My Lords, my department has already announced proposals to enhance the welfare of animals in relation to the breeding of dogs and the commercial selling of all animals. The proposals include lowering the number of litters under which a dog breeder needs a licence, prohibiting the sale of cats or dogs under eight weeks of age and the introduction of up-to-date statutory minimum welfare conditions for all licensees.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for that Answer. Will he join me in paying tribute to all the charities and their armies of volunteers who care for cats and dogs in distress? Is he aware that an issue of growing concern to them all is the unregulated breeding of brachycephalic animals such as pugs or Scottish fold cats, which are bred—genetically modified—for cosmetic purposes to have flat faces, but as a result often spend a life in intolerable pain, unable to breathe properly? Will he take action to introduce regulation, such as now exists in Switzerland, to put an end to the torture breeding of animals that are literally born to suffer?
My Lords, undoubtedly I acknowledge the exceptional work of the charities and volunteers, and indeed it is my privilege often to work with them. I share my noble friend’s concern. Only yesterday, I met representatives of the British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club to consider how best we can resolve this issue of genetic defects. We will be working with interested parties on how the issue can be effectively tackled and how best we can frame this in regulations.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Black, in what he said. Many people—well-meaning people—keep certain breeds, which, because of their conformation, are so deformed that they will suffer ill health and stress throughout their lives. The popularity of breeds such as the French bulldog and the Scottish fold cat is increasing, partly endorsed by advertising, celebrity endorsement and social media. While it may be difficult to introduce legislation, does the Minister agree that we should do all that we can to persuade people that the keeping of such breeds is not cool?
My Lords, it is important that we respect our animals as they are in their native state. It is important that we address this point; it is not reasonable, and in fact it is self-indulgent, to breed animals with these genetic defects. So we want to deal with it, and it is important that we do so. This crosses a number of breeds whose conditions we need to improve. This is why we are working in particular on things such as pet advertising—we want to raise standards on the online side of these things. We are working on this because we recognise how important it is for the welfare and health of these animals.
My Lords, the Minister has mentioned online sales of animals. Will he take the recommendations of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, which is chaired by the Dogs Trust, to make it obligatory—not just voluntary—for websites to make sure that the picture of the pet that is on sale is of the animal itself? Many pets are advertised with beautiful pictures of healthy animals, but when the prospective owner comes to pick up their pet they find a sickly, badly-bred animal and of course feel sorry for it and therefore pay for it, which increases the trade in this way.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right; the Pet Advertising Advisory Group is driving up standards, and we support that. However, this takes us back to one of our problems, which is that of demand from the public who want to buy a puppy. One of the most important things they should think about is whether they can go to a rehoming centre to buy a dog or cat. If they want to buy a pedigree puppy or kitten, they should look to responsible breeders and in particular see the animals in the environment of the mother. It will become illegal to buy a puppy under eight weeks old, so I hope that we will make some progress on this.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Black of Brentwood, on his humanity and his important question on the care of animals, and I respect the Government’s response. However, will the Government take into account that genetically modified animals are extraordinarily important for medical research—for example, in the treatment of cancers? It is important that we must not muddle the two issues if it comes to legislation and regulation.
My Lords, the noble Lord has probably hit on some of the issues that I was discussing with these organisations. How do we best frame in regulations the very things that your Lordships feel strongly about, yet also the advances that we can have in not only medical but veterinary science? It is important that we get that right.
My noble friend’s comments on the Government’s intention to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act will be widely welcomed. When will the Government introduce training for local authority inspectors of animal breeding establishments, as foreshadowed in an announcement which the Government made in February?
My Lords, my noble friend has remarked on another very important point. Under these proposals we will seek to improve the ability of local authorities to, as I said, root out the bad. We want to train and work with local authorities so that they have the experience to ensure that, when they license an establishment, they are confident that it adheres to the high animal welfare standards that we all desire.
I hope that the right reverend Prelate knows very well that I am very fond of dogs. I have very good relations with many right reverend Prelates and work very closely with the rural Bishops on many issues concerning the countryside.
My Lords, I was very pleased to hear the Minister refer to the rehoming of dogs, because that is very important. People do not always need a pedigree; they are after a pet for love, affection and various other things. However, even if people want pedigrees, can the Minister publicise the fact that most breeds, whether Border collies, Labradors or Alsatians, have their own specialist rehoming facilities? The more that is known, the better.
My Lords, I entirely agree. We need to work on increasing awareness on a number of fronts. Much of this is about heightening awareness of members of the public who wish to find pets, whether through breed societies or breed rehoming or through the excellent charities for dogs, cats and other animals, of which I have visited a number. At my meetings yesterday, I specifically talked about how, in the prelude to Christmas, we can all work together to ensure that animals are for life and that we respect them.