Motion to Approve
My Lords, this statutory instrument establishes a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens under six months of age. After six months, the puppy or kitten is then legally classified as a dog or cat.
Under animal activity licensing regulations brought in last year, it is not permitted for anyone to sell a puppy or kitten under the age of eight weeks. During this time, the animal should be in the care of its mother. After eight weeks, it is safe for them to be brought to a new and caring home. However, commercial third-party sales often take puppies and kittens when they are far too young and raise them in inappropriate environments, which evidence shows is damaging to the animal’s welfare. Third-party sellers drive unscrupulous breeding.
This legislation is the next crucial step in eradicating the abuses of unscrupulous breeding, puppy farming and illegal smuggling. This is a continuing part of the Government’s agenda to increase animal welfare in this country. This ban will give puppies and kittens a better possible start in life.
This issue has been brought into higher profile by committed campaigners and has overwhelming public support. It is popularly known as Lucy’s law as a result of the exceptional effort from the Lucy’s law campaign group, to whom I express appreciation. Lucy was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel who died in 2016 after suffering terrible conditions on a puppy farm in Wales. Her plight inspired the Lucy’s law campaign. Welfare organisations big and small, and members of the public, have supported Lucy’s law. This legislation follows a call for evidence and a public consultation which received over 6,500 responses, of which 96% were supportive.
This ban builds on the new licensing regulations which came into force in October 2018, introducing a range of welfare improvements for dog breeding and pet sales. Defra is also updating the statutory guidance for the activity of selling animals as pets to take account of this ban on third-party sales. The changes to the guidance are intended to assist local authority inspectors and licence holders by outlining how they can determine whether a licence holder bred the puppies themselves and clarifying that non-commercial rehoming does not require a licence. The guidance will outline how to distinguish between legitimate rescue and rehoming operations and those that are a front for unscrupulous breeding. Local authorities will also be required to notify existing licence holders of the change so that they can prepare appropriately. The draft guidance has been shared with the sector and will be finalised before the ban comes into force in April 2020.
This statutory instrument implements the third-party sales ban by making an amendment to the parent regulations, the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. The commercial sale of pets is already a licensable activity, and the amendment means that licensed pet sellers, including pet shops and dealers, will no longer be able to sell puppies or kittens under the age of six months unless they themselves have bred the animals. The ban will enter into force on 6 April 2020. The additional time before the ban coming into force will allow the sector to prepare. We believe that, if the ban is rushed, it may encourage the abandonment of puppies and their mothers or other unscrupulous activity.
This statutory instrument applies to England only, because the parent regulations apply in England only. Animal welfare is a fully devolved issue, and the respective parts of the United Kingdom have slightly different approaches to the licensing of pet sellers and other animal activities. I understand that, in Wales, a three-month consultation has recently concluded on banning third-party sales. The Welsh Government are now considering the responses. In Northern Ireland, there is support for a similar ban to be introduced, and officials in DAERA are following developments in England closely. Scotland has committed to reform the licensing of sanctuaries, breeders and pet shops and is considering a ban on third-party sales.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of puppies and kittens are purchased or adopted. Unsuspecting families can often be tricked during this trade by unscrupulous dealers who conduct high-volume, low-welfare operations such as puppy farms and sell via commercial sellers.
It is necessary to pass this important piece of legislation today, but we should not view it in isolation. Enforcement is fundamental. Defra is working closely with local authorities to ensure that the legislation is properly enforced. Every local authority that receives an application for a licence to sell pets is required to appoint a suitably qualified inspector and inspect the premises. To ensure that the inspections are high quality, inspectors now have to have a level 3 qualification in animal welfare inspection. They are legally obliged to do that and they have power to recover costs from the fees they charge, including costs covering the reasonable anticipated costs of enforcement of the controls, including against unlicensed operators.
To supplement the ban further and to help the public make responsible purchasing decisions, the Government will be launching a comprehensive communications campaign on responsible sourcing of puppies and kittens. This, we believe, will ensure that people know where to go to find a pet safely.
