Pet Identification Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: HM Treasury

Pet Identification

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 17th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
HM Treasury
Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard

One thing I have discovered since being elected two years ago is that the public really want proper rules for animal welfare that are properly enforced and properly funded. In that respect, the hon. Lady’s point is well put.

Sadly, despite being valued members of households—part of the family—cats are not afforded the same duty of care we afford to cattle, horses, mules and dogs. The life of a cat should be worth no less than that of any other animal, because of the emotional connection that animal brings to the family and its important role in a household. That needs to be addressed.

Unfortunately, road traffic accidents involving cats happen frequently. As we know, cats sometimes misjudge the distance and speed of oncoming vehicles and can be blinded by headlights at night. The law requires people to stop and report the accident if they run over a dog. That helps to save the lives of hundreds of dogs every year. We have spoken so far about reporting in the event that an animal dies, but it can help save the lives of dogs and other animals if people know they are required to stop and report that an animal has been involved in an accident. We should think not just about what happens at the end of an animal’s life but about how we prevent needless deaths along the way.

Petplan estimates that a quarter of road accidents involving cats are fatal. That means there is a good chance that a cat will survive if it gets the urgent care it needs, but that can happen only if there is a requirement for road users to report accidents involving cats. I would like the legislative proposals for compulsory microchipping of cats to be tightened, and I would like to see compulsory reporting where a cat is injured or involved in an accident.

Although the debate is about accidents involving pets rather than their owners, I want to take a moment to talk about the importance of drivers and other road users recognising the role of animals in communities. I represent an urban area, but Plymouth is surrounded by beautiful countryside, with many weird and varied country lanes. In such fantastic rural areas, accidents may involve different animals—a cow coming over a high fence, for example. Having the driving skills to understand what anticipatory action to take is really important both on country lanes and on major roads, so part of this debate should be about the need to teach and inform drivers, not just in their driving test and their theory test but throughout their lives, about the importance of looking out for and recognising not only pedestrians but animals on pavements and in other settings. We need to ensure that the structures on our roads are engineered to better protect animals, and we need to make our roads safer. I hope that is not lost on the Minister.

Councils across the UK should be required to follow best practice on scanning cats involved in road traffic accidents, which, as we have heard, a number of councils already do. Families deserve to know what happened to their pet if it goes missing. We need more action from the Government to make tweaks in this area. I say to the Minister, with whom I work in a number of areas, that at a time when the Government’s legislative agenda is not as full as it might be, there is space for doing things that have genuine cross-party support. I know that, regardless of what happens with Brexit, nearly all my constituents would want us to act to protect our animals. I think a tweak to the rules to extend compulsory microchipping to cats and to require a uniform approach from every council, no matter which political party runs it, would be well supported.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) - Hansard
17 Jun 2019, 5:10 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for bringing forward the debate and setting the scene so well, and I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) for his contribution.

I am well known as a dog lover. I cannot remember not having had a dog as a pet since I was very young, many years ago in Ballywalter. My wife has volunteered at Assisi animal sanctuary for many years and often sees the effects of unwanted and abandoned pets. It breaks her heart and brings a lump to her throat—and perhaps even to mine—to tell me some of those stories. My wife has had cats nearly all her life. I never had a cat until we married. My dogs and her cats came together as she and I came together. I am not sure whether that is why we did so, but that is the way it happened. As a result, we have always had a love for cats.

We live on a farm. Because we own the land, whenever our animals or pets have passed away, we have been able to bury them on the farm, but that is not the case for everyone. I believe that when we are able to bury our dogs and cats on the farm, they may still roam the fields—not physically, but perhaps in their afterlife, wherever that may be.

