Elliot Colburn debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during the 2019 Parliament

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Thursday 25th May 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I think the hon. Gentleman might need to correct the record. The Government did not vote down a Bill; what we voted down was the Labour party trying to take control of the Order Paper. During that debate, we pointed out the inadequacy of the Bill and how the plan referred to in the long title was already under way, so his Bill was nugatory. The hon. Gentleman also seemed to forget about the Welsh Labour Government and the fact that there is greater frequency of sewage outflow usage in Wales than in England. Somehow that was left out of the debate, because the hon. Gentleman did not realise the issue was devolved.

I remind the House that it was not a Labour Government who introduced the monitoring of storm overflows. Indeed, a Labour Government introduced self-monitoring by water companies in 2009, after they were taken to court by the European Union. We should be clear that we have now seen an increase in monitoring, and by the end of the year over 91% of storm overflows will be monitored. That has unveiled the scourge of this scandal. Frankly, it is Labour Members and previous Labour Ministers who should hang their heads in shame about looking the other way.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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6. What steps she is taking to reduce the environmental impact of waste incineration.

Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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We want to see less waste being sent to incinerators, which is why we set a statutory target to halve the 2019 level of residual waste by 2042. The Environment Agency inspects and audits energy from waste plants to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of their environmental permits, which include strict emissions limits and associated strict requirements to monitor those limits.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Only about 20% of the waste that goes into the Beddington incinerator in my constituency is plastic, but it makes up three quarters of the harmful particulates that come out of the chimney stacks. Technology is available to extract plastic before it is burnt, and is being trialled around the country. Does the Minister agree that all waste incineration plants should be installing this technology as soon as possible?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
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We have legislated to prevent incinerators from accepting separately collected paper, metal, glass and plastic unless they have gone through a recycling facility first. We are trying to reduce all our waste but particularly plastic, and our plastic packaging reforms, which are under way, will mean that, overall, less waste will be incinerated.

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 619442, relating to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The prayer of the petition states:

“Hundreds of thousands of people signed numerous petitions calling for actions that the Government has included in the Kept Animals Bill. The Government should urgently find time to allow the Bill to complete its journey through Parliament and become law.

The Government promised to find time to take this bill through the next parliamentary stages so it can receive Royal Assent and become law, yet we are still waiting. For the Government to live up to its claims to be leading the way in animal welfare there must be no further delay to this legislation becoming law.”

The petition received over 107,000 signatures, which include nearly 100 from my Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I thank the petition creator, Jordan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week. We have met on a number of occasions as he is responsible for a number of the animal welfare petitions that we have debated in this place. I also thank the Petitions Committee staff for their excellent work in engaging with the public and petitioners in advance of today’s debate as well as the range of animal welfare charities and organisations that briefed me, and I am sure many other Members, before the debate.

The petition is one of many on animal welfare that the Petitions Committee has considered in recent years. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill brings together many of those topics under one umbrella, and I, and I am sure many other colleagues, consider it an extremely important piece of legislation. I have bored colleagues in the House many times before by discussing what I think one could call my menagerie of animals, so the issue is very close to my heart.

Let me bring Members up to speed. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in June 2021. It received Second Reading in October 2021, and went through Committee in November ’21. It did not make any further progress in the 2021-22 Session, and was carried over and reintroduced in May ’22. The Bill is awaiting Report stage. Both in their reply to the petition and many times in the House the Government have stated that they intend to continue the Bill’s passage through the Commons when parliamentary time allows.

In November ’22, when the Petitions Committee decided to schedule the debate, we wrote to the Environment Secretary for confirmation of when the Government plan to allocate further time for the Bill, to inform the Committee’s decision about whether to schedule a debate. I do not believe that we have had a response, but the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. I am grateful that the Minister is here to update us on the Bill’s progress.

The Bill is so important because, in a single legislative step, it addresses several commitments that the Conservative party made in our 2019 manifesto.

Tracey Crouch Portrait Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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Like my hon. Friend, I thank the Petitions Committee and the petitioners for introducing this important debate. Many of our constituents will have signed the petition, and from the number of colleagues in the Chamber today, I hope that the Minister can see that his Back Benchers are committed to the Bill going through. Given that the action plan for animal welfare, published in May 2021, was wildly praised by the whole sector, does my hon. Friend agree that it is disappointing that there has been such stagnation from this Government? Will he, like me, urge the Government to bring it forward as soon as possible?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend, who has been a doughty champion of animal welfare issues in this place over many years. I agree: it is disappointing that the Bill has not made it into law, and I hope that we send the message that we are keen to see it progress.

The overarching animal welfare issues addressed in the Bill include, but are not limited to, the end of export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, cracking down on puppy smuggling, updating the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, banning the keeping of primates as pets, introducing a new offence of pet abduction following the work of the pet theft taskforce and reforming legislation to tackle livestock worrying.

Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con)
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This is a really important debate, and I am glad my hon. Friend has secured it. The Bill has great significance to my Ynys Môn constituents, and I have received many letters urging the UK Government to bring it into law. I fully support the Bill, especially its goals of banning live exports and cracking down on puppy smuggling, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I am particularly keen to support the many farmers across the UK who are impacted by livestock worrying; indeed, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to amend and upgrade the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. I think this important Bill should progress through Parliament as soon as possible, and I hope the Minister will refer to livestock worrying in his answer.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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My hon. Friend makes a really important point on behalf of her Ynys Môn constituents. I want to touch very briefly on each of these overarching areas.

Roger Gale Portrait Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con)
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Mr Hollobone, I have explained to you that unfortunately, I have to leave early; I wish I did not have to. Before my hon. Friend moves on, a few moments ago he said “including, but not exclusively”. On behalf of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, which wholeheartedly supports the legislation, may I make it absolutely plain on the record that we do not see the Bill as a Christmas tree? There is no question of Conservative Members trying to amend it to include things that the Government do not want, so if that is a block to the Bill, it no longer needs to be.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I hope that the Minister has heard that representation loud and clear: if that is a block, I hope my right hon. Friend’s remarks have made clear that it should not be.

First, let me delve into live animal exports in a bit more detail. Live animals are exported to EU countries from the UK for breeding, fattening and slaughter. The concern from many is that during that process, animals undergo dehydration, starving and exhaustion and often end up as the victims of very cruel actions that are already illegal in the UK. Our departure from the European Union makes it possible to ban live animal exports. I am aware that there are mixed feelings about the proposals in the farming community, and I am sure that that has added to the delay. Concerns about the impacts that the ban could have on trade and business are, of course, valid, but I hope the Minister will be able to share some of the work his Department has done to address those concerns, and some of the mitigation measures that could be introduced to ensure we improve animal welfare while protecting businesses.

George Howarth Portrait Sir George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. I am sure that he, like me and many other Members, will have had representations from his constituents on the specific issue of the export of animals for slaughter. Does he agree that the strength of feeling on the issue is such that it needs to be dealt with as a matter of some urgency?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have certainly had that correspondence, and I am sure many colleagues will speak about the level of correspondence they have received from their constituents who feel so passionately that live animal exports are a cruel practice that should not be taking place.

Next, I want to move on to puppy smuggling. We have had debates in the Chamber about that topic and, as many colleagues will be aware, campaigners have been calling to an end to puppy smuggling and other dubious practices for many years. It has been debated, Ministers have answered parliamentary questions, there has been a major Committee inquiry and multiple drop-in events and campaign emails have been organised on the subject.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate, because, as he has said, the subject has evoked an enormous response in my constituency. One of the main issues is puppy smuggling. I have visited the Dogs Trust in West Lothian, and, over the period of the pandemic, the number of puppies they had to take into care escalated beyond belief. Some 2,000 smuggled dogs have been taken into care in the past two years, and the cost of living crisis is making the situation even worse. Does the hon. Member agree that delays to the Bill are helping criminals by keeping the puppy smuggling trade alive through a lack of legislation?

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I join the hon. Member in commending the Dogs Trust and many other animal welfare charities on their amazing work. I agree with her concerns about what delay means for those animals.

On puppy smuggling, more than 66,000 dogs were commercially imported into the UK in 2020 alone, according to Animal and Plant Health Agency figures. Evidence also shows a recent rise in low-welfare imports and smuggling activity, with border authorities seeing a 260% or so increase in the number of young puppies being intercepted for not meeting the UK’s import rules—from 324 in 2019 to 843 in 2020. There was a further 11% increase in commercially imported dogs from 2020 to 2021.

Research has discovered that a shocking 38% of people said that they would buy a dog smuggled from another country. People are more willing to support that trade than we might think. Illegal puppy trafficking is not only a concern for the welfare of animals, which are usually treated appallingly, but it is also a concern for the safety of our constituents. I am sure I am not the only Member who has received multiple representations from constituents about dog theft. Puppy smuggling and organised crime have been proven to go hand in hand and an investigation in 2017 discovered that an illicit puppy smuggling market operated in parallel to legal trade.

I am grateful that the Government have consulted on ending puppy smuggling, as well as pledging to introduce a new pet abduction offence following the work of the pet theft taskforce, which is included within the scope of the Bill. The section of the Bill dealing with the importation of dogs, cats and ferrets has two main parts. The first limits the number of these animals that can be moved on a non-commercial basis. The second sets restrictions on the condition of animals that can be brought into the country. Those proposals have been on the cards for some time with cross-party support, so I hope we can move forward with the Bill to tackle the scourge of puppy smuggling as soon as possible.

On zoos, the Bill states that the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 will be amended to improve zoo regulations and ensure that zoos are doing more to contribute toward conservation. That includes removing the exemption under the definition of zoos that means wild animals exhibited in circuses do not need to be licensed. It comes in addition to provisions in the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019 and similar legislation in devolved Administrations. The provisions would mean that no vertebrate animal not normally domesticated in Great Britain could be used in travelling circuses.

The Bill also amends the 1981 Act to allow the Secretary of State to specify standards for conservation for zoos and removes existing standards. It allows different conservation standards to be set for different types of zoos and would make it a licence condition for those standards to be met. It allows those with specialist expertise in certain species of animal that are kept in a zoo to be added to the list of possible inspectors for zoos, setting out that they could be used for periodic zoo inspections. It also amends provisions for appeals and the level of fines for offences.

I want to talk specifically about primates. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it a crime to cause any unnecessary suffering to kept animals. However, primates are highly intelligent animals with complex needs and require specialist care. It is not enough to legislate against suffering to kept animals when so many kept primates in the UK are kept in horrific conditions because of their special needs. The primate trade, though little talked about, is out of control according to Monkey World, who are inundated with requests to rescue primates who have been neglected by people who cannot manage them. Fully banning the trade of primates in the UK for personal pets is long overdue, and animal rights campaigners across the world are applauding the Government for taking steps to achieve that.

The final issue I want to touch on is livestock worrying. Results from the latest National Sheep Association survey found that on average each respondent experienced seven cases of sheep worrying in the past year, resulting in five sheep injured and two sheep killed per attack. Estimated financial losses through incidents of sheep worrying of up to £50,000 were recorded, with an average across all respondents of £1,570. However, most respondents received no or very little compensation.

