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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, May 9, 2024


Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

We resume business. However, I will just say that this is follow-on business, so it is more than a bit disappointing that so many members were absent at the start of the debate, which required an unpredicted suspension.

We are now ready to move to the next item of business, which is a debate on motion S6M-12991, in the name of Christine Grahame, on the Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. Members who wish to participate should press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible. I call Christine Grahame to speak to and move the motion—you have around eight minutes.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. As one of the culprits, I apologise.

I welcome today’s debate and the progress that it represents. To members who came into Parliament just this session, I say that I have been working with a wide range of organisations on the policy in the Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill for the past seven years—it seems longer. I genuinely welcome the valuable work of the lead committee and the constructive series of recommendations that it has produced as a result of its scrutiny of the bill. It gave me food for thought and did its job well.

I will focus on a number of those recommendations later but, first, I want to talk about why the bill is needed. Many moons ago, there was a song called “(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?” which went:

“How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggly tail ...
I do hope that doggie's for sale”—

I will not sing it. The sale of puppies in pet shop windows has long been banned—but has it? Windows have changed to Microsoft Windows and the internet, and the understandable impulse to acquire a puppy or young dog has remained—indeed, if anything, the pandemic increased that demand, for reasons that, quite frankly, I fully understand.

My second preliminary point is that the proposed legislation is not to punish or blame but to educate. We would agree that there is a surge in the level of dog ownership across Scotland combined with a lack of an informed approach from the public to buying a dog. With criminals always alert to demand and profitable opportunities, there has been a rise in unscrupulous breeding through, for example, puppy factory farming, where puppies and breeding bitches are kept in appalling conditions—unsocialised and often very sick—then marketed as expensive, desirable commodities.

Purchasers who are unaware of the reality behind the cute online images pay thousands, and the conveyor belt of misery continues. Purchasers might even have bought a puppy to “save” it—they might save that puppy but not the next or the next. Despite worthy endeavours by the Government and animal welfare agencies, illegal breeding and heart-over-head, casual purchases from unscrupulous suppliers continue. I consider that the issue might best be attacked by addressing demand.

Some six years or more ago, I had a similar bill ready for the off when the pandemic put everything on hold for two years. The pandemic only emphasised to me the need for my bill.

Referencing the illegal trade, extracts of evidence from key stakeholders who support my bill demonstrate the scale of the issue. The Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that the illegal puppy trade is worth £13 million. Animal Trust has highlighted the huge rise in problems that have arisen from people buying dogs that they cannot properly look after, including the fact that abandonment rates continue to rise, with 96 per cent of rehoming centres reporting an increase in behavioural issues.

Battersea found that only 5 to 10 per cent of puppies across the United Kingdom are coming from licensed breeders, who should ensure healthy puppies and appropriate new owners. Up to 95 per cent of puppies are bought from unlicensed sellers.

Calls to a helpline run by the Scottish SPCA on giving up pets have quadrupled, with costs, vet care and inappropriate living conditions cited as common reasons. A recent survey found that only 29 per cent of people considered cost when they got their pet. Dogs are the most frequently abandoned animal, and rehoming centres are experiencing incredible financial pressures as a result.

Evidence from Dogs Trust is among the weight of support for the bill that was received by the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee. Its submission describes the purpose of the bill as

“educating and providing prospective dog owners with the tools to purchase or rehome a dog more responsibly, and to identify and avoid unscrupulous breeding practices.”

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

The member makes a very good case as to why new legislation is necessary. My understanding is that her bill would include a code. Could she say why she feels that it is necessary for the detail of that code to be—unusually—in the bill? I do not say that as a criticism of the bill, but I would like to know why the member feels that so much information about the code needs to be in the bill itself.

Christine Grahame

Heaven forfend Dr Allan would offend me. I will come to that point.

The evidence that was provided to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee reflects the value of educating and changing the behaviour of buyers, improving it and, as a result, changing the demand and buying practices of the public. That would have a positive impact, preventing so many of the notable problems that I have just highlighted and of which I am sure members are aware. Reduced demand affects supply.

One of the key questions that came up during stage 1 evidence taking, which the committee deliberated on, is why we need a separate new code when there is an existing code on dog ownership. The code in the bill serves a very different purpose from that of the existing code. It will have a very different appearance, given its distinct purpose, and it applies to a different group of people. It has a new certificate and associated process attached to it.

The current code, which relates to someone who already has a dog, runs to 28 pages, with additional web links. If I was being naughty I might call it “War and Peace”—but I am not naughty. However, I wonder how many dog owners even know it exists, let alone read it. The code under the bill applies to people who are considering acquiring a dog, and it would do three key things. It would redirect people from owning a dog if they realised that they could not afford one; it would help people to take more time to identify the right breed for them; and it would help people to assess the situation in which the puppy is being sold, so that they see warning signs that something is amiss. The briefest consideration of those questions will give pause for thought—no “paws” pun intended—in particular for those buying a puppy through online sales. That will prompt lots of valuable pauses for thought—about the cost and the breed, questioning why it is not possible to see the mother with the puppy, and so on—as will asking people to sign the certificate and to confirm that they understand the need to retain it and to have read the code.

I emphasise the importance of the certificate under the bill. It seeks to ensure that anyone buying a dog will reflect on those questions and others, prompting them to educate themselves further before making a choice. The certificate is based on a process that is followed in France, where, as of 2022, a certificate is required when someone buys a dog or any other number of animals. My certificate, like a French certificate, will require the provider and the acquirer to sign it, so that they both know what they are doing. I thank, in particular, Mike Flynn, who brought that to my attention.

I will move on very quickly and touch on other matters. I have only eight minutes, I believe.

I can give you a little bit of extra time, Ms Grahame.

Christine Grahame

Thank you very much.

Part 2 seeks to establish a register of unlicensed litters, and I remain passionately committed to the policy behind that proposal. At present, given the lack of any licensing regime for those who do not register as licensed breeders—there is legislation for that—there is no way of tracing where each puppy sold in Scotland comes from, which enables unscrupulous breeders to continue to sell large numbers of puppies outwith the licence system.

The intention behind part 2 is to improve traceability. Any dog that is being sold or transferred in Scotland needs to be on a searchable database. That would enable the public to take informed decisions when sourcing a puppy, and it would aid enforcement, making puppies sold outwith either regime—including through the illegal puppy trade—far easier to identify.

However, I am realistic about the difficult financial environment in which we are operating, and I know that local authorities are under immense resource pressures. I firmly believe that a thoroughly implemented register, brought in at a time when resources are less sparse, would have been beneficial. However, as the committee knows from stage 1 evidence, I have conceded that it might be better to actively pursue another approach to improving traceability, by which I mean taking forward the long-standing need to make progress with the microchipping regime.

