New legislation to strengthen animal welfare here will not only give more bite to protection of animals, but it will also make parliamentary history.
In a blog post yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan praised the work of the MPs behind the rare Private Member's Bill tabled on Oct 7, hailing it as a "a big step forward" for both people and animals.
The Bill, tabled by MPs Yeo Guat Kwang, Alex Yam, Gan Thiam Poh, Edwin Tong and Vikram Nair, was the fruit of more than two years of hard work and is set to be one of two such Bills to be passed in two decades.
Private Member's Bills are introduced by MPs who are not Cabinet ministers.
The last time one was passed in Parliament was in 1994, when then Nominated MP Walter Woon tabled the Maintenance of Parents Bill.
"In our Parliament's history, there have not been many Private Member's Bills. On Ministry of National Development (MND) matters, there has been none," said Mr Khaw.
Mr Christopher de Souza, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, also tabled a Private Member's Bill on Oct 7 to combat human trafficking, with support from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Mr Khaw recalled how when he first spoke to MPs about updating legislation to protect animals further, a few "spoke out passionately". "We have many MPs who care a lot about animal welfare," he said.
He praised the work of the Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee chaired by Mr Yeo; it was set up in April 2012 to review the issue.
First, Mr Khaw said, Mr Yeo was inclusive in inviting animal welfare activists, grassroots leaders and industry representatives to join the committee.
Second, the committee sought views widely, holding numerous public consultations. This was necessary as animal welfare evokes "strong reactions".
Third, he said, Mr Yeo "sought out common ground and settled on what was do-able and acceptable to most, if not all". The committee's recommendations were submitted to MND in March last year. These were accepted in full.
Mr Khaw went on to say that while the usual next step would be for MND to work with the Attorney-General's Chambers to draft a Bill, he decided that it would be "wonderful" for Mr Yeo and other MPs to do so by tabling a Private Member's Bill.
The Bill will be debated by MPs on Nov 3. It requires pet owners to provide reasonable care for animals under their charge. Those who neglect their pets will, for the first time, face a fine and/or a jail term.
Under the proposed amendments to the Animals and Birds Act, penalties for animal abuse will be increased and staff in animal-related businesses are required to be trained in animal care.
The Bill will also let the authorities adopt codes setting new standards on animal welfare. The Bill, said Mr Khaw, "reflects a diversity of perspectives from animal lovers and those who are less comfortable being around animals".
"We need the understanding and cooperation of all, as we try to balance these diverse views.
The key objective is to achieve a harmonious living environment for everyone."
This article was first published on October 25, 2014.
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