(1 year, 3 months ago)Commons Chamber
I beg to move,
That the draft Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 13 May, be approved.
It is good to be here in the Chamber taking action on animal welfare again, after the Third Reading of the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill yesterday, and I very much appreciate the support of so many hon. Members for that legislation.
The regulations are important because they put in place Lucy’s law. They establish a ban on commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens under six months of age in England—a ban that has been called for by committed campaigners and that has overwhelming public support. This is a positive step forward in cracking down on unscrupulous breeders and tackling the scourge of puppy smuggling.
Lucy was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel who died in 2016 after suffering terrible conditions on a Welsh puppy farm. Her plight inspired the Lucy’s law campaign, which harnessed widespread support from the public and the animal welfare sector. Dogs such as Lucy are often used by unscrupulous breeders to produce multiple litters of puppies, which are taken from their mothers when just a few weeks old and advertised online or sold in pet shops.
There is not an animal lover in the land who would wish to support this abhorrent profiteering from cruelty, but here is the problem: under current rules, it is difficult for would-be buyers to know whether a seller is a bone fide hobby breeder who raises puppies and kittens in a caring environment, as their advertisement claims, or someone who breeds animals simply as a money-making exercise, without regard for their welfare.
Many of my constituents feel strongly that stronger action needs to be taken against the rogue elements among breeders, and there will be a lot of support for the measures that are being brought forward. The Minister is absolutely right about the appalling scenes that we have seen. To what extent does he believe that the steps being proposed will not just make things a little better but end this evil trade once and for all?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is good to see that he has been campaigning hard locally on these issues and supports this campaign and that his constituents feel the same. I can assure him that this legislation will be a material step on. It has been welcomed by charities across the board—I will praise them in a minute for the fantastic work they have been doing—which feel assured that the proposals will not only crack down on unscrupulous breeders but be a positive step against puppy smuggling.
Following on from the Minister’s proper remark about positive steps, does he agree that those who adopt rescue animals—dogs and cats, but particularly dogs—deserve a great round of applause because they are not only fulfilling their own needs but helping to provide a proper home to an animal that would otherwise be mistreated or abandoned?
That is absolutely right. This legislation means that people will be able to buy puppies directly from a breeder or from a rehoming centre. It is vital to recognise that those who bring a rehomed puppy or kitten into their home are really looking after the welfare of that animal. Their efforts should absolutely be praised, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has done that today.
The activities of these unscrupulous breeders are bad for buyers and also bad for the countless good breeders in this country whose reputations and businesses are at risk when the actions of others less decent than themselves threaten the integrity of the sector overall. That is why we are taking action today, just like we did yesterday.
I would like to thank the brilliant campaigners and animal lovers who have helped to bring this positive change before the House today. The Lucy’s law campaign has been championed by vet and campaigner Marc Abraham and his fellow campaigners at Pup Aid. Lucy’s law is supported tirelessly by organisations big and small, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Mayhew, Cats Protection, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and the Dogs Trust, all of which do so much to strengthen animal welfare across the country. I should also highlight the important work and support of the all-party parliamentary group on dog welfare so ably chaired by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is in her place.
This decision to ban third-party sales of puppies and kittens followed a call for evidence in a public consultation that received over 6,500 responses, of which no fewer than 96% supported the proposal. The call for evidence was launched in response to an e-petition that called for a ban on the sale of puppies by pet shops and other third parties. The petition received over 148,000 signatures and triggered a debate in the House on 21 May 2018. This further demonstrates how Parliament and this Government can respond to public concerns.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we also have to stamp down on those who steal puppies to order? Many puppies are taken from outside people’s houses, outside shops and the like simply because there is a market for them. This measure makes the market more regulated, and that can only be applauded.
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes another really good point. Absolutely—this will help in that dimension, but there is also more that we need to do to make people more aware of where they are sourcing their puppies from. We need to do more to tackle puppy theft and dog theft. We will be working on that with various campaigners in the months ahead.
