Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP raises concerns about Dog Welfare in House of Commons debate

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Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Member of Parliament for The Cotswolds, has spoken in a debate in the House of Commons on Dog Control and Welfare.

Following an eight year campaign with his constituent, Carol Fowler, a highlight of which was the BBC One documentary ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’, Mr Clifton-Brown raised concerns about the poor breeding of dogs and the regulatory protection they receive.

During the debate Geoffrey Clifton-Brown highlighted some examples of dogs which face horrible consequences of poor breeding. These included the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels whose brains can grow too large for their skull causing them a painful death.

Mr Clifton-Brown raised four issues in his speech, inherited genetic diseases from improper breeding, the need for a proper micro chipping process, puppy farms and puppy contracts. He also called for a completely independent regulatory body for dog welfare, which builds on the excellent work of the Dog Advisory Council under the Chairmanship of Professor Sheila Crispin.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown also questioned the establishment of a new Dog and Cat Sector group as he had a number of concerns about the group, including it being chaired by the Kennel Club Chairman. He highlighted a possible conflict of interest with the Kennel Club being too heavily involved with the regulation of dogs due to financial incentives.

Please find a copy of the speech below:

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful that I have caught your eye, Mr Turner. Dogs’ hackles are up and their hair is on end. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Chamber to respond to the debate, and I hope that he will be able to calm some of the nerves that I will allude to. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on this timely and important report. Her Committee has done dog welfare a great service.

I have taken a strong interest in the welfare of dogs for a number of years, and have been involved in a campaign with my constituent, Carol Fowler, for the past eight. Highlights of the campaign led to the

BBC1 documentary, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, which I am sure many hon. Members saw. It graphically exposed welfare issues associated with pedigree dogs and genetic health.

There are some horrific examples-particularly Chiari malformation and syringomyelia in Cavalier King Charles spaniels; as you may know, Mr Turner, the brain grows too large for the size of the skull, causing some sufferers to writhe around in agony before they die. There are many other examples, including boxer dogs having heart diseases and German Shepherds having abnormal hip joint development, causing them to die prematurely. The programme led to the BBC suspending its broadcasting of Crufts which, given its 42-year history with the broadcaster, was highly symbolic.

I want to touch on four of the issues that several hon. Members have raised. First, we must tackle the horrific business of inherited genetic disease through improper breeding, which can seriously compromise dogs’ welfare. Secondly, we need a proper microchipping process for dogs. Thirdly, I want to talk about puppy farms and fourthly about puppy contracts.

Welfare problems caused by those who buy problem dogs are extensive both financially and emotionally. Such puppies often die prematurely and their owners have to face the associated costs, including vets’ fees, and the emotional trauma that goes with that. I will concentrate on dog welfare today. We should remember that dogs are sentient beings who can feel both pain and fear.

The Government must not wash their hands of all aspects of dog breeding, particularly when welfare problems are involved, and they could use a light regulatory touch with a sector of welfare groups operating properly through the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. There must be responsible dog-breeding regulation so that puppies are sold to suitable owners and socialised properly, which would alleviate many of the dog control problems to which hon. Members have alluded.

I turn first to the lack of funding. The Animal Health and Welfare Board for England is, rightly, weighted towards farm animals and received £200,000 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Farm Animal Welfare Council received £280,000. In contrast, the Dog Advisory Council, which is so ably chaired by Professor Sheila Crispin, had to make do with a mere shoestring budget of £28,000 last year. It tried to approach the pet food industry for more funding, but that has so far failed. The Dog Advisory Council has been widely acknowledged as providing the most independent, far-reaching welfare advice of any of the dog organisations.

That brings me to the second, perhaps most important part of my speech, and the issue that is causing so much unhappiness; I hope that the Minister pays close attention. It seems that a new canine and feline sector group has been established, with a surprising lack of consultation anywhere. If there is to be a new organisation, it should be fully independent from any sectoral interests. Only with an independent group will the correct provisions be put in place to protect the welfare of dogs in the UK.

I also question the establishment of the group. I do not understand why it was set up, what the process for the recruitment of its members was, or how the group is to be funded, and I would be grateful if the Minister clarified those issues. Was the group and its membership established under the Nolan principles?

