I start by echoing the remarks of Albert Owen: this has been a very good debate that has highlighted an issue that so many of our constituents feel so strongly about. I have been overwhelmed by the number of constituents who were determined to make sure I attended this debate; I know that the same is true of other hon. Members, as demonstrated by their presence and contributions.
I thank Robert Flello for his opening remarks and for securing the debate. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee. Like other hon. Members, I am a pet owner. I have a fantastic dog called Indy, who is a Labrador-collie cross: he has the brains of a collie and the appetite of a Labrador, which I am sure hon. Members will agree is a fatal combination. He is also currently courting votes, because he is standing in the Kennel Club election for parliamentary dog of the year—that is the only canvassing I will do on his behalf during this debate.
This debate is really important, because it is about giving the Government an opportunity to set out what they are already doing and to respond to hon. Members’ calls on behalf of their constituents to do more. More can be done within the purview of existing legislation and regulation to make a difference to the lives of puppies and kittens and how they are treated, and to ensure that the public are better informed and able to make better judgments when buying a dog or pet in order to themselves ensure that those animals are being raised to the highest welfare standards. If we were having a discussion about farm animals, we would not tolerate the sorts of things that puppies and kittens often have to put up with as a consequence of the gaps in our regulations.
There can be no justification for the retailing of puppies and kittens through pet shops. Over the years many of my constituents have felt aggrieved that there have not been sufficient powers to deal with such inappropriate sales and the way in which they provide a channel for disreputable dealers to sell their product, as it were. I say “product” because that is how they see it—this is about the commodification of something the public love so much. Surely that needs to be addressed through the licensing system, and I hope the Minister will say what the Government are minded to do to ensure that local authorities are aware of the latitude they have when setting licence conditions for pet shops. Other hon. Members have been right to highlight that, and I am sure that the Government, along with the Local Government Association, could do much more. It is a concern that these dealers and breeders remain in the shadows, unchecked and unregulated, while using shops to retail these pets.
As has been mentioned, the wild west of the internet is being used by unscrupulous breeders and dealers to prey on the public’s love of cats and dogs, and to peddle sick and poorly treated puppies and kittens. I hope the Minister will tell us what further steps he intends to take to collaborate with the body responsible for the voluntary arrangements for advertising in this area, in order to satisfy him, hon. Members and our constituents that the code of practice is being followed. If it is not being followed, what further steps could be taken to ensure that the issue is properly addressed?
The Government should be praised for their determination to introduce compulsory chipping, but it will only be useful if it provides for proper traceability in the long run. I hope the Minister will tell us more about that.