind the incidence of pet theft there is organised crime, but in the latest figures that we have, that organised crime has resulted in only some 2,000 incidents of dog theft, compared with more than 130,000 incidents of motor vehicle theft, many of which have been stolen to order. I accept that some of the pet theft we are experiencing is because pets of increasing value are being stolen to order, so I am not saying that we should not deal with that; I am saying that we should ensure that the guidance issued reflects the public priorities and does not divert too much police resource away to concentrate on pet theft rather than other crimes such as motor vehicle theft.

That is the background to new clause 1, which would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the enforcement of the provisions of the Act. I hope that in responding, my hon. Friend the Minister will say that he will do that anyway, so there will be no need to include this provision in the Bill.

In our discussion, one of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was that he would prefer the Bill to go through the House totally unamended. I suspect, however, that that aspiration has been abandoned, because the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, has tabled her own amendments. They seem perfectly reasonable, but that would mean the Bill would be amended in this place. If the Bill is to be amended, one or two of her amendments could be a complemented by other amendments, should they be necessary. In that respect there has been a development since our meeting, when nobody declared a need for the Bill to be amended. My hon. Friend will speak in due course.

I will speak briefly to some of my other points. The Bill, as drafted, states:

“A person (A) commits the offence of dog abduction if they—

(a) take a dog so as to remove it from the lawful control of any person,


(b) detain a dog so as to keep it from the lawful control of any person who is entitled to…it”.

It is only after having been arrested for that offence that a person could take advantage of the defence, under clause 1(2), that before the alleged abduction the pet was living in the same household as that person.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As the House will be aware, very serious events have taken place overnight in the middle east, with Israel apparently striking targets in Iran. That could lead to further, very serious escalation. As a former armed forces Minister and now a member of the Defence Committee, may I take this opportunity to say that it is important, as the House is fortuitously sitting today, that a Minister from either the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Ministry of Defence comes to the House as soon as possible to make a statement on exactly what we know about the attacks and what the Government believe the implications might be? Madam Deputy Speaker, have you or the Speaker’s Office had any indication that the Government intend to make such a statement, and, if so, at what time?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he says, he is an ex-armed forces Minister. There has been no indication either to myself or to the Speaker’s Office, so far as I am aware, that the Government intend to make a statement. Certainly, at the conference meeting this morning there was no indication that the Government intended to make a statement, but Government Front Benchers will have heard his point.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not for one moment wish to push my luck, but under the circumstances I believe that a statement is very important. As you know, the Government can interrupt business at any time to make a statement. Such is the importance of these events—and I notified the office of the Leader of the House that I would make this point of order—that I believe, before the House rises this afternoon, a Minister should come to the House to tell us everything that the Government know about what is going on. I will leave it at that.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his further point of order. I note that he has informed the Leader of the House of his strong views on the matter, so I think he is right that at this stage we leave that there.

I take it from the ruling you have just made, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, unfortunately, there was no application for an urgent question on the matter that my right hon. Friend raises. If there had been such an application, in the circumstances it is likely to have been granted. Perhaps the Government, when thinking about whether they will make a statement, should take into account that so far they have been very lucky that there was not an application for an urgent question in the required timescale. They were probably prepared for such an eventuality, so it would be reasonable for the Government to come along and volunteer a statement, as my right hon. Friend has requested.

You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker, to emphasise the importance of the Bill we are discussing. This is not the only occasion when, compared with what is happening in the rest of the world, the legislation we are discussing seems to many people to be relatively unimportant, but pet abduction is a very important subject for those who are directly affected by it.

Before the point of order, I was seeking to make the point that people should not be charged or arrested for dog abduction if it is clear at the time of the initial investigation that, at the time of the taking or detention of the dog, the person who took or detained the dog, the person from whom lawful control was taken and the dog all lived together in the same household. Why should a household in that situation be faced with having to defend themselves against arrest and prosecution by using this defence? Surely it would be better and fairer to require that someone only commits an offence if they abduct a dog without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse. That is the background to my putting forward new clause 1. We increasingly put the cart before the horse in accusing people of crimes and then forcing them to defend themselves against the allegations, instead of requiring the prosecuting authorities to look into possible defences or excuses before making an arrest or instituting a prosecution.

Amendment 2 is designed to test out whether an offence is committed if a dog is not permanently removed from someone’s lawful control. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to that.

Amendment 3 is designed to ensure that an offence is committed only where a dog is removed from the lawful control of its registered keeper, rather than where it is taken from any other person. I know it will be said that if someone is a dog walker or running some kennels and is not the registered keeper, the offence of pet abduction should equally apply, but in those circumstances the more serious offence of theft should be applied under the Theft Act 1968. Again, that would emphasise the distinction between somebody who is a registered keeper and whose details are set out on the microchip database, and another person to whom the dog has been given for safe keeping, for whatever reason.

Amendment 4 would test out the distinction between the requirement of permanence where someone is depriving an owner of their dog, which in essence comes under the Theft Act 1968, and the less stringent requirements under this Bill. Amendment 5 is a similar amendment to ensure that only where a dog is detained so as to keep it from its registered owner would there be an offence. Amendment 6 is consequential on amendment 1, and amendment 7 is consequential on amendment 6.

That brings me to amendment 8, which deals with the key point that caused me to get engaged on Report, because we have a great opportunity to link this new offence of pet abduction to the microchipping requirements. As I understand it, there are very few prosecutions for people keeping dogs or cats without complying with the microchipping requirements. The microchipping requirement in respect of cats does not become law until early June, but that law is already well in place in respect of dogs. As with all these things, there is a danger that the Government make regulations or legislate and then no proper enforcement takes place. Why, after 10-plus years, are probably the best part of 1 million dogs that should be microchipped still not? What is being done about that? Why is nothing being done about it? My amendment provides an opportunity to get the Government to explain why microchipping is a good idea but only for 90%, not 100%, of dog owners.

Amendment 9 would give the word “keeper” the same meaning in the Bill as it has under the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023. Again, that is a sensible and modest amendment. Amendment 10 is a probing amendment to tease out from the Government what is happening in dealing with cat abduction. When they set up their taskforce, it recommended that dog abduction should become the subject of the pet abduction legislation and that at some future stage references to cats and other pets could be made. When I think of other pets, I think particularly of our old next-door neighbour—sadly, she has died—who was a great lover of tortoises and had lots of them. She was the subject of a cruel theft of her tortoises and I hoped that in due course tortoises would come within the scope of this legislation, as they can do under the provisions of clause 3.

I declare an interest, as a cat owner—my cat is called Hetty. Part of the reason that cats have been provided for specifically in the Bill, a move I supported, was the excellent campaign run by Cats Protection. The briefing I have received from Battersea shows that there were 379 pet cat thefts in 2022 . I am not sure of the equivalent figure for tortoises, but I suspect it was a lot smaller.

I suspect that the incidence of theft of tortoises is much higher, if we look at the percentage of thefts in the relative populations. My hon. Friend says there were only 379 cases of cat theft, and my understanding is that there are 10.5 million cats, so if we work out the percentage of cat owners who find that they have been deprived of their cat, I suspect that it is much lower than the percentage of tortoise owners who find that their tortoise has been abducted.

However, I think what my hon. Friend’s point shows is that, in the context of 10.5 million cats, 379 thefts is hardly a really serious issue. He is a cat owner; I am not—my family are dog lovers, but the two are not necessarily incompatible. I recognise the importance of microchipping cats. Obviously, this legislation will not get on to the statute book until after the microchipping of cats has become mandatory, and until there are criminal penalties if that is not complied with.

