Sale of Puppies and Kittens

Part of Backbench Business – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 4th September 2014.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:03 pm, 4th September 2014

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate about the sale of puppies and kittens and the related issues of puppy farming and so on. Before I make my contribution, however, may I, like every other speaker, pay tribute to the Pup Aid campaign and especially to my hon. Friend Robert Flello, who has led the way in Parliament on this issue and has clearly illustrated today the problems we face in relation to the trade in the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens.

As most colleagues have done today, I also pay tribute to Marc Abraham, the television vet, who has been tireless in his campaigning. I have worked with him closely over the past two years or so and can confirm that he has made a great contribution to this debate. It is impossible to be anything other than impressed by his commitment to the cause of animal welfare. Pup Aid has run a successful campaign, with over 100,000 signatures secured for its e-petition—hence the debate today. This itself is a testimony to the success of the campaign and the importance of the issues it raises, as is the number of right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed this afternoon. We have learned a great deal about colleagues’ opinions—and about their pets as well.

The Government’s record on the issue is disappointing, but I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to correct that situation and do as Mr Amess suggested and give us some positive movement. Puppy farming is widely perceived to be more and more of a problem, while the importation of puppies has increased massively in recent years. For example, in 2012 the importation of dogs from Hungary increased on the previous year by more than 450%, and from Romania by more than 1,150%. Coupled with these rises, the number of online sales of puppies and kittens has increased significantly, which must be a major concern to anybody who thinks that animal welfare is important, yet we have seen little response from the Government to this wide range of issues, which includes, of course, the sale of puppies and kittens in retail outlets.

It is worse than that, however, because the Government have also failed properly to get to grips with wider dog welfare issues relating to dog control and responsible ownership. And although measures such as the prosecution of owners whose dogs attack on private property are welcome—indeed, we pressed for them—it has to be said that the Government dragged their feet and took far too long to get these measures on the statute book.

If we are to respond effectively to problems with the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens, we need to take a comprehensive approach, because the challenges raised by the sale of puppies and kittens in pet shops represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of concerns about animal welfare standards. As I have made clear, we need to look not just at the issue in the motion, but more broadly at breeding practices, the growing trade in online sales and issues arising out of the misuse of the pet travel scheme—PETS—by commercial puppy breeding interests.

We are committed to doing just that and to working with animal welfare organisations and other stakeholders to review the trade in the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens, as my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson said. The Animal Welfare Act 2006, introduced by the last Labour Government, sets a useful benchmark for such a review, and Labour remains proud of what it achieved with this legislation. Importantly, for the first time it embedded in statute clear standards relating to the welfare of domestic animals. The five tests set out in the Act are now taken as a practical template for animal welfare assessment, and we will use this legislation as the starting point for our review.

Today’s debate has given a necessary airing to the growing problem of the irresponsible breeding and sale of puppies and kittens, and many Members have made excellent contributions. My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick talked about problems with the importation of commercially bred dogs under PETS, as did my hon. Friend John McDonnell, who also talked about the relationship between the puppy and the mother and the need for the mother to be present at the point of sale. My hon. Friend Mr Robinson talked about the emotional needs of puppies and my hon. Friend Albert Owen talked about the measures being taken by the Welsh Assembly. We look forward to hearing more about that. My hon. Friend Meg Munn talked about the trade in the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens and the need for the highest welfare standards.

I want to conclude my remarks by paying tribute to the wider animal welfare movement, which has worked tirelessly to highlight the issues raised today, and indeed has attempted in some instances to establish creative responses to them. The RSPCA, for instance, has campaigned vigorously to draw attention to the abuse of the pets travel scheme, and has also worked hard to establish the case for a review of the current status of the standards applying to the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens. The Dogs Trust has led the way with its campaign for compulsory microchipping, and has played a key role within the Pet Advertising Advisory Group to establish new, higher standards for adverts on websites. May I also take this opportunity to mark, on the record, the outstanding contribution to dog welfare made by Clarissa Baldwin, the outgoing and long-serving—very long-serving—chief executive of the Dogs Trust?

Finally, I pay tribute to the Kennel Club, which 10 years ago developed an assured breeder scheme that now has 8,000 members. The case for a comprehensive review of standards in the breeding and sale of puppies and kittens is clear—it must be a review that will have at its heart the welfare of these animals. They deserve nothing less, and as a society that prides itself on our attitudes towards animal welfare, we must not let them down.