SPEECH AT A RECEPTION IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS FOR SUPPORTERS OF CATS PROTECTION
My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Supporters
I am delighted to have been able to host this terrific reception to celebrate the vital work of Cats Protection and the extraordinary commitment and dedication of those who work for it in both a professional and voluntary capacity. Charities such as this are truly part of the fabric of a civilised society. I'd like to pay tribute to everyone here tonight - each of you part of the tapestry that makes Cats Protection work - for everything you do.
Cats have been part of my life for a little over 20 years. My Mother had cats when she was young - we used as children to hear so many tales of the famous Snowball - but developed asthma and was unable for much of her life to have any. There was always something missing from her life. But in 1992 my parents took a risk that the asthma might have abated and took in two adorable ginger toms, Ambrose and Amadeus. As a result of the cruelty of those who drive too fast, they did not live long - but they were then joined by two fine and loving Birmans who lived with them for the rest of their lives, faithful companions in every way. Indeed it was that experience of seeing the bond between elderly people and their pets that led me - with the essential support of Cats Protection - to move amendments to the Care Bill aimed at getting the extraordinarily important role of companion animals recognised by Parliament.
And of course, as always happens, I fell in love with my parents' cats and as soon as we were able to, my Partner and I took two Russian Blues into our lives in 1996 - the surviving one of whom is 17 and a half this weekend.
It was when we became proud cat owners that I first became aware of Cats Protection. At that time there was a bumper sticker you could get for your car that simply said: "Cats Add Life." And that just about sums up why these wonderful animals are so important to us, and why in turn the work of Cats Protection is so vital.
Cats do add life. They give us pleasure watching them play as kittens and grow. They are companions for the old and infirm. They help keep us healthy and in good shape, and tend us when we are sick. And they give unconditionally and totally and unfailingly of their love.
We need to return that love in whatever way we can - and that means recognising that not all cats are part of loving homes, sheltered and fed. Some are not so lucky. They all too often need looking after and rehoming and that's where the incredible work of Cats Protection - which I saw at first hand at the National Cat Centre in Haywards Heaths - comes in.
But there's only so much Cats Protection can do. We in Parliament need to do more to play our part to look after the welfare of those who have no voice. But their owners do! 13 million households between us own 22 million pets, and that means that politicians should sit up and take notice of concerns about animal welfare issues. And there are plenty of them.
Think about the role of companion animals and the need to ensure that an increasingly elderly population can keep beloved pets in their twilight years.
About the need to ensure the young learn at school about the importance of caring for pets.
About the growing animal cruelty crisis and the need properly to punish those who commit such unspeakable acts.
About the increasing number of attacks by dangerous dogs on defenceless, often elderly, cats.
About the unethical breeding and sale of cats - often on-line - which cannot be tackled adequately because of antiquated legislation.
About the need to update the licensing regime to ensure catteries are all run to the standards we expect and demand for our beloved pets.
So many issues, and the support of Cats Protection in getting them addressed remains of the greatest importance. I hope to play my part in the coming months and years in championing the needs and welfare of our nation's cats - and yes, the dogs, too - and ensuring they receive more attention and profile than they have perhaps had - and deserved - in the past. From time to time I may need to call on all of you for help. And in turn I'd love always to hear from you. If there are issues you believe we here at Westminster need to tackle then tell us loud and clear.
More information about Cats Protection is avaliable here