Everyone involved in the tough grassroots campaigning that took over 10 years to reach this point should be congratulated. I would particularly like to congratulate people in my constituency who worked very hard to get to this point. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that at the moment Wales is not included in this measure? Does he expect the Welsh Government to follow suit very quickly in doing a similar thing?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her point. I will come on to what happens in the devolved Administrations. It is fair to say, however, that the Welsh Government are now considering their response to the three-month consultation. I praise her local campaigners for their hard work. It does take time to get these changes through, but I am pleased to say that in the space of a couple of days we are taking really tough action, on a cross-party basis, to move the agenda forward on animal welfare.
This statutory instrument implements Lucy’s law by making an amendment to the parent regulations—the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. The commercial sale of pets is already a licensable activity. The amendment means that licensed pet sellers, including pet shops and dealers, will no longer be able to sell puppies or kittens under the age of six months unless they themselves have bred the animals. Alongside the public consultation, a draft regulatory triage assessment was published. This legislation does not require a full impact assessment as the net estimated impact falls significantly below the necessary threshold of £5 million.
The ban will enter into force on 6 April 2020. The additional time before the ban coming into force will allow the sector to prepare. If the ban is rushed, it may encourage abandonment of puppies or their breeding mothers, or other unscrupulous activity. This approach is being supported by welfare groups and campaigners. Once it is enforced, the best place to buy or adopt a puppy or kitten will be directly with the responsible breeder or through one of the country’s many animal rehoming centres.
This Government have shown that we take animal welfare very seriously.
The Minister is absolutely right to publicise and to put on record how many excellent, responsible breeders there are out there. There have been occasions in the past where Governments have legislated for all the right reasons but ended up creating nightmares for some of the smaller organisations, in particular. What representations has he had on this, and how much can he reassure us that the legislation, as well as being robust, is sufficiently well drafted that it will not create unintended consequences for responsible smaller breeders?
That is a good point. I think the hon. Gentleman will also recognise that when the regulations to which he is referring were introduced last year, the Department took a step back, listened to the concerns and addressed them. We have learned from that and worked closely with a number of welfare groups to ensure that the regulations before us are in a really good state, and we have time ahead of 6 April 2020 to ensure that they are fully worked through.
This instrument will help to address a number of welfare concerns associated with puppies and kittens bought and sold by third parties. Those concerns include the early separation of animals from their mothers, unnecessary journeys at a young age from breeder to pet shop, the sale of puppies and kittens at inappropriate commercial premises, and unscrupulous breeders who are associated with third-party sales. The ban will help to tackle the blight of puppy smuggling, and it will also help the public to make more informed and responsible choices when sourcing a puppy or kitten. It will build on the new licensing regulations, which came into force in October 2018 and introduced a range of welfare improvements for dog breeding and pet sales.
Comprehensive statutory guidance underpins the 2018 regulations, and it was produced by the sectors concerned under the auspices of the Canine and Feline Sector Group. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is updating the statutory guidance on the activity of selling animals as pets, to take account of this ban on third-party sales. The changes are intended to assist local authority inspectors and licence holders by clarifying that non-commercial rehoming of puppies and kittens does not require a licence and requiring local authorities to notify existing licence holders of the change, so that they can prepare appropriately.
The guidance also outlines how to determine whether a licence holder bred the puppies and kittens they offer for sale, which is very important. A licence holder should be able to provide supporting evidence such as photographs, microchips and veterinary records to show that they housed and cared for the animal and its mother for the first eight weeks of its life, as well as the licence itself. The draft guidance has been shared with the sector, and we intend to finalise it well before the ban comes into force in April 2020, which I hope addresses the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins).
This statutory instrument applies to England only because the parent regulations apply to England only. Animal welfare is a fully devolved issue, and respective parts of the United Kingdom have slightly different approaches to the licensing of pet sellers and other animal activities. I understand that a three-month consultation was recently concluded on banning third-party sales in Wales, and the Welsh Government are now considering those responses, which is good news. In Northern Ireland, Members of the Legislative Assembly have shown support for a similar ban to be introduced, and officials in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs are following developments in England closely. Scotland has committed to reform the licensing of sanctuaries, breeders and pet shops and is considering a ban on third-party sales.
