All 2 contributions to the Pet Abduction Bill 2023-24 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Fri 19th Jan 2024
Wed 31st Jan 2024

Pet Abduction Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading
Friday 19th January 2024

(3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Pet Abduction Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Pet Abduction Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

First I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), and thank her for bringing forward this incredibly important Bill. It really shows the best of us as parliamentarians when we can have a debate like this; it brings us all together.

It is something of a challenge on a Friday to see whether we can get in as many pet names as possible, and I think we have excelled ourselves today with the naming of pets, including, of course, the 14 cats that Granny Meow looked after. We have also had many mentions of that wonderful event, Westminster dog of the year; I have come second in that competition a number of times, and not even with my own dog. I am a bit of a fraud because I borrowed one from one of the amazing charities, but it was to help to highlight that great and useful event. I also want to add my comments on the wonderful Sir David Amess, who did so much on animal welfare in this House. I am so pleased that my hon. Friend is following in his footsteps.

The Bill seeks to recognise the inherent difference between pets as sentient beings and pets as inanimate objects, as they would be seen under the criminal law on theft. I am really proud to say that it was this Government who introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, which cemented the legal recognition that vertebrate animals are sentient beings. The critical thing about this Bill is, of course, that it recognises that the sorts of stolen pets we are talking about are basically family—that is how I think my hon. Friend so ably put it—and all the emotions surrounding our pets.

At the outset, I pay tribute to all colleagues who took part in the debate, which has been tremendous, showing so much knowledge, expertise and love of our pets. We have had cross-party support, with the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for West Ham (Ms Brown) joining in. I thank them for their support.

I also thank all our colleagues for their support: my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), who did such a great job on the pet theft taskforce; my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson), who raised that issue of widening this legislation to other animals in the future—she knows that is an option in the Bill; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), who has great knowledge and expertise, having taken through Finn’s Law, which we have heard about; and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly). I know his Pets (Microchips) Bill is coming up, but I want to say that the microchipping reform we plan to take forward will contribute to addressing some of his Bill’s aims, so I hope that gives him some assurance.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who did so much on animal welfare when she was Secretary of State in the Department. Since she raised the question of commencing this legislation as soon as possible, I should put on the record that it will indeed be commenced as soon as possible, within three months of the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent. I hope that gives her some reassurance about our absolute intention to get speeding on with the Bill.

I do not have much time, but I was not surprised that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), raised the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and that gives me the opportunity to talk about it. We are aware of how important animal welfare is to the people in this nation, which is why it is such a priority for the Government. That Bill was a huge priority in our manifesto 2019, as he will know, and although the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill as such is not being taken forward, it is far from the case that we are dealing with items from that Bill in drips and drabs.

We have introduced a wave of legislation on animal welfare. To name just a few, we have increased the penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty; we have announced the extension to the Ivory Act 2018, with more species added; we have passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021; we brought in legislation on the microchipping of cats, which I was here for on a Friday; we made our action plan for animal welfare in 2021; we banned glue traps and tackled hare coursing; we banned the trade in shark fins; we modernised licensing for dog breeding and pets; we passed Finn’s law, which I referred to; and there is much more. I genuinely think we are the party for animal welfare.

The unlawful taking of pets is a callous crime and it is right that perpetrators are brought to justice. The Bill focuses on the impact on the welfare of stolen cats and dogs, not just their financial value. That is so important. I have to name my cats, because everyone else has named their pets. I have to put Raffa and Mr Tipps on the record. We have had so many references to what pets mean to us, but since my husband died and my three children left home, my cats have taken on an even more important role in my life. They are there to welcome me when I get home. We all have stories like that, as we have heard. Those are the things we can share. Our pets are so important to us, and so is the Bill.

I welcome the Bill’s intention to improve the recording and monitoring of pet abduction offences, which is really important. I welcome the work of the pet theft taskforce, because so many of its recommendations are being taken up, including bringing in the option of other animals if that is proven to be the right thing to do.

Another of the taskforce’s recommendations was to strengthen the process of the transfer of keepers recorded on a microchip record. We want all database operators to have robust processes in place to ensure that the existing keeper has a chance to object when someone else tries to change the keepership details on the microchip record. That will ensure that stolen pets cannot simply be transferred to a new keeper.

We have consulted on other changes to the microchipping regime that will make it easier for pets to be reunited with their keepers, and we will publish details of that very soon. We have already announced the requirement for all owners of cats over 20 weeks to get their cats microchipped by 10 June 2024, so people need to get a move on if they have not managed to do that yet.

I could say a lot more because there is so much in the Bill. As a Government and as a Department we are looking at more things relating to the important issue of animal welfare. I hope I have demonstrated that we are right behind the Bill. We wish it well on its swift progress. There is no shortage of people offering to serve on the Bill Committee, which is tremendous. I reiterate that once the Bill becomes an Act it will be commenced within three months of Royal Assent, if not before, in England. I will leave that there, Mr Deputy Speaker—I know you are an ardent campaigner for animal welfare. On that happy note, we can all join together and be happy with our day’s work.

Pet Abduction Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Pet Abduction Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 31 January 2024 - (31 Jan 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Pet Abduction Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Mark Spencer)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for bringing forward this important Bill for pet lovers in this country. I also thank the hon. Members in this room for their support this morning.

The Bill will create offences of cat abduction and dog abduction in England and Northern Ireland, recognising that cats and dogs are sentient beings and not merely property. The intention is that it will allow the courts to place greater focus on the impact on the welfare of the animal as well as the interests of its owner when deciding on penalties.

