New Clause 1 - Guidance

Pet Abduction Bill – in the House of Commons am ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish guidance on the enforcement of the provisions of this Act.

(2) Before issuing guidance under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult the Crown Prosecution Service.”—(Sir Christopher Chope.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 2, after “if” insert “without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that an offence is only committed if the acts complained of are shown to have been made without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse, so that it is not necessary for the person alleged to have committed the offence to prove their innocence.

Amendment 2, page 1, line 3, after “to” insert “permanently”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only acts where the dog is permanently removed from lawful control would fall under the offence.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 3, leave out “any person” and insert “its keeper”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only where a dog is removed from the lawful control of its registered keeper falls under the offence, rather than removal from any person.

Amendment 4, page 1, line 5, after “to” insert “permanently”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only acts where the dog is detained so as to permanently keep it would fall under the offence.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 5, leave out from “of” to end of line 6 and insert “its keeper”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that only where a dog is detained so as to keep it from its registered keeper falls under the offence.

Amendment 6, page 1, leave out lines 21 to 23.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 7, page 2, line 16, leave out “(3)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 6.

Amendment 8, page 2, line 30, at end insert—

“(aa) references to a dog are only to a dog which—

(i) has been implanted with a microchip pursuant to the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023; or

(ii) has been certified as exempt from such an implant under those Regulations”.

The above Regulations provide for the compulsory microchipping of dogs and the recording of each dog’s identity and its keeper’s contact details on a database. This amendment ensures that the offence of dog abduction can only be made in respect of dogs which have been microchipped (or are certified as exempt) in accordance with those Regulations and will thereby incentivise keepers to comply with the rules about microchipping.

Amendment 9, page 2, line 34, at end insert—

“(aa) “keeper” has the meaning given to it under the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023”.

This amendment ensures that “keeper” is intended to have the same meaning as under the specified Regulations.

Amendment 10, page 2, line 39, leave out clause 2.

This amendment removes the offence of cat abduction.

Amendment 11, in clause 3, page 3, line 36, leave out “or 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 12, page 4, line 5, leave out “or 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 13, page 4, line 8, leave out “or 2(5)”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 14, page 4, line 38, leave out “or 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 15, page 5, line 6, leave out “and 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 19, page 5, line 6, leave out

“come into force in relation to England”. and insert

“, so far as they extend to England and Wales, come into force”.

This is a technical amendment to ensure that it is clear how the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 operates in so far as those clauses extend to England and Wales (rather than just in relation to England).

Amendment 21, page 5, line 7, at end insert

“provided that the Secretary of State has fulfilled the requirement to publish the guidance required by section [Guidance]”.

Amendment 16, page 5, line 11, leave out “and 2”.

This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 2 from the Bill.

Amendment 20, page 5, line 11, leave out “in relation” and insert

“so far as they extend”.

This is a technical amendment to ensure that the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 is dealt with in the same way throughout clause 6.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

Before I begin to address the issues, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I, on behalf of myself and many others, express our condolences to Mr Speaker, who I know is unable to be present today because he is attending his father’s funeral? I had the privilege of serving with Doug Hoyle in this House from 1983 until 1992, and he was an exemplar for Back-Bench activity during that time. Our sympathies are very much with Mr Speaker.

Turning to the amendments, and particularly new clause 1, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Robbie Moore and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, with whom I was privileged to have a meeting last week to discuss my amendments. They will have a better understanding of the way I work than quite a lot of other colleagues. I am pleased that as a result of that meeting there was essentially an agreement—an acceptance—that we must try to link communications about the appalling incidents of pet abduction or theft to the need for people to microchip their loved animals, particularly dogs and cats. In the course of that discussion, it was pointed out by the Minister of State that before the Bill is to become law, it will be necessary for guidance to be discussed with the Crown Prosecution Service regarding exactly what the enforcement provisions would be. I hope that in responding to this debate, my right hon. Friend will expand on that point.

Following that discussion, I thought I would table a new clause about guidance, so that any references in the debate could include references to the specific issue of guidance that would be issued following the enactment of the Bill. I would like that guidance to set out clearly the position for people who do not microchip their cats and dogs. Microchipping of dogs is mandatory and has been since 2010, but we know that something between 5% and 10% of the 9.5 million dogs in this country are not microchipped. In early June, it will be mandatory for all cats to be microchipped, and probably about 70% have been microchipped by now.

I hope that we can send out a message, in discussing this important legislation, that if someone does not have their cat or dog microchipped, they should not expect the law to rush to their assistance in the event of their cat or dog being abducted. Apart from anything else, if they complain to the police that their dog or cat has been abducted and it has not been microchipped, it is all the more difficult to identify it, search for it and so on. On that great principle of English equity, it seems to me that if someone seeks the protection of the law, they should come with clean hands. In this context, that means they should be able to say that they have complied with the law in respect of the pets for which they have responsibility and have microchipped them. I hope people will realise that if they do not—I hope that the Government will point this out in the guidance—have their pets microchipped, they will not be able to take advantage of the benefits and special provisions in this legislation.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal

My hon. Friend is making a fair point that if people want help when their dogs have been stolen, they should have them properly chipped in accordance with the regulations. I do not think puppies are included in that. It is important that we think about the pet owners for whom we are trying to get this Bill through. I know that he is not seeking in any way to block it, but these people would almost certainly have complied with the law, and I understand that the amendment would make it far more difficult for the police. While I understand the sentiments, I hope he will not press this to a Division.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I will hold my counsel on that until I hear the Minister’s response. If I said now that I agree with the Minister before he has even said anything, I would be closing off an important option. Despite the temptation from my right hon. Friend, I will not do that. She herself has said to me in private that she thinks there is a lot to be said for what I am trying to achieve on microchipping. I have a specific amendment linking microchipping to the text of the Bill. The guidance is perhaps another way of achieving the same objective.

