HL Deb 11 June 1999 vol 601 cc1694-713

1.20 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The primary aim of the Bill is to improve the welfare of dogs kept and puppies bred in commercial breeding establishments. The Bill should be read in conjunction with the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and 1991 and the Pet Animals Act 1951.

For several years, a number of bodies—for example, the RSPCA; the British Veterinary Association; the British Small Animal Veterinary Association; the Kennel Club; and the National Canine Defence League—have been concerned about indiscriminate dog breeding and dealing and have suggested ways in which the welfare of dogs at breeding establishments might be improved and "puppy farming" brought under control.

In 1995, the All-Party Group on Animal Welfare commissioned a working party to identify defects in existing legislation and to indicate where changes in the law were required. The resulting report was objective and balanced. The descriptions of some of the conditions under which dogs are bred and puppies reared were quite appalling, situations to which I can attest. The term "puppy farming" now implies an abuse of breeding bitches and their offspring. That report has helped significantly in the construction of this Bil1.

There is, of course, no good reason why large-scale breeding should in any way compromise the conditions under which dogs are kept, the way in which they are looked after, or the quality and health of the stock produced. Unfortunately, however, that is all too frequently not the case, and in a determined effort to get rid of much of the bad practice once and for all a group of 11 organisations representing animal welfare, dog breeders, local authorities, the veterinary profession and the pet industry have worked together over many months to prepare this much-needed Bill. Those organisations are: the Blue Cross; the British Dog Breeders Council; the British Veterinary Association; the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health: Justice for Dogs; the Kennel Club; the National Canine Defence League; the National Dog Wardens Association; the Pet Care Trust; ProDogs; and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It would be totally remiss of me if I did not particularly mention how much I, this House, another place, and indeed all the organisations I have mentioned are in the debt of the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, who not only chaired the group meetings so competently, but also consulted widely and closely with the Home Office officials at all stages of the drafting process. We are also indebted to Home Office officials and lawyers for the immense amount of help and advice they have given us over the past few months.

The Bill addresses a number of key issues which have been identified over the years. As I indicated, it should be read in conjunction with the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973. The key issues are as follows. There are new rules for the inspection of premises. Bitches are not to be mated until they are at least 12 months old. No bitch will be allowed to have more than six litters in her lifetime. Accurate breeding records must be kept and be made available for inspection. The provisions also include: stiffer penalties for offenders, including imprisonment; flexibility of licence fee charges to reflect local authority inspection costs; exemption from licensing for most hobby breeders; new rules for pet shops and dealers; new penalties for misrepresentation; and individual identification for puppies sold through third parties. These new measures will not only improve welfare standards for dogs and puppies; they will also provide import and new protection for puppy buyers.

The various clauses and the reasons for them are as follows. Clause 1 deals with the licensing and inspection of premises. Before granting a breeding licence for the first time a local authority has to consider both welfare and environmental issues. Clause 1 provides that, before considering the grant of a licence, the premises must be inspected by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner and a local authority officer. The clause provides that the local authority shall consider the report prepared by those persons before determining to grant a licence. For subsequent inspections, the local authority is given the flexibility of sending a veterinary surgeon or practitioner or an officer of the local authority, or both. That will in many cases save on costs but will not weaken the inspection process.

Clause 2 deals with licence conditions. This provision greatly strengthens the 1973 Act by including a number of new conditions in addition to those set out in that Act dealing with accommodation, food and drink, bedding, the control of disease, protection against fire and the transportation of dogs.

Subsection 2(f) is based on the fact that experience shows that far too many bitches are mated at too early an age. The clause makes it an offence for a bitch to be mated if she is less than one year old—which is the time when she is fully physiologically mature to become pregnant.

Sub-paragraph (g) is based on the fact that Kennel Club records indicate that many bitches produce litters every time they come into season. The sub-paragraph will remedy that by including a restriction on breeding to a maximum of six litters in a bitch's lifetime—in other words, allowing a rest period. To allow for that rest period, the clause contains the provision that bitches do not give birth to puppies within 12 months of producing a previous litter.

Sub-paragraph (i) is intended to regulate breeding programmes. It will ensure that accurate records are kept at every licensed establishment and made available for inspection.

Clause 3 deals with the commencement and duration of the licence. In the past, probably because of pressure of work, some local authorities have been slow in processing initial licence applications, which has resulted in some breeders technically breaking the law. This clause puts a duty on local authorities to process all applications within three months of receipt. The licence shall come into force on the day stated in the application and be valid for one year. At present, pet animal licences run from 1st January for one year. Local authorities are obliged to carry out all inspections of pet shops, dog breeders, boarding kennels and catteries during a busy period around Christmas and the New Year. The clause gives them extra flexibility as each licence under this legislation will run for a 12-month period and not from 1st January as at present.

Clause 4 deals with the increased penalties, including imprisonment for keeping an unlicensed establishment. In the interests of animal welfare and to highlight the seriousness of the offence, the Bill includes new provisions to include as a penalty a term of imprisonment of up to three months for operating an unlicensed dog breeding establishment. In addition, a fine may also be levied.

Clause 5 deals with disqualifications. In addition to the preceding fine or imprisonment clause, this allows a court to make an order which will cancel a licence held under the 1973 Act and will disqualify the offender from keeping any dog breeding establishment. It also provides that a court may make an order to have any dog in the custody of an offender at the time of the offence delivered to a specified person and for the offender to pay specified amounts for that dog's care until permanent arrangements are made for its long-term care. It will be a punishable offence for the offender not to do so.

If the offender is not the owner of the dog, this clause gives the owner the opportunity to appeal to the Crown Court in England and Wales or to the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland.

