Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Further supplementary written evidence submitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Dog Control & Welfare

At my recent appearance before the Select Committee, I promised to write following my proposed meeting with Professor Sheila Crispin, Chairman of the Advisory Council on Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding. That meeting has now been held and we have discussed some of the issues that arose at the evidence session.

1. Breed Specific Legislation

Prof. Crispin has reservations about breed specific legislation, as do some animal welfare organisations. I understand these concerns, but on the other side of the argument, I have also met recently with the family of a young dog-attack victim who put forward strong arguments to extend the scope of breed specific legislation. ACPO also consider that Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is important in terms of safeguarding the public. In the light of this, I believe that the Government has struck the right balance in protecting the public from specific types of dog and applying penalties on out of control dogs. Given sections one and three of the DDA, this is what I would call a Deed and Breed policy.

2. Stray Dogs and Microchipping

Both Prof. Crispin and the Government are in agreement that microchipping is a good idea with clear welfare and societal benefits. The debate now centres on how microchipping is implemented. We shall be announcing a way forward on that shortly. In response to concerns raised by the Committee on microchipping databases, this was also discussed with Prof. Crispin and by officials with various organisations. The databases can be accessed 24 a day hours online. A further positive development is that a web portal is being considered that will function as a one-stop shop for those proper authorities seeking owner details of a stray dog. This will of course comply strictly with data protection laws.

3. Addressing Poor Breeding Practices

Following the points raised by the Committee, poor breeding practices were discussed with Prof. Crispin. I am pleased that Professor Bateson has been appointed Chair of a sub-committee to look at developing a unified breeding standard taking account of the Kennel Club’s Assured Breeder Scheme, the DAC’s own Breeding Standard and the model conditions being developed for local authorities. I consider this a positive move forward using extremely well-qualified experts to draft guidance which can be disseminated to vets, breeders and the wider dog-owning community. This seems to be the best approach as I think experts such as these have a much better chance of convincing those operating in the dog world of the need for such standards.

4. Status of the Dog Advisory Council

There were a number of questions at the committee session on the Dog Advisory Council’s status. Having discussed this with Prof. Crispin, I can clarify my views on this. Many of the arguments for the DAC to become a statutory body are linked to the view that as an advisory council, its advice is not heeded. That is not the case. All reports and advice from the council are seriously considered and used in policy making decisions.

Similarly the regular contact between DAC and the department, and the encouragement by the department to key stakeholders to engage with DAC is further evidence of the importance we attach to DAC’s role. I sympathise with DAC’s desire to secure a more stable footing, particularly as regards funding. I think we are all very appreciative of the voluntary time and effort that Prof.Crispin and the DAC members put into the organisation to make it such a success. However, given the pressures on departmental budgets, I am not able to promise financial support for the DAC. I think that one of the advantages of the DAC is that it works through consensus and agreement, and its recommendations carry consequent weight and influence.

5. Puppy Farms/Illegal Breeders

I am aware of concerns about commercial breeders not obtaining licenses and the difficulty for local authorities in ascertaining whether a breeder is commercial or not given the number of litters that define a commercial breeder. Regardless of whether a breeder is licensed or not, everyone must comply with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (AWA). In fact, one local authority has confirmed with officials that their breeder license conditions are taken from the Animal Welfare Act, underlining the cross over and the importance of the AWA. The difficulty here is that as local authorities have powers, rather than duties, under the Animal Welfare Act, it may be that not all of them are enforcing the requirements rigorously. Officials are currently working on developing a more comprehensive picture of what is happening on the ground. I think it is helpful to point out that regardless of whether a local authority has authorised its officers under the AWA, breeders must still comply with it, and anyone can investigate under the Act and bring a prosecution case, as the RSPCA frequently do.

If anyone suspects that a commercial breeder is unlicensed, I would urge them to contact their local authority who can investigate using this information, and if necessary obtain a warrant to search the premises for evidence and the number of bitches held.

6. Puppy Imports

The concerns over illegal puppy imports are noted. I assure the committee that we are aware of the problem and officials are working to gather hard evidence of the scale of the problem, before moving on to how this can be tackled.

7. Advertising

Two particular problems with the online advertising of dogs have been brought to our attention by a number of welfare organisations. The first is the advertising of Section 1 dogs, which is illegal. The second is the advertising of dogs from breeders with poor welfare conditions, who will sell puppies before eight weeks old, or use dubious animal welfare related threats to secure a sale. I have praised the good work of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG) on this front which has been leading talks with online classified ad sites. My officials are in regular contact with PAAG and are monitoring progress. PAAG are currently working on a code of practice for internet sites to use and subject to its contents, I hope we will be able to give this some form of endorsement. PAAG have also had varying degrees of success with sites on implementing controls such as key word filters and inserting useful advice for consumers between adverts. Where sites are reluctant to introduce sensible measures, this may be an area where my Department could exert some influence in order to encourage internet companies to work together to voluntarily monitor this. We encourage the DAC to liaise with this group as this overlaps with some of the concerns they are addressing and I hope that your Committee could see its way to endorse this approach.

8. Insurance Company Data

The question was raised about insurance companies releasing data on health problems of dogs in order for comprehensive datasets to be compiled. I can see the logic in doing so but I am mindful of the data protection controls. Prof. Crispin promised to consider this further and ascertain what might be possible.

I look forward to the Committee’s report.

Lord De Mauley
Parliamentary Under Secretary

December 2012

Prepared 14th February 2013