My right hon. Friend reminds me that when the Bill came out of Committee, it was originally put on the list of Bills to be considered without debate on a Friday, on the basis that everything that could have been said about it had already been said and it should now proceed directly to the statute book. It was with wry amusement that I saw that my hon. Friend Anna Firth, the promotor of the Bill, has now taken advantage of the opportunity provided by having a debate on Report to put down her own amendments to the Bill. She could not have done that if her original intention of having the Bill go through all remaining stages on the nod had been implemented. I hope she will thank me for that.

Since the Bill was first produced, the Government have brought forward some important new measures related to microchipping to deal with the problems of the conflicting or complementary microchipping databases. The pet theft taskforce was commissioned to look into these issues of pet abduction, and it strongly recommended that something be done to ensure that there is one consistent database for microchipping that is accessible to vets, the police and local authorities. I was pleased to see that the Government have issued guidance, and that there will potentially be new regulations, on that. When we met, the Minister told me that that will come into force before the end of this year. Hopefully that will make the use of the microchip database easier and reduce the costs of enforcement.

Obviously, the priority that a Bill or an issue has in the House depends largely on the views of right hon. and hon. Members. The Government obviously believe that pet abduction is an important issue, as indeed it is, but we need to keep it in context with the burden on the enforcement authorities of bringing in new laws and, with that, new penalties and essentially new pressure for prosecutions. That is why the guidance will be important.

The latest figures that I have show that in 2020, with 9.6 million dogs in the country, there were only 2,000 reports of dog theft. By contrast, the latest figures show that in England and Wales in 2022-23, 130,521 motor vehicle thefts were reported—one every five minutes. We therefore need to keep the issue in context. There seems to be an exponential increase in the incidence of motor vehicle theft and an inability of the police and the prosecuting authorities to investigate thoroughly and prosecute the perpetrators. The number of motor vehicle thefts being resolved by the prosecution and enforcement authorities seems to be derisorily low. I therefore do not think we should have guidance that essentially says to the police that dealing with the potential prosecution or investigation of a theft of an unmicrochipped dog or cat should take precedence over trying to find the perpetrators—often gangs—who are stealing motor vehicles to order off the streets, and in some cases even from people’s garages or drives.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Ceidwadwyr, Milton Keynes North 9:45, 19 Ebrill 2024

My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Perhaps he might consider that the instances of motor vehicles being stolen to order are a symptom of organised crime, just as we recognise that pet theft is now a key contributor to organised crime.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I accept that behind the incidence of pet theft there is organised crime, but in the latest figures that we have, that organised crime has resulted in only some 2,000 incidents of dog theft, compared with more than 130,000 incidents of motor vehicle theft, many of which have been stolen to order. I accept that some of the pet theft we are experiencing is because pets of increasing value are being stolen to order, so I am not saying that we should not deal with that; I am saying that we should ensure that the guidance issued reflects the public priorities and does not divert too much police resource away to concentrate on pet theft rather than other crimes such as motor vehicle theft.

That is the background to new clause 1, which would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the enforcement of the provisions of the Act. I hope that in responding, my hon. Friend the Minister will say that he will do that anyway, so there will be no need to include this provision in the Bill.

In our discussion, one of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was that he would prefer the Bill to go through the House totally unamended. I suspect, however, that that aspiration has been abandoned, because the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, has tabled her own amendments. They seem perfectly reasonable, but that would mean the Bill would be amended in this place. If the Bill is to be amended, one or two of her amendments could be a complemented by other amendments, should they be necessary. In that respect there has been a development since our meeting, when nobody declared a need for the Bill to be amended. My hon. Friend will speak in due course.

I will speak briefly to some of my other points. The Bill, as drafted, states:

“A person (A) commits the offence of dog abduction if they—

(a) take a dog so as to remove it from the lawful control of any person, or

(b) detain a dog so as to keep it from the lawful control of any person who is entitled to…it”.

It is only after having been arrested for that offence that a person could take advantage of the defence, under clause 1(2), that before the alleged abduction the pet was living in the same household as that person.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Ceidwadwyr, Rayleigh and Wickford

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As the House will be aware, very serious events have taken place overnight in the middle east, with Israel apparently striking targets in Iran. That could lead to further, very serious escalation. As a former armed forces Minister and now a member of the Defence Committee, may I take this opportunity to say that it is important, as the House is fortuitously sitting today, that a Minister from either the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office or the Ministry of Defence comes to the House as soon as possible to make a statement on exactly what we know about the attacks and what the Government believe the implications might be? Madam Deputy Speaker, have you or the Speaker’s Office had any indication that the Government intend to make such a statement, and, if so, at what time?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he says, he is an ex-armed forces Minister. There has been no indication either to myself or to the Speaker’s Office, so far as I am aware, that the Government intend to make a statement. Certainly, at the conference meeting this morning there was no indication that the Government intended to make a statement, but Government Front Benchers will have heard his point.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Ceidwadwyr, Rayleigh and Wickford

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not for one moment wish to push my luck, but under the circumstances I believe that a statement is very important. As you know, the Government can interrupt business at any time to make a statement. Such is the importance of these events—and I notified the office of the Leader of the House that I would make this point of order—that I believe, before the House rises this afternoon, a Minister should come to the House to tell us everything that the Government know about what is going on. I will leave it at that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his further point of order. I note that he has informed the Leader of the House of his strong views on the matter, so I think he is right that at this stage we leave that there.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I take it from the ruling you have just made, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, unfortunately, there was no application for an urgent question on the matter that my right hon. Friend raises. If there had been such an application, in the circumstances it is likely to have been granted. Perhaps the Government, when thinking about whether they will make a statement, should take into account that so far they have been very lucky that there was not an application for an urgent question in the required timescale. They were probably prepared for such an eventuality, so it would be reasonable for the Government to come along and volunteer a statement, as my right hon. Friend has requested.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Gentleman is rather pushing his luck. Could he return to his speech on the Bill?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker, to emphasise the importance of the Bill we are discussing. This is not the only occasion when, compared with what is happening in the rest of the world, the legislation we are discussing seems to many people to be relatively unimportant, but pet abduction is a very important subject for those who are directly affected by it.

