UK MPs call for register for animal abusers
A register of animal abusers should be created to help identify people who could also pose a threat to vulnerable people, MPs have said.
Senior Tory Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, joined Labour MPs in backing the idea as ministers were pressed to ensure social services are alerted about offenders in their area.
Labour's Anna Turley (Redcar) cited research from the US and Europe raising connections between those who abuse both animals and people, adding the crimes "often go hand in hand".
She added that fines to deter abuse are "clearly not working" and wants to change animal welfare laws to increase the maximum prison sentence from six months to five years.
Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate, Labour's Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) said: "These individuals all too often are not just abusing animals, they're also abusing vulnerable adults and children and there's a huge amount of evidence that shows that link.
"So should we not, whilst looking at sentencing, also be looking at a register that these, these - words fail me for the disgust I feel for these individuals - that they should also be on a register for their potential abuse to humans as well?"
Ms Turley replied: "I think you're absolutely right and in my discussions with the RSPCA and others, one of the issues that's come to light is when people are banned from keeping an animal for life, we have no way of being able to enforce that at the moment.
"A register, I think, is potentially a really important idea and one I hope the Government will consider as part of the discussions and debates around my Bill."
Mr Parish added: "I also agree with (Ms Turley) entirely on the fact that, I think, if you can actually string up a dog, a cat or any other animal and beat it to death, kick it down stairs or whatever the horrendous things have been happening out there, it's not too long before you can do that to a human.
"Therefore, I think what the Americans are doing, and others, of actually linking and having a register of those that have actually committed these animal welfare crimes would be a very, very good way forward in this country."
Mr Flello, intervening, asked: "Do you also think that as well as going on a register that those individuals should be reported to the local social services, who should be looking very carefully at their family environments?"
Mr Parish replied: "I think you make a very good point, I think they do because some individuals will be just completely and utterly cruel and base.
"Others perhaps will be challenged in some way and don't quite understand necessarily all that they're doing."
Justice minister Sam Gyimah said sentencing for animal cruelty offences is under review and being looked at "very closely", with the impact of the five-year maximum sentence in Northern Ireland to be examined.
But he said the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has "no plans to introduce an animal abusers' register".
The Tory frontbencher added: "I do not consider it appropriate or proportionate necessarily because we'll then expect pet vendors and animal re-homing centres to check the details of all prospective animal owners.
"In terms of my understanding, that is quite an onerous approach."
On sentencing, Mr Gyimah said a five-year maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty would be the same as grievous bodily harm (GBH), and would therefore require an examination of other laws to ensure consistency.
He denied he was saying a sentence for animal cruelty must be lower than one for an offence against humans.
Replying to the debate, Mr Gyimah told MPs: "The question that has been posed is if Northern Ireland can increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty to five years, why can't England and Wales?
"Of course, penalties are devolved to Northern Ireland. Each jurisdiction decides the appropriate maximum sentence for each offence.
"But we will be looking at the experience of Northern Ireland and Scotland and how these changes impact specifically on offending behaviour, I think that is what we want to look at to make sure you can achieve the impact on offending behaviour by increasing the maximum sentence."
Mr Gyimah added: "A five-year maximum sentence would be the equivalent of GBH against a human being and these are serious offences and we do not have to stand back, the penalties need to work across the board.
"In other words, if we're going to increase it to five years it's going to be in line with GBH, we've got to look at it across the whole board in terms of our sentencing and that is one of the things the Government needs to do to ensure there is consistency in the criminal law, which is important."
He noted the maximum fine for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal was increased last year from £20,000 to an unlimited fine, with means-testing carried out.
Democratic Unionist Ian Paisley (North Antrim) asked if Mr Gyimah was saying a sentence for animal cruelty must be lower than one for "human cruelty".
Mr Gyimah replied: "Not at all. On the contrary, what I was saying was any change in sentencing in one part of the law has to be made consistent across the entire criminal justice system, so if we were to look at five years then we'd need to look at other offences of a similar nature that get five years to make sure there is consistency.
"My point is about consistency in the criminal law rather than our distinguishing between one form of cruelty and the other."
Mr Gyimah also said the Government will look at concerns over pet sales via the website Gumtree.
He told MPs: "I think the point that was made around going on Gumtree and buying a pet is actually the relevant one in this case, in terms of how you do that, and we'll look at that."