Penalty Notices Bill would introduce fines of up to £5,000 to crackdown on animal offenders
The core of Brexit has always been the principle of sovereignty: that the UK Parliament, elected by the people of our great nation, has the sole right to make the laws that govern us. That provides us with unrivalled opportunities to improve animal health and welfare, enhance productivity and give confidence to consumers and international trading partners.
This will be one of the first opportunities to reform animal health and welfare outside of the EU and demonstrates our continued position as a world leader in animal health and welfare standards. England will no longer rely on paying subsidies in order to enforce our rules. We will fill that gap with penalty notices, meaning that enforcers will not have to choose between taking no action or seeking criminal prosecution.
This will remove the arbitrary welfare divide between farmed and kept animals. It will create consistency and fairness for animals, animal keepers and enforcers – whether that is for livestock transported in poor conditions, or overstocked poultry.
The health and welfare of animals is an issue I am passionate about, and it’s an area where we must maintain our high standards. We have always led the way on this matter, as a nation of animal lovers. This does not mean we cannot, or that we should not, go further.
The government has already made clear its ambitious plans in this regard. The government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, laid out by Environment Secretary George Eustice, identified the steps we would take to improve welfare. This included, but was not limited to: tackling puppy smuggling, introducing compulsory microchipping for cats, making it illegal to keep primates as pets and ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter.
I’m proud that I will be playing a role in helping the government take the next step in their Action Plan for Animal Welfare. Because today, parliamentary time permitting, I will be addressing the House of Commons on the Animals (Penalty Notices) Bill as part of its Second Reading.
My Bill is a simple and elegant one, with the full support of the government.
It will fill a yawning enforcement gap that currently restricts enforcement agencies to two options when dealing with animal health or welfare offences: the relatively toothless improvement notice or warning letter on the one hand and full-blown criminal prosecution on the other.
Activists rightly celebrate the passage of Chris Loder’s Animal Sentencing Bill earlier this year. For the most heinous offences, a custodial sentence is undoubtedly just.
Yet, there exists a range of offences that fall between a letter and a date in court.
For that, I am proposing a new system of penalty notices. These will be criminal monetary penalties issued by enforcement agencies. They will be up to £5,000 (or whatever the maximum would be for said offence if prosecuted) and would be halved if paid within 14 days.
They would cover a potentially wide range of existing legislation, but to add an additional layer of parliamentary scrutiny, the Secretary of State would have to “turn on” these provisions, as well as provide statutory guidance on how they should be used. This means that penalty notices would only potentially apply to a piece of legislation if my Bill were to pass.
The Bill would cover a broad span of legislation relating to companion animals (pets), kept animals (zoos) and farmed animals. Wild animals would not be covered.
There are strong provisions in the Bill to act as safeguards for animal keepers and farmers. Enforcement agencies would need to be specifically vested with the power to enforce.
When issuing penalty notices, enforcement agencies will be required to take into account a range of matters, such as seriousness of the conduct to which the proposed notice relates and any evidence of intention behind the relevant conduct. There will also be statutory guidance given to agencies which the Secretary of State for Defra will lay before parliament.
Enforcement agencies would be entitled to keep the costs of issuing a notice, however, any surplus will have to be returned to the consolidated fund.
Importantly, these penalty notices would be an optional means for avoiding prosecution for the original offence. If an individual strongly disagreed, there is no compulsion to pay – you would not be prosecuted for not paying. Instead, the enforcement agency would need to make a decision on whether to prosecute you for the original offence.
As the RSPCA has said, leaving the EU presents us with opportunities “to improve animal welfare.” These are opportunities that have to be grabbed with both hands. I am proud to be playing a role in helping the government to do this, and I urge my colleagues across the House to support me in this regard.
Andrew Rosindell is the Conservative MP for Romford.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.