Ahead of his Commons debate today on animal cruelty, Neil argues that current sentencing guidelines are neither a strict enough punishment nor a suitable deterrent for animal abusers.
Here’s an answer that will shock PoliticsHome readers. If you kick an animal senseless, strangle it, torture it, burn it to death or flay it alive, what’s the maximum prison sentence you can get in England? Six months.
That’s the maximum jail term that our judges are currently able to hand out to callous and wicked animal abusers. And what’s more, if the abuser pleads guilty to their crimes, the maximum sentence drops to four months.
That’s a pathetically low maximum sentence – and I think the vast majority of the British public would agree. I firmly believe that if you can string up a sentient creature and beat it to death, it’s not long before you can do the same to a human being.
That’s why I’m calling for an increase in the maximum sentence for animal abuse to five years. It’s something the EFRA Committee recommended last year in our report on animal welfare and domestic pets. Surprisingly, the Government rejected this recommendation, claiming average sentences for animal cruelty were relatively stable.
I think that’s a cop out. Judges should have the flexibility to give higher sentences for the worst examples of animal cruelty – both as a well-deserved punishment and a deterrent to other potential animal abusers.
The EFRA Committee’s report also gave wider recommendations on how we can improve animal welfare. The buying and selling of pets should be more strictly regulated and the Government should ban third party sales of puppies. This would bring far greater transparency, making it easier to trace the animal back to its original breeder and for buyers to assess the premises for themselves, driving up animal welfare standards.
Defra have already taken some welcome steps to improve pet welfare standards. It will soon be illegal to sell puppies under eight weeks old. Licensing rules will also be tightened on backstreet breeders. The Government is making it clear that anyone selling more than three litters per year will need a licence.
It’s a good start, but Government needs to go further. The threshold for licensing as a breeder should be reduced to two litters or more per year. A national inspectorate should be established to give these new regulations a powerful enforcer. Moreover, a new abuse register should also be established for those convicted of animal abuse offences. Those convicted of cruelty should never be allowed to keep animals again.
In the Commons debate on animal welfare today, I will be making sure that these points are heard loud and clear by Defra Ministers. Britain is a nation of animal lovers. Our pets deserve nothing less than the very highest animal welfare standards.