Before the point of order, I was seeking to make the point that people should not be charged or arrested for dog abduction if it is clear at the time of the initial investigation that, at the time of the taking or detention of the dog, the person who took or detained the dog, the person from whom lawful control was taken and the dog all lived together in the same household. Why should a household in that situation be faced with having to defend themselves against arrest and prosecution by using this defence? Surely it would be better and fairer to require that someone only commits an offence if they abduct a dog without lawful authority or a reasonable excuse. That is the background to my putting forward new clause 1. We increasingly put the cart before the horse in accusing people of crimes and then forcing them to defend themselves against the allegations, instead of requiring the prosecuting authorities to look into possible defences or excuses before making an arrest or instituting a prosecution.

Amendment 2 is designed to test out whether an offence is committed if a dog is not permanently removed from someone’s lawful control. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in response to that.

Amendment 3 is designed to ensure that an offence is committed only where a dog is removed from the lawful control of its registered keeper, rather than where it is taken from any other person. I know it will be said that if someone is a dog walker or running some kennels and is not the registered keeper, the offence of pet abduction should equally apply, but in those circumstances the more serious offence of theft should be applied under the Theft Act 1968. Again, that would emphasise the distinction between somebody who is a registered keeper and whose details are set out on the microchip database, and another person to whom the dog has been given for safe keeping, for whatever reason.

Amendment 4 would test out the distinction between the requirement of permanence where someone is depriving an owner of their dog, which in essence comes under the Theft Act 1968, and the less stringent requirements under this Bill. Amendment 5 is a similar amendment to ensure that only where a dog is detained so as to keep it from its registered owner would there be an offence. Amendment 6 is consequential on amendment 1, and amendment 7 is consequential on amendment 6.

That brings me to amendment 8, which deals with the key point that caused me to get engaged on Report, because we have a great opportunity to link this new offence of pet abduction to the microchipping requirements. As I understand it, there are very few prosecutions for people keeping dogs or cats without complying with the microchipping requirements. The microchipping requirement in respect of cats does not become law until early June, but that law is already well in place in respect of dogs. As with all these things, there is a danger that the Government make regulations or legislate and then no proper enforcement takes place. Why, after 10-plus years, are probably the best part of 1 million dogs that should be microchipped still not? What is being done about that? Why is nothing being done about it? My amendment provides an opportunity to get the Government to explain why microchipping is a good idea but only for 90%, not 100%, of dog owners.

Amendment 9 would give the word “keeper” the same meaning in the Bill as it has under the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023. Again, that is a sensible and modest amendment. Amendment 10 is a probing amendment to tease out from the Government what is happening in dealing with cat abduction. When they set up their taskforce, it recommended that dog abduction should become the subject of the pet abduction legislation and that at some future stage references to cats and other pets could be made. When I think of other pets, I think particularly of our old next-door neighbour—sadly, she has died—who was a great lover of tortoises and had lots of them. She was the subject of a cruel theft of her tortoises and I hoped that in due course tortoises would come within the scope of this legislation, as they can do under the provisions of clause 3.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 10:00, 19 Ebrill 2024

I declare an interest, as a cat owner—my cat is called Hetty. Part of the reason that cats have been provided for specifically in the Bill, a move I supported, was the excellent campaign run by Cats Protection. The briefing I have received from Battersea shows that there were 379 pet cat thefts in 2022 . I am not sure of the equivalent figure for tortoises, but I suspect it was a lot smaller.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I suspect that the incidence of theft of tortoises is much higher, if we look at the percentage of thefts in the relative populations. My hon. Friend says there were only 379 cases of cat theft, and my understanding is that there are 10.5 million cats, so if we work out the percentage of cat owners who find that they have been deprived of their cat, I suspect that it is much lower than the percentage of tortoise owners who find that their tortoise has been abducted.

However, I think what my hon. Friend’s point shows is that, in the context of 10.5 million cats, 379 thefts is hardly a really serious issue. He is a cat owner; I am not—my family are dog lovers, but the two are not necessarily incompatible. I recognise the importance of microchipping cats. Obviously, this legislation will not get on to the statute book until after the microchipping of cats has become mandatory, and until there are criminal penalties if that is not complied with.

I am proud to have visited the premises of the Cats Protection League in my constituency, in Ferndown, which is a very important centre for the rehoming of cats, and that is one of the great tasks that that important charity undertakes. I am not against cats, but I tabled this amendment to test the Government’s thinking. The original taskforce set up to look into these issues reached the conclusion that dogs should take precedence, but the Government subsequently gave way because of behind-the-scenes lobbying by interest groups—not as a result of public consultation—and supported the extension of the legislation to cats.

The taskforce’s advice was to start off with dogs and then extend the measures to cats. All I am doing is, in a sense, repeating what the taskforce said. The essence of my amendments 10, 11 and so on is that they would enable cats to be included at a later stage under the provisions of clause 3, thereby bringing the Bill into conformity with the recommendations of the pet abduction taskforce. If the Government do not want to do that—I understand why they may not—then so be it, but I still think that is worth exploring in debate. That is why I tabled the amendments, including amendment 13, which is consequential on the removal of clause 2, as are amendments 14 and 15.

