Democracy is the process by which the public get to choose the man who will get the blame.


- Laurence J. Peter

On Friday, February 24th, there were two pieces of legislation due to be debated in the Commons: Animal Fighting (Sentencing) Bill and Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill. Each had differences, but their essential aims were the same: increase the penalties available to courts for animal cruelty offences.

England and Wales currently have the lowest penalties in Europe for such offences. So it’s difficult to imagine an objection to increasing these penalties.

Some background explanation is important here: on Fridays, Parliament debates legislation introduced by MPs who are not part of the government – i.e. backbench MPs. Parliament sits for about five hours. If any legislation has not had a vote taken in that time, it goes to the back of the queue for debate, effectively meaning it will never be debated. If a bill has not been debated, it could still progress – unless one or more MPs raises an objection. The reasons for objecting could be simple or complicated, relating to the content of the bill – but any objecting MP does not have to explain. They simply have to ‘object’, and the bill does not progress.

Back to last Friday. Two bills had already been debated, and Parliament had run out of time for a debate. So, it came to the animal cruelty bills:

  • “Animal Fighting (Sentencing) Bill”, went the announcement
  • “Object”, came the response

And again for the next bill:

  • “Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill”
  • “Object”

That was all it took. The objection came from the backbenches, a lone voice who decided that the bill should progress no further. Here was legislation which has the support of MPs from all parties. It is supported by not only the League, but also the RSPCA, the Dog’s Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and the Blue Cross. A Minister from Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has acknowledged that courts say sentences available for dog fighting aren’t strong enough. The cross-party Commons Environment Committee has said that sentences aren’t strong enough.

And now animal abusers will continue to get away with their crimes. In Northern Ireland, when the smirking perpetrators of horrific acts of animal cruelty walked out of court, it sparked the Northern Ireland Executive to strengthen sentences to five years.

Anna Turley, Labour MP for Redcar in North Yorkshire, was moved to begin a campaign on this following an appalling case of animal abuse in her constituency. How many people, like in those cases, are getting away with a slap on the wrist for terrible crimes?

On Friday morning, the League held a photo-op at Westminster with explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and TOWIE star Chloe Meadows. But the real celebrity there that morning was Cupcake, a Staffordshire bull terrier rescued from dog fighting. Cupcake politely posed for pictures and took the affection of everyone there.

“Object”.

That was all it took for the bill to go no further, but it does not mark the end of the battle for tougher sentences. We don’t know who shouted it, but, unlike Laurence J Peters, we are not looking to attribute blame. Instead, we are beginning a battle – for Cupcake. Vulnerable animals like Cupcake cannot seek justice for themselves, so we do it for them. And we will not stop until we secure that justice.


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