I have been contacted by many constituents recently about animal cruelty sentences.
Groups such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and the League Against Cruel Sports have expressed concern about sentences for animal cruelty, and argue they do not always match the abuse suffered by the animals, especially in the case of extreme cruelty such as dog fighting. I share these concerns.
I believe that the humane treatment of all animals should be a benchmark for any civilised society and it is important that we send out a strong and powerful message that animal cruelty must stop. At the recent General Election I stood on a Labour manifesto which pledged to increase the maximum sentence available for those convicted of committing animal cruelty. I support this.
I also support the League Against Cruel Sports' dog-fighting action plan which, amongst other things, proposes a national register of individuals banned from keeping dogs to be held by statutory agencies.
The Sentencing Council has recently reviewed the Magistrate's Court sentencing guidelines, including those relating to animal cruelty. During the last Parliament, the Government stated that the revised guidance, effective from May 2017, will allow magistrates more flexibility when imposing penalties towards the upper end of the scale for animal cruelty.
However, I remain concerned that the punishment for animal cruelty does not reflect the gravity of the crime. I believe that the Government should ensure that the most serious cases of animal abuse are heard at the Crown Court.
I can assure my constituents that I support efforts to increase sentences for those convicted of animal abuse and I will continue to press for clear and enforceable penalties against anyone who commits animal cruelty offences.