8.In the Written Ministerial Statement published alongside the draft Bill, the Secretary of State claims that this Bill is “part of a wider programme to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead” and the “start of [his] ambition to set a global gold standard for animal welfare as we leave the EU”.
9.Our predecessor Committee, in November 2016, published a Report, Animal welfare in England: domestic pets. That Report noted that “the current penalties for animal welfare offences in England are amongst the lowest in Europe” and called for the maximum penalty for animal cruelty to be increased to five years. We were pleased to see the Government adopt this recommendation through Clause 2 of this draft Bill.
10.Clause 2 of this Bill amends Section 32 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to increase the maximum prison sentence available to those convicted of “the more serious prevention of harm offences that are usually associated with animal cruelty” from six months to five years. This increase will bring England and Wales into line with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Similar steps are being taken by the Scottish Government through the planned amendment of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006. These measures, if adopted, will mean that maximum sentences in the UK will become longer than those in France (two years), Germany (three years), Spain (18 months) and Italy (three years).
11.Our witnesses expressed little concern with Clause 2 as it stands. Michael Webb of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home told us that “Clause 2 on the sentencing provisions is quite simple. It has immense popular and political support”. The Countryside Alliance similarly “welcomed” the measure, as did the Donkey Sanctuary; the British Veterinary Association reported “general support” for this measure.
12.Some difficulties were raised, however, when discussing the consequence of this sentencing increase. While agreeing that the sentencing provisions in Clause 2 “make perfect sense”, the Dogs Trust highlighted a practical problem that may arise from the increased sentencing provisions:
the increased sentences, [will] mean that a number of these cases will go to Crown Court rather than magistrates’ court, because of the level of sentencing.
Given the length of time it can take to bring a case before the Crown Court, one result of the increased sentencing provisions in Clause 2 could be that animals are kept in kennels, pre-trial, for a longer period. It was suggested that a supplementary measure, which allowed the expediting of court cases requiring the kennelling of animals be brought in to prevent harm or distress to animals potentially kept away from their owners for many months.
13.The Crown Court generally has a busier workload than the magistrates’ courts and cases usually take longer to come before it. The sentencing provisions of Clause 2 will lead to an increased number of animal welfare cases before the Crown Court. This will therefore increase both the number of animals held in kennels for long periods of time and the amount of time such animals are held with consequent welfare impacts on the animals and, presumably, an increased charge on the public purse. The regulatory impact assessment we have recommended be produced such provide an estimate of these costs and impacts as well as an indication of the steps the Government is considering to alleviate them.
14.The Secretary of State’s ambition is to deliver “world-leading standards of animal welfare”. There have been various announcements on this topic from his Department over recent months. As an example, on 22 December 2017 Defra released a press notice promising “to crack down on puppies being reared in unhealthy circumstances by unscrupulous breeders”. Many of these announced measures had been recommended by our 2017 Report, Animal welfare in England: domestic pets. These included:
15.None of the above measures are included in the draft Bill, which is limited to increasing sentences for specified offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Our witnesses noted this apparent inconsistency between the Government’s professed objectives and the limited scope of this Bill.
16.This inconsistency was further highlighted by witnesses who noted that the Bill was limited to increasing sentences for specified offences against domestic animals. The League Against Cruel Sports noted that animal welfare offences against wild animals in the wild, such as those covered by the Hunting Act 2004, will remain covered by existing sentencing provisions and will not have their sentences increased). In a similar vein, the Dogs Trust highlighted that maximum offences under the Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order 2011 are not being increased and will remain at three months.
17.In November 2016, our predecessor Committee called very strongly for the introduction of a five-year maximum sentence for animal cruelty. We are pleased to see our recommendation acted upon by the Government. In so doing, the Government has taken a positive step toward bringing England and Wales into line with Northern Ireland and therefore realising the Secretary of State’s vision of setting a “global gold standard”.
18.We question why the Government has restricted its efforts to increasing sentences for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 but has not taken this opportunity to increase sentences for other breaches of animal welfare in other legislation or introduce other welcome measures such as those announced as under consideration on 22 December 2017. A true “gold standard” in animal welfare will require the introduction of legislation which will increase sentencing across the board.
19.We recommend that the draft Bill be amended to increase sentences for animal welfare offences other than just those contained in the 2006 Animal Welfare Act. This revised Bill should include, but not be limited to, provisions to increase sentencing for those offences referred to in Defra’s announcement of 22 December 2017 which drew heavily on our predecessor Committee’s Report, Animal welfare in England: domestic pets.
8 Written Ministerial Statement - Animal Welfare, HCWS340, 12 December 2017
9 Animal welfare in England: domestic pets, Third Report of Session 2016–17, HC 117, Para 175
10 Specifically: causing unnecessary suffering, mutilation, docking of dog’s tails, administration of poisons etc., and encouraging an animal fight, Correspondence from the Secretary of State to the Committee, 12 December 2017
11 Q74 [Michael Webb]
12 AWB 0016 (Countryside Alliance)
13 AWB 0027 (The Donkey Sanctuary)
14 AWB 0036 (British Veterinary Association)
18 Written Ministerial Statement - Animal Welfare, HCWS340, 12 December 2017
19 Press Release: “Government proposals on puppy welfare”, published 22 December 2017 (Accessed 20 January 2018),
21 AWB 0004 (League Against Cruel Sports)
22 AWB 0008 (Dogs Trust)
31 January 2018