§ Order for Third Reading read.12.30 pm
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
This is a small but important Bill. It will bring the penalties imposed in Scotland into line with those imposed elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I begin by thanking Ministers and officials at the Scottish Office, who helped me by amending my original Bill until it became the Bill that I introduced. The House will realise that, without that assistance and support, private Members's Bills have little chance of getting through the House. I also thank Opposition Members who assisted me in Committee arid who encouraged me to promote the Bill.
The Bill has the support of all political parties on the Scottish scene and I believe that it will be welcomed by all who have an interest in the care of animals. There is no doubt, particularly given some of the recent evidence of the maltreatment of animals, that the penalties in Scotland should be brought into line with those of the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Bill, but there is a danger in just homogenising the penalties in Scotland and those in England for the sake of it. We have a different situation and we should be careful. Our penalties might be greater or smaller or better or worse, but I do not like homogenisation of either penalty or law.
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. and learned Friend, who is a practitioner in these matters when I am not, understands the problems that are faced in court. I am a simple chap and I should not like to think that someone who wished, as some appear to, to maltreat animals—particular), horses, in which my children have a great interest—might feel that if he popped across the border to commit the crime, the penalty would be more lenient. That is why I thought it important to align the penalties in this instance. I accept what my hon. and learned Friend says about the importance of our retaining our different laws in Scotland.
All those who are interested in the welfare of animals will, I feel, welcome the changes.
§ Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)
The Labour party supports the Bill and we welcome the move made by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) in introducing it. We agree that cruelty to animals is contemptible and inexcusable and that the penalty should reflect the seriousness of the offence.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
I think that I can speak briefly in tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who has introduced an important Bill. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Bill, which deals with an important aspect of animal welfare. I strongly congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative in introducing it, with the support of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. As my hon. Friend said, the Bill simply increases the maximum fine for an offence of cruelty to animals 1385 under the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912 from level 4 on a standard scale, which is currently £2,500, to level 5, which is currently £5,000. This will bring the maximum fine in Scotland into line with that which applies in the rest of the United Kingdom, which has been at level 5 since the introduction of the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1987. That, too, was a private Member's measure, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). The Government considered at that time whether the increase in penalties introduced by that measure might be extended to Scotland. Unfortunately, that would have required an amendment to the long title, which would have seriously delayed its passage.
The Government's position has been that we would be prepared to support an increase of the maximum fine in Scotland at the next available opportunity. As the House will appreciate, pressures on the parliamentary timetable meant that such an opportunity for a Government measure did not arise.
There is, of course, no requirement for identical penalties—I take up the point of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn)—to attach to equivalent offences in the different jurisdictions within the United Kingdom. Indeed, between 1912 and 1987, the maximum period of imprisonment for the equivalent animal cruelty offences was six months in Scotland and only three months in the rest of the United Kingdom. We wish, however, to send a firm and clear message to those who might be considering acts of cruelty to animals that the courts should have the ability to impose a substantial fine in appropriate circumstances. I know that issues of animal welfare generally have raised a great deal of public interest in recent years and that general concern exists throughout Scotland about cruelty to animals. There are several issues related to animal welfare about which many hon. Members have, understandably, strong views.
It would be remiss of me to talk about cruelty to animals in the context of the Bill without paying a strong tribute to the work of the SSPCA, which initiated and supports the Bill. The work of the society is crucial in ensuring the protection of animals. The evidence of its inspectors is often instrumental in securing the conviction of those involved in offences of cruelty to which the higher penalty that the Bill will introduce would apply.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
As the Bill protects horses, we should remind those who think that they are protecting foxes that wounding horses is not advancing non-cruelty to animals.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I accept absolutely that cruelty to horses should be visited with severity.
The SSPCA undertakes work beyond seeking prosecutions for offences of the type with which the Bill will deal. It acts to ensure that the welfare of animals at markets, breeding establishments and boarding places is catered for properly. In particular, it operates 10 welfare centres throughout Scotland to provide vital back-up to the inspectors. It has an important role in educating members of the public, especially young people, in the better care and welfare of animals. I congratulate the society on the 1386 success of its work. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing it continued success in all its worthy areas of activity.
There is an immense amount that I could say, but I shall say only a little more. There is unanimity of support throughout the House for the Bill. I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North and welcome the support of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). I emphasise the Government's wholehearted support for the Bill and the increased penalty that it contains. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing it and I hope that it will continue to have a swift and uneventful passage.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
It is often said that politicians are animals. Of course, that is entirely untrue. There are, however, such creatures as political animals, but I am sure that no animal would ever choose to have all-night sittings.
I welcome the Bill, which is an example of the way in which the House has legislated repeatedly to stop cruelty to animals, to protect animals and to demonstrate that right hon. and hon. Members are animal lovers. There has been a huge rise in the incidence of cruelty to animals. It is sad that that has happened after 100 years of the RSPCA and its Scottish equivalent, which has been praised in the debate. There was a 27 per cent. rise in Scotland during the last recorded year and a similar rise in England in 1990–91.
It is difficult for an English Member of Parliament to speak in a debate on a Scottish Bill. However, this is an important issue and Scottish legislation often goes on to become English legislation—for example, legislation on alcohol abuse was introduced in Scotland in 1981 and then in England in 1986. Therefore, it is often useful for English Members to speak on Scottish Bills.
This is the Bill's Third Reading, so it cannot be amended, and I am not suggesting that it should be. However, it contains an unsatisfactory element on which, perhaps, the Scottish Office could help by issuing guidelines. I refer to the substance of the Bill—punishment. All those involved in the drafting, proposing and debating of the Bill are opposed to cruelty to animals, so it behoves us to get the element of punishment right.
In 1912, when the previous Act reached the statute book, there was a more primitive attitude to punishment. It was thought that the only appropriate punishment was a fine or imprisonment. Sadly, those alternatives are repeated in the Bill. In our more enlightened and experienced time, we should go beyond those alternatives wherever possible. For example, we should consider compensation for those whose animals have suffered. Indeed, the theme, "Always think of the victim", would benefit the criminal justice system.
We should consider forfeiture of, for example, items of equipment used in the torture of animals. We have all read the horrible stories about that. It may be that some poor animal has been kept incarcerated in a van——
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
All the penalties to which my hon. Friend has referred are already available to courts in Scotland.
§ Mr. Booth
My hon. and learned Friend is right. I was about to come to that point.
1387 As those punishments do not appear in the text of the Bill, they should be the subject of Scottish Office guidance. The sheriff and other courts would then automatically put them at the top of the agenda when sentencing.
There is another matter on which the Scottish Office should consider issuing guidance. It is the classic case where those who are likely to commit the offences referred to in the Bill have jobs. Such offenders should, in these more enlighted times, be put in weekend prisons, so that they may keep their jobs, pay substantial compensation, and support their families.
§ Mr. Booth
Yes, as my hon. and learned Friend says. Those and other penalties should be considered automatically by the courts, but be discretionary in every case. However, the guidelines should be clearly spelt out by the Scottish Office. I hope to see that practice repeated south of the border.
We are in times of change and while I support the Bill in every way, I recommend further work by the Scottish Office to support those people who want greater enlightenment in respect of punishment.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed