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Animal Welfare: Puppy Farms

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 7 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to close down puppy farms that breach animal welfare standards and to apprehend gangs that sell illegally bred and imported puppies to buyers across the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government take these matters very seriously and that is why we are reviewing the legislation on dog breeding and pet shops in England. Local authorities already investigate welfare concerns over dog breeding establishments and can revoke a licence to operate. Checks on pet dogs are carried out at the UK border, with commercial imports being certified by official veterinarians. The Animal and Plant Health Agency carries out inland checks on imported dogs.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I hope that he, like many others, was appalled at the recent “Panorama” programme which showed industrial-scale dog breeding, with dogs producing endless litters trapped in crates with no natural light. This market is proving lucrative for some very unsavoury gangs who are trading so-called pedigree puppies—some bred in the UK and some illegally imported from abroad. Does the Minister accept that the Government already have the powers to clean up this trade if they want to? For example, they could block wholesale puppy imports which are abusing the pet travel scheme that was designed for family pets, ensure that all puppies have legitimate documentation, including their place of birth, and ensure that we really enforce the proper welfare standards of all breeding establishments in the UK. Why do the Government not act on these now?

My Lords, as I say, the Government take these matters extremely seriously. It is indeed the whole basis of what we are doing in the consultations. We are now assessing the 1,500 responses on the matter. They are precisely designed for what we wish to do—to enhance animal welfare outcomes. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that there are existing powers, but we think that the review will enable us to modernise the law so that they meet the new challenges and, indeed, improve enforcement, which is so vital.

My Lords, the Kennel Club has done a great deal to publicise the importance of seeing a puppy with its mother and in a good social environment. It is pretty obvious that some of these farmed puppies must be taken to veterinary surgeons. Is there any provision for the vets to report suspicious circumstances to either Defra or Trading Standards?

My Lords, the noble Countess is absolutely right that it is most desirable for someone wishing to buy a puppy to always see it with its mother and to go to a reputable dealer. The Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme is an excellent industry gold standard; I endorse it as one of the breeders. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it would be the responsibility of those concerned about breaches of animal welfare to report them to the police or the local authority.

My Lords, puppy dealers can make millions of pounds a year and yet face only six months in jail if they cause the death of hundreds of dogs through puppy trading. Is it not time that the Government acted, as happens in Northern Ireland, and increased the maximum sentence for animal welfare offences to five years?

Obviously, I do not want to pre-empt what will happen with the review of the consultation but I shall certainly take that point back. I cannot promise that that will be part of the proposals as yet. However, it is a very interesting point and I will reflect on it.

My Lords, I recall from my time at Defra that online advertising of pets was an increasing problem. Can my noble friend tell me what the Government are able to do about that issue?

My Lords, my noble friend had a lot to do with this when he was at Defra and it is certainly the case that people are looking increasingly to buy their pet online. That is why the department supports the voluntary Pet Advertising Advisory Group. Indeed, more than a 130,000 inappropriate advertisements have been removed from the six main websites only last year.

My Lords, is it not the case that we will continue to have such problems until we have a dog licence system and local authorities are given the resources to police it?

My Lords, 86% of dogs are now microchipped and we believe that that is the way forward, not the dog licence system. Certainly, that is making a considerable difference in terms of rehoming pets to their owners and reducing the cost to local authorities and stray homes. Local authorities, of course, have the powers to retrieve the costs of licences.

Will my noble friend give the figures for those dogs that are currently being microchipped? Will the Government send out the message that no puppy should be sold when the mother of the dog—the bitch—is not present?

As I say, my Lords, our advice to prospective owners is to see the puppy with its mother and never to buy a puppy younger than eight weeks. That is really important and I would encourage responsible pet owners to reflect on that advice.

Well, I am sure that is the case, but I have always reflected that dogs very often look like their owners.