The ban on third-party sales will protect and enhance the welfare of puppies and kittens, so that they are not subject to such unscrupulous breeders. This statutory instrument further affirms the Government’s position and desire to be world-leading in animal welfare. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the statutory instrument, which follows on from the many discussions we have had over recent years about the whole question of the pet trade. I am grateful to him for explaining the campaign for Lucy’s law. We were all well aware of it, and the response was overwhelming.
I think that he said that there were 6,500 responses, the majority very supportive of the measure. Can he share with us the concerns expressed by others who were not so fully supportive?
The use, abuse, breeding and smuggling of puppies and kittens over the years has been a disgrace. I am really proud that the Government have decided to tackle it in a complete way, while giving the various people involved in the trade until April 2020 to make alternative arrangements.
I have two other questions, although I support the instrument. On the whole question of pet shops, licensing and local government’s commitment to cover the costs, does local government already receive subsidy or some form of help for the inspection regime in place now? Will the charges that may be made by local authorities in future cover all inquiries or just specific issues that they are asked to consider?
My other question is on the whole issue of rescue and rehoming. Many people are tempted, because they want to help, to look to rescue and rehoming rather than buying a pet from a pet shop or a legitimate breeder. I was not sure from our brief where rescue and rehoming businesses—or charities—sat under the regulations.
Lastly, I turn again—we have talked about it before in Committee—to the individual who breeds but is not registered as someone who sells puppies or kittens. Previously, we have considered a breeder producing perhaps two sets of puppies before they would fall under the law. I was not at all sure about kittens. A little clarification on that would be very helpful.
Again, I thoroughly welcome the instrument and wish it good speed through the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her contribution. I sympathise with her on two points; I especially want to come back to her point about rehoming pets. I intend to speak only about puppies because I know about dogs; I have always had them. If I may say so, I have never bought them from a pet shop; I have always got them either through rehoming or direct from local farms.
I take the view that pets are not a fashion statement. Pets, especially dogs, are there for what they give to humans. They give us so much in terms of loyalty, comfort and affection. I must say, I welcome both the Government’s strategy on animal welfare and the regulations. I agree entirely with the BVA that they must be seen not as an isolated example but as part of a developing holistic approach. I was encouraged by the Minister’s point that this is the next step in the process. We will not be satisfied with that; we look forward to the step after it. We very much welcome the regulations and I take the Minister’s statement in the spirit in which it was made.
Of course, we live in a changing world. There are roughly 9 million dogs in this country—an increase of 400,000 since last year alone. I am afraid that the increase is partly due to fashion. We cannot affect it; people can do what they want and buy what they want with their money. However, importantly—the Government are aware of this—much more public communication is needed to get across to people what keeping a dog means and from where they can be bought. Again, I agree with the Government and am encouraged by the Minister talking about a comprehensive communication strategy. That is precisely what is needed because when most people, or at least a lot of them, acquire a dog, they are doing so for the first time and do not know what they are getting or what they want. On many occasions, they waste a lot of money through getting the wrong breed of dog. Of course, the regulations are here because unscrupulous people take advantage of that fact. It is very important that we try, gently, to educate the general public.
Coming back to rescuing and rehoming, the Government were encouraging, although they did not say a great deal about it. I have had rescue and rehomed dogs, and I have always been impressed by them. Now, the overwhelming majority of rescue establishments, whether they deal with specialised breeds such as collies or Labradors or are general establishments, maintain very high standards. That is what the regulations are partly about: high health standards. Most establishments have the animals microchipped and all of them allow the public to see the conditions in which the animals are kept. That is very important. It is not always available at a pet shop; you cannot see the conditions in which the dogs are kept 24 hours a day—that is probably a slight exaggeration, but basically all the time.
The noble Baroness raised a point about these rescue establishments; most of them are charities. Can the Minister clarify the position? As I understand it, these charities are exempt under the parent Act, if I can call it that. If that is the case, it is important that we monitor the charities as well—I am sure they would support that—because we must be sure that no unscrupulous dealers see this as a loophole in the system.
The online sale of animals is a bigger challenge than I can comprehend, and with social media it is a real challenge—not only for the Government handling it at the centre but for the local authorities, which in a sense ensure that the regulations are enforced.