I thank my hon. Friend for introducing this excellent piece of legislation. He mentioned Wales. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee visited a puppy farm in Wales about three years ago—I am sure that the Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), will touch on this—and it changed my mind on puppy farming. It was very disappointing to see that dogs could not be dogs. Could the Minister speak to the Welsh Government, to ensure that the information he has gleaned is shared with them and they can reach the same conclusion as us?
I know that a lot is going on to share best practice and experience among the devolved Administrations, and I will ensure that that takes place. I am sure that there is an active dialogue. There certainly has been a very active dialogue in preparing the many SIs related to EU exit, so those relationships have been formed. It makes absolute sense, because in some areas Scotland is slightly ahead of us, and in this area we will be slightly ahead of other devolved Administrations. We do not want to have an animal welfare race, but we certainly want to ensure that we learn from this experience, because it is about the welfare of very important and much loved animals. My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we will follow that up.
The ban on commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens is an important step towards further improving welfare standards to ensure that our beloved pet dogs and cats have the best start in life. This Government are committed to protecting and enhancing the welfare of animals, and this statutory instrument is another step in delivering on these commitments. For the reasons I have set out, I commend this statutory instrument to the House.
I am delighted to be able to take part in this short debate. The Minister will be relieved that we will not divide the House; in fact, we are very supportive of this measure, and we think its time has come. It has taken a long time to get to this stage, but that does not mean we should in any way undermine how important this bit of legislation is.
I will ask the Minister some questions, because this is one of a number of pieces of legislation that DEFRA is obliged to bring forward, and we are clearly still looking for improvements to sentencing. Dare I say we need a definition of sentience? It is also clear that even rehoming and rescue centres need to be properly defined. I will come on to some of the concerns about that a bit later. As I say, this is only partial legislation, and it has to be made part of much fuller animal welfare legislation.
Today, we will pass this legislation, which is lovingly referred to as Lucy’s law, after the King Charles spaniel that the Minister mentioned. I think it is rather nice that we have given it such a title because that animal was dreadfully abused. It was forced to breed many more times than she should have been and, even worse, the puppies were taken away in the most draconian manner. The petition gained 150,000 signatures, which proves that the British are a nation of animal lovers.
It is worth reminding people that when Lucy was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm five years ago, she was suffering. The Cavalier King Charles spaniel’s hips had fused together, and she had a curved spine, bald patches and epilepsy after years of mistreatment. She had been kept in a cage for most of her life, and was no longer able to have puppies. Although she was rehomed, sadly, she died. In memory of Lucy, I would be grateful to my hon. Friend if he mentioned her and the many people who have campaigned in her name.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Clearly, it is a dreadful story, and she has filled in the back details.
As I have said, I know the British are a nation of animal lovers, but it is wonderful that 150,000 people put their signature where their heart was. The petition was launched by Beverley Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine. She made the rather rash statement that if the Government accepted it, she would wear an “I love Michael Gove” T-shirt. She may like to give that to the President of the United States when she has finished with it, so he can be completely clear about who that is. She subsequently said that she would wear such a T-shirt about my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), the shadow Secretary of State, but we will leave that there.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—I never get the constituency quite right, but I will keep trying—who is a doyenne of the all-party group on dog advisory welfare. Of course, a lot of other Members have supported this. Behind the scenes, there has been tireless campaigning by Pup Aid, CARIAD or Care and Respect Includes All Dogs, Canine Action UK, the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats, and Cats Protection, as well as others I have not mentioned. We can be justly proud of how they have managed to get the law through to this stage. That was not difficult in terms of the complication of the legislation, but the sheer effort of trying to get things through this place does take time and effort.
There is a name the hon. Gentleman has missed out, which is Marc Abraham, who has been right behind this campaign. We heard from the Minister that he is a vet of distinction, and he really has led this campaign from the front. I would like the Opposition Front Bencher to pay him credit.
As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the T-shirt about loving him, perhaps from the Conservative side of the House I could praise an organisation I do not usually praise, which is the Daily Mirror? It led a very good campaign on Lucy’s law, and we should pay it credit for doing so.
I was coming on to Marc Abraham, but the hon. Gentleman has pre-empted me. I will take that bit out, as he has paid due regard to Marc.
