MPs seek ban on pet shop puppies

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MPs have called on the government to ban the sale of puppies and kittens in high street pet shops.

In a backbench debate, Labour MP Robert Flello said the animals are often bred in unsanitary puppy farms, where they are separated from their mums too early.

Such conditions contributed to serious genetic health problems and behavioural issues, he told MPs, and demanded an end to the "cruel and unnecessary practice".

He said prospective dog owners should either adopt from a reputable refugee shelter, or a responsible breeder where puppy and mother are seen interacting together.

MPs from across the House joined calls for a ban on the retailing of puppies and kittens in pet shops, garden centres and puppy supermarkets. They said existing legislation was not robust enough to deal with the problem, and insisted it was time for further action.

Many MPs professed themselves to be keen animal lovers and took the opportunity to name their pets, ensuring they are forever immortalised in the parliamentary transcripts known as Hansard.

Former Lib Dem coalition minister Paul Burstow said there could be "no justification" for the retailing of puppies and kittens in pet shops, and criticised the "commodification" of the animals.

Welsh Lib Dem Roger Williams, Brecon and Radnorshire MP, said demand for cheap pedigree puppies and kittens had enabled "unscrupulous" breeders and dealers to make large amounts of money "without any consideration" for the animals' welfare.

Conservative Hexham MP Guy Opperman recommended a register of cats and dogs to improve traceability, while party colleague Dominic Raab called for "random inspections" of puppy farms and a "zero tolerance" approach to poor standards.

However, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee chair Anne McIntosh pointed out that pet shops are already regulated, and suggested there should be greater emphasis on the role of self-regulation and public information.

The Conservative MP said it was "self evident" potential owners should not be buying puppies or kittens where the mother is absent, and asked. "Do we need to legislate that? Isn't that something we just need to go out and educate the public on?"

Conservative Sir Edward Leigh - who revealed his upset at his own dog's recent passing - held the view that it would be better to enforce existing legislation "rather than add to the already deep panoply".

Ex-Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was firmly of the opinion that further government action is necessary to improve puppy and kitten welfare, in addition to better-enforcing existing laws.

She welcomed the motion's emphasis on raising public awareness, as "a lot of people" are unaware of the "grim" background of pet shop animals.

For Labour, shadow environment minister Angela Smith warned that the challenges raised by the sale of kittens and puppies in pet shops for animal welfare was "only the tip of the iceberg", and cited the "growing" trade in online pet sales.

She said Labour was committed to working with animal welfare organisations to review the trade in breeding and sale of puppies and kittens.

Defra Minister George Eustice, summing up, told MPs that a new voluntary code on pet sales in operation since the start of the year has resulted in 100,000 adverts from "backstreet breeders" being removed from the internet.

In addition, he said, puppies cannot be legally imported into Britain unless they are at least 15 weeks old, under new EU rules on pet passports.

The minister said cats and dogs are sold in about 2% of pet shops, which are licensed and regulated under the 1951 Pets and Animals Act, and confirmed that local authorities have powers to restrict the number of animals sold.

But Mr Eustice acknowledged there is "much that can be done" to strengthen existing regulations, as he underlined the government's commitment to improving animal welfare.

He promised that further guidance would be issued to local authorities to provide clarity on enforcement of rules.

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