Draft Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Fergus Reid, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Draft Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015
The regulations deliver one of the main measures in the package of policies set out in the written ministerial statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) on 6 February 2013 to tackle issues surrounding dog welfare and irresponsible dog ownership. The Government have already amended the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to extend its criminal provisions on dangerously out-of-control dogs to private property. We have also increased the penalties available for the worst dog attacks and provided authorities with new preventive powers in the form of community protection notices. These regulations will make it compulsory for all dogs in England to be microchipped.
In the past three years, an average of 102,000 stray dogs a year were passed to English local authorities and welfare organisations. Of those dogs not able to be reunited with their owner, some 38,000 dogs were rehomed and a further 8,000 dogs had to be put down. The annual cost incurred by local authorities and welfare organisations in dealing with the problem of stray dogs is some £33 million a year. I have seen, as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee visiting Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, and through visiting welfare charities in my constituency, the welfare impact on dogs that have not been raised properly, have not been treated properly and, all too often, are difficult to rehome with new families. I therefore believe that the regulations are an important step forward.
Since the Government first announced our intention to introduce this requirement in February 2012, the number of dogs microchipped is estimated to have risen from 58% to 70%. However, we consider that we are close to the ceiling of the number of dogs that would be microchipped by maintaining the current voluntary approach. Microchipping a dog is a welfare measure above all. Increased traceability allows lost dogs to be more quickly reunited with their keepers and therefore avoids dogs having to spend unnecessary time in kennels, with possible resultant welfare problems, or having to be rehomed. Compulsory microchipping should have the additional benefits of reducing kennelling costs to local authorities and welfare organisations and allowing abandoned and nuisance dogs to be traced to their keepers, who can then be held to account.
The regulations require that, from April 2016, unless a vet has certified that a dog should not be microchipped for reasons of its health, all keepers of dogs in England must have their dog microchipped. The regulations
In keeping with the Government’s wish to have proportionate enforcement of the regulations, the microchipping requirement is enforceable primarily by the issue of a notice. Any keeper of a dog found without a microchip can be handed a notice by a local authority authorised person or a police constable requiring them to get their dog microchipped within 21 days. There is then a fine on conviction, currently up to £500, for non-compliance with such a notice. Finally, all dogs must be microchipped before they can be transferred to a new keeper, unless a vet has certified otherwise. Microchipping is a relatively simple process that can be undertaken by vets, vet nurses or anyone who has passed an approved training course to carry out the procedure.
Several animal welfare groups and local authorities have offered free microchipping for many years. Blue Cross and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home offer free microchipping at their respective centres, and the Dogs Trust has offered to meet the cost of microchips and has set aside £6 million to help ensure that all unchipped dogs are microchipped before April 2016. Animal welfare groups are already campaigning to raise awareness of this new obligation as well as the benefits of microchipping. DEFRA also plans to undertake significant communications before 2016 to ensure that breeders and keepers are aware of this new duty.
These regulations will help tackle the problem of stray dogs and help reunite keepers with lost pets more quickly. They will also lessen a burden on animal welfare charities and local authorities and protect the welfare of dogs by encouraging responsible ownership. I therefore commend them to the Committee.
We welcome this important secondary legislation. Labour’s Animal Welfare Act 2006 provided the powers to the Secretary of State to introduce such measures to promote the welfare of vertebrate animals in England. We have consistently called for the compulsory introduction of microchipping of dogs and have worked alongside welfare charities to achieve it. We believe that this will have a broadly beneficial impact on improving canine welfare.
I will not go through the detailed background to the legislation, as this was ably articulated in the Lords and is firmly on the record. However, it is worth reiterating the important facts that the Minister just laid before the Committee, namely, that in the past three years, an average of 102,000 stray dogs a year were passed on to English local authorities and that the annual cost incurred by local authorities and welfare organisations in dealing with stray dogs is approximately £33 million. Those statistics underline the need for the regulations.
There is not only a potential money saving to be made by local authorities and welfare organisations. More importantly, the regulations offer the potential of reducing distress to animals and owners because microchipping makes it easier to reunite dogs with their owners. That is why there is so much support for the measures that we are debating.