There are many dog and cat breeders who will hopefully continue to provide the route that people should use to buy their pets. Animal companionship is something that we greatly underestimate. A number of us have fought hard to make sure that places that previously banned people from taking their pets in, including sheltered housing, rethought that, because it is important for people, particularly older people who may live alone, to have such companionship. We strongly support the statutory instrument, but would ask the Minister where the money is coming from, as this is not a nil cost. It is about having to up our game on supervising this operation. Organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are our eyes and ears, but at the end of the day, we have to recognise that there will be an impact on the public purse.
The Dogs Trust has said that this is one of a number of changes that it wishes to see. It is seeking an update in the pet travel scheme, which is connected to puppy smuggling, as some people abuse the way in which we can rightly bring animals into the country. Much tougher controls on that illegal operation are needed. Is that something that the Government have in train? I have asked about sentencing and sentience, and the regulation of animal centres, refuges and rehoming centres. Pet passports need to be revisited, because things have moved on since the original legislation was introduced.
Marc Abraham has written to us all, asking a number of rhetorical questions to show why the legislation needs to be introduced and looking at the Aunt Sallies that have been set up. Will the Minister say on public record why we can be assured that the measure will bear down on this dreadful trade? Marc asked why we are debating this today. That is down to him and to many other people. He also asked whether rehoming centres could be used as a devious device by people in the trade acting immorally but not illegally. Will the Minister explain how we are to make sure that Lucy’s law works in practice? Likewise, if the trade goes underground, as it could if we are not careful, what measures would the Government put in place? Marc answered that by saying that this was a perfectly good bit of legislation. It is important in its own right, but we should not lose sight of the fact that puppy smuggling is an ever-present and immoral trade. He ended by looking at that to make sure that if we agreed legislation today, it would have a positive impact on puppy smuggling, otherwise we would fail and would need to revisit the legislation and widen it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Jo Platt), in a debate that I attended, looked at the need to regulate animal rescue centres. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s views on that. Is it something that the Government will introduce in due course? The RSPCA has argued that the difference between the best centres for the rehoming and rescue of animals and the worst is so dramatic that we need to look at how we ensure that the poorer centres are removed.
Without further ado, I am very happy to say that we support the regulations. We hope the Government will see them as not just a feather in their cap, but a feather in the cap of all those who led the charge in getting this piece of legislation through. I hope the Minister will say some good things about the other points I have mentioned, because it is no good just passing these regulations if we ignore the other important areas where it is clear there is animal abuse. Everyone in the Chamber wants to bear down on that. We can do our bit not just through this statutory instrument, but by what we do subsequently.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I welcome the Minister’s speech and the statutory instrument. I also welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) and endorse what he said about the need to change the law to increase the sentence to up to five years. At the moment, the maximum sentence is six months and four months if you plead guilty. For some of the horrendous cases, that is not enough. I do not think that party managers on any side of the House need worry about getting the regulations through, as only somebody who is slightly off-piece would go against them. We really need to get this done.
I am happy to welcome the regulations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Chris Davies) said, three years ago, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee undertook a report into animal welfare. One of our recommendations was to ban third-party puppy sales. The Government decided that they could not go along with that, but when one chairs a Select Committee one never gets too worked up about that because there is a constant dripping and eventually the stone starts to wear and a new Secretary of State comes in and decides on a consultation. It is very good to see the regulations here today.
I want to talk about the practicalities. I, too, pay tribute to Marc Abraham and all the organisations. Many people have supported the campaign to get these measures on to the statute book. I include in that the general public because, as has been said, we are a nation of lovers. Do not forget: we are talking not just about dogs, but about cats. I am always corrected by Cats Protection. Cats also matter very much, so I want to put that on the record.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire talked about the time we visited a puppy farm in Wales. The dogs were bred far too often and did not get proper exercise, and the surroundings and conditions were poor. What also struck me was that the breeders received about £200 for the puppies, which were going to a dealer in Birmingham, who was probably selling them for £500 or £600. There are several issues here. Not only were the puppies bred in the wrong conditions, which were poor, but the money was going back not to the breeders but to the dealers.