A solution to traceability that does not require further legislation would give the ability to trace all dogs through the microchipping system, which I will say more about later. Progress in this area is long overdue. Given the benefits that the bill would deliver and the scale of the urgency of the problem, I welcome comments from the minister on plans to engage with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on microchipping and on getting work moving on the solution. On the basis that that valuable work will happen, I am content to support the Scottish Government’s proposal to remove part 2 of my bill, with the caveat that I want there to be progress on a microchipping portal.

I very much look forward to hearing the speeches in the debate, which I am sure will be robust, and I will respond to as many points as I can in my closing remarks.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, reflecting on our stage 1 inquiry and report on Christine Grahame’s member’s bill, the Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill.

I will provide some background on our inquiry. We issued a call for written views, which received 95 responses from individuals and 23 responses from stakeholder organisations. We explored the issues that were raised at a round-table discussion with animal welfare organisations, the Law Society of Scotland, the then Minister for Energy and the Environment and Christine Grahame, and we published our report on 5 March.

Christine Grahame has already spoken passionately about her reasons for introducing the bill and the objectives that it seeks to achieve. She told the committee:

“I want the public to understand ... that they are the custodians and are policing the welfare of Scotland’s puppies and young dogs”

and that targeting

“demand will change the nature of supply.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 22 November 2023; c 22.]

We heard evidence from animal welfare organisations that the number of dogs bred by irresponsible breeders continues to grow, resulting in some people buying dogs that present behavioural or health issues and, as a result, increasing the number of requests to home dogs. Those animal welfare organisations support the general principles of the bill.

The Kennel Club told us that the existing legislation targets irresponsible breeders and that it is not enforced adequately. Bad or rogue breeders or those who import illegally bred dogs

“can pretty much get away with it.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 20 September 2023; c 6.]

The Scottish SPCA outlined how entrepreneurial rogue breeders can get around measures that are designed to tackle irresponsible breeding.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

Excuse my ignorance on the matter, but there is a significant involvement of organised crime in dog breeding in Scotland and I wonder whether, during its inquiry, the committee managed to ascertain the extent of that.

Finlay Carson

We do not have any specifics about that, but everyone on the committee certainly understood that organised crime, gangs and so on could play a big part in the trafficking of dogs, particularly in my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries, where we see dogs coming through Cairnryan.

The minister agreed that it is increasingly difficult for those who want to buy a dog to know whether a breeder is reputable. On the basis of evidence, the committee agreed that further measures are needed to focus on the demand rather than the supply of puppies and dogs.

I turn to the specifics of the bill. Part 1 seeks to introduce a code of practice for the acquisition of a dog. The main issue with that provision is that the Scottish Government already has the power to introduce a code of practice. Indeed, it has already introduced a code of practice on the welfare of dogs, albeit that it focuses on good practice around owning a dog rather than around the acquisition of a dog.

Views are mixed on whether a new stand-alone code is required or whether the existing code should be amended. Animal welfare organisations support a single amended code. The Dogs Trust told us that that would make “perfect sense”, and the Scottish SPCA argued that having a single code would make it easier to prove, in the event of any formal proceedings, that someone had known where to look for guidance.

However, Christine Grahame, felt that, if the bill’s provisions were included in the existing code, they would “get lost in translation”—earlier, she compared the code to “War and Peace”—and would be diluted and would not be as effective. The minister told us that it was time for the existing code to be refreshed but would not be drawn on whether the Scottish Government agreed with the idea of a separate, stand-alone code or whether Christine Grahame’s proposals would be incorporated in any refresh of the existing code.

It is fair to say that this was the one aspect of the bill on which there was less consensus among committee members, but the majority of members agreed that the proposed code should be stand-alone, concise and accessible.

We made a number of other recommendations in relation to part 1. We recommended that section 2 should be amended to remove the questions that the proposed code would require prospective dog owners to ask when acquiring a dog. The committee felt that it would be more appropriate to have the flexibility to change the questions in the future.

We recommended that the provision that the bill should come into effect within six months of royal assent should be amended, because we felt that that would not leave sufficient time for an effective consultation.

We recommended that the bill should apply to all dogs, not just pets. We were persuaded by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, which argued that working dogs should share the same level of protection as pet dogs.

In addition, we recommended that the new code should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the same way as the existing code.

We agreed with the proposal for a certificate to confirm that parties have adhered to the code, although concerns were raised about the lack of enforcement provisions, and we agreed with the advisory approach, which seeks to educate, rather than penalise, dog owners. We agreed, too, that publicising the code would be fundamental to its success. Although we noted the minister’s view that the expected costs would be sufficient, we also noted the existence of a general view that publicity campaigns rarely fulfil their potential.

Part 2 seeks to introduce a registration scheme for puppy litters in situations in which a breeding licence is not already required. Animal welfare organisations supported that proposal, arguing that it would improve traceability and address the defects associated with microchipping. However, concerns were expressed about the proposal that the litter, rather than the breeder, would require to be registered, and the minister expressed concerns that registration in itself would not protect welfare and could provide “false legitimacy” to unscrupulous breeders.

Concerns were also raised about how much it would cost local authorities to implement a register, and although part 2 would not be implemented until a time when local authorities had more money, the committee felt that, without a clearer timetable, a register was not a workable solution. The minister was open to the suggestion that the Scottish Government should seek to amend the bill to remove that provision, and the committee agreed that an alternative approach would offer a more effective and quicker way of improving traceability for puppies and dogs.


The Minister for Agriculture and Connectivity (Jim Fairlie)

I am someone who has had dogs in his life from the age of eight, when I got my first Labrador pup, called Pepper, until very recently—a period of just shy of 50 years—whether as pets or as working colleagues that have helped me to gather sheep and cattle. I have had them in my life for the vast majority of my life and, as a dog person, I am fully aware of the important role that they play in our individual lives and in our communities, and of their contribution to society, and I know how important it is that we continue to take their welfare and lifelong wellbeing seriously.

However, despite their popularity as much-loved family pets, we know that not all dogs are sold, purchased or treated responsibly. They can often be acquired impulsively, with the lifelong commitment not having been fully considered or enough thought having been given to where the puppy has been acquired from.

Having sold a number of pups from working collies over the years, I am acutely aware of the responsibility of sellers or transferrers of dogs in ensuring that dogs are placed in appropriate homes with people who understand their needs, the temperament of the breed, the exercise requirements and the nature of, and potential problems associated with, the dog that is being transferred.

Responsible dog breeders and sellers take those responsibilities very seriously indeed. In fact, in the past, my wife and I have refused to sell people pups because we could not satisfy ourselves that they were fully aware of what they were taking on. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There are far too many unscrupulous sellers of pups from puppy farms where welfare is the last consideration and profit is king.

The unscrupulous criminals behind the trade are using increasingly sophisticated ways to fraudulently pass themselves off as legitimate home breeders. They take advantage of the public demand for pups of particular breeds and often supply pups that have been bred in poor conditions in other countries, which can develop serious health and behavioural problems because of the conditions in which they have been bred and kept. That can lead to a heartbreaking situation for new owners, whose decisions when they buy a dog are often emotive.