In conclusion, I really support these regulations and the Government’s intent. I am encouraged by, and very much welcome, the Minister’s approach, but it will need careful monitoring.
My Lords, I too very much welcome the Minister’s introduction of this statutory instrument, and I declare my interests as set out in the register. This is a welcome step in the right direction. As the Minister has outlined, it extends measures in the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 so that puppies and kittens cannot be sold at less than six months old except by the licensed breeder and seller. Presumably they would need a licence as a breeder and as a seller. Does that require two licences, or will they be combined?
This measure is well justified on sound welfare grounds that have been described in detail and for some time by various animal welfare charities, the BVA, the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, as elucidated by the Minister, so I will not reiterate them. However, while most welcome, this measure in itself will address only partly the major issues of poor animal welfare and the illegal activities associated with the gross mismatch in the UK between demand for and supply of puppies in particular.
First, this measure will affect some 63 pet shops selling puppies and 129 licence-holders selling kittens. Their annual trade has been estimated at about 80,000 puppies per year. This compares with an estimated demand—this is Defra’s own figure—of 700,000 dogs per year. Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and others alluded to, not defining and regulating rescue and rehoming centres creates a loophole for the unscrupulous to exploit as third-party sellers. What plans do the Government have to regulate such centres? Thirdly, this measure does not address the vast scale of online sales—it is undoubtedly happening—of animals either illegally imported into or bred in the UK. Again, what measures are Her Majesty’s Government planning to tackle this serious problem?
This measure also removes the prohibition on purchasing animals whose sale is prohibited under these regulations. Given the profound problems of enforcement in this whole trade in live animals, is it not a severe hindrance to remove a legal obligation on the purchaser to verify the legitimacy of the seller and the animal being sold? Following the acceptance of these regulations, a buyer will now presumably be able to purchase an animal knowing it is illegal without fear. Why should they report such a seller to the authorities? I may be mistakenly interpreting the regulations but perhaps the Minister could clarify that point.
Returning to the gross mismatch between demand and supply of puppies—indeed, of dogs of all ages—evidence from the Dogs Trust and others shows that this is encouraging a vast criminal smuggling industry, which is not only cruel to the animals involved but seriously imperils the biosecurity of our own pet populations. The current regulations, I fear, will have little, if any, effect on limiting that illegal trade—indeed, they might increase it.
Given the scale of the illegal activities around, particularly, puppy and dog sales, the difficulty of enforcement—especially regarding online activities—and the major animal welfare and biosecurity issues involved, is it not time to positively address legal solutions to the supply-side problems, in a way that is consistent with good animal welfare, in addition to legislating against harmful practices, which will inevitably flourish when demand exceeds supply and penalties for illegal activities are so low?
I realise that the words “puppy farm” have a negative connotation, but this need not be so. There is no inherent reason why high-standard, well-regulated establishments to breed and sell dogs in numbers cannot do so with good welfare outcomes. This is not of course a government responsibility, but the Government could encourage, and perhaps incentivise, working with all relevant parties to explore this possibility.
I welcome these regulations but, as others have said, they must be part of a larger suite of measures involving carrot as well as stick to enable an appropriate and legal supply of animals of high welfare and health status that will provide wonderful pets.
My Lords, I declare my interests as an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association and as someone who has been breeding animals—and every now and again a dog.
I take it that this legislation will prevent anyone other than a breeder from selling an animal under six months. That will tidy up many of the pet shop problems which we all regard as serious.
I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to clear up a couple of matters. He and the Secondary Legislation Committee have said that local authorities will have to enforce these regulations, and my noble friend Lady Byford asked whether they would get any financial assistance to do so. The BVA is asking that anyone using a dog for breeding should be registered with the local authority. What is the Government’s view of this proposal? Will it be left to local authorities to enforce?