I do not know how we deal with this exactly. I think I am right in saying that there are between 7 million and 9 million dogs in the country. That is quite a lot of dogs. If you say that, on average, a dog lives 10 years, you probably need 750,000 puppies a year to replace the dogs that have died. Therefore, we need good, proper puppy breeding probably on a reasonably large scale. It needs to be done properly, with bitches not overbred and other things taken into consideration; otherwise more and more puppies—I know the Government are tightening up on this—will be smuggled into the country. There only needs to be one television programme that promotes a particular breed of dog and then everybody in the world wants that particular breed of dog, and there are not the puppies here, so they become very lucrative. For some of the gangs, it is probably more profitable than dealing in drugs or anything like that and they are less likely to get prosecuted or to get as heavy a penalty. There are criminal elements who see this very much as a money-making operation.
I know that the Government cannot stipulate the quantities and breeds of puppies that are bred, and I do not think the shadow Minister, in a socialist Government, would even consider the idea of prescribing how many breeds or types of dog should be bred—[Interruption.] Only teasing, don’t worry. We must face this issue because we have to ensure that there is a good supply of healthy puppies who are properly assimilated with their mother and are at the right age when they leave her. The set-up should not be as it is in many of these situations, where the puppies do not have their true mother and do not belong to that mother. All those things are a real problem, so this legislation is absolutely right. However, it will not completely cure the problem if we do not deal with the sentencing, so that someone who is cruel to animals can get up to a five-year sentence. Let us send the right message out to the criminal element and let us look at how the puppies are bred and make sure that we encourage best practice.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech and has done a fantastic job on this issue with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. There is a big demand for puppies, but does he agree that we should educate the public to take on cats and dogs from cat and dog homes? I mention cats as well; I would not want to miss them out. Such animals make excellent family pets, but they are often overlooked because they are not the in-thing or the popular breed. Part of that is educating the public.
The hon. Lady always makes a very good contribution and I congratulate her on doing a great deal of work on animal welfare. She is absolutely right; that is essential. If someone wants a puppy, a kitten, a cat or a dog, they should look at what is available at rescue centres. However—I slightly repeat what I said before—we have to realise the number of puppies that is needed. Children naturally love a puppy and this is the other problem: very often a child will go along to see a puppy and it might be one that has been misbred, has an illness, or has been smuggled in, but that child falls in love with the puppy and, naturally, the parents buy it for their children. Perhaps there are then huge veterinary bills, or the dog has bad hips, bad shoulders or a bad whatever, and all these things add to the tale of woe. We have to face up to that reality, but the hon. Lady is absolutely right about rescue centres. The point was made, of course, by the Minister and shadow Minister that we have to be careful that these situations are not used as a way of carrying on some sort of abuse of animals.
As chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend led an excellent investigation and inquiry into puppy farming. He raises a particularly strong point. The criminal element in this and every other country will find a vacuum. If we rightly constrain the breeding, there will be a deficit between the number of people wanting puppies and the amount that we can supply, so they will come in from outside. Puppy smuggling will therefore be more of a problem than it is at the moment. As we found during our investigation, many puppies do not reach these shores alive. When they do, they are quite often deformed or damaged and they create a massive problem for the new owner, so we will really need to look at and crack down on puppy smuggling.
My hon. Friend reinforces exactly the point that I am making: too many puppies will be smuggled in. We are getting tighter at the ports, but we need to get tighter still and have people there. They will come through at different times of the day and night when there is nobody about.
There is another linked issue. Legally, one can go and buy five puppies and bring them in. How many people buy five puppies for themselves? Very few in my estimation. It is a legal loophole. Basically, someone gets a fraudulent form signed by an interesting vet in some other country— I will be diplomatic today, which is unusual for me.
I thank the Minister for that sedentary comment.
Seriously, it is a problem. People can legally bring them in. If someone has a signed certificate from a vet in a particular country, they can bring them in. This could be another bonus from Brexit, dare I say it?
