I spoke in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill debate on 5 July 2021 in Parliament on pet theft and protection for retail workers.
Keeping people safe and secure is a priority for any Government, particularly this one. That is why I am delighted to speak in this important debate. I am fortunate to live in Devon, which enjoys the second lowest crime rate in the country. Crime continues to fall, in no small part thanks to the excellent work of the Devon and Cornwall police, and our excellent police and crime commissioner, Alison Hernandez. However, even in my remote rural constituency, concerns about an increase in pet theft are growing. As a dog owner, indeed a pet lover, I can only imagine the distress of losing my four-legged best friend. This is not the first time I have raised this issue in the House, and I am delighted that the cross-Government pet theft taskforce has been launched, better to understand and tackle the issue.
While crime may be low in Devon and Cornwall, in the past three years there have been 256 reports of dog theft, yet just two people have been charged. I am pleased that the maximum sentence for dog theft is already seven years, but that is no deterrent if no one is prosecuted. Understanding that disjoint is vital, and I hope that the taskforce will come up with a solution to increase prosecution rates and deter further canine crimes. Locally, our police and crime commissioner has highlighted issues regarding how dog thefts are reported. Classing such thefts as merely theft of property is a contributory factor to low prosecution rates, but there are many others. Unfortunately, the taskforce will not report until later this summer, but I am delighted that its policy recommendations may be made in the Lords, before the Bill returns to the Commons, to ensure that it adequately reflects what is truly needed. We are a nation of animal lovers, and it is vital that our animal companions are as safe and secure as their owners.
We are also a nation of shopkeepers. Some of the reports I have heard about the abuse received by retail workers, particularly during the pandemic, are horrifying. It is unacceptable that key workers, who have gone to work throughout the pandemic to ensure that we could access the items we needed, have been treated in this way. I warmly welcome our review into this area, which found that not reporting offences, and wider concerns about how the police handled those reports, were and are important issues that need addressing. I understand that Lords amendments may be considered, if required, to ensure that such offences are treated with the seriousness they rightly deserve.
I support the detailed analysis of such issues by the Ministry of Justice, to ensure that amendments, if needed, are tabled when the data are fully available, rather than being like many of the knee-jerk Opposition amendments, which frequently are poorly thought through, and in many cases seek to reduce sentences for those who commit crimes, rather than ensure that criminals see the justice they deserve.