I am proud to have visited the premises of the Cats Protection League in my constituency, in Ferndown, which is a very important centre for the rehoming of cats, and that is one of the great tasks that that important charity undertakes. I am not against cats, but I tabled this amendment to test the Government’s thinking. The original taskforce set up to look into these issues reached the conclusion that dogs should take precedence, but the Government subsequently gave way because of behind-the-scenes lobbying by interest groups—not as a result of public consultation—and supported the extension of the legislation to cats.

The taskforce’s advice was to start off with dogs and then extend the measures to cats. All I am doing is, in a sense, repeating what the taskforce said. The essence of my amendments 10, 11 and so on is that they would enable cats to be included at a later stage under the provisions of clause 3, thereby bringing the Bill into conformity with the recommendations of the pet abduction taskforce. If the Government do not want to do that—I understand why they may not—then so be it, but I still think that is worth exploring in debate. That is why I tabled the amendments, including amendment 13, which is consequential on the removal of clause 2, as are amendments 14 and 15.

The next amendment on the amendment paper is amendment 19, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, who promotes the Bill. She says:

“This is a technical amendment to ensure that it is clear how the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 operates in so far as those clauses extend to England and Wales (rather than just in relation to England).”

Who could possibly object to that? However, when Back Benchers bring forward legislation and do not get it drafted by Government lawyers, there is always something faulty with it, and Ministers delight in saying at the Dispatch Box, “We agree with the intent, but the wording is inadequate.” The question I throw out for debate and discussion is this: why did the Government lawyers who drafted the Bill for my hon. Friend not get it right in the first place? Why did they leave it until so late in the day before insisting that this amendment, and Amendment 20, be included in the Bill? When she addresses her amendments, I hope that she can explain the background to that situation. It shows that instead of being all-knowing and beyond criticism, Government drafters have some of the same frailties as Members of the House when trying to draft legislation, even with all the expertise that the Public Bill Office is able to bring to bear when assisting us in that task.

Amendment 21 links back to my new clause 1, which would make the commencement of the legislation contingent on the necessary guidance having been issued. From discussions I had with the ministerial team, it seems that is the intent, but the amendment would put that in the Bill. Amendment 16 is consequential, and I have already referred to amendment 20, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West.

That is a quick run-through of the amendments. I hope it will generate a proper debate and discussion, and enable people who take an interest in the matter to become more familiar with the issues around microchipping, including the importance of ensuring that cats and dogs are microchipped, the burden on the enforcement authorities, and the deterrence that microchipping provides against those who are minded to engage in the theft of pets. I hope those issues can be shared more widely across the country. There is a lot more detail behind the Bill, but there is no need for me to go into any more of that at the moment. If the Government cannot accept new clause 1, I hope they will be able to provide undertakings that its measures will be implemented voluntarily.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for passing on his condolences to Mr Speaker. As he said, Doug Hoyle was a great parliamentarian and a very kind person, who was always there with a ready smile and good advice to all of us. I pass on our condolences to Mr Speaker from the whole House.

I am delighted to have another opportunity to speak about this important Bill, and to speak to amendments 19 and 20, which are minor technical amendments in my name. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for his interest in the matter. I hope he will forgive me when I say that his amendments seem to fall into two broad groups: laudable concern about microchipping; and legal issues about the offence as drafted.

I will start with my hon. Friend’s amendments concerning microchipping. It is very clear that he has a great passion for ensuring that keepers microchip their pets. I am sure that we can all get behind that as a general point; that is a very responsible way for dog and cat owners to behave. Microchipping is a safe and reliable way of identifying animals. Whether they are found as strays, or whether, in keeping with the topic of this debate, they are recovered having been abducted, the microchip should be a lifeline to help them get home. That is obviously good for the animal and good for the keeper.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s wishes to ensure that we are more responsible and that we encourage microchipping, although I do not agree with his trying to lever those principles into the Bill. The microchipping of dogs has been compulsory in England since 2016, nine years ago. It has also been compulsory in Northern Ireland since 2012. As he rightly points out, microchipping has been a success story: around 90% of dogs in the UK are already microchipped. There is also good evidence that microchipping works. The Government’s recent post-implementation review of the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 concluded that the introduction of the regulations had increased microchipping and reunification rates, with obvious benefits for animal welfare and pet owners.

I am delighted that these benefits are soon to be extended to cats, through the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023. I agree with my hon. Friend when he says that all cats over 20 weeks in England will need to be microchipped from 10 June of this year, in a couple of months’ time, before—this is the key point—the Bill comes into effect. Indeed, already, more than 70% of cats in the UK are microchipped; the levels are similar in England and Northern Ireland. The amendments that my hon. Friend seeks to make today are totally unnecessary, because we will be overtaken by events in relation to the microchipping of cats.

The effectiveness of microchipping relies on keepers ensuring that the information on the microchip is up to date. That is what the police and the rescue centres need: accurate information to enable them to reunite the keepers with their animals swiftly and efficiently. As I keep saying, I could not agree with my hon. Friend more on the importance of that, but I do not think that it has anything to do with the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to go into more detail about ways in which he intends to encourage more microchipping.

I understand my hon. Friend’s motivation for his amendments 3, 5, and 8 to 16 to further incentivise compliance with microchipping, but as I have already made clear, there is a high level of compliance already, and further legislation is coming down the track shortly. There is also an effective enforcement mechanism: where a dog in England is found not to have a microchip, police in local authorities have the power to issue a notice. That notice will require the keeper to get that dog microchipped within 21 days. That will apply unless the dog has been certified as exempt from the microchipping, perhaps by reasons relating to health, and it is an offence to fail to comply with that notice. A person would be liable for a fine of up to £500, and the same regulatory regime will soon come into force and apply to cats.

As I have said, these amendments are not necessary, because we will soon be overtaken by events. However, far more importantly, amendments 3, 5, and 8 to 16 would restrict the scope of this Bill considerably. Amendments 10 to 16 would remove cats from the Pet Abduction Bill entirely, as well as removing certain dogs from the scope of the offence. I regard that as a very retrograde step indeed, and one that I would oppose entirely. This legislation has been a long time coming. It has been very carefully considered by the pet theft taskforce, involving three Government Departments, and to seek to undermine it in this way is entirely wrong.

No, I will not give way. My hon. Friend had a very long time to speak and I would like to get through my remarks.

Cats are among the most beloved pets in the UK. There are around 11 million pet cats across the country, and a quarter of households have them. I must declare an immediate interest here, as I have two wonderful cats, Merlin and Marmalade, who are appalled by these amendments, which would take them entirely out of the protection of the Bill.

We heard impassioned stories on Second Reading about the importance of cats to people and the heartache it would cause them if they were lost. We heard about Mrs Landingham, the cat of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), and Liesl von Cat, the cat of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon). We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) about her beloved ragdoll cat and we have of course heard about Cats Protections today.

The “Cat Theft Report 2022” from Pet Theft Awareness shows that cat theft increased by 40% in 2021 and more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2022. This is a growing problem. Cats deserve the same protection as dogs.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. It is a debate, and I wondered if instead of giving percentage increases she could give put a figure on the number of cat thefts.

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that it is small. It is a matter of hundreds, not thousands. The point that I am making is that it is increasing. I do not believe that cats deserve less protection. As we heard on Second Reading from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who is not in her place, Bengal cats, which have a value of thousands of pounds, are among the cats being stolen. We can check Hansard, but from memory they might be worth as much as £5,000. The number of cats may be small, but the value of the cats both to the owner and in actual fact is significant.

