Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 575

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 31 October 2012

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Thomas Docherty

Richard Drax

George Eustice

Neil Parish

Ms Margaret Ritchie

Dan Rogerson


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary UnderSecretary for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science, Defra, and Sue Ellis, Deputy Director, Animal Welfare Team, Defra, gave evidence.

Q351 Chair: Good afternoon, and welcome. Congratulations on your appointment, Lord de Mauley, and thank you for being with us and contributing to our inquiry on dog control and welfare. You are most welcome. For the record, would you like to introduce yourself and Sue Ellis, just to give your positions, if you would?

Lord de Mauley: Yes, thank you. I am Rupert de Mauley. I am the Minister at Defra who is responsible for animal welfare.

Sue Ellis: I am Sue Ellis. I head up the Animal Welfare Team at Defra.

Q352 Chair: At the outset, a number of witnesses, for a number of reasons, stated that they thought this could potentially be a wasted opportunity. Can you assure us that the consultation that you completed in July, I believe it was, will actually lead to something constructive? What are your current proposals following on from the consultation?

Lord de Mauley: As you know, we had 27,000 responses, which is a very pleasing response rate. We are currently finalising our review of those responses, and we are certainly taking them very seriously indeed.

Q353 Chair: Excellent. I obviously was not in the House at the time, but looking back at the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, I think that is generally deemed to be a bad piece of legislation, albeit it had crossparty support. What proposals do you intend to come forward with? Do you intend to go down the path that some witnesses have asked for of wholesale simplification and rationalisation of the law, or possibly a tinkering at the edges, which is what your consultation might have suggested?

Lord de Mauley: The principal measures that we expect to come out of that are microchipping and particularly extending the reach of the Act into private places. You are aware of the issue I am talking about.

Q354 Chair: What co-operation and discussions have there been between your Department and the Home Office, at both ministerial level and official level?

Lord de Mauley: I have met Jeremy Browne and gone through the proposals in that regard. Sorry; I did not really extend my answer to the Home Office proposals, but I should do. Officials are working very closely with his officials on that. Would you like me to talk a bit about that part of it?

Chair: That would be helpful, yes.

Lord de Mauley: The basic premise is a simplified escalating approach to antisocial behaviour, of which irresponsible dog ownership is an important example. Irresponsible dog owners are very often also involved in crime at different levels. They are simplifying quite a long list of tools into a more comprehensible list of six tools, starting with informal interventions, such as acceptable behaviour contracts, which can be used to nip emerging issues in the bud, where effectively the owner is made to recognise the impact of their behaviour. Both sides will sign up to a contract. I can go through them if you want me to.

Q355 Chair: We can come on to them in more detail. Can I just press you a little on the question I asked at the outset? The consultation has finished; there were 27,000 responses. There seem to be two arguments: one school of thought is that you enforce the existing legislation better; another is that you rationalise the existing legislation and come out with a codified new piece of legislation. Do you have any views as to which path you are likely to go down?

Lord de Mauley: I think we are unlikely to go for wholesale reform. For instance, you might be leading me in the direction of what we are going to do about the banned breeds. We are not, for instance, proposing to change or extend that, for the sake of argument. It will be more in the area of carefully considered amendments to the existing Act.

Q356 Chair: In terms of excluding from your consultation the requirement for owners to take out compulsory thirdparty insurance, what were the grounds behind that decision and what analysis did you take to reach that conclusion to exclude, so that anybody could be compensated after a dog attack from such insurance?

Lord de Mauley: The previous Government considered this when they launched the consultation in 2010. The insurance industry was not supportive of the proposal, and I am not convinced that requiring every dog owner to insure their dog against injuring a third party would necessarily be the right thing to do. Of course they can insure, and many do, but we should not forget the fact that the courts have the power to order an offender to pay compensation to a victim.

Q357 Chair: Just moving on to a different tack, the incidence of stray dogs, certainly in Yorkshire, has multiplied hugely in the last two or three years. To what do you attribute that phenomenon?

Lord de Mauley: First of all, in acknowledging the problem, I would say that I am quite aware that rehoming centres are so full they can no longer take in dogs. I think nearly 120,000 dogs were picked up over the UK, over the last 12 months. Our proposed way of addressing the problem is through microchipping, because clearly a large part of the problem at the moment is that, if the authorities pick up a dog and there is no way of linking it up with its owner, it goes to a rehoming centre. Microchipping seems to us to be the most costeffective and sensible way of addressing that.

Q358 Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Chair. You are very welcome, Lord de Mauley. What assessment has Defra made as to the capacity, in terms of both staff and resources, of local authorities to deal with the increase in the past few years in the number of stray dogs?

Sue Ellis: Shall I pick that up? We have been talking previous to Lord de Mauley’s arrival in the post. We have had close contact with the local authorities and their representative organisations. Indeed, both Lord Henley and Lord Taylor, when they were there, actually held stakeholder meetings with everybody concerned, including local authorities, so they could get the input from dog wardens and similar people running services in local authorities. Certainly my team keeps in close contact with people in local authorities, so they understand the concerns.

Q359 Ms Ritchie: Do you believe a return to a statutory role for the police in managing stray dogs would assist in tackling the problem of dangerous dogs?

Lord de Mauley: It is an interesting question.

Chair: Could I just give you a bit of background? If you look at 1987, when the dog licences were removed, there was a wave of stray dogs then. In 2005, when there was a Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, there was a wave of stray dogs then, because kennelling left the responsibility of the police and is now the responsibility of local authorities. That is really what lies behind the question, just to help the Committee.

Lord de Mauley: Yes, I see. I am not convinced that giving the role statutorily to the police is necessarily the answer. Very often, to do something like that might relieve others of what should rightfully be a shared responsibility. It is right for local authorities and excellent that the third sector is also helpful in that. I am not convinced that that would be the way to go.

Q360 Chair: What we heard from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home is that it is putting enormous pressure on them. London boroughs and local authorities cannot house them. I have Blue Cross in my area. Where they cannot house them, it is putting huge pressure on the charities. It is about whether you think the local authorities are coping in these straitened economic times to take the number of dogs.