I acknowledge the hard work of the Scottish SPCA and other agencies across the UK, which continue to collaborate to combat the low-welfare puppy trade by sharing information and taking enforcement action against the criminals involved.

The Scottish Government supports that work and has made significant improvements to the legislation on dog breeding and pet sales in recent years, as well as funding campaigns to increase public awareness of the risks.

The Government is also committed to setting the highest standards for animal welfare.

Finlay Carson

I welcome Christine Grahame’s bill. The committee heard Gillian Martin, who was the minister at the time, say that she agreed with almost everything that Christine Grahame’s bill aims to do. However, she acknowledged that the Government already has the powers to deliver most of the recommendations or policies that the bill would bring into force, so why has the Government not addressed this before and why has it taken a member’s bill for the Government to do the job, step up to the mark and look after the welfare of dogs?

Jim Fairlie

I cannot say why something has not been done in the past, but I can say that the Government takes the commitment seriously and that the code that Christine Grahame is talking about will be different from the one that currently exists.

The Scottish Government supports the work and has made significant improvements. We are committed to setting the highest standards for animal welfare and want to do everything within our power to educate breeders, sellers, owners and prospective owners about how to meet a dog’s needs and how to make the right choices when acquiring a dog.

There is always more that can be done to ensure that the existing legislation on dog breeding and sales is enforced and we continue to engage regularly on that with local authorities and other bodies.

However, because of the continued strong demand in Scotland for pups, there will unfortunately always be an incentive for unscrupulous breeders and sellers to operate illegally. In tackling that, it is important to focus on the demand for pups and to inform and encourage buyers about how to acquire pups responsibly and safely.

There is already a significant volume of online advice to educate buyers. Previous Scottish Government public awareness campaigns such as “Buy a puppy safely” gave advice on how to acquire a pup responsibly and how to recognise the signs of the illegal puppy trade. Those campaigns were accompanied by hard-hitting social media messaging and had significant impact in reaching their target audiences, leading to an increase in puppy investigations and in puppies being seized by the Scottish SPCA. It is important that such awareness campaigns are sustained in the longer term to achieve significant and lasting changes in buying behaviour and to address any growing trends.

The Scottish Government wants to encourage the public to take more responsibility when considering taking on a dog and to acquire that dog responsibly, which is why I support the intentions behind the bill.

I commend my colleague Christine Grahame for her commitment and tenacity in bringing the welfare of dogs to the attention of Parliament. She has repeatedly striven to highlight unresolved and unsatisfactory issues around the selling, transferring and acquiring of dogs in Scotland and I express my admiration and thanks for her constructive approach to the development of the bill. I also thank the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee for its detailed scrutiny of the bill, for its proposals and for the preparation of its stage 1 report, which makes many helpful recommendations.

Part 1 of the bill proposes the introduction of a new code of practice for the acquiring and transfer of pups and dogs, to include questions for prospective owners and a certificate confirming that they have considered those questions. Part 2 proposes the introduction of a register of litters.

Having considered the committee’s recommendations, and following work with Ms Grahame on amendments to the bill, the Scottish Government agrees with the proposal to allow more than six months after royal assent for the code to come into effect and agrees that that code should apply to all dogs, not only to dogs kept as pets. During our evidence sessions, I had some concerns about the inclusion of working dogs, but I am now convinced that including all dogs is the right course to take.

Christine Grahame

I have considered that. Like the minister, I appreciate that there are good people—such as farmers, the police and the owners of guide dogs for the blind—who own working dogs that are not casually purchased or acquired. However, following consideration, I appreciate that there could be a loophole and that someone could say that a dog is a working dog and not a pet, when it is in fact a pet. I will seriously consider any Government amendments to make the bill apply to all dogs.

Jim Fairlie

The Scottish Government also agrees with the attention to detail in ensuring that sections of the bill are consistent with the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (Scotland) Regulations 2021, including with regard to points such as the need for the buyer to see a dog with its mother; making the requirement to confirm a dog’s age the responsibility of both the acquirer and of the person selling or giving away the dog; and the requirement for a certificate to be part of a new code of practice, rather than a separate requirement. Finally, the Government agrees with the removal of part 2 of the bill.

I acknowledge that the Scottish Government has powers to create a new code of practice or guidance under sections 37 and 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. That act was designed with future resilience in mind and it provides powers to add new codes of practice or guidance.

I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate and working closely with Christine Grahame and the committee members as the bill progresses.


Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I congratulate Christine Grahame on introducing the Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill and on her concerted efforts during my time in Parliament to improve animal welfare more generally.

The policy memorandum states that the bill’s aim is

“to improve the health and wellbeing of dogs throughout their lives, by establishing a more responsible and informed approach to acquiring and owning a dog”.

Ideally, a prospective owner will take time to fully consider the implications of getting a dog, but Blue Cross points out that a significant minority of prospective owners do not do the research that they should do.

According to the Scottish SPCA, dog ownership has increased since 2020 but so, too, have low-welfare puppy dealers who are chasing profit. Research from the University of Edinburgh shows that, sadly, those dogs often suffer from behavioural issues and illnesses as a result of breeding conditions. Current efforts to tackle the issue focus mostly on the supply of dogs. They include the Scottish SCPA’s on-going efforts to disrupt the puppy farming trade, which is estimated to be worth £13 million a year. We commend those who are involved in those efforts, but as it is the demand for dogs that gives unscrupulous breeders an opportunity to exploit, we must ensure that demand is more informed and responsible.

The 2023 animal wellbeing report by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals shows low levels of awareness of best practice across the UK. For example, less than half of dog owners knew that puppies for sale should be seen with their mother. Part 1 of the bill would help address those knowledge gaps through a new code of practice and accompanying certificates. The code would include questions for prospective buyers on, for example, whether the intended breed is suitable for their family and whether they can afford to look after a dog. Blue Cross and the Scottish Government have pointed to an opportunity to include information on breed-specific health issues. Those measures could be useful. I also note the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee has recommended that the proposed questions not be set out in the bill.

Christine Grahame

I would resist being more breed specific, because that would start to clutter up the rather simple questions with regard to the breed. If someone considers the breed, they will obviously look at what is required, whether it has any particular problems with breathing and so on. We should not start to put too much in—I want to keep things simple and direct.

Maurice Golden

I think that that makes a lot of sense. It has been suggested that there could be type-specific information, too, but we could very quickly start to go down a number of rabbit holes, as we have seen with other dog-related legislation.

Although failure to comply with the code would not be an offence in itself, we should remember that the intent of the bill is to educate and encourage, not to punish. In that case, it is perhaps better thought of as a means of encouraging people to pause and think when acquiring a dog.