The clause also provides that a court may make an order disqualifying a person who contravenes the Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 by obstructing an inspector of premises not covered by a licence under the 1973 Act and to disqualify the person from keeping an establishment under that Act or from having custody of a dog of a description specified in the order.

Clause 6 deals with fees. Where local authorities are responsible for inspecting dog breeding premises and granting licences, they are given powers to charge fees for this work. The Bill enables them to set a level of fees to recover their reasonable costs in this respect. In the past, most local authorities have charged a standard fee, regardless of the size of breeding establishment, the amount of work involved and the number of visits they have considered to be necessary during any licence period.

The clause enables them to charge a range of fees based on the amount of time and cost involved in dealing with the different licence holders and premises.

Clause 7 deals with the definition of establishments. Under the current legislation, the 1973 Act, the need for licensing has been based on the number of bitches kept at an establishment, whether or not the bitches are bred from. Clearly, this is an anomaly. The Bill sets out to redress the situation and to apply a business test to dog breeders.

Most dog breeders are essentially hobby breeders whose only interest is to breed a line of puppies in order to improve their bloodlines and to compete at dog shows. For the vast majority, the breeding of dogs is not for financial gain and is usually a loss-making exercise, rather than anything else.

For the purpose of the Bill a distinction is made between the hobby breeder and the person who is breeding for profit by defining the term carying on a business of breeding dogs for sale". That is, in terms of numbers, breeding for sale five or more litters. In order to circumvent the law, a number of commercial breeders have been in the habit of spreading the ownership of breeding bitches between members of their family or people with whom they live at the same premises or elsewhere. They also make deals, known as breeding contracts or breeding arrangements, with other persons. Under these breeding arrangements they give, sell or lend bitches to third parties and agree, either verbally or in writing, that in return they will be handed back one or more puppies from one or more litters produced or will be handed the proceeds of sale of those puppies. This clause overcomes the problem of evasion of their responsibility to be licensed.

Clause 8 deals with the sale of dogs. This supports the terms of the Pet Animals Act 1991 and the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order. Currently many puppies are sold through unlicensed third parties, the puppies being shipped to dealers and retailers for sale to the general public. Other puppies are bought in by licensed breeders from unlicensed breeders for resale. Many puppies are also sold to private purchasers at too early an age. This clause sets out to overcome those problems.

First, it will be an offence for a licensed breeder to sell a puppy to its final home until it is at least eight weeks old. This period is important because imprinting with its mother will take place during that time. It will be an offence for a licensed breeder to sell a puppy to an unlicensed dealer or retailer, as these already need to be licensed under the Pet Animals Act, or to sell puppies acquired from an unlicensed breeder.

It is essential that all puppies sold to dealers and retailers are clearly identifiable, usually by a collar bearing an identifying tag or badge.

Clause 9 deals with penalties and refers to Clause 8 of the Bill. It includes a penalty of imprisonment and fines not exceeding level 4 or both.

Clause 10 deals with repeals. It makes provision for certain repeals of provisions of certain enactments.

Following the Short Title, commencement and enactment, the Act will come into force at the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which it is passed. Finally, the Act does not extend to Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior.)

1.37 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, who has presented the Bill in detail and will have regard to his considerable professional experience which lends authority to which we should pay heed. I join the noble Lord in expressing thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, who has worked indefatigably on this matter for a long time.

The Bill has quite a long history and it is to be hoped that this time it will reach the statute book without further delay. It is certainly needed. It will be of no disadvantage to responsible dog owners and dog breeders. Any responsible dog owner—I hope that I am one—will rejoice if the Bill goes on to the statute book.

There are too many irresponsible profit-seeking people involved in an unseemly trade. That position did not improve when, unfortunately, some years ago when farmers were facing difficulty, under the previous administration the Ministry of Agriculture advised farmers who needed to make money to take up dog breeding for profit. Some of us protested and I think the advice was quickly withdrawn, but one or two people may have acted upon it. There have been some rather distressing cases.

My conviction about the need for the Bill goes back a long time to the days when I was a schoolmaster. One of my colleagues and his wife, who were childless, went to get a puppy. They did not seek advice, but went to one of the puppy farmers. The puppy came into their home and brought a great deal of joy, but shortly afterwards a great deal of distress. It had never had a chance because the conditions in which it had been nurtured were so unsatisfactory. The House has an opportunity to prevent that kind of distress.

I should declare an interest. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, referred to the Kennel Club. I have an interest in the sense that I am an honorary member of that club. I have no financial interest, but a great personal one. I have been involved in dogs throughout my life and from time to time I judge them. Quite often, I judge for charity at the rather enjoyable exemption shows to which people bring their family pets. There are four classes for pedigree dogs. Some of the dogs do not appear to be particularly good representatives of the breed that they purport to be. Occasionally, one sees among those dogs evidence of lack of nutrition early in life. If one talks to the exhibitor after the show and asks where the dog came from, one finds that it came from establishments of the kind at which this Bill is aimed.

I never want the breeds with which I have been involved to become popular. If they do, they attract the attention of puppy farmers. At the moment, the West Highland white is the most popular of the terrier breeds. There are some very odd West Highland white terriers about these days. Norwich terriers are not quite so popular. They remain typical of the breed in both character and conformation. But not long ago I was horrified to see an Irish wolfhound at a show. I had some difficulty in identifying it as such, but it seemed to me to send out danger signals that that breed was popular.

