Online Animal Sales: Regulation

Jim Shannon Excerpts
Monday 13th December 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Mundell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) on setting the scene so well for us all. I also congratulate Richard, who is in the Gallery, for making this debate happen, and all those MPs who made the effort on that very wet day to be with him—I was not one of them.

When I read the title of the debate, I knew I would want to add my comments. I have always been an animal lover, and I have always been fortunate to have dogs. When I lived with my mother and father in the countryside or in small villages, having a dog was as natural as getting up in the morning, going for a walk and going to school. We have always had dogs. I remember my first dog very well, in Ballywalter back in the early ’60s. He was a collie; we have also had Pomeranians, Jack Russells, terriers, springer and cocker spaniels, and we have also moved to hunting dogs—I love hunting. Hunting dogs give us a purpose, and love and affection and companionship.

I was also very fortunate to have married, some 34 years ago, another animal lover, who volunteered at Assisi for 10 years. She now works part-time in a cattery. Sandra had a love of cats; I had a love of dogs but I learned to love cats, because my wife wanted me to. That was just the way it happened. Now, I love cats as much as my wife does, although I had to acquire that affection for them over the years. What brought us together was our love for each other, but she then brought home a wonderful rescue dog from Assisi called Autumn. That is the dog we have now. That dog was abused and very fearful. She had a particular fear of men; I only had to raise my voice a bit and her tail would be between her legs. It took a number of years for that dog to come around. She is some seven years down the line, and is loving her life. Sandra and I could not imagine life without her.

Autumn and so many others like her are the reason I abhor online shopping for animals because of the lack of regulation and the potential for abuse of the system that is in place to protect animal welfare. That is why the debate is so important. Members have made pertinent contributions, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I have spoken on many occasions against puppy farms, and the need to see the dog in the home with the mum, not in a Tesco car park, as the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) said. It may happen in Tesco or any other big car park so that they can get lost in the crowd.

We need to prevent some of the horror stories that we hear daily of the maltreatment of animals in puppy farms. Covid-19 exacerbated the online sale of animals, there is no doubt about that. People were seeking companionship and needed something to fill that gap. Charities such as Blue Cross and Dogs Trust sent me and others briefings stating that they understood that many pets are bought and sold on the internet in the 21st century. Therefore, we must work together with classified websites, social media platforms, charities and the Minister to ensure that the online marketplace is as safe as possible for people to buy and sell animals.

How do we improve it? I look to my Minister and my Government. My preference would be to end all online sales, but I understand that that is how the world now operates, so it may not be possible. I would suggest that we bring in regulations to change the situation. We need to ensure that enforceable legislation is place. Blue Cross has urged the Government to legislate to make the Pet Advertising Advisory Group’s minimum standards a legal requirement for website selling animals.

Furthermore, the Government and the Minister must look at the legislation introduced in France in 2016, which is a good example of how we can do this. I am not fond of everything that comes out of Europe—that is not a secret—but if France can do something with that legislation, why can we not at least look at it? The legislation mandated the inclusion of tax numbers in all online pet adverts. I suggest that we ascertain whether something similar would be workable across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As someone who is usually sceptical of additional regulation, it is not often that I advocate for it, but as a bare minimum we must introduce those minimum standards. However, I do not believe that that is the end of our obligations. I ask the Minister whether consideration has been given to appointing a working group to tease out the best way of fulfilling our animal welfare obligations to a high standard, which is what we all want to do, including the Minister, and not to the bare minimum standard that is apparent today.

How can we allow reputable businesses to continue their trade? Not everybody is in the puppy farm business; some do it the right way, and we have to ensure that they are rewarded and can continue to do so, while ferreting out those who have no concern for the animal that they are selling, or the home that they are placing it into. The debate has given us a chance to reiterate our commitment to doing better than we are. I know that the Minister, like myself, is keen to have something in place that works for the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the regions of the United Kingdom. How are we ensuring that puppies from puppy farms in the Republic of Ireland cannot come through Northern Ireland into Scotland and the rest of the mainland?

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
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It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell, and to sum up the debate for the Scottish National party. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who set the scene in such a detailed way and who often speaks on animal welfare matters. She laid out the crux of the matter for the Minister, and why this is such an important debate to so many right across the United Kingdom.

I also pay a special tribute to Richard Ackers, who is in the Gallery and has spearheaded this wonderful campaign, paying tribute in such an important and compassionate way to the life of Reggie in order to ensure that his sad life and death were not in vain. Much good can come from his story. This little puppy has stolen the hearts of many people across the United Kingdom, and is now spearheading a campaign to ensure that no other puppies and pets go through the same trauma that he did, or a similar trauma.

I pay tribute to many of the hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken. It has been a fantastic debate. As was mentioned, it has been difficult to disagree with anything that has been said so far, which is somewhat unusual but very—

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Refreshing.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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It makes me feel extremely positive, and as the hon. Member says it is refreshing in this House.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) spoke about cats and rabbits too, which was important. As chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, I tend to have a focus on dogs, which I think, until he met his wife, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) had, too. It is important that we realise that there are huge sales of other types of pet too, and this type of regulation can have a wide-ranging impact. Many Members have spoken, including the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), the hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who I joined last week at the door of No. 10, with Rick.