Microchipping has helped with the abandonment of animals on some scale, but certainly more needs to be done to ensure that those who keep animals are able to do so. I have heard a few people say that homing an animal is as difficult as adopting a child. That is said tongue in cheek—let us be honest—but I am glad that it means the decision to house a pet is measured and well thought out. Assisi, where my wife volunteers, does not allocate a pet—a dog or a cat—to any home without first doing a home visit to ensure that the person is ready to give a home to a dog or cat, is in the frame of mind to do so and, let us be honest, has a home that can give the pet the freedom it needs. For many elderly people, pets can be companions, but it would not be fair for someone disabled or elderly to have a springer spaniel—a very energetic dog—that would run them off their feet. Therefore, pets must be allocated. My wife does home visits, so she knows how important they are.

Some 140 of my constituents signed the petition, which is the reason I am here today, but I am confident that I represent many more people who did not sign the petition but agree with its sentiments. Many people want to see the issue addressed appropriately. Although the law says that people do not need to report hitting an animal with a car, the reality is that that leaves a family heartbroken, not knowing what has happened to their beloved pet.

Many years ago, I was out doing deliveries for the business that I used to have and I came up the Darragh Road in Comber. A cat had been killed that morning and the woman was standing at the side of the road in tears. She asked me whether I would scoop it up and put it in a bag, which I was happy to do. The problem was that, as I was doing that, people thought that I had run it down, which I obviously had not. I was trying to be a good Samaritan and respond to that lady. I understood how heartbroken she was, however, because that was her pet—her cat, her love and her companion.

The petition provides a simple solution. If an animal is found, an effort should be made to find the family and allow them to deal with it. To do that, we need to push for people to get their cat microchipped to ensure that any new regulations are worth it. I am glad that Cats Protection in Northern Ireland has a scheme that enables cats to be neutered for £5—many other schemes across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom are run by volunteers and charitable groups. The offer is open to owners who are receiving state benefits, who are on a low income, who are students or pensioners and who live in Northern Ireland. Microchipping is also available under the campaign at some participating veterinary practices, which may incur a small additional £5 fee. Assisi, the charity that my wife works for, also has a policy of neutering all cats, so there is some control. We cannot ignore the good work that charity groups do across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Those who microchip their cat obviously care for the animal and deserve a modicum of care in response from their council. I have written to my local council—Ards and North Down Borough Council—to ask whether it will co-ordinate the effort put forward by Cats Protection. I served on the old Ards Borough Council for 26 years and came off it when I was elected to this place in 2010. To be fair to the council, when it is asked by the general public to call out and collect a dead dog or cat, it does so without any coercion as part of its commitment to local pet owners, not because there is a written rule, but because it wants to respond to the general public. I congratulate it on being so responsive and community-based on the matter.

In our house, we have three cats and one dog, which all came from charities. The dog came from a bad relationship and had been abused as a pup. It was nervous when it came to us, but it is now very confident and sees the house as its house, rather than anyone else’s. The cats were all strays or from charities. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport referred to the name of his cat earlier. Ours are called Nicholas—I am not sure why; it sounds very royal—Muffins and Podge. The three cats are totally different and have different personalities. Two of them stay in the house all day while the other one hunts all day. Living on a farm, I get quite annoyed when the cat brings home some of its trophies, and my wife hates it more than anybody, but that is their nature—they hunt.

There are heartbreaking posts on Facebook, in the local papers, in the provincial papers and in shop windows that ask, “Have you seen this cat?” The children get so upset, but something can be done. That is why I am happy to speak in the debate and add my voice, along with the hon. Members who have spoken and those who will speak, to the 107,062 signatories of the petition. I ask the Minister to begin the work that needs to be done to ensure that the petition’s calls are answered and that people know their loved ones have been respectfully put to rest and are not lying in a dump somewhere.

The Minister has always been responsive to our proposals. Our personal discussions with him, and the discussions of others, have indicated that he will probably give us the response that we wish for, which I look forward to. I support the petition’s calls and look forward to hearing how the Government intend to respond positively and definitively to make them happen, and to let all those 107,062 signatories of the petition know that the Government work for them.

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab) Hansard
17 Jun 2019, 5:16 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Strangely, I used to have a cat called Muffin as well, which was sadly knocked over at the age of one. It was in the days before microchips, but because it happened in our street, the cat was handed to me and we were able to bury her in the garden, plant a little tree on top and say goodbye to her. I know how important it is for people to be able to do that and to know what has happened to their beloved pet.