The next amendment on the amendment paper is amendment 19, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, who promotes the Bill. She says:

“This is a technical amendment to ensure that it is clear how the commencement of clauses 1 and 2 operates in so far as those clauses extend to England and Wales (rather than just in relation to England).”

Who could possibly object to that? However, when Back Benchers bring forward legislation and do not get it drafted by Government lawyers, there is always something faulty with it, and Ministers delight in saying at the Dispatch Box, “We agree with the intent, but the wording is inadequate.” The question I throw out for debate and discussion is this: why did the Government lawyers who drafted the Bill for my hon. Friend not get it right in the first place? Why did they leave it until so late in the day before insisting that this amendment, and Amendment 20, be included in the Bill? When she addresses her amendments, I hope that she can explain the background to that situation. It shows that instead of being all-knowing and beyond criticism, Government drafters have some of the same frailties as Members of the House when trying to draft legislation, even with all the expertise that the Public Bill Office is able to bring to bear when assisting us in that task.

Amendment 21 links back to my new clause 1, which would make the commencement of the legislation contingent on the necessary guidance having been issued. From discussions I had with the ministerial team, it seems that is the intent, but the amendment would put that in the Bill. Amendment 16 is consequential, and I have already referred to amendment 20, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West.

That is a quick run-through of the amendments. I hope it will generate a proper debate and discussion, and enable people who take an interest in the matter to become more familiar with the issues around microchipping, including the importance of ensuring that cats and dogs are microchipped, the burden on the enforcement authorities, and the deterrence that microchipping provides against those who are minded to engage in the theft of pets. I hope those issues can be shared more widely across the country. There is a lot more detail behind the Bill, but there is no need for me to go into any more of that at the moment. If the Government cannot accept new clause 1, I hope they will be able to provide undertakings that its measures will be implemented voluntarily.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for passing on his condolences to Mr Speaker. As he said, Doug Hoyle was a great parliamentarian and a very kind person, who was always there with a ready smile and good advice to all of us. I pass on our condolences to Mr Speaker from the whole House.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West 10:15, 19 Ebrill 2024

I am delighted to have another opportunity to speak about this important Bill, and to speak to amendments 19 and 20, which are minor technical amendments in my name. I thank my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope for his interest in the matter. I hope he will forgive me when I say that his amendments seem to fall into two broad groups: laudable concern about microchipping; and legal issues about the offence as drafted.

I will start with my hon. Friend’s amendments concerning microchipping. It is very clear that he has a great passion for ensuring that keepers microchip their pets. I am sure that we can all get behind that as a general point; that is a very responsible way for dog and cat owners to behave. Microchipping is a safe and reliable way of identifying animals. Whether they are found as strays, or whether, in keeping with the topic of this debate, they are recovered having been abducted, the microchip should be a lifeline to help them get home. That is obviously good for the animal and good for the keeper.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend’s wishes to ensure that we are more responsible and that we encourage microchipping, although I do not agree with his trying to lever those principles into the Bill. The microchipping of dogs has been compulsory in England since 2016, nine years ago. It has also been compulsory in Northern Ireland since 2012. As he rightly points out, microchipping has been a success story: around 90% of dogs in the UK are already microchipped. There is also good evidence that microchipping works. The Government’s recent post-implementation review of the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 concluded that the introduction of the regulations had increased microchipping and reunification rates, with obvious benefits for animal welfare and pet owners.

I am delighted that these benefits are soon to be extended to cats, through the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023. I agree with my hon. Friend when he says that all cats over 20 weeks in England will need to be microchipped from 10 June of this year, in a couple of months’ time, before—this is the key point—the Bill comes into effect. Indeed, already, more than 70% of cats in the UK are microchipped; the levels are similar in England and Northern Ireland. The amendments that my hon. Friend seeks to make today are totally unnecessary, because we will be overtaken by events in relation to the microchipping of cats.

The effectiveness of microchipping relies on keepers ensuring that the information on the microchip is up to date. That is what the police and the rescue centres need: accurate information to enable them to reunite the keepers with their animals swiftly and efficiently. As I keep saying, I could not agree with my hon. Friend more on the importance of that, but I do not think that it has anything to do with the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to go into more detail about ways in which he intends to encourage more microchipping.

I understand my hon. Friend’s motivation for his amendments 3, 5, and 8 to 16 to further incentivise compliance with microchipping, but as I have already made clear, there is a high level of compliance already, and further legislation is coming down the track shortly. There is also an effective enforcement mechanism: where a dog in England is found not to have a microchip, police in local authorities have the power to issue a notice. That notice will require the keeper to get that dog microchipped within 21 days. That will apply unless the dog has been certified as exempt from the microchipping, perhaps by reasons relating to health, and it is an offence to fail to comply with that notice. A person would be liable for a fine of up to £500, and the same regulatory regime will soon come into force and apply to cats.

As I have said, these amendments are not necessary, because we will soon be overtaken by events. However, far more importantly, amendments 3, 5, and 8 to 16 would restrict the scope of this Bill considerably. Amendments 10 to 16 would remove cats from the Pet Abduction Bill entirely, as well as removing certain dogs from the scope of the offence. I regard that as a very retrograde step indeed, and one that I would oppose entirely. This legislation has been a long time coming. It has been very carefully considered by the pet theft taskforce, involving three Government Departments, and to seek to undermine it in this way is entirely wrong.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

No, I will not give way. My hon. Friend had a very long time to speak and I would like to get through my remarks.