Lord de Mauley: I acknowledge that it is a considerable burden. It is very difficult to know how else one would address it, but the most important thing, it seems to me, is to get those dogs that do have an owner who actually wants the dog back-one must hope and the evidence in other countries is that a large proportion want them back.

Q361 Chair: What about the criminal underworld? The concern of the Committee and the evidence that we heard, with microchipping and everything else, is that responsible dog owners will act responsibly; irresponsible and criminal dog owners will not. These are often the dogs that are collected as strays on the streets. What we hope to hear from you this afternoon, Minister, is how the Government intends to deal with this increasing problem of stray and often dangerous dogs on the streets.

Sue Ellis: You are right, Chair, that the proportion of banned breeds has been going up in the number of strays. The number of strays has been increasing in total over recent years, although it did fall back slightly last year, according to the Dogs Trust figures. Certainly we have been told by the rehoming charities that the number of dangerous dogs has gone up. Those dogs are not rehomed; they are actually euthanised if they are identified by the police as dangerous dogs. The burden does not carry forward but, yes, the rehoming charities might have to be responsible for the euthanasia of those dogs. There is a remedy in law, effectively. They are banned breeds, so they are not rehomed.

Chair: We will come on to that.

Q362 Neil Parish: Good afternoon. I want to turn to livestock, and dog attacks on livestock. The evidence we heard from the NFU and others says that under the 1953 Act it is £10 for the first offence and £50 maximum for a later offence. If dogs are chasing pregnant ewes, irrespective of whether they are actually damaged physically, they will probably abort. Is this strong enough and what should we do about it?

Lord de Mauley: It is an important question. The maximum fine for a dog attacking livestock has in fact been amended from £10 to £1,000, which is a level 3 penalty. Should the scale be increased, the fine will be increased too. It is reinforced also by the Animals Act 1971, where liability for injury done by dogs to livestock is also dealt with. It states that "Where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock…[the] keeper of the dog is liable for the damage."

Q363 Neil Parish: Can Defra do more to publicise it? I think some people do not realise the extent of damage their dog can do just running through the field, especially with pregnant sheep. Can we do more to get the message out to the public to be careful with sheep in particular?

Lord de Mauley: Perhaps. Speaking as an owner of a farm myself, this problem has often occurred to me, and I think farmers could help themselves by putting up a small sign saying, "Please keep your dog on a lead; the sheep are out."

Q364 Neil Parish: Perhaps it does need wider education sometimes. I know you can take a horse to water, but you cannot necessarily make it drink. However, I just think that sometimes the public does not realise the problems that occur with dogs chasing sheep that are heavily in lamb.

Lord de Mauley: I agree.

Q365 Chair: If I may, before we leave that, the NFU did indicate that they were very disappointed by the level of prosecutions by the police. Do you share that disappointment? Would you seek to legislate to encourage the police, where there are pernicious attacks?

Lord de Mauley: I am not convinced that it is a case of legislating actually. I take Mr Parish’s point about education.

Q366 Chair: For example, there has been a lot in the newspapers-the Telegraph had that fourpage story-about the number of horses being attacked by dogs. Of course that can lead to rider injury. Is there a gap in the law that you could plug to fill that loophole at this time? That is what we are seeking to ask.

Lord de Mauley: Sorry; you are going to the issue of enforcement-

Chair: It is the police and whether you could legislate.

Lord de Mauley: I do not think that further legislation is required, no.

Q367 Neil Parish: A lot of people feel that rural crime generally-and this you could put into that category-perhaps the police do not always take seriously enough. Is there anything you can do across government to emphasise that it should be taken slightly more seriously?

Lord de Mauley: It does occur to me that much of this problem is not deliberate crime. It is people being irresponsible and having their dogs off leads. To some extent, the Home Office rules will address that. I think the answer to your question is, in that respect, yes.

Q368 Chair: So better enforcement of the existing rules then.

Lord de Mauley: I am talking about the new Home Office rules that will come in. To that extent, yes; there is a proposal to have more.

Q369 Neil Parish: Can I now turn to the Dangerous Dogs Act? You said something about this at the beginning, actually, which I want to press you a little bit on. Has the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991’s focus on breed rather than deed reduced the credibility of legislation? I will give you the supplementary as well. Would you agree that the section 1 ban on specific dog types leads to the destruction of animals that represent no risk to the public or indeed their owners? I have actually been to the Blue Cross hospital here in London, where there are dogs that are perfectly good to be rehoused but, because of their breed, have to be put down.

Lord de Mauley: We do not consider that repealing breedspecific legislation would promote more responsible dog ownership or reduce dog attacks. Importantly, the police have said that there is a need to retain the prohibition on keeping certain types of dog bred specifically for fighting, unless approved by a court and kept under strict conditions. The Act does actually deal not only with breed but with deed as well in section 3. In terms of rehoming banned breeds, it is problematic because, very often, almost inevitably, these dogs’ history is unknown, so one cannot tell to what extent they have been socialised. After all, we have to face the fact that these dogs are bred for biting and fighting, and they are inherently dangerous. We have seen evidence of a number of attacks on small children in their homes. Frankly, we think our priority must be to protect the public.

Q370 Neil Parish: I will take you on a slightly different course then. There are a lot of people out there who are breeding dogs to be dangerous now by crossbreeding them. In a way, do you want to have your cake and eat it? Either you have to keep the legislation breedspecific, but you might have to broaden that to some other breeds; or do you have to deal with the deed more than the breed?

Lord de Mauley: As I explained earlier, the Act does also address the deed, but I do not deny that there is an issue with crossbreeding. That is why our focus is on encouraging more responsible dog ownership, nurture playing a very large part in the temperament of the dog. Of course we must remind people that dogs, whether family pets or not, are dogs. The RSPCA points that out in its 42 Teeth campaign.

Q371 Neil Parish: One of the problems is that, due to no fault of that particular dog, it is bred for a particular reason and then is automatically put down. That is where, from talking to the Blue Cross and others, these dogs are crossbreeds, but perhaps have not been bred by people to make them vicious, but they still have to be put down. I know it is a difficult conundrum, but that is one of the situations we have to face.

