I know from the number of emails I have received about this campaign that Brentwood and Ongar is a constituency filled with animal lovers. While out and about in the constituency I have met many of the cats and dogs which bring so much pleasure to so many people. I also greatly admire the work done by Hopefield Animal Sanctuary in Brentwood to give elderly and unwanted creatures a final home for life.
I'm pleased that we have a robust legal framework to tackle vicious behaviour against animals in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
Obviously 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 the courts are finding current sentencing powers inadequate. However, in some extreme cases, six months seems like a light sentence so I will keep an eye on this issue.