My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge proceeds with the Bill, I will make a very brief statement about legislative consent. The Bill, which increases the maximum custodial penalty for the worst acts of animal cruelty, has enjoyed cross-party support in both Houses. It would bring both England and Wales into line with the existing sentencing regimes for animal cruelty offences in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Animal welfare is a devolved matter, meaning that the Bill is subject to the legislative consent process. The Welsh Government laid a legislative consent memorandum for the Bill before the Senedd in February, advising that they support the Bill applying to Wales.
The timing of the Senedd elections and the Queen’s Speech means that there is now insufficient time for the Senedd to consider a legislative consent Motion before the end of this Session of the UK Parliament. Letting the Bill fall at this very late stage would be a regrettable outcome for both England and Wales alike. Given the circumstances, and mindful of the support expressed for the Bill by both the Welsh Government and other parties in Wales, the UK Government have decided to maintain their support for the Bill, notwithstanding that the Senedd has yet to pass a consent Motion. In the event that the Bill receives Royal Assent tomorrow, as I would hope, the incoming Senedd would have time to provide its support for the Bill after the election period and before the Act comes into force. We believe that this represents a pragmatic solution that will deliver widely supported enhancements to welfare and protection of animals in England and Wales.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble for his statement; I am sure that the Welsh Senedd will do the right thing, as this is extremely good for England and Wales. I am delighted and honoured that I was asked by my honourable friend Chris Loder in the other place to sponsor this important Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House. I also pay tribute to a former Member of the Commons, Anna Turley, who first started this process—it seems rather a long time ago. I give great credit to Chris Loder for introducing the Bill and for successfully steering it with determination and skill through all its stages in the other place.
The Bill, as many know, has had a protracted passage through Parliament at a time of serious issues well outside the normal parliamentary experience, but it appears that we have come together and finally made it happen. As we know, it increases the maximum penalty for animal cruelty offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 from six months to up to five years’ imprisonment. It is strongly supported and overdue. The Second Reading debate showed that the Bill received unreserved support from all sides of the House. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is most reassuring that there are indeed matters, such as improving protections for animals under our control, on which we can all unreservedly agree.
I congratulate the Government on their continued support for the Bill and on the persistence required to deliver their manifesto commitment to increase sentences for animal cruelty. I also take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for their considered and important contributions. I extend my thanks to those outside Parliament who have supported the Bill, long-standing and tireless advocates for animals and their welfare. They include many charities and other organisations, such as the League Against Cruel Sports, the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Cats Protection, Dogs Trust, Blue Cross and World Horse Welfare. I commend their effectiveness in campaigning for and supporting the Bill and the increased maximum penalties it will provide. Many members of the public write to us in droves and sign e-petitions each month concerning animal welfare issues—evidence that we are a nation of animal lovers. The public’s interest in discussions around protections for animals ensures that parliamentarians are kept abreast of emerging issues and can raise them with the Government, sometimes successfully.
Finally, I extend my thanks to all those hard-working civil servants in Defra, and indeed the Whips’ Offices, for getting us to this point, just before the curtain comes down on this parliamentary Session. I am sure that, given this Government’s commitment to strengthening animal welfare, we can look forward to more legislation in the coming months and years.