Sue Ellis: Chair, crossbreeds, yes: as I am sure Mr Parish knows very well, actually the banned breeds are types of dog, not breedspecific, effectively. Dogs that go into rehoming centres are usually checked over by the local dogs legislation officer or somebody on behalf of the police, who is an expert in discerning whether these dogs are of a banned type or not. The point the Minister made earlier is that, because their history is unknown, even if a dog, at first appearance, may look well socialised, public safety has to come first. If they are a banned breed, then unfortunately they have to be euthanised.

Q372 Chair: We did actually hear, though, from the dog welfare charities that many stray dogs, just because they are a banned type, are being kennelled and put down, whereas actually they may not be antisocial; they may not be doing anything wrong. It is just the fact that section 1 bans the breed. It is whether you are prepared to move away from that in the review, following the consultation. Are you prepared to move away from that? The dog charities feel that you are condemning a dog because of its breed, not because of its behaviour.

Lord de Mauley: As you will realise, it is something we have thought very carefully about, but I am very conscious of the police advice, which is that we should retain these provisions. I would be very loth to move away from that.

Q373 Dan Rogerson: Good afternoon. One of the issues that you are looking at is extending the Dangerous Dogs Act to provide for attacks that take place on private property, which is something we have heard some very moving evidence about. We can all take a view as to what is lawful and unlawful on a property-what is welcome and what is unwelcome, if you like. How is this to be determined in law and statute?

Lord de Mauley: We have stated that the law will not penalise lawabiding people and it will not protect burglars. If a dog attacks a burglar or another intruder on private property, the householder will be protected; burglars and trespassers will not. People can already use reasonable force to defend themselves. That has been expressed in law. They would welcome the extra security that having a dog in the home brings. We will not introduce laws that undermine that position. Specifically how it is drafted we have not yet got to, but I am confident that we will be able to draft the law so that it encapsulates that position.

Q374 Dan Rogerson: The sort of scenario I am envisaging here is unsolicited callers-doortodoor peddlers or, heaven forbid, political canvassers, religious callers or whatever. If a householder decides that, in their opinion, that is trespass, they have no interest and they have a sign saying they do not want anyone to call, someone may miss that sign. These are the sorts of issues. You said trespassers and burglars. Burglary is fairly straightforward, if someone is in the act of breaking a window or a door to get in a house. If someone is just coming up to knock on the door, but they have not been invited in to the curtilage, how that would be dealt with?

Lord de Mauley: It is very clear to me that that person would be protected. This is the whole thing that we want to protect by this piece of law. The postal worker, the political campaigner, as you say, health visitors and a lot of people have an absolute right to come and bang on your door and mine. We absolutely want them to be protected and, at the moment, there is a lacuna, which is what we are closing.

Q375 Dan Rogerson: Very good. There is a particular question for those of us who are rural MPs, about farm dogs, and the distinction with working dogs and guard dogs for expensive machinery and so on. Have you considered this issue and taken advice about how best to deal with that?

Lord de Mauley: Yes. As long as the dog is not dangerously out of control, the proposed new legislation will not really apply to it. Any issues arising from the role of farm dogs as guard dogs would be subject to the same scrutiny as if they had attacked a trespasser, with a legitimate defence should the trespasser have illegal intentions. That would protect innocent mistakes by tourists, walkers and children, for instance.

Q376 Dan Rogerson: If dogs are being used explicitly as guard dogs or it is something that they are trained to do alongside other working roles, would you be expecting that they would be confined to an area that they are guarding, rather than access to the front door? Is this the sort of thing you would consider-whether they would need to be near machinery and other stuff that is being protected-but still allowing access to the front door?

Lord de Mauley: Unfortunately, it is going to be very difficult; it is going to be different. It might be worth saying that owners of guard dogs have to comply with the Guard Dogs Act, which requires things such as notices at entrances and so on. Failure to comply with that Act is an offence, again liable to a fine.

Q377 Ms Ritchie: Moving on, Lord de Mauley, to the issue of microchipping, how would microchipping dogs reduce the number of dog attacks?

Lord de Mauley: The real reason for microchipping is to address issues of dog welfare and straying particularly. The real tools for stopping attacks are in the Home Office package, which we have briefly referred to. Chipping does have the incidental benefit, in the case that you are referring to, of helping us to identify the owner.

Q378 Ms Ritchie: What is your response to criticism that the Defrapreferred option of microchipping only puppies means enforcement will be difficult and implementation slow?

Lord de Mauley: As you will well know, we have set out various options on microchipping in the consultation. All of them would lead, eventually, to all dogs being microchipped, one, as you point out, rather quicker than the other. We also need to consider the effects any proposal would have on breeders, owners, vets, rehoming centres and the microchipping database companies. Some of these might find it difficult to respond to all dogs being microchipped at the same time but, I have to say, we are still carefully considering these issues.

Q379 Ms Ritchie: How much can the proposed budget of only £20,000 across England and Wales achieve in ensuring there is full awareness by the public and agencies of the new microchipping arrangements?

Lord de Mauley: I am not convinced that that £20,000 is the budget for that actually. I do not think we have decided what the budget is for that yet.

Chair: I think that is what has been published.

Lord de Mauley: I beg your pardon. Is that right?

Chair: We have taken that figure from your impact assessment, which is a published document.

Sue Ellis: I am sorry; I have not got the document in front of me. We have not set aside a certain amount for advertising microchipping. However, the Microchipping Alliance and the charities involved in that would obviously step up their education campaigns locally. We would anticipate that, rather than a centralised drive by Defra, actually there would be a spread of effort on this one to make sure that people did know that they are required to microchip their dog.

That is also partly the case for having an introduction over a period of time, so that people did realise and get to know that they should be getting their dog microchipped and that there would be benefits to them as well, in case their dog got lost or strayed. It would also give, as Lord de Mauley indicated, the vets and others an opportunity to make sure that dogs were microchipped. Vets could advise owners, when they popped in to have the dog inoculated or treated in some other way, that they would benefit from having the dog microchipped.

Q380 Ms Ritchie: What measures will be in place to ensure that data is updated on change of dog ownership?

