I fully appreciate the concerns of those who have contacted me regarding concerns relating to dog fighting. As co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Animal welfare and as an animal lover myself, dog fighting is an issue I feel strongly about. Before politics, as a television environment correspondence, I reported 1st hand on this deplorable activity. So I attended the Westminster Hall debate, putting across your concerns and describing my experiences of this malicious activity.
During a recent trip to Battersea Dogs and Cats home, I saw how dog fighting has an impact long after the fights take place. Dogs are often found dumped on the side of streets, the fighters with their teeth ground down and the poor bitches damaged from constant breeding, and all deeply emotionally scarred. I applaud this charity and many others, such as the League Against Cruel Sports, that do such selfless work in rehabilitating dogs affected so that they are able to be re-homed and have a happy life.
There are number of areas of concerns relating to dog fighting and the culture it engenders. For a start education is required to cultivate ethics of respect for dogs which would help to move away from a culture where certain breeds of dog take on a wholly unacceptable ‘weapon’ status.
I know that the Government acknowledges the heinous nature of this crime and has taken steps to combat it; through the Animal Welfare Bill 2014 and in providing police with greater powers. However, dog fighting has been banned in this country since 1835 and I am ashamed that it still exists in our society, so we must do more. For example, in this country, a magistrate is only able to give a penalty of up to six months for someone caught dog fighting, whilst in Europe sentences are up to three years; and the financial penalties could be raised.
At the end of the debate the Minister of State the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responded to the concerns that I, and my colleagues, raised. He acknowledged that a review is needed into sentencing guidelines, to introduce penalties that prove more of a disincentive. He also agreed that the licensing of breeders needs looking at. I was encouraged that Mr Eustice promised to feed our comments into both the Government review and the Independent Sentencing Council’s consultation on dog fighting.
Please be assured that I will continue to monitor both reviews and press the Government for firmer action. Dogs cannot speak for themselves so must speak for them.