We are fortunate to live in beautiful rural South Shropshire, so it is not surprising that many local residents take protection of the environment and animals very seriously. I receive regular correspondence from campaigners making clear their support for these important issues. So I am pleased to report back today on latest action to help protect the environment and clamp down on abuse of animals.
The Government will publish draft legislation later this year to increase punishments for the most horrific acts of animal cruelty to five years. At the moment, courts can hand out a five-year sentence for fly-tipping but only a six-month sentence for heinous acts of cruelty to animals. The Government will correct this by ensuring tougher penalties are available to the courts for the very worst offences. This will send a very clear message to the small minority who carry out intolerable abuse.
Latest information on the impact of plastics in our oceans have been alarming. So Ministers have confirmed that microbead plastics in rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products will be banned, whether used as exfoliants, cleansers or otherwise. This is an important step in cleaning up our oceans and ensuring plastic does not contaminate our water.
This manufacturing ban will come into force on 1st January 2018. Manufacturers are exploring natural alternatives to plastic microbeads, including nut shells, salt and sugar. These have the same exfoliating properties but do not threaten the environment, so products that contain them should perform just as well.
The number of elephants has declined by almost a third in the last decade, with around 20,000 a year are still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory. We need concerted global action to tackle this issue. So I was also pleased to see the government consult on proposals to protect elephants and help combat poaching by removing opportunities for criminals to trade illegally-poached ivory. By starting the process to bring in a total ban on ivory sales in the UK, the UK is at the forefront of this fight.
As the RSPCA suggested, “it has been a fortnight of incredible news for animal welfare in the UK”. I am pleased the Government is acting so decisively to protect animals and the environment, which I am sure will be welcomed by South Shropshire residents.