Spoke today in support of the Animal Welfare Bill which will increase the maximum prison sentences for animal cruelty from just 6 months to a far more appropriate 5 years. This is a private members Bill which is being brought forward by my colleague Chris Loder MP. A large part of the debate was spent discussing his own Springer Spaniel, Poppy. Before I spoke, Chris described how Poppy had been left injured and abandoned by the side of the road on a stormy night in January and left to fend for herself. But Chris rescued her, and although I haven’t been able to meet Poppy in person yet, I’ve seen photos of her and she looks like a very happy and well-loved dog.
Chris and Poppy’s story is a moving one and honestly when I was elected to Parliament and I didn’t expect to spend a great deal of my time in Parliament discussing animal welfare issues. But having taken up the campaign for tougher sentences for pet theft as well and having learnt more about crimes involving animals these past few months, it’s become clear how this is one of the types of crime where the gap is biggest between the what the public expects punishments to be and what the law says they should be.
I also used my speech to expand a bit more on the pet theft debate I led on Monday. Currently the sentences handed out to pet thieves are mainly determined on the monetary value of the pets they have stolen. This is what so often results in pet thieves getting nothing more than a slap on a wrist and a paltry fine. But talk to any pet owner and they’ll tell you that the monetary value of their pet is what matters least to them. It’s the invaluable and irreplaceable companionship they offer which is so important and this is what needs to be reflected in pet theft sentencing. I called again for the Secretary of State to write to the Sentencing Council recommending they update their guidelines to reflect this after I’ve met with him and written to him about it recently. Increased sentences for animal cruelty and pet theft should go hand in hand. And both are crucial changes that must happen if our laws are to mirror our views towards animals in modern society.