The Bill would repeal the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and set out new increased powers for the police under the broader scope of livestock species and locations covered under the Bill. Improved powers would enable the police to respond to livestock worrying incidents more effectively, making it easier for them to collect evidence and in the most serious cases to seize and detain dogs to reduce the risk of further incidents.

I commend the work that the Government have already done to implement reforms on animal welfare, including passing the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 and working on an animal sentience committee to advise the Government on policies that impact the welfare of animals; announcing that they will make cat microchipping compulsory, as it is for dogs; introducing new powers for police and courts to tackle the illegal and cruel sport of hare coursing through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022; protecting elephants by passing the Ivory Act 2018; and backing Bills to increase the maximum penalties for animal cruelty from six months to five years’ imprisonment, to introduce penalties for animal welfare offences and to ban glue traps, all of which have received Royal Assent.

Henry Smith Portrait Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. May I add to that list of legislation? I am very grateful the Government have supported the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, which I am pleased to say completed its Second Reading in the Commons just over a week ago. I urge the Government to complete the journey on animal welfare issues in this Parliament by ensuring that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill comes back to Report stage at the earliest opportunity.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and of course he is absolutely right; I have no qualms in saying that the list of legislation is quite impressive, with huge achievements that I am very proud of the Government for undertaking. However, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would be one of the greatest leaps forward in animal welfare that this country has seen in years. It enjoys cross-party support and was part of our election manifesto.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s update on the progress of the Bill and to hearing him outline what steps his Department is taking to iron out any of the issues that may have arisen throughout the consultation phases, so that we can get the Bill moving again and get it on to the statute book.

Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP)
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I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on how he has introduced the debate. Before he comes to the end of his peroration, may I say to him that one of the most significant threats to animal welfare in Northern Ireland, believe it or not, is the Northern Ireland protocol? As of the middle of this month, 50% of pharmaceutical products for animals will no longer be available in Northern Ireland, both for on-farm animals and domestic pets. That threat must be urgently addressed by His Majesty’s Government before our animals in Northern Ireland are placed in any further danger.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. Not that long ago, I led a debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee on invoking article 16 and it became very clear from the research that we did before the debate that there was a significant impact on animals as a result of the protocol, so I hope that the Minister can also update the House about discussions with EU counterparts on the effect of the protocol on animals.

I also congratulate the hon. Member on getting an intervention in as I was about to finish my speech. To reiterate, I would be very grateful if the Minister could provide the reassurances and updates that so many people have turned up to Westminster Hall today to hear, so that we can get the Bill moving again, get it into law and cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader on animal welfare.

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Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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It is a great privilege, Mr Hollobone, to serve under your chairmanship and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly).

First, I declare a strong personal and professional interest in this piece of legislation: as a veterinary surgeon, I am passionate about animal health and welfare. I was privileged to be a member of the Public Bill Committee for this important Bill and it has my full support. As we have heard, it covers important areas such as primates, puppy smuggling, pet theft, livestock worrying, zoos and the movement of animals for slaughter. I urge the Government to press ahead with this important legislation.

I commend all the groups, organisations and charities that have campaigned in this domain for many years now, such as Cats Protection, World Horse Welfare, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the Dogs Trust, Battersea, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross and the British Veterinary Association, to name just a few. I was privileged to lead a letter just this week to Ministers with 63 other parliamentarians and the Dogs Trust to that effect, urging them to press ahead so that we can tackle this scourge. We have heard a lot about the scourge of puppy smuggling, and this Bill can try and stamp it out. In the UK, we have the highest standards of animal health and welfare, and we are a beacon to the rest of the world. If we pass a piece of legislation such as this, we can hold our heads high and actually set an example to the rest of the world. Some of the things in this legislation can be done with a stroke of a ministerial pen, or in secondary legislation. We need to move forward and get some of this stuff done.

I will highlight some key areas. We have heard from hon. Members across the Chamber about the importance of pet theft. Obviously, dogs are the high-profile animal in this legislation, and I have campaigned—as have many of my colleagues and friends—to increase its scope; it must include dogs, it must include cats and it must include horses, ponies and farm animals as well. We must ensure that it is all inclusive of the distress caused to the owners of all animals when they are stolen and the distress caused to the animals themselves, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), so I would like the scope to be increased. The impact on people’s mental health when animals are stolen, when animals suffer, when animals die and when animals are killed should not be understated.

Much of the Bill also focuses on the movement of animals. I sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I triggered an inquiry early on in Parliament on the movement of animals across borders. This piece of legislation covers a lot of that area, and it is important that it passes, so that we can improve how animals are moved and checked and ensure that they are not being moved in inappropriate circumstances.

I will start with small animals. We have heard a lot about puppy smuggling and the awful practice of heavily pregnant dogs and cats being moved in and around the country as part of the puppy smuggling and kitten smuggling trade. We on the EFRA Committee and the Bill Committee took harrowing evidence from the Dogs Trust and other groups on these heavily pregnant animals, and we have heard today about them being moved across borders, having caesarean sections performed and being moved again, to and fro. The harrowing details are so upsetting, and we must really try and stamp that out. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) said, the Dogs Trust has said that it has taken 103 pregnant dogs into care in the last couple of years—and that is just the Dogs Trust. If that is just one charity—just one group—how many other animals are undergoing this cruel practice?

Currently, the movement of pregnant dogs is prohibited in the last 10% of gestation—the last 10% of pregnancy—and it is hard to assess that last 10% clinically. The Bill tries to push that back to earlier in the pregnancy, perhaps into the last 30% to 50%, to make the transport of heavily pregnant, late gestation dogs illegal. We must ensure that we ban the movement of heavily pregnant animals—of heavily pregnant dogs and cats—in commercial licensing as well. Another part of the Bill that we looked at was increasing the age of animals that are transported—for cats and dogs, that age needs to be increased to at least six months. If we do other health things as well, such as reinstating the rabies titre checks and increasing the wait time post rabies vaccination to 12 weeks, that will help protect the health of these dogs and the biosecurity of our country, and it will raise the minimum age at which these animals can be transported.

We have also heard that limits need to be set on the numbers of pets per vehicle. We have heard that should be set at five—I actually agree, although there is an argument that it could be lowered to three. It is very important that this is per vehicle, rather than per person. We have heard evidence on the EFRA Committee of vans taking on extra foot passengers, and each foot passenger then having an allocation of five dogs. There could potentially then be 20 or 25 dogs in that vehicle. If the number is restricted per vehicle—to three or five dogs—then that would nail the loophole that those unscrupulous, awful people are exploiting.

I very much welcome the fact that the Bill will take strong action to ban the import of mutilated dogs. We have heard about ear cropping, a horrific procedure that is rightly banned in this country. It is done for no clinical reason whatsoever. It is a cruel and painful process that makes the dogs’ ears erect for merely cosmetic, visual or aesthetic reasons. It is awful—it is hideous.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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We in the Petitions Committee did a piece of work, and held a debate in this Chamber, on ear cropping. One of the worrying bits of evidence we received told us that young people were being encouraged to buy dogs with cropped ears, because while their import is illegal, they can be bought if they are already in the UK. One of the big problems was that celebrities and public figures were promoting, and making attractive, buying an ear-cropped dog. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to tackle ear cropping, the Government need to not only bring in this legislation, but crack down on the glorification of ear cropping?

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Hudson
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I completely agree with my hon. Friend; he read my mind, because I was about to cover that point. We need to ensure that owning those dogs is not normalised in society. Ear cropping may be illegal in this country, but as it is still legal to import mutilated dogs, the dogs are still coming in. Also, awful people are potentially mutilating in this country; there is evidence to suggest that is going on. That is not done by vets, nor with any form of anaesthesia or analgesia. It is an evil process that mutilates dogs and needs to be stamped out.

Six out of 10 small animal vets have seen ear-cropped dogs in the last year, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that there has been an 86% increase in them in the last year. As my hon. Friend said, we should not allow that to be normalised in popular culture, with celebrities advocating for it. Perhaps the celebrities do not realise how horrific the procedure is that their pet had done. People looking at those dogs think that they are acceptable. We have normalised that in society. One of my favourite animated films is the wonderful “Up”, but some of the dogs in it are cropped. “Up” is a few years old now, but when another wonderful animation called “DC League of Super Pets” came out this year, I was disheartened to see from the poster that one of the lead dog characters is cropped. We are normalising this in popular culture. It is a horrific process, and we need to stamp it out. The Bill could stop those dogs coming into this country.

As hon. Members have said, we should not forget about cats. Heavily pregnant cats are being smuggled, and some people outside this country mutilate cats. I am talking about declawing, which is actually just chopping the claws off. That is illegal in this country, but it is still legal to import cats that have been horrifically declawed.

We have heard today about the importance of checking animals for diseases as they cross borders. There have been increased reports of canine brucellosis in this country. That is a zoonotic disease—one that can be transmitted from animals to people. There is a case of a human who has caught that from an imported dog. We have to make sure that we do pre-import checks and screen animals that cross borders. There are other diseases as well, such as babesiosis, echinococcus and leishmaniasis. There are simple things we can do, such as reinstate mandatory tick and tapeworm treatments for companion animals coming into the country. We have to be cognisant of the biosecurity of animals in the UK, and cognisant of public health, because, as I say, some of these diseases can be transmitted from animals to people. The Bill will protect travelling animals, UK animals and people. It will protect animals large and small.

In promoting animal welfare, we need to ensure that animals are healthy. The Minister knows my stance on this, because I keep pressing him hard on it. We are in the midst of an avian influenza outbreak. The Animal and Plant Health Agency is coping admirably in this dreadful situation, but we need to ensure that APHA is adequately funded and staffed. Heaven forbid that something else comes into the country, such as foot and mouth disease, African swine fever or African horse sickness; APHA would be really stressed, so we need to ensure that the Treasury funds it. I sit on the EFRA Committee and was able to guest on the Public Accounts Committee when it looked at the National Audit Office report on the APHA site in Weybridge in Surrey. The site needs radical refurbishment that will cost in the order of £2.8 billion. The Government have committed around £1.2 billion, which is a lot of money in these tight fiscal circumstances, but I firmly believe that we need to fund it moving forward.

Larger animals should be covered by the Bill, too. Not one horse is moved legally from the UK to Europe for slaughter, but it is likely that thousands are moved illegally. The EFRA Committee took harrowing evidence on illegal animal movements across borders. It needs to stop, and this sort of legislation can control it. We need to improve equine identification and digital monitoring. I welcome the fact that the Bill covers the export of livestock, and would stop the movement of farm animals for slaughter and fattening, but we need to specify that it is all right in certain instances to move animals around for breeding purposes. That would be complementary to measures on the movement of animals. We need to ensure that the legislation works.

As I said, we have high standards in this country, and should be proud of that, but we need to work together to improve transport conditions for animals. It is important that farm animals be slaughtered close to where they are reared. One of the recommendations of the EFRA Committee report was on the need to bolster the abattoir network in this country. I attended a roundtable last week with the Minister on the importance of supporting the UK’s small abattoir network, so that animals can be reared, slaughtered and bought locally, and people can eat local and buy local. That would reduce the transport distances for animals, which we need to do.