I understand that the new group will be under the chairmanship of Professor Steve Dean. I have met him, and he is extremely knowledgeable about dogs-the problem is that he happens to be chairman of the Kennel Club. It would appear that a cosy relationship has formed between the Kennel Club and DEFRA, which, as I said in a letter to the noble Lord de Mauley, is seriously dividing opinion-formers in the dog world, and compromising, I believe, the welfare of dogs. The creation of the new group and the choice of chairman have frankly created hostility in the dog world. Any chairman of a dog welfare board, I suggest to the Minister, should be able to unite, not divide, that world.

The position of the Kennel Club as a regulatory body seems to have been elevated recently, following a speech from Professor Steve Dean, in which he said that the Kennel Club had the

“primary role as the regulator for the welfare of dogs”,

and had worked with DEFRA to form the canine and feline sector group, under his chairmanship.

There is a fundamental conflict of interest in the Kennel Club’s taking a leading role in the welfare of dogs, as its main source of income comes from the fees that it charges for the registering and transfer of ownership of puppies. Therefore, it is not in the Kennel Club’s interest to restrict the number of organisations by imposing tougher health requirements. Given that conflict of interest, I do not believe that the Kennel Club is the best organisation to be given responsibility for the regulation of dog welfare.

The establishment of any group should at least have had involvement from the Dog Advisory Council, which provides expert independent advice on how best to advance the welfare of dogs. It would have been far more beneficial to build on the Dog Advisory Council’s work, rather than to establish this entirely new group under the Kennel Club’s chairman. The advice given by the Dog Advisory Council is truly independent and widely respected by all dog groups.

If we are to work within the current structures, they must be rigorously independent and have the Dog Advisory Council at their heart. I believe that the Dog Advisory Council should remain in place until such time as a suitable structure is formed that can guarantee the independence and regulation of dog welfare. Following that, a dedicated dog subsection should remain in any canine and feline group, due to the population of dogs and the problems that we have heard in today’s debate. There are-I believe; nobody quite knows the exact figure-about 11 million dogs and about 11 million cats in this country, but it seems that there are far more problems with dogs than with cats.

Moving on quickly, Mr Turner-I know that you will want me to conclude shortly-I would like to talk about microchipping. I know through a constituent of mine, who is actively involved in the matter, that we are being pressed to do something urgently about microchipping in horses, to deal with horse diseases and the issue of traceability, including dog meat. The technology required for the chipping of dogs and horses is exactly the same. Surely we can accelerate the microchipping process, so that it is dealt with faster than by 2016, as is currently proposed.

Briefly, the third issue is so-called puppy farms, which others have discussed. I quickly comment that the problem is that the farms often produce puppies in environments with inadequate welfare conditions and inadequate genetic disease control. Puppies are often poorly nourished and not properly socialised, so that is an issue that we need to tackle.

The fourth issue, which my constituent, Carol Fowler, was at the forefront of proposing, is puppy contracts. It is important that members of the general public have access to an effective public education campaign about genetic welfare issues. The poor welfare standards of many commercial breeding establishments and dealers mean that many innocent puppy buyers will still purchase a puppy on emotional grounds rather than as informed consumers. Choice of breed can often be based on appearance or even fashion, with little regard to potentially harmful conformational traits or known breed-related genetic diseases, let alone whether a particular breed of dog is suitable for their lifestyle, or whether they should have a dog at all.

The current, unregulated system is failing to protect dogs from suffering from the effects of inbreeding, genetic diseases, exaggerated conformational traits, poor husbandry and the poor welfare that can be associated with the breeding of dogs. The majority of purebred dogs are owned by the general public, who often pay a very high financial and emotional price in dealing with such problems.

The UK claims to be a nation of animal lovers and, on the whole, I am sure that that is true. However, there will be a falsity behind that claim if we do not ensure the highest welfare standards possible. The UK’s standard of welfare of companion animals often falls below that of Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and possibly other European countries as well.

In summary, I believe that the case for an independent regulator for the welfare of dogs is clear. A clear distinction has to be made between a sectoral council, which represents the interests of the industry concerned, and an independent regulator, which will act on behalf of the welfare interests of animals. With the creation of the new canine and feline body, it very much feels as though the poachers are regulating the gamekeepers.

A truly independent body, with statutory powers, would have the capability to ensure both the protection of dog welfare and that dog breeding was carried out to the highest possible standards. Having those safeguards in place would, in turn, alleviate many of the dog control issues that we have discussed today, including that of dangerous dogs. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on those important welfare issues today.

Source: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP Member of Parliament for The Cotswolds

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