My hon. Friend is making a very good point. It is about not just numbers but the emotional impact on families. I declare an interest, as I lost a kitten at the age of four. It still comes into my mind when I think about this Bill and how important it is. It had an emotional impact on my whole family. Numbers do not give the full flavour of the impact on the community across the United Kingdom who are cat lovers as well as dog lovers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. She is absolutely right. Whether someone’s cat is a mongrel, a rescue cat or a stray cat that they have rightly adopted and looked after, or—I have just checked Hansard—a £5,000 Bengal cat, to the owner they are a member of the family, and they deserve the same protection. Merlin and Marmalade deserve exactly the same protection as my precious Cavapoochon, Lottie.

The House of Commons Library helpfully prepares a brief for these debates and it refers to Pet Theft Awareness, which conducted freedom of information requests across a number of forces. Some of the biggest forces, including Greater Manchester and others, did not respond, but taking the figures from the Metropolitan police and applying them at the same percentage rate, we get a figure of around 1,500 cat thefts a year, rather than the 500 or so that were referred to.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that more accurate information to the Chamber and illustrating that we are talking about a figure in the thousands for cats, just as for dogs. If we were to remove cat abduction from the Bill, as per the amendments from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, we would be sending a clear message that cats do not matter as much as dogs. That would be wholly wrong. It would certainly be met with a great deal of resistance from my constituents in Southend West.

While I am on the subject of cats, I would like to correct the record. It has come to my attention that, in Committee on Wednesday 31 January, responding to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dover about indoor pedigree cats such as ragdolls, I inadvertently misspoke. When speaking about extending some of the dog provisions to holding indoor cats, I said that clause 3 should enable further provisions to be made, but that is not the case. The enabling power in the clause relates only to the abduction of animals commonly kept as pets other than dogs and cats. I want to make that clear. However, as I said clearly in Committee, and as I assured hon. Members then and now, clause 2 already applies in relation to the taking of a ragdoll cat.

The amendments would exclude certain categories of dog. Although amendment 8 acknowledges that dogs can temporarily be exempt from microchipping requirements for medical reasons, it does not recognise that puppies do not have to be microchipped until they are eight weeks old. Were the amendment to be accepted, a person taking or detaining puppies would be entirely exempt from the offence of dog abduction, yet we know that high-value puppies may be the subject of organised crime. Yesterday, I consulted the police and crime commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, about the Bill, and he reminded me—as an Essex MP, you may recall this case, Madam Deputy Speaker—that a litter of blue merle French bulldog puppies, valued at £100,000, in nearby Basildon was stolen in its entirety, in a clear case of organised crime. To exclude puppies from the Bill would be another extremely retrograde step.

The amendment would have the same effect in relation to dogs that have been imported into England by their keeper for a holiday of less than 30 days, as the 2023 regulations do not require them to be microchipped. It would also exclude certain working dogs, such as police and Army dogs, that do not have to be microchipped until they are three months old; they would be unprotected before then.

In addition, there is a risk in relying on a definition laid down in secondary legislation that is crucial to the interpretation of the Bill. There is a risk of unintended consequences in the application of the offences were the secondary legislation to be amended. Furthermore, the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations do not apply in Northern Ireland, which has its own microchipping legislation. As a result, if the amendment were made, the abduction of most dogs in Northern Ireland would be excluded from the scope of the dog abduction offence—another backward step.

It is important to recognise that the abduction offences in the Bill are deliberately framed around the broad concept of lawful control. By not using terms like “keeper” or “owner”, the Bill recognises that different people have lawful control of our dogs at different times. By changing the wording as proposed in amendments 3, 5 and 9, a person taking a dog so as to remove it from the lawful control of a dog walker, for example, would not be committing an offence. I do not believe it is right for a dog to be afforded different levels of protection in law according to the individual the dog happens to be with at any given time. We know that dogs are commonly abducted from parks or gardens, when they may well be under the lawful control of a dog sitter, a dog walker, or another member of the family. Why should a dog that is stolen or abducted in those circumstances be dealt with differently? I do not believe that it should be, and think most people in this country would agree.

In summary, I believe that abducting a dog is an abhorrent crime—I think we can all get behind that idea —regardless of whom the dog was taken from, and exactly the same is true for cats. Although I am of course sympathetic to the underlying intention of amendments 3, 5 and 8 to 16, they move the Bill far away from its intended spirit. We simply cannot create a two-tier system in which only microchipped animals are in scope of the legislation. Given that the legislation implicitly recognises that cats and dogs are sentient beings, it is absolutely not right for only those that are microchipped to be protected, so I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch not to press those amendments. I will leave it to the Minister to address my hon. Friend’s new clause 1 and amendment 21.

Let me address swiftly my hon. Friend’s amendments 1, 6 and 7, which fall into the broad basket of legal amendments. The explanatory statements to the amendments suggest that he is seeking to ensure that the person alleged to have committed an offence is not required to prove their innocence if they had a reasonable excuse or lawful authority for the act constituting the alleged offence. I am pleased to say again that he and I agree in principle: the burden in a criminal case should always rest on the prosecution—that is a well and long-established principle of our English law—but, in my opinion, the Bill does just that. Its drafting is such that the prosecution does bear, as usual, the burden of proof. What he is referring to is the fact that the Bill places an evidential burden on the defendant in relation to the defences of reasonable excuse or lawful authority, in that they need to produce sufficient evidence to raise that issue, but the burden of proving the offence remains fairly and squarely on the prosecution. My worry with the wording of the amendments is that they could introduce more uncertainty about the kind of burden that might be imposed, and could impose more of a burden on the defendant. For those reasons, I urge him not to press amendments 1, 6 and 7.

I turn now to amendments 2 and 4, which are also legal amendments. They seek to restrict the offences to situations where a dog is removed or detained permanently from a person’s lawful control. The pet theft taskforce suggested an offence of pet abduction in order to move away from the formal ingredients needed to prove theft, one of which is the intention to permanently deprive, because that is more difficult to prove in relation to pets. Putting that back into the Bill takes us back to a place we want to move away from. Again, I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to withdraw those amendments.

Finally, let me turn to my two minor technical amendments, 19 and 20, to clause 6. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) tabled in Committee an amendment relating to the commencement, which was agreed to, so the original Bill was changed slightly. That is the main driver for my two minor technical amendments, which are practically stylistic in content. They intend to clarify the Bill’s drafting in respect of the commencement of clauses 1 and 2, which introduce the new offences of cat and dog abduction. The amendments confirm that those clauses, so far as they extend to England and Wales, will come into force three months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. They also confirm that clauses 1 and 2, so far as they extend to Northern Ireland, will come into force on a date appointed in an order by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs of Northern Ireland. For clarity, the amendments are stylistic and do not in any way change the policy of the Bill. I urge hon. Members to support those minor clarifications of the Bill.

I rise to support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) and the amendments in her name, and to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for all the effort, thought and consideration he has put into the work he has done. As I mentioned, I lost my kitten when I was aged four, when microchipping was not a thing—it is one of my most prominent childhood memories. It still stays with me, but if microchipping had been possible then, we might have found that kitten and come back together as a family. It was such an issue for a young girl—losing my very first pet—so I thank my hon. Friend for all of his consideration. Microchipping is extremely important, as he says, and I am very glad that the Government will bring forward legislation in the near future.

I wish to speak briefly about a role that I had over the past few years until recently—that of chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group. I praise and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for taking this Bill through Parliament. During my time as chair of that group, we were able to bring Lucy’s law into legislation, and it made such a huge difference to animal lovers right across the United Kingdom. I have chaired a number of all-party parliamentary groups, and that is one of the most popular that I ever chaired: during the pandemic, up to 500 members attended the meetings online, and well over 100 people would attend every single meeting in Parliament itself. We must recognise that the UK is most definitely a country of dog lovers.