Cats are among the most beloved pets in the UK. There are around 11 million pet cats across the country, and a quarter of households have them. I must declare an immediate interest here, as I have two wonderful cats, Merlin and Marmalade, who are appalled by these amendments, which would take them entirely out of the protection of the Bill.

We heard impassioned stories on Second Reading about the importance of cats to people and the heartache it would cause them if they were lost. We heard about Mrs Landingham, the cat of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, and Liesl von Cat, the cat of my hon. Friend Jo Gideon. We heard from my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke about her beloved ragdoll cat and we have of course heard about Cats Protections today.

The “Cat Theft Report 2022” from Pet Theft Awareness shows that cat theft increased by 40% in 2021 and more than quadrupled between 2015 and 2022. This is a growing problem. Cats deserve the same protection as dogs.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I have already said to my hon. Friend that I will not give way at this point—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. It is a debate, and I wondered if instead of giving percentage increases she could give put a figure on the number of cat thefts.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that it is small. It is a matter of hundreds, not thousands. The point that I am making is that it is increasing. I do not believe that cats deserve less protection. As we heard on Second Reading from Stella Creasy, who is not in her place, Bengal cats, which have a value of thousands of pounds, are among the cats being stolen. We can check Hansard, but from memory they might be worth as much as £5,000. The number of cats may be small, but the value of the cats both to the owner and in actual fact is significant.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Ceidwadwyr, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

My hon. Friend is making a very good point. It is about not just numbers but the emotional impact on families. I declare an interest, as I lost a kitten at the age of four. It still comes into my mind when I think about this Bill and how important it is. It had an emotional impact on my whole family. Numbers do not give the full flavour of the impact on the community across the United Kingdom who are cat lovers as well as dog lovers.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. She is absolutely right. Whether someone’s cat is a mongrel, a rescue cat or a stray cat that they have rightly adopted and looked after, or—I have just checked Hansard—a £5,000 Bengal cat, to the owner they are a member of the family, and they deserve the same protection. Merlin and Marmalade deserve exactly the same protection as my precious Cavapoochon, Lottie.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

The House of Commons Library helpfully prepares a brief for these debates and it refers to Pet Theft Awareness, which conducted freedom of information requests across a number of forces. Some of the biggest forces, including Greater Manchester and others, did not respond, but taking the figures from the Metropolitan police and applying them at the same percentage rate, we get a figure of around 1,500 cat thefts a year, rather than the 500 or so that were referred to.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that more accurate information to the Chamber and illustrating that we are talking about a figure in the thousands for cats, just as for dogs. If we were to remove cat abduction from the Bill, as per the amendments from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, we would be sending a clear message that cats do not matter as much as dogs. That would be wholly wrong. It would certainly be met with a great deal of resistance from my constituents in Southend West.

While I am on the subject of cats, I would like to correct the record. It has come to my attention that, in Committee on Wednesday 31 January, responding to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dover about indoor pedigree cats such as ragdolls, I inadvertently misspoke. When speaking about extending some of the dog provisions to holding indoor cats, I said that clause 3 should enable further provisions to be made, but that is not the case. The enabling power in the clause relates only to the abduction of animals commonly kept as pets other than dogs and cats. I want to make that clear. However, as I said clearly in Committee, and as I assured hon. Members then and now, clause 2 already applies in relation to the taking of a ragdoll cat.

The amendments would exclude certain categories of dog. Although amendment 8 acknowledges that dogs can temporarily be exempt from microchipping requirements for medical reasons, it does not recognise that puppies do not have to be microchipped until they are eight weeks old. Were the amendment to be accepted, a person taking or detaining puppies would be entirely exempt from the offence of dog abduction, yet we know that high-value puppies may be the subject of organised crime. Yesterday, I consulted the police and crime commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, about the Bill, and he reminded me—as an Essex MP, you may recall this case, Madam Deputy Speaker—that a litter of blue merle French bulldog puppies, valued at £100,000, in nearby Basildon was stolen in its entirety, in a clear case of organised crime. To exclude puppies from the Bill would be another extremely retrograde step.

The amendment would have the same effect in relation to dogs that have been imported into England by their keeper for a holiday of less than 30 days, as the 2023 regulations do not require them to be microchipped. It would also exclude certain working dogs, such as police and Army dogs, that do not have to be microchipped until they are three months old; they would be unprotected before then.

In addition, there is a risk in relying on a definition laid down in secondary legislation that is crucial to the interpretation of the Bill. There is a risk of unintended consequences in the application of the offences were the secondary legislation to be amended. Furthermore, the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations do not apply in Northern Ireland, which has its own microchipping legislation. As a result, if the amendment were made, the abduction of most dogs in Northern Ireland would be excluded from the scope of the dog abduction offence—another backward step.

It is important to recognise that the abduction offences in the Bill are deliberately framed around the broad concept of lawful control. By not using terms like “keeper” or “owner”, the Bill recognises that different people have lawful control of our dogs at different times. By changing the wording as proposed in amendments 3, 5 and 9, a person taking a dog so as to remove it from the lawful control of a dog walker, for example, would not be committing an offence. I do not believe it is right for a dog to be afforded different levels of protection in law according to the individual the dog happens to be with at any given time. We know that dogs are commonly abducted from parks or gardens, when they may well be under the lawful control of a dog sitter, a dog walker, or another member of the family. Why should a dog that is stolen or abducted in those circumstances be dealt with differently? I do not believe that it should be, and think most people in this country would agree.

