It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank Jo Platt for securing this debate on a subject that I know is very dear to the hearts of many people, and is particularly close to her heart. I respect the amount of hard work she has put into fully understanding this subject and into pressing for further action, for which she is to be commended. I am also grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friend Giles Watling, with his particular interest in the subject, and my hon. Friend Andrea Jenkyns.
The hon. Member for Leigh has set out clearly her concerns about regulation of animal rescue and rehoming centres. She has sincerely and strongly held views, and I agree that we must do everything we can to ensure that good welfare practices are in place in all animal rescue homes. With that in mind, I recognise that the vast majority of animal rescue homes up and down the country are legitimate, and I pay tribute to the valuable work they do in rescuing and rehoming thousands of sick, abandoned and stray animals each year. The work of rescue homes can too easily be taken for granted, and we should remember that most people working at them are volunteers who are incredibly dedicated to the welfare of the animals in their care.
The RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have been referred to on a number of occasions. I was fortunate enough to visit Battersea just before Christmas, when we announced the third-party sales ban. Redwings Horse Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare are also well known to us, as is Cats Protection. They do a brilliant job of caring for and rehoming animals in a responsible and dedicated manner. We can be confident that the animals in these organisations are looked after to the very highest welfare standards, as the hon. Member for Leigh pointed out.
We should not forget that the smaller and lesser-known rescue homes also do really important work in taking care of unwanted and stray animals. The Government value the work of these legitimate, committed animal rescue homes. Without them, many animals would face abandonment and an uncertain future. From our preliminary work exploring this sector with the various bodies that have an interest, we know there is a large and diverse animal rescue and rehoming sector in the UK.
The hon. Member for Leigh indicated the findings of her research. We estimate that those organisations rescue and rehome somewhere in the region of 140,000 cats, 110,000 dogs and 3,000 horses per year. There are various types of organisations that operate according to different models. In addition to their relative size and the types of animals they rehome, one of the main differences between organisations is whether they care for animals in one central place or rely on other people to provide foster care for their animals. It is important to understand this distinction, because their regulation could be very different. We know that the majority of those organisations are registered charities, which means that they meet the requirements set by the Charity Commission—for example, in respect of their finances.
For some rehoming centres, membership of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes brings key benefits. The chair of the ADCH is Claire Horton, who I am sure is well known to many hon. Members present. She is the chief executive of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and a member of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, which reports to Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Under Claire’s skilled chairing, ADCH has developed clear good practice guidelines for the sector and encouraged more centres to come under its influence. I encourage other rehoming centres that are not members of ADCH to consider joining it for the benefits and advice that are available.
The hon. Member for Leigh set out her clear concerns about some rehoming centres and the need for them to be regulated. I agree that, sadly, some rescue homes, for whatever reason, fall below an acceptable standard of welfare. As with any keeper of animals, animal rescue homes must provide for the welfare needs of their animals, as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but they are not licensed in the same way as dog breeding or pet shops. In February 2018 we issued a call for evidence on our proposal to ban the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens. In response, many stakeholders pointed out that we should also consider closer regulation of rescue homes, as the hon. Lady pointed out. Their argument was that we need to address concerns about animal welfare standards in some unscrupulous rescue homes, and to address concerns that third-party sellers would simply set up as rescue homes to avoid proposed bans. The Government definitely share those concerns.