It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) on bringing this important debate to us today.
I grew up with animals of all sorts, in an old farmhouse, and am the proud owner of three fairly noisy but lovely dogs. I was involved in various television series in the 1990s, and because of that I got involved in breaking up a puppy farming ring in Wales. It is a shame we had to do that, but it taught me a lesson. I went with a journalist and we posed as a youngish couple looking for a puppy. We insisted on seeing the dam. We wanted to see the mother of the puppies. A Cavalier King Charles was brought out—and not in the best of health. The little puppy that came along, which ultimately we named Pixie, was pretty poorly as well. We went through the process of buying the puppy because we wanted to tell the story to the world, and expose it. The atmosphere at the farm up in the hills of Wales was intimidating. The people in question wanted us to meet at a petrol station on the M4 and exchange the puppies there. They did not really want us to come to the farm, but we insisted and they wanted to do the deal, so we went to the farm. We were not allowed to see much of the farm, apart from the entrance and the room in which we were locked while they went to get the puppy and her dam.
The good news is that the coverage we got from that visit to the Welsh hill farm was enough to close down the operation in question. Because of that experience, I know something about the dreadful conditions into which puppies can be born. Those conditions should shame us all. It is wrong that unscrupulous dealers are breeding for profit and selling on through third parties with little regard for the animals’ welfare. It is about profit, and we should recognise that the practice has a serious impact on the animals themselves, through their lives. They have behavioural and physical difficulties. As we have heard, some are born without paws, and so on, and they have shorter lifespans. We need to do something about that. One of my dogs is an 18-year-old Jack Russell—bless her cotton socks. She had three litters very early on, and we managed to rescue her. She has had a happy life and continues to do so. We call her Hopalong Minnie. I shall of course support Lucy’s law, and we must move towards the objective of freeing the animals in question from terrible conditions.
The Government introduced a raft of measures to crack down on unscrupulous puppy breeders, which I support and welcome. I also fully support the Government’s call for evidence on a possible ban on third-party sales. The sooner we get the ban, the better. Otherwise, as the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said, every day is a wasted day. We must get on top of the problem. A ban on third-party sales is the only response to the situation, and it would, as we have heard, be warmly welcomed by the RSPCA, the Kennel Club and many other important organisations in the sector. It would, of course, delight the people who signed the petition. I gather that the number of signatures went up extremely quickly—from zero to suddenly more than 100,000. It is fantastic to hear that. I ask the Minister to bear in mind the view of the RSPCA that the ban must be introduced alongside the measures the Government have already introduced. As its deputy chief executive Chris Wainwright put it:
“Together, these moves will offer better protection to puppies and their parents and reduce the number of families duped by rogue traders in this illegal multi-million-pound trade.”
Experts are clear that if we are to deal effectively with the issue, we need to ban third-party sales while implementing the measures to crack down on unscrupulous puppy breeders. Those two things cannot be separated. I ask that Lucy’s law be introduced without delay.
I believe we should recognise that many people who pick up a dog do not understand or appreciate what it means to own a dog. I raised the point about education and ignorance earlier; it is not deliberate cruelty. That was demonstrated effectively to me recently, when I was out with a fantastic local RSPCA chief inspector, Samantha Garvey, who deserves all the plaudits we could give her. We went from dwelling to dwelling, visiting several sites where dogs and some other animals were in awful conditions, and in the end we ended up rescuing a German Shepherd that was close to death. She had sores all over her body and could hardly walk. As the law stands in this country animals cannot just be seized; the owners have to be told: “This animal will die unless something is done about it now.” The people who work for the RSPCA and go into those terrible conditions are amazing. We persuaded the owners to let us have the dog, and I am pleased to report that Tee is now doing rather well and has recovered.
To conclude, I ask the Minister to bear in mind the strength of public feeling. The Government must consider their response to the call for evidence. Let us get Lucy’s law enacted as soon as we possibly can.
Watch the speech here.
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