I have been contacted by constituents recently who are concerned about animal welfare issues. I do appreciate these concerns and hope that I can reassure you as follows:

Sentencing for offences of animal cruelty

We have a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.  

The courts must decide what the penalty should be for each individual case, taking into account its circumstances and the guidelines laid down by the Sentencing Council. Currently, in addition to the maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, the courts can also disqualify offenders from keeping animals for as long as they consider appropriate.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in regular contact with the Ministry of Justice in relation to sentencing policy for animal welfare offences, and I understand that current sentencing practice does not suggest that the courts are finding their present sentencing powers inadequate.

Animal slaughter

I can assure constituents that the Government is committed to maintaining high standards of animal welfare at slaughter, and there are strict legal requirements in place. In slaughterhouses, these requirements are monitored and enforced by Official Veterinarians of the Food Standards Agency to ensure that animals are spared unnecessary suffering, distress or pain during the slaughter process.  

The use of CCTV, as with other monitoring methods, does have limitations and relies on businesses to monitor their operations appropriately, but can be beneficial to animal welfare. I am pleased to note that the Food Standards Agency estimates that 94 per cent of slaughtered cattle, 96 per cent of pigs, 90 per cent of sheep and 99 per cent of poultry are now processed on premises with CCTV, and the Government is keen to see the minority of abattoirs still without CCTV move quickly to introduce it.  

Although the Government would prefer all animals to be stunned before slaughter, I recognise the requirements of Jewish and Muslim communities and accept the importance they attach to slaughter in accordance with their beliefs. I am, however, determined to ensure that religious slaughter is only carried out by licensed slaughtermen in approved or regulated slaughterhouses.