I am proud that the Conservative Government have a strong record on animal welfare. We have heard about it today. The private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) on stronger sentencing in animal cruelty cases has been passed into law. The animal health and welfare pathway in the new environmental land management scheme is a new way to reward farmers and land managers with public money for a public good. Animal health and welfare is recognised as a public good; we should be proud of that.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, which the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth, talked about, has become law. It is so important that we recognise animals as fully sentient beings. We should be proud as Conservatives that we are driving forward a lot of these changes, but we need to hold our nerve and keep going. Let us go back to our manifesto, much of which the Bill would enact. Animal welfare unites us across the House, and unites us in humanity. Introducing this legislation is the right and moral thing to do for these wonderful sentient beings, which we have a duty of care towards. To quote a famous sports brand, I say to the Government: just do it.

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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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It is a pleasure to have served under your chairmanship for the end of the debate, Mr Twigg. Colleagues will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to take until 7.30 pm to wind up.

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for coming and showing the incredible cross-party support for getting this important Bill on to the statute book. Indeed, we very much heard that passion from Members who took part in the debate, including the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice)—we are grateful he came to share his expertise with us—and my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Chris Loder) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster). We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), for Bury North (James Daly) and for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) about how the Bill could go further, but it is clear that we all want it to get on to the statute book. We will do everything possible to get it there as soon as possible.

I add a plea to the Minister to take away in particular the point about the Northern Ireland protocol and its impact on implementing much of the Bill in Northern Ireland. I remind colleagues that, when we talk about the transporting of animals, we are not just talking about commercial arrangements; many domestic animal movements have been impacted by the protocol. I will just pick up on the example of those who keep poultry, who are finding it very hard. Avian flu has had a real impact on the ability to show poultry, but there has been much concern among those living in Great Britain about being able to take their birds to attend shows such as that run by the Ulster Poultry Federation in Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to ensure that DEFRA does all it can to represent those concerns at the highest possible level in discussion of the protocol.

In conclusion, I thank the petitioners, those in the Public Gallery who came along today and the Petitions Committee staff for their work in putting on the debate. Clearly, we are all very keen to get the Bill enacted as soon as possible. My hon. Friend for Penrith and The Border nicked a very good slogan, which I was tempted to repeat, but as Brexit has come up a lot during the course of the debate, I will nick another instead: let us get the Bill done.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 619442, relating to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

Waste Incineration: Permit Variation

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Thursday 1st December 2022

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered permit variation processes for waste incineration facilities.

It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank the Chairman of Ways and Means for selecting today’s debate, especially because doing so involved a change to the Order Paper at short notice. I appreciate the opportunity to bring this matter to Westminster Hall today. I also thank the Minister for attending; it is great to see her back in her place. She will have heard much of what I am about to say when she was in her role previously, not just in my speeches in Westminster Hall but in our many conversations. I am grateful that she is willing to listen to me talk on the topic once again.

It will come as no surprise to colleagues that the topic of my speech is the Beddington incinerator in my Carshalton and Wallington constituency. The facility can currently process over 300,000 tonnes of non-hazardous residual waste a year. The waste is imported from four south London boroughs and further afield, as well as coming from my own borough, the London Borough of Sutton. Since the site completed commissioning in 2019, it has been bedevilled by problems, and to this day my constituents suffer because of a number of issues regarding the site.

The first issue is that the incinerator is statistically the No. 1 polluter in the London Borough of Sutton. Emissions limits have been breached on literally hundreds of occasions, with more than 20 incidents relating to carbon dioxide and 40 incidents relating to volatile organic compounds, plus many more invalid reports. The promised Beddington Farmlands restoration project has been delayed again and again, and protected ground-nesting birds have been killed by predators because of failures to keep water levels from dropping. Local roads have been damaged, congested and polluted by regular waste vehicle movements. The rise in nitrogen dioxide from gas canisters and recreational drug taking has caused multiple explosions at the facility, which have risked the safety of the workers and pushed emissions up with every occurrence. In addition, recycling rates have fallen by over 6% in the London Borough of Sutton alone. I will delve into all those problems, and more, later.

We were regularly reassured by the Lib Dem-run council—I note that not a single Liberal Democrat Member has turned up to the debate—that, following sign-off, the operator would not submit any future variations. Well, surprise, surprise: barely three years since the site was first developed, Viridor has indeed submitted an application to the Environment Agency to vary its environmental permit to enable enhanced operations at the Beddington site. In layman’s terms, that means that it wants to burn more waste at Beddington. That will mean more vehicle movements, which will mean more emissions, and more problems for my Carshalton and Wallington constituents.

The application for the variation was submitted way back in January, but the Environment Agency has only in recent weeks launched the public consultation on it. Over the past 11 months, I have had various conversations with Viridor, the council, councillors, community groups and residents about the proposals. During that period, it has become clear that the application is totally inappropriate. Given that this is a live application undergoing consultation, the Minister is limited in what she can say, but I want to make some points. What sparked the need for the debate was not the content of the application and the proposals alone, as serious as those issues are; in addition, I have found that there is extremely limited community engagement and influence over the processes for determining these applications. I hope that we can discuss that in more detail.

The regulation of incinerators in England is split between the Environment Agency and local authorities, with the EA regulating incinerators with a capacity greater than 3 tonnes per hour for non-hazardous waste and 10 tonnes per day for hazardous waste. That has been the case for the Beddington incinerator in my constituency. Incinerators below those levels are regulated by local authorities.

The environmental permit sets conditions that limit the discharge to air, water and soil of specified substances. The regulations require public consultation on some permit applications, but do not prescribe the methods of consultation. That can cause inconsistencies in the level of engagement that communities are offered around the country. Once an operator has an environmental permit, changes in the operation of the facility may require it to apply to vary the permit. It must apply to the regulator to vary the permit conditions when proposing a change that would mean that a permit condition can no longer be complied with. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 require the Environment Agency to consult on any new application or applications involving a substantial change.

Despite potentially significant cumulative impacts on communities following permit variation, there is no mechanism for local authorities to directly influence the determination. Unlike for initial applications for incinerators or other comparable major planning, environmental or licensing proposals or changes to conditions, communities are essentially frozen out of the decision-making process for permit variations for incinerators.

The Beddington site was first given the green light by Lib Dem-run Sutton Council back in 2013. The environmental permit allowed for the processing of up to 302,500 tonnes of waste per annum. The variation was granted in December 2020 to allow for the processing of up to 347,422 tonnes of waste per annum, based on the increase in availability, but Viridor is now looking to increase capacity to 382,286 tonnes per annum. That is a 26% increase in waste at the site since it was originally approved at the application stage.

In the past 12 months, slightly over 65,000 vehicle movements have been made to the incinerator. The draft proposed variations would increase projected vehicle movements to up to 76,000 per year. That is a 17% increase. Despite those shocking figures and the significant impact the variation will have on the community, there is a noticeable lack of discussion about the cumulative impacts of permit variations.

Paragraph 47 of the Government’s planning practice guidance for waste highlights the importance of the cumulative impacts of intensifying existing waste management sites and the need to engage with communities:

“The waste planning authority should not assume that because a particular area has hosted, or hosts, waste disposal facilities, that it is appropriate to add to these or extend their life. It is important to consider the cumulative effect of previous waste disposal facilities on a community’s wellbeing. Impacts on environmental quality, social cohesion and inclusion and economic potential may all be relevant. Engagement with the local communities affected by previous waste disposal decisions will help in these considerations.”

Despite that, the increase in traffic generated by intensifying incineration at the Beddington site cannot be taken into account by the Environment Agency when determining whether the application is appropriate. Its website states that residents are not allowed to talk about vehicle movements and the impact their emissions will have when the application is determined because it is a planning matter. The irony will not be lost on Carshalton and Wallington residents that one of the Lib Dems’ arguments for building the incinerator in the first place was that it would reduce the number of vehicle movements needed on the site.

The incinerator has been operational for barely three years, and this is the second permit variation application to land on the Environment Agency’s doorstep. If this one is approved, what is to say that there will not be another one and another one and another one years down the line? At what point does the intensification of the site and the cumulative impact that it has on the community at large warrant an entirely new permit or planning application?

Residents in Carshalton and Wallington did not vote to burn more waste, then a bit more a few years later, then a bit more a few years later. They did not vote to expand the incinerator’s reach, with waste brought to our area from another borough, then another and maybe another. They did not vote for more vehicle movements, potholes and exhaust fumes—they were originally told that vehicle numbers would fall. They did not vote for an increase in air pollution when they were told again and again that incineration is better than landfill. They did not vote for Beddington Lane, the road where the incinerator is located, to seem permanently to have roadworks, causing massive traffic displacement across the constituency. And now here we are at the precipice of another attempt to vary the incinerator’s permit, a decision that will be taken out of local hands.

Blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of the process or regulations that are being followed. Lib Dem-run Sutton Council birthed the incinerator into our borough and has been incubating it for years while turning a blind eye to scandal after scandal, betrayal after betrayal, until the grotesque expansion of the incinerator risks transforming Beddington into the dumping ground of south London. That was the Lib Dem vision for Carshalton and Wallington—one that never appeared in any election manifesto.

There needs to be a mechanism to ensure that communities have greater influence—more than just a single written consultation—over these processes and the determination of repeated major permit variations. Communities need to be able to hold regulators and those who make these decisions, whether that is the local authority or the Environment Agency, to account.

I have organised my own petition to oppose Viridor’s expansion plans and to call for them to be dropped. Already, almost 1,000 local people have signed the petition and said no to the expansion plans. I would hazard a guess that that is far more than will respond to the official consultation, because very few people are aware of it and there is no direct outreach engagement from Viridor or the Environment Agency. The application was submitted almost a year ago, but there has been hardly any promotion of the consultation. We are now firmly in the consultation period but, unfortunately, it falls in the middle of the Christmas period, when people will be distracted by other things.

Oddly, I am pleased about something. The Environment Agency has understood that the Beddington proposals are of high public interest, and it proposes to hold a second consultation once the current one has closed. However, there are other ways to improve engagement with the community, such as holding multiple public information events in residential areas, and a public hearing, which would allow stakeholders to provide evidence in support of their views directly to the body that will make the decision. Although not perfect, those activities would at least help community awareness and mitigate the feeling that the decision is being made by a faceless organisation far away from the local area.

Separate to the process of determination and consultation, there are other ways to mitigate issues with the content of permit variations. It is within the scope of the Environment Agency to assert conditions for permit variations. For example, a condition could be added to ensure the operator installs metal detectors and magnets to extract any recyclable or harmful metal materials before they are burnt.

I mentioned the scourge of nitrous oxide canisters, which can be purchased legally, in many circumstances to achieve a so-called legal high. I am sure other hon. Members will share their experience of seeing such canisters littered across the streets. They have to be disposed of, so they get into our waste stream and end up being incinerated. When they make contact with high heat, they explode, potentially causing damage to the plant, massive operational difficulties, and danger to the people who work at or live near the site.

