All Lord Trees contributions to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021

Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

(2nd reading)
Lord Trees Excerpts
Friday 16th April 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge on introducing this very important piece of legislation. It is a two-clause Bill, but a worthy one. I hope that it gets on to the statute book quickly.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, put her finger on the key issue: education for pet owners. We have seen and witnessed far too many situations where owners have behaved irresponsibly for various reasons, but one of the main reasons is a lack of knowledge. The consequences for animals and the way that their pets have attacked and destroyed other animals, such as sheep, is a cause for great concern. I think that concern will increase as we move out of the pandemic, because—as other noble Lords have rightly said—a number of dogs and cats have been purchased. When life returns to normal, I think that a lot of these animals will be treated badly and not be supervised in the way that they should. That is a concern.

The RSPCA did research into how long dogs should be left alone for, and 20% of dog owners got the figure wrong. SongBird Survival has done a huge amount of research with Exeter University into how cats behave; owners could do a lot to prevent the destruction of songbirds and the way cats behave by simple measures, using a little common sense and some education.

The noble Lord who just spoke was absolutely right to mention that this is not in itself an answer to the problem; there are other measures. I hope my noble friend is ensuring that the best possible measures are available to the judiciary and the judiciary use them. One measure that should be used, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, is that any pet owner who treats that pet badly, or whose pet behaves badly, should not be allowed to own a pet in the future. That would be a deterrent but, again, it needs enforcement. I hope my noble friend will review that situation, particularly as the Agriculture Act we just passed encourages a great deal more access to the countryside.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I very much welcome the Bill, which brings UK sentencing in line with current law in Scotland and Northern Ireland and other comparable countries, better reflects the nature of welfare offences in comparison with other offences and, because there is a strong link between violence against animals and violence against people, may help reduce human abuse as well as animal abuse.

Apart from strongly supporting the Bill, the main point I want to make is to emphasise that legislation is but part of improving standards and enforcement is an important second part. We have a whole raft of excellent animal welfare legislation in the UK but, sadly, there is a marked deficiency in the enforcement of that legislation, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, mentioned.

The most serious deficit is the fact that no one state organisation has statutory responsibility for animal welfare. Local authorities have the power to appoint inspectors, but this is discretionary and not a legal duty. I urge the Government to consider making the enforcement of animal welfare legislation the statutory responsibility of local authorities and to provide appropriate resources for that purpose.

One of the costs of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act is that dogs seized under the Act must be kept at local authorities’ expense. An unwelcome consequence of the current Bill might be that offences come to court even more slowly than currently. This would have negative welfare and financial consequences, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, mentioned. Can the Minister say what consideration has been given to this issue?

The inadequacies of current enforcement are allowing, among other things, the gross abuse of the pet travel scheme and the shortage of UK-sourced puppies has encouraged major criminal involvement in large-scale puppy and dog smuggling, with attendant welfare consequences. Another aspect of dog smuggling is that, if illegal importation is detected but no offence under the Animal Welfare Act can be proved, I understand that the maximum sentence is likely to be no more than 12 months under the rabies importation order; thus the increased sentence that the Bill would allow, and which we all welcome, would not apply in those cases. Is this anomaly being addressed?

A final concern with regard to livestock is in the light of the fact that, following Brexit and with the phasing out of the basic payment scheme, APHA farm inspections to ensure cross-compliance will cease. Such inspections were an opportunity for inspectors to review the welfare of livestock on inspected premises. What plans are there to ensure that, in future, there are appropriate inspections to check welfare standards on farms?

That said, in summary, I very much welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I support this Bill. Before I go any further, I should declare an interest in that I have two Jack Russells. Biggleswade is where we live and our senior Jack Russell is called Biggles after the books of Captain WE Johns, which I read as a young man. He should be in the basket behind me but it was pointed out that he might object to certain contributions from your Lordships and bark, so he is outside in the sunshine.

The Bill is overdue. I wish it a smooth passage. I want to say a sincere thank you to my noble friend Lord Randall. I do not know whether everybody who is taking part in this debate, either from the Chamber or from home, has ever taken a Private Member’s Bill through the House. I have taken through one that I started—to help the mutual movement—and a couple of others that started in the other place. It takes a lot of time and effort, however it is done. I really do thank my noble friend. Without the effort that he has put in, we would not be making the progress that we are making today.

However, it is disappointing—I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will take note of this—that this is not the first time that we in England and Wales, particularly in England, are out of step and playing catch-up with the other home nations on a small but important area of legislation. I wonder whether, because of the devolved nations being more active nowadays, we as the Government at the centre should not take a closer look at the minor Bills being promoted in other areas to see whether they are relevant to England and Wales.

I thank Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, which does a superb job. I remember visiting it when I was a councillor in the London Borough of Islington. The case histories that it has sent us are indeed harrowing and deeply worrying. It makes me wonder whether the time has come to review the Dangerous Dogs Act; that is not for this afternoon, obviously, but it is worth putting it on the record. I also hope that the fact that your Lordships’ House is dealing with the Bill expeditiously will reassure professionals such as those as Battersea.

Finally, I want to make two points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is right that law enforcement needs to be looked at. Secondly, I say again to the Whip on duty that, if necessary, I am prepared to sit on Friday 30 April—we are not scheduled to sit then—to ensure that this Bill gets on to the statute book.