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Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill | Commons debates

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. “Coronation Street”, like all the soaps, does quite a good job in helping to educate us about some of these issues.

I had to look online for information to ensure I was making the right choices. We ended up finding somebody who had brought a rescue dog over from Ukraine and had realised that the dog was pregnant, which they had not known at the time. The dog gave birth to only one puppy, which is quite rare and often means that the dog has had some maltreatment. We adopted that puppy, who was born in this country, with the mother having been brought over from Ukraine.

Lots of constituents have been in touch about this issue and lots of Members have given statistics showing why it is important that we take action. We are talking about a multimillion-pound industry across countries, with UK sales of up to 2 million puppies annually and a value of anything up to £2 billion. Some 50% of the industry is illegal or unlicensed. As the illegal trade has changed, so have its production systems. We were given many helpful briefings, from many organisations, for this debate. One from Battersea tells us that

“farms breeding puppies on an industrial scale are just as likely to be found in urban tower blocks, or warehouses in Eastern Europe, as they are in ramshackle, shiveringly cold, and filthy cages in sheds and shacks on repurposed smallholdings.”

A Four Paws report on the illegal puppy trade in the UK found that more than 30% of imported puppies were from Romania alone. According to respondents to Cats Protection’s “Cats and Their Stats” 2023 survey, 3% of the cats that were obtained in the 12 months preceding the survey were from abroad, which equates to 50,000 cats—there was no clarity as to the conditions.

As has been said, puppies and kittens that are imported too young face a much higher risk of developing illnesses or suffering an early death. I should have congratulated the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), who made an excellent speech and knows much more about this and the impact that these things can have on our animals. I listened with great interest and learnt a lot during his speech. Raising the age minimum in this regard will allow animals to grow older and it will protect them a bit more from travelling long and stressful journeys. It would be welcome and would stop a lot of the sales of those very young pets; we do see that online and it is easy to find, with multiple adverts where young puppies or kittens are being advertised as four, five or six weeks old and ready for homing.

As I have said, puppy smuggling is an unchecked criminal activity, which causes suffering to animals and heartache and financial cost to their owners. It helps fund wider organised crime and presents an evidenced disease transmission threat. My constituents are very pleased with the hon. Member for North Devon for introducing this legislation. We have talked a lot about enforcement and the concerns that a piece of legislation is only as good as the enforcement that goes with it. The enforcement of existing laws and regulations is not adequate, so I have significant questions about enforcement. However, the Bill is a step on the journey in the right direction, and, on behalf of the dog, cat and ferret lovers in Croydon, I welcome it.