Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

I could not agree more and find it hard to imagine why anybody would disagree with our hon. Friend’s Bill. I am delighted that Ministers are giving it such strong support and hope that means it will progress through its parliamentary stages in a timely fashion.

I pay tribute to and give huge thanks for the work of so many animal charities, but particularly the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, for the way they help to raise issues relating to animal welfare and cruelty to animals—in the case of those two charities, to dogs in particular.

Earlier, my hon. Friend
the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) spoke about how he definitely does not have animals in his office, and he suggested that animals are not allowed on the parliamentary estate under any circumstances. That is not quite true because, as you may know, Mr Deputy Speaker, and as my hon. Friend also knows, there is a dog in my office upstairs. Bella is an officially accredited office dog, with her own pass. She is my assistant’s therapy dog, following brain surgery, and she is a familiar sight around the Committee corridor and on the way to the office. Her work was recognised in last year’s Westminster dog of the year competition, in which she was the runner up. As hon. Members across the House who have had the fortune to meet Bella will know, Bella was robbed, and I trust that a full and independent inquiry will follow to look into how Bella received only the prize of second place, rather than what she was due.

On a more serious note, we in the United Kingdom pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers, but every case of extreme cruelty that Members have referred to today is a scar on that claim. We must ensure that such crimes attract the length of sentence that is clearly due. My constituents in Dudley South struggle to understand why impersonating a customs officer, serious crime though that is, currently attracts a higher maximum sentence than that available for the most extreme, sadistic, and sickening cruelty to animals, such as the offences we have heard about today. The Bill seeks to put that right, and it is long overdue.

Many hon. Members have referred to service animals, and to the incredible story of Finn and PC Wardell, who are both clearly heroes. The issue of service animals is particularly dear to me because my father was a mounted police officer with West Midlands police for many years, and he also worked with the dogs in that police force. During his time on duty—this is going back more than a couple of decades—there were a small, sickening number of people who somehow thought that a police dog or horse was a legitimate target for attack, whether during a protest or riot, or whether because of common criminality.

Violence towards service animals has always struck any right-minded person as unacceptable, and it is pleasing that the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019 is now in statute. I look forward to this Bill joining it, to ensure sentences that are appropriate for the most sickening cases of animal cruelty. I know that many other Members wish to speak in this debate, so I will not detain the House any longer. I look forward to my hon. Friend’s Bill proceeding to Committee. It cannot come into force a day too soon.