I also pay tribute to the local animal welfare sanctuary in Bothwell, just next to my constituency, which I visit very regularly. It covers the whole of South Lanarkshire, including my constituency, and I thank it for its work.

When I chaired the dog advisory welfare APPG, pet theft was a huge issue not only because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West said, some of the dogs stolen were extremely highly pedigreed and valuable, but because the fate of some of the dogs was heinous. Often, people were taking the dogs as bait for dog-fighting purposes. The horrendous stories that we heard in that APPG underscore how vital it is that this legislation moves forward. It is an excellent step forward, and I think it sends a message to those who would try to abduct pets, particularly dogs and cats, that it is not acceptable. We wish to underscore that, and this Government have a mandate to do so.

Before closing, I wish to give my condolences to Mr Speaker for his loss. I did not have the privilege of personally knowing his father, but from my understanding, he has been a great servant to politics across both Houses. I wanted to pass on my condolences today, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Let me begin by saying that Labour strongly supports the measures to tackle pet theft and abduction, and I thank the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) again for introducing the Bill. Let me also echo the comments about Doug Hoyle, and the condolences to Mr Speaker.

Much of the discussion in Committee was about timing—a subject that has come up again this morning—but I will start by addressing amendments that have already been discussed, particularly amendment 10, which would effectively remove cats from the scope of the Bill. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) seems to play an important role in this place on Fridays. Along with some of my colleagues, I have felt frustrated on occasion by the degree of challenge that he presents, but I think it important for legislation to be properly challenged, so I thank him for the points that he has raised this morning, especially in relation to the amendments relating to dogs, which open up a range of wider issues.

I will not go through the amendments in detail one by one, because the hon. Member for Southend West dealt very effectively with many of those points and I found myself in agreement with her on all of them, but there are bigger issues involved in the way in which we register and track dogs. All this is complicated, and I know from talking to vets in my shadow ministerial role that they worry about being dragged into ownership disputes as a consequence. I think it is part of a wider discussion, and I am certainly not opposed to our having that discussion, but I agree with the hon. Lady that there is a danger of our being drawn into delays and also into diminishing the scope of the Bill, which I think would be disappointing. Labour will therefore not support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch.

Amendment 10, which relates to cats, strikes me as something much more fundamental, and we oppose it strongly. As my colleagues and I have argued throughout the long saga of this Bill and its predecessor, cat theft is a real issue. I note the discussion about numbers, but I suspect that there is a degree of under-reporting—the offence does not currently exist, so why would anyone report it?

Those who advocate for cats are, unsurprisingly, appalled by the prospect of the Bill’s being savaged in this way. Cats Protection tells me that

“with 11 million owned cats in the UK, we know how much cats mean to families and how devastating their theft is—both to the humans who love them and the cats themselves.”

It says:

“In just a few weeks of running some supporter actions, we had over 40,000 cat lovers get involved in campaigning for cats to be included in any pet theft legislation including over 10,000 letters to MPs. It is imperative that cats are included in the Bill.”

I am sure the hon. Member for Christchurch will say that a campaigning organisation making the case effectively does not necessarily lead to good law, but I think the point we can take from what it has said is that there is considerable public interest in the issue, and an expectation that action will be taken.

As for the microchipping issues that have been raised, I genuinely believe that they can be resolved. After all, we do not look at other theft offences and say that we will not tackle them because what was stolen could not be microchipped.

There was a particular irony in the discussion in Committee about timing and whether the Bill could be implemented within three months. I think Conservative Members know exactly what I am going to say: this could have been done fully two years ago. We need not have been here today. This is yet another private Member’s Bill that has appeared as a result of the Government’s abandonment of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. It seems to me that the real question about this Pet Abduction Bill is, “Who abducted the kept animals Bill, and for what purpose?” I have asked that question repeatedly but have never been given an answer, and I am certain that I will not be given one today. It is just another of those DEFRA mysteries—like the mystery of how the Secretary of State comes to override the advice of his permanent secretary, but that is one for another day.

The Government’s decision to ditch that major piece of animal welfare legislation has caused enormous disappointment to the animal welfare charities that had worked so hard on it for years, to pet owners and to members of the public, all of whom care deeply about protecting animals against cruelty. Most importantly, of course, it has allowed the mistreatment of animals to continue. We will never know how many animals might not have been abducted had this legislation been passed earlier—I am not the only person to have said that.

The same point was made powerfully earlier this month in a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee:

“The Government’s withdrawal of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill stalled progress on key animal welfare issues. These delays have allowed the continuation of poor animal welfare practices. The Department must ensure that every provision from the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is brought into force during the current Parliament. We welcome the introduction of Private Members’ bills that will take forward vital animal welfare measures, but note that the Government was relying heavily on Members who were successful in the Private Members’ bill ballot being willing to take on its handout bills to deliver its manifesto promises, rather than committing to bringing forward the legislation itself. While on this occasion it may prove successful, it was nonetheless a risky strategy.”

That is why we are here today, discussing this issue with a piece of legislation that, frankly, is at risk because of the process we are going through. There is no guarantee, given political uncertainty and the febrile nature of politics at the moment, that there will be time for the Bill to reach the statute book. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is right to make those observations, and it is deeply regrettable that, contrary to what the Government promised in their May 2021 action plan for animals, they have failed to take leadership in cracking down on the rising rates of pet abduction.

Labour will not be supporting the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch, but I hope that the Bill can proceed intact to Third Reading and beyond.

First, may I from the Government Benches send our condolences to Mr Speaker, who is unable to be here today because he is attending his father’s funeral? We send our sympathies to him.

It is a pleasure to speak about this Bill, which is so important to many people. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for his considered attention to the Bill, not only today but previously and in the meetings that I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State held with him in consideration of the points he has brought to the House. I also thank him for his support of some of the measures that we are bringing forward in the Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) for her considered responses and her contributions on Report.

Let me start by addressing amendments 1, 6 and 7. As was eloquently outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, the Bill already makes it clear that prosecutors bear the burden of proof. We want to create suitable offences that will crack down on cases of dog and cat abduction, and I agree with my hon. Friend’s assessment that amendments 2 and 4 would undermine the scope for prosecutions to be brought for the offences of dog and cat abductions. I, too, urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to withdraw amendments 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 on the basis of the points that I have made and the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West.

New clause 1 and amendments 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 16 and 21 have already been discussed. I commend the dedication of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to microchipping. I know he has a branch of Cats Protection in his constituency, as does my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), who rightly contributed to this debate, stating that Cats Protection has been instrumental in supporting the extension of the compulsory microchipping requirements to cats. I am pleased about both the extension and its support for this issue.

From the first moment that an offence of dog abduction was introduced in this place, MPs and stakeholders alike have asked for it to be extended to cats. The Department has received a significant number of letters from the public and parliamentary questions from right hon. and hon. Members in support of this proposal. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West that the Government cannot support removing cats from the scope of the Bill. However, I understand that the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to remove cats from the scope of the Bill was guided by the laudable intention of incentivising microchipping. I am pleased that we very much agree on the importance of microchipping, which is the best way to reunite people with lost and abducted animals.

The Government made microchipping compulsory for dogs in England in 2016, and we are now extending the benefits of that legislation to cats. From 10 June, all owned cats in England over the age of 20 weeks must be microchipped and registered on a compliant database. Microchipping is a safe, simple and effective procedure. The average cost is £25, plus an average £10 registration over the lifetime of the animal. Microchipping undeniably helps to bring displaced pets home. In the UK, around 90% of dogs have been microchipped. In 2023, more than 70% of cats have already been voluntarily microchipped.

