Martyn DayMain Page: Martyn Day (Scottish National Party) - Linlithgow and East Falkirk)
Department Debates - View all Martyn Day's debates with the HM Treasury
The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling opening speech, which will resonate well beyond this Chamber. I put on the record my admiration for the determination and passion shown by Helena and her team of volunteers. At its heart, their argument is about our compassion at the worst moment for a pet owner or parent—for all intents and purposes, pets are family members. We are asking for standard and consistent practice across the country that is supported by law—a Government looking for a legacy could implement that now—to ensure that a cat that has been involved in a traffic accident or killed in some other way is returned to his or her mum or dad through scanning. It is a simple process and many local authorities are already picking such animals up.
Pets should not end up in landfill but be returned to the arms of their mum and dad. Otherwise, even in this time of austerity, we risk having councils with all the parts but no heart. I hope that the attention and support shown by the 100,000-plus signatures collected by my constituent Helena and her team set a trend of expectation of changes in law to end that practice quickly and reunite parents with their cats.
Break in Debate
Thank you, Sir Roger.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having secured this debate. I am an owner of several cats. My first cat was killed before my eyes when I was aged about six; he jumped in front of a lorry, and I knew what had happened to him.
In the past two years, we have lost three cats. The only way that we could discover what had happened to them was by producing posters and the children in my family going door to door, asking people in the area if they knew what had happened to those cats. We discovered that each of them had been knocked down by a car. The council in the area in which we live has a policy of reporting cats that are chipped to the owner when their cat is killed, but the council did not report on any of those three occasions. I congratulate those who are attempting to get a firm policy throughout the country that is not dependent on someone’s postal code, because the loss of a cat is almost the same for a family as the loss of a human being.
To follow up on the hon. Gentleman’s point, this is about joining up policy. The policy and the legislation are there, and there is evidence of good practice, so this is about joining it up. For the policy not to stand in isolation, we have to apply the empathy. His point is well made. We can turn things around the moment we ask those same people to envisage that happening to their pet—to all intents and purposes, pet owners view pets as family. Underpin it by legislative change, yes, but this is about empathy, otherwise the policy stands in isolation, detached from people’s experiences. To give a worst-case scenario, when I met Helena and her team, we talked of an early-morning drive home from holiday and seeing a dead cat on the road. I, too, felt a sense of empathy—the idea that such animals end up not being returned to their families. That is at the heart of this, is it not?
There is no question about the success of the compulsory microchipping of dogs. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that basing the need for the microchipping of cats on the risk that the animals pose to the public simply ignores the welfare of the animals in question?
I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for introducing the debate and explaining the real pain when a cat goes missing and no one knows what has happened to it. More than 800 people across the three Plymouth constituencies signed Helena’s petition. So many of them have shared stories of their own missing animals to stress how important this issue is—a fairly simple legislative tweak could make a powerful difference to those families. A total of 320 people in the patch that I represent signed the petition. It is clear that British people are asking us to demand an animal welfare agenda that is consistent in its application across the country.
Last year, 230,000 cats were killed in road traffic accidents. That is more than 600 every day. Since this debate started, roughly 12 cats will have died. Each of those incidents will mean a family will not see their moggy come home. Young children will ask where their cat is and everyone will be worried about them. We need to create a regulatory environment where, as much as possible, we value animals and their relationships with families. That is not too much to ask. Every animal matters and, importantly, every cat matters to its family.
As always before I speak in these kinds of debates, I reached out to people on social media. It will be no surprise that many people wanted to share the story of their lost cat—whether it came home, was found or is still missing in action somewhere and the owners do not know what happened. My own cat, the fantastically named Bumblesnarf—after Bumblebee from “Transformers” and Snarf from “ThunderCats”, obviously—went missing and, sadly, was found much later. I know the worry of not knowing where a cat is. We all know that cats have a mind of their own and will not do as they are told—unlike dogs, they will do as they please. Sometimes, they might just want to go out and have a play, but when they go missing there is so much heartache, worry and stress. Emma told me on social media that she was pleased that MPs are pushing for this debate. She talked about the cats that she has lost in road traffic accidents and the importance of microchipping. Others shared similar stories.
The petition calls for councils to have the same respect for cats as they have for dogs. I am proud to say that Labour-run Plymouth City Council treats cats the same as dogs in road traffic accidents. That is really important. We need to engineer out of our system the postcode lottery that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk spoke about. We must also ensure that councils apply the rules consistently, especially where there are multi-tier councils or borough boundaries. As politicians, we recognise borough boundaries—some of us even recognise the boundaries between wards or polling districts—but for the vast majority of people, they just live in a community.
I agree entirely. That is why it is important that the rules are applied similarly by every council.
As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), there is no statutory obligation to scan microchipped cats when they are found. However, I am proud that Plymouth City Council follows best practice and scans both cats and dogs that are found on roads. If, sadly, the animal did not survive the accident, it is kept for a further two weeks, so there is plenty of time for the owner to be notified and for the pet to be returned to its owner for a proper goodbye.
The law is only paper if it is not enforced, so we need to ensure that the regulatory framework is in place, that councils understand it, and that the people who work on the frontline, who sometimes get a tough time—those who collect the bins and clean our streets, for example—receive training and understand how important that framework is. Because of the level of cuts, we are asking them to clean more streets, or collect more bins, more quickly. Pausing to collect a cat adds extra work to their day, but it is important that they recognise the value of doing so; that empathy and connection—the thought that it could be their cat—is so important.
Break in Debate
I made inquiries on the basis of the points that the hon. Gentleman and others made during the debate. I understand it would need to be through primary legislation; I made the point about adding cats to that Act.
Compulsory microchipping has also been highlighted, and I am taking the first steps forward on that with a call for evidence. I hope that hon. Members, despite their broader concerns, see that we are committed to taking action here. That will be a hugely important step forward, showing our intentions and sending a clear signal to local authorities that more needs to be done, not least in Scotland; if I was in the Scottish Government I would be trembling in my boots waiting for the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran to intervene and take further action there. However, we will take these actions forward, as I discussed.
The Government’s record on animal welfare is strong, and we will continue in that vein. We have a strong commitment to introduce increased maximum penalties for animal cruelty—I am working at the highest levels to move that further forward—and to look closely at the regulation of animal rescue and rehoming centres. As always in the debates we have had over recent months, I recognise the degree of cross-party support for the action being taken. It is because of that that we are able to take much of this legislation forward, and as the hon. Member for Stroud will agree, there is more to do.
We have already introduced stronger animal welfare controls on dog breeding and the sale of pets, including on the breeding and commercial sale of cats. The implementation of Lucy’s law, which bans the third-party sale of puppies and kittens, followed hot on the heels of Government support for Finn’s law, which protects service animals. The Government are committed to protecting and enhancing the welfare of animals, including cats, and we will continue to build on our progress in the coming months and years, hopefully on a cross-party basis like we have seen in recent months.