The Bill provides that people should not sell puppies until they are eight weeks-old. That is a necessary provision. But the responsible Irish wolfhound or deerhound breeder, or anyone concerned with the larger breeds, would not dream of selling a puppy as early as eight weeks-old. If they want a puppy to bring credit to their kennels and to their own record of responsibility, they will wait until 12 weeks. That should certainly apply to novice breeders. They will also ask questions about the circumstances, capacity and understanding of those who seek to acquire such a dog.

I recall that on one occasion when my noble friend Lord Cocks applied a very long Whip—we were in the other place from Monday morning until Friday evening—I got home on Friday and said to my wife that I could see a difference in our Irish wolfhound since I had left home on Monday. He appeared to have put on about four pounds. That breed is not easily or cheaply raised. Breeding dogs of that size for profit provides some people with an enormous temptation to cut corners with regard to nourishment and care. I believe that that is another reason why the welfare organisations, the Kennel Club and other organisations to which the noble Lord referred, are united in their view that this Bill needs to be enacted as soon as possible.

The Bill will not disadvantage responsible breeders. For most people engaged in activities controlled by the Kennel Club, the dogs are part of the family and have a great deal of human contact. If one wants to see a dog succeeding in the show ring, in obedience or any of the other activities at the annual exhibition at Crufts, that dog must have had contact with people and be part of the family. For a bitch to be incarcerated in a squalid shed and treated as if she is a breeding machine providing stock for supermarket shelves is a monstrously horrible approach, and the sooner it is outlawed the better. I am therefore convinced of the necessity for the Bill.

I am aware that the people who are responsible for the 957 breed rescue schemes within the ambit of the Kennel Club will welcome this Bill, especially where the breed is a popular one which receives the attentions of puppy farmers. The people who run those schemes are the ones who have to pick up the pieces left by those who see dogs purely as an instrument for gain. Those responsible for that essential and valuable work will, with all the other welfare organisations in the country, share the hope that this Bill is enacted and implemented at the earliest possible date.

1.45 p.m.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, I start with an apology. As the debate began somewhat later than I expected I must leave before the end. I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, for the way that he introduced the Bill. It has had Second Readings before in a somewhat chequered career.

The first of a long line of tributes must be paid to those of my honourable friends in another place who were lucky enough to win a place in the ballot in order to introduce the Bill, first unsuccessfully but then successfully. I pay tribute also to all those who made possible a quick passage of the Bill to your Lordships' House. It involved a great deal of very good management for which everyone who wants to see the Bill enacted as soon as possible must be grateful.

I join in all the tributes paid to the various welfare organisations, my pet one being the National Canine Defence League. I am a grandmother and I am told that I can have a favourite. I turn to the tributes to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton. Perhaps the greatest accolade she received was in the Standing Committee in another place where one of the Labour Members said that she had almost converted him to supporting the hereditary peerage. I believe that that was a bit churlish; he could have gone the whole way and omitted the word "almost".

However, the kinds of cases that have led to the need for this Bill are so terrible that it is almost impossible to contemplate that any of the penalties will be sufficient to stop the puppy farmers who have gained such an unscrupulous reputation. Bitches are kept in cages, have their food thrown at them, and have never eaten from a bowl. They are made to breed over and over again and never see a human face near them. Eventually, if they have not died from natural causes they are not put down but often thrown onto the scrap heap and found dying.

This is a terrible state of affairs. I am very sad that it has taken so long—it is no one's fault—to introduce the legislation. I pay tribute, like the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, to the carers and re-homers of these poor dogs. As many noble Lords will be aware, when first rescued the poor creatures are like zombies. They have never had any human contact and have no idea of how to socialise with either humans or other dogs. One sees them at the corners of a room in their baskets and beds—which they never had before—and their eyes are absolutely blank; they are zombies. Bit by bit, wonderful people with patience and devotion can bring some of these creatures—many cannot be saved because they are too ill—to a stage where they can be offered to re-homers who will look after them and for the first time give them a decent life.

I wish to pay tribute to those people who re-home these dogs after the carers. They have to give them a great deal of love, commitment and devotion to restore them, if possible, to the normal happy life that a dog should have; and they do that. Those thousands of people should be mentioned in the tributes paid.

Finally, I find myself for the first time in my life without a dog, our last darling Jack Russells having died last year. My husband and I decided that we were too old to have another dog because it would probably outlive us—and what would happen then? The idea of adopting an older dog and re-homing one of these poor creatures crossed one's mind. A new vista of dog ownership opened up which we are now pursuing.

I again express thanks to all those who have made the Bill possible, to all who will help it to pass speedily, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, in particular.

1.51 p.m.

Baroness Wharton

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Soulsby has chosen to pick up this Bill on behalf of James Clappison—he is here today—who so skilfully piloted this Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Bill through all stages in another place. As chairman of the working party group—it has been mentioned by the noble Lord—I think that I can speak for all of us when I say that we are grateful for the help and assistance we have received from all quarters within the Palace of Westminster.

I should like to tell noble Lords something of the history of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, went into it a little. The first Breeding and Sale of Dogs Bill was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, when a Member of another place. It did not complete the course. It ran out of time, which is one of the hazards facing a Private Member's Bill. A second attempt was made in another place last year with a Bill sponsored by Mike Hall. It underwent considerable change in Standing Committee. It then became apparent that most of the canine and welfare organisations could not support it, so David Maclean blocked it because he believed that the Bill was flawed.

Several organisations, such as the Kennel Club, the Pet Care Trust and the National Canine Defence League, to name but a few, wrote to David Maclean asking for a meeting with a view to drafting a new Bill. He suggested that they elect an independent chairman. Since July of last year, it has been an honour and a privilege for me to act on their behalf.