There has also been disagreement on whether the code should be a new stand-alone one or an update to the 2010 code of practice on dog ownership. The Scottish SPCA makes a good argument for having a combined code, pointing out that it would be easier to prove in an investigation that someone should have had knowledge of a single source of information rather than multiple sources.

Part 2, which the Scottish Government is seeking to remove at stage 2, would prohibit the first owner of a litter from selling or transferring it within 12 months of birth without registering it on a database. That would cover litters that fall outside the current regulations. Inevitably, the provision focuses on low-volume breeders, such as families with pets who are having puppies. By contrast, the Kennel Club points out that the focus should be on properly enforcing the existing regulations aimed at high-volume breeders. I also note the minister’s comments that registration does not come with the same welfare responsibilities as licensing, which might create a false sense of assurance in potential buyers.

I am supportive of a centralised database of puppies that are being sold—or of improved interoperability between the existing databases. Indeed, Christine Grahame and the minister have already mentioned the potential of microchipping to aid greater traceability.

The Scottish Conservatives agree with the principles behind the bill, because we want to see healthy, happy dogs as a result of more responsible ownership. We will therefore vote for the bill at stage 1.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, put on record my recognition of Christine Grahame’s work on the welfare of dogs and on the illegal puppy trade. She has done a lot of work in the Parliament on the issue, and I pay tribute to it.

It is difficult to disagree with the bill’s general principles, given that they are about improving animal welfare and ensuring responsible pet ownership. We have all seen a rise in the ownership of dogs during Covid. At that time, people were at home and able to look after their pets, but those who did not give the matter sufficient thought are now struggling to keep those pets well looked after as they return to the office. Indeed, rehoming charities have been talking about the number of abandoned dogs that they have.

We have also heard about the growth in illegal puppy farms to meet the demand for puppies, and we need to challenge that, too. However, as this is a member’s bill, it is naturally restricted in what it can do. I believe that, if the Government were to take up the challenge, there would be scope to go further than the bill does in order to deal with illegal puppy farms. The bill cannot do it—as I have said, a member’s bill is very restricted—so it might be good if the Scottish Government could look at amendments in that respect.

As we have heard, the Scottish Government has more difficulty with part 2 of the bill. There are indeed difficulties with that part, but it is really important—if we can get it right—because it provides for a register of unlicensed litters. Often, people who are not breeders allow their pets to have puppies; currently, though, there are no protections for those puppies. Breeders have to be licensed and follow standards, but people are able to breed dogs without their being licensed breeders, and that creates a loophole for those illegal breeders who hide under the radar to do these things.

We have heard of these people, for example, portraying holiday rentals as their own homes where they will take the puppies, often with a dog that is not the mother of the litter. They do not care anything for animal welfare. We often hear about people buying a puppy and then discovering that they have huge vet bills to deal with, and that the puppy that they had paid a lot of money for was unwell—and, perhaps, did not survive.

I therefore totally understand why Christine Grahame is seeking to have all litters registered—she is trying to close that loophole—but I also understand that that might be challenging. The committee was told by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home that, although the microchipping of dogs is now a legal requirement, only about 20 per cent of the dogs that they take in are chipped. Therefore, enforcement is an issue that we need to deal with at present, never mind the introduction of a new register.

Because of the general data protection regulation legislation, there are also concerns about the public accessibility of the detail in the register and about people being able to look at it to see whether their puppy was indeed registered.

Christine Grahame

I will go into more detail when I sum up, but the UK has come quite a distance on this. It has been suggested that, if there is a portal for all the individual microchipping companies to allow somebody to access that information, it should be only for the police and animal welfare agencies, not for general public consumption.

Ms Grant, I can give you time back for the intervention.

Rhoda Grant

I am grateful for that intervention, as it highlights that the many companies that deal with microchip registers could come together and make them available for scrutiny. Perhaps people could even check with a vet whether their pet had indeed been microchipped.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I think that five companies provide microchips across the United Kingdom. The problem is not so much collating the information from those microchips but the fact that people do not keep the data on them up to date. For example, when they change dogs, they do not register that fact. The whole system is fraught with problems. I understand that vets, too, are concerned about being the ones to police microchipping. Does Rhoda Grant think that that aspect might need more thought and that part 2 of the bill should be considered again?

Again, I can give you the time back, Ms Grant.

Rhoda Grant

Yes, it does need more thought. That is not a criticism of Christine Grahame, because there is a limit to what any back-bench member of the Parliament can introduce and there are restrictions on the complexity of such legislation. However, during stage 2 of the bill’s progress, the Government will have an opportunity to consider what it can do to work with the organisations that Christine Grahame has mentioned. Tackling that one issue would go a long way towards bringing illegal traders to book.

I believe that the general principles of the bill should be supported. I urge the Government to examine the bill so that we can improve it as it goes through the parliamentary process and that we can, I hope, bring an end to the scourge of illegal puppy farming.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Earlier this year, I was horrified to find out about a case of illegal and cruel puppy farming in Inverness, in my region. A couple had rented out their cottage for three days. Imagine their shock and horror when they returned to it to find 14 neglected puppies, caked in faeces and urine, some of which were in a cage. They then found out that those puppies were being sold to unsuspecting buyers for £1,500 each.

That is appalling but, unfortunately, it is not a rare story. The puppy trade is a multimillion-pound industry. The illegal underside of the trade has strong links to serious organised crime groups that operate throughout the UK.

The Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did not pull any punches in the evidence that it gave at Westminster. Bred purely for profit, puppies from puppy farms are often kept in conditions reminiscent of those in intensive farming systems. Bitches are bred too often, and many are unhealthy and live in unbearably poor conditions. Puppies are generally removed from their mothers far too early and are then transported in unsuitable conditions to satisfy public demand. Unfortunately, low-welfare breeding is on the rise, despite the best efforts of the SSPCA and others to tackle it. The SSPCA is even seeing a boom in unregulated and unsafe canine fertility clinics to meet the public’s demand for dogs.

Although criminal activity is rising to exploit public demand, we can guard against it by supporting public awareness, education and responsibility around dog ownership. That is exactly what the bill aims to do. I extend my whole-hearted congratulations to Christine Grahame for being such a strong and consistent advocate for companion animal welfare and for bringing the bill to fruition through her hard work and great focus.

The Scottish Greens have always been fully committed to animal welfare. From protecting mountain hares from slaughter on grouse moors to ending live sport on farm animals outwith the UK, and from banning the use of cruel snare traps to securing new powers for the SSPCA to investigate wildlife crime, we have been integral to securing such protections for our fellow creatures. My colleague Mark Ruskell is working tirelessly to end the cruel practice of greyhound racing. It is therefore no surprise that we support the bill.

Of course, the Scottish Greens support the intention to protect animal welfare by establishing a more responsible approach to dog ownership and enhanced monitoring and traceability in the breeding and sale of puppies, and we support the intention behind the code. On monitoring and traceability, we recognise the concerns that the Scottish Government has raised about the design of part 2 and the register. It is good to hear that Christine Grahame is content to see a microchipping scheme for traceability. The Scottish Greens will do our part to ensure that that is a priority for the Scottish Government.

