3 Iain Duncan Smith debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals)

Iain Duncan Smith Excerpts
Wednesday 21st June 2023

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that there is the issue, and then there is the politics. If the Opposition had genuinely wanted to put pressure on the Government to adopt the Bill, they should have tabled a simple motion that said, “We would support the Bill being adopted”, as that would have got everybody in favour of it. He knows very well that, by trying to take over the business, the motion is actually about the politics. If we really care about sentient animals—Government Members do, and I want to speak today about my criticisms of the Government—surely there would be purpose in us joining together and finding a better way of getting the Government to do what they said.

Jim McMahon Portrait Jim McMahon
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I am happy to explain the process by which we got to the motion, if that is helpful, although I am not sure whether it will convince Government Members to vote with us later. To be clear, if there had been a route to reintroducing the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill as it stood after Second Reading, that would be in the motion before us, but given the sunset clause built into that Bill, the advice was that it died weeks ago, so we could not do that. That is why the motion speaks of a No. 2 Bill, but word by word, line by line and paragraph by paragraph, it would be exactly the same Bill. In a way, with respect, the right hon. Member is dancing on the head of a pin, because it is the same Bill. On that basis, there is no reason not to support it.

We are not discussing the Labour party trying to bounce the Government into any position whatsoever. We do not even set out the detail of the Bill, partly because it is not a new Bill—it is already there—but also because all we are doing is voting on one issue alone, which is whether Parliament should have the time to debate and vote on a matter. What we debate and vote on and what the Government move on that day is for them. I accept that it will require a bit of work, but it is for them to bring forward the Bill, allow amendments and do the normal things that we do in the House before we come to a vote. All the motion does is allow time for that process to take place. That flies in the face of the “if only we can find a way of working together” idea. There is a way in which we can work together to achieve that end.

I have set out Labour’s history on animal welfare and exactly what we are to vote on. I have set out the Conservatives’ tensions, which have been absolutely on display today and in the run-up to the debate, but I hope that I have given Government Members enough confidence that there is a bridge here to cross. They do not have to stubbornly say, “It’s an Opposition day, so we can’t be seen to support the motion” when they know that the charities emailing them and the constituents reaching out to them really care about this legislation and, in the end, want them to do the right thing. When the vote comes later, I urge Members across the House to get behind the motion and finally allow time for the kept animals Bill to pass.

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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), whom I congratulate on his position on saving the Asian elephant? That is a noble cause, if nothing else.

I will focus simply on the problem that we face right now. We have enough collective experience in government to know that large, multi-subject Bills will invariably lend themselves to unnecessary amendments. We knew that before, so my question is: why did we discover it so late that we have ended up having to dump the Bill? That is a gentle criticism of the Government, I know—I bear the scars of trying to do that myself—but we do know that, so we should not have found ourselves in the situation of having to dump the Bill and start all over again. If the Government’s purpose is now to see the issues in that Bill proceeded with on a much tighter schedule, I understand that—although it could have happened earlier—but, if we are to do that, we need answers to some important questions.

First, do the Government have an idea of the timeframe now required for unpacking the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and for single-issue Bills to progress with speed? It would be great if my hon. Friends on the Front Bench would, when they return to the Dispatch Box at the end of the debate, start to put together some idea on that, because I think that would satisfy a lot of people outside this place as well.

Will all parts of the Bill be retained, or only selected elements of it? Will the Government support the pet theft part of the legislation, for example, which is closest to my heart? If not, what amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, in the form of statutory instruments, could be made to change quickly the rules and definitions of “property”. I worked very hard with many colleagues from all sides of the House to get the pet theft stuff through, only to discover during lockdown that that had become a criminal business, and a violent one to boot, in which often quite elderly people were knocked to the ground, beaten up—sometimes very badly—and pets of value were stolen. Not only were those people hurt, but they suffered the loss of what had become a friend.

We treat that too casually if we do not care about it. It mattered to our constituents then and still does today. The idea that the police take less action than they should because they characterise a sentient pet in the same way as they do a stolen bicycle is quite ridiculous. I say simply to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench that many of us are very disappointed that we have not got on with this quicker and earlier. I say that because the situation is now so desperate that this needs to be in statute by the next election, whenever that may be. It simply cannot be that we do not get it there. This should therefore be a priority for the Government.