Roger Gale, myself and others have long wanted to see such a Bill become law. The noble Lord has mentioned that the All-Party Parliamentary Animal Welfare Group commissioned a report with recommendations on what is known as "puppy farming". Much of that document makes grim reading. On re-reading the report, I still find it hard to believe that breeding bitches could have been kept in such appalling conditions. As the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, said, apart from filthy, cramped pens, the state of the animals' health was dreadful; and inadequate feeding was not uncommon. Although Wales was highlighted then as an area causing deep concern, similar problems also existed in other parts of Great Britain, so nothing much has changed in that there is still scant regard for the welfare of the dogs. They are simply breeding machines—nothing else.

Clearly, many breeding establishments are well run, but far too many come to the attention of the RSPCA inspectors who never cease to be sickened by the way in which these bitches are kept. Regulations are blatantly ignored. Hence the derogatory term "puppy farming". The Bill is designed to improve substantially the conditions in all commercial breeding establishments by tightening the regulations under which they will be able to operate in the future.

At the first meeting of the working group, it was agreed that welfare should be the emphasis of the new Bill. With the word "welfare" in the title, it would be clear that the welfare of the breeding dogs was paramount. It was agreed that I should consult Home Office officials as we progressed through the Bill, clause by clause. I talked to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, outlining our agenda. He suggested that I, and ultimately Barry Huckle of the Pet Care Trust, meet regularly with Rick Evans, Bernard Diver and Ashley Marks, the Home Office officials dealing with animal welfare, as was the noble Lord at that time. I am extremely grateful to them, in particular Bernard Diver, who has always been at the other end of the telephone, including last night.

Home Office lawyers regularly monitored our changes. I was assured that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, George Howarth, was made aware of every change we made. I also sought Roger Gale's advice from time to time. The Bill gradually took shape. Barry Huckle took care of all the paperwork and presented us with revised drafts of the Bill at each meeting that we held at the offices of the National Canine Defence League.

The input of so many specialists in their various fields was invaluable. Bernard Diver said that he could not recall a Bill being drafted by so many people representing so many organisations.

We had a draft Bill ready by November. Now we needed some luck. We eagerly awaited the results of the Private Members' ballot in another place. A copy of the draft was sent to each of the 20 winners and we waited. We knew we would be lucky and our luck came on 15th December, two days before the House rose for the Christmas Recess. James Clappison introduced himself and said, "My daughter Charlotte says that I should adopt this Bill because she is very keen on animals". He said that he would look at it and let me know. I said, "Please don't take too long because you will ruin my Christmas if you do". Our sponsor rang me the next day and said, "Yes, I'll take it".

James Clappison was 15th on the Private Members' ballot list. He is a Home Office Front-Bench spokesman for the Opposition and as such has a heavy parliamentary load. I thought: no matter; he has a good Bill and we are fortunate to have an experienced MP I told the noble Lord, Lord Carter—he is sitting in his place—the good news. Like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, he had also been kept up to date on our progress throughout the summer. The exact words of the noble Lord were, "Only the first five or six stand any chance of getting a hearing, let alone getting through all the stages". However, he offered help and support which I gratefully accepted.

The Bill was scrutinised by parliamentary counsel and 18 amendments were tabled in Standing Committee. Those amendments did not change the essence of the Bill; rather they strengthened it. Our tired sponsor had been up all night on another committee and had to return to it when this stage was finished. Again, all went well because the Committee accepted all his amendments. The Members of the Committee were drawn from all sides of the House and all had a strong interest in animal welfare. They included the current chairman of the Associate Party for Animal Welfare, Ian Cawsey; vice-chairman, Angela Smith; and past chairman Roger Gale. Again Members spoke of the need to improve the health and welfare of dogs in breeding establishments. Finally, the Bill returned to the Floor of the House on 7th May. David Maclean had tabled several amendments for Report stage. Three were needed, so the name of James Clappison was added to those.

The Minister, George Howarth, accepted them and again gave the Bill his full support. David Maclean said that he was delighted to have played a small part in improving the Bill. The Bill was read a third time and passed.

The process of drafting any Bill is lengthy and consensus has played its part. But it has not weakened the Bill. We all wanted the Bill to succeed because we knew that the opportunity would not come our way again. Failure was never an option. James Clappison allowed us to help him wherever we could; and I took that as a sign of confidence. At the same time, he had to cope with many other duties as an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. Private Members' Bills are a minefield. Not many get through; but with the right ingredients, 15th on the ballot list is not so bad after all.

The noble Lord has already outlined all the clauses, but significant improvements have been made and existing loopholes closed. I echo him in saying that now bitches will not be mated under a year. They will have no more than six litters in their lifetime and there must be a gap of 12 months before another litter is born. That is a major welfare improvement in the quality of their lives. The physical damage done by constant breeding with no let-up is most distressing to see.

This Bill has gone a long way to improve the welfare standards of both adult dogs and their puppies while at the same time giving protection to the buyers. I firmly believe that prospective buyers should visit breeding establishments to see the conditions under which the puppies are reared. Furthermore, they should take a look at the parents before making a decision to buy.

This is the third time that a Bill of this kind has come before Parliament and I believe that this time all those who have contributed to it, both inside Parliament and outside, have got it right. As I said earlier, it has been thoroughly scrutinised by Home Office lawyers and parliamentary counsel, and I hope that your Lordships will agree that James Clappison's Bill deserves to find its way on to the statute book.

2 p.m.