The 2018 regulations are to do with animals as pets. Can my noble friend clarify whether this could also include working dogs? We have had to go through the question of the docking of dogs’ tails, and in Scotland it has been allowed that working dogs do not have to have their tails docked. I am thinking particularly of working dogs—shepherding dogs, and possibly shooting dogs too, but I am more familiar with shepherding dogs. They are often bred by a working shepherd who does not want the job of rearing them. Some people are well known as good-quality rearers and will take the young dogs and bring them on. The dogs will be outside the scope of the regulations because they will be over six months old, and at that stage they will go to somebody who will train them. It is possible that someone could be hired to do that job but at present there is a turnover of animals in this area. I would be interested to hear whether there is any possibility of the regulations covering working dogs.
My Lords, what is the position regarding inspectors? I ask that because I was approached by a young man in our local authority who has birds of prey and various wild animals that he takes to shows. He applied for a licence and was told that it would cost him nearly £1,000, but friends of his in neighbouring local authority areas are being charged between £150 and £400. I inquired of the chief executive of our local authority why this was and he told me that it was because it had no inspectors up to level 3 and that a veterinary inspection would be required. I then checked and was told that there were very few training facilities taking inspectors up to level 3—in fact, there is only one—and the courses are fully booked months ahead. In addition, they cost £900, according to the chief executive. Will the same thing apply to people who want a licence for puppies and kittens? Will they be charged for a veterinary inspection because there are no level 3 inspectors? If not, what will happen?
My Lords, perhaps I may comment very briefly. First, I commend these regulations, along with the deep personal commitment that my noble friend has always shown to improving the welfare of our country’s cats and dogs. Secondly, is progress being made towards the legislation that will raise the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from the present derisory six months to five years? Northern Ireland has already introduced five years as the maximum penalty, and I think that England needs to be brought into line as fast as possible with that other magnificent part of the United Kingdom. My noble friend is aware of the deep importance that the wonderful organisations that work for the welfare of our country’s cats and dogs attach to the raising of the penalty. If he has some progress to report, I know that they will be very pleased to hear it.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his time and that of his officials in providing a briefing on this important statutory instrument. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA.
When we last debated puppy farming and the important measures and safeguards put in place, we raised the issue of regulating the import of puppies. The Government have now conducted their consultation and brought forward this SI to close the circle to help protect puppies and kittens. Although this is not a catch-all, and it is unlikely that any legislation will stop illegal practices, it goes a long way towards protecting young vulnerable animals against third-party sales.
Following the previous SI in October 2018, as the Minister has said, no puppy under eight weeks of age can be sold and it has to be shown with its mother by a licensed breeder when potential buyers come to view. This SI prevents non-licensed breeders selling puppies and kittens before they are six months old. This restriction covers pet shops and commercial dealers that are licensed dealers but not licensed breeders. This provides significant safeguards for the welfare of puppies and kittens.
Enforcement is to be carried out by local authorities who, as the Minister has stated, have powers to charge fees to cover their costs. This is extremely important as local authorities have been cash-strapped for a number of years. I am pleased that he was able to reassure us that local authorities will carry out training and recruitment of the necessary inspectors prior to the enforcement date of April 2020—although I am alarmed by what the noble Countess, Lady Mar, told us. It is also reassuring to know that better breeders can apply for a three-year licence and so avoid yearly costs.
As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, indicated, animal smuggling is a lucrative business, and the inspectors will need to be aware of what to look for when they visit premises where small animals are on sale to the public. My colleague and noble friend Lady Parminter, who is unfortunately unable to be with us this afternoon, asked the Minister in 2017 to make a commitment to increase the sanctions for animal cruelty; this has been referred to already. Can the Minister say why the Government have not responded? It is important that sanctions are sufficient to act as a realistic deterrent to those who mistreat animals and cause unnecessary suffering.
I am concerned that this legislation will not come into force until 2020. I hear what the Minister has said about that but I would like to press him on why this cannot be done sooner. Christmas comes between now and April 2020, and many families may succumb to the pressure to provide a kitten or puppy as a gift. It would be much better if pet shops were not able to display kittens or puppies in the run-up to Christmas, thus avoiding unnecessary misery and suffering. A new pet for Christmas is often followed by abandonment in January.
