Let me finish the point. Since that time, it would be fair to say—from all the representations made during today’s debate and from the recommendations of the Select Committee—that this is the wrong way to interpret the legislation. Those carrying on a business of breeding and selling dogs should be required to have a licence. I can confirm that we will write to local authorities to provide new clarity through new guidance so that they can interpret the Act in the spirit intended by the House today.
Pet shops are a key item of today’s debate. It is important to recognise that only about 2% of pet shops sell cats and dogs—around 70 in total—and they are already regulated and licensed. They are regulated under the Pet Animals Act 1951. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South asked me to clarify whether local authorities have the additional power to place restrictions on which animals can be sold at a licensed pet shop establishment. I can confirm that they do have that power to restrict the number of animals that can be sold. He asked, too, about the issue of ambiguity and contestability in that context. Let me clarify that the intention of the provision is for local authorities to judge on a case-by-case basis whether a particular premise is suitable for a particular animal to be sold. It is not necessary for local authorities to change the law; it is for them to have considerable discretion in making a judgment about whether it is appropriate for certain animals to be sold on the authority’s premises.
Mr Robinson made the important point that much can be done within the existing regulations. I agree. In January this year, along with the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and many other charities and organisations, we contributed to some model licence conditions that were made available to all local authorities and were published by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. These included 50 pages of recommendations about the sorts of conditions that should be included in a licence for dog-breeding premises. There were strict provisions on the need for social interaction with humans, which should apply for the whole day if the buyers were present all the time.
In addition, in September 2013 we published the model conditions for pet vending, which also set out strict conditions for pet shops about the need for interaction with staff and humans. It is specifically recommended that at least four times a day a human should spend at least 20 minutes with the puppies on sale. We have already put in place important guidance on these issues.
I would like to conclude by saying that we have had a really important debate. I, too, have received many hundreds of letters on the issue and it is clearly of great importance to the country. We have 8 million dogs in this country and we are a nation of animal lovers.