My Lords, the Government are reviewing the legislation relating to the licensing system for dog breeding, animal boarding, riding establishments and pet shops. The intention is to update the legislation, streamline the licensing process and improve animal welfare. Over the summer, we consulted informally with local authorities, business interests and animal welfare charities, which are all largely supportive of change. We are planning a public consultation on this issue shortly.
I thank the Minister for that reply. We need new legislation to tackle the appalling conditions that thousands of puppies suffer in the UK when they are bred for sale. Do the Government agree that no puppies should be sold under eight weeks and that all people selling puppies and dogs should have a licence, which will then give local authorities the resources to tackle puppy farming?
My Lords, this is clearly a very important issue. It is already an offence for licensed breeders to sell puppies aged under eight weeks, except to pet shops. Clearly, the current arrangements are that if you are in the business of breeding and selling dogs, you must be licensed. Anyone producing five or more litters at the moment should be licensed, but we are consulting on this. We think that a lowering of the threshold to three litters per annum would be a sensible way forward. But we are consulting on these matters and I would very much welcome an opportunity to discuss them with the noble Baroness.
My Lords, in recent years we have seen the emergence of major new threats to our pet animal health. We have seen the growth of the internet trade, which can be easily exploited by unscrupulous sellers, to the detriment of the health of the animals; we have seen the growth in the fashion for exotic animals as pets, which for the most part are totally unsuitable; and we have seen the emergence of puppy-smuggling, mainly from eastern Europe, under the guise of the pet travel scheme, which is detrimental to the health of the puppies, and a threat to our biosecurity and, indeed, to public health. Many feel that our current legislation is inadequate to control these threats. What are the Government planning to do to counteract these threats?
My Lords, one of the reasons we wish to update the Pet Animals Act 1951, which sets controls on pet animals, is that pets are of course now traded online. We would make it clear that anyone trading pets online as part of a business is indeed operating a pet shop and should be licensed accordingly. On the question of pet imports, there is both the pet travel scheme for dogs, cats and ferrets and the Balai directive, which is about the rules governing the commercial trade and import of animals. We are working on this: the Chief Veterinary Officer has been in dialogue with Lithuania, Romania and Hungary, and we are seeking improvements.
Is my noble friend aware that the situation with regard to the breeding of cats is even worse than it is for dogs, because they enjoy no special protection under the law? What has happened to the regulations promised under the Animal Welfare Act which would help deal with this terrible crisis?
My Lords, although microchipping of dogs is compulsory, we do not require it for cats. Nevertheless, we strongly advise that owners microchip their cats. The point is that cats often do not represent quite the same challenges as dogs in terms of straying and other matters, but I will bear what my noble friend has said in mind.
My Lords, the Minister has told us that the regulations may be extended so that more potential vendors of pets will come under the ambit of local authorities. Can he tell us how local authorities will be expected to enforce these regulations, given that the area of enforcement and the regulatory officers concerned have probably suffered cuts of 40% over the last five years, with more to come?
My Lords, local authorities are required to enforce dog-breeding legislation and have powers to charge a fee to applicants on a cost-recovery basis. Indeed, there have been some very good examples of local authorities and the police working together with animal welfare bodies. There was a case in Manchester, for instance, in which the perpetrators have not only been jailed and fined but banned from keeping animals for life.
My noble friend mentioned the very high volume of trade that takes place over the internet. Do I understand from the Minister that the Government intend to make sure that anyone advertising puppies for sale on the internet will have to have a licence number?
There is a Pet Advertising Advisory Group. It is voluntary, and co-ordinated by the Dogs Trust. That is where we think great work can be done. Already, 130,000 inappropriate advertisements have been taken down. We are trying through the consultation to direct all the energies of local authorities at those breeders who are not playing by the rules.
My Lords, I am glad to hear that two issues are being reviewed, but two have not been mentioned. Puppies have been mentioned, yes, but no one has mentioned how many litters a bitch might have in a year. I have seen bitches in a dreadful state because they have produced one litter after another. Secondly, it is not just the condition of the puppies that is important but their age and exactly what is being imported.
My Lords, it is absolutely clear and one of our three pieces of advice for prospective owners that they should never buy a puppy that is younger than eight weeks. Indeed, part of the agreements on the importation of pets is precisely a requirement that no animals for commercial sale are imported aged under eight weeks. That is a very important part of the equation.
My Lords, I am delighted to endorse what my noble friend said. Many of us who have enjoyed the partnership and friendship of dogs will know that they are a vital part of many people’s lives. Whether working dogs, guide dogs or pets, they are a great joy. It is very important that we are responsible owners.