Our post-implementation review of the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015—the predecessor to the 2023 regulations—showed that this legislation has had a positive effect on reunification rates. Stray dogs that have been microchipped and have up-to-date database records are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their keeper than stray dogs without a microchip. Police and local authorities can and do issue notices requiring a dog to be microchipped where it is not already. That has been demonstrated to be an effective mechanism to support compliance.

Since we introduced the English compulsory cat microchipping legislation, we have been working closely with a number of animal welfare stakeholders to develop a co-ordinated communications campaign to explain to cat owners the benefits of microchipping and the new legal requirements. Last summer, we even enlisted the support of our chief mouser Larry the cat, who himself was once an un-microchipped stray, before being taken in and rehomed by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Larry’s tweet on International Cat Day, explaining the importance of microchipping for reuniting pets with their owners, received half a million impressions.

I am also grateful to stakeholders who have helped to spread the message at the start of our 100-day countdown campaign to the introduction of these measures. With just over 50 days to go before the 10 June deadline, we are ramping up our communications strategy with stakeholders for that final push. I urge anyone who has not yet microchipped their cat to do so as quickly as possible. Our communications around the new cat microchipping rules, as well as around this Bill, will provide a clear message that microchipping will help bring abducted pets back home sooner.

However, compulsory cat microchipping is just one of a number of planned microchipping reforms. Last month, we published our response to the consultation on English pet microchipping reform. We are committing to a number of improvements to the microchipping regime around three themes: first, making it easier for approved users to access records; secondly, improving the accuracy of records; and thirdly, standardising database operator processes. Those reforms will implement one of the key recommendations of the pet theft taskforce that more robust processes should be in place to stop stolen pets being registered to new keepers by ensuring that the current keeper has up to 28 days to object to a transfer of keepership request made to a database operator before any transfer can go through, and by preventing database operators from creating a duplicate microchip record for a pet. We are also making all database operators record whether a pet is reported as missing. That will assist enforcement bodies and flag concerns to a database operator, should they receive a transfer of keepership request. We are looking to legislate specifically to deal with that issue in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has eloquently outlined how the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch would overly restrict the Bill, and the Government cannot support them. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch rightly made some points on guidance in his new clause 1 and amendment 21 and asked for statutory guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State. I agree that guidance will be essential for frontline workers enforcing new pet abduction offences, ensuring that those are used appropriately. The Government are committed to working with key stakeholders to ensure that appropriate guidance relating to this Bill will be available before the Bill’s offences come into force. The cross-Government pet theft taskforce already establishes relationships with police officers, operational partners and animal welfare organisations working in the area, so we have a network already in place, and I can confirm that conversations are already under way. I will ensure that the points that my hon. Friend has rightly raised are part of the conversations that are already under way. Enforcers will have the support and information they need to effectively implement the legislation once it comes into force without the need to legally require enforcement guidance.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is concerned about people benefiting from the legislation when they have shirked their responsibility to have their pets microchipped. I assure the House that we are doing work with police colleagues to make them aware that, in the event that they recover an abducted cat or dog that is not microchipped, they have the power to issue a notice under the English microchipping regulations requiring those pets to be microchipped within 21 days.

For completeness, failing to comply with such a notice is an offence and subject to a fine of £500. In addition, the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023 provide for the police to be able to take the animal in question to be microchipped without the keeper’s consent, and allow the costs associated with that to be recovered. The enforcement regime for the English microchipping legislation is designed to ensure that an animal will end up being microchipped if it is found not to be. We understand that most people comply with such a notice where issued, so only a small number of such cases are taken through the courts.

In addition to the existing enforcement mechanism, we are considering enabling penalty notices for the offence of not microchipping a cat or dog through the Animal (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2023. In summary, I cannot, therefore, commit that we will work—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I can commit—I want to reiterate that—that we will be working closely with enforcement partners to ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are addressed. We are working at speed to prepare for this engagement.

On the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, I thank her for bringing forward these minor, technical adjustments to the Bill. The Government support them and agree that their clarity help to progress the Bill, specifically in relation to clauses 1 and 2. I urge all hon. Members to support them.

With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate. We have made great progress, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for facilitating that. My amendments—particularly amendments 10 to 15—were designed to address the problem of potential waste of police and local authority enforcement resources in trying to trace pets that had not been microchipped. My hon. Friend, in saying what he did about the guidance and advice that will be given to enforcement authorities, got to the core of my concerns.

It has never been my intention to be anti-cat. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) suggested that I do not think that cats matter. I will not put myself into a category where cats do not matter, because I have enough emails coming in already on other issues. [Laughter.] Cats do matter, and so do dogs —and, for the sake of completeness, so do tortoises.

I have never been against including cats in the Bill, but I have been nervous about doing so when many cats are still not microchipped. From 10 June, that will be compulsory and, as the Minister said, there will be stronger enforcement measures. Given the number of local authorities issuing notices, I do not think they are applying their minds to it, but perhaps when they link that in with the prospect of complaints if cats have been abducted, they will realise that there is a strong link between the two issues. I hope that the consequence of all this debate will be that we have a much better, more complete database, and that more cats and even more dogs will be microchipped. Having a million-plus dogs not microchipped at the moment is unacceptable.

One cannot always say on a Friday that we have made progress, but I think that we have on this issue. In the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 1.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6


Amendments made: 19, page 5, line 6, leave out

“come into force in relation to England”

and insert

“, so far as they extend to England and Wales, come into force”.

This is a technical amendment to ensure that it is clear how the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 operates in so far as those clauses extend to England and Wales (rather than just in relation to England).

Amendment 20, page 5, line 11, leave out “in relation” and insert

“so far as they extend”.—(Anna Firth.)

This is a technical amendment to ensure that the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 is dealt with in the same way throughout clause 6.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

May I put on the record, on behalf of everybody in Southend West, our condolences to Mr Speaker and his family on the loss of his esteemed father, Doug Hoyle?

I am delighted to present this Bill for its Third Reading. I am grateful to all Members who have engaged so passionately and shared their stories at all stages, and I will keep my remarks as brief as I can so that other Members can get in. I will start, as I did on Second Reading, by taking a moment to reflect on my predecessor, Sir David Amess, who was a true titan when it came to championing our pets, particularly dogs. As I mentioned on Second Reading, he chaired and spoke in the last debate that we had in this place on pet reform, and I know that he would be so proud that Southend West is playing a pivotal role in bringing forward this legislation. I, too, am proud to be building on his legacy again today.

When I introduced the Bill, I started by saying that Britain is a nation of animal lovers and that pets are part of our families. I believe that our discussions, both today and at all previous stages, have illustrated that perfectly. We are showing that cats and dogs are not just items, and that abducting them causes real distress to families and individuals, because actions speak far louder than words. This Bill will send a signal that we take animal welfare seriously in the UK.

One wonderful thing about the House is that we are often united when it comes to issues of animal welfare. We are united in sending a signal to the world that we believe in, and are proud of, our record on animal welfare. Of course, I have lots of people to thank. I thank the people who have made significant contributions in this area over many years, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) and for Witham (Priti Patel); my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) and for Ipswich (Tom Hunt); the former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), with whom I was at Bar school; my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke); Dr Daniel Allen; and Debbie Matthews, the daughter of the late Sir Bruce Forsyth.