Baroness Fookes

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill, which is long overdue. Knowing what I do of the processes in the other place, it is a virtual miracle that it has reached this stage. I nearly lost a Private Member's Bill when I was No. 2, let alone No. 15. The warmest congratulations are to be bestowed on all those who have played such a fine part. I add my tribute to James Clappison, my former colleague, to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, and to those organisations which have come together in order to produce a consensus on what is needed. I have been a long time in the animal world and that, too, is a minor miracle.

I say that the Bill is overdue because my memory goes back to the "parent" Act of 1973. Even then the RSPCA was dismayed by the loopholes it saw in the new Bill. That is not in any way to criticise the sponsors of that Bill. Such Bills, privately introduced, are notoriously difficult to get through without being weakened. They have to come in a weakened state in order to get through at all. But it has meant that over the years we have seen all the horrors described by various speakers today. I add to that by reading from a report of an inspector of the RSPCA about a particular visit on a particular day. It is written in plain, factual language, but it sets out clearly the typical situation which has caused us all to think of puppy farms as places of disrepute. He wrote in 1996: On Monday 15th April I visited three different premises … The first visit was to the house of an elderly woman who kept and bred Airedale terriers. The building was at the end of a dirt track and comprised a farm cottage with land at the rear. The woman had approximately 15 Airedale terriers on the premises and about the same number of mongrels. A number of the dogs were emaciated and most were in a filthily condition as a result of having nowhere clean and dry to rest. The house was littered with dog mess. In one corner of the kitchen a hitch was weaning her puppies in a small box under a bright spotlight. The backyard contained various sheds and barns. On inspection, we found that the sheds had within them a number of pens, some of which contained bitches weaning puppies. The conditions inside the pens were filthy, with excrement and mould covering the floor, and no adequate sleeping provision for the dogs. Some of the empty pens had obviously not been cleaned since the last occupant had been moved out. Worse still—I shall not continue to quote—they found one dog very seriously ill and clearly the woman was not intending to call in a vet. They took it away and it died within 24 hours.

That is a cameo of the kind of situations we have seen all too clearly. In my capacity as a member of the council of the RSPCA for many years, and of the National Canine Defence League, and now a vice-president of the RSPCA, I have seen over and over again appalling incidents illustrating the fact that the law simply has not been tough enough to deal with people who engage in puppy farming. So I warmly welcome the Bill.

I am particularly pleased that in order to obtain a licence for the first time a veterinary surgeon will have to be accompanied by an officer of the council. That was one of the weaknesses of the original Act. Often, the person going with the best will in the world did not know what ought to be the conditions for the welfare of the animals as opposed to the physical lay-out of buildings or land. That redresses a great weakness. I am pleased to see that when licences must be renewed it will be possible, although not obligatory, for a vet to visit again to see how things are going.

I welcome in particular the arrangements for ensuring that bitches do not become "breeding machines." That is a most distressing sight. I am pleased that the Bill makes very clear and unambiguous the requirements for resting periods and the total number of litters (six) that a bitch may have. However, I am slightly concerned about what may happen to the bitches after they have completed their total breeding cycle. I hope that those who are responsible for ensuring that the premises are maintained will inspect the bitches after they have completed their breeding cycle. Otherwise, I foresee problems with unwanted bitches being cast out and adding to the enormous number of dogs.

I hope that those matters will be considered by the authorities when they look at breeding establishments and how they are run. Apart from the benefits for dogs and puppies, there will be an added bonus. Many owners have been distressed to find that they have unhealthy animals, no doubt as a result of overbreeding. That, in itself, brings distress and concern to those who buy dogs in good faith, unaware of the intensive breeding that has gone on. There is, then, that added bonus, although that is not my primary reason for supporting the Bill.

I turn to a matter that looks very ordinary and dull. I refer to local authorities' ability to charge their own fees to meet the cost of inspections, and so on. Many local authorities find themselves a bit strapped for cash. If they found that they had an extra expense for which there was not sufficient income, they would be tempted—and have been in the past—not to carry out their duties fully. Boring though this looks as a provision, it is an important part of the Bill. I am pleased that variable and reasonable fees can be charged by local authorities. They will then have no excuse for not acting thoroughly and promptly in carrying out the duties imposed by the Act, as I hope this Bill will shortly become.

The other point that pleases me is the reference to the clear identification by means of a tag of puppies as they leave the breeding establishment. Ideally, I had hoped for a microchip, as that is the best way of ensuring that there is no jiggery-pokery and that the purchaser really has the animal in question. But I would not want to hold up the Bill for any reason. I hope, however, that even if microchips are not required by the Bill, they will become the usual way of ensuring that an animal is properly identified. That point is extremely important. If a dog cannot be traced back to its source, one means of keeping an eye on breeding establishments will be lost. I compare it with the ease with which money is laundered from drugs. Once it gets into the system, it is almost impossible to see where it has come from.

All in all, the Bill is a vast improvement on existing legislation. I wish it a fair passage, and I hope shortly to see it on the statute book.

2.12 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, there are a number of animals which give much pleasure to the human species—none more so than the dog. Dogs are adored by youngsters, mature and very mature people, whether owned as house pets, as working dogs or as therapy dogs visiting hospital patients.

It has been said that we are a nation of dog lovers, and I would be the last to disagree with that. My wife and I have had a number of pet dogs over the years, and in order to avoid two of our dogs becoming big headed, we refused to tell one that she was the progeny of the supreme champion of Crufts and the other that she was from the supreme champion of America and Canada. I cannot imagine life without a dog forming part of our family.

But the Bill does not seek to protect those dogs which are brought into this world by conscientious breeders. It seeks to make further provision for regulating the commercial breeding and subsequent sale of dogs, due to the fact that some breeding establishments seem to exist solely for the purpose of making large profits at the expense of the poor animals. Both puppies and their mothers are suffering in the interest of big business.

