New Clause 17 - Regulation of online animal sales

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 18th November 2021.

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‘Operators of websites facilitating the sale of kept animals must—

(a) verify the identity of all sellers advertising on their website;

(b) where a cat or dog for sale is under 1 year of age, require the seller to publish on the website at least one photograph of the animal for sale with one of its parents; and

(c) remove listings by commercial sellers which do not include that seller’s licence number.’—

This new clause would regulate the online sale of animals by requiring websites where animals are sold to verify the identity of all the sellers on their website. It would also require the website to make sellers who wish to sell a cat or dog aged one year or less publish a photograph of the animal with one of its parents.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. I do apologise; the Whip had meant to adjourn the Committee, but she did not do it in time, so please carry on.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Thank you, Mr Davies—I will be quick. I am sure that everyone knows about the “justice for Reggie” campaign, which has been working tirelessly better to regulate online sales of animals following a tragic experience. Reggie was a 12-week-old Labrador who was sold online through a reputable website that advertises thousands of puppies for sale, but he was sold without proper care from a breeder and with insufficient checks to safeguard his welfare and wellbeing. Within 12 hours of Reggie arriving home with his new owners, he fell gravely ill. He spent the next three days receiving care at a vets before dying of parvovirus. His death was painful and horrific, and his owners were understandably still traumatised because of their ordeal. Following Reggie’s death, it was discovered that false documentation had been provided, and in fact Reggie was unwell at the time of the sale.

The new clause proposes further regulation of online animal sales to prevent situations such as Reggie’s happening again. It would require all websites that sell animals to verify the identity of all sellers. It further proposes that all prospective sellers who wish to sell a cat or dog aged one year or less must post a photograph of the animal with one of its parents. Putting such checks on a legal footing would help strengthen the use of online sales—unfortunately, I do not think we can end them—and is essential to prevent animals being sold with falsified or no documentation. We could therefore ensure that all animals sold come from reputable, trustworthy breeders.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government take this issue seriously and have recently taken several steps to strengthen pet breeding and selling regulations, including banning the third-party sale of kittens and puppies. We are also encouraging the responsible sourcing of pets via the national “petfished” campaign.

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 introduced a wide range of real welfare improvements for pet breeding and pet sales. The object of the regulations was to update and improve the existing welfare standards. They also provided a template for adding further activities in future, when necessary. The regulations make numerous requirements of pet sellers and dog breeders who are licensed relating to the keeping of records and advertising. Any licensed pet seller or dog breeder advertising animals for sale will need to include their licence number in the advert and specify the local authority that issued the licence. Additional requirements relating to adverts include a requirement for the age of the animal to be displayed alongside a recognisable photo. That said, we are always looking to make improvements where possible. We will review the regulations before October 2023.

Our regulations aim to ensure that sellers and breeders become responsible, but I understand that the hon. Member’s concerns are about online platforms used by sellers; that is what the new clause covers. It may be helpful to outline the work that the Government are doing. We support the work of the pet advertising advisory group—PAAG—created in 2001, which aims to combat concerns regarding the irresponsible advertising of pets for sale, rehoming and exchange. It comprises various animal welfare organisations, trade associations and vet bodies. It has been engaging with online marketplaces in the UK to help them to distinguish appropriate adverts and take down those that are not.

DEFRA has backed a set of minimum standards developed by PAAG. Encouragingly, several of the UK’s largest classified websites have now agreed to meet those standards. I look forward to working closely with PAAG. I therefore ask the hon. Member not to move the new clause.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for the response. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mrs Wheeler.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.