Lord de Mauley: As with when one sells one’s car, it is the responsibility of the seller or the former owner to update the register. If a reader is applied to a dog and it does not match up to the new owner, we will be able to pin it back to the vendor.

Q381 Ms Ritchie: What happens then if the vendor does not comply?

Lord de Mauley: The former owner may be subject to a penalty charge.

Q382 Ms Ritchie: Maybe through the Chair we could get that checked out. Would it be possible to get a further response by way of written correspondence?

Lord de Mauley: Of course.

Q383 Chair: Is there going to be a national database?

Lord de Mauley: There will not be a single database.

Q384 Chair: What we picked up from the evidence that was given to the Committee is that, if you are trying to facilitate owners, surely there should be one place they can go to lodge the data and then, when it requires to be updated, you are just going back. Equally, if you find a dog, would it not be more sensible to look at just one national database?

Lord de Mauley: My understanding is that the reader will tell you which database it is on. There will be a small number of databases, four or five, because it is done by the commercial sector. The reader will tell you which database to go to; you go to that database and that will tell you the owner of the dog.

Q385 Chair: Minister, Sue Ellis said there about it being for the dog owner to trot along and give this information. The Committee is concerned that there is this element of noncompliant owner. They are not the type to take their dogs to the vet; they are the type to leave their dogs, if they have been injured in whatever activities they have been doing. The point is, if only 50% of people are buying a dog licence, how can you convince the Committee that more than 50% of dog owners will microchip?

Lord de Mauley: First of all, it will be much more straightforward to tell if the dog is microchipped, provided there is someone there with a reader, than has a paper licence, which might have got lost or been left at home. It will vary from local area to local area. In some areas, we might expect campaigns and encouragement to help microchipping take place, coupled with some lighttouch enforcement. Checking for microchips could become part of the process when a dog is picked up by a dog warden for being a nuisance. I acknowledge that there will inevitably be those who try to circumvent the law but, if the dog comes to the attention of the authorities because its behaviour is giving rise to concern, then action can be taken against the owner, both in relation to the behaviour of the dog and the lack of a microchip.

Q386 Chair: You are not selling microchipping to me-I am personally sceptical about it. The responsible dog owner is going to be put to the expense of going out and microchipping their dog-potentially 50%, if it is the same figure as those who did not buy a dog licence when we had dog licences. I am just not convinced that you are doing enough to encourage or coerce noncompliant dog owners into microchipping their dog. Surely you want to get the widest possible dog ownership to comply.

Lord de Mauley: Already nearly 60% of dogs are microchipped, which is a good sign. We have also seen, in other EU countries, very high levels of compliance. When dog owners see the benefits of being married back up with their dog when it has strayed, for instance, and when that is accompanied by publicity campaigns, vets and so on, I think we will get a good level of compliance.

Chair: Amongst responsible dog owners.

Q387 George Eustice: I wanted to ask about the idea of licensing, which obviously we know was scrapped in 1987. The Guide Dogs Association floated the idea that perhaps there was a case for reintroducing some sort of licensing. A lot of the evidence we have had is very clear that a lot of the problems we get are from irresponsible owners and people who are frankly not fit to own a dog. Do you think there would be a case for some kind of new licence that would not just be a licence attached to the dog but perhaps some kind of assessment of the suitability of people to own a dog?

Lord de Mauley: I understand that paper dog licences failed because they were too easy to forge or simply avoid having. There was no easy way of linking dog owners and their dogs. We think there is a better modern alternative, which we have been discussing.

Q388 George Eustice: Microchipping just means you can identify the dog and the owner. It does not enable you to say to an owner, "Actually, we do not think you are fit to own a dog, and you are not going to," does it?

Lord de Mauley: No, but there are other measures. That is where the Home Office measures come in. I do not think a licence, per se, would help address those issues.

Q389 Chair: Why do you think a microchip would?

Lord de Mauley: It enables you to match the dog to its owner. We are talking about irresponsible dog ownership.

Q390 Chair: What about the criminally irresponsible dog owners? Charities out there might say that they should not ever own a dog. How are we addressing that through what you are trying to do?

Lord de Mauley: If the dog is behaving in an irresponsible way, which is after all the point that we are trying to address, when it is caught, the reader will be applied. If it is not microchipped, it will be subject to the existing process for going to a rehoming centre, possibly destruction if it is a banned breed and so on. If it is able to be rehomed, it will be chipped at that point. I am sorry; I am probably being obtuse. I am not understanding the issue.

Chair: George, you can probably put it better than me.

Q391 George Eustice: Frankly, if it is a hooligan who is not fit to look after a dog or raise a dog properly, how do we at the moment prevent them from owning a dog? A licence perhaps could do that-not a licence that is automatic to a dog, which is applied for and there is just a fee to pay, but a licence that is conditional on their being suitable.

Lord de Mauley: Licences did not prevent that, because people did not get them.

Q392 George Eustice: If you were going to go to the RSPCA or the Dogs Trust and say, "I would like to adopt a rescue dog," they will not just say, "Sure, here’s a dog." They will go to your home; they will check that you are going to be able to give the dog exercise, that your home is big enough, that you have outdoor space and that you have not got young children who might be inappropriate for a particular dog. There is actually a proper assessment that takes place. I am just saying: is there scope for some kind of system along those lines, perhaps run by local authorities, which would help deal with this problem?

Lord de Mauley: We do not really consider that that would be practicable or feasible, given the number of dogs, to require every owner to go through what is effectively a suitability test. We have to do something that is practicable and feasible.

Q393 George Eustice: Moving on, you mentioned the Home Office powers that are going to come in. The Home Office Minister was very keen to stress to us that they wanted to simplify the system, have a much smaller number of powers around antisocial behaviour and get rid of any specific ones. They seem to regard antisocial behaviour problems that are dogrelated equating to exactly the same as any other kind of antisocial behaviour. One of the issues with dogs is that a big aspect is whether they have been socialised as puppies. There are all sorts of other factors that come in; it is not just like normal antisocial behaviour. Quite often the problem is that the owner is unable to cope with the dog; a mastiff becomes fully grown and suddenly they abandon it. Do you accept that, when it comes to dogs, actually it is specific and different from any other type of antisocial behaviour, because of that factor?

