I wish to associate myself with the comments made by hon. Members from all parts of the House, deploring the barbaric treatment of kittens and puppies that are mass-produced in so-called “farms.” Regrettably, there have been many cases in my home county of Carmarthenshire.
This debate, of course, takes place thanks to the 112,000 members of the public who signed an e-petition setting out their concerns. E-petitions were one of the positive reforms introduced in 2011 and offer the public a direct means of engaging with what is discussed in the House. I am glad that we are holding this debate today and hope that Ministers will act on what is said.
As a lover of animals myself, and one who cohabits with a cat, a dog, two rabbits and a fish—not to mention the five horses that my wife owns—I was particularly horrified to learn that puppies and kittens bred in such farms are almost always separated from their mothers too early, are held in appalling conditions and are sold on an unregulated market. Prospective owners are often duped into believing that the mother has been kept with the kittens or puppies, when in fact those selling the animals use fake mothers to pose with the little ones in cages to mask the neglect that those animals have gone through. As a result of the poor conditions in which they are bred, the animals are likely to suffer from a weakened immune system and a shorter lifespan, and to develop behavioural issues that stem from a lack of trust in their owners.
The UK Government’s response to the e-petition to date has been a statement by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which claims that the existing laws and regulations contained in the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, the Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 are robust enough to deal with the problem—citing the law that requires dog breeders to obtain licences from the local authority, and stating that it is against the law for “hobby breeders” to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal. It is, however, evident that the current system is not working, and that animals are being exposed to needless suffering.
In Wales, animal welfare is devolved and a matter for the National Assembly and the Welsh Government. In August 2013, the Welsh Government launched a consultation that centred on dog breeding legislation, which asked whether changes should be made to dog-to-staff ratios in kennels—specifically, whether one full-time attendant should be required for every 20 adult dogs, or one part-time attendant for every 10 adult dogs.
The proposed draft Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs)(Wales) Regulations 2013 were brought forward under section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and sought to repeal the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 in relation to Wales. The regulations, as drafted, would be enforceable by Welsh local authorities. Under the provisions, local authorities would have to be satisfied, prior to granting a licence, that dogs and their puppies would be kept in acceptable conditions. Those seeking to breed dogs would need to show that they would be providing adequate nutrition, bedding and exercise facilities. The regulations also specifically make mention of the welfare of puppies and provide for a socialisation programme, aimed at ensuring that puppies bred in approved premises are able to socialise with other animals and people, so that they do not go on to develop behavioural problems.