Animal Welfare

Gavin Robinson Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Gavin Robinson Portrait Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
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It is a pleasure to be back in Westminster Hall. This is the first time I have made a contribution in Westminster Hall since the start of the lockdown, and it is even better that it is under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I am grateful to see you, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan).

We have three petitions brought together for this afternoon’s debate, and I am encouraged that in my constituency of Belfast East, 464 individuals have signed them. I want to focus my remarks during my four minutes on puppy welfare. Progress on Lucy’s law has been encouraging, but, as has been mentioned and no doubt will be repeated throughout the debate, there are difficulties with the application of the law, primarily in frustrating the importation of illegally farmed puppies from outside the United Kingdom. England led the way last year, and the introduction in Scotland shortly followed. Wales will introduce legislation in September. In Northern Ireland, Marc Abraham, who was mentioned, has been keenly involved in the campaigning to introduce Lucy’s law in Northern Ireland. My party colleague from East Belfast, Robin Newton MLA, is advancing that legislation—not a moment too soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) noted that his wife is a volunteer at the Assisi Animal Sanctuary in his constituency. It is a wonderful charity, and six years ago, just prior to my election to this place, I launched our party’s animal welfare policy document in its facility in Newtownards. We had ambitious plans—we still do—to increase sentencing for animal welfare. Animal cruelty is a challenge, but there is a challenge here for the Minster. So much of this debate is about what is happening in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as though they are separate entities. There is a much greater need for collaboration across the four nations, and I do not think the Minister will baulk at that notion. There just needs to be a greater focus on it.

One issue that comes up time and again is the lack of a register of those banned from holding animals. Sentencing is one thing, and we want to see an increase in penalties, but there is no register where people can read across and check whether somebody has been banned from holding animals, so we need that register to preclude them from looking after animals again.

I remember, shortly after my election in 2015, working with the then Member for Dumfries and Galloway, Richard Arkless, on puppy smuggling—my constituency of Belfast East straddles Belfast lough, and we all know that there is a good ferry connection from there over to Scotland—and here we are six years later, still talking about the same issue. I see that the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) will be talking on this issue later as the SNP spokesperson. I think that there is an onus on us from Northern Ireland and Scotland to collaborate in a much greater and impactful fashion.

Just six years ago, 100,000 puppies were being brought into this country from illegal farms; 40% of those were coming from the Republic of Ireland and 30% were coming from illegal farms in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania. Those numbers have greatly increased in the intervening period—they have increased dramatically.

I think of a constituency worker in my own team in Belfast East who bought a wonderful cocker spaniel called Walter just a year ago. At £450, he thought that it was a bargain, but Walter, after £1,200-worth of vet’s bills, had to be put down after six months because of total organ failure. All of us who bring an animal into our home know how quickly it becomes a loved one and a huge part of the family. Whenever we are in a situation like that, it pulls at our hearts. I approach this issue, as we all do, as an animal lover. I think that the challenge is about not just incorporating and strengthening the law that is already there, but increasing collaboration across the four parts of this United Kingdom, so that we do not see repeat after repeat of Walter, of Mr Chai and of Lucy herself.