Dog Fighting July 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently about dog fighting [and the related campaign by the League Against Cruel Sports]. I believe we have a moral duty to treat animals in a humane and compassionate way and I condemn dog fighting. I am grateful for the ongoing work of organisations, particularly the League Against Cruel Sports, the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and many others that are campaigning against this abhorrent practice.

The previous Labour Government had a strong record on animal welfare and introduced the Animal Welfare Act in 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. This Act created specific offences related to animal fights with penalties of up to 51 weeks' imprisonment, a fine, or both. Last year, the current Government removed the upper cap so that there can now be an unlimited fine for animal cruelty.

However, I appreciate that evidence shows people are still engaging in this pursuit and I am concerned by the data published by the League Against Cruel Sports, which indicates that a dog fight occurs somewhere in the UK every day. I am also concerned about the difference between the number of complaints received by the authorities and the number of prosecutions incurred. In 2014, 766 complaints were received by the RSPCA, but only 31 convictions resulted. This demonstrates that needs are not being sufficiently addressed.

In November 2015, the Government stated that it recognises the seriousness of offences involving illegal animal fights and would look to increase the maximum sentence when a legislative opportunity arises. As you are aware, there was a debate about dog fighting in Westminster Hall on 29 June. During the debate, the Government stressed that a consultation on sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty offences is being carried out by the Sentencing Council and closes on 11 August 2016. I will follow the outcome of this closely.

I believe that much more needs to be done to address the culture of dog fighting with the application of tighter rules. Dog fighting has serious animal welfare implications but it also has far wider implications. It is a crime that can be linked to domestic crime, drug dealing, firearms sales, physical and emotional harm, robbery and other illegal practices. I believe that RSPCA inspectors must be resourced sufficiently to carry out their statutory inspections and, likewise, the police need to be resourced sufficiently in supporting those operations.

I am aware the League Against Cruel Sports is calling for a national dog fighting action plan. I support this and I hope the Government will consider setting up a national taskforce to address dog fighting. The Government must work across agencies, especially with the police, to ensure a co-ordinated strategy to address dog fighting and its links to wider criminality. More broadly, I believe the Government must also take action to address issues such as puppy farms and introduce tighter regulations to protect the interests and welfare of dogs.

Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views about this important issue. I can assure you I will continue to press the Government to protect animal welfare and to ensure dog fighting is more comprehensively addressed.