I pay tribute principally to the Microchipping Alliance, established in 2009, for its work in campaigning for these measures. For the record, it is worth listing its member charities. The Dogs Trust is the chair of the alliance and has done a great deal, as the Minister underlined. However, other charities have been involved: Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association, Dog Theft Action, the Kennel Club, the National Animal Welfare Trust, the PDSA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Vets Get Scanning and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association. They all deserve credit for getting us to where we are today. Their work cannot be exaggerated. It is no exaggeration to ask where we would be in this country without those charities, which do so much to improve canine welfare and deal with some of the problems that irresponsible dog ownership creates.
I do not want to detain the Committee unnecessarily so I will move straight to the questions I wish to put to the Minister about the detail of the regulations. First, there was some discussion in the Lords last week, when the statutory instrument was debated, about the measures in the Deregulation Bill that are related to the SI. Lord Trees and my noble Friend Lord Grantchester raised the issue. In essence, the Deregulation Bill contains clauses that repeal certain requirements of the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 because of the imminent introduction of compulsory microchipping. The repeal relates to the current record-keeping requirements for dog breeding.
However, information relating to compliance with those important welfare considerations is not required in the regulations that we are discussing today. We are to some extent in the dark about whether the Government will amend the Deregulation Bill to account for the concerns raised by the clauses. There has been no consequent tackling of the impact of the repeal in the regulations.
Will the Minister give the Committee an update? That is directly relevant to any assessment of how effective these microchipping regulations are likely to be. I know the SI was discussed in the other place only
My second question relates to another issue raised in the other place, namely the need to ensure that owners are aware of the importance of using only the approved databases for the registration of their dogs. Lord de Mauley did not respond to that point but acknowledged all the questions that had been asked in the debate. He said he would respond in writing. This Commons Committee would benefit from hearing a response to that question from the Minister.
Another point raised in the other place has been made by many animal welfare charities, namely that there should be a single point of contact for the databases in the regulations. Can the Minister be sure that the Government’s preferred approach, which would see queries redirected from one database to another via a website—described as a window in the debate—will be effective, compared with the single point of contact that the Microchipping Alliance prefers?
I have only a few more, brief questions. Can the Minister explain why there is no mandatory link between the databases and the European Pet Network? Given the increased movement of dogs and puppies across the EU since the relaxation of the pet travel scheme in 2012, it would seem to make sense to explore the benefits of such a link. What provision is in place for the transfer of data if a particular database goes out of business? We need to know what protections are in place.
Will the Minister confirm whether a rehoming or rescue centre can be registered as a dog’s keeper on a database? How can a dog be registered if its owner is of no fixed address? The RSPCA raised that issue with me directly, and the Dogs Trust runs the Hope Project, which microchips dogs and registers the details of owners who are homeless or in housing crisis. What clarification can the Minister give on how owners in such circumstances can comply with the legislation?
Finally, may I ask the Minister about the guidance that we hope will be produced to aid implementation of these regulations? Will there be a thorough consultation and engagement in finalising the guidance? Will the guidance make crystal clear the responsibility on the new owner of a dog, on transfer of ownership, to ensure an accurate entry on an approved database?
I reiterate our support for the measures. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to the questions, which are broadly practical and technical and not related to the policy in general. I believe they are important questions to ensure that the regulations are as effective as possible and have maximum impact on improving canine welfare standards.
Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): I support the order and congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on introducing it. It makes a strong statement and provides for action in support of responsible dog ownership. I look forward to microchipping being brought in, and I believe everyone wishes that to happen. It is an important issue in my constituency, home of Wood Green, one of the larger animal refuge centres, based in Godmanchester.
I can see clearly how the regulations will aid the reunion of lost dogs with their owners, and confirm the identity of nuisance dogs. I would be interested to hear
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I will not detain the Committee long, but I am very pleased that the regulations have been introduced before the end of the Parliament. My party has been advocating these measures, because they will play a big part in promoting dog welfare.
I pay tribute to the Dogs Trust, which is doing a lot of microchipping. I attended a very large dog show at the royal Welsh showground, with dogs from all over the United Kingdom, where the trust provided a microchipping service. The trust also told me that it would provide free microchipping for all packs of foxhounds. Hon. Members understand that foxhounds do not now hunt foxes, but they are still part of country life and the Dogs Trust was very generous in providing that facility.
When a dog changes ownership, must that be related or referred to the database so that the new owner of that dog will be registered? As the process is rolled out through Wales as well, will there be communication between the databases for dogs in England and the databases in Wales?