Speaking as someone who moves our two dogs backwards and forwards all the time on a pet passport, I presume that all five puppies would have pet passports, which are expensive—in our case, about €50 each time we visit the vet.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. It is quite expensive, but I am not convinced that where many of these puppies come from the expense is so great. We must also remember that people are probably making £1,200, £1,500 or even £2,000 per puppy with some breeds. They are not smuggling in mongrels or cross-breeds; they are bringing in pure-bred dogs, although they are probably not as pure as they think they are and probably have the potential for disease, which is another issue to deal with—we could be bringing in dangerous diseases at the same time.
I have gone on a bit—you have allowed me to digress, Madam Deputy Speaker—but all these things are closely linked, as I am sure the Minister is aware. I welcome the regulations. There is another issue in respect of banning third-party sales. Let us imagine an establishment that is perhaps not the best breeder in the world. There is a problem there. If someone has to go to the premises to buy the puppies, they will, I hope, see the mother and what is happening in that breeding establishment, so to some degree it will be self-policing. If people go there and think there is something wrong, they are likely to report it and action will likely be taken—either the puppy establishment will be closed down or its operation will be tightened up and things will get better, since sometimes people breed badly out of inadequacy, rather than meaning to do it. So there is a combination of things. One only has the talk to the RSPCA to understand the problem.
Those are the key issues. The other issue, of course, which is more difficult for any Government to deal with, is that of backstreet breeding where people breed dangerous dogs. That is where microchipping comes in and all those other things that can hopefully go with it. By linking microchipping with the ban on third-party puppy sales, we should be able to tighten up on the backstreet breeding as well, however difficult it might be. The Metropolitan police and others are very good at the process because they have the specialists, although that is not the case all over the country.
I will not go any wider than that, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you have been very lenient on me. Suffice it to say that I am delighted to support the regulations.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. As the owner of the Westminster cat of the year 2019, I think my cat will be concerned that we have not emphasised that the regulations cover cats as well as dogs.
The right hon. Lady is, of course, right. It is also true that there are still a lot of feral cats, and if a feral cat gives birth to kittens, unless someone gets hold of them within a few days they will be feral as well.
The right hon. Lady need not worry: we will not forget cats. Cats are lovely. Dogs are lovely too, but sometimes they are given, shall I say, too big a bite of the bone.
Let me finally end my speech by asking the Minister not only to introduce this legislation, but, please, to increase the sentence for cruelty to animals to five years as soon as possible.
It is a privilege to contribute to such an important debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to see you in the Chair listening to it, and it is a pleasure to speak about the important legislation known as Lucy’s law. I thank the Minister for his perseverance: a ban on third-party puppy and kitten sales is a momentous achievement. It has been supported overwhelmingly by the public, and it will make a fundamental difference.
Members of the public do not generally go to the dark web or illicit dealers to buy a puppy or a kitten, although they may do so to buy, for instance, drugs or guns. Most people who want to buy a puppy or a kitten want to make sure that it has come from a good place, that it is healthy, and that they are doing the right thing. This law is important because it will close the market for puppy farmers who are doing such a callous job in respect of animal welfare. Puppy smugglers will also take a direct hit, because there will be no legitimate reason for them to bring lots of puppies into the UK when there is no third-party market from which to sell them.
While the law will not close every loophole, it will tackle many of the issues that have been raised today, including third-party sales. Puppy farmers and smugglers survive because people are unaware of the background of pain and suffering and the abhorrent animal cruelty of puppy farms and puppy smuggling, which is masked because the animals are sold through third parties. Public education campaigns are not enough of themselves; they must be reinforced by legislation. It is confusing when people are told, “Always try to see the mother on site with the puppy that you are buying”, while puppies are being sold via the internet and even in motorway service stations, or through other third parties such as pet shops. In those circumstances, people cannot be sure of a puppy’s background, which is often hidden.
I want to thank, in particular, Marc Abraham. “Where’s mum?” is part of the Lucy’s law campaign, and I believe that both Marc and his own mum are here today. He has shown fantastic leadership in this campaign for many years.
It was an absolute privilege for me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, to launch the Lucy’s law campaign in Parliament in 2017. It has been a tremendous cross-party campaign. He is not here today, but I wanted particularly to mention the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who has done so much to support the campaign. The public have really taken to it, and I have been described online a number of times as “the dog woman of Westminster”. They have missed out the cats, but I think that I would have to relinquish that title to the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on cats and who looks after their welfare so well.
