Mr Speaker, I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish rights to keep dogs and other animals in domestic accommodation; to make provision about the protection of the welfare of dogs and other animals; and for connected purposes.
What makes somewhere home, is the special moments that are created by living with family, friends or companions.
Moving into a new home is a normal part of life, but what if every time you moved, you faced the threat of being separated from someone you loved? Can a house or flat ever really be a home, if you have been forced to abandon a family member just to be able to move in?
Mr Speaker, as you know more than anyone, animals are family! And as the owner of two Staffordshire Bull Terriers myself, “Spike” and “Buster”, I also know just how close the bonds between a dog and owner can be, and how devasting it is to lose them.
Dogs are more than ‘man’s best friend’: they are equal members of the family and for most people, being separated from your dog is no different than being separated from a brother or sister.
But every year, pet owners who move into rented accommodation are faced with the reality that their family could be torn apart because most landlords in Britain have unnecessary bans or restrictions on pet ownership.
And for those people who depend on the companionship of their dog and who need that loving friend to be there for them, especially those who live alone, such restrictions are nothing less than discrimination. Cruel to both owner and animal alike.
So my Bill brings an end this discrimination, making it a right for someone to own a dog or another domestic animal to live in their rented home, provided the owner demonstrates responsibility and care for the animal.
My Bill will henceforth be known as “Jasmine’s Law”, after a Weimaraner who is owned by the Adams family from Surrey. Jasmine lives with Maria, but her son Jordan Adams would dearly love to accommodate Jasmine at his own apartment, if only for short stays, or when his mother goes on holiday, but because of restrictions imposed on tenants where he lives, Jordan is one of millions of people in the U.K. who is prevented from having his beloved Jasmine over to stay with him.
Many pet owners across Britain, like Jordan are absolutely devastated to find that moving out of their family home, means being separated from an animal that is such an important part of their lives. The “no-pet clause” on rented accommodation means that someone cannot have a dog over, not even for a short period, for fear of recriminations or losing their home.
So instead of a dog staying with a familiar person, often they have to be placed in a kennel, which for the dog can often be a deeply unhappy and stressful experience.
Mr Speaker, this discrimination must end!
Some people who move to a new home are able find somewhere for their animal to live with trusted friends or family. Others are tragically forced to abandon their pets altogether, unable to find anywhere to live where the pet will be accepted.
Sadly, these “no-pet” rules are now cited by the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home as the second biggest factor behind people giving up their dogs, which has led to more than 200 dogs a year handed in for re-homing, simply because of landlord restrictions.
These rules have the cruellest impact on the homeless, with many relying on companion animals for support and affection whilst living on the street, and too often, when they are offered housing by a local authority or housing association, it comes with a ‘no pets’ clause.
If they turn down an offer of accommodation, they are told they will be making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and refused further housing assistance.
Take the tragic case of John Chadwick, a homeless man who ended his own life after the only housing option his local council provided was one which meant separation from his beloved pets.
It is, Mr. Speaker, surely time to put an end to these “no pet” clauses which have caused such pain and heartache to so many.
Of course, many landlords have legitimate concerns, which I do not want to dismiss lightly. It is true that irresponsibly owned pets can be a cause of damage, misery and suffering to the animals themselves, to the neighbours and also those who own and manage the properties.
We must therefore ensure that landlord’s concerns are met and that pet owners pass the test of responsible ownership by obtaining a certificate from a vet before moving in, confirming they have a healthy, well-behaved animal and are considered to be a responsible owner.
With a dog, a responsible ownership checklist would include being vaccinated and microchipped and is responsive to basic training commands, with appropriate rules applying to other animals.
I hope that landlords, local authorities and housing associations listening to this debate today will consider overhauling their current policies in favour of one along the lines laid out in this Bill, considering more fairly the rights of millions of responsible owners across the land.
And particularly at this time, when so many people are isolated, being able to own a dog can be vital to a person’s wellbeing and mental health.
If tenants can prove that they are responsible owners and that their pets are well-behaved and appropriate to their accommodation, then there is, I believe, no reason to deny them the right to live together with their animal companion.
Microchipping is also a key element and my Bill will stipulate that all cats and dogs kept in rented accommodation must be microchipped. It would also be mandatory for vets to scan animals brought into their surgery, ensuring they are with their rightful owner. This will have the added advantage of helping to find both lost and stolen dogs.
And may I commend the amazing work of Debbie Matthews and the group she founded, “Vets Get Scanning” who have campaigned for this for over a decade, championed by her late father, the great Sir Bruce Forsyth.
So part of the approval process for a pet to be moved into accommodation would be to have their microchips scanned by a vet, to ensure they are registered on a national database.
Mr. Speaker, it cannot be right that so many pet owners in this country face the harsh reality that finding a place to live might mean permanent separation from their animal.
Surely, as we take back control of our laws, now is the time to ensure that this nation of animal lovers remains a world leader in animal welfare.
If France, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland can outlaw blanket restrictions on pets in rented accommodation to stop discrimination against pet owners, then so should the United Kingdom.
The government’s intention to remove the ‘no-pet’ clause from its model tenancy agreement is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.
So “Jasmine’s Law” will replace the outdated and unfair “no-pet” clauses that many private and social landlords impose, setting out an alternative, streamlined system that will mean peace of mind for landlords, tenants and of course, the animals.
At its core, my Bill represents the values of personal responsibility, individual rights and animal welfare, and so today, I seek to enshrine in law these important freedoms, applicable to all responsible pet owners throughout the nation.
And I commend this Bill to the House.