All 1 Baroness Mallalieu contributions to the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill 2019-21

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Fri 16th Apr 2021

Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as president of the Horse Trust and a long-standing member of the RSPCA. I strongly support the Bill and express my gratitude both to Mr Chris Loder in the other place and to the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for their sponsorship of it. It is commendably and unusually short. It has a clear purpose and a single target, and I hope that attempts are not made to bolt on extras that might put it in jeopardy through timing.

The underlying purposes of sentencing are said to be punishment, deterrence and reform. Deliberate, calculated, sadistic behaviour involving the inflicting of unnecessary suffering on an animal is deeply repellent, and I see some of those results through the Horse Trust. It appears in only a very small number of cases in the panoply of animal cruelty cases that I am afraid are likely to come within the ambit of the maximum penalties, but it has a place on the statute book.

The majority of animal welfare cases are the result not of sadists but of ignorance, greed or the limited or diminished mental or physical capacity of the owner, of changed personal circumstances, and even of misplaced sentimentality, which so often leads to neglect, mistreatment and abandonment. In reality, education has a huge role to play in reducing animal suffering, probably more than any prison sentence.

For example, it is clear that a large number of people have chosen to get a dog during lockdown and some, as I know, to get a horse because they have the time. The prices for both those animals have risen to absurdly high levels—I heard of £2,000 for a Jack Russell puppy—providing an incentive for future irresponsible breeding and, too often, for deformed dogs bred specifically with facial defects to look appealing, but consequently unable to breathe properly. People need to know all this, and to remember that a dog is for life and not just for lockdown or until it has ceased to entertain the children. The Horse Trust has received a phenomenal number of calls from people wanting to get rid of a horse for which they no longer have time or money. I expect that dog rescue centres can expect to be very busy in the near future.

Lastly, with prosecutions in mind, I would like specifically to praise the current leadership of the RSPCA under its chief executive, Chris Sherwood. They have got that most important of our animal charities back on the right track. Having had an official warning and special measures from the Charity Commission, and after too many years of bad running and shrinking membership, it is now back on track—let go, as it were, by the Charity Commission to carry on doing its superb work, which is done by nobody else. I am very pleased about the decision it made and announced in January: that it will in future hand over its investigations for prosecution to the CPS and not do them itself. After all, that was what the EFRA Committee in the other place recommended four years ago.

Let us hope that once this Bill reaches the statute book, as I very much hope it will soon, it will be needed less and less in the future.