In summary, I believe that abducting a dog is an abhorrent crime—I think we can all get behind that idea —regardless of whom the dog was taken from, and exactly the same is true for cats. Although I am of course sympathetic to the underlying intention of amendments 3, 5 and 8 to 16, they move the Bill far away from its intended spirit. We simply cannot create a two-tier system in which only microchipped animals are in scope of the legislation. Given that the legislation implicitly recognises that cats and dogs are sentient beings, it is absolutely not right for only those that are microchipped to be protected, so I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch not to press those amendments. I will leave it to the Minister to address my hon. Friend’s new clause 1 and amendment 21.

Let me address swiftly my hon. Friend’s amendments 1, 6 and 7, which fall into the broad basket of legal amendments. The explanatory statements to the amendments suggest that he is seeking to ensure that the person alleged to have committed an offence is not required to prove their innocence if they had a reasonable excuse or lawful authority for the act constituting the alleged offence. I am pleased to say again that he and I agree in principle: the burden in a criminal case should always rest on the prosecution—that is a well and long-established principle of our English law—but, in my opinion, the Bill does just that. Its drafting is such that the prosecution does bear, as usual, the burden of proof. What he is referring to is the fact that the Bill places an evidential burden on the defendant in relation to the defences of reasonable excuse or lawful authority, in that they need to produce sufficient evidence to raise that issue, but the burden of proving the offence remains fairly and squarely on the prosecution. My worry with the wording of the amendments is that they could introduce more uncertainty about the kind of burden that might be imposed, and could impose more of a burden on the defendant. For those reasons, I urge him not to press amendments 1, 6 and 7.

I turn now to amendments 2 and 4, which are also legal amendments. They seek to restrict the offences to situations where a dog is removed or detained permanently from a person’s lawful control. The pet theft taskforce suggested an offence of pet abduction in order to move away from the formal ingredients needed to prove theft, one of which is the intention to permanently deprive, because that is more difficult to prove in relation to pets. Putting that back into the Bill takes us back to a place we want to move away from. Again, I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to withdraw those amendments.

Finally, let me turn to my two minor technical amendments, 19 and 20, to clause 6. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey tabled in Committee an amendment relating to the commencement, which was agreed to, so the original Bill was changed slightly. That is the main driver for my two minor technical amendments, which are practically stylistic in content. They intend to clarify the Bill’s drafting in respect of the commencement of clauses 1 and 2, which introduce the new offences of cat and dog abduction. The amendments confirm that those clauses, so far as they extend to England and Wales, will come into force three months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. They also confirm that clauses 1 and 2, so far as they extend to Northern Ireland, will come into force on a date appointed in an order by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs of Northern Ireland. For clarity, the amendments are stylistic and do not in any way change the policy of the Bill. I urge hon. Members to support those minor clarifications of the Bill.

Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Ceidwadwyr, East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow 10:30, 19 Ebrill 2024

I rise to support the Bill of my hon. Friend Anna Firth and the amendments in her name, and to thank my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope for all the effort, thought and consideration he has put into the work he has done. As I mentioned, I lost my kitten when I was aged four, when microchipping was not a thing—it is one of my most prominent childhood memories. It still stays with me, but if microchipping had been possible then, we might have found that kitten and come back together as a family. It was such an issue for a young girl—losing my very first pet—so I thank my hon. Friend for all of his consideration. Microchipping is extremely important, as he says, and I am very glad that the Government will bring forward legislation in the near future.

I wish to speak briefly about a role that I had over the past few years until recently—that of chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group. I praise and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West for taking this Bill through Parliament. During my time as chair of that group, we were able to bring Lucy’s law into legislation, and it made such a huge difference to animal lovers right across the United Kingdom. I have chaired a number of all-party parliamentary groups, and that is one of the most popular that I ever chaired: during the pandemic, up to 500 members attended the meetings online, and well over 100 people would attend every single meeting in Parliament itself. We must recognise that the UK is most definitely a country of dog lovers.

I also pay tribute to the local animal welfare sanctuary in Bothwell, just next to my constituency, which I visit very regularly. It covers the whole of South Lanarkshire, including my constituency, and I thank it for its work.

When I chaired the dog advisory welfare APPG, pet theft was a huge issue not only because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West said, some of the dogs stolen were extremely highly pedigreed and valuable, but because the fate of some of the dogs was heinous. Often, people were taking the dogs as bait for dog-fighting purposes. The horrendous stories that we heard in that APPG underscore how vital it is that this legislation moves forward. It is an excellent step forward, and I think it sends a message to those who would try to abduct pets, particularly dogs and cats, that it is not acceptable. We wish to underscore that, and this Government have a mandate to do so.

Before closing, I wish to give my condolences to Mr Speaker for his loss. I did not have the privilege of personally knowing his father, but from my understanding, he has been a great servant to politics across both Houses. I wanted to pass on my condolences today, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Let me begin by saying that Labour strongly supports the measures to tackle pet theft and abduction, and I thank Anna Firth again for introducing the Bill. Let me also echo the comments about Doug Hoyle, and the condolences to Mr Speaker.

Much of the discussion in Committee was about timing—a subject that has come up again this morning—but I will start by addressing amendments that have already been discussed, particularly amendment 10, which would effectively remove cats from the scope of the Bill. Sir Christopher Chope seems to play an important role in this place on Fridays. Along with some of my colleagues, I have felt frustrated on occasion by the degree of challenge that he presents, but I think it important for legislation to be properly challenged, so I thank him for the points that he has raised this morning, especially in relation to the amendments relating to dogs, which open up a range of wider issues.

