It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As other hon. Members have done, I thank Nigel Huddleston for securing this debate and for keeping up the pressure to get this terrible activity banned. We need to keep up that pressure if we are to make progress.
There is huge public appetite for robust action to improve the lives of animals and strengthen the animal protections in our laws. We are a nation of animal lovers, and we want all our animals to be well loved and given the opportunity to live happy and stable lives. Puppy smuggling is just one of many serious animal welfare issues that all Members read about in our postbags. Since last year’s debate on the matter, I have been proud to launch the Labour party’s animal plan, which pledges to take increased measures to tackle puppy smuggling. It has received an excellent response and we are working on the next version, which I hope to be able to share with hon. Members shortly.
It is obvious that the humane treatment of animals should be a benchmark for a civilised society. As parliamentarians, we must send out a strong message that the illegal importation of puppies is a cruel practice that must stop; there has been extraordinary consensus on that today, just as there was last year. The Animal and Plant Health Agency and many animal welfare charities such as the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have done a lot of crucial and very welcome work to tackle puppy smuggling.
As my hon. Friend Angela Smith said, it really is time for the Government to act. I know that their commitment to banning the third-party sale of puppies and kittens through Lucy’s law, which the Minister announced in December, has been welcomed by Cats Protection and many dog charities—it is indeed welcome, but we need to see results as soon as possible. The pledge to increase sentences is also welcome, but the legislation needs to be introduced as soon as possible so that we can debate it, scrutinise it and get it on the statute book; I hope that the Minister will give us some idea of when that will happen. In the meantime, Government agencies need the resources to tackle puppy smuggling by enforcing the current legislation. We need to ensure that we have sufficient border guards, with greater international co-operation between police forces to crack down on the problem properly.
As we have heard, dogs should be available only from licensed and regulated breeders or from approved rehoming organisations. Unfortunately, the current legislation does not protect the welfare of all dogs or the interests of all consumers, so the only solution is to ban third-party sales entirely. We have heard about the terrible treatment of smuggled dogs and the terrible diseases and health problems that they can suffer, as in the really sad story that the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire told. As long as there is a market for cheap, intensively bred puppies, such welfare problems will persist, because the incentives for non-compliance far exceed the penalties.
Availability may artificially inflate demand, so unless we reduce the supply of cheap, poorly bred puppies from dealers and smugglers, we will never bring a more responsible buying culture into society. Ministers have said that prospective buyers should always insist on seeing a puppy interacting with its mother in the place where it was born, but that advice is inconsistent with the ongoing legality of third-party sales, because it concedes that neither animals nor consumers can be protected by the regulations imposed on the industry. We therefore need a third-party sales ban as soon as possible.
I do not think that it is too ambitious to want to move on now, or to ask the Government to do more to enable that. Animal welfare must not be swept under the carpet or undercut, so I ask the Minister again for a commitment that he will continue to show that he understands the need for this legislation and that he will do everything he can to stamp out this appalling trade.