I do not want to make it party political because, right now, our constituents expect us to work together for their benefit on this matter. We do not have a difference on it, and we should not create one, but what we should have is a Government response to what is quite clearly the emotion of the House in trying to get such legislation through. I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), to answer these questions when she gets up. If there is anybody in government kicking around and saying “Oh, we can’t do this; we mustn’t do it; there are more important things to do”, will she tell them that the mood of the House is that this is a priority? Let us do it, let us deliver on what we said we would, and let us get it done quickly.

Microchipping of Pets

Iain Duncan Smith Excerpts
Monday 28th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Pritchard. May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) on his success in bringing this important issue to the public gaze and to Parliament, where we are charged with setting the laws and ensuring that they are properly policed?

I fully agree with the petitions and the sentiment behind them. They are focused on chipping dogs and reading the chips. Currently, it is compulsory to have one’s dog chipped, but it is not compulsory, as I discovered to my surprise during lockdown, to scan those chips. That discovery led me to ask further questions. Many of the people whom my hon. Friend mentioned, including Debbie and others, showed me that it is literally incoherent that we have an obligation on owners to chip but not on vets to scan. What is the point of chipping animals if the honest people in society are the only ones who get them checked? We need that to be made obligatory.

My hon. Friend is quite right that there are between 14 and 16 separate databases, and that we need to ensure that the data is centrally available and read, so that we know who the original owner is and the right people—the people who originally owned the dog—have the say so on the decision about whether a dog is to be put down or not, as my hon. Friend said.

I draw the House’s attention to the Report stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, for which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) have tabled three new clauses. New clause 14 would require the sale of pet by cheque or bank transfer, basically banning cash sales. New clause 15 would make it compulsory for microchipped pets to be scanned by vets, who must check that the microchip number is registered on an approved database and confirm the correct registered keeper. New clause 16 would make the offence of pet theft a specific category of crime carrying a much more significant fine and/or incarceration.

I want us to come back to the idea that microchipping is important because it is necessary to understand who the owner is. I say that because there has been a staggering increase in crime relating to pets, and dogs in particular. As has been said, during the lockdown, many people who had never had a pet suddenly realised that they had more time on their hands and wanted one, so demand went up. Legitimate supply was unable to keep up for the simple reason that legitimate breeders were unable to put dogs and bitches together to produce legitimate litters, so we were left with the criminal fraternity, which did two things.

First, there was the increase in puppy farms, which is a disgusting state of affairs. A bitch will be stolen from somebody, she will be used constantly to produce young puppies until she is worn out within about six months to a year, and then the criminals have her put down or abandon her on the streets. That is really important. For those who care about this, it is not just a political game; it is very serious, because it is about unnecessary pain and the terrible lives led by animals who are taken by criminals.

Secondly, there has been an enormous increase in dog theft. The BBC reported a 250% increase in dog theft crime in Suffolk alone during the pandemic, comparing the year ending July 2019 and that ending July 2020. The Metropolitan police report the highest number of dog thefts in the country. The number of stolen dogs registered on the DogLost website increased by 170% from 2019 to 2020, and 2020 has been one of the worst years ever for dognapping.

It is bad enough that there is theft, which is a crime, but dog theft is the theft of people’s pets, not just property, and that is where the law falls down again. Pets are more than just property. I might own this chair behind me, but the chair does not greet me in the evening when I come back. It does not console me when there is a problem. It just sits there. A dog is a sentient being and therefore has greater value than just an object, and it is time we brought the law up to speed.

The problem is that prices have rocketed. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North spoke about that earlier. The price has increased by 134% for chows, at £2,000 in October compared with £1,000 the previous March. Pets such as French bulldogs can be more than £5,000 each, and a litter can earn more than £30,000 for those who use them to breed. The problem is not just criminality. Violence is used by criminals to steal dogs to order, so we now have an increase in violent crime.