Lord de Mauley: I do not actually, no. I think it is very much an aspect of irresponsible behaviour.

Q394 George Eustice: The powers at the moment would only basically have sanctions against the owner of the dog. They would not be able to deal with, for instance, the backstreet puppy farm that caused the dog to be a problem in the first place, would they?

Lord de Mauley: They might, but that is not the specific focus of those tools, no.

Q395 George Eustice: We talked quite a bit with the Minister about the Scottish model, where they have dog control notices, which do have more specific powers, which ACPO has called for. Has Defra made any assessment of how successful dog control notices have been in Scotland and whether we can learn anything from that?

Lord de Mauley: They came into effect in February 2011. Between 26 February 2011 and 5 March 2012, there were 1,114 DCN investigations, resulting in 92 dog control notices being issued, and we are monitoring it very closely. These are early days, frankly.

Q396 George Eustice: From what you have seen so far though, are you persuaded that it is a good model to follow or are you sceptical?

Lord de Mauley: The model that we are proposing, with the Home Office escalating approach to the thing, effectively achieves what dog control notices achieve in Scotland.

Q397 George Eustice: Are there any things that you do not think it can achieve? Is there anything that you think a dog control notice, i.e. the Scottish model, delivers that the current proposals do not?

Lord de Mauley: No. I think actually our proposals are broader than that and achieve a better result than that.

Q398 George Eustice: For instance, at the moment under a dog control notice, you can order that a dog be neutered. You could ban somebody from breeding dogs. You might allow them to keep the dog they have, but ban them from breeding dogs. Will you be able to do that under the Home Office proposals?

Lord de Mauley: We can certainly look at that. It is not set in stone yet, but those sorts of things can be considered.

Q399 Richard Drax: Lord de Mauley, good afternoon. The community educational work that is Defra proposing to do is welcomed by the Guide Dogs Association, the NFU and ACPO, so it is generally accepted that more education is needed for dog owners. What do you expect this to achieve and what proportion of owners have you estimated will require this sort of education, bearing in mind millions of people own dogs in this country?

Lord de Mauley: We are working very closely with the animal welfare charities on this, and we are still in the process of learning. Our final decision on educational plans is yet to come and we are waiting for reports on that research to come in.

Q400 Richard Drax: These are early days at the moment. I note here that you are spending £50,000, which is going to be shared between Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, the RSPCA and Dogs Trust "to foster innovative local community projects to encourage responsible dog ownership in areas where there are high instances of dogrelated problems", which is probably most of the United Kingdom. Is that budget enough? Is that realistically going to be enough to educate, if indeed that is what people need? Maybe I should phrase it another way: would you regard this route, in most cases, as quite Big Brotherish? Would you oppose this, is it something you would suggest or is it a test you are doing?

Lord de Mauley: Can I address the first half of the question: is it enough? These are austere times and there is never going to be enough funding for everything we want to do. We think that we have reached a relatively good balance with what is happening at the moment. Money saved from kennelling and rehoming stray dogs, when microchipping is in place, will also be channelled by the dog charities towards educational activities.

Q401 Richard Drax: Presumably the sorts of people who cause trouble with dogs are hardly going to attend the sort of education that perhaps we would like them to do. Is that a fair comment?

Lord de Mauley: Yes, but hardtoreach people are going to be hard to reach. There are limits to what one can do, but we must do the best we can. Some of this charitable work is going on in specific hotspot areas, where they are trying to reach out to the more difficulttoreach people. You have to be very targeted in your use of resources.

Q402 Richard Drax: The majority of dog owners, you are saying, who are responsible-I think we all agree that most of them are-probably do not need education in the sense that you are suggesting here. It is just the real problem owners.

Lord de Mauley: Yes, absolutely; it has to be targeted.

Q403 Richard Drax: What about schools and the national curriculum, or is that a step too far?

Lord de Mauley: I think it is unlikely that the national curriculum will go in that direction, but we do certainly see education in schools, particularly at primary school level, as being something that is worth investigating, yes.

Q404 Neil Parish: Can I press you on that, because I think it is really important to get to young children? What more can we do from Defra to the Education Department to make sure that primary schools do bring forward some teaching on proper ownership of dogs and their welfare? In their own homes, some of these children may see quite the reverse.

Lord de Mauley: I certainly agree with that and, as I have said, there is absolutely a role for education about dogs in schools. Charities very often perform this role very well and, for younger children, perhaps schools could help educate them that they need to be sensible around dogs.

Q405 Dan Rogerson: To turn to the issue of puppy farms, what assessment has Defra made of the effectiveness of local authorities in tackling unscrupulous dog breeders and puppy farms?

Lord de Mauley: There are a couple of problems that you are probably referring to. One is in the area of pedigree breeding, where people are looking for enhanced features and so on. The other is in the underground area of breeding.

Dan Rogerson: It is more the latter to start off with.

Lord de Mauley: A particular concern in that area is clearly the welfare of the puppies. The law on dog breeding already provides local authorities with powers to tackle problems of poor welfare in dog breeding establishments, whether they are large or small scale. Any dog breeding establishments that do not need to be licensed must be subject to the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. As I say, local authorities have powers to respond to welfare concerns under that Act.

Q406 Dan Rogerson: Maybe the question is: has Defra looked at the effectiveness of local authorities in using those powers? As you quite rightly point out, they already exist and are available to them.

Sue Ellis: No, we have not undertaken a formal assessment. However, we do keep in close contact with local authorities and we do understand that there are some localised problems, but we have not quantified those at all.

Q407 Dan Rogerson: Is that something you plan to do at all?

Sue Ellis: Not at the moment, no.

Q408 Dan Rogerson: In terms of the scale of this problem then, we are relying on anecdotal evidence as to how great a problem it is and whether local authorities are a) taking it seriously enough, or b) resourceful enough to act. Is this something you think perhaps you should be looking at?