Viridor has launched a public information campaign to make it clear that such canisters should not be put into residential bins. I support that campaign and welcome those efforts, and I hope we can send a message from the House today that we support efforts to ensure that gas canisters do not end up in bins. However, I would go a step further. Viridor is already using metal detectors and magnets to extract harmful metals at another site; the Environment Agency should stipulate the installation of similar technology in Beddington as a condition for the permit variation.

On a similar note, I find it appalling that we still do not understand how much recyclable waste is sent for incineration in this country. There need to be clear, measurable recycling targets that operators must adhere to. The proponents of incineration often point to recycling as a metric of their success and evidence that incineration is better than landfill. While the latter is certainly true—no one disputes that, and no one wants to see a return to waste being put into the ground; that is, of course, the worst of all options—the same cannot be said for the effect of incineration on recycling rates. As landfill sites have begun to close and be phased out, incineration has picked up much of the demand, nearly quadrupling in the past decade from 12% to 44% of our waste management capacity. However, recycling rates have barely moved in that time, from 37% to 43%—just a 6% increase.

That is not coincidental or unrelated. According to worrying research by the House of Commons Library, data from the 123 waste authorities shows a negative relationship between recycling and incineration. In other words, higher incineration means lower recycling, and vice versa. I saw that at first hand when I visited the incinerator in Beddington. Recyclable materials will always find their way into the wrong bin—of course they will—but there must be processes to filter them out.

I have also been informed of investigations from other areas of England where specific recycling bin bags have been sent to incineration. Indeed, a local group in my constituency, and in boroughs in south London, put tracking devices in bins and found that they ended up in the incineration room at the incinerator. They were not being recycled but shoved straight in to be burned. That is an absolute scandal. Research from Zero Waste Europe reveals that more than 90% of materials that end up in incineration plants or landfill could be recycled or composted. Ninety per cent! That is huge.

Even when waste is turned into energy, recycling is still the better option. It can save up to five times the energy produced by burning waste, which is not a renewable resource, creates toxic pollution, and potentially emits more carbon dioxide than some hydrocarbon-powered plants. In other words, incinerators need waste, whether it is recyclable or not, to have an effective business model. I do not think that we can call that recycling.

However, there is some good news, which could help us phase out incineration and should be considered before expanded or future incineration sites are approved. That is, of course, the deposit return scheme, which has seen recycling rates rocket in more than 40 countries and is due to be rolled out here in the UK.

The resources and waste strategy sets out the Government’s plans to reduce, reuse and recycle more than we do now. Their target is to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste throughout the life of the 25-year environment plan. The groundbreaking and world-leading Environment Act 2021 introduced powers to introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. That will prevent billions more plastic bottles from going into landfill or being littered or incinerated. I believe that that will help to change consumer behaviours, with potential knock-on effects for other environmental activities, and will reduce the need for more incineration.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has consulted twice on introducing a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most recently in 2021. I understand that Ministers anticipate a scheme being introduced in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in late 2024 at the earliest, subject to the outcome of the second consultation. I would be grateful for an update from the Minister, but that represents a realistic yet ambitious timetable to ensure that DEFRA implements a DRS that is as effective as possible in achieving the UK’s objective of boosting recycling levels. It will offer greater opportunities to collect higher-quality, uncontaminated materials in greater quantities, thus promoting a circular economy and reducing the need for incineration.

The UK Government plan to halve the amount of waste going to landfill or incineration in England by 2042. Proposals to expand existing sites, such as the one at Beddington, directly contravene that ambition. England currently has 15.6 million tonnes of operational incineration capacity. If consented capacity was built, that would grow to more than 28 million tonnes, while feedstock—the amount of waste to be burned—is expected to fall to around 13.4 million tonnes by 2042. That is less than the capacity we have now, and it would mean that we had 14.7 million tonnes of excess capacity in England—and that is without any of the further 3.7 million tonnes of capacity that is currently in the planning system being granted. Despite that, the Environment Agency is unable to take into account issues around national overcapacity when determining permit variations such as the one for Beddington.

Another cumulative impact of these proposals, which is being swept under the carpet, frankly, is on Carshalton and Wallington residents. I could speak all day, as I think I have demonstrated, about the Beddington incinerator and its continued impact on my constituents. However, I will wrap up my remarks to allow colleagues to speak and to hear what the Minister has to say.

I will just end by saying that Carshalton and Wallington has suffered as a result of continual failures by the Lib Dem council to hold the incinerator to account. The council forced it on residents in the first place and now it is doing nothing about it. Now, due to the processes that are in place, we are at risk of being on the receiving end of even more waste, more vehicle movements, more incineration and more emissions. There are alternatives to this and conditions that could mitigate the impact. I hope that the Minister can shed a little more light on the work that the Government are doing to phase out incineration and introduce other measures, such as the deposit return scheme.

Carshalton and Wallington residents must have a voice in this debate and they should have a say on whether their community—our community—takes on more of south London’s rubbish to burn. The motion states:

“That this House has considered permit variation processes for waste incineration facilities.”

We need to consider the cumulative impacts of incineration and the impact of expanding incineration sites. The residents of Carshalton and Wallington have considered it, I have considered it, and I do not think that the process to vary environmental permits is working in the best interests of communities.

--- Later in debate ---
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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First, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore). The three of us have been here many times before, so I am grateful to see them here.

To pick up on a point that the Minister made in summarising the debate about emissions breaches at the Beddington site, I have the receipts, as they say. In 2020 alone, there were 184 incidents in which the carbon monoxide limit was breached and there were more than 700 invalid carbon monoxide reports, but I will happily write to the Minister with details of that.

I think it is clear, from listening to colleagues today, that the processes for making permit variations for incinerators are simply not fit for purpose when they do not include things like the cumulative effects—for example, in relation to traffic. In Beddington, residents were told that incineration would improve recycling. It does not. They were told that they would get a redeveloped Beddington Farmlands. That is missing. They were told that they would get a green energy provider. That has been a massive failure. They were told that it would improve traffic. That has gone up. They were told that it would improve air quality. There is no evidence of that. And they were told that capacity would not be increased in the future, but we are on increase No. 2.

Carshalton and Wallington residents deserve better—residents of any constituency deserve better—when this is forced upon them, so I encourage the Government to look again at the permitting system for incineration.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered permit variation processes for waste incineration facilities.

Oral Answers to Questions

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his tenacious campaigning on this topic. The bass fisheries management plan will manage bass fishing in England and Wales. We are delivering on our commitments in the Fisheries Act 2020. The fisheries management plan will apply to all vessels fishing in these waters, and the Fisheries Act 2020 requires consultation with all interested persons. Our fisheries management plans will comply with the UK’s international obligations, including the trade and co-operation agreement.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Hansard - -

T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I pay tribute to the previous ministerial team, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), on the work that they did while they were Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I have just returned from my fourth climate COP, the UN climate conference in Egypt, where I held productive bilateral meetings with a range of counterparts from India to Japan. Yesterday, I was delighted to announce a new big nature impact fund for our country of £30 million as seed investment to bring in other private investment that will help us to plant more woodland, restore precious peatland and create new habitats, as well as bring green jobs to our communities. We should be proud of what we are achieving, and indeed the work that we are doing to unlock financing around the world, but it is critical that we have a great global effort, so that, as we head into the financial negotiations ahead of the COP15 on the convention on biological diversity in Montreal next month, we come together to ensure that we have ambitions for the future of our planet.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

Carshalton and Wallington residents warned the Lib-Dem-run council that the incinerator that it campaigned for in Beddington would one day want to increase its capacity. Sadly, they have been proven right, because it is now seeking to burn more. I know that the waste minimisation strategy calls for the phasing out of incineration, so does my right hon. Friend agree that residents should get involved in the Environment Agency consultation to say that they do not want to see that increase?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It will be no surprise to anyone in this House that Liberal Democrats often say one thing to get elected and then do the exact opposite. We should be aware that generating energy from waste should not compete with greater waste prevention, reuse or recycling. Consideration must be given to the Government’s strategic ambition to minimise waste and our soon-to-be-published residual waste reduction target, and I agree that my hon. Friend’s residents should respond to the consultation in full force.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mrs Cummins, and it is a pleasure to be back. What a wonderful first Bill to be back for; it is always great to be part of a Bill Committee where there is a general consensus—even with our Scottish friends—because we all agree that it is a good thing to do. It is exactly the sort of thing that we should be leading the way on.

I must thank the hon. Member for Neath for bringing forward the Bill and for all her work on this. Indeed, I thank the whole Committee, because I believe that its members all have some reason for being on it. Possibly they have had their arms twisted, but, individually, each of us has some feeling, experience or knowledge on the issue, and I genuinely think that that is very helpful. It just goes to show that we mean business.

Nobody disagrees that shark finning is a gross practice. It is cruel and unsustainable. In fact, listening to some of the comments this morning makes my stomach turn; it is pretty grim. In the UK, shark finning has been banned for nearly 20 years, but this Bill goes an extra step to ban the import and export of the detached shark fins and shark-fin products. It is the only way that we can be sure that we are not inadvertently fuelling unsustainable practices abroad. The Bill is fully supported by Government, and we will do all we can to support its swift passage.

I am proud of our strong marine track record internationally. I went to the UN ocean conference in Portugal just a few months ago, and it was clear that the UK is considered a world leader on a lot of this conservation action. I do not think that we talk about that enough at home—how we are really seen as leaders. I think that this Bill will be another example; people will be watching us and what we have done.

We have committed to the protection and management of shark species, and the Bill is another step towards that. To reiterate, when we say sharks, that also includes rays and skates. I went to the Birmingham National Sea Life Centre not long ago; I do not know if anybody here has been there but it is a wonderful place to see those creatures. The skates and rays were enormous creatures; they were sort of like underwater flying machines, really. To think that we cause them such damage really brings home why we need this Bill to protect them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay so ably described to us, pulling off a creature’s fins inflicts a gross, cruel, painful and slow death. Sharks produce very few young compared with other fish, making them even more vulnerable if people carry out such practices on the scale mentioned by the hon. Member for Bootle. It affects their whole life cycle.

As we heard on Second Reading, the International Union for Conservation of Nature states that over 25% of sharks, rays and skates are threatened with extinction. Removing these top predators would have a catastrophic impact right the way down the food chain. This what my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford was really referring to. She has a great deal of knowledge in this area, particularly on dolphins. This is impacting the whole food chain.

We have heard some statistics. Something like 73 million sharks are caught I think annually—the exact sum is up for debate. A huge proportion of those—not all of them—would be affected by this, but a great proportion of them would have had their fins ripped off, so this is a really important step on our global journey on shark conservation. It will help us to consolidate our position as world leaders.