Can the Minister provide reassurance—the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, hinted at this—that a family discovering that its pet dog is expecting an unplanned litter of puppies will not find itself outside the law if it subsequently advertises its puppies for sale in a local post office, shop or newspaper? It would be somewhat perverse if this resulted in a prosecution; I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on such a scenario.
Currently, Battersea takes in animals, rehomes them and charges a fee for rehoming, which helps to cover their costs. But there are others operating outside the law which set up unscrupulous charities, offering puppies to be rehomed and charging fees way above those charged by legitimate charities. These fraudulent charities bring in animals from abroad—including possibly Romania—for free. They are then able to charge as much as £200 for the so-called rehoming of the pet. For the SI to be effective, it is essential that this practice is stamped out.
I support this SI, which should help to safeguard the welfare of both kittens and puppies and ensure they have a better start in life but, like others, I am concerned about the prevention of online sales and look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these regulations today. As he explained, they form a continuum with the more comprehensive Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, which we debated and agreed last year.
At the time, we made the case for including the ban on the third-party sale of puppies and kittens in those regulations; it was never clear to us why the Government found it necessary to postpone that decision. Like many other pieces of animal welfare legislation, promised but not yet delivered, the Government seem determined to proceed at a snail’s pace despite the obvious cross-party support for many of these provisions. The Minister well knows our views on this; I am sure he will be pleased to hear that I shall not labour the point again today.
Nevertheless, we welcome these belated, catch-up regulations, which put one further nail in the coffin of exploitative and often illegal puppy farmers and unscrupulous third-party traders, who show no compassion or concern for the puppies they are marketing. That has resulted in puppies being taken from their mothers before they are weaned, not learning proper socialising skills and suffering a wide range of health and disease-related issues that can blight their health and limit their well-being.
The only way to address these concerns is for the purchaser to see the puppy with its mother and the breeder so that they can be assured that the puppy has been bred in a quality environment. We hope that will mean the end of puppies being advertised and bought online or in pet shops, where poor breeding conditions can be disguised.
As a number of noble Lords have said, we do not think this will be the end of the matter. Selling puppies is a lucrative business for many third-party traders and overseas gangs; as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, it represents a wholesale criminal smuggling industry. They will try to find their way around this legislation and we will need to be alert and vigilant about how they may seek to undermine the controls we are trying to enforce. This is why, as many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Clark, have said, this is just one step in what needs to be an ongoing and holistic approach to tackling the issue.
That is why the licensing and inspection of breeders’ premises is vital, and why local authority inspectors have to be properly trained and resourced to carry out their enforcement duties effectively. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, made an important point about the availability of trained inspectors. Will the Minister clarify whether he thinks there are enough inspectors in post across England to operate the licensing regime and to root out illegal third-party traders who might be masquerading as legitimate breeders? How many licences have been issued to legitimate breeders under the 2018 regulations? Is he confident that there are stringent enough fines and custodial sentencing powers to dissuade illegal backstreet breeders from continuing their trade?
One of the potential loopholes suggested by the RSPCA is that rogue rescue organisations and sanctuaries might be set up as a front for illegal selling by third-party traders. As my noble friend Lord Clark says, we recognise that the vast majority of rehoming centres provide a high-quality service, but can the Minister reassure the House that inspectors will be trained to spot these fake animal rescue centres and close them down? Is he confident that we have the legal powers to distinguish between commercial rehoming centres, which might include puppies and kittens in their offer, and their more established charitable counterparts? Could he also update us on the progress being made by police and border staff to apprehend illegal dog importers from European puppy farms, where the greatest level of abuse occurs? What are the Government’s plans to tackle abuse of the PETS passport travel scheme, through which puppies and kittens are still being smuggled into the UK?
I was pleased to hear the Minister describe the very welcome public awareness campaign that the Government are commissioning to make sure that potential puppy buyers realise that the law has changed and they need to buy direct from the breeders in future. As the Minister says, these proposals had huge public support in the Government’s consultation so should be widely welcomed, but we need to spread the message wider and reach out specifically to those people beginning the process of finding a new puppy to live with them as a family pet. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, that is particularly urgent as Christmas approaches.
