Sheryll Murray – 2023 Speech on Road Traffic Collisions Involving Cats

The speech made by Sheryll Murray, the Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, in Westminster Hall on 9 January 2023.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Harris. I have to declare an interest as the owner of two very pampered and special cats: Milly, who is 14 years old, and Louie, who moved into his forever home with us during lockdown, from the comfort of the Cats Protection adoption centre in Exeter. I should also make Members aware that I have another interest, as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cats.

In my mind, a home is not a home without a cat. Both my cats could be described as sharing their house with my husband and me. They have Natalie and Caroline, who visit and look after them while we are in London, and they certainly greet us on our return—although that is probably just to secure more Dreamies.

I believe that cats should receive the same treatment as other animals under section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, under which, as has been described,

“a driver is required to…report an accident involving specified animals including horses, cattle, asses, mules”

—I will not go on; it has already been said—

“but not cats or wild animals.”

The Government have said:

“This requirement arises from their status as working animals rather than as domestic pets.”

But let us not forget that cats often do work, particularly in the countryside, where they keep vermin down, so I cannot see how a cat cannot be described as a working animal. The Government also say:

“To introduce such a measure within the provision of section 170 would require primary legislation.”

I would ask the Government to consider introducing the required legislation at the earliest possible time.

I would like to share something I witnessed happening in my division when I was at Cornwall county councillor. It involved a cat called Topsy, who belonged to my son’s best friend. I was following a car that hit a cat and saw the driver get out and carefully place the cat in his car. It looked like Topsy, but I was not sure. The mother of that five-year-old told me the next day that her son was distraught at the loss of his pet, who had not returned home. I relayed to her that I may have witnessed an accident involving Topsy the cat, but had not been able to get the car registration number. This story has a happy ending. The young man who had lifted the cat carefully into his car had taken her to the vets. She received treatment and an advert was placed in the local shop window, calling for the owner to come forward—I emphasise that this incident happened before social media was widely used to publicise things. Topsy was reunited with her owner and lived a long and happy life.

My own experience does not have such a happy outcome. I had a little black cat called Biscay. He would happily hunt in and around the gardens and the neighbourhood. One day, a neighbour informed me that little Biscay was seen in the driveway of a house behind mine, and when I got there, I realised that he had been injured and had died. Many more cats in my neighbourhood have suffered the same fatal ending to their lives, and as the local councillor, I explored what could be done to make this very narrow lane safer for both pets and pedestrians. I explained to council officers that the road was regularly used by primary school children, and that each cat that had suffered a fatal accident could have potentially been a child. I was told that there were no statistics kept for cats, as these incidents were not reportable. Fortunately, I persevered and managed to get road traffic calming in place on the road, to slow the traffic. This would have been far easier if each accident involving a cat had been reportable and official statistics readily available.

It is a shame that we do not hear more positive stories, such as that of Topsy. It is essential that we remember that cats are more often than not family members, and we should ensure that they are respected. We should also remember that, as I have mentioned, statistics can often be used to introduce road safety measures that help pedestrians, and I urge the Minister to explore introducing legislation as soon as possible.