Animal abusers in England and Wales could face longer sentences
Animal abusers in England and Wales could face longer prison sentences, as MPs debate introducing tougher punishments.
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill would increase the maximum jail term for animal cruelty from six months to five years, as well as an unlimited fine.
Rural affairs minister David Rutley said: "It is a simple yet vital measure to ensure those that perpetrate cruelty on animals are subjected to the full force of the law."
Mr Rutley said the new rules will bring English and Welsh sentences in line with those already being handed out in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, India and Latvia.
He told MPs about the case of a man who only received six months in prison for kicking his girlfriend's spaniel to death in a "horrific" attack.
Mr Rutley said magistrates had expressed frustration at only being able to hand out a six-month sentence, and that a more severe punishment would have been appropriate.
Shadow rural affairs minister Sue Hayman welcomed the proposals, but said the Bill had been "a long time coming".
She raised concerns, however, that the Bill could introduce a "two-tier" system, making a distinction between cruelty to wild animals and domestic ones.
Ms Hayman said: "Our concern around this is it create a two-tier system, even if this is by oversight as opposed to intention, which means that similar or identical crimes really should have the same sentences available to judges regardless of whether the animal is domesticated or wild."
Independent MP Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) said without this Bill courts could be left without any power to impose custodial sentences for animal cruelty in the near future.
She added: "We could be in the invidious position that without this increase in sentencing powers we could face the prospect of no prison terms for animal cruelty, or fighting with animals, available to the courts if the proposal to abolish six month sentences or less by the Ministry of Justice are taken forward and implemented.
"So we need to bear this in mind. It is one of the other reasons why this legislation is so important."