I thank the many organisations that have given input and support, including the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, which is so ably led by Chris and Lorraine Platt; the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance; Pet Theft Awareness; Cats Protection, which we have heard about again today; the Dogs Trust; Battersea Dogs and Cats Home; Refuge; and of course Southend’s own Tilly’s Angels, which prompted me to take this Bill on board.

I also thank the brilliant Essex police, fire and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst, for his help and support, and, more importantly, for all that he does to tackle pet abduction in Essex. Tackling pet abduction, in particular dog theft, is a key objective in his police and crime plan. As a result of his focus and the extra resources he deploys, we have seen a 10% reduction in the dog theft figures over the past year. He does fantastic work. If anyone in Essex wants to help him to keep fighting pet abduction, they will have the opportunity to do so on 2 May.

I want to emphasise the timely nature of the Bill. Since Second Reading, new figures have been released by Direct Line showing a 6% uptick in the number of dogs abducted in the past year, with only one in six found and returned. That is the lowest recovery level since 2015. Those figures should concern us all, because of the number of pets who are traumatised and separated from their owners, most of them permanently. Families are going without a beloved member of the family. As I have said throughout, that is exactly what our pets are.

We have also seen distressing articles in my local paper about attempted pet abductions, which also seem to be on the rise. Only last month, my local paper, the brilliant Southend Echo, carried an article about two thugs in Benfleet who jumped out of their van and hit a pensioner over the head with a lump of wood in an attempt to force him to hand over his beloved cocker spaniel. Thankfully, the pensioner incurred only minor injuries and the dog was unharmed, but he was obviously deeply shaken. This week, there has been a report of another incident in Benfleet; a man was attacked by two men in Woodside Park who were attempting to steal his dog. Those reports underline how important it is that we get the Bill on the statute book, and that the police start taking action to enforce it. These really are shocking incidents, and I implore all hon. and right hon. Members to back the Bill.

Pets need to be recognised in law for the sentient beings they are. Their place in society needs to be properly recognised by the law of the land. The Bill is the opportunity to do that. I hope all Members support it.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) on her work on the Bill, which is much needed, and I am very pleased to speak in favour it.

We are a nation of dog and cat owners, and many Members will be able to say that those animals are like family, and to speak about the fact that they play such an important role in our life and the life of our children. I do not know where Marmalade and Merlin came from, the newly famous Southend West residents, but Magic and Ninja came from Cats Protection, which has had so many mentions today. I know, through Magic and Ninja, what an impact cats can have on families, in particular children.

In Milton Keynes, we have an abundance of green spaces, with miles and miles of lake shoreline and canal towpaths—ideal for walking dogs. If you need to walk a dog, come to Milton Keynes. But that brings with it the added risk of pet theft. As an animal lover, and the representative of a beautiful constituency in which to walk the dog, I have to say that the very idea of stealing pets, often for profit and breeding, is sick.

The Bill fills a gap that has existed in law for far too long. Until now, pet theft was categorised as a type of property theft. That is in no way reflective of the nature of the crime and its impact on victims. We spoke briefly about the link with organised crime. It is increasingly worrying that, like other types of theft, such as the theft of farm machinery and prestige vehicles, pet theft seems to be done to order by gangs of organised criminals. The supply chain of organised crime is obviously horrendous. To think that pet theft is financing it is abhorrent.

In Milton Keynes and the wider Thames Valley, our rural crime taskforce has recently been nearly doubled in size, which will be a significant comfort to the many legitimate breeders based in our villages. I applaud our police and crime commissioner, Matthew Barber, for making that decision.

It is critical that the punishment for this crime is enough to deter individuals and groups from engaging in this despicable criminal activity. The Bill ensures exactly that; I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West and the Government for the work that they have done to develop it so far. Under the legislation, offenders will face the possibility of up to five years in prison, a fine or both. The spectre of such punishment should have the desired effect. Organised crime groups profit particularly from the trade in pedigree cats, but such groups will think twice about offending, should the Bill become law.

The Bill addresses differences in the behaviour of dogs and cats really well. Dogs spend much more time indoors than cats. Try keeping cats indoors. They tend to roam outside freely, at their own will, visiting neighbours—“Six Dinner Sid” springs to mind. The Bill understands that distinction, and ensures that for cats, the offence applies only when a cat is taken, not when it is detained. That will mean police can focus on cases of clear criminality without undue interference. He is no longer in his place, but my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) raised concerns about police time; this aspect of the legislation goes some way to ease those concerns. This is sensible and practical law-making. The new offences mean that we can start to record the crimes with better accuracy. As we have heard, some forces record these crimes specifically, and others do not. We will be able to spot patterns that could be linked to certain factors, such as organised crime.

This Conservative Government can be proud of their achievements on animal welfare. The Bill will widen the scope of the Government’s action plan on animal welfare. It is another step forward in putting the UK at the forefront of animal welfare globally. Toughening the country’s laws against animal cruelty is a key priority. That is why we have already passed legislation such as the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which raises the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years, and the landmark Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which became law two years ago and formally recognises animals as sentient beings in domestic law. The Bill almost acts as a strong-arm extension of that Act. Pets are sentient beings, whom we have to love and cherish as our own. We need laws that recognise that fact and, crucially, protect them. In that regard, this Government have delivered and then some.

Our progress on animal welfare does not stop there. We have also passed legislation requiring the microchipping of cats, as we heard from the Minister; cat owners must microchip their cats by June this year. That will make it easier to pick up cats that have been abducted, and to identify stray pets, so that they can be reunited with their owners.

It is always a pleasure to speak in support of Bills that have clear cross-party support and cut through party political battle lines. Issues such as these remind us of the common ground we have in this place, and that we can put party politics aside to make progress on areas of policy such as animal welfare, which matters to millions of people across the country.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) on her work on this Bill. She has worked tirelessly on this issue, and I have been pleased to support her at every stage, including by serving on the Public Bill Committee.

We are a nation of animal lovers. As the owner of three dogs—I will not name them again, as they are already extensively recorded in Hansard—I can say that this Bill provides us all with greater confidence that those who would seek to steal our beloved pets will pay the price. Our pets are not just possessions, as the law has previously treated them. In the Bill, we are acknowledging the important relationship we all have with our pets, who are cherished members of our family. The theft of a pet is an incredibly distressing experience, for both the pet and its owner, so it is no surprise that the vast majority of the public support making pet theft a specific offence.

My constituency postbag regularly contains correspondence from constituents who have concerns about animal welfare, be it puppy smuggling, dog-on-dog attacks or the theft of a beloved family pet—an issue that the Bill addresses. I have yet to meet anyone who does not acknowledge that the theft of a family pet would cause far more pain and anguish than that of a wallet, purse or phone. Pets simply have far more than simply monetary value to us, and it is right that the law seeks to acknowledge that, and marks them out as different from inanimate objects.

In preparing for today’s debate, I checked with Durham police on the rate of pet theft in their area, and was pleased to learn that it has fallen significantly, from 66 recorded thefts in 2019 to only nine in 2023. Although I welcome that reduction, nine is still many, and this Bill will send out a real signal to further address the issue. Although Durham has had a welcome reduction in such thefts, parts of our country sadly still see worrying levels of pet theft. Pets will be stolen purely for the selfish retention of the animal, depriving the family it belongs to of the pet’s companionship, and inflicting a sense of loss. Alternatively, pets may be stolen for onward sale, breeding or fighting. Whatever the reason for a theft, it is unlikely that the place the animal ends up in will be better than the loving home it has been taken from.

