Along with other Labour MPs, I’m backing a Private Members Bill that would increase prison sentences for animal cruelty from the current six months to five years.
From bringing forward the landmark Hunting Act to protecting the treatment of domestic animals under the Animal Welfare Act, Labour has always placed the welfare of animals high on the policy agenda.
Now, sadly, animal cruelty is on the rise. The RSPCA reported at the end of April that, since the government announced the coronavirus lockdown, its animal rescuers had already dealt with over 21,000 incidents of animal cruelty and suffering.
However, due to Parliament sitting for fewer days because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a real risk that the Private Members Bill will fall by the wayside. That’s why Luke Pollard, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, has called on Ministers to adopt the existing Private Member’s Bill as a Government Bill, to make sure it becomes law.
The coronavirus crisis also means that many veterinary practices are struggling with limited resources, with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) warning that urgent action is needed to avert practice closures.
Because of lockdown and social distancing measures, vets are understandably having to prioritise emergencies and so are unable to carry out more routine, but still important, procedures like neutering. A recent survey found half of practices had seen turnover drop by 50% or more, with a quarter losing 75% of business.
Similarly, Yorkshire Widlife Park has already lost £5 million in revenue since coronavirus forced it to close. On top of that, it costs £300,000 every month to care for the animals and maintain the park. The park’s management fear that these losses are unsustainable.
It is often said that the UK is a nation of animal lovers and government action must now reflect that strength of feeling. Ministers cannot allow vet practices and wildlife parks that provide important care for animals to close, and should support increased sentencing for animal cruelty. Only then can we ensure that animals are protected throughout the coronavirus crisis.