I want to touch on the point that was raised ably by the hon. Member for Leeds North West. CITES is holding its 19th meeting of the conference of the parties right now. I spoke to our team out there—it is in South America—and we are co-proponents of a proposal to list a further 54 shark species in the requiem shark family. The hon. Member named some previous species to be listed, and that group of sharks accounts for 85% of the global shark fin trade. I will name a few of them—I do not want to keep us here for hours—because includes sharks most of us never even think about, such as the tiger shark, the bull shark, the lemon shark, the spinner shark, the blacknose shark, the blacktip shark, the grey reef shark, the silky shark, the dusky shark, the blue shark, the copper shark. There are loads of them, and 54 species will now be on the list. That means they have to be controlled much more closely, and people will be given a permit to catch them only if that would not be detrimental to the survival of the species, so that is a really good move that our own Government are involved in right now.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and, through her, also thank the hon. Member for Neath for introducing this Bill.

That is indeed very good news. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will keep the level of the fines in this Bill under review because enforcement of this Bill will be important to deter the practice from happening altogether? Will the Minister assure me that enforcement against the import and export of shark fins will be important in the Government’s application of this Bill?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, and I thank my hon. Friend for that good point. We have a paragraph in the schedule about the way the penalties work and the appropriate authority can revoke the exemption certificate if the right information is not supplied. The penalties are up to £3,000—actually, that is for providing inaccurate information about what they are doing. Of course, the whole system will be enforced by ensuring that Border Force and others know what to look for.

I want to highlight that it is leaving the EU that has enabled us to have this opportunity, and we have probably moved much more quickly than we might have done because, had we been in the EU, we would have had to get the agreement of all member states. That would potentially have been slow, so at least we have been able to get this matter taken forward in an individual Bill.

We have had widespread support for the Bill from non-governmental organisations. Organisations such as the Shark Trust, Shark Guardian, the Blue Marine Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society have done a great deal of work, for which I thank them. They have spoken to many of our MPs.

To wind up, I am so grateful to the hon. Lady for her work on this important Bill and, of course, to the Committee. The Government will do all that we can to support the Bill’s passage through both Houses and get it on to the statute books so that we can protect this iconic and critical species for generations to come.

Plastic Waste

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

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

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking? That is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Members should send their speaking notes by email to hansardnotes@parliament.uk. Similarly, officials should communicate electronically with Ministers. I call Elliot Colburn to move the motion.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered reducing plastic waste.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, and a pleasure to be back in a fairly busy Westminster Hall. Thank you to all colleagues for expressing an interest in today’s debate. I would also like to thank the many organisations and charities that have, I am sure, been in touch with all right hon. and hon. Members to prepare briefings, particularly the Conservative Environment Network.

Reducing plastic waste is a mammoth topic to tackle. I fear our short time today will allow us only to scratch the surface. I would like to begin by outlining why this is such an important issue to discuss. It is a topic often raised with me by residents of Carshalton and Wallington. I am sure colleagues here today will share similar experiences from their constituencies. I had the pleasure of visiting Culvers House primary school in Hackbridge recently after pupils had written to me about plastic pollution and why they were so passionate about it. They thought more could and should be done. I am very grateful for their insight.

We all know the harm that the scourge of plastic pollution causes our environment, but it is worth going over some of the numbers, because they make stark reading. Plastic waste in the UK continues to grow, with more than half of all plastics ever manufactured being made in the past 15 years. An estimated 5 million tonnes are used every year, nearly half of that being packaging alone. Plastic waste harms our natural environment if it is not recycled, lasting centuries in landfill or, if discarded as litter, polluting our oceans, rivers and soils, and the creatures that rely on them.

Plastic production and waste contribute to climate change. Current projections show that, if the strong growth of plastic usage continues as expected, emissions of greenhouse gases by the global plastic sector will account for 15% of the entire global annual carbon budget by 2050. Again, that barely scratches the surface of the scale of the issue, but it gives an indication of the challenge we face and the action that must be taken.

I want to say a big thank you to the Chamber engagement team at the House of Commons for their amazing work in engaging with the public ahead of today’s debate to find out people’s priorities. I thank the more than 500 people who took part in that survey. I will go over some of the headline figures that came out of that piece of work.

People were asked what measures should be taken to ensure that plastic waste is recycled, rather than sent to landfill or incinerators. Respondents came back with many suggestions, such as better education on how to recycle and the need to do so; more consistency in approaches across local authorities, with many citing confusion when moving from one area to another; preventing recyclable materials from being sent abroad; and introducing deposit return schemes. I will go into that later.

After the three or four debates about incinerators that I have held in this place, the Minister will know about my passion to ensure that they are properly regulated. When one opened in my constituency, on a visit there I witnessed recyclable waste being put into the incinerator. I know the Minister is well aware of my interest.

The second question asked what steps should be taken to reduce the amount of plastic waste being produced in the first place. Suggestions included banning single-use plastics, especially for food products; using incentives, legislation or both to assist transition away from plastic packaging; and holding businesses accountable for the plastic that they produce. What stood out for me in that question was the word “reduce”. We often speak about recycling and reusing, both of which are, of course, much better than landfill and incineration. Nevertheless, we must remember that at the peak of the waste hierarchy, the best thing that we can do is reduce the amount of waste that we produce in the first place, so that must be our aim.

Finally, people were asked about how we can use technology to reduce the amount of plastic that is produced and to deal with the plastic that is within the circular economy at the moment. Suggestions included using technology to find alternatives to plastics, particularly when it comes to packaging; investing in technologies such as biodegradable or compostable plastic; new technologies to look at labelling, in order to track the life cycle of plastics and use that as an education technique; and using plastics in more innovative ways for house building, roads, pavements or construction—images from around the world that I am sure many colleagues have seen before. Indeed, it has been a pleasure for me to meet many businesses, charities and organisations that are looking at developing new technologies or that have such technologies, which they are trying to use as a way to deal with this issue. Although there is no silver bullet, and I am sure that everyone would agree that there is no one solution or one thing that we can offer, the new technologies out there certainly give us a chance to make a considerable impact.

Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Like me, the hon. Member was, and presumably still is, a councillor. Between 2010, when I was a councillor in Camden, and the start of the pandemic, there were £16 billion-worth of cuts to local government, and the Environment Agency saw its Government funding slashed by nearly two thirds. The direct result of that underfunding is that councils have struggled to deal with plastic waste effectively, and there has not been enough monitoring and enforcement of the rules. As a fellow Member of Parliament and a current councillor, does the hon. Member agree that reducing plastic waste relies on local councils and bodies such as the Environment Agency having the resources that they need to do so?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that question, and she raises a very important point. The only thing I would observe is that some councils are doing incredibly good work and increasing their recycling rates, and they all face similar pressures. I am sure she will go more into her argument in her speech, and I thank her for her contribution.

I thank the people who shared their views and information and engaged with the Commons Chamber engagement team in advance of the debate, because what has come out loud and clear is the call for action on tackling plastic waste. Indeed, action is being taken. There are things that I want to acknowledge, and some measures that I want to praise before I go any further, such as the restriction on supplies of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and the ban on microbeads. I welcome the consultation that is coming this autumn on banning more single-use plastic items, and the Government’s commitment to prevent all avoidable plastic by the end of 2042. I welcome the requirement for large retailers to charge 10p for a single-use plastic carrier bag. The 95% reduction in the use of plastic bag sales since 2015 is very welcome indeed.

I welcome the measures in the Environment Bill, such as putting charges on single-use plastic items, ensuring that producers take greater responsibility for their waste, establishing consistent approaches to recycling across England, tackling waste crime, enforcing litter offences, and delivering on the manifesto pledge to ban the export of polluting plastic to non-OECD countries, among many others. I welcome the plastic packaging tax, which will come into force from April 2022, and the fact that we are leading the Commonwealth in fighting against marine plastic pollution through the Blue Planet Fund. Those are very welcome measures, but there is always more that can and should be done to tackle this huge issue. Something that I would pick out immediately is the push for an all-in deposit return scheme, which would capture up to three times more plastic than an on-the-go system does.

James Davies Portrait Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. He refers to the deposit return scheme, which we hope will be introduced in the next couple of years. Does he have any thoughts about the possibility of a novel solution using digital technology—for instance, to capture the plastic crisp wrappers that litter our streets and countryside?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. That is an incredibly important thing, which the Government should definitely look at, and I urge the Minister to take that away. The deposit return scheme described applies only to plastic bottles, and we know that there are opportunities and examples from around the world of where that can be expanded to include much more, so that is definitely something that should be looked at.

Although it is important that the Government take action and that businesses take on more responsibility, old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and our biggest challenge is potentially changing our own individual behaviour.

Dan Poulter Portrait Dr Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate on this important issue. He has outlined many measures, and I remember a measure that was introduced by the coalition Government: the plastic bag tax. He was talking a moment ago about personal responsibility. Will he urge the Minister to increase the plastic bag levy to encourage people to take greater responsibility in their shopping habits?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

The 95% cut figure is proof of the success of the plastic bag tax. It has obviously worked, so I urge the Minister to do as my hon. Friend suggests.

I have a strange sense of déjà vu here. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) mentioned my time as a councillor. Indeed, this was the first topic I ever spoke about as a councillor, when we were discussing it during a full council motion almost three years ago. The point I made then still stands: without buy-in from people at large, with all of us playing our part, lasting change will be difficult. Those survey responses from members of the public point to some really important things that need to be done, particularly on education and ensuring that transitions and changes are as simple possible for people to make. Later this year, I hope to do my part in that by hosting a local event to coincide with COP26, during which I hope to have a session on the changes we can make right here, right now to reduce the amount of plastic waste that we contribute.

The central message I will leave behind is the need to look at the circular economy and always keep one eye fixed sharply on the top of that waste hierarchy. If that is done right, we can bring businesses and individuals along with us—not as some kind of burden or punitive measure, but as a positive contribution to our environment, to the world that we live in, and to the creatures with which we share it.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will move to wind-ups at 5.8 pm, so you will probably have about four minutes each, but I might have to reduce that. I call Geraint Davies.

--- Later in debate ---
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in what has been a really good debate. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) spoke about the cost of plastic; my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) mentioned the need for councils to do more. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) spoke about leaving a good future for our children, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie) spoke about how changes in behaviour on bags have given us hope. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) spoke powerfully about international responsibility and working together, and my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) gave us some good international examples. I would happily join him on a trip to Lithuania, if he is offering.

I hope that Mr Kipling has listened to what the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) said; I would hate him to have to reduce his intake of Mr Kipling’s cakes, as they are fantastic. I thank the Minister for her reply, and the action she and the Government are taking. I know all right hon. and hon. Members here and across the House will continue to hold the Government’s feet to the fire over this issue, and I am sure the Minister welcomes that. I also thank the Commons Chamber Engagement team and those who took part in the survey for helping us to prepare for today’s debate; it has been very informative.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered reducing plastic waste.

Breed Specific Legislation

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Monday 5th July 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ian Paisley Portrait Ian Paisley (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, colleagues, for attending. As you know, there are now hybrid arrangements in place. Suffice it to say that Members who are attending physically—all of us—should clean our spaces before we leave the room. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has asked that masks be worn. I suggested before the debate that there will be Divisions at some point. If that is the case, we will adjourn until five minutes after the last vote.