It is my intention to mention briefly a few cases of puppy farms in order to underline the need for this Bill. There is the case of a gentleman who lives next-door to a puppy farm where there are about 50 breeding bitches, together with another 50 other dogs. They are kept in pig sties, cattle pens, a caravan and a car—none of which has been converted from its previous use. They are poorly fed, sometimes receiving only bread, and at least 70 per cent never get any exercise. The gentleman has also witnessed older dogs killing younger ones.

Then there is the case of a disabled lady who purchased an underweight puppy with mange from a Kennel Club registered breeder. The puppy developed hip dysplasia in both legs, and it turned out that the breeders had some problematic litters—spastic puppies which had to be destroyed. She eventually got her money back.

There is also the case of a Scottish lady who purchased a dog which immediately needed treatment as it had diarrhoea. It subsequently needed further treatment for a wide range of problems, and eventually died of congenital liver failure, which the vet believed was due to interbreeding.

Honey, a nine week-old Labrador puppy, was bought by the Creswell family. Six days after getting her home, she died. Parvovirus was revealed by post-mortem as being the most likely cause of death. This fatal disease is acquired through unhygienic breeding conditions, which are, tragically, rife in many puppy farms.

I have been told of many other tragic cases of dogs purchased from puppy farms and breeders which have caused much distress. I could tell your Lordships about them all but I shall not do so because it is too distressing. Suffice it to say that this Bill is to be welcomed by all who care about the welfare of animals. If it results in less suffering, then it is to be commended.

2.15 p.m.

The Earl of Liverpool

My Lords, it is a sad reflection of the times in which we live that it is necessary to introduce and seek to pass into legislation this Bill before your Lordships today, but necessary it is. I congratulate all those who have worked so tirelessly on getting it this far.

I join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the many charitable and other organisations involved; in particular, the RSPCA, the National Canine Defence League, the BSAVA, the Kennel Club, the Pet Care Trust and others too numerous to mention. I join with other noble Lords who have singled out the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, who has probably worked harder than anyone else to improve the lot of dogs.

The objectives of the Bill were set out very clearly by my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. The harrowing stories which abound—some of which we have heard today—convince me that, although this legislation may create an additional cost burden on breeders, that is a price well worth paying because it is hoped that it will bring to an end those unkind and cruel practices.

There is something deeply distasteful about the unscrupulous exploitation of dogs for breeding purposes and the cruelty and ill health which follow from it. Not all breeding establishments are guilty of malpractice and, indeed, many go to great lengths to ensure that high standards are maintained and that the health of the puppies and bitches is their primary concern. Those establishments will have nothing to fear from this legislation and, indeed, should be relieved that at long last the law will have some teeth to deal with those who are giving the industry a bad name.

I turn now to the detail of the Bill. Clause 1 refers to inspections and reports before the granting of a licence. The puppy farming working group, in its excellent and thorough report completed in 1996, recommended that any inspection should be carried out by a veterinary surgeon who is fully independent and not connected with the breeding establishment in question. That is a very important safeguard which, unfortunately, has not been included in the Bill. I do not wish in any way to impede the progress of the Bill but I wonder whether it is possible somehow to incorporate that particular safeguard.

In the same report concern was expressed about the long-distance transportation of puppies, which causes stress and ill health. I understand that an EC directive has been issued and it may be that the matter is covered in other legislation. However, it is not on the face of the Bill. When the Minister replies, he may be able to reassure me that the long-distance transportation of puppies is covered in other legislation.

On a very small point of detail, my noble friend Lord Soulsby said that Clause 7 referred to five or more litters. In fact, the Bill refers to four or more litters. I may have misheard him on that and, if I did so, I apologise.

This Bill was introduced under the 10-minute rule in another place. I understand it has full government support and backing. That is excellent news which should ensure its swift passage onto the statute book. I join other noble Lords in wishing it well on its journey.

2.18 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I too am delighted to support the Bill. It has two extremely noble aims: first, to outlaw illegal puppy farms; and secondly, to improve the welfare standards of registered commercial breeders.

Only a few weeks ago, we had a debate on animal cruelty. Behind the respectable veneer of our love for animals, there are still practices which are cruel and of which we should all be ashamed. Puppy farming for crude commercial gain is one such practice which all decent people should condemn. This Bill is designed to outlaw such practices.

In many debates in your Lordships' House, we express different views and opinions. This debate is different. This is one Bill which I believe will command the support of all sides of the House. We shall support it in the full knowledge that the existing provisions are insufficient, ineffective and have not lessened the cruelty which it is designed to stop.

The Bill before us is designed to close the loopholes which, at present, allow the barbaric trade of pups bred in horrific conditions to continue. We are indebted to noble Lords who have supported the Bill today and we are grateful to James Clappison MP for tabling this Private Member's Bill in the other place.

The Bill has the support of key welfare organisations involved with animals. A good many people with detailed knowledge would never dream of going to a breeder who, effectively, exploits animals. The breeders are in business to make money, irrespective of the pain and suffering caused to pups and bitches.

When my two daughters were growing up, we went through the normal pattern of pet ownership, as most families do. We started with guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits. We had no doubt at all that the next request would be for a puppy. We saw a big advertisement in a local newspaper for dogs for sale. When we visited the establishment, we did not realise that the puppies were obtained from various puppy farms. Families were picking up little furry things, with no knowledge of where the pups had come from. We then saw a number of people confronting the owner because the pups that they had bought were either ill or had died. We retreated quickly and, eventually, the place was closed, leaving many youngster in tears.