Lord de Mauley: In terms of the resources, it is covered by great support grant funding and it is for local authorities to decide their own priorities. It is also worth saying that the Dog Breeding Stakeholder Group is working on updating the guidance for inspectors of breeding establishments.

Q409 Dan Rogerson: Yes, sure but, as you said, that is at the higher end. Turning to the evidence that we have had then over the past few sessions, some have argued that the threshold, in terms of the number of litters in a year, ought to be lowered in order to tighten up on this sort of thing. Is that something on which you take a view?

Lord de Mauley: Anyone who breeds dogs, whether they are licensed or not, needs to comply with the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which provides for the welfare needs of animals. Anyone who has concerns about the welfare of animals at a breeding establishment can report them to a local authority, which has powers, under both the dog breeding legislation and the Animal Welfare Act, or they can report them to the RSPCA. In answer to your question about five litters or two, I think that we are not minded to change that.

Q410 Dan Rogerson: We have heard about education, and evidence from previous witnesses has pointed to the fact that we need to say to people, "If you have not seen the puppy with the mother, do not buy it." You need to investigate where it is coming from. That refers to your earlier comment about nurture and socialisation, and the temperament of the animal in the future, which is quite important. As we move to update the legislation, perhaps this is something that the Department might want to look at a little bit more, in terms of the evidence we have received. Perhaps a recommendation may come from the Select Committee about that, but at the moment you are minded not to make a change.

Lord de Mauley: I am minded not to, but I would be happy to-

Q411 Dan Rogerson: Following that, on a particular group of breeders, those where these breeds are not prescribed by the Act, but they are deemed to be particularly aggressive or there is a particular danger that they might become aggressive if not handled properly, have you looked at the issue of whether all or any one breed of those dogs should be licensed, even if it is only one litter a year?

Lord de Mauley: I see what you mean. The problem would be that they will be very difficult to get to. Whether or not we legislate to introduce licensing for them, in practical terms, it might not achieve very much.

Q412 Dan Rogerson: I am not particularly thinking of people who are doing it and then training the dogs to be aggressive. I am just thinking of particular breeds that the police advise, for example, that they are not covered by the current Act, but there are concerns.

Lord de Mauley: I absolutely understand the concern. I question the practicality of achieving it.

Q413 George Eustice: I know you say you are minded not to at the moment, but the evidence we have had is pretty overwhelming that these backstreet puppy farms are a major source of the problem-status dogs and dogs that you do not control. Five litters a year is quite a lot of dogs actually. Unless you actually reduce that, so that, if there is a problem with a dog, the police can then go to the person they brought the dog from and say, "Right, you are illegal because you are not licensed", you cannot actually deal with this and raise standards, because you never find out where they are. Is that something you really ought to be looking at?

Lord de Mauley: We certainly have considered it very carefully.

Q414 George Eustice: What is the reason that you have ruled it out?

Lord de Mauley: I think in terms of practicality, but I am very happy to take the matter away, give it some further thought and perhaps write to you, if that would be helpful.

Chair: It is something that the Welsh Government is seeking to legislate on, so we would welcome a note, if we may.

Q415 Thomas Docherty: My Lord, I think in August you received a report from the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding, which suggested, among other things, a minimum criteria that breeders should have to adhere to. Can I ask whether you are considering adopting a breeding standard as a regulatory requirement?

Lord de Mauley: Our view is that that is probably better done by organisations such as the Kennel Club.

Q416 Thomas Docherty: Can I ask why?

Lord de Mauley: It is something that is less appropriate to regulate for.

Q417 Thomas Docherty: I am going to press you a little bit to say a little bit more about why.

Lord de Mauley: I am not sure that I am going to be able to elucidate why I think that, but it is the view I have.

Q418 Chair: Could I just give you a statistic? I think only 40% of dogs are registered by the Kennel Club. The question is asking about the 60% that are not, which obviously are in our minds.

Sue Ellis: The report has recently come forward. We have been looking at it and, indeed, the Minister has a meeting coming up quite shortly with Sheila Crispin to discuss that. There has been quite a lot of work so far by the Dog Advisory Council in terms of bringing together all the effort and focus of work. Indeed, the charities earlier in the year, particularly the RSPCA, working with BVA and others, have produced both a puppy information pack and a puppy contract, which I think the Committee may have been told about actually. It sets out very clear expectations of what responsible breeders should be doing, but it also helps people who are intending to buy a puppy understand what they should be looking for when they are buying a puppy from a breeder as well. There is quite a lot of work going forward in this area.

Q419 Thomas Docherty: I am sorry to belabour the point, my Lord, but I am yet to hear why-given, as the Chairman has pointed out, more than half, 60%, of dogs are not covered at the moment-you think a voluntary approach that effectively has a minority is better than regulatory action.

Lord de Mauley: Let me have the meeting with Professor Crispin, and then I will answer your question.

Chair: If you would be good enough, share it with us, if you would.

Lord de Mauley: Of course.

Q420 Thomas Docherty: On Ms Ellis’s point about the puppy contract, we are obviously aware of the RSPCA and BVA. What steps are Defra taking to encourage the dissemination and implementation of that puppy contract?

Sue Ellis: Defra has endorsed the approach that has been adopted.

Chair: How are you getting it out to the wider world?

Q421 Thomas Docherty: Ministerial warm words are wonderful, but the question was: what encouragement are you providing?

Sue Ellis: I think I am right in saying that there is a link on our website for people to follow through to get the details on that, so we are helping to disseminate in that way. To some extent, I think the charities are possibly going to be more successful, in that they are on the front line; they do deal with people and individuals on a day-to-day basis, so it is probably a more effective way of getting it across.

Q422 Thomas Docherty: My Lord, I know that the Defra website has huge traffic and I sure it is on everyone’s "favourites" list, but are you really satisfied by simply putting a link on your website? Is Defra is doing all it reasonably can do to promote this?

Lord de Mauley: I will give it some further thought but, as you know, one has to think very carefully about what one spends money on. I am happy to give it some further thought.

Q423 George Eustice: I wanted to move on to the issue of people who are able to sell dogs, because some of the evidence we have had from people like Canine Action UK has suggested a couple of ideas. One is that you would restrict sale only from people who are registered breeders or from rescue centres. Secondly, you would effectively ban the sale of dogs that have been bred outside the UK. Is either of those proposals something that you think has merit?