It is my pleasure to call Elliot Colburn to move the motion.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 300561, relating to breed specific legislation.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. The prayer of the petition states:

“Breed Specific Legislation fails to achieve what Parliament intended, to protect the public. It focuses on specific breeds, which fails to appreciate a dog is not aggressive purely on the basis of its breed. It allows seizure of other breeds, but the rules are not applied homogeneously by councils. We need a system that focuses on the aggressive behaviour of dogs, and the failure of owners to control their dog, rather than the way a dog looks. Reconsider a licensing system. The framework must be applied by local authorities the same, whereas currently some destroy dogs with no court order. It must be much more strictly controlled than it is currently. The system needs to be fairer for all, dogs and humans. We are touched by cases of people committing suicide over the current system.”

When it closed, the petition had reached 118,641 signatures, including 163 from my constituency of Carshalton and Wallington. As a dog owner and an animal lover, I feel strongly that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. I have owned breeds that have had a terribly unfair reputation, such as Staffordshire bull terriers. In reality, they have the sweetest temperament and make great pets, as anyone who has owned one will say.

However, certain dog breeds are banned, purely based on their breed, under breed-specific legislation. In the UK, BSL takes the form of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which bans the breeding, sale and exchange of four breeds of dog: the pit bull terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro. However, the law allows a person to keep an individual dog where a court has considered that it does not present a danger to public safety. The court will consider the temperament of the dog, whether the intended keeper is a fit and proper person, and other matters such as the suitability of the accommodation. Dogs placed on the index of exempted dogs may be kept by the owner under strict conditions, including that the dog is neutered, microchipped and kept on a lead and muzzle in public.

The Dangerous Dogs Act came in response to a spate of dog attacks, which it obviously intended to try to reduce. However, judging on the evidence and the discussions that I have been having since the petition reached 100,000 signatures, it is fair to say that the Act was not necessarily based on evidence or science in any great detail. It was really quite a knee-jerk reaction at the time. The aftermath of the Act has suggested that, actually, it may not have worked as intended. All major animal welfare organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, as well as the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report of 2018, have expressed concern about breed-specific legislation, and I thank them for providing me with briefings prior to the debate.

The data suggest that the Act has, indeed, failed to achieve its intended purpose. The four breeds covered by the Act account for only a small fraction of legal cases brought under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Between 1992 and 2019, only 8% of cases involved those four breeds. At the same time, the number of hospital admissions since the Act was introduced has risen from 3,079 in 1999 to 8,859 in 2020—a 188% increase. Campaigners have also pointed to other areas where the legislation falls down. It fails to tackle the issue of irresponsible owners because the focus is on the breed, which detracts from the real problem of poor animal husbandry, welfare and training of a dog.

Every tragic fatality in the UK involving a dog attack has also involved some element of neglect. The law unfairly targets good dogs. It fails to recognise that any breed can be dangerous in the wrong hands and any large dog can cause horrific injuries. It produces a crime where the burden of proof is on a defendant to prove that their dog is not a banned breed. This leaves owners with the almost impossible task of proving a negative, which also seems contradictory to the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

In particular, the Act seems to fail in regard to the pit bull, because that breed is not recognised by the Kennel Club or other dog organisations in the United Kingdom, and therefore the seizure of these breeds has been very patchy and differently applied across the UK. Resemblance to an American pit bull seems to be the primary reason that this is happening. It is an injustice when a dog is held to be this type of dog when, in fact, it is a cross between, for example, a Staffordshire bull terrier and a Labrador—a common cross to be seized because of its resemblance to a pit bull.

There is also the issue of cost. The cost racked up for the taxpayer for kennelling seized dogs is tens of millions of pounds per year. Even when exempted, a dog cannot be transferred or left with others. It must remain muzzled in public, even when in a private car, and must be walked on a lead, even if there is no evidence that it is a danger to a human. That leads to stress for both the dog and the owner. Owners of seized dogs have reported high levels of stress, both for them and for their dog, because they are not sure if the dog will ever be seized again.

There have even been cases of a dog choking while it has been muzzled and the owner being prosecuted for removing the muzzle to save the dog’s life. Sadly, the law does not recognise the need of necessity, so such a dog would be liable to be seized and destroyed, even though it would have died had the muzzle not been removed. In my opinion, that cannot be fair.

There are also issues with the enforcement of the legislation. Evidence from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the RSPCA and Blue Cross, and that submitted to the 2018 EFRA Committee inquiry, suggests that the application of the law is often a postcode lottery, with different police forces and local authorities taking very varied approaches. However, there are a number of common themes.

Well-behaved dogs suffer at the hands of this law because often the seizing itself is a traumatic experience, which is handled brutally and heavy-handedly. The dog is then held in kennels for many months, which has an adverse effect on its temperament, and many good-natured dogs have been reported as being returned to owners with serious behavioural issues, the most common being separation anxiety. There has been photographic and video evidence of the injuries and severe malnutrition that dogs kept by the police have suffered, but when information about the kennel that they were kept in is requested, no legal information is forthcoming to allow dog owners to bring forward any prosecutions or legal challenges.

The law does not tackle public safety effectively and is damaging for dogs and their families in many ways. There are reports of children being traumatised by watching their best friends being dragged away by the police. Scientific studies have shown that young people often form incredibly strong bonds with a family dog, sometimes stronger than with their siblings. Removing an innocent dog from the home can have an incredibly negative effect on a child.

Some owners have been misled as to the nature of the seizing of their dogs and have signed a document that was not properly explained to them. The dog has consequently been destroyed, only for the owner to claim that they were not aware that that was what they were agreeing to. There have been many accusations that the police have wilfully misled owners in order to get a dog destroyed. On some occasions, a dog has even been destroyed without a court order or the informed consent of the owner.

When a dog is seized, it is not allowed to have familiar objects around it, such as favourite toys. It is an incredibly stressful situation for a dog to be seized and put in a kennel, so to further add insult to injury by denying it something familiar seems to me to be cruel. Tragically, there have been cases, as is referred to in the prayer of this petition, of people committing suicide because they could not afford to apply to have their dog exempted. The experience of having the dog removed and not knowing whether it will ever come back has led them to make the decision to take their own life. No one should be put in that position. There should be adequate signposting so that those people are put in contact with the myriad charitable organisations that might be able to help, but the evidence is that it is not forthcoming.

I appreciate that the Government set out strongly in their response to the petition why they do not want to repeal this legislation, which has the support of the police, and frankly I see the political difficulty in doing so. If changes are made to the Dangerous Dogs Act and an attack follows, the political fallout would be severe. Even if there were little to no evidence that the attack was related to the decision, it would not look good.

However, the petitioners—particularly the lead petitioner, Gavin, who I had the pleasure of speaking to before the debate—have suggested a number of options to improve the legislation, not all of which would need primary legislative change. I hope the Minister will take some of them back to the Department. I know that Lord Goldsmith has primary oversight of the enforcement of the legislation, so if the Minister is willing to take some of the suggestions back to see what can be done, that would be very welcome indeed.

The suggestions include reversing the burden of proof and requiring the prosecution to prove that the dog is a banned breed, rather than the other way round. The petitioners suggest ensuring that the law requires dogs to be released in a timely fashion, and enforcing a strict time limit. They suggest ensuring that owners are fully informed of the process and that the police do not accept an agreement for destruction at the point of seizure. The police should ensure that the owner has received any advice that they want and is fully informed of their rights. The petitioners suggest ensuring that those assessing the behaviour of dogs are independent of the police.

The petitioners suggest ensuring that the ownership of seized dogs remains with the owner, who must be informed of all material aspects of the dog’s care requirements, veterinary treatment and so on. They suggest removing the requirement that a dog seized for reason of breed and not for anything it has done must be detained while its case is considered. That is a waste of public funds and causes unnecessary stress to the dogs and the owners. The dog should be able to remain at home if there is no evidence that it is a danger and there is no reason to believe that the owners would not co-operate with the authorities to ensure that reasonable arrangements are put in place.

The petitioners suggest that there should be an assurance that dogs detained for reason of their conduct have their cases heard and considered with the option of putting in place compulsory training and behavioural work. There should not be a jump straight to destruction. They call on the police to use the principle that the aim should be to keep as many dogs alive as possible within the limits of public safety; they should not be minded towards automatic destruction. The petitioners suggest prioritising the hearing of cases so that no dog has to remain in a cage for an inordinate period. They suggest working with an organisation to establish a facility where dogs can be detained, staffed by experts in canine welfare and behaviour, with complete transparency. That would reduce costs far below their current levels, and it should be partly funded by charitable donations.

I appreciate that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has received some new research from the University of Middlesex, which is currently being peer reviewed, so the Minister will want to wait for that to happen before she tells us what it says. I hope the Government will consider some of the suggestions that the charities, campaign groups and petitioners have made. The EFRA Committee inquiry was also pretty damning of the legislation. Those suggestions would improve it, even if primary legislation is not introduced.

Owning a dog is one of the most joyous and rewarding things that I have ever done, and I am sure many people would say the same. Dogs can bring such happiness into the lives of families but, like any animal, they can turn if they are in the wrong hands. The data tell us that breed is a poor indicator of the likelihood of violence. A dog is only as good or bad as the person who owns it. The legislation should reflect that, but it is clear that it is currently littered with issues. I hope the Government will commit to reviewing the evidence further and making improvements to the application of the Act.

--- Later in debate ---
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
- Hansard - -

I thank the petitioners once again for taking the time to sign the petition and for triggering this debate. In particular, I thank the lead petitioner Gavin for his time on Friday, when he talked me through why he started the petition and why he thinks it is so important. I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), for his contribution and the Minister for her response.

The petitioners will welcome the fact that the review should form a basis for further work to look into reviewing the evidence, which might improve the application of this Act if primary legislation is not forthcoming. I totally agree with both the shadow Minister and the Minister that safety must be the priority. The law must be effectively and evenly applied. It was mentioned many times that the Act was an example of where Parliament acted hastily. It was enacted a year before I was born, so even if it was a Conservative Government, I hope I escape some blame. It is right that the law should be effective and evenly applied.

Question put and agreed to.

That this House has considered e-petition 300561, relating to breed specific legislation.

Animal Welfare

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 300535, 326261, and 574305, relating to the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. Since these petitions were launched, the Government published their action plan on 12 May 2021, setting out their plans, aims and ambitions across the field of animal welfare. I know that in her summing up, the Minister will want to go into more detail about the plan’s contents, so I will try not to steal all of her material. However, I will briefly say how much I welcome many of the commitments made in the plan, which truly reflects the fact that the UK is a nation of animal lovers and that the Government are keen to put the highest possible animal welfare standard in place, not just in terms of our domestic aims and objectives, but in terms of importing animals from overseas. The plan includes three very specific commitments, all of which relate to one of the three petitions under discussion. I am grateful to everyone who has signed these petitions, who have demonstrated the power that they have to bring about change.

I will turn first to e-petition 300535, entitled “The UK should ban the importation of Shark Fins.” The prayer of this petition states,

“Now that we have left the EU, the UK has the ability to finally stop the importation of Shark Fins. They had previously stated that ‘Whilst in the EU, it is not possible to unilaterally ban the import of shark fins into the UK.’

