Sale of Puppies and Kittens

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 11:40 am on 4th September 2014.

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Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South 11:40 am, 4th September 2014

My hon. Friend makes his point and I will just say again, yes, I agree. It could not be simpler: all prospective dog owners should first consider adopting from a reputable rescue shelter. If they specifically want a puppy, it should be sourced from a responsible breeder where puppy and mother will always be seen interacting together.

We believe that powers are already in place to tackle the issue but such is the volume of often old legislation that there is a need for clarification to ensure that loopholes cannot be exploited. The Pet Animals Act 1951 does not require pet shop owners to highlight the provenance of their animals and states only that the local authority “may” inspect a premises. In financially constrained times, it is hardly surprising that such inspections are not a priority.

The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 requires third-party dealers selling puppies from licensed breeders to sell them with identification badges or tags, but because the 1999 Act does not form part of the pet shop licence conditions, it is generally not enforced. The 1999 Act enables breeders to sell puppies younger than eight weeks to a third-party dealer. That is beneficial for the breeder, who does not incur the costs of inoculating or caring for the animal, and for the dealer, who pays less for the dog. It certainly is not in the interests of the animal or its potential owner. The Act even provides a bit of a get out of jail free card, saying that as long as reasonable precautions are taken, an offence is not committed.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 largely has not been used, nor has the secondary legislation in place to make it effective. Section 14 of the Act refers to codes of practice and guidance, but there is no liability if they are not observed. I will come back to the Act, which was enabling legislation. Again, we want the Government to “switch it on”—to make it work. The entire system desperately needs overhauling. but in the meantime one clear route to market for the puppy farms can be shut down. We can take a big step towards that today.

The 1951 Act states that a local authority shall have

“discretion to withhold a licence on other grounds”.

The former Minister of State at DEFRA, Mr Heath, stated in a written answer:

“Conditions can be placed on individual pet shop licences restricting the animals that can be sold.” —[Hansard, 2 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 121W.]

That point, however, is contested. We would like the current Minister to clarify on the record what the situation is, given that Pup Aid’s own research shows that over half of local authorities are unaware that they are empowered to act to amend licensing conditions and to stop the sale of puppies and kittens.

It is the unanimous position of leading animal welfare organisations that the sale of puppies and kittens from retail premises should be banned. This regulatory change would inflict no additional burden on local authorities and match their own desire to clamp down on irresponsible breeding practices. Indeed, it is consistent with DEFRA’s own advice to prospective owners that

“if you are buying a puppy or kitten, you should ask to see it with its mother and the rest of the litter”,

and be satisfied that it is really the mother and not just a dog that has been brought in for show purposes.