We still have a long way to go, otherwise people would no longer be buying dogs online or with unproven parentage despite the evidence surely being there for them all to see that they cannot be sure of the health implications of buying puppies and kittens in that way. I hope the Minister can reassure us that this will be a genuine mass-education initiative that reaches out and persuades buyers that the only way to guarantee the future welfare of their puppy or kitten is to check the circumstances of its birth and early nurturing, otherwise they will have additional costs and health problems from that puppy that they will not have anticipated.
Having said that, we of course welcome these regulations and the Minister’s commitment to remain ever vigilant on these issues for the future. As noble Lords have all said, this issue will not be fully solved by the regulations; they are just one step in the process.
My Lords, we have had an important and absorbing debate on these matters. I think there is a shared recognition across your Lordships’ House that these are valuable and important regulations. They are a crucial step in furthering the protection of puppies and kittens, but I would be the first to say, as I agree with noble Lords, that they must not be seen in isolation. They are part of a continuum and a continuing process.
I was very struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere. They were a reminder for all of us who have had dogs and cats in our lives of what we owe them and the pleasure and companionship they provide to us. I have used every opportunity available to me to say that animals should not be fashion statements. They need loving, caring homes. One of the important issues arising from the parent regulations was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in a debate some days ago. We should not breed animals from those that have disabilities or disadvantages that mean they cannot have fulfilling lives. That goes particularly for some breeds of cats and dogs. I am very struck by what the noble Lord said.
I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that all of us—and by that I mean the whole community—need to be alert and vigilant. Yes, the Government and the local authorities have a responsibility, but people seeking to bring animals into their homes also need to feel a sense of responsibility.
I will seek to answer, in no particular order, as many of the questions as possible. For those that are slightly more intricate, I will of course write.
The noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, opened his contribution by talking about the responsible sourcing publicity campaign, and I particularly want to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that this comprehensive campaign is designed to be a pre-Christmas communication. It is a vital time when families sometimes need to be much clearer that, as we all know, a puppy is for life and is not a statement for Christmas Day to amuse people. A puppy is a responsibility, and people should source their animals, whether puppies or kittens, from responsible breeders and be responsible themselves. The campaign we are launching is therefore aimed precisely at the public to encourage people to have a responsible sourcing mindset. This will ensure that people have no excuse for not knowing where to go to buy a pet. Currently, the best place to source a pet is through one of the nation’s many legitimate rescue and rehoming organisations or, specifically, a licensed breeder.
This leads me on to an issue raised by my noble friend Lady Byford, the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I refer to the rescue and rehoming sector. As we all know, legitimate rescue homes do incredible work rescuing and rehoming thousands of sick, abandoned and stray animals each year. It has been my privilege to visit Mayhew rehoming centre, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Dogs Trust, and Cats Protection, to name a few. I have seen at first hand their commitment to rehoming. It is fundamental that the quality of welfare provided at these rescue organisations is consistent, and I underline “consistent.” Noble Lords and animal welfare groups have expressed concerns about unscrupulous breeders reinventing themselves as rescue centres. We need to be confident of the benefits and the impacts of any regulations placed on the sector, particularly on some of the smaller rescue and rehoming charities, which is why we are actively exploring these issues with all organisations involved. In the meantime—this point is for the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, in particular—we have updated the statutory guidance to make clear that those who rehome in the course of running a business are subject to the ban.
My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned commercial sellers. In the guidance to local authorities, there is advice on how to differentiate between commercial breeders and one-off sales. As I said, the guidance is being updated following the statutory instrument.
My noble friend Lady Byford and other noble Lords raised the issue of enforcement. Local authorities lead on implementing and enforcing animal licensing controls and have the power to charge a licence fee that factors in the reasonable costs of enforcement associated with a licensable activity. Defra works closely with local authorities, and the City of London leads on training of local authorities and inspectors.
