REDUCING the licensing level of breeders from the current five is not on the Government’s agenda for its review of dog control and welfare legislation.
It does not believe the Dog Advisory Council (DAC) should be given more teeth or its breeding standard made a regulatory requirement, and problems caused by conformation and ‘inbreeding’ should be tackled by the ‘industry’ itself, supported by the Kennel Club and charities.
These thoughts were revealed – and welcomed by the KC – during the latest and last evidence sessions held by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee featuring Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DEFRA Lord de Mauley, deputy director of DEFRA’s animal welfare team Sue Ellis and Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne.
When asked if the Government was considering reducing the licensing level for breeders from five litters a year to more than two, Lord de Mauley said: "Anyone who breeds dogs whether licensed or not has to comply with the Animal Welfare Act. Anyone who has concerns can report a breeder to the local authority who has powers under the Act, or to the RSPCA.”
"But would you consider reducing the level?” committee member Dan Rogerson pressed.
"I think we’re not minded to change that,” was the reply.
He was asked whether the Government would consider adopting the Dog Advisory Council’s breeding standard as a regulatory requirement.
"We think that is better done by organisations such as the KC,” Lord de Mauley said. When pressed for a reason he said he was ‘not able to elucidate’.
Forty per cent of dogs are registered with the KC, said chairman Anne McIntosh, so what happens to the other 60 per cent?
Ms Ellis said that the DEFRA team would be meeting DAC chairman Sheila Crispin shortly to discuss such matters.
"There has been quite a lot of work so far by the DAC in terms of bringing together efforts, and earlier in the year the RSPCA and British Veterinary Association brought out a puppy information pack and puppy contract in which is set out what actions responsible breeders should take when selling puppies and what prospective buyers should do,” she said.
"Quite a lot of work is going forward in this area.”
The committee still seemed baffled that a voluntary approach rather than regulation was being favoured by DEFRA.
"Let me have the meeting with Prof Crispin and I will give you an answer,” Lord de Mauley said.
What role should the Government play in tackling issues raised by Pedigree Dogs Exposed and Sir Patrick Bateson’s enquiry into breeding, asked Neil Parish, chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.
"What has DEFRA done and who else can bring pressure to bear on what I would call inbreeding rather than linebreeding?”
The Government ‘was very much aware’ of problems which could be caused by physical malformation and other welfare issues, Lord de Mauley replied.
"Local authorities already have the power to investigate under the criteria set out in the Animal Welfare Act,” he said.
"We don’t think that adding welfare regulations is the answer. We are encouraging the industry to create its own standards in regard to breeding which are supported by some quite impressive work by the KC and charities.”
Mr Parish asked why the Government would not set a timetable for measures suggested in Sir Patrick’s report to be adopted.
Lord de Mauley said the Government was not minded to have a timetable for this, and Ms Ellis said the DAC would be taking forward issues raised by Sir Patrick, many of which had been included in the council’s recent breeding standard.
Mr Parish said the DAC was doing a good job, but did it need more teeth?
"We need to have our meeting with Prof Crispin, who is the expert on this, before we can answer that,” Ms Ellis said.
Under what circumstances would the Government consider introducing legislation to tackle genetic and conformation problems in pedigree dogs caused by inbreeding and breed Standards, Mr Parish asked, ‘especially in those breeds with a small gene pool and dogs being sold among breeders’.
"Do you intend to do something about that?” he asked.
Lord de Mauley said it was not something to which he had given a lot of thought but that he would do so.
Margaret Ritchie asked if DEFRA would consider making the DAC an independent, regulatory body to allow it to ‘get tough with those who needed to improve their breeding practices’.
Lord de Mauley said he was not aware of a loud call to make it so.
"We’re watching developments and that is something we are likely to discuss in our meeting with Prof Crispin,” he said.
Do you think there is a need for a regulatory authority to improve breeding practices, Ms Ritchie continued.
"I hope not,” Lord de Mauley said. "I hope that organisations such as the KC and charities will be enough, but that will be on the agenda of this meeting, no doubt.”
The DAC could make recommendations and they could be ignored, Miss McIntosh said. "Would you be minded to give teeth to the recommendations of the DAC?”
"I can assure you the recommendations will not be ignored,” Lord de Mauley said. "I don’t consider that it needs more teeth but I thank you for the point.”
Mrs McIntosh asked whether he thought it was right that the KC should register any dog, as was explained to the committee by chairman Steve Dean who described the KC as a Somerset House-type registry.
"It’s quite difficult for me to answer,” Lord de Mauley said. "That’s more for the KC.”
Previous evidence given to the committee had revealed conflict between the KC and the veterinary profession, Miss McIntosh said. The latter wants revision of the breed Standards and the veterinary checks extended.
She asked for Lord de Mauley’s views.
"I am so sorry to say this but I think this is a matter for the KC,” he replied.
Miss McIntosh persisted, saying there was unease among the veterinary profession that so much was left to the KC, and that it wanted the DAC to be made regulatory, not remain advisory.
"We would be grateful for a steer from you on this,” she said.
Ms Ellis said it was not something DEFRA had been looking at.
"But if ministers would like us to take it further we will do so,” she said.
The EFRA committee comprises Miss McIntosh, Thomas Docherty, Richard Drax, George Eustice, Barry Gardiner, Mary Glindon, Iain McKenzie, Mr Parish, Ms Ritchie, Mr Rogerson and Amber Rudd.
"Breeding ‘industry’ should create its own standards, says Government"
Finally a bit of Common Sense from the Government... ?