We can't let animal welfare fall by the wayside again
There have been worrying signs of an increase in animal cruelty since the start of lockdown, writes Luke Pollard MP. | PA Images
The government must stop the delays and ensure there’s sufficient legislative time to bring stronger sentences to protect animals from cruelty into law.
When it comes to animal welfare, the Conservatives are big on the soundbites but often small on action. Their manifesto made big promises, but we’re yet to see much of it even being hinted at, let alone coming to fruition.
After years of dither and delay from the government, Chris Loder’s Private Members Bill forced discussion on an increase in maximum sentences for those who commit cruelty against animals.
The government first promised this in 2017, after sustained lobbying by the former Labour MP Anna Turley to increase maximum sentencing for shocking animal cruelty offences, from a paltry 6 months to a much stronger 5 years.
We are a nation of animal lovers, and MPs from across all parties agree that increasing sentences is vital to send a strong message to perpetrators that animal abuse will not be tolerated in this country.
Two government Bills making this important change have been left to fall. The issue has now been relegated to a Private Members Bill, which has seen its date for consideration by Parliament delayed four times this year, before finally seeing the light of day on Friday in the Commons.
Changing the law now is more important than ever because of Coronavirus. There have been worrying signs of an increase in animal cruelty since the start of lockdown. The RSPCA reported in May that, since the lockdown began, rescuers had dealt with an astonishing 27,507 incidents of animal cruelty and neglect.
The government’s inability to bring forward this simple but important change to protect our nation’s animals simply isn’t good enough
Labour is clear that there must be no more delays to this legislation. I wrote to the Environment Secretary back in July urging the government to take control of the Bill or guarantee it will give this Bill the Parliamentary time it needs to become law. I received no reply.
A coalition of 11 animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Blue Cross for Pets have done the same, and they’ve been vocal that the government’s inability to bring forward this simple but important change to protect our nation’s animals simply isn’t good enough. Confidence in the Government’s commitment to deliver this is lessening by the day, and they’re rightly worried about further delays.
In Friday’s debate Labour’s Shadow Environment Minister Daniel Zeichner MP pressed the government for a clear commitment to a timeframe in which this Bill will finally be passed. Speaking for the government, DEFRA Minister Victoria Prentis disappointingly said that, yet again, she could not guarantee that this important Bill will get the necessary legislative slot it needs in the next few weeks.
This lack of prioritisation for animal welfare issues from the government is unfortunately a recurring theme. With weeks to go until the end of the Brexit transition period, the government still haven’t come forward with measures to ensure that animal sentience is recognised in UK law. They are still refusing to put into law their manifesto promise to not undermine our food production standards relating to animal welfare in Brexit trade deals.
I want Ministers to wrap up a series of outstanding animal welfare issues in a single Animal Welfare Bill – the same approach a Labour government would be taking. This should deal with animal sentience, cat microchipping, pet theft and animal cruelty, as well as a host of other items lingering on the Government’s to do list.
We need to do everything we can to put a stop to animal cruelty. We can't just let this fall by the wayside again. This time, the government must deliver for our nation’s animals.
Luke Pollard is the Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and shadow secretary for environment, food and rural affairs.