Perhaps I could have a conversation with the noble Countess, Lady Mar, outside the Chamber about the specific points she raised, but training is clearly essential. This is why we have ensured that the parent regulations reflect the importance of training courses for inspectors. As well as attendance at one of the specialist courses, “suitably qualified” also covers experienced inspectors with prior experience of working as local authority welfare inspectors. The cost of training inspectors can be recovered by the local authorities through the full cost recovery provisions in the parent statutory instrument. As I said, there is ongoing training. I do not have the figures, but I know that this is also work very much in hand. Clearly, we need to have sufficient suitably qualified inspectors. We are raising the bar because we do not resile from the fact that we need to ensure that, when people inspect premises, they know what to look for. That is imperative.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked whether you need two licences to breed and sell puppies. No, the individual who breeds dogs and sells puppies will require only a dog breeding licence, which covers sales as well as breeding.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked about working dogs. Under this legislation, working dogs would be allowed to be sold by licensed third parties if the animals are over six months old. This is precisely the point of the statutory instrument: puppies and kittens should no more be sold other than by licensed breeders, with the security of knowing about the mother and so forth. If the puppy is under six months old, the sale would be prohibited. The breeder themselves, of course, would be able to sell the puppies.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Clark and Lord Trees, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones, raised the issue of online sales. Under the licensing arrangements brought in last year, online adverts now have to include a licence number and a picture of the animal in the environment in which it is reared. As I think we have discussed before, we are also continuing to work with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group to improve online advertising standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred in particular to puppy smuggling. This country has one of the toughest pet border regimes in the world. Every pet dog travelling to Great Britain on approved routes has its microchip and passport checked to confirm it is properly vaccinated and is old enough to travel. We clearly now have an opportunity to look at how we can further strengthen our controls to crack down on animal traffickers and put a stop to an abhorrent and illegal trade. We need to work to deter illegal puppy traders by buying puppies only from reputable breeders, seeing the young animal with its mother and checking its health history.
Defra wishes to tackle this matter comprehensively. For instance, we are working closely with the Dogs Trust to continue the work of the Dover puppy pilot. We regularly review our activities at the border to ensure our enforcement work aligns with the threat posed by what is, I am afraid, an evolving trade. Those involved in this trafficking are often involved in other criminal activity. I hate to say it, but we need to be much more in tune and understand that these criminals will move from one trade to another. We are increasing resources for detecting smuggled puppies, and have done so by one-third at major UK ports since 2017. We have also increased our intelligence capability by launching a new dog importation intelligence steering group, co-ordinated by the Animal and Plant Health Agency. It consists of national enforcement agencies such as HMRC, the police and the RSPCA, who form a collaborative partnership to disrupt puppy smuggling. We are also considering stricter penalties for those caught smuggling. Seeing the prosecutions, the fines and the imprisonments, I think that this is the direction of travel needed to ensure that animals are safeguarded from these unscrupulous people.
Responding to be a point raised by my noble friend Lord Lexden and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, I fully accept that we committed to introducing the legislation necessary to increase the maximum penalty for animal cruelty from six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. We are working at the highest level to ensure that the legislation needed to make this change is introduced at the earliest opportunity. I know that I have not given a date or a time, but I assure noble Lords that my department is fully seized of the need for this. Sometimes one cannot get as much done as one would like, but we are stressing the importance of this.
My noble friend Lady Byford raised the point about a non-supportive sample; in fact, it was a very considerable supportive sample, probably much more than for most proposals. There may have been some concern not about the regulations themselves but, as we have discussed, about unscrupulous rescue centres and unintended consequences. We must be alive to that, be pro-active to ensure that we are constantly snuffing these matters out, and develop and evolve policy as required. Sometimes one would like to do these things sooner, but this needed the consultation because we needed to ensure that there were no unintended consequences. None of us would have done a good day’s work if we had brought this in immediately and not got pet dealers well versed in the importance of this, to ensure that there were no adverse consequences to kittens, puppies and mothers in the interregnum.
I assure all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate that we will have a comprehensive communications strategy before Christmas. I am sure that my private office team are listening. The campaign we are going to unfold will be put to your Lordships very clearly, so that our good faith in it is held mutually and not just within Defra. In the meantime, I commend the regulations to the House.