I have been contacted by many constituents who asked me to attend the Backbench Business Debate which was recently held on animal welfare. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the debate due to other Parliamentary and constituency meetings but I do note the concerns which have been raised.

The debate focused on a recent report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and in particular on the issues of pet sales by third parties and sentencing for animal cruelty offences.  

The Government responded to the Committee's recommendations in full, noting the conclusions of its recent consultation on introducing a new Animal Activities Licence. The Government’s response to its consultation can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/jmjo8ut

Under these proposals, anyone breeding and selling three litters or more within twelve months will need to be licensed by their local authority, as will anyone breeding commercially. The Licence will also cover pet shops, boarding houses and riding stables, increasing the number of people in England who need a licence from 600 to around 5,000.

Breeders will be required to demonstrate that: the animals have suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding material; they are adequately exercised and visited; and all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent infection. They will also have to include their licence number when advertising.

Currently, dogs bred by a breeder in business receive additional protection in the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 from being sold through an unlicensed pet shop or being sold at less than either weeks old.  

The Government's plans will apply the same strict licensing criteria to pet sales over the internet, which I welcome. This will help to make reputable sellers easily accessible to prospective buyers.  

However, I am concerned that a ban in third-party sales would be extremely difficult to enforce. It would require local authorities, already under pressure to enforce licensing requirements, to expend further resources verifying that all sales to end customers were being handled directly by the breeder. There is also concern that such a ban could drive sales onto the black market, which would be worse for the animals involved.  

In relation to sentencing, the UK already has a robust legal framework to tackle this vicious behaviour in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

When sentencing in cases of animal cruelty, the courts must decide what penalty should apply in each case, taking into account its circumstances and the Sentencing Council's guidelines. Currently, in addition to the maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine, the courts can also disqualify offenders from keeping animals. While this issue is kept under review, recent experience does not suggest that the courts are finding their current sentencing powers inadequate.

You can read the Minister’s reply to the debate in full here: https://goo.gl/EnwnqI