The Bill is intended to deal with the unscrupulous people who abduct a cat or a dog. I am hugely aware that such people are an exception. The Bill does not intend to criminalise genuinely kind behaviour to cats and dogs that people do not own—for instance, where they believe the animal is a stray. The vast majority of citizens love animals and want to do the right thing if they see an unaccompanied cat or dog.

The pet theft taskforce found that in the majority of cases dogs were stolen from homes, mostly from gardens and outbuildings. The Bill makes it an offence for a dog or a cat to be taken from a person with lawful control of the animal. In the case of dogs, the Bill also makes it an offence to detain a dog to keep it from someone entitled to the lawful control of the dog.

These offences, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has outlined, are subject to certain exceptions and defences. The Bill rightly makes no difference in the penalties for dog or cat abduction, but by limiting the offence to “taking” of cats, it does take into account the different lifestyles of those animals. I am particularly pleased that the Bill includes a cat abduction offence, which stakeholders have been calling for. It is right that there is no detaining offence for cats. They are known to occasionally make themselves at home on other people’s sofas, and some cats display deft cat-flap skills, meaning that people might not even be aware that a cat is in their home.

The maximum sentence attached to cat or dog abduction is up to five years in prison or a fine, or both. That aligns to the maximum term for animal welfare offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. As the new offences are centred on the impact on the animal, we feel it is right that the maximum penalty aligns with other serious animal welfare offences. Although causing unnecessary suffering remains an offence in its own right under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, the intention is that the new offences will allow the court to take account of the impact on the animals when deciding on penalties. It could, for instance, consider any impact on the animal in circumstances where an animal is taken forcefully.

The Bill includes a power enabling the Secretary of State or the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland to extend the Bill’s offences to further species of animals at a future date, but the power is limited. The Secretary of State or DAERA must consider that animals of that species are commonly kept as pets, and there must be evidence of a significant number or rise in cases of unlawful taking or detaining.

The power is an important asset to the Bill. The pet theft taskforce’s recommendation for the development of the pet abduction offence was preceded by a change in demand during covid-19. The circumstances that might trigger the consideration of inclusion of other species of animals commonly kept as pets could be similarly unpredictable. We therefore agree that it is appropriate for the Secretary of State or DAERA to have the power to respond dynamically.

As we have heard, the Bill extends to England and Wales and Northern Ireland, although the provisions apply in England and Northern Ireland only. We welcome Northern Ireland’s joining in with the Bill. As the matter is devolved, it will be up to the relevant devolved Governments to consider whether they would like to bring in a similar framework.

The Bill builds on the excellent work of the pet theft taskforce and acts on a key recommendation of developing a pet abduction offence. It also meets the Government’s commitment in the action plan for animal welfare to tackle the serious crime. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for promoting it.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will go back to where I began and thank all right hon. and hon. Members for attending the Committee and for their support. We have great champions of animal welfare in Parliament. I am grateful for the attendance of the hon. Member for Canterbury this morning and for her support on social media and through the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group.

Our nation is leading the way on animal welfare. Passing the Bill will cement our position and set an example, which I hope that many other countries will follow.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Commencement

--- Later in debate ---
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George.

As I mentioned on Second Reading, I am keen for the Bill to include a date for commencement so that it is not contingent on the Government to table further regulations. I have tabled the amendment for two reasons. First, it would reduce the work required of civil servants and Parliament by not requiring further regulation, albeit through a humble commencement order—I know the legislative mechanisms that go on behind the curtain of Government, particularly in DEFRA. Secondly, I am keen to include a date for the key reason of public trust. When we say that we are going to make law, especially when the Bill has taken much longer than originally planned, a commencement date means that the public can be confident that the measure will be law this year, without further delay.

I am conscious that officials will want time to write guidance that can be used to effect the Bill. I had originally considered that two months was enough, but I have been persuaded that having three months for automatic commencement is acceptable.

I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can be swift. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) gave a commitment at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading, putting it on the record that the Government will commence the Bill within three months in England. I can therefore support the amendment.

Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for promoting the Bill, which the Government fully support. I would also like to put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal, not only for her amendment but all the work she has done in various roles to support and improve animal welfare in this country. She is a true champion of animal welfare. With that, I look forward to seeing the Bill progress through its stages; I am delighted to support it.

Anna Firth Portrait Anna Firth
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal for tabling this amendment. I particularly thank her for her expertise, which has been of great value to me in bringing the Bill forward, and for her contribution on Second Reading, which was much appreciated. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) for making a firm commitment at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading that the offences will be commenced in England within three months of Royal Assent, which has been repeated and endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood this morning. I welcome this amendment, it has my full support, and I am grateful to the Minister for his full support as well.

Clause 6 sets out how and when each provision in the Bill comes into force in Northern Ireland. It provides for clause 1 on dog abduction, clause 2 on cat abduction and clause 4 on consequential provision of sections 1 and 2 to come into force by order made by DAERA. Clause 6(3) sets out that clause 3, which contains the Bill’s enabling power to extend the offences to other species, and clauses 5, 6 and 7 will come into force on the day on which the Act is passed.

Clause 6 also provides a power for the Secretary of State and DAERA to make transitional or saving provisions in connection with commencement and to include different provision for different purposes. Clause 7 sets out the short title of the Bill. It will be known as the Pet Abduction Act 2024. Finally, I thank all Members for their contributions—