I will not go through the amendments in detail one by one, because the hon. Member for Southend West dealt very effectively with many of those points and I found myself in agreement with her on all of them, but there are bigger issues involved in the way in which we register and track dogs. All this is complicated, and I know from talking to vets in my shadow ministerial role that they worry about being dragged into ownership disputes as a consequence. I think it is part of a wider discussion, and I am certainly not opposed to our having that discussion, but I agree with the hon. Lady that there is a danger of our being drawn into delays and also into diminishing the scope of the Bill, which I think would be disappointing. Labour will therefore not support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch.

Amendment 10, which relates to cats, strikes me as something much more fundamental, and we oppose it strongly. As my colleagues and I have argued throughout the long saga of this Bill and its predecessor, cat theft is a real issue. I note the discussion about numbers, but I suspect that there is a degree of under-reporting—the offence does not currently exist, so why would anyone report it?

Those who advocate for cats are, unsurprisingly, appalled by the prospect of the Bill’s being savaged in this way. Cats Protection tells me that

“with 11 million owned cats in the UK, we know how much cats mean to families and how devastating their theft is—both to the humans who love them and the cats themselves.”

It says:

“In just a few weeks of running some supporter actions, we had over 40,000 cat lovers get involved in campaigning for cats to be included in any pet theft legislation including over 10,000 letters to MPs. It is imperative that cats are included in the Bill.”

I am sure the hon. Member for Christchurch will say that a campaigning organisation making the case effectively does not necessarily lead to good law, but I think the point we can take from what it has said is that there is considerable public interest in the issue, and an expectation that action will be taken.

As for the microchipping issues that have been raised, I genuinely believe that they can be resolved. After all, we do not look at other theft offences and say that we will not tackle them because what was stolen could not be microchipped.

There was a particular irony in the discussion in Committee about timing and whether the Bill could be implemented within three months. I think Conservative Members know exactly what I am going to say: this could have been done fully two years ago. We need not have been here today. This is yet another private Member’s Bill that has appeared as a result of the Government’s abandonment of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. It seems to me that the real question about this Pet Abduction Bill is, “Who abducted the kept animals Bill, and for what purpose?” I have asked that question repeatedly but have never been given an answer, and I am certain that I will not be given one today. It is just another of those DEFRA mysteries—like the mystery of how the Secretary of State comes to override the advice of his permanent secretary, but that is one for another day.

The Government’s decision to ditch that major piece of animal welfare legislation has caused enormous disappointment to the animal welfare charities that had worked so hard on it for years, to pet owners and to members of the public, all of whom care deeply about protecting animals against cruelty. Most importantly, of course, it has allowed the mistreatment of animals to continue. We will never know how many animals might not have been abducted had this legislation been passed earlier—I am not the only person to have said that.

The same point was made powerfully earlier this month in a report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee:

“The Government’s withdrawal of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill stalled progress on key animal welfare issues. These delays have allowed the continuation of poor animal welfare practices. The Department must ensure that every provision from the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill is brought into force during the current Parliament. We welcome the introduction of Private Members’ bills that will take forward vital animal welfare measures, but note that the Government was relying heavily on Members who were successful in the Private Members’ bill ballot being willing to take on its handout bills to deliver its manifesto promises, rather than committing to bringing forward the legislation itself. While on this occasion it may prove successful, it was nonetheless a risky strategy.”

That is why we are here today, discussing this issue with a piece of legislation that, frankly, is at risk because of the process we are going through. There is no guarantee, given political uncertainty and the febrile nature of politics at the moment, that there will be time for the Bill to reach the statute book. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is right to make those observations, and it is deeply regrettable that, contrary to what the Government promised in their May 2021 action plan for animals, they have failed to take leadership in cracking down on the rising rates of pet abduction.

Labour will not be supporting the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch, but I hope that the Bill can proceed intact to Third Reading and beyond.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:45, 19 Ebrill 2024

First, may I from the Government Benches send our condolences to Mr Speaker, who is unable to be here today because he is attending his father’s funeral? We send our sympathies to him.

It is a pleasure to speak about this Bill, which is so important to many people. I thank my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope for his considered attention to the Bill, not only today but previously and in the meetings that I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State held with him in consideration of the points he has brought to the House. I also thank him for his support of some of the measures that we are bringing forward in the Bill. I thank my hon. Friend Anna Firth for her considered responses and her contributions on Report.

Let me start by addressing amendments 1, 6 and 7. As was eloquently outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, the Bill already makes it clear that prosecutors bear the burden of proof. We want to create suitable offences that will crack down on cases of dog and cat abduction, and I agree with my hon. Friend’s assessment that amendments 2 and 4 would undermine the scope for prosecutions to be brought for the offences of dog and cat abductions. I, too, urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to withdraw amendments 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 on the basis of the points that I have made and the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West.

New clause 1 and amendments 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 16 and 21 have already been discussed. I commend the dedication of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to microchipping. I know he has a branch of Cats Protection in his constituency, as does my hon. Friend James Wild, who rightly contributed to this debate, stating that Cats Protection has been instrumental in supporting the extension of the compulsory microchipping requirements to cats. I am pleased about both the extension and its support for this issue.

From the first moment that an offence of dog abduction was introduced in this place, MPs and stakeholders alike have asked for it to be extended to cats. The Department has received a significant number of letters from the public and parliamentary questions from right hon. and hon. Members in support of this proposal. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West that the Government cannot support removing cats from the scope of the Bill. However, I understand that the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch to remove cats from the scope of the Bill was guided by the laudable intention of incentivising microchipping. I am pleased that we very much agree on the importance of microchipping, which is the best way to reunite people with lost and abducted animals.

