Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 587654, relating to regulation of online animal sales.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. This petition, entitled “#Reggieslaw—Regulate online animal sales”, closed with over 109,000 signatures, and states:
“Given how many animals are sold online, we want Government to introduce regulation of all websites where animals are sold. Websites should be required to verify the identity of all sellers, and for young animals for sale pictures with their parents be posted with all listings.”
I volunteered to lead on this petition because my daughter had a dog called Reggie. He was part of our family for many years, and we loved him so much that it broke our hearts when he tragically died from cancer. I met with the petitioner, Richard, who told me that he started the petition after he bought his 12-week-old Labrador puppy Reggie through a reputable website for his partner for Christmas, and then realised that he had unknowingly contributed to illegal puppy farming. Richard, who is with us in the Public Gallery tonight, bravely concedes that he should have done more research before buying Reggie and should have walked away, which would have prevented the seller from getting more money to continue acts of animal cruelty. However, Reggie would still have died.
Richard gave Reggie love, dignity and pain relief throughout his very short life. Reggie fell ill 12 hours after Richard took him home, and died from parvovirus after two days. When Richard bought Reggie, he thought that Reggie was from St Helens, Merseyside, but when he went back to the address where he had bought Reggie, he found that the seller had gone. The microchip number for Reggie did not match the documentation and was registered to Dublin, Ireland, so Richard believes that Reggie was illegally shipped to the UK. Richard started Justice For Reggie to raise awareness of the dangers of online animal sales, which is part of the Animal Welfare Alliance, which he also set up and is made up of a number of animal websites.
Richard would like the Government to establish a regulatory board to regulate all animal sales websites, and that these websites should be verified before they are set up. He would like it to be a legal requirement to have pictures of puppies suckling on their mother, and to identify online sellers, in that every seller should produce a photo ID and two proof-of-address documents to prove by whom, and from where, the pet is sold. Last week, Richard walked 200 miles from his home in Wigan to hand in a petition to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street, and I know that some Members who will speak in tonight’s debate met Richard at Downing Street to show their support.
The Government responded to the petition on 1 July 2021, saying:
“The Government shares the public’s high regard for animal welfare. We endorse the Pet Advertising Advisory Group’s work and support their actions to improve the traceability of online vendors.”
Their response mentioned the UK Government’s Petfished campaign, and said that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will end puppy smuggling, as it
“includes powers to introduce new restrictions on pet travel and the commercial import of pets on welfare grounds, via secondary legislation.”
It went on to say that the UK Government’s pet theft taskforce is considering different measures to stop pet theft, including the regulation of online sales, a voluntary code of practice and a certification scheme for compliant websites to encourage sites to increase checks. Sales should be cashless to improve traceability. It also said that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs planned to launch an online advertising programme to assess whether the Government need to strengthen the regulatory framework around online advertising, with a consultation expected before the end of this year.
I am sure Members are aware that animal welfare is a devolved matter. There is no specific legislation on acquiring a pet online; however, the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 cover, among other things, dog and cat breeding and selling animals as pets, as licensed by local authorities. Dog breeding is defined as “three or more” litters a year or where that is regarded as a business by a local authority. “Selling animals as pets” covers selling and selling on, whether bred by the seller or not. The regulations require an advertisement for an animal sale to include the licence number, the licensing authority, the age of the animal, a photo, country of origin and residence, and require that the animal be in good health. Dogs must be sold in the presence of the purchaser and from the premises in which they are kept.
In April 2020, Lucy’s law amended the regulations to prohibit the commercial sale of dogs and cats under six months other than by the breeder. However, the regulations do not apply to private animal sellers. Perhaps the Minister will consider amending them to include private sales. I have met a number of animal organisations to listen to their views on animal online sales, and there was broad support for reform.
PAAG, the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, was set up in 2001 to combat growing concerns about irresponsible advertising of pets for sale, rehoming and exchange. It is made up of 25 animal welfare organisations, trade associations and veterinary bodies, and is endorsed by DEFRA and the devolved Administrations. PAAG is concerned about poor welfare standards, lack of information about a pet’s history, offloading sick pets, dealers posing as private sellers, and pets ending up with unsuitable owners who, for example, use them in dog fights.