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Labour urges ministers to 'crack on' with tougher penalties for animal cruelty

By Sophie Morris and George Ryan, PA Political Staff

Tougher sentences for people who hurt animals should be brought in before the General Election, Labour has urged.

Shadow environment minister Luke Pollard asked Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers if she will commit to putting the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill on the statute books before the election is called.

The Bill - which would increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty offences from six months to five years in England and Wales - was backed by MPs at second reading in July, but it has not made further progress since.

During Defra questions, Mr Pollard said: "Even in this divided Parliament, even at this late stage, there is still a chance to get that on the statute book before the election. Labour backs the Bill, her own backbenchers back the Bill and the public back the Bill.

"So will the Secretary of State give the commitment that she will use every effort she can to get this on the statute books before the General Election is called?"

Ms Villiers replied: "I can give him the assurance that when a Conservative government is returned to serve in this House, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill will be back on the agenda and we will get it on the statute books."

Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) echoed the calls and urged ministers to "crack on" with it before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the planned December General Election.

She added: "The Secretary of State says it's going to come back as soon as possible. Well as soon as possible could be Monday.

"There's cross-party agreement for this Bill, it's a short Bill which she knows... we support this Bill, we could crack on.

"It could be done and on the statute book before dissolution. Why won't she do this, even at this late stage? Put it on the order paper for Monday or Tuesday."

Responding, Ms Villiers said: "I can reassure her that a Conservative government will put this Bill on the order paper very soon after we're re-elected to serve this country."