Here is the problem; it has gone to the gangs. I live in an area of north-east London that has real problems with street gangs. The police work hard on it and so does the local authority. I make no criticism of them. But the gangs now see it as easier, cheaper and less of a problem to steal a pet such as a French bulldog and sell it on for cash rather than try to sell drugs on a street corner, because selling drugs gets them into much greater trouble. It leads to great violence to themselves and therefore becomes a bigger problem. Why would they not steal a valuable pet and sell it? They might get a £250 fine. They are just laughing their heads off.

Dogs are now valuable merchandise. There is no real criminal penalty for stealing one, so why not do it? That is one reason why violent thefts have increased dramatically. What the hell do they care if they smash somebody to the ground, hurt them—normally an elderly person—and take their dog? We have heard stories of people being stamped on, their hands smashed and the dog taken off the lead. Sometimes knives are used. All sorts of stuff goes on, because pets now have a significant cash value.

Cash is key here, which is why we want to ban the use of cash. It had a massive effect on the theft of lead from churches when we introduced a ban on cash for scrap metal. This is another angle of attack. I absolutely support what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said about microchipping. It is, however, only one element of what has to happen with regard to pets. We need to update the law. Far too many people out there are really worried.

I know what goes on in Ministries. I had six years in a Department, so I know what civil servants say: “Oh, Minister, this is really a second-order issue. There are many more important things that we have to focus on. There are all these big things that we have to deal with.” I say there is no greater issue than the thing that affects our constituents’ lives and worries them and that leads to criminality, violence and the loss of the legitimate property of a pet—a dog, a cat or whatever. It is time to make this not a second-order issue, but a first-order issue. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the issue has been kicked around the different Departments. I know that the Lord Chancellor is speaking to people in the next couple of days, so he takes an interest in it. The Home Secretary spoke to me and she took an interest in it, and I know that the Minister’s Department takes an interest in it. Can we please make sure that the Government recognise that whoever owns this problem, we all own it collectively as a Parliament—not even as a Government? We own it because we owe it to our constituents to save them from any further problems, any further violence, and any further threats and the theft of pets.

I am a dog owner myself. Like many others, I would hate the idea of my wife or somebody else being smashed to the ground, beaten up and their pet stolen. My wife has just stepped down as chair of the trustees of the charity Medical Detection Dogs. The charity is currently working on detecting covid, with brilliant and immediate results, as high as any of the tests. These are very valuable animals that save our lives. They sniff aircraft to check there are no bombs or illegal currency, and they come to this place to run around the Benches and tell us that we are safe. They are not items; they are pets that are owned by people, but they are also incredibly powerful and save lives. Now is the time to act. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to relay that back to all the Government Departments. Let’s get on with this, do what is right and help our constituents.

UK’s Withdrawal from the European Union

Iain Duncan Smith Excerpts
Wednesday 13th March 2019

(5 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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I want to finish this point because it is very important. The Prime Minister needs to decide, if it goes that way tomorrow, whether she is a Prime Minister who is willing and able to do that and to embrace other options, or whether she will press on only with her own deal. If she presses on with her own deal, I think we will still have to go on and look at other options and get a common purpose. If the Prime Minister forces us down that road, she will be forcing us down the road where the majority will be forcing a view on the Executive, and there are constitutional implications for that.

I accept the force of the point. The test will be tomorrow night, if it gets that far, when we hear from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box as to what her attitude will be. If it changes from the attitude of the past two years, we might be able to proceed more quickly to find that common purpose. We need to find that purpose, we need to find a majority for it, and it needs to be a sustainable majority, not just for one night or one week. That is what we should have done two years ago.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I do not mean to pause the right hon. and learned Gentleman for too long, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) specifically asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who opened the debate, whether he would agree to revoke article 50. His answer was clear: it is not the Government’s policy to revoke. On the logic of voting to take no deal off the table and the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s policy of a referendum, if the other side—an EU country or countries or the Parliament—rejected a proposal to delay, would Labour’s policy, in extremis, then be to revoke article 50, in the sense of the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend?

Keir Starmer Portrait Keir Starmer
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I believe in addressing each problem as it arises, but let me deal with the question of policy. The right hon. Gentleman makes it sound as if extension is a policy choice of the Labour party. It is not a policy choice of the Labour party. It is driven by necessity because of the situation we find ourselves in. We need to deal with no deal today, and with extension tomorrow.