Muffin was followed by two ginger cats—I decided to get two cats after that, so if one was knocked over, I would have one left—which lived to be 19 and 21. When they shuffled off this mortal coil, after a long and happy life, I decided that life was getting slightly complicated and it was too difficult to fit cats into a politician’s lifestyle. I admire hon. Members who have pets. I would find it impossible because of living in two places at once. Deep down, however, I am a cat owner. I am very fond of cats and, given the choice, I would have one as a pet. At the moment, it is totally incompatible with this lifestyle.

The other reason I wanted to speak in the debate is that, of anywhere in the country, the petition gathered most support from my constituency. Heywood and Middleton topped the table with 634 signatures, so I feel duty bound to speak on behalf of those constituents who cared enough to sign it. The sad story of Gizmo also happened in my neighbouring constituency of Bury North.

I fully support the aim of the petition, which hon. Members have described as a tweak in the law—that is all. Simply, the petition’s aim is that deceased or injured cats be required by law to be scanned in the same way that dogs are, and that efforts be made to track down their owners. Despite cats being popular pets, the law does not require motorists to report running a cat over, nor is it compulsory for cats to be microchipped, although many owners do that voluntarily. According to Cats Protection, 68% of domestic cats are microchipped. Those cat owners have done that for a reason: their hope is that, if their cat goes missing, somebody will scan the chip and the cat will be returned to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) referred to the Road Traffic Act 1988, which states that collisions causing death or injury to dogs, horses, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, donkeys and mules, but not cats, must be reported to the police. The Government’s guidelines state that there is no requirement to report a collision involving an animal smaller than a dog, although I wonder what size of dog the Government are referring to. That guideline seems deliberately vague. The point is that the law could easily be extended to include cats.

The natural consequence of this petition is to extend compulsory microchipping to cats, to change the law to require motorists to report all accidents in which an animal is injured, and to make it a duty for local authorities to scan deceased and injured cats for microchips. I am pleased to say that my local authority—Labour-run Rochdale Borough Council—already has a policy to check deceased cats for microchips, and it makes every effort to identify pet owners. If the cat has a chip, a member of the environmental management team will contact the owner to break the sad news and arrange for the pet to be either collected or incinerated by the council—whatever the owner decides to do. If the pet does not have a chip, it is stored for up to four weeks in case it fits a description from concerned owners. Unclaimed pets are incinerated after four weeks.

My local authority’s response seems sensible and humane, and all councils should adopt it. Handheld scanners are inexpensive and take only a few minutes to use. The point has been well made that councils are already in possession of scanners because of the laws relating to dogs. It would save so much heartache if all councils adopted that practice. It would allow the pet to be buried or cremated with dignity, and would give their owners the chance to say goodbye and get closure.

The charity Cats Protection supports the compulsory microchipping of cats, which is one of its 2022 agenda priorities. It says that “cats are not political”, although some cats, such as Larry the No. 10 cat, might dispute that. Larry frequently comments on the political issues of the day via his Twitter feed, which may have just a hint of human assistance. At the moment, Larry is extremely concerned about whether the next incumbent of No. 10 has a cat allergy. I wish that was all we had to worry about.

Cats Protection is seeking cross-party support for its 2022 agenda. Compulsory microchipping for owned cats would allow more pets to be reunited with their owners and would enable owners to be contacted if their cat is involved in a road traffic accident. It also stresses the importance of keeping microchip details up to date if the owner moves house, for example. Those proposals are supported by the Labour party’s animal welfare plan, which calls for mandatory microchipping for cats, and a requirement for motorists to report all accidents in which an animal had been incurred or killed. The natural consequence of that would be that all councils put in place a policy on scanning cats as well as dogs—a simple step that would save so much heartache.

There are many good reasons to bring about this change in the law, and not one reason why we should not. It is clear that it has cross-party support, so let’s just do it.