Puppy Farms and Breeding
I entirely share concerns for thousands of animals born each year to irresponsible breeders, their first weeks can be spent in cramped and squalid conditions without the care and attention they need.
I am therefore glad to say that the Government is cracking down on the worst offenders by strengthening the licensing system and giving councils the power they need to take action. I trust I will be able to give you some peace of mind over the strengthening of licensing
These plans will ban sales of puppies or kittens at too young an age, which in both cases will be less than eight weeks. It will also require anyone breeding and selling three or more litters of puppies a year to apply for a formal licence. Irresponsible breeders who break these rules face an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison.
They will introduce a single 'animal activities licence' covering pet shops, boarding houses and riding stables, to improve the process and make enforcement easier. Pet shops will also need to give customers written information about the animals they buy, with details of the five welfare needs owners must meet around environment, diet, behaviour, housing and freedom from pain. This is particularly important when buying exotic pets, which can have very specific needs.
With more and more pet sales now taking place on the internet, this market should be subject to the same strict licensing criteria as other breeders and pet shops. Anyone trading commercially in pets online will need to be properly licensed, to help make reputable sellers easily accessible to prospective buyers.
You will be pleased to hear the Minister's response to the debate on animal cruelty where he stated:
"We had in our consultation initially proposed that there could be an exemption from requiring a licence for breeders who signed up to United Kingdom Accreditation Service-accredited schemes. The Committee and others expressed concerns about going that far, so we listened and have modified that proposal to enable local authorities to recognise risk and to recognise people who sign up to accreditation schemes without removing entirely the need for a licence.
On the question of a ban on selling dogs by third parties, which a number of hon. Members have raised, I understand the desire to try and help potential buyers realise that puppies should be seen with their mothers before they are purchased. Indeed, DEFRA makes such a recommendation. However, I think the specific proposal for an outright ban on all third-party sales is more problematic."
It is vital that we maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. Ministers are serious about improving welfare in breeding establishments and at the point of sale, so I am pleased that we are reviewing the laws that regulate dog breeding and pet sales. These plans would introduce a single 'Animal Establishment Licence' for animal boarding establishments, pet shops, riding establishments and dog breeding. Following a recent public consultation I have been assured that the Government's final proposals will be outlined shortly.
It is already the case that anyone in the business of breeding dogs or running a pet shop must be licenced by their local council. They must demonstrate that the animals have suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding material; are adequately exercised and visited; and that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent the spread of infection.
Local authorities can also restrict which animals a pet shop can sell, and new guidance stresses the need for interaction with people. Meanwhile the Government has created a voluntary code regulating advertising on the internet, which has resulted in 130,000 adverts being removed since the start of 2014. While there are no plans to ban the sales of dogs by third parties, there are proposals to tighten welfare standards when this does occur.
For dogs bred by so called "hobby breeders", who are not in business but do breed occasionally, there is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal or fail to provide for its welfare. Anyone breaking this law could face an unlimited fine and/or 51 weeks imprisonment.
I am grateful to the Dogs Trust for highlighting the issue. Responsibility for stopping illegal movement begins in the country where puppies are born, so in response to a previous report the Chief Veterinary Officer wrote to the authorities in the highlighted countries to remind them of their duties.
An EU pet travel regulation introduced in 2014 brought further measures to strengthen enforcement. The new-style passport is harder to forge, new rules apply when more than five animals are moved together and all EU countries must carry out compliance checks. A 12-week minimum age for rabies vaccination assists compliance checking and restricts the movement of very young animals. As the UK withdraws from the EU, there will be opportunities to re-evaluate the rules.
I am assured that there is a robust checking regime for pets travelling here. Every pet travelling with its owner on an approved route is checked for compliance with the travel regime and the UK Border Force carries out a wide range of checks on vehicles arriving in the UK.
It is important to recognise that we cannot expect the Government to defeat this problem by itself. As individuals, we need to take care not to fuel demand for these animals by providing a market for the unscrupulous people who exploit them. Government advice is very clear: people who buy a pet are responsible for knowing where it comes from and, if it is found to have been imported illegally, will be held responsible for any necessary quarantine and veterinary fees.