Wealden is a constituency of animal lovers and over the years I have received very many emails and letters from constituents who are concerned about wildlife and animal cruelty.
Given this, I know that the announcements made by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in the past fortnight will be warmly received.
The first of these announcements was at the Conservative Party Conference, proposing a near-total ban on ivory sales in the UK. Having worked closely with local wildlife conservationists and environmental campaigners on the issue of ivory, I am delighted that the Government has had the drive to propose this landmark ban.
The number of elephants has declined by nearly one third in the past decade and approximately 20,000 elephants are still being slaughtered every year due to the global demand for ivory. Unless poaching stops, there is a very real possibility that elephants could become extinct in Africa and so I am proud that the UK has placed itself firmly at the forefront of the global fight against poaching and is doing its bit to conserve wildlife. The violent poaching by illegal armed gangs will only cease when people stop buying ivory and this is a pivotal step in tackling this attack on our natural world.
The Government has also unveiled plans that animal abusers who commit the most despicable crimes could face up to five years in prison, ten times the current maximum sentence of six months. I know there is huge strength of feeling on this issue and many people up and down Wealden have been petitioning for animal cruelty sentences to be increased and as the local MP lobbied For the change and Government has listened. It is right that we send a clear signal to any potential animal abusers that cruelty to animals will not be tolerated in England and will be met with suitably tough sentencing.
Both of these policy announcements are part of an ambitious programme of reform by the Government that will cement the UK’s position as a global leader on animal welfare.
I am proud to be serving in a government that is leading the way on animal welfare. In the years ahead I am confident that Britain will continue to set the highest standards on animal welfare and combat animal cruelty.