I know that there is support from members across the chamber for improving companion animal welfare. Maurice Golden has done great work to build support for a ban on electric shock collars. Scottish Labour wants to ban the import of very young puppies, and the Liberal Democrats supported the bill that became the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022, partly to protect pets from distress.

Members might have different ideas about the most effective solutions or the best way to achieve the bill’s intentions, given that resource is limited. However, given the non-controversial nature of the bill’s aims, the bill presents an opportunity for MSPs from all sides of the chamber to work collaboratively to design the most effective legislation and to really get it right.

The Scottish Greens will support the general principles of the bill, and we encourage other parties to do the same.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members that those who are participating in the debate need to be in the chamber for both the opening and the closing speeches.

We move to the open debate.


Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I thank Christine Grahame for her work so far on the bill, which addresses issues that I know are very close to her heart. I also thank the committee for its work on the stage 1 report.

Over the years, there has been a huge shift in the attitudes that we, as a nation, hold about the welfare and care of animals, which is very welcome. Recently, the sixth annual Holyrood dog of the year competition took place. It was described by The Edinburgh Reporter as

“arguably the most sought-after accolade in Scottish politics.”

That is a subjective matter, of course, and I will continue my one-woman campaign for a Holyrood cat of the year competition. Nonetheless, I am sure that colleagues will join me in congratulating my colleague Marie McNair, with her dog Heidi, on winning this year’s coveted title. The competition is not only about celebrating the positive impact that dog ownership has on people’s lives; it also plays an important role in spotlighting welfare issues, and it keeps a focus on where improvements could be made.

Across Scotland, there has been a surge in dog ownership, which has no doubt been exacerbated, in part, by the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, that growth has gone hand in hand with reports of record numbers of pets being surrendered to animal rescue centres across the country. When there is a surge in demand, there is a scrabble to provide supply, which has, unfortunately, led to a rise in unscrupulous breeding. The committee’s report acknowledges evidence from stakeholders that the effects of irresponsible breeding can be catastrophic, from young puppies dying within hours of going home to their new families to puppies and their mothers facing serious health risks.

The bill shines a light on the need for us to not only continue to strive for the highest possible animal welfare standards and to call out and stamp out cruel and irresponsible breeding practices that are more to do with caring about money than a love of dogs, but to open what might be a difficult conversation.

There is no doubt that, as much as a dog can bring joy and companionship to its owner’s life, it also brings a great deal of responsibility and duty. Welcoming a dog into your home should be a big decision. It is very concerning, therefore, to hear stakeholders’ concerns that people can be unsure what questions to ask and what research to do before taking that step.

The Kennel Club states that at least a fifth of people will spend less than two hours researching whether to buy a puppy—which is potentially a 15-year commitment—with a third saying that they do not know how to spot a rogue breeder. Ultimately, people need trusted information about the important questions to ask of breeders, about the health concerns that relate to particular breeds and about their responsibilities as owners.

Members across the chamber will know that, for many years, I have called for an end to the cruel and outdated practice of greyhound racing, and, earlier this year, I was pleased to welcome Mark Ruskell’s proposed bill to prohibit greyhound racing.

I pay tribute to the many organisations and individuals who have campaigned for years for an end to greyhound racing. Many of them are constituents of mine. They have highlighted welfare concerns about those dogs to the public and to elected members across the political spectrum. In my Rutherglen constituency, that chapter of history is now closing, and our community can look forward to a new future for the Shawfield stadium site.

It became very clear to me from the constituents who contacted me ahead of this debate how deeply important animal welfare issues are to them. Like many members—perhaps every member—across the chamber, I would definitely characterise my constituency as one of dog lovers.

The crux of the bill is to improve the health and wellbeing of dogs throughout their lives, starting from the point that a prospective owner decides to welcome one into their life. I am sure that we can all support that aim, and I look forward to further discussions about how it can be progressed.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I add my congratulations to Christine Grahame on introducing the bill. I also congratulate her on resisting the temptation to burst into song during her speech—that was very well received.

I doubt that anyone in the chamber would disagree with the aim of the bill

“to improve the health and wellbeing of dogs throughout their lives”

or the need to encourage the public to have a more responsible and informed approach when choosing whether and from where to get a dog. Unfortunately, in too many cases, the failure of some members of the public to do the necessary checks allows the worst cases to happen and the worst perpetrators to continue to operate. They allow unscrupulous and cruel criminals to be involved in activities such as puppy farming and to make so much money—as others have said, the figure has been estimated at £13 million in Scotland alone—from the misery and suffering of dogs as a result of the illegal trade in animals.

I hate to use the term “puppy farming”, because that could not be any further from the idea of farming that I know. Yes, we all have to make a living in the agriculture sector, but the care and welfare of our animals is an important part of any farmer’s life and responsibilities, and for those places to be described as “puppy farms” is quite jarring.

When our last dog, Toby—sadly now long passed—was born, he was the runt of the litter. [Interruption.] I am really upsetting my colleagues with this heart-rending story. Toby was very small and weak, and we spent the first few days of his life uncertain about whether he would live. He took a lot of nurturing to survive, but he turned out to be a big, boisterous and brilliant dog—very much the definition of a good boy. However, that took time. I mention that because I cannot imagine the situation that he would have faced if he had been born in an illegal puppy farm. He would have been expendable—a lost asset at best, worth nothing more than his sale value.

Toby was, of course, lucky that he ended up with us—a family with generational experience of looking after dogs that would ensure that any illnesses or injuries were dealt with straight away, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, he was a sufferer of Addison’s disease, which meant a lifetime of expensive drugs. However, those were provided without hesitation.

That is not the fate of all dogs. Not all dogs have responsible or even caring owners. I am sure that the University of Edinburgh research that Maurice Golden highlighted, on low-welfare production often leading to serious behavioural issues and illnesses, would be supported by the experience of one of my family members who works in the canine behavioural sector. Dogs that already have issues find themselves with families that are really not able to provide the care that they desperately need.

As others have highlighted, using stark numbers, the illegal puppy trade has grown exponentially in the past few years. A new code of practice for the buying, selling and giving away of puppies as pets could help to address that.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

As recently as February this year, 24 cockapoo and cavapoo puppies were discovered in a dire situation. They were confined in cardboard boxes under a lorry coming off the ferry at Cairnryan. Do you think that there are aspects of the general principles of the bill that would help to address the puppy trafficking that we still see at Cairnryan?

Speak through the chair, please.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

Yes, I do. I am just coming on to our general support. We welcome action against any undoubtedly illegal activities, and we know that we see only the cases that are found, not those that, unfortunately, get through.