George Eustice: It is clear from the contributions that this issue has certainly gained a lot of interest from many Members. I will try to address as many of the points as possible, starting with those made by the shadow Minister, who asked about the Deregulation Bill. She is right that, when we initially looked at the matter, we felt that there was a lot of duplication between what was required in existing pet breeders’ regulations and what would be in the new regulations. There was a proposal to remove that duplication. It is important to note that the new microchipping regulations require the sex, breed and colour of the dog, the most accurate description and an assessment of the dog’s date of birth to be recorded.
Nevertheless, the hon. Lady is right that there were a couple of factors that some welfare charities raised as a concern, most notably the breeding history, the dam and the sire of the animal. I can confirm and reassert what my noble Friend Lord de Mauley said in the debate on the regulations: he is looking at this, and there are plans for a consultation on how we could make this work, and on whether local authorities could reflect these factors in their own licences. I know that he takes the issue very seriously. He is looking at it, and he gave an undertaking to write to the Committee to clarify our intentions in this regard. We are still considering that particular issue.
On the approved databases, some people asked why we did not have one single centralised database. We have to recognise that the existing microchipping approach—the voluntary regime—has been in place for 20 years or so, and we have had around four database
We understand that around six companies have expressed an interest. The hon. Lady asked for the identity of those companies. We will publish the full list before 6 April, by which they would need to register under the regulations. So far, there have been expressions of interest from six companies: PetLog, Anibase, AVID, Pet Protect, SmartChip and Pet Identity UK.
Angela Smith: I think that there has been a slight misapprehension. I was not arguing for one database, but asking how we ensure that pet owners or breeders who want to register their dogs are aware of the approved databases as opposed to other databases that might not be approved.
George Eustice: We will publish a full list of those that are making their services available. I have made clear the six that have expressed an interest so far. There is a system whereby someone can look at a database to check the details; if it turns out that those details are on another database, they are diverted to the correct one. That is a well-established protocol, which has worked quite successfully. There should not be concerns about that.
The shadow Minister asked why the databases could not be linked in a mandatory way with some of the work done in the European Union. I looked into that question as it has been asked before. We have had systems in place for some 20 years, so we have good working relationships with other European countries, which are able to detect on exactly which database a particular animal has its details registered simply by the coding on the chip. That is a well-established process. Under the EU pet travel scheme rules, there has been a requirement for microchipping for some years, so procedures for sharing information at a European level exist.
The regulations require microchips to be to ISO standard 11784:1996 or ISO standard 11785:1996, which tend to be the chips used in the EU and other European countries. The hon. Lady asked whether rehoming charities can be registered as a keeper; the answer is that they can. There might be instances—for example, when it comes to homeless people, who do not have an address to register—in which some charities choose to become the registered address. The measures provide for homeless people to register somebody they know—a family member, friend or a welfare charity—to be the proxy for them.
The hon. Lady asked about guidance and whether the responsibility of the dog owner will transfer. It is very clear in the regulations that nobody can transfer a dog unless it has been microchipped. The obligation is on the new owner of the dog to ensure that they register that change of details. If they fail to change those details, they would be in breach of the regulations. The welfare charities and DEFRA will be running an awareness campaign over the next 12 months, before the regulations take full effect, to ensure that that is taken into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon mentioned abandoned dogs and asked whether the regulations can assist in tackling the problem of irresponsible owners.
My hon. Friend asked how easy it is to remove the chips. I do not think that it is that easy, but if somebody is so irresponsible that they are not really looking after their dog, I am not sure that they would want to remove the chip. Normally there is just negligence and neglect. We have not seen examples of people wanting to remove chips; it tends to be a general lack of diligence on the part of owners.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire raised the point about change of ownership and how that should be registered. He is absolutely right. As I made clear, the obligation is on the new owner of the
I should also point out that it will not be possible to microchip a dog until it is at least eight weeks old, but no one will be able to sell a dog unless it has been microchipped. That is very important in tackling irresponsible breeders, because they will not be able to transfer the ownership of puppies until, first, they are at least eight weeks old and, secondly, they have been microchipped. This could also have some effect on dealing with the problem of puppies being taken from their mother prematurely and sold, which creates all sorts of problems for the future.
We have had a very good debate. Many important issues have been raised and I hope that I have been able to address some of the queries. The regulations are important and will protect the welfare of dogs and save welfare charities and local authorities some of the costs they currently incur in dealing with the problem.