The Bill must be seen in the context of the wide range of animal protection legislation we have enacted, which recognises animal sentience; increases sentences for animal cruelty; gives new protections to service animals; revamps local authority licensing; implements Lucy’s law; bans third-party puppy and kitten sales; and mandates microchipping for cats and dogs. Of course, we must also not forget the Bill, which I was proud to support, bought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) to deal with puppy, kitten and ferret smuggling.

In conclusion, our pets are our constituents’ dearest companions and most loyal friends, and we need a specific offence with specific penalties for their theft. I wholeheartedly support this Bill, and look forward to it completing its remaining stages today.

While we earnestly await a statement from the Government on the Israeli strikes against Iran last night, I wanted to take the opportunity to pay full tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) for her wonderful work on this Bill. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), who mentioned that he had read the names of his three pets into Hansard. If he is like most of us, he will now have sent each pet a copy of Hansard so that they know they were mentioned, and we hope that went down well with them.

I will come on to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West at the end, but perhaps I may briefly tell the House about some other people who I know will be very pleased to see this legislation pass in the House today. Let me begin with a great friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who, unfortunately, is detained on other important business today. The issue before us has always been close to his heart. He has had some horror stories from his constituency about pet theft, so I know that he, a former leader of our party, will be delighted at my hon. Friend’s success with this Bill.

Next is our very proactive and hard-working police, fire and crime commissioner in Essex, Mr Roger Hirst, who takes this issue very seriously, ably supported by our dynamic chief constable, Mr Harrington—perhaps his dynamism is due in part to the fact that he used to be a paratrooper. Between them, they have ensured that Essex police are now fully integrated into the national pet taskforce, tackling crime through the review of all investigations, the introduction of a proactive ability to respond to intelligence and joined-up working with partners, including Crimestoppers, the RSPCA and DogWatch. As a practical example, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West tells me that this proactive approach was put into action earlier this year when police released footage of the dachshund, Twiglet, struggling to get away from a thief. With help from the public, the police were able to return Twiglet safely home to her family. I will allow my hon. Friend to send Twiglet the Hansard.

I declare an interest. In my boyhood, I had a pet dachshund called Tiger—my parents had a sense of humour, Madam Deputy Speaker. I loved that little dog dearly. When I told him that I was taking him out for a walk, he went completely bananas. I have fond memories of Tiger and, if he were still with us, he, too, would be delighted. Unfortunately, he has passed away, so there is no one to send the Hansard to.

I also thank the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, of which my hon. Friend and I are avid supporters, brilliantly led by Lorraine and Chris Platt and their team, who are absolutely passionate about animal welfare—the clue is in the name. They, too, will be delighted that this legislation is going through.

Finally, I know that our great friend Sir David Amess would have been delighted to see this day. David, as the whole House well knew, was passionate about animal welfare. One of his great skills, as you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, was working cross-party; it was forming coalitions for the common good. I look up at his plaque and across to that of Jo Cox, who also died in the service of this House. She once said that we had more in common. This is a nation of animal lovers and what my hon. Friend has done brilliantly today is to get cross-party support. She has motivated that sense of having more in common across the House to do something that will make animals safer. They cannot speak for themselves; we must do it in their lieu. She has done brilliantly, and she had another win recently on banning zombie knives. I will, if I may, be presumptuous and say that, if David were still with us and somehow my hon. Friend were still the MP, he would be very proud of what she has done today. She is turning out to be an incredibly worthy successor to my great friend and she has come up with an incredibly worthy piece of legislation. I and Members across the House wish her Bill godspeed.

I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) has said about Sir David. Like other Members, I strongly welcome this legislation. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) on her work. I am pleased that her Bill has made it to this stage, with wide-ranging support in North West Norfolk and, obviously, across the country.

The Bill introduces new criminal offences in relation to the taking or detaining of a dog or cat from the lawful control of any person. As I mentioned in an intervention, I declare an interest as the owner of a cat, Hetty, and I pay tribute again to the Cat Protection League for its successful campaign, which I supported, to ensure that cats are in the Bill, in clause 2, along with dogs.

Someone found guilty of abducting a dog or a cat under these new offences will be liable to a maximum of five years imprisonment, a fine, or both, which is a significant step forward and aligns with animal cruelty offences covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I am pleased that the Bill includes an enabling power to allow these provisions to be extended to other animals commonly kept as pets—a bid has been made for tortoises already in the debate.

Pets are stolen for many reasons: because of the breakdown of relationships, or for breeding, resale, extortion or even dog fighting. Those thefts have a traumatic effect on the owners and the pets, so it is right that pet theft is tackled through the creation of specific offences. The origins of the Bill are in the work of the pet theft taskforce, which recommended the creation of the specific offence of pet abduction, which is being implemented through this legislation, because the Theft Act itself was not proving effective.

There has been discussion during the debate about the scale of the problem. The taskforce concluded that reliable data on pet theft was limited. The most accurate figures that I could find for my area, Norfolk, was through an FOI response from Norfolk police, which showed that, between 2019 and 2023, 40 cats and 85 dogs were recorded as stolen. Overall, Battersea reports around 1,300 dog thefts and nearly 400 cat thefts in 2022. That is likely to be significantly underreported, for obvious reasons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West mentioned, it is about the individual cases; there do not need to be tens of thousands of cases for this to be important legislation. However, I welcome the Bill’s intention to improve the recording and monitoring of these offences.

When we legislate and pass important powers such as these, it is important that they come into effect rapidly, so I welcome the amendment that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) secured in Committee, which set a date for the legislation to come into effect three months after Royal Assent.

In 2019, the manifesto that I was proud to stand on committed to improving animal welfare standards, and this Bill delivers on that commitment. As a nation of animal lovers with a proud history of championing and taking action on animal welfare, the Government have already passed a host of measures, including CCTV becoming mandatory in slaughterhouses, compulsory microchipping and tougher sentences for animal cruelty.

To conclude, around a third of households own a dog, and a quarter of households have a cat. We need to protect these family members, and this legislation does just that. I therefore commend my hon. Friend for her hard work in bringing the Bill forward, and I look forward to supporting it through its final stages.

Let me reiterate how strongly we in Labour support these measures. I again thank the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) for bringing the Bill forward. I also echo her comments, and those of others, about Sir David Amess. I think he absolutely would have been thrilled to see this legislation going forward today. I would also echo the hon. Lady’s comments about the many animal welfare charities that work so hard on this and provide such excellent briefings. Again, I think they too will be very pleased to see the legislation going forward.

As has been said, we are a nation of animal lovers. Pets are very much a cherished part of our families. We know that companion animals are sentient beings who can experience pain, fear and distress, just as we can, and we can all imagine—some Members have spoken passionately about it today—the heartbreak that is experienced by any pet owner when their beloved animal is abducted.

Yet—we talked about the numbers earlier—the Kennel Club estimated that there were 2,355 cases of dog theft in 2020, amounting to approximately 196 dogs stolen every month. As we have heard, cats are also increasingly victims of this crime, with a report by Pet Theft Awareness finding that, in 2021, police recorded a 40% increase, and a quadrupling since 2015.

As we have heard throughout this process, the law, as it currently stands, is ill-equipped to deal with the problem. Under the Theft Act 1968, pets are wrongly treated as inanimate objects. Their value is diminished to that of physical property, like a TV or a toaster, and that cannot be allowed to continue. That is why the pet theft taskforce recommended in 2021 that a new offence of pet abduction be created—a new kind of offence that would put the emphasis on the welfare of the animal abducted and pay due regard to their status as sentient beings.