Lord de Mauley: Taking the last point first, I think I am right in saying that that would be very difficult to enforce, particularly under EU law. I do not think we could stop people importing and selling, unfortunately. Sorry; could you ask your first question again?

Q424 George Eustice: The first one is that you would restrict sale only from registered breeders or from rescue centres.

Lord de Mauley: That would be quite draconian. At the moment, small hobby breeders can breed and, very often, are perfectly legitimate and attend to the welfare of their animals. It would be quite hard on them to prohibit them from doing that. It might be disproportionate.

Q425 George Eustice: A lot of the concern here stems from worries about the internet. Gumtree, for instance, is cited regularly as being a real problem here. Is there anything that can be done? It is notoriously difficult to regulate the internet, but I think what they are trying to get at is whether we can find a different way of dealing with this problem.

Lord de Mauley: We are consulting with other Government Departments on the possibility of an industrydriven code of practice, which we think, given the points you make about how difficult it is to police the internet, is more likely to be successful than Governmentimposed measures. There is also the good work of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, which is a collection of animal welfare organisations that work with newspaper and internet pet advertisers to promote more responsible advertising of pet animals.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Q426 Chair: Thank you very much indeed, Lord de Mauley, for your patience. George Eustice apologises; he is going to speak in the next debate. Had you finished your answer?

Lord de Mauley: I think I had finished what I had to say, thank you.

Q427 Neil Parish: I want to move now please to pedigree dog breeding and the Bateson report. What role should Government have in tackling issues raised by the Bateson report on dog breeding? What has Defra done and who else can bring pressure to bear on what I would say are inbred dogs rather than linebred dogs?

Lord de Mauley: We are very much aware of the problems, which can cause physical malformations and other welfare issues. Local authorities already have the power to investigate under the welfare criteria in the Animal Welfare Act. We do not think additional legislation is necessary to address it. We are also encouraging the industry to create its own standards in regard to dog breeding, which are supported by some quite impressive work by the Kennel Club and other charities.

Q428 Neil Parish: The Kennel Club has an assured breeder scheme, but it also registers pedigree dogs that are not bred under the assured breeder scheme. One of the points we have made to the Kennel Club is that, once somebody buys a dog that is registered with the Kennel Club, they in themselves would consider that an assurance scheme. What more pressure can be put on the Kennel Club to make sure all their dogs are bred under an assured breeder scheme?

Lord de Mauley: Pressure by yourselves and ourselves, in terms of meeting and encouragement, is worth doing. I do not think regulation is the way to do it, but I agree with you that encouragement should be given and we are keen that they should do that. Yes, I am with you on that.

Neil Parish: There are also vets now at Crufts inspecting the dogs, which is a good thing, but there are some dogs that are being excluded.

Chair: We were coming on to that.

Q429 Neil Parish: I will leave it there then, thank you. I have some other questions-I am not going to let you off quite so lightly as that. Pursuing the Bateson report, why have you not set a timetable for the adoption of recommendations in the Bateson report? First, have you set a timetable? Second, are you going to have a timetable?

Lord de Mauley: I do not think we are minded to have a timetable particularly. Can I ask Ms Ellis if she has got anything to add?

Sue Ellis: We have been expecting that the Dog Advisory Council, which is something that was in the Bateson report, would be taking forward a lot of the recommendations. Indeed, as you know, they have just issued a copy of their report on dog breeding and recommendations. As we mentioned earlier, the Minister is intending to meet Professor Sheila Crispin shortly to discuss some of those recommendations in more detail.

Q430 Neil Parish: The Advisory Council, I believe, is doing a very good job, but do they need more teeth in being able to get the best breeding practice to take place?

Sue Ellis: I think we need to have the discussion first with Sheila Crispin, who is the expert on this, before we can come back on that.

Lord de Mauley: Perhaps we could include that in the growing letter.

Q431 Neil Parish: Funnily enough, we were actually discussing that. Under what circumstances would you consider introducing regulations that tackle genetic and conformation problems in pedigree dogs caused by inbreeding and breed standards, especially those breeds that are of a very strong pedigree but a very small gene pool, where the dogs are being sold amongst the breeders? There is an issue there. Do you intend to do anything about that or again is it the Advisory Council? What do you intend to do?

Lord de Mauley: It is not something that I have given a lot of thought to, but I thank you for the point. If I may, I will take it away and give some thought to it.

Neil Parish: If you would, because I do actually believe it is a problem, where you might have to bring in some other breeds into some of these breeds that are far too pure. There is not enough of the gene pool.

Q432 Ms Ritchie: Minister, bearing in mind that you probably will have to put this in writing as well, do you believe that Defra supports making the Advisory Council an independent regulatory body to enable it to get tough with those who need improved breeding practices?

Lord de Mauley: I am not aware of a loud call for making it a regulatory body. We are watching developments and, as you have rather foreseen, that is something that is also likely to come up in the meeting with Sheila Crispin.

Q433 Ms Ritchie: Bearing in mind somewhat the previous questions and your work in the Department as Minister, do you think there would be such a need for a regulatory authority in order to improve breeding practices?

Lord de Mauley: I hope not. I hope that the existing organisations such as the Kennel Club and the charities will be enough, but that will be on the agenda, no doubt.

Q434 Ms Ritchie: Have you given any thought to what knowledge or how the Department is likely to act on irresponsible breeders, knowing full well that there is a need to do such a thing?

Lord de Mauley: I may have said before, and you will no doubt bring me up if I am not answering the right question, that we think that the law on dog breeding already provides local authorities with the powers to tackle the problems that you are referring to. The larger dog breeding establishments clearly require licensing; the smaller ones are subject anyway to the Animal Welfare Act. That gives the local authorities the powers to respond to welfare concerns, under the Act.

Q435 Ms Ritchie: Through the Chair, maybe you would reflect on those issues and discussions with your colleagues, following your discussions with Professor Crispin.

Lord de Mauley: Of course.