As I have said, this is a cross-party campaign. Support for it has been led tremendously well by Marc Abraham, and it has also been supported by Peter Egan, our patron at the all-party group. He is a great animal welfare campaigner, as well as being a fantastic actor.
I want to thank Pup Aid, Sarah Clover and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. We have received fantastic support from Ricky Gervais, Rachel Riley, Brian May, Beverley Cuddy at Dogs Today, and many others, including Andrew Penman of the Daily Mail, who has already been mentioned. That is to name just a few, but everybody has come together in Parliament—the public, celebrities and animal welfare campaigners—to make this happen. The legislation will follow in Wales, post-consultation; I really do believe that will happen. As the Minister said, consultation is under way in Scotland on a raft of animal welfare measures and I hope that what I could call “MacLucy’s law” will happen in Scotland very soon.
Today’s events are a tribute to Lucy, the King Charles spaniel who is the eponymous hero of Lucy’s law. She was rescued by the wonderful Lisa Garner. As we have heard, until Lucy was rescued she was kept in a cage for most of her former life until she was no longer able to have puppies and then discarded. Her hips were fused together, her spine was curved, she had bald patches and epilepsy and suffered years and years of mistreatment. She had three good years of love with Lisa Garner but unfortunately died in 2016, and the campaign was launched in Parliament in 2017 in tribute to Lucy.
With Lucy’s law we are working together to look after the “underdog”. We are also looking out for all the dogs behind the scenes in puppy farms, hidden from the public, and their pups, who are often sold at five weeks, which is far too young, with no thought for any care or welfare by those engaged in this horrendous activity.
I thank everybody who has campaigned so hard on this important law and the Minister. Lucy’s law has been very much a cross-party, positive achievement in this Parliament and testifies to the progress in animal welfare legislation in this House.
First, I say once again that it is fantastic to be able to participate in such a positive debate and to make such positive progress. I am grateful for all the contributions made today; they have all been constructive and the questions raised are legitimate. We do need to answer them and I will do my level best to do so.
It is important to correct the record, however. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) said we are “a nation of lovers”; I think in the context of this debate he meant animal lovers. We will leave the other subject for a different day, but we are talking about animal welfare here today. I just want to make sure that is absolutely clear.
It is important that we do not forget the cats. The right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) was very clear about that, as she was in her praise of the tireless campaigners, which the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) did a fantastic job of doing, too.
Cats, as Winston Churchill said, look down on us, dogs look up at us, but pigs look us in the eye as equals. I just wanted to make that point, as a dog lover more than a cat lover.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I will allow you to decide whether that was in order. My hon. Friend has strayed slightly from the subject of today’s discussion, but as always he educates us on his views, and on those of Winston Churchill.
I cannot get away from cats because a very active member of our private office team is the proud owner of Percy, a kitten, and we have regular updates on his progress. I am grateful for the contributions to the debate, and it is important to highlight some of the work being done in the devolved areas as well. I am pleased to hear about “MacLucy’s” law; I have never heard it described as that before. We must make progress in those areas as well.
It is important that “MacLucy’s” law is taken forward across the UK, because we would not like puppy smugglers or farmers to feel that there is a safe haven anywhere. Given that so much has been put into the campaign, I ask the Minister to speak with counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to try to make sure that this practice applies across the board.
Yes, I absolutely will do that. I have said that to colleagues in the context of Wales, and we will do that in Scotland as well. We need to move this forward in the United Kingdom.
I should also highlight the number of Whips who have been in the debate today—although they are not able to speak—including the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), and my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart). They are huge animal lovers and wanted to be associated with the progress we are making today.
I want to deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton on sentencing and increased sentences. We remain committed to introducing the necessary legislation to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months’ imprisonment to five years’ imprisonment, and I am working at the highest levels to ensure that the legislation needed to make the change is introduced at the earliest opportunity.
I will give way in just one second, because I was about to say that I am sure that those who make decisions about what goes on in this Chamber—the business managers—will listen carefully to those on the Opposition Benches and to the experienced voice of the Chair of the EFRA Committee in their calls to move this legislation forward. They have told us that they will not attempt to block this legislation, because everybody sees how important it is.