Each year roughly 75 million sharks are killed for Shark Fin Soup where their fins are brutally cut from their bodies and thrown back in the sea to die. Despite countries in recent years making an attempt to crack down on Shark Finning no European country has yet to ban the importation of fins, meaning that loopholes still exist. Britain should become the first European country to ban the importation of Shark Fins before we lose these beautiful creatures forever.”

This petition closed with 115,382 signatures, including 155 from my constituency of Carshalton and Wallington, and I am incredibly grateful to the petition’s creator Robin for taking the time to speak to me last week about why he started this petition, in partnership with the charity Shark Guardian. I pay tribute to them both for their incredible efforts. As the Government outlined in their response to this petition in November 2020, it is true that shark finning is an illegal practice in UK waters, but imports and exports are helping to keep the demand—and consequently the practice—alive.

The prayer of this petition eloquently outlines the need for a ban, but I want to expand a little further on that. According to Shark Guardian, it is currently legal, under the fish and fish product allowances set by UK Border Force, to bring 20 kg of dried shark fin into the UK without declaration. Twenty kilograms of dried shark fin potentially equates to hundreds of sharks being butchered, depending on their size. Many of those fins could belong to threatened shark species listed under the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, and they could make their way into the UK illegally through this loophole. UK Border Force also requires people to declare goods worth more than £390, but 20 kg of shark fin could have a value of more than £4,000, so Shark Guardian identifies huge potential for tax evasion. It is therefore very welcome that the UK Government have committed in the action plan to ban the import and export of shark fins to and from the UK. The only clarification that I seek from the Government today is on the timeline for implementation.

I turn next to e-petition 326261, entitled “Ban the exploitative import of young puppies for sale in the UK”. The prayer of the petition states:

“Plenty of dogs from UK breeders & rescues need homes. Transporting young pups long distances is often stressful, before being sold for ridiculous prices to unsuspecting dog-lovers. Government must adjust current laws, ban this unethical activity on welfare grounds & protect these poor animals ASAP.

The recent tragic case of a puppy dying just 6 days after being delivered from Russia has exposed a completely legal but immoral route to market for pups bred hundreds of miles away & sold away from their mums. Who’s actually inspecting these breeders & transportation conditions? Selling imported pups like this is cruel & appears to contradict the Government’s own advice to always physically ‘see puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth’ as with Lucy’s Law in England.”

The petition closed with 128,549 signatures, including 217 from Carshalton and Wallington.

There has been significant interest in this petition. I am grateful to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group and others for briefing me prior to today’s debate. All organisations have spelled out, almost in complete agreement, why action is desperately needed. Animals imported from overseas have often been subject to much lower animal welfare standards and even abuse, and the long journey can be physically and mentally draining for a puppy. It is also evident that the EU pet travel scheme is being completely abused, and the enforcement at the UK border is not good enough.

Again, since responding to this petition the UK Government have taken action in the form of the action plan, which states that they will increase the minimum age at which dogs can be brought into the UK. That has largely been welcomed. The action plan also contains a commitment to reduce the number of dogs and cats that can be moved under pet travel rules.

There are many common themes from all the organisations that have approached me with briefings prior to today’s debate, and I hope that the Minister will address them in her response. They include the need to reduce from five to two or three the number of dogs that can be moved under the pet travel rules, to increase the maximum sentence, and to ensure much better enforcement at the border, including by using trained animal professionals and having trained staff available 24/7 to avoid lapses at weekends and out of hours. Additionally, any information that the Minister can provide on timelines would be very welcome indeed.

Finally, I turn to e-petition 574305, entitled “Stop the rising number of ear-cropped dogs in the UK”. The prayer of the petition states:

“Leading veterinary and welfare bodies are concerned by the alarming rise in ear-cropped dogs in the UK. Ear cropping is illegal in the UK and an unnecessary, painful mutilation with no welfare benefit. The practice involves cutting off part of the ear flap, often without anaesthesia or pain relief.

The RSPCA states a 621% increase in reports of ear cropping from 2015 to 2020. We believe a rise in UK celebs sharing images of their cropped dogs on social media is helping to fuel this. While illegal to crop in the UK, it’s not illegal to sell ear-cropped dogs, import them from abroad or take dogs abroad to be cropped. These loopholes act as a smokescreen for those illegally cropping in UK. We call on the Government to close these loopholes and end the trend in ear-cropped dogs for good.”

This petition is still open and at the time of my writing this speech it has over 104,000 signatures, including 147 from Carshalton and Wallington. I am grateful to the petition’s creators for speaking to me last week about why they feel it is important.

Similar to shark finning, the practice of cropping a dog’s ear is indeed illegal in the UK, but importing and exporting is keeping the practice alive. However, as the petitioners have outlined, there is an added pressure given the increase in the number of celebrities and so-called social media influencers who have been buying ear-cropped dogs and parading them online. Although I am sure that some want to provide them with a loving home, many are buying them for their aesthetics—in other words, the way they look.

I will not waste time naming and shaming those celebrities, because they have all been well covered in press reports. However, I will join animal charities in urging them not to buy ear-cropped dogs or parade them around social media, which could lead others to buy them, too. We need to take the demand away, so I hope that when she replies the Minister will join me in condemning this celebrity trend and in urging them not to do it.

There is no need to crop a dog’s ear, and many people who do so put the animal through this awful procedure without any sedation or pain relief. Again, I praise the Government for the measures in the action plan, which states that they are seeking to prohibit the importation and non-commercial movement into Great Britain of dogs that have been subject to low welfare practices such as ear cropping and tail docking, in line with domestic legislation.

Although the practice might be banned in the UK, however, UK-based companies are still offering do-it-yourself cropping kits for sale on online platforms such as Google and Amazon. What steps are the UK Government taking to tackle that?

Will the Minister also confirm that the commitment to ban imports and non-commercial movement includes a ban on the private sale of ear-cropped dogs within the UK, regardless of whether the seller caused the dog’s ears to be cropped in the first place? Finally, as with the other petitions, any news on timelines would be greatly appreciated.

Overall, the Government should be commended for their action plan on animal welfare and on listening to the petitioners’ concerns. I thank those who have signed each of these three petitions, who have demonstrated the power of the petitions system in the UK, as evidenced by the fact that all three petitions have secured changes in policy.

The big question coming out of today’s debate must be this: when can we expect to see these measures brought before the House? In addition, while the UK is showing leadership, the lead petitioners to whom I have spoken said that we cannot act alone. Although the UK may take firm action—which I am sure the Minister will further outline in her reply—overseas animals will still be subject to these practices unless we encourage others to follow our lead. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will also touch on what we are doing to influence animal welfare standards around the world, taking advantage of our hosting of the G7 and our new trading relationships, to ensure that others can follow our example.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not intend to impose a time limit at this stage, provided that Members can stick to a self-disciplined time limit of four minutes.

--- Later in debate ---
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn [V]
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for her response. I was indeed assisted by my dogs and bunnies in preparing for today’s debate. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their passionate contributions. Time prevents me from going into everyone’s contributions, but the debate has demonstrated the level of interest and strength of feeling across the House on animal welfare and how keen Members are to see us take important action. I apologise if as several Members mentioned, I have eaten into the content of what that they wanted to raise during the debate.

I also thank the petitioners and those who signed all three of the petitions. It demonstrates that the petitions system in the UK truly can bring about change, so I encourage them to keep signing petitions and engaging with the petitions system because it is clearly a powerful tool, and I am proud to sit as a member of the Petitions Committee.

We all look forward to seeing the measures get on to the statute book soon. As the Minister requested, I will watch this space very closely indeed, and I hope that we can all sit together in the Commons soon to debate the issue again and to bring these measures into law.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions 300535, 326261, and 574305, relating to the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare.

Waste Incineration and Recycling Rates

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered waste incineration and recycling rates.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey, and to see many familiar faces in today’s debate. This is the third time we have debated incineration in this Chamber since the election and it was a pleasure to attend the two previous debates. It is also great to see the Minister in her place. She has been on the receiving end of my many frustrations when it comes to this topic, both here and in the main Chamber, and in the many conversations that we have had offline. I am grateful to her for being here to respond yet again to a debate on this topic.

The Minister and, indeed, the House will know full well my frustrations with the incinerator in Beddington in my Carshalton and Wallington constituency. Next to the additional £500 million for my local hospital and to build a new local hospital, this is one of the topics that I speak about most in this House. I will not revisit many of the arguments that the Minister and many of my colleagues who are here today will have heard in past debates. However, I want to address some developments with my local incinerator that I have not yet had the chance to raise in the House, before going on to discuss the impact of incineration on recycling rates.

The Minister will know the concerns I have raised with her in the past about emissions breaches in incinerators; the need for independently run air quality monitoring stations near those sites, rather than leaving them to be self-reporting by the operator; the need to focus on the circular economy, reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place; and the all-important knock-on effect of operating incinerators, such as traffic movements in the surrounding area.

Carshalton and Wallington residents were promised quite a lot when the Liberal Democrats approved the building of an incinerator in Beddington. They were promised the Beddington farmlands, which are now several years overdue. They were promised things such as new wildlife habitats to rebuild rare species, only for the water levels surrounding ground-nesting birds for protection to be allowed to drop and for predators to attack and destroy their nests last year. They were promised robust reporting on carbon, only for there to be, by my calculation, 184 incidences where they exceeded the 150 mg carbon monoxide limits and 733 invalid carbon monoxide reports in 2020 alone. They were promised a stronger local road network to cope with the traffic, only for residents on Beddington Lane to constantly face problems with their traffic and air pollution, and much more besides. It is no surprise that residents feel let down and even angry that the concerns they continue to raise continue to be brushed aside and not acted upon.

There have been new developments at Beddington that have caused alarm. Today, I want to focus on the new south London waste plan. The plan is supposed to bring together the lead members from four councils in south London—Sutton, Kingston, Croydon and Merton—and ultimately decide a strategy on how to deal with their waste. In short, the strategy is to make Sutton and particularly Beddington Lane the dumping ground of south London. Under the plan, Sutton will ambitiously take more than 700,000 tonnes of waste from the four boroughs—more than half of all the waste produced by the four boroughs. Croydon is taking about 19% and Merton is taking about 26%, but the real winner here is Lib Dem-run Kingston Council, which is taking a measly 2.6% of all waste produced across four London boroughs. To add insult to injury, Beddington is increasing its maximum capacity by around 45,000 tonnes, taking it to 347,422 tonnes of waste per year.

Together with the waste plan, the increase in Beddington’s maximum capacity and the approval of a new Suez site in Beddington Lane means around 1 million tonnes of waste a year are projected to be sent there. To put that into perspective as it is quite a large number, that is around 500 heavy goods vehicle movements a day just for waste, let alone all the other industrial sites that require heavy goods vehicles in Beddington. Even the applicants during the planning committee for the Suez plan inferred that this could equate to a vehicle movement every three minutes.