In summary, the Scottish Conservatives support the bill’s attempts to improve the health and wellbeing of dogs by encouraging responsible ownership, and we will support the bill at stage 1. However, we agree with the Scottish Government that part 2 of the bill should be removed at stage 2, as we do not believe that creating a register for litters from unlicensed breeders would enhance dog welfare.

I recognise the minister’s “strong support” for Christine Grahame’s alternative approach, and we remain open minded about a centralised microchip database for puppies being sold. However, as the committee indicated in its report, we would want the UK Government and, of course, other stakeholders to be consulted.

The British are often described as a nation of dog lovers, but too many dogs are being mistreated for profit and too many are born and die in misery. We can all agree that that is unacceptable. I welcome all efforts that will combat that abuse and that help to improve the lives of man’s and woman’s best friend.


Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

It is a joy to speak in the debate and I thank Christine Grahame for her tireless efforts to provide support for the welfare of animals across Scotland.

I have many cherished memories of my dogs, which have been an integral part of my life. Each wagging tail, slobbery kiss and loving gaze has filled my heart with so much happiness. My dogs were my childhood comforters and were certainly my teenage confidants; they have been my loyal, trusted companions throughout all life’s ups and downs.

Amid that joy, I am acutely aware of the responsibilities that come with dog ownership. The decision to bring a dog into one’s life is not one that should be taken lightly, and it requires careful consideration, thoughtful planning and a deep understanding of the commitment that is involved. I have made mistakes in the past: I have made rushed decisions and I now regret them. However, those experiences have taught me invaluable lessons. My journey to find the dog that I have now—my great dane, Matilda—was not a swift one. It involved months of research, deliberation and searching for the right breeder and the right dog. The process was meticulous but necessary, as I had to ensure that Matilda would be not only a suitable companion but a healthy and happy one.

I certainly support the essence of Christine Grahame’s member’s bill, as it seeks to improve the health and welfare of dogs by fostering a more responsible and informed approach to dog ownership. The Scottish SPCA, in its efforts to protect animals from cruelty and neglect, has borne witness to the grim realities of the dog trade. It has seen first hand the consequences of impulse purchasing and irresponsible breeding practices by which puppies are deprived of necessities such as human contact, socialisation and proper veterinary care. Those dogs often face a lifetime of health issues and behavioural problems because of their traumatic beginnings.

My search for Matilda was a privilege that I could afford: the online searches; the cost of her breed; the journey of hundreds of miles to get her; and the overnight stay. I recognise that that route may not be accessible to all; certainly, it was not one that was available to me in the past and that was not how my other dogs came into my life.

As we navigate the bill, we must ensure that we strike a balance and safeguard the welfare of dogs without creating unnecessary barriers for those who have reduced incomes, who still deserve to have the joy and companionship that a dog can bring to a family.

I support the proposal for the Scottish Government to develop and publish a code of practice that outlines the responsibilities of potential dog owners and those who are involved in selling or giving away dogs. The code would encourage individuals to carefully assess their suitability for dog ownership and to consider whether they can provide for all of a dog’s needs throughout its life. It would be a reminder that dog ownership is not a decision that is to be made lightly but that it is a lifelong commitment that requires dedication, resources and unwavering love.

In addition to safeguarding the welfare of dogs, the bill also aims to educate the public about the risks that are associated with buying from unscrupulous dealers and the importance of responsible ownership. By raising awareness and providing additional oversight, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions, deter low-welfare dealers and hold irresponsible breeders to account for their actions. Through awareness campaigns, educational initiatives and community outreach programmes, we could support individuals to make ethical choices, support responsible breeders and reject the exploitative practices of puppy farms and low-welfare dealers. I often remember that a puppy is not just for Christmas, and I am glad to see that, every year, we still have that slogan in mind. The approach that I have described can work to educate the public if we get the public relations campaigns correct.

Let us remember that, behind every statistic, there are countless tails that are wagging with unconditional love and loyalty. Let us honour their trust by standing united in our commitment to the welfare of dogs and in our resolve to create a future in which every dog is treated with the care, respect and compassion that it deserves.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Presiding Officer, I apologise for missing the opening couple of paragraphs of Christine Grahame’s speech.

The impulse to buy a dog is understandable—they bring joy and comfort to people’s lives, and they become treasured companions and members of the family. However, looking after a dog is also a huge commitment—it can be a 15-year commitment—which prospective buyers do not always appreciate. They require daily walks, activity and interaction. We all see that our pets are happiest when they are out and about, and all that has to be factored into the working week and family life. On top of that is the expense of caring for a dog, including veterinary costs, which can be steep, not least at a time when families face a cost of living crisis.

Many of us know someone who purchased a puppy during the pandemic and admits that they did not anticipate the time and effort that is required to keep their pet happy and healthy. Of course, most people rise to the challenge, but a significant minority do not, particularly if the young dog has come through unscrupulous breeders. Those dogs often have serious behavioural issues and experience serious ill health later in life. Some owners simply do not have the understanding or experience to care of them.

As a result, many are abandoned or taken to shelters to be rehomed. From my recent visits to the SSPCA rescue and rehoming centre in Hamilton and the Dumfries and Galloway Canine Rescue Centre, I know that those centres are bursting at the seams. Therefore, I very much welcome the general principles of Christine Grahame’s bill.

We need to prevent the impulse purchasing of puppies and young dogs, and tackle demand—a point that many members have highlighted. Where there is demand, there is also a trade where rogue dealers seek profit at the expense of animal welfare.

Just a couple of months ago, in my region, at the port of Cairnryan, a large group of puppies was found in an appalling condition. They were confined under a lorry in cardboard boxes, without any food or water. The poor pups were suffering from severe ear mites and other health issues. Thankfully, due to the efforts of the SSPCA, they all survived and have all since been rehomed. However, unless we tackle demand, those tragic scenes will be repeated time and again.

Education is key, and the proposed code of practice and the certificate—which would provide documentary proof of compliance with the code by both buyer and seller—could help. That should encourage people to pause and reflect before deciding whether a dog is right for them. It could also aid in spotting irresponsible puppy dealers.

There has been discussion on exactly what should be in the code. In its briefing to MSPs, Blue Cross made several suggestions, which require serious consideration. It recommends including a question on whether the prospective owner is aware of the specific legal duties that are required of an owner. That could be of relevance in future welfare cases.

The inclusion of another question, on the awareness of the significant health and welfare problems faced by individual breeds, is also recommended. For example, flat-nosed breeds, such as French bulldogs, suffer from a range of health issues, most notably breathing difficulties, and a high percentage of them cannot have a happy and healthy quality of life without veterinary intervention.

Whatever Parliament eventually agrees should be in the code, it is essential that it is a stand-alone, concise and accessible code of practice. We must avoid the potential for confusion or overlap with the 2010 code.

The issue of enforcing the new code has also been raised. Currently, there are no proposals for any enforcement mechanisms or consequences for breach of the code. Some animal welfare charities say that that could present challenges in ensuring compliance.