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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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Clearly time is short, so I do not plan to take any interventions unless someone objects to anything important I have to say.

May I start by telling my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) how much I appreciate the time and service he gave? It is a great pity that he is no longer in post, for reasons he has made clear.

I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, who is sitting on the Front Bench, that I clearly cannot support the idea of taking no deal off the table, because I have always believed that ultimately that is not up to us, unless, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) has said, we are prepared somehow to revoke. If we are not prepared to revoke, we will put ourselves in the hands of the EU, which may decide that it does not want us to extend. Where would that leave us? It would leave us having to leave without the withdrawal agreement. The idea of no deal is a bit of a misnomer, because in actual fact a whole series of things are taking place right now in the EU and even here that amount to deals, arrangements and agreements. I will not go through the list, because time is very short.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Duncan Smith
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I was not planning to give way, because others want to speak, but I will give way briefly to my hon. Friend.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Baker
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During the course of the debate I have received a message from David Campbell Bannerman MEP, who says that the European Parliament in Strasbourg has today voted through no-deal measures on social security, road freight connectivity, basic air connectivity, the fishing fund, fishing vessels authorisation, railway safety and connectivity, and, on road haulage cabotage, the right for UK hauliers to operate within certain territory—and on it goes. Is it not the case that the Malthouse compromise—plan B—is emerging through the fact that both sides are taking sensible contingencies in their mutual interests?

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Duncan Smith
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I agree completely with my hon. Friend. That is my point on the concept of no deal versus managed exit. That is how I would refer to the process: we do it either by a completely upfront withdrawal agreement, or by a series of agreements. My point is that it is about managing the process of leaving.

That is why I put my name to amendment (f), which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). I fully agree that it is not perfect but it seeks to find a way in which hon. Members with completely different views can come together, recognising that the people voted to leave and that our job is to deliver that. Is there a way to deliver it if there is not the chance of an agreement?

Lady Hermon Portrait Lady Hermon
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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Duncan Smith
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Forgive me, but I will not give way. I am sure the hon. Lady will ask the same question. The answer is that I have not spoken to the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, but I take very serious consideration of that issue.

I do not believe that the Government’s deal is dead. What made it almost impossible for some of us to vote for was the Attorney General’s paragraph 19, which seemed to contradict the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments the night before. That is why the Malthouse compromise has gone forward. It covers both categories—making the deal, or being unable to make the deal—and that will allow us to reach an agreement.

The key is finding a way to replace the backstop as it exists now with alternative arrangements, which are listed in amendment (f)—I will not go through them now. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford is correct to say that we have essentially asked for four elements, behind which lie a great deal more detail that has been discussed in a series of meetings with my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. We reached what I thought was a pretty good agreement. I credit the Prime Minister and others for having bound in those alternative arrangements. They were not bound in absolutely but they did make big progress in the deal she laid on the table, which will help enormously, because if we replace the backstop with the Malthouse alternatives, we get rid of the risk of the backstop being an imprisonment or an entrapment. It would become customs arrangements that allow all sides, including Dover and Calais, to trade successfully without too many problems. That is really the point.

I know that some of my colleagues are concerned—rightly—about extending for the sake of it. I am not in favour of that. In any case, I believe that will be rejected by the European Union because there needs to be a purpose. The point of the extension we propose is to meet the practicalities of getting the arrangements in place ready for the process of managed withdrawal without a withdrawal agreement. I would not vote for an extension with no purpose because all we will do is kick the can do the road, as the Prime Minister has said, ending up with exactly the same decisions to make only a few months later.

I recommend the Malthouse process because it allows us to manage the process of leaving carefully with practical solutions, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford laid out. It allows us a period of time in which to create that. I recommend it to my hon. and right hon. Friends and Opposition Members. If we come together and vote for amendment (f), we offer two things: the opportunity to get an arrangement that allows us to leave with a withdrawal agreement or, in the event of not having such an agreement, we can manage the process of leaving in a way that takes away the fear of having no deal.