Campaigners have been told to “keep buggering on” after a justice minister sidestepped calls to back tougher sentences for criminals who attack police dogs and horses.
Speaker John Bercow offered the Winston Churchill-inspired advice to Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Heald, who is seeking to introduce legislation to make it an offence to attack service animals.
The Service Animals (Offences) Bill, which returns to the Commons on April 27, has been named “Finn’s Law” after a Hertfordshire Police dog who needed surgery after being stabbed while chasing an armed suspect.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer said the Government is “sympathetic to the intention” behind the proposed law, although refused to commit to it when pressed several times by MPs.
She said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is leading on the matter.
Finn and his handler Pc Dave Wardell survived the October 2016 attack but the dog’s injuries were not considered serious enough to warrant a separate penalty for the attacker in court.
Attackers are prosecuted under current rules for causing criminal damage, but campaigners want police dogs and horses to be given the same status as injured officers.
Sir Oliver’s Bill would make it an either-way offence with a maximum of five years in jail for attacking a service animal.
Tory Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) asked if Ms Frazer would support the Bill, with the minister saying in her reply: “The Government is looking at this issue.”
Labour former minister David Hanson then asked: “Will she support the Bill on Friday?”
Ms Frazer replied: “This is a Bill in the hands of Defra and it is they that will be responding to the Bill.”
Tory MP Sir Oliver added: “There are now 34 out of 41 police commissioners in this country supporting the Service Animals (Offences) Bill.
“Lawyers up and down the country… have identified a gap in the law. Isn’t it time the Government backed my Bill?”
Ms Frazer, in her reply, said: “The Government is looking at this issue and the matter falls primarily with Defra.”
Mr Bercow added: “Insofar as he seeks my advice, and (Sir Oliver) might not do so, my advice to him – to put it bluntly – is to follow Churchill’s adage: KBO – keep buggering on at all times.
“Just keep going, man.”