All 1 Lord Gardiner of Kimble contributions to the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019

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Fri 1st Mar 2019
Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords

Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Friday 1st March 2019

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are delighted to be able to support this Bill. I pay tribute to my right honourable and learned friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire in the other place for championing the cause of our much-loved service animals and for bringing forward this important Bill in recognition of the strong feeling and support among the public for Finn’s law. As the Minister responsible for animal welfare and health—it was probably in 2017—I remember meeting my right honourable and learned friend as a prelude to this Bill, and I can confirm his commitment and determination to strengthen the law. The word “tenacity” would probably be a more emphatic description of his sense of purpose. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who is in charge of this Bill in your Lordships’ House. The Government wish my noble friend every success.

The Government have taken a keen interest in this legislation, and therefore the Bill has been considered and scrutinised by parliamentary counsel to ensure that it is legally sound. In addition, the Explanatory Notes in support of the Bill have been prepared by Defra with the consent of my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I can also confirm that it is the Government’s view that the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.

I endorse the point made by my noble friend Lord Trenchard that this Bill is small—just two clauses—and its scope very narrow, yet it addresses an important issue in relation to service animals such as Finn. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord German, that there could not be a better example of a distinct Bill with a distinct purpose, and Redhill Prep School in Haverfordwest should see this as an exemplar of Parliament—particularly given the contributions from your Lordships’ House this morning—in wholehearted support of what I would describe as a distinct feature of animal welfare legislation.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond absolutely articulated that service animals undertake exceptional service for the public, which the Government entirely recognise. That takes them into dangerous situations. The highest protection for our service animals needs to be made clear in law, and I agree with my noble friend Lady Brady that we need to have this clarity—hence this Bill. That is why we support the Finn’s law campaign and the Bill.

Finn himself is a distinguished example of the bravery of our service animals. As many noble Lords have said, it was a privilege to meet Finn this morning. I think he feels very much at home. I identified that by his keenness to get on House of Lords sofas, which is a distinguishing sign of what an extraordinary animal he is as well as being a service animal. Along with noble Lords, I was shocked about the events that led to Finn’s near death in assisting and protecting his handler, PC Dave Wardell, while they sought to apprehend a suspect following a robbery. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard described, despite receiving life-threatening injuries from the attack in October 2016, which involved Finn being stabbed by a 10-inch bladed knife which punctured his lung, Finn made a full recovery. Finn then returned to service some 11 weeks later, and on their first outing together in December 2016 PC Wardell and Finn were able to arrest a fleeing suspect.

It is great news that Finn is now enjoying his well-deserved retirement from a distinguished life of service to the public. But today, as noble Lords have observed, it is important that we also remember all those to whom we owe so much—police officers, fire officers and all in the emergency services across the kingdom—and indeed the bravery of PC Wardell. I was struck by what my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond said about running towards danger. Most of us would tend to run away from danger; the brave people who look after us run towards danger, as we saw not only on the Parliamentary Estate but see around the country so often.

With noble Lords’ support, when the Bill becomes law, service animals such as Finn will have more protection from callous individuals. That is because the Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to make it clear that the ability for someone to claim that they were acting in self-defence when they attack a service animal should be disregarded in such circumstances. No longer will someone be able to inflict pain and suffering on our service animals, such as police dogs like Finn—and having studied the Explanatory Memorandum, it is clear in paragraph 3, “Policy background”, that the Bill includes police horses and other animals supporting the Prison Service—and say that they are simply protecting themselves.

In supporting this Bill, we agree with the points articulated by my right honourable and learned friend in the other place that using the offences under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to prosecute attacks on police and other support animals that cause unnecessary suffering, could be made more difficult due to the fact that the court must consider whether the defendant was acting in fear of harm. Relevant here is the list of considerations at Section 4(3)(c)(ii) for the court to consider if the suffering was caused for,

“a legitimate purpose such as … the purpose of protecting a person, property or other animal”.

In other words, the perpetrator of the attack on the service animal could use this provision to claim that they were acting to protect themselves. The Bill before us amends the 2006 Act such that this specific consideration should be disregarded with respect to incidents involving unnecessary suffering inflicted on a service animal supporting officers in the course of their duties.

A number of points were made by noble Lords about the territorial extent. This Bill applies to England and Wales. That is because the Bill amends the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which is an England and Wales Act. The Welsh Government are extremely supportive of the change. I understand that a legislative consent Motion was laid on 17 January and is due to be considered on 5 March, so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will be able to reflect that in his visit to Haverfordwest.

In Northern Ireland, as noble Lords understand, we very much hope that the Assembly will return and government resume in Northern Ireland. As noble Lords will know, Northern Ireland has separate legislation in the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. Therefore, this particular Bill could not be used to amend that piece of legislation. I know that there is enthusiasm within Northern Ireland, but at this time there are no current plans to take forward any necessary changes. Clearly, this is a matter that people in Northern Ireland are conscious of and would be one very good reason that I look forward to the Assembly returning.

The Scottish Government are also very positive about Finn’s law and are looking to apply the measure in Scotland to their animal welfare laws. The example of England and Wales is very much understood, and I believe will be followed. It is a case of getting the legislation through in those phases.

I should make it clear to my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Trenchard that parliamentary counsel have studied the Bill in detail and acknowledge that animals used by branches of the military police in England and Wales to apprehend or control people will be covered by this amendment to the 2006 Act. That is because members of the military police in England and Wales will be covered by the definition of constables or persons within new subsection (3B)(b) as,

“a person (other than a constable) who has the powers of a constable or is otherwise employed for police purposes or is engaged to provide services for police purposes”.

Noble Lords asked about a second limb of the Finn’s law campaign which would see an increase in the maximum penalty for animal cruelty. My noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lady Brady particularly raised that, as did my noble friend Lord Trenchard. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I are on the same page in our desire to get this done. The Government are clear that we are fully behind—the Secretary of State has been emphatic about this—the wish to increase the maximum penalty from six months’ imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment. The Government wish to make progress on this as soon as we can. Obviously, I am constantly passing back messages from noble Lords on all sides of the House about our desire to get this matter done. My bona fides are very strong on this. I am fully seized that it is an important part of our work.

I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the reason this Bill has gone through in the way that it has in the other place—and, I hope, will here—is because of its narrowness of scope. It has a precise purpose, which is to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in this particular regard. We all know that it is always tempting to add matters to a Bill, but the experience of many noble Lords in this House is that, the moment you start tinkering with the narrow purpose of a very important Bill, you get into timetabling difficulties, so I say to my noble friend that I understand her bona fides in these matters, but there is a very strong desire that this distinct Bill has a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House. It is distinctly to address the terrible time suffered by Finn and PC Wardell. The Bill covers attacks on service animals—horses and dogs—and there is provision for further animals to be considered. I express as strongly as I can that the Government and the department support this Bill because it provides further protection for our service animals, such as Finn.

I very much hope that this Bill promoted by my noble friend Lord Trenchard will be successful in achieving a swift passage through your Lordships’ House and will complete all stages to Royal Assent. There surely could not be a more deserving Bill to acknowledge our gratitude to animals such as Finn and the debt we owe them.