The uplift in the maximum capacity at Beddington was approved by the Environment Agency on 9 December. I urge it to reconsider granting that uplift. It is baffling to me that the South London Waste Partnership, which oversaw the plan, went on to meet more than a week after the decision was taken, on 17 December, and suddenly decided that it was not entirely happy with the increase in Beddington’s capacity. I am slightly confused as to why it did not know that the decision had been taken over a week beforehand, and what the point of the partnership is if the lead councillors from the four boroughs have no control or influence over decisions of this nature. To many residents, this appears nothing more than a convenient distraction to allow the Lib Dems to pursue their implied ambition to make Sutton the dumping ground of south London and give their mates in Kingston a hand, at the expense of roads and air pollution in Sutton.

I had hoped that we might get answers to these questions last night, when the Conservative group on Sutton Council brought a motion to full council stating its opposition to the increase and asking that Sutton gets a fair share. However, during what I can only call a childish debate, the Lib Dems reverted to their usual diktat on the incinerator: “Nothing to see here. Not me, guv. We’re ambitious about our waste plans here, mate.” They then proceeded to vote for an amendment that removed the very line that called for Sutton to get a fair share.

Let that sink in for a bit. The Lib Dems essentially voted against Sutton having a fair deal on waste management. That is disgraceful. The Beddington farmlands have been delayed, wildlife habitats have been attacked, air quality monitoring is negligent, roads are unable to cope, and now we have a projected almost 1 million tonnes of rubbish making its way to Sutton, much of it to be burned. Under any measurement, this is a bad deal for Beddington, for Hackbridge and for Carshalton and Wallington as whole.

I will move on to the wider impact of incineration on recycling rates. We have not had the chance to discuss that issue in previous debates. The proponents of incinerators often point to recycling as a metric of their success and how they are better than landfill. Although the latter is certainly true, as landfill is the worst of all options, the same cannot be said for recycling rates. As landfill sites have begun to close and be phased out, incineration has picked up much of that demand, with incineration rates rising nearly four times, from 12% to 44%, over the past decade. However, recycling rates have barely moved at all in the past decade, from 37% to 43%—just a 6 percentage point increase.

That is not coincidental or unrelated. According to very worrying research by the House of Commons Library, the data from the 123 waste authorities show a general negative relationship between incineration and recycling. In other words, higher incineration means lower recycling and vice versa. I have seen that at first hand in Beddington, where I watched as recyclable material was put into the incinerator to be burned. Even I did not know how bad the situation was until I read research from Zero Waste Europe, which revealed that more than 90% of materials that end up in incineration plants and landfills could be recycled or composted—more than 90%.

Quite apart from the obvious negatives, burning those valuable materials in order to generate electricity can discourage efforts to preserve resources and can create perverse incentives to generate more waste to ensure that the energy from these waste plants remains economical, rather than focusing on prevention and recycling. I have again seen that at first hand in Carshalton and Wallington, with residents asking what the point is in separating their rubbish into four, five or six different bins if they get held in the back of the same lorry and end up getting burned.

I have also attempted to have the calorific value of waste explained to me, and how the waste needs to be burned in order to generate the so-called energy from waste. It is some kind of perverse metaphor for a diet. I will leave aside the problems of energy from waste, which I am aware the Minister knows full well from the discussions we have had about New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge, where the homes are supposed to be heated by this incinerator, yet suffer high bills and regular outages. I appreciate that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has done a consultation on that, and I will continue my discussions with it.

Even when energy is turned into waste, recycling is still the better option, as it can save up to five times the amount of energy produced by energy from waste, which is not a renewable resource, creates toxic pollution and potentially emits more carbon dioxide than some hydrocarbon-powered plants. In other words, incinerators need waste to have an effective business model, whether recyclable or not. That is not recycling.

That prompts the question: what is the solution? I want to draw attention to some of the really good work being done by the Government. I am sure the Minister will have more to say on these topics in her reply. The Government have, in the resources and waste strategy, set out their ambition to move away from incineration in favour of maximising recycling, with the possibility of an incineration tax. The Environment Bill brings in powers to introduce charges on single-use plastics and ban things like plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. The deposit return scheme, which has seen recycling rates rocket in over 40 countries, is due to come to the UK. There is a ban on exports of polluting waste to developing countries, a single-use plastic packaging tax, plastic bag charges, carbon capture and storage funding and the all-important commitment in the resources and waste strategy to move to a more circular economy.

I congratulate the Government on their work, but urge them to move at pace towards a circular economy. We must look further up the waste hierarchy to achieve this, so I have a few asks. The next steps up our waste hierarchy are recycling and reusing waste. We have heard startling figures about how much recyclable material ends up in incineration and this must be stopped. Things such as an all-in deposit return scheme to open up the concept to as many recyclable materials as possible as well as creating new responsibilities when sorting waste to prevent as much recyclable waste from ending up in incinerators as possible will certainly be good steps. Removing recyclable and compostable waste from incineration will greatly reduce the need for incinerators and help the Government achieve their target of moving away from this form of waste management.

However, we all know that the best approach is to reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place. It is even better than recycling, because it involves less energy, less extraction of raw materials, and so on. That is why there needs to be a much greater emphasis on reducing production, such as placing responsibilities on producers, incentivising minimal packaging methods, for example, making it easier—indeed the norm—to choose the more environmentally-friendly option, whether that be domestic products such as food packaging, all the way through to heavy industry. The new hospital that is being built in my area has the requirement to be carbon neutral and I look forward to seeing the inventive ways it goes about that and manages to achieve that goal.

However, it is clear that Carshalton and Wallington has been failed on this incinerator by a council that is not willing to act. Incineration may be marginally better than landfill, but it is not the way to boost recycling or create a more circular economy in the long term. We need to look further up that waste hierarchy and do much more to recycle, reuse and ultimately reduce the amount of waste we produce to help make the need for incinerators, such as the one that has caused my constituents so many problems, obsolete.

Esther McVey Portrait Esther McVey (in the Chair)
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I hope to call the Front-Bench speakers at about 5.10 pm, which means that people have about six or seven minutes for their speeches.

--- Later in debate ---
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I thank the Minister for wrapping up the debate, and am indeed reassured about what the Government are doing. My concern comes from the fact that my local authority is failing the residents of Beddington, in particular, so badly. I thank all the hon. Members who have attended and taken part in the debate, many of whom have attended many such debates before. We raised many salient points, and I do not have time to go through them all, but I want to press again the point about the need to look further up the waste hierarchy in dealing with waste in the United Kingdom, and to get compostable and recyclable waste out of incinerators and therefore reduce the need for them. Through behaviour, and through policy incentives, we can move to a place where incinerators are needed less and less. Let us hope that in future they will not be needed at all. I join my hon. Friend the Minister in welcoming the recycling rates in Sutton. Residents are working hard to do the right thing. It is just a shame that the council does not back them to do it. I thank everyone for attending the debate.

Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Friday 23rd October 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019-21 View all Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I support the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) on securing a position in the private Members’ Bill ballot. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to discuss these issues. I would like to pay particular tribute to the animal welfare charities that have been lobbying hard on this issue for many years, including Cats Protection and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, both of which I have had the pleasure of speaking to over the last couple of months; I made it clear to them that I would be here today to support my hon. Friend in taking forward this important Bill. I also pay tribute to the amazing animal welfare charities in my constituency, such as Wallington Animal Rescue, which has done incredible work to look after animals at a local level.

This Bill is incredibly important to me, because, like so many other Members here today, I am a pet owner, and I have been blessed to be in a home with animals ever since I was a child. It began with just a few rabbits—that is all I could manage, according to my parents—and then when I became a teenager, we were given the opportunity to own a dog for the first time. Nothing brings more joy to a family’s life than bringing a pet into their home, and I recommend it to anyone who does not yet own one.

I was lucky a few years ago to meet Jed, who—I should probably clarify, given the topic we are debating—is not an animal. [Interruption.] I will leave that to my hon. Friends’ imagination. I had no idea that, in agreeing to marry Jed and let him into my life, I would be taking on responsibility for looking after not only two additional dogs, Willow and Lola, but also horses, sheep, pigs and—Jed’s real passion—chickens and ducks. It is more animals than I ever thought I would have in a lifetime, but they are part of the family, and I love having them.

I want to talk about the first dogs that arrived in our lives, Snoopy and Jazz, who were both rescues from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. It is hard to believe from meeting him, but Snoopy was an unwanted Christmas present and ended up in Battersea after being left there by a previous owner. Snoopy and Jazz, like so many other residents of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, were Staffordshire bull terriers, which sadly have quite a bad reputation across the country. They are seen as somehow more violent and as inappropriate pets, whereas anyone who has ever owned one will tell you that they are some of the most loving dogs you can have. I am so pleased that they were named the UK’s favourite breed of dog last year.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart
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There are no bad dogs; there are bad owners, and dogs take after their owners when they do something very bad.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. It is a testament to the work that animal charities such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home do that they are able to find new, loving, permanent homes for dogs like Snoopy and Jazz.

Jazz came to us because she had been passed around many different homes—she had been to around three or four—because some of her previous owners had found her behaviour challenging. She was described as a “bin raider” when we took her on, and I can confirm that that description was accurate. Sadly, some of the behaviour that she displayed when we took her on, particularly her apparent fear of men, suggested to Battersea, when eventually it let us take Jazz home, that she had probably been subject to some level of abuse in the past. I am pleased that we managed to give Jazz a good home and that she is still with us today.

I know just how devastated my family and I would be if any of our animals were to be taken from us and abused by others. Unfortunately, there were a number of quite high-profile animal-abuse cases involving cats in my constituency and surrounding areas—the Minister may know of this already. What is known as the “Croydon cat killer” case started a few years ago; unfortunately, it is still an open investigation and we are no closer to finding the truth. It started off in Croydon, funnily enough—it got its name from the borough bordering my constituency—but this spate of cat killings, which involved cats being beheaded, spread to other parts of south London, including Carshalton and Wallington.

There was an investigation and the conclusion was that it was down to urban foxes. The cats’ owners find that a bit fanciful, and I have to say that I agree. The pattern of behaviour, particularly the cats being beheaded and left there, with no evidence of their being eaten, does not suggest to me that it was urban foxes. It suggests to me that systematic abuse is going on, and I sincerely hope that the investigations can be reopened and that the cats’ owners can get a bit of justice and a bit of an answer as to what happened to their beloved pets.

Let me bring my remarks back to the Bill. As we heard in earlier contributions, it is evident that a six-month sentence is certainly not enough. If we look into the statistics in a bit more detail, we see that in the past 10 years only 6% to 11% of all people convicted of animal cruelty offences were given an immediate custodial sentence. The current maximum sentence is clearly not a deterrent, which is why I fully support the measures in the Bill to increase sentences to five years. Notwithstanding the concerns that we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Southend West (Sir David Amess) and for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who are no longer in their places, I think that will go a long way towards acting as a deterrent to people who want to commit these heinous crimes.

I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has brought the House together today. I fully support the Bill and look forward to seeing it through to Royal Assent.