Obviously, this is an emotive and emotional debate, especially for those of us who have welcomed dogs and cats into our homes and included them almost as members of our family. I will not talk about my own dog because it would be too emotional. Sadly, he has just passed away. However, I will talk about the dog of the former Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook, Lord Hattersley. He has written eloquently of his love for his departed dog, Buster. We all have similar stories to tell. It seems to me that dogs have many of the virtues that us politicians lack—particularly silence and loyalty.
Our sympathy for these animals reflects the comfort and companionship that they provide, particularly for elderly people, in our increasingly atomised society. Therefore, everybody who has spoken believes that we have a duty of care to these creatures and it is no surprise that so many of our constituents have written to us. They rightly feel strongly about the cruelties that puppies and kittens are forced to undergo in puppy farms, especially being separated far too early from their mothers.
The point that I want to make in this debate is that an extraordinarily wide scope of legislation is available to local authorities and Ministers already. We should be proud of that legacy of legislation in our country, which goes back well over 100 years. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824 by a group of zealous reformers, including such illustrious Members of this House as William Wilberforce and Richard Martin—both of whom were, incidentally, good high Tories. In its first year, the society managed to bring more than 60 offences to the courts. It was awarded royal patronage by Queen Victoria in 1840. We all know of the vital work of the RSPCA, so it does not need to be underlined. There is already much legislation on the statute book. To name a few, we have the Pet Animals Act 1951, the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, the Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 and the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999.
No one can deny the inhumane conditions that exist in puppy farms—they have been well listed today—and nobody can deny that more should be done to eliminate them from existence. Through their licensing of pet sellers, local authorities have all the inspection powers they need. When they are not satisfied that suitable welfare conditions exist, they can refuse operating licences.