The Dogs Trust anticipates that responsible breeders will ask prospective owners for the proposed certificate. However, it highlights that there is little to disincentivise more unscrupulous breeders and sellers from ignoring the need for such a certificate.

Blue Cross is right to recommend that, should there be significant non-compliance once the bill is law, the Scottish Government should consider fixed-penalty notices for non-compliance, with the code becoming a legal requirement.

Christine Grahame

I hope that Mr Smyth accepts that it is difficult to get into those complexities in a member’s bill. However, there are references in my bill to existing animal welfare legislation, which will apply if there are issues of cruelty. The lack of—or evidence of—a certificate will be part of ensuring, if necessary, a prosecution.

Colin Smyth

I thank Christine Grahame for her helpful intervention, and I fully accept the complexity of bringing forward some of those proposals in a member’s bill. I hope that the certificate will play a role in making unscrupulous breeders more chaseable by enforcement agencies.

We must ensure that any registration system is user friendly, easily accessible, centralised and transparent. I support the idea of a register of unlicensed litters of puppies. Animal welfare charities say that, with such a change, it would not be possible for puppies to be sold in Scotland by someone who is not regulated in some way. As Blue Cross has emphasised, the bill could lose much of its potential impact without such a register.

The Law Society of Scotland’s detailed briefing to members also raises several issues that should be given proper consideration at stage 2. For example, it argues that it should be the supplier rather than the prospective buyer who must confirm that they have checked that the dog is at least eight weeks of age, particularly as they will also be required to sign the certificate.

The Kennel Club agrees that there should be a more responsible and informed approach to owning a dog, and it highlights that the current regulations are not adequately enforced. It said:

“whether you are a bad breeder, a rogue breeder or importing illegally bred dogs, you can pretty much get away with it.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 20 September 2023; c 6.]

We must ask ourselves why that is the case and what we can do to improve enforcement of the current regulations. If it is about resources, we must ensure that they are made available. We must tackle supply as well as demand.

There are still some issues in the bill to be ironed out, but the central aim is one that I very much welcome and fully support. I have the privilege of being Christine Grahame’s deputy on the cross-party group on animal welfare, and I know how passionate she is about the issue. I pay tribute to her long-standing commitment to animal welfare, of which this bill is another example.

We must and can do more to end the scourge of rogue breeders and ensure that more dogs live happy and healthy lives.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I am happy to speak in support of the general principles at stage 1 of Christine Grahame’s Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill. I have long advocated for a variety of policies to support and advance animal welfare, including by taking forward my member’s bill on livestock worrying in 2021.

We need to aim for responsible acquisition, giving away and selling of dogs. The minister mentioned the personalities and behaviours of dogs in his opening speech. I have twae border collies: Maya, who won the first Holyrood dog of the year competition, is now 12 years old, and Meg is 13. Those are the twae dugs that we have in our house. As they are collies, it requires a lot to keep their brains active and to give them lots of exercise. They are both rescue dogs. When we think about people acquiring a dog, it is important to talk about the way in which they will do so and about the types of dog personalities.

I put on record my thanks to Christine Grahame and I recognise her work in bringing her member’s bill to the chamber. I know the amount of work that goes into a member’s bill, so kudos to Christine Grahame and her team for putting in that hard graft.

As many members will be aware, I have campaigned for stronger action to address the horrific illegal puppy trafficking trade, which others have mentioned. In the time that I have, I will focus many of my comments on that. There has been a real increase in the practice of selling puppies without considering the puppy’s welfare. That is a particular issue in the South Scotland region, which Colin Smyth highlighted. The SSPCA reports that illegal puppies are still being brought into Scotland through the port of Cairnryan, and that they are then sold in Scotland and the wider UK.

Illegally bred puppies that are sold through black-market trade on social media or small advert sites have been identified as a significant source of revenue for serious organised crime gangs. Price tags for some designer breeds can reach thousands of pounds. Prosecutors at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are concerned that money that is raised by unauthorised puppy dealers from some online platforms could be laundered to support drug traffickers and other criminal activity, as part of a multimillion-pound enterprise. A Scottish multi-agency strategic threat assessment—SMASTA—report that was published last year reported that the market for illegally traded puppies is estimated to be worth £13 million.

So far this year, the SSPCA has received 336 calls in connection with puppy farms and puppy breeding. Many of the pups involved later suffer severe health problems and either cost their new owners money in huge vet bills or are too ill to survive their first months.

That all demonstrates that puppy trafficking is a hugely pressing issue, and it is one that the bill and the proposed code can seek to address. The committee’s stage 1 report highlights a quote from Christine Grahame. She said:

“Six years ago, I became aware of the growth in the supply of puppies and dogs purchased online and from puppy factory farms”.

She went on to say:

“I decided that, if supply was the issue, the current legislation and policing were not having a sufficient impact and that I should perhaps tackle demand, which would have an effect on supply.”

Ms Grahame said that her bill would be

“a valuable tool in the box alongside other on-going work set out by the Scottish Government in the minister’s evidence.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 22 November 2023; c 14.]

According to the evidence that was taken at committee, that view is supported by the Scottish SPCA and the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government ran the “Buy a puppy safely” campaign with a budget of £300,000, £225,000 of which was to pay for media and overall development of the campaign, with the remaining £75,000 covering insight and evaluation. The campaign aimed to help people to source their new puppy responsibly by informing them of the consequences of illegal puppy farming, arming them with knowledge of the warning signs to look for and directing them to the “Buy a puppy safely” campaign website.

Although those steps are welcome, as the SSPCA has said, more targeted action is needed to combat the illicit trade, and I believe that the bill will be an additional tool with which to do that.

The Scottish Government has set out its support for the general principles of the bill but has outlined areas where it feels that the bill could usefully be amended. I believe that the bill would have huge value in improving the welfare of dogs. I welcome Christine Grahame’s commitment to working with the Scottish Government on it.


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Before I go any further, I declare an interest that is not one of my entries in the register of interests. I have, sitting at home, seven four-week-old Labrador puppies that will no doubt be clamouring to be fed, although perhaps not to see me. We and, I think, others who own dogs take puppies very seriously.

I will not be so ungallant as to suggest that I do not remember the song that Christine Grahame mentioned about the puppy dog in the window. I clearly remember that song. I am very glad that we have moved on from the days when puppy dogs for sale were in the windows of pet shops, which sparked people to go into shops and buy them on impulse.

What is not to like about the bill? It talks about improving the health and wellbeing of dogs. We all want to do that. We need to remember when we talk about the bill that two thirds of households across the United Kingdom have pets in them.

Pet ownership is a really big undertaking. I do not believe that it is a right; I think that one must seriously consider it before taking it on. When it comes to buying a puppy, the price varies. It can be as low as £1,000 and can go up to £2,500 to £3,000. It is a huge investment to buy a properly bred puppy from somebody who has looked after it properly. It is a big expense every time one buys a sack of food: it costs about £34 for 15kg of food.

