Online Animal Sales: Regulation

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Monday 13th December 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Mundell and to speak in the debate today, and especially to follow the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who I know is a passionate life-long campaigner for animal welfare, just like myself.

As hon. Members across the House well know, we are a proud nation of animal lovers. Animal welfare is an issue that cuts across political divides, and I am so pleased to see Members from across the House calling for urgent reform and regulation of the sale of animals online.

Those of us with pets know first hand the joy and excitement of bringing home a new cat, dog or rabbit to become a member of the family. I am becoming something of a broken record, but bringing home Dotty and Dora—my Jack Russell puppies—nine years ago was an incredibly exciting time for my family. I was lucky: Dotty and Dora came from a friend up the road whose dog had just had puppies; I knew they had been looked after, and they had stayed with their mum until they were big enough to leave safely.

However, in the nine years since, there has been a huge shift in the way people acquire animals. The most popular way to get a new pet is online, with some 92% of all pet sales happening online via websites which allow for third-party sales or on social media. While the vast majority of people looking to get a pet that way do their best to make sure it has been properly looked after and is the right age to leave its mother, there are many tragic cases of animals being bred or transported to the UK in horrible circumstances, and then sold on to unsuspecting customers online. In the worst instances—in cases such as Reggie’s—those animals are simply too sick to survive, leaving behind devastated families.

Last week, I was honoured to join the team behind the Reggie’s law campaign at 10 Downing Street to hand their petition—which received more than 100,000 signatures —to the Prime Minister. They have turned their tragedy into a really powerful campaign. It is wonderful to see Richard and the team here today, after he walked an incredible 232 miles from his home to London to raise awareness of this important issue and to raise money to support animal charities.

One of the beneficiaries of Richard’s fundraising is Hope Rescue, a dog rescue charity working across south Wales that operates from a rescue centre in Llanharan, just across the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). I visited the charity a few months ago, and saw first hand the incredible work it does looking after rescued and abandoned dogs. I saw one five-week old puppy that had been rescued from an illegal puppy farm only a few days earlier, but he was one of the lucky ones: he is now in a place where he is loved and cared for, and has luckily suffered no long-term damage as a result of his start in life.

As Members well know, there is already a significant amount of regulation across the UK to control the sale of pets online, which, in England and Wales, is set out in the respective licensing of activities involving animals regulations, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees). Although the regulations are devolved, their provisions on pet sales are broadly the same. They require all advertisements for pets—online and offline—to display the licence number and issuing local authority, as well as a recognisable photo and the age of the animal. For dogs specifically, the regulations require the sale to be completed in person, not online, at the site where the dog was kept and, in the case of puppies, the animal to be seen with its mother.

Lucy’s law also bans the third-party sale of puppies and kittens in both England and Wales. Such animals should therefore be sold only by the person who bred them and, in Wales, from the breeders’ premises. However, it is clear from Reggie’s tragic story, and as hon. Members have said, that those regulations are simply not working well enough.

A quick online search shows that a major issue with the regulations is that they are simply not being enforced properly, which has only been exacerbated by the explosion of interest in buying a pet during lockdown. Local authorities have seen their funding slashed over the last decade, and over the last 18 months they have faced enormous challenges because of the pandemic. While I recognise that policing and enforcement is not a key responsibility of the Minister’s Department, I am hugely concerned that not enough is being done to tackle this all-important issue.

I commend the Government’s petfishing campaign and recognise that public awareness of the things to look for is vital. However, until bad actors are stopped from making huge amounts of money selling animals illegally online, there will be more sad stories like Reggie’s. I support the calls in the petition to require people who sell animals online to verify their identity, and I would be grateful if the Minister could outline the Government’s policy on that matter.

I also urge the Minister to work with her counterparts across Government and with the devolved Governments to make enforcing policies on animal welfare a priority, both at home and at the border. Without swift action, there will sadly be many more Reggies and many more Ricks and families like his forced to contend with losing a beloved family pet in horrible circumstances.