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Pet Animal Welfare

Volume 264: debated on Wednesday 18 October 1995

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3.35 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to control the sale of animals in pet shops and the breeding of dogs; and for connected purposes.
My Bill aims to end puppy farming, to control the sale of animals to young people, to ban the importing of exotic pets and to modify the quarantine system in this country. I realise at this late stage of the parliamentary year that my chances of legislative success are even less than my chances of entering the kingdom of heaven—or indeed the shadow Cabinet, although I am assured by my more ambitious colleagues that the two are one and the same place.

It is not my intention to stop people enjoying the company of animals and pets; rather I intend to promote the welfare of animals through effective regulation of the pet trade.

I shall deal first with the scandal of puppy farming, and begin by paying a warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) for his tireless efforts to stamp it out.

The trade began in earnest in 1984. Amazingly, it seems that the Agricultural Development Advisory Service suggested at that time that farmers struggling because of EC milk quotas should go into puppy farming. More recently, public awareness of this vile practice has been heightened following campaigns by organisations such as the National Canine Defence League, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Puppy Watch and the News of the World. That paper may occasionally catch out some politico doing naughty things but it sure knows how to run an effective animal welfare campaign. Any newspaper that concentrates on the sex lives of Members of Parliament and the cruel mistreatment of animals will never run out of copy.

Remarkably, there are probably about 1,000 puppy farms in west Wales alone, but the trade thrives across Britain, with an estimated 200,000 dogs being produced each year from puppy farms. Owing to a loophole in the law, anyone can set up a puppy farm, although the 1992 legislation now allows local authorities and the RSPCA to inspect premises.

I should like to outline the main areas of concern in respect of these farms. They involve indiscriminate and unprincipled breeding, with bitches often kept in appalling conditions. They are bred twice a year, to exhaustion, typically over an eight-year period, and then disposed of—all for profit, not the betterment of the breed.

This disgusting process also involves puppies being removed from their mothers soon after birth and transported hundreds of miles before being purchased by unsuspecting people wanting a pet. Some of the vile people involved in the trade are now exporting to the far east in the certain knowledge, I believe, that some of the dogs will end up in a pot or on a plate. We have the nerve to describe ourselves as a country of animal lovers, yet we do nothing about these dog factories, despite extensive public opposition.

A survey earlier this month carried out on behalf of the National Canine Defence League revealed that 95 per cent. of vets are against the mass breeding of puppies on puppy farms; 84 per cent. believe that their clients are unlikely to know whether their puppies have been mass-bred; 63 per cent. of these same vets felt that hereditary disorders are more likely with this process; and 76 per cent. felt that not seeing the puppies' mothers made it more difficult to judge the likelihood of their developing physical or mental disorders.

Finally, a massive 91 per cent. believe that the lack of socialisation causes more problems as animals grow older. Perhaps that has been the reason for many, if not all, of the cases in which a seemingly docile family pet suddenly becomes an aggressive creature capable of savaging or killing members of the family. The first thing that any potential puppy owner should insist on is seeing the mother. If the breeder or pet shop cannot or will not do that, the advice must be to refuse to purchase.

It is the intention of my Bill to secure the better enforcement by local authorities of existing legislation, in particular the Breeding of Dogs Acts 1973 and 1991. I also wish to secure much tighter legislation on licensing and animal welfare, since, in breeding, the interests of the dog must come first. It is essential that puppies stay with their mothers for at least eight weeks and have social contact with humans before joining a family. It would also greatly assist the welfare of what we describe as our best friend if one Government Department rather than a whole clutch of them were designated responsible for all aspects relating to dogs.

Although I have reservations, I still believe that it is good for a child to be brought up with a pet. Social contact with a suitable pet can teach affection, knowledge and respect for animals at an early age, and with more of that we might be able to avoid much of the brutality that so many perverted individuals inflict on animals.

To encourage responsible pet ownership, my Bill would make it illegal to sell an animal to any person under 16. At present, the law allows the sale to any child of 12 or more. There is already widespread support for such a change, from the public, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Members of Parliament on both sides of the House, and the Pet Trade and Industry Association. Its adoption into law would also put the country into line with the European convention on the protection of pet animals. I would warn Conservative Members that, in the Government's rush to deregulate, they should not further weaken the already inadequate controls over the sale of animals through pet shops.

Keeping an animal for a pet, should involve great commitment. A pet should never be reduced to the indignity of being a mere present to please a child at Christmas or a birthday. Nor should a pet be an exotic creature captured in the wild for our pleasure. Anyone who keeps a fashionably exotic animal, such as a snake, alligator, pot-bellied pig, monkey or parrot, either knows a lot about them or is a fool. Regrettably, we know that a significant number of fools think that they know how to keep an exotic pet, and the result is so often tragic for the animal.

In my opinion, there is little if any justification for keeping such animals, and we should impose either a ban or much tougher and enforced regulation. There is overwhelming evidence that well over 50 per cent. of wild birds exported from third-world countries die between capture and final destination. This is not trade; it is mass slaughter, and it must be stopped. European Union countries have banned the export of their own native wild bird species, yet the Union remains the world's largest importer of birds. Ideally, we should stop the trade altogether. I pay credit to airlines such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin, KLM and others that are refusing to transport wild birds. Those airlines are setting an example to European Governments, who must now respond by refusing to grant import licences.

I would wish my Bill to contain changes to the archaic British quarantine system, along the lines of the recommendations from our own Agriculture Select Committee. We should replace the quarantine system with a modern one based on vaccinations, antibody testing and approved identification. The present system, in my opinion, merely succeeds in parting responsible owners from their pets and condemning many pets to a miserable life and death in quarantine. Our present quarantine system seems more voodoo than veterinary and it should be changed forthwith.

For all those connected reasons concerning the welfare of pets, I beg leave to be allowed to introduce my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

The usual list of suspects, Madam Speaker.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Alan Williams, Mr. Elliot Morley, Mr. Ron Davies, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Simon Hughes, Miss Kate Hoey, Ms Diane Abbott, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Chris Mullin and Mr. Tony Benn.