I thank my hon. Friend, and that is exactly that point that I wanted to re-emphasise. There is so much cross-party support, and I cannot see why the managers of business in this House, on either side, should be worried about doing this. I know that the Minister is working hard, but please may we have this legislation sooner rather than later? He promised us several times that this was going to be done very quickly, but I must question him gently on how quickly he means. When will it be?
I have never ever had any gentle questioning from my hon. Friend. As I have said, I am pressing hard to get this done as fast as we can, and our aim is to bring this forward as soon as we can.
The hon. Member for Stroud made a contribution on sentience, and the supportive contributions that my colleagues have made today show that the UK is a global leader in animal welfare. The Government’s policies on animal welfare are driven by a recognition that animals are sentient beings. We are acting energetically to reduce the risk of harm to animals, whether they are pets, on farms or in the wild, and we will ensure that any changes required to UK law after we leave the EU are made in a rigorous and comprehensive way to ensure that animal sentience is recognised. DEFRA continues to engage with stakeholders to further refine the Government’s proposals on sentience, and we are currently seeking the right legislative vehicle in this context.
The hon. Member for Stroud also made points about rescuing and rehoming centres. I hear the concerns that he expressed about these organisations. In the Westminster Hall debate on 26 February 2019 on animal rescue homes, I said that
“we must do everything we can to ensure that good welfare practices are in place in all animal rescue homes.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2019; Vol. 655, c. 74WH.]
Legitimate rescue homes do incredible work rescuing and rehoming thousands of sick and abandoned stray animals each year. We have heard praise for them in today’s debate as well. I had the honour of visiting the Mayhew rehoming centre a few weeks ago when we announced the laying of this statutory instrument, and we discussed the importance of responsible purchasing and rehoming of puppies and kittens. We want to make progress here, and we need to be confident of the benefits and impacts of any regulations placed on these organisations, particularly some of the smaller rescue and rehoming charities, which is why we are actively exploring these issues with the organisations involved.
The hon. Member for Stroud asked about resources for local authorities leading on implementing and enforcing animal licensing controls. Importantly, they have the power to charge fees, which factor in the reasonable costs of enforcement associated with licensable activity. DEFRA works closely with local authorities and the City of London leads on the training of local authority inspectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton talked about the importance of self-policing, and it is important that we continue to get intelligence and input from the public as well. They have an important role to play.
Further contributions were made about the importance of addressing puppy smuggling. In other debates we have highlighted the need to do further work on this, and I personally and DEFRA take a zero-tolerance approach to this abhorrent crime. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton has talked about the number of puppies that should be allowed to come across our border at any given point in time with one owner. As I have said to him in other places, we would be in a position to review that after we leave the EU.
There was further discussion about Marc Abraham’s views on licensing and rescue homes. I am pleased that he can be with us today; it is great to see him recognised for the important campaign that he has taken forward. We agree that there is a clear difference between a legitimate charitable rehoming centre and a business selling pets. The latter will be subject to a ban on third party sales for puppies and kittens, but as I have already discussed we are seeking to regulate the rescue and rehoming sector.
Rehoming charities often charge a rehoming fee. Some have suggested that unscrupulous pet sellers could take advantage of that by reinventing themselves as rescue and rehoming organisations to get around the ban. That is why we will be working with canine and feline sector groups and local authorities to develop specific guidance to help distinguish between non-commercial rescue and rehoming centres, which are charities, and pet sellers, which are businesses.
The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow made important points about the publicity campaign that we need to take forward. We need to do further work on helping people to purchase pets responsibly, and we have committed to doing that. We have also assured the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that we will work to provide the best advice to help people to look after their dogs and cats responsibly.
The Government are committed to protecting animal welfare. This legislation will help put an end to the inhumane and abhorrent conditions that animals such as Lucy are subjected to. It will ensure that puppies and kittens are born and reared in a safe environment with their mothers and sold from their place of birth. Those who decide to bring a pet into their home can know that it will be healthy and has come from a responsible breeder. I commend this statutory instrument to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 13 May, be approved.