I thank my hon. Friend Robert Flello for securing this debate, and the 125,000 people who signed the petition. If nothing else, it has enabled MPs to get up and demonstrate how many dogs, cats and goldfish they own, and also to put their names on the historic record—a valuable contribution to our civilisation.
Early in 2009, a network of puppy farms in Wales was exposed. It was horrendous and showed the barbaric treatment of animals. I tabled an early-day motion, which was signed by 75 hon. Members and called for a review of the legislation to ensure that it was effective. At the time and since, we were given various assurances that the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 were appropriate. I am grateful for the work done by the Select Committee and various campaigning organisations to demonstrate that, although that legislation laid the foundations—I welcomed the 2006 Act and thought it was quite comprehensive—a lot more detail needs to be addressed.
I fully support a number of the proposals that have been made today. I think that reducing the number of litters allowed each year under the licensing regime to two is critical. Beyond that, breeding becomes an industry, and that is the point at which abuses start. Importation is critical. The threshold of five animals per individual is too high, because it enables a large number of animals to be introduced into the country, almost subverting the current legislation. The third issue raised today was the removal of puppies from their mothers after only two, three or four weeks, and I take a fairly strong line on that. I would have a limit of 12 weeks, rather than the proposed eight weeks. I want a harder regime, and I want it to be encompassed in legislation so that it is clear-cut.
Too often in this House we will the objectives without willing the means to achieve them. As has been said a number of times, local authorities do not have the resources invested in this to enable them to undertake the kind of enforcement regime that we expect. It would be wrong simply to castigate those authorities, because in many areas they are struggling to protect children and elderly people with the resources they have. Their resources are stretched. I think that it behoves us now to review in detail the resources available to individual local authorities.
Earlier in the debate an hon. Member talked about the need to inculcate best practice across local authorities, and I agree, but best practice still relies on expert professionals being able to undertake inspections, work with the RSPCA and the voluntary sector, advise owners— some of this is about advising those involved in the industry on how to raise their standards—and, ultimately, ensure that there is enforcement. Having talked with other Members and local authorities in my area and elsewhere, I understand that those resources are not available.
I would like the Minister to engage in dialogue with local authorities and perhaps survey them on what resources are being devoted to the issue already and how they need to be strengthened. He could then bring the report back to the House so that we can properly undertaken our role, which is to set objectives and ensure that a systematic process is in place and that we devote the resources for tackling the problem. That way, I think that we can manage to find a way forward. If we cannot do that, all the pious words and eloquent speeches we have heard will be irrelevant, and we will be back here in another four of five years to talk about more scandals and an excellent legislative regime that is not being implemented at the grass roots, where resources and implementation are vital.