We then searched for a reliable and reputable breeder. One was recommended to us by an animal welfare organisation. The breeder would not sell us a dog. We had to wait to be interviewed to see whether we were fit and proper people to have a dog, and rightly so. We were given a couple of weeks to reflect on our decision. That was a cooling-off period in case our decision to buy was taken on impulse. We were invited to visit the pups when they were born and we saw them growing up and being properly weaned. Eventually, we took a puppy home. I suspect I am probably the only person of Indian dissent who has owned an Old English Sheepdog, named Popadum.

My point is that there are reputable breeders who care about their animals and who would never tolerate cruelty. The Bill would not only outlaw unscrupulous traders, but indirectly help the genuine breeders. Good breeders have nothing to fear. Many of them prevent impulse buying and they educate people on how to care for the pet that they are introducing as a family member.

The primary aim of the Bill is to amend and extend certain enactments relating to the commercial breeding and sale of dogs. We need this legislation to ensure that we ban the horrible conditions in which puppies are bred. We should never tolerate the dark, dingy and damp conditions in which bitches are forced to breed excessively. We must ensure that the puppies and bitches are disease-free and that no animal is deprived of exercise and affection. That is the minimum for which the RSPCA is asking—and that organisation should receive our support.

We should not hesitate to close down puppy farms. We should ensure that local authorities have effective enforcement powers. We do not object to selective breeding, but we must make it clear that the interests of the dogs must be put first. That includes having social contact with human beings and making sure that they are properly exercised and have the opportunity to play. That is the minimum that the National Canine Defence League is seeking. That organisation also should receive our support.

What started 10 years ago as a small cottage industry has turned into a multimillion pound puppy business. The National Canine Defence League estimates that the largest farms have up to 150 breeding bitches on their premises. Of course, in the end such farms depend on customers buying their animals. If the customers knew the conditions under which such pups were bred, they would stop buying them.

The Bill will help to set standards. With imaginative publicity by animal welfare organisations, customers would think twice before being "conned" into buying such pups. Children are often too young to understand the issues and often their love and affections are cruelly exploited by bad breeders. The Bill will help to put a stop to that.

Clause 1 of the Bill is the first step in improving the present legislation. It relates to, the inspection of the premises by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner and by an officer of the authority". I ask the Minister whether it is possible also for local authorities to designate animal welfare experts for such inspection. There are a growing number of scientifically trained people involved in animal welfare these days. RSPCA inspectors are very good at that sort of work and there is no reason why they too should not be designated for such purposes. We should also encourage local authorities to publish lists of breeding establishments.

Licence conditions are important. They set the minimum standards which breeders must observe. It is right that bitches should not be mated if they are less than one year-old. It is right that records should be kept and monitoring inspections carried out. It is right that bitches should not be overbred and made to produce more than six litters of pups; and it is right that there should be a gap of 12 months between matings.

No legislation can be effective unless there are adequate enforcement provisions and penalties for non-compliance. The cancellation of the licence and the disqualification prescribed by the court could serve as a salutary lesson to those whose greed knows no bounds. But let me add a word of caution. How often when someone is disqualified do we see others stepping in to continue the practice by by-passing the legal process?

I also welcome the provisions in Clause 8 relating to the sale of dogs. Again, it is right that dogs should be sold at licensed breeding establishments or licensed pet shops and that puppies under eight weeks-old should not be sold to the public. Also, I support the provision which makes it clear that it will be an offence to sell to licensed establishments dogs bred at unlicensed establishments. Using an identity tag or a badge is a good suggestion, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, when she says that implants would serve a better purpose. They would go a long way to identify the licensed breeding establishments.

The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 has been ineffective. It does not focus sufficiently on welfare and health and it does not involve vets or animal welfare organisations. The Bill before us rectifies many of those anomalies. More importantly, those who flout the law will know what to expect. There must also be a message for those who use dogs for advertising purposes. Using dogs to sell a specific brand of paint or toilet rolls may sound an attractive proposition, but it often results in generating a demand for pups which look cuddly and exciting in the television adverts.

Let me conclude. The plight of extensively farmed puppies is a cause for concern for all of us. Enshrined in this Bill is a message that we shall not allow our animals to be subjected to cruelty for the purpose of financial gain. We should support and enact this legislation because we wish to be judged by our compassion and caring attitude for those who are the least able to speak or fend for themselves.

2.29 p.m.

Viscount Bridgemdan

My Lords, I hope that the knowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, called his dog "Popadum" does not spoil my next Indian meal!

We are all extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Soulsby for initiating this debate. I pay tribute to my honourable friend Mr. James Clappison for succeeding with this Bill where others have failed, and I add my congratulations to the compliments from all parts of the House paid so effusively to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, both here and in another place during the passage of this measure on the indefatigable work she has put in to enable the Bill to reach its present stage.

The Bill has been rightly welcomed from all sides of the House. It seeks inter alia to put right a defect in the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, which had the deficiency in particular that, although anyone breeding from two or more bitches was required to have a licence, that licence could be granted by a local authority without any reference to a veterinary surgeon. But this Bill is a tightly drawn and effective measure.

My noble friend Lord Soulsby took us with admirable clarity through the detail of the Bill, and referred to the control now to be exercised by local authorities, from the licensing and supervision of breeders, through the inspection of their premises, the welfare of the animals therein and the requirements for the involvement of vets at every stage, to regulation of the sale of puppies and the curtailment of activities of unlicensed dealers and pet shops. Most crucially, the Bill will give local authorities effective power to take prompt action against breeders or dealers who infringe the law and will also provide for fees commensurate with the obligations so that they can carry out their obligations conscientiously and properly. I particularly welcome the fact that the legislation will not inhibit hobby breeding or, indeed, legitimate multiple breeding of puppies.