That is what the Bill does, with those two new criminal offences of dog abduction and cat abduction attracting up to five years imprisonment, a fine, or both, to deter those who are looking to exploit animals for financial gain by stealing them from their owners and selling them, or using them for breeding. Through the creation of those specific offences, pet owners will now have a clear legal framework by which they can ensure that their cases are actively investigated. Creating those specific offences will also require police to collate better data, allowing any patterns emerging to be properly analysed. Collating more accurate data will help to formulate the best prevention strategies .

I am delighted that we have managed to ensure that cats are covered as well as dogs. With compulsory microchipping, it should soon be much easier for anyone attempting to ascertain whether a cat is owned or lost to establish those details. I am also pleased that there is an enabling power, so that the appropriate national authorities may create pet abduction offences in respect of more species of animal where there is significant evidence of incidents involving the unlawful taking or detaining of animals of that species, or a significant increase in the number of such incidents. I note in passing that the amendment is a sensible, simple future-proofing provision, like the amendment we proposed to the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill, which went through this House earlier this year, but which the Government chose to reject.

Although we welcome the Bill, the Government have fallen far short of the lofty claims on animal welfare that they trumpeted at the last election. There has been none of the promised action to stop British farmers being undercut by low-welfare imports—a huge issue for famers, consumers and animal welfare, which the Government have ignored. Indeed, when I challenged the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions this week, he actually cited some of the trade deals as things to be proud of—quite incredible, given the damage we know they will do. There has been no implementation of promised regulations banning electric shock collars for cats and dogs, no sign of the promised consultation on banning snares, and no action on banning hunting trophy imports, which is why last month another private Member’s Bill was before the House, this one promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), seeking to do exactly what the Government promised in their 2019 manifesto.

I could go on—you will not want me to, Madam Deputy Speaker—but so many promises made by the Government in their 2019 manifesto and their 2021 action plan for animals have been abandoned for no good reason, but only to avoid more splits in an already divided Conservative party. Labour believes in introducing the strongest possible legal protection for animals that depend entirely on us. I am proud that it was a Labour Government who brought in the landmark Animal Welfare Act 2006—still this nation’s leading piece of animal welfare legislation. I am proud that is was a Labour Government who banned cosmetic testing on animals, ended fur farming and stopped the hunting of wild mammals with dogs. If we are fortunate enough to form the next Government, we will advance that proud legacy by promoting the highest standards of animal welfare, not only for cats and dogs but for all animals. In the meantime, we will continue to support private Members’ Bills, including this one.

I am pleased to speak again on this important Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) for expertly guiding the Bill through the House. She has been a passionate advocate of measures to improve animal welfare, and I congratulate her on introducing this important piece of legislation. Given how strongly the late Sir David Amess championed animal welfare causes, it is especially poignant that it is my hon. Friend who has championed this Bill. Sir David expressed the hope that this place would come together to enable animal welfare Bills to get on to the statute book quickly, and I think he would have been delighted to see this Bill get this far.

To say that we are a nation of pet and animal lovers is an understatement. More than half of all adults own at least one pet. Cats and dogs are the firm favourites, with at least 29% and 24% of adults owning a dog or cat respectively. Whether it is Joe or Pip, the sheepdogs who help me on my farm, or Harvey the cat, who belongs to Max in my team, I assure the House that my team and I are also animal lovers. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) is right to say how important the Bill is, alongside referencing how beautiful his constituency is for dog walkers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) is another strong animal lover, and I shall have to read his comments in Hansard about the various pets he has owed. I am pleased to see that he too welcomes the Bill, as does my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), who I know has worked closely with Cats Protection to ensure that the Bill works its way through this House. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for, quite rightly, mentioning our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who has championed the Bill. I am pleased to hear that Twiglet was reunited with its owner. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 led to many households deciding to buy or adopt new pets in their homes, many for the first time. Those pets helped to provide owners with emotional support during those difficult times. As we have heard, it was in that period that there were concerns about increases in pet theft. The Government’s response was to set up the pet theft taskforce. The Bill builds on the work done by the pet theft taskforce in 2021. It acts on one of its key recommendations—to deliver a pet abduction offence —and it helps to improve the recording of unlawful taking of cats and dogs..

In 2021, the Government made a commitment to crack down on pet theft in our action plan on animal welfare. Our support for the Bill demonstrates that commitment. We further strengthened the Bill by accepting the amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) in Committee, which added a commencement date for England. We have said it before and I will say it again: the unlawful taking of a pet is an abhorrent crime, and it is right that the perpetrators are brought to justice. The Bill recognises that. We have given the Bill a thorough review, not only on Report but through all its stages. I cannot thank right hon. and hon. Members enough for their engagement and support. I am delighted with the support of Members of the House, and I look forward to seeing the Bill on the statute book very soon.

With the leave of the House, I thank everyone here for their contributions to the debate, and I extend that thanks to Members who are unable to be here but who contributed to past debates. In particular, I thank those who attended Second Reading and/or Committee stage, including the hon. Members for West Ham (Ms Brown), for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), for Bootle (Peter Dowd), for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Selby and Ainsty (Keir Mather); my right hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey); my right hon. and learned Friends the Members for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) and for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland); and my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), for Bury North (James Daly), for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for West Dorset (Chris Loder)—and I of course thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). It really has been a huge cross-party effort.

I would like to echo the thanks to those who have spoken today. It has been wonderful to hear many of the points that we talked about at length on Second Reading refreshed, echoed and underlined so ably. To my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt), I give my regards to Magic and Ninja. I thank him for reminding us again of “Six Dinner Sid” and the beauty of his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild), who is such an able advocate for cats, reminded us of the figures from Cats Protection.

I thank my hon. Friend—I hope I can pronounce the constituency correctly—the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—[Interruption.] Almost. I thank her for speaking so movingly on Report about cats and their sentience, and her experience with her kitten. It will stay with me for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is such a true animal lover and has backed the Bill right from the beginning. With uncharacteristic modesty, he did not mention Clemmie, Peppy and Ebony today, but please send my regards to them.

Finally, I thank very much my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) for coming today and for everything he said, including the wonderful tribute to my predecessor. I cannot help but think of the saying that people sometimes become like their pets. He mentioned that he had a dachshund called Tiger, and the way he champions his causes in this place brings that magnificent beast to mind.

I was of course being nothing but wholly complimentary. It was about the strength, tenaciousness and effectiveness with which my right hon. Friend makes his points—and that killer blow he so often brings to mind with his advocacy.

Of course, I must thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for his interest in this matter, for campaigning on microchipping and for the progress that we have made on that today. Equally, I thank the Opposition for their support, particularly the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). I think back to all the stages of this brilliant cross-party cause for which he has been with us. In that spirit, I would like to take a photograph to celebrate this groundbreaking legislation leaving the Commons, and I invite everybody who wants to take part to Westminster Hall at 2.40 pm—everybody is absolutely welcome.

I thank the Clerks and the DEFRA officials for their advice, and the excellent team in my office, who have worked so hard to make this happen. Of course, special thanks go to my constituency neighbour and Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), who is also a huge animal lover. Without her advice, we would not have got this and so many other private Members’ Bills to this stage so swiftly. She is both the queen and the unsung hero of our sitting Fridays—I am not sure you can be both, but she manages it. I thank Lord Black of Brentwood for making the Bill a truly Essex affair by agreeing to take it through the other place. It will be in an incredibly safe pair of hands. I cannot help but observe that where Southend and Essex lead, the nation so often follows.

Once again, I thank everybody. Animal welfare unites this House. I look forward to the House sending a clear message that the abhorrent crime of pet abduction will not be tolerated and needs to come to an end; pets are so much more than just a piece of personal property. Through the Bill, I hope that that day comes very soon.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.