It is also a big expense to take dogs to the vet. Vets do not cost 50p, and rightly so, because they give excellent care to our dogs. Last year, I took one of my dogs to the vet school in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the treatment that it got was not sufficient to save the dog, but it was hugely expensive. There comes that choice, when we look after a pet; we have to understand the whole-life cost of taking on the pet.

There are parts of the bill that I agree with. I am happy with part 1. The code of practice and the questions that are in it are really good. The questions are ones that we should be asking ourselves.

I like that the bill says that puppies below eight weeks of age cannot be sold. Why would a person want to do that? It is not in the puppy’s interest or in its mother’s interest. It is also good news that the bill would require people to see the mother before buying a puppy. That gives a really good indication of the health of the puppies and of how the mother is being looked after, which I think gives an indication of whether one is getting a decent puppy.

I have a slight problem with the provision relating to the certificate that must be signed and the fact that it must be kept for the duration of the puppy’s life. One might hope to have a dog for 14 years, if one gets a good run of things. I am not sure that I can find all the paperwork for my eldest dog, who is 10 years old at the moment—it is in a desk somewhere—so I am a bit concerned that keeping the certificate might be difficult. I am also slightly worried about enforcement, should one be unable to produce the certificate. That would probably not happen through lack of trying, so some people might be caught out.

Can Edward Mountain locate his marriage certificate and children’s birth certificates? He could just pop the dog’s paperwork beside them. [Laughter.]

Edward Mountain

No, I cannot, but my wife can. She reminds me of where my marriage certificate is at all times.

I like part 1 of the bill, but I would like to see a bit more scrutiny of it at stage 2.

I am conscious of time. I just want to comment on microchipping. I believe that it is important to microchip dogs. Puppies are taken to the vet at eight weeks for that to be done. That is probably the earliest suitable time to put a slightly larger needle into the dog.

If the puppy changes hands and the new owner does not change the database to keep it up to speed, however, that could be a problem. I was privileged to be part of the British Veterinary Association dinner at which I heard that vets do not want to have to police the database to ensure that the dog that they are treating has the right microchip. They want to give the dog the best treatment possible; they do not want to worry about that when the dog is presented. We have no way of policing the database.

I am happy with part 1, but less happy about part 2 of the bill. However, I am very happy to support the bill this evening and I look forward to being given the opportunity at stage 2 to lodge amendments on areas of concern.


Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

I will not try to do a vote of thanks for what was a well-informed debate. I thank Christine Grahame for what I understand were the six years of work that lie behind her bill and for the evidence that she provided to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee. I know that the welfare of animals is a subject that is very close to Ms Grahame’s heart, and she should be commended for her consistent advocacy on that subject in this place.

Our history as a nation of dog lovers has been alluded to, and dogs have played a key role in Scotland’s folklore. Countless people visit Greyfriars Bobby’s grave every year and Mary, Queen of Scots was well known for her love of dogs, having acquired that affection during her time in France. Incidentally, it is believed that, upon the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, her loyal canine Folly, a terrier, was found hiding at her feet. You will be pleased to know that I will not continue much further in that vein, Presiding Officer. I am prompted to mention it all merely through the sudden recollection of Christine Grahame’s campaign some years ago to repatriate to Scotland the respective components of Mary, Queen of Scots.

In the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, there was a widespread acceptance that the aims of the proposed legislation are good. We can always do more to ensure the legality, safety and robustness of the way in which dog breeding and dog sales are governed. Therefore, I believe that, on the whole, we should support the general principles of the bill at stage 1.

The bill proposes a new code of practice regarding acquiring and supplying a dog. Although powers already exist to introduce codes of practice relating to animal welfare under sections 37 and 38 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, the proposed code is structured around the duty of care that will be placed on the owner to meet welfare needs, which are based on the internationally recognised five freedoms approach.

As an MSP for the Western Isles, where the use of working dogs is still important, I believe that we should consider whether the scope of part 1 of the bill should extend to all dogs, regardless of the purposes for which they are kept. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s current code of practice for the welfare of dogs applies to all dogs, whether they be pets or working animals. After hearing evidence from stakeholders and reading the written responses to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, I believe that such a proposal is worth considering.

Although some proposals in the bill will not have entirely convinced some members of the committee that they are necessary to improve animal welfare, I am confident that there is scope for useful and helpful amendments from members across the Parliament to ensure that the bill does what it seeks to do, which is to ensure the long-term welfare of Scotland’s dogs. As other members have pointed out today, that is often in the face of great cruelty and, very often, in the face of organised crime.

On that basis, I am very happy to support Ms Grahame’s bill at stage 1 and to endorse its general principles.

We move to closing speeches.


Ariane Burgess

As we have heard, having a dog as a pet can bring such joy and comfort and other benefits. That is why the Scottish Greens have been working to secure rights for tenants to keep pets. Prospective pet owners need to be aware of the risks, however.

Recently, a neighbour of mine was bitten by a dog while out running. The owners were right there, but they could not control their dogs. That contrasted sharply with another recent encounter, when a dog appeared on a path where I was running. The dog could have reacted aggressively, but it stood there, looked at me and then looked back at its owner, who was walking along another path. So much comes down to training.

It is a real skill to properly train and control a dog, and to do so while centring animal welfare. Puppies that are born into a low-welfare environment can develop behavioural issues that pose a risk—to humans, to other dogs and especially to livestock during lambing season. There are two issues here: improving awareness of the responsibility and skill involved in training, handling and caring for dogs; and deterring the illegal breeding and selling of dogs, to give them the best possible start in life.

On the latter point, ideally we would work with counterparts across the UK to address cross-border issues, such as unvaccinated pups from intensive puppy-rearing systems being imported into Cairnryan ferry port in appalling conditions, as we have heard about today, to be sold in Scotland.

The bill puts animal welfare front and centre, and I know that Christine Grahame cares deeply about that. I will continue to work tirelessly and constructively with her to ensure that the legislation is effective. In that pursuit, I will highlight some key asks from animal welfare organisations.

Alongside the code of practice, there needs to be a public education campaign to help bring about the necessary human behaviour change and to prevent the impulse purchasing of dogs. There is a need for clarity around how the certificate will be enforced. In general, there is a need for improved resource for enforcing the new legislation, as well as existing legislation around the sale, trade and health and welfare of pets. That must include resource for local authorities, which could use it to improve data sharing on those issues. Finally, monitoring and tackling the online trade in dogs will be critical, and it is good to hear that there is a potential way forward through microchipping.

The bill admirably shines a light on issues that must be addressed to uphold animal welfare. I encourage members to extend that concern to other animals as well. Our farm animals are routinely subject to painful operations without anaesthetic, something that most people would not dream of accepting for their pets. Just as the Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill aims to promote public awareness of how human behaviour impacts on