This country has always prided itself on its humane treatment of animals—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—and particularly of pets. I am sure that that is true in the vast majority of cases, but the horrific cases outlined by many noble Lords today show that there are, sadly, exceptions.

Reference was made to the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, a few weeks ago which called attention to cruelty to animals. In that debate several noble Lords gave disturbing instances of cruelty to both domestic and wild animals which was sometimes negligent, in many cases premeditated and occasionally with the particularly unpleasant overtones of ritual maiming associated with Satanism.

The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, also drew attention to the disturbing increase in dog fighting and the suspicion that this is a practice which has attracted the attention of organised crime. The noble Lord tabled a Question shortly after that debate on the importation of American bull terriers. All one can say is that the Bill now before us is likely to be of use both directly and indirectly in inhibiting and, it is to be hoped, stopping the breeding of dogs for this thoroughly distasteful practice of dog fighting. In this connection, I should particularly like to welcome the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Fookes for electronic tagging by microchip where such clandestine breeding is clearly involved.

This Bill is an admirable one. Many noble Lords have given graphic illustrations as to why it is necessary and why the 1973 Act has to be improved. In addressing this problem, I very much hope that it will receive a Second Reading.

2.33 p.m.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, perhaps I may join other noble Lords in thanking those people who have worked extremely hard to bring this Bill to the Floor of the House today. I believe that all the contributions have been made with sincerity and, indeed, with deep warmth towards dogs. I know that each and every one of the contributors cares about the welfare of his or her dogs. I should also like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, on introducing the Bill. The noble Lord has a long and distinguished career in veterinary medicine and it is particularly fitting that he should be introducing this measure. Our congratulations are also due to the honourable Member for Hertsmere, to whom reference has been made, who successfully piloted the Bill through its stages in the other place.

I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, who has throughout been the principal driving force behind the Bill. She has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to maintain the necessary consensus among the Bill's sponsors, which—as noble Lords have said—comprise animal welfare bodies and other interested parties, including dog breeders, the veterinary profession and local authorities. Indeed, the fact that the Bill has progressed to the point of being debated by your Lordships today is due in large measure to the efforts of the noble Baroness. Her contribution cannot be overstated.

I must confess to being the owner of dogs and indeed a dog lover. I do not have to remind your Lordships' House that the two do not necessarily go together. I have listened to the debate carefully and I know that every speaker in this House who has contributed to this debate is committed to the welfare of dogs.

We are all aware of concerns about establishments where, notwithstanding the controls in existing legislation, dog breeding is undertaken for commercial gain with apparently inadequate provision for the comfort and welfare of the animals involved. These activities can cause suffering and distress, not only to the mature dogs kept in such establishments, but also to the puppies which are bred there. This in turn increases the likelihood of unhealthy puppies being sold down the line to an unsuspecting public.

Furthermore, the practices of unscrupulous dog breeders unfairly taint the many legitimate breeders who maintain high standards of care for the animals in their charge. The Bill seeks primarily to tighten controls over breeders' activities so as to ensure more effectively that high standards of animal care are observed at all commercial dog breeding establishments through to points of sale.

The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, asked whether the welfare of dogs will be safeguarded during their transportation. The Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order 1997 contains many safeguards on the welfare of animals during transportation. I hope that we shall not have to amend the Bill to any great extent as it passes through its various stages.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the inspection of breeding establishments by RSPCA inspectors. I shall need to discuss this matter with the sponsors of the Bill. I shall write to the noble Lord on that point.

My role today is, I hope, straightforward. The Government support the aims of the Bill. Any measures that seek to improve animal welfare are to be applauded. Accordingly, the Government support the aims of the Bill in this respect. It has been evident from the debate that noble Lords on all sides of the House support the Bill. Therefore there are grounds for believing that it will pass through the House and on to the statute book, as it clearly deserves to do.

2.39 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, I greatly welcome the support for this Bill that has clearly been given from all sides of the House, including from the Front Benches. I especially welcome the contributions of those noble Lords who have deep interest, knowledge and experience of dogs and dog breeding, especially the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, who speaks with great knowledge and conviction on many aspects of dogs, dog breeding and puppy farming. He mentioned the problems associated with what happens at the rescue centres after dogs are discarded.

My noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, who is no longer in her place, spoke with fervour and passion in support of the Bill. I greatly welcome her support.

My noble friend Lady Fookes has great experience of matters of animal welfare both here and in the other place. She, too, spoke passionately of the need for the Bill. She raised two points which I hope will be taken into consideration in due course. Her first point was that adequate arrangements should be made post-breeding for bitches when they have had their six litters. That is a matter about which local authorities should assure themselves when granting licences. Secondly, she mentioned the matter of micro-chipping for puppies. I agree that in due course micro-chipping will become the most effective means of identification. However, some work still needs to be done on this.

The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, raised the point that not all breeders can be accused of bad practice. They, too, should welcome the Bill so that the disrepute of dog breeding does not fall unfairly on them. He also raised the question of whether it is five or more or four or more breeding bitches. The five or more comes from the fact that four or more other litters in addition to the breeding bitch mentioned in Clause 7(3) would make up five.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, for her determination and efforts—and, indeed, luck with a Private Member's Bill in another place—in bringing forward the Bill. She had the help of many other people but, nevertheless, it was a major effort on her part.

We have seen today a remarkable tidal wave of support from both Houses, from Ministers and from officials. In view of the universal support for the Bill, I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.