Q436 Chair: Could I just say that the Advisory Council told us that they feel they can recommend as much as they like, but their recommendations are just ignored? Would you be minded to give teeth to the recommendations of the Advisory Council?

Lord de Mauley: I can absolutely assure you that they are not ignored. I do not consider that they need more teeth, but I thank you for the point.

Q437 Chair: If a breed is not right and if the dog is not of the breed, should the Kennel Club simply just not register that breed, rather than registering and actually admitting that that dog exists? If there is any doubt about an individual dog, would it be better simply not to register it with the Kennel Club because, at the moment, they seem obliged to register. If it is a bad dog or one that should not be deemed to exist, if it is not pedigree, then why register it with the Kennel Club in the first place?

Lord de Mauley: With respect, I think it is quite difficult for Government to answer that question. I think that really is more of a question for the Kennel Club.

Q438 Chair: The evidence that we took was quite conflicting between the Kennel Club and the veterinary profession. If I just go on then to talk about the Kennel Club revision of breed standards and the introduction of veterinary checks for some pedigree dogs, for example at Crufts, they were not allowed to go on to the next stage of the group or best in show. Do you think that there is sufficient objectivity being undertaken in the checks being introduced? Is it not confusing for people?

Lord de Mauley: I am so sorry to say this, but I think this is really a matter for the Kennel Club, unless I am misunderstanding the direction of travel.

Q439 Chair: What the Committee heard was that there is unease amongst the veterinary profession that it is being left to the Kennel Club. The Kennel Club is registering dogs that perhaps the vets feel are best not registered, because then they would not be deemed to exist and be bred from. Therefore, a steer from the Department would be very helpful.

Sue Ellis: I would just say that vets at the shows would of course be exercising their professional judgment, which would be an independent one, obviously based on the Kennel Club standards, but they do exercise professional judgment.

Q440 Chair: Can I just share with you, and it is available on our website, what they told us last week? "Defra does need to do more." This is Mark Johnston. "I would like to see it become more regulatory rather than just advisory. Basically, yes; I would like to see Defra do more. Yes, I would like to see the Advisory Council getting more teeth…As veterinary surgeons, it has been very difficult to know where to go to for advice or have one voice saying, ‘This is what we should be doing.’" What we are asking and what the vets are asking for is a steer. Are we likely to get a steer, Ms Ellis, in your followup to the consultation?

Sue Ellis: It has not been something that we have been looking at recently, but if Ministers would like us to look at it further, then we would do so.

Q441 Neil Parish: The point is that, for instance, the fashion for some time for pugs was to make the nose flatter and flatter, until such a stage as the dog cannot breathe. Therefore, you have to reverse that. The Kennel Club is starting to reverse it, in fairness to them, but the Advisory Council and Defra need to be much firmer on this. This is what the vets are particularly interested in-reversing that.

Lord de Mauley: I am certainly happy to take that point away and consider that.

Q442 Chair: We are going to get a long written briefing from you. Do you think that your Department has a role in improving data gathering on the genetic status of pedigree dogs? What we heard from Professor Crispin was that, in her view, the collection of data has been pretty grim. Professor Bateson said that the insurance industry data is provided in countries such as Sweden to enable people to get a full picture of health problems in pedigree dogs, and there is a call for this to be provided in the UK. Are you likely to respond positively to that call? Could I ask what discussions you have had with the insurance industry?

Sue Ellis: No, we have not had discussions on that point.

Q443 Chair: Might you be minded to have discussions with the insurance industry now, on the back of this inquiry and also on the back of the consultation?

Sue Ellis: Certainly if that is something that Ministers would like us to follow up, then we would do so.

Q444 Chair: A direct question: might you be inclined to ask that insurance companies be compelled to provide such data?

Lord de Mauley: Can I consider that in light of the meeting with Professor Crispin?

Q445 Chair: Okay. Just to clarify, we have now heard from yourself, Minister, and the Home Office Minister last week. The Home Office Minister said that-in terms of dog attacks on humans, postal workers, other dogs, livestock and other animals-this is a Defra lead. Your answers today, earlier, seemed to indicate that this was a Home Office matter. Can you just convince us that it is a Defra lead, that you are going to run with this and that the matter will be dealt with?

Lord de Mauley: There is existing legislation, which is very much Defra legislation, which deals with such things-the Animal Welfare Act, the Dangerous Dogs Act, the Animals Act and so on. Yes, that is very much Defra business. Indeed, we are cooperating very closely with the Home Office over their new rules. Please accept that we are fully apprised of our responsibilities.

Q446 Chair: Just one question hung over from the puppy farms. We heard very compelling evidence from a number of witnesses that in no circumstances should any dog from a litter be sold without the mother being present. Is that something you agree with? Is this something that should be intuitive? Should there be guidance issued? We may not need legislation, but it just seems so natural and it would seem to put an end to many of the illicit practices that we are seeing.

Lord de Mauley: It certainly is a principle that I would agree with. We need to think about how we achieve that, by education, guidance or whatever. Yes, I certainly agree with the principle.

Q447 Chair: You will go through the responses to the consultation. Just to repeat the question we asked at the beginning, what is going to happen now as a result of the consultation and all the responses that you have received? Are you going to come forward with legislation, either primary or secondary-it could be regulation-in taking the matter of dog control and dog welfare forward?

Lord de Mauley: Yes, there will be legislation. I am confident of that.

Q448 Chair: Primary legislation or secondary?

Lord de Mauley: Certainly the extension to private property will require primary legislation. I think microchipping is a possible regulation under the Animal Welfare Act.

Q449 Chair: On that point, I must declare an interest: I am a nonpractising Scottish advocate. The Scottish law now talks about a dangerous dog found in any place. Would there be a possibility of looking at that or will you come up with your own formulation?

Lord de Mauley: I think we will come up with our own form of words, but it will be something similar to that.

Chair: May I thank you, on behalf of all the Committee, for being so generous with your time? Obviously there are a number of issues on which we would like to hear from you. We will make our recommendations, but we will look forward to seeing what comes out of Defra in due course. I hope our inquiry will be a positive contribution to that process. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 14th February 2013