When it comes to animal welfare, we have a record that we can be proud of. We were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals. Since 2010, we have banned the use of battery cages for laying hens, made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England, made microchipping mandatory for dogs, modernised our licensing regime for dog breeding and pet sales, and banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens.
Our 2019 manifesto committed to going further, and we have just delivered on one of our flagship commitments. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill has achieved Royal Assent and become law. This means that the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty will be raised from six months to five years from 29 June.
We are a nation of animal lovers, and a 2017 public consultation on this issue attracted over 9,000 responses with a clear majority supporting tougher sentences. Locally in Cornwall, we have some exceptional charities that help keep elderly or vulnerable people united with their pets. The Cinnamon Trust in Hayle runs a nationwide network of volunteers who visit elderly people and take their dogs out for a walk. As well as providing their pets with exercise the volunteers also provide much needed social contact for people ask risk of loneliness and, should the pet’s owner sadly pass away before their pet, the dog has a social bond with their walker and this can help resettle them.
There is absolutely no place in this country for animal cruelty of any kind, and we must make sure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law. The new maximum penalty will enable courts to take a firmer approach to cases including dogfighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, illegally cropping a dog’s ears and gross neglect of farm animals.
These sentences will be amongst the toughest in Europe and will help ensure that courts are able to enforce extended penalties for those who cruelly mistreat any animal, sending a clear message that animal cruelty will never be tolerated.
In 2019, we passed Finn’s Law. Finn was a police dog who was stabbed whilst pursuing a suspect with his handler PC David Wardell. Finn sustained serious stab wounds to the chest and head, but only criminal damage charges could be brought against his attacker. This Act, coupled with Finn’s Law, ensures that those who harm either service or any other animals are punished properly. PC Wardell has campaigned tirelessly on this issue, as have various animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA and Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.
There is more to do though. In recent months, there have been alarming reports of an increase in pet theft. I know just how important a much-loved pet is, and in recent weeks I have met both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor to discuss the matter. We are all determined to crack down on pet theft and will say more about our plans to do so in the weeks ahead.
We will continue to work to cement our position as a world leader in animal welfare, and we will continue to pursue our ambitious commitments in this space. I am determined that, in addition to treating our own animals well, we will tackle some of the unacceptable practices that take place abroad and set a clear sense of direction on animal welfare issues.