The Government made microchipping compulsory for dogs in England in 2016, and we are now extending the benefits of that legislation to cats. From 10 June, all owned cats in England over the age of 20 weeks must be microchipped and registered on a compliant database. Microchipping is a safe, simple and effective procedure. The average cost is £25, plus an average £10 registration over the lifetime of the animal. Microchipping undeniably helps to bring displaced pets home. In the UK, around 90% of dogs have been microchipped. In 2023, more than 70% of cats have already been voluntarily microchipped.

Our post-implementation review of the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015—the predecessor to the 2023 regulations—showed that this legislation has had a positive effect on reunification rates. Stray dogs that have been microchipped and have up-to-date database records are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their keeper than stray dogs without a microchip. Police and local authorities can and do issue notices requiring a dog to be microchipped where it is not already. That has been demonstrated to be an effective mechanism to support compliance.

Since we introduced the English compulsory cat microchipping legislation, we have been working closely with a number of animal welfare stakeholders to develop a co-ordinated communications campaign to explain to cat owners the benefits of microchipping and the new legal requirements. Last summer, we even enlisted the support of our chief mouser Larry the cat, who himself was once an un-microchipped stray, before being taken in and rehomed by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Larry’s tweet on International Cat Day, explaining the importance of microchipping for reuniting pets with their owners, received half a million impressions.

I am also grateful to stakeholders who have helped to spread the message at the start of our 100-day countdown campaign to the introduction of these measures. With just over 50 days to go before the 10 June deadline, we are ramping up our communications strategy with stakeholders for that final push. I urge anyone who has not yet microchipped their cat to do so as quickly as possible. Our communications around the new cat microchipping rules, as well as around this Bill, will provide a clear message that microchipping will help bring abducted pets back home sooner.

However, compulsory cat microchipping is just one of a number of planned microchipping reforms. Last month, we published our response to the consultation on English pet microchipping reform. We are committing to a number of improvements to the microchipping regime around three themes: first, making it easier for approved users to access records; secondly, improving the accuracy of records; and thirdly, standardising database operator processes. Those reforms will implement one of the key recommendations of the pet theft taskforce that more robust processes should be in place to stop stolen pets being registered to new keepers by ensuring that the current keeper has up to 28 days to object to a transfer of keepership request made to a database operator before any transfer can go through, and by preventing database operators from creating a duplicate microchip record for a pet. We are also making all database operators record whether a pet is reported as missing. That will assist enforcement bodies and flag concerns to a database operator, should they receive a transfer of keepership request. We are looking to legislate specifically to deal with that issue in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has eloquently outlined how the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch would overly restrict the Bill, and the Government cannot support them. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch rightly made some points on guidance in his new clause 1 and amendment 21 and asked for statutory guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State. I agree that guidance will be essential for frontline workers enforcing new pet abduction offences, ensuring that those are used appropriately. The Government are committed to working with key stakeholders to ensure that appropriate guidance relating to this Bill will be available before the Bill’s offences come into force. The cross-Government pet theft taskforce already establishes relationships with police officers, operational partners and animal welfare organisations working in the area, so we have a network already in place, and I can confirm that conversations are already under way. I will ensure that the points that my hon. Friend has rightly raised are part of the conversations that are already under way. Enforcers will have the support and information they need to effectively implement the legislation once it comes into force without the need to legally require enforcement guidance.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is concerned about people benefiting from the legislation when they have shirked their responsibility to have their pets microchipped. I assure the House that we are doing work with police colleagues to make them aware that, in the event that they recover an abducted cat or dog that is not microchipped, they have the power to issue a notice under the English microchipping regulations requiring those pets to be microchipped within 21 days.

For completeness, failing to comply with such a notice is an offence and subject to a fine of £500. In addition, the Microchipping of Cats and Dogs (England) Regulations 2023 provide for the police to be able to take the animal in question to be microchipped without the keeper’s consent, and allow the costs associated with that to be recovered. The enforcement regime for the English microchipping legislation is designed to ensure that an animal will end up being microchipped if it is found not to be. We understand that most people comply with such a notice where issued, so only a small number of such cases are taken through the courts.

In addition to the existing enforcement mechanism, we are considering enabling penalty notices for the offence of not microchipping a cat or dog through the Animal (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2023. In summary, I cannot, therefore, commit that we will work—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I can commit—I want to reiterate that—that we will be working closely with enforcement partners to ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are addressed. We are working at speed to prepare for this engagement.

On the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West, I thank her for bringing forward these minor, technical adjustments to the Bill. The Government support them and agree that their clarity help to progress the Bill, specifically in relation to clauses 1 and 2. I urge all hon. Members to support them.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate. We have made great progress, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for facilitating that. My amendments—particularly amendments 10 to 15—were designed to address the problem of potential waste of police and local authority enforcement resources in trying to trace pets that had not been microchipped. My hon. Friend, in saying what he did about the guidance and advice that will be given to enforcement authorities, got to the core of my concerns.

It has never been my intention to be anti-cat. My hon. Friend Anna Firth suggested that I do not think that cats matter. I will not put myself into a category where cats do not matter, because I have enough emails coming in already on other issues. [Laughter.] Cats do matter, and so do dogs —and, for the sake of completeness, so do tortoises.

I have never been against including cats in the Bill, but I have been nervous about doing so when many cats are still not microchipped. From 10 June, that will be compulsory and, as the Minister said, there will be stronger enforcement measures. Given the number of local authorities issuing notices, I do not think they are applying their minds to it, but perhaps when they link that in with the prospect of complaints if cats have been abducted, they will realise that there is a strong link between the two issues. I hope that the consequence of all this debate will be that we have a much better, more complete database, and that more cats and even more dogs will be microchipped. Having a million-plus dogs not microchipped at the moment is unacceptable.

One cannot always say on a Friday that we have made progress, but I think that we have on this issue. In the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw new clause 1.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.