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Cruelty

Yesterday saw me on the road again after a couple of bad weather days. That didn't mean no exercise. It just meant 30 minutes on the rowing machine instead of 90 minutes brisk walking. The machine is ineffably boring. The scenery never changes. There are no new smells or sounds.

But as exercise, it's about as good as it gets. And helps shrink the waistline. It's also an excuse to put the headset on and listen to some new music.

The weather had actually been so bad that I got blown off the road onto the verge. A soft landing but not good.

My walk was in pleasant early summer weather, 15 degrees, little wind and high clouds to give some protection from sunburn. The Met office predicts similar or better for a week ahead with Friday pitching for 21 degrees. Today's the day I cross the 350 miles walked mark since lockdown.

It's also going to be a good day for our animals. Not just our two cats who rule the roost at home. They have a good day every day. Rather for animals across Scotland.

The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament at the end of September last year. The Environment Committee, one of three Parliamentary Committees I am a member of, has been taking evidence as part of the normal way we look at legislative proposals.

Making new laws is quite a labour-intensive process. It's one sign of our move to new ways of working that we are able to continue some, but not all, of our normal work when some members have to remain at home in lockdown.

I have been able to speak a couple of times in debates in the Parliamentary Chamber and dial-in to ask Ministers questions. Today will see my fifteenth Committee meeting since lockdown has kept me at home.

Now being a Parliamentarian is not just about being in Parliament. Far from it. Constituency work involves giving support in practical matters to the about 80,000 people in the area I represent. And that workload has risen dramatically.

But three days a week, it is normally Parliament that commands my attention. In this new lockdown world, I shall virtually be there again this week.

Today is Stage 2 of that Animal and Wildlife Bill. That follows Parliament having agreed to the general principles of the bill (that's Stage 1) on the 12th of March.

We sign in to our Environment Committee meeting at 0830 this morning and at 0900 starts to consider the one hundred proposed amendments from five MSPs. They are arranged into 22 debates (Groups).

Some look quite big. Group seventeen comprises sixteen proposals. All are fine-tuning amendments from the Government and it may be that only the Minister proposing them will speak and then we shall agree them without further comment. This part of the debate is labelled "Powers on possession: interaction with existing court procedures".

Here's a typical example of an amendment in this group:

15 In section 11, page 11, line 22, at end insert-
<( ) Subsection (5) is subject to section 32E(7)>


Have you lost the will to continue yet? But these little technical amendments can contain timebombs that can damage a Bill. So Committee members should have gone to the Bill and looked at what that actually does. This being a Government proposal they have provided a "Purpose and Effect" document to help us. Here's what it has to say about this proposal:

Amendment 15 inserts a new subsection into section 32A (powers of authorised persons where animal taken into possession) in order to provide that the conditions imposed in that section for the taking of a relevant step in subsection (5) are subject to section 32E(7). This amendment is considered necessary because section 32A in the Bill as introduced did not make reference to the rule, found in section 32E(7) (i.e. that a relevant step cannot be taken where an application for a release order has been made in accordance with section 32E).


In total, there are thirty-eight pages for me to read. So the little time we may spend on these technical amendments in Committee is preceded by a lot of reading and consideration before we get there.

So what is the point of all this?

Basically, it is updating the penalties that apply when someone is found guilty of animal cruelty. And it has wide support across political parties and from special interest groups outside Parliament who have quite divergent views on some aspects of what's proposed.

The normal warp and woof of the legislative process.

The result should be a stronger response to animal cruelty and, we trust, a reduction in its frequency.

The investment of time and effort in developing this new policy has been substantial. So even when our primary focus is on the nasty pandemic affecting us all, it is proper that we complete work on other subjects.

Now I normally do not seek to target political objectives in my daily diary. But this week has been extraordinary. I am therefore appending without further comment an email from a MOP (Member of Public) sent elsewhere, but which I was copied into.

"I watched the press conference held by Dominic Cummings today. I am disgusted that he was given a platform to spin a story to cover each sighting of him during his ‘isolation’ period.

We are to believe that he drove to Durham for the good of his child? Yet he put that child in the small enclosed space of a car with symptomatic parents. A couple of weeks later he put that same child back in the car and drove him 60 miles with bad vision to check if he would be safe to drive to London. Where was the concern for the child there? Why couldn’t his wife drive?

Do you see the ridiculousness of this story? I am very angry. My anger is not because, as Mr Cummings would suggest, that I have read false stories in the press. My anger is based on the story he himself told today.

I am angry because I watched the hopelessness and heartache of a son who missed his mother being taken away in an ambulance. He didn’t know where she had been taken or what her condition was for hours. When he did find out he was told that the rules meant he couldn’t visit her. She died 8 days later without him having seen her.

This young man followed the rules. I cried as I dropped him off at the funeral and watched him walk in alone. His girlfriend, my daughter, was not allowed to attend - due to the rules. As hard as it was, they followed the rules for the good of others, to protect the NHS and save lives.

Why don’t these rules apply to Dominic Cummings? Why Is it ok for him to drive to a castle on his wife’s birthday and sit by the river and play in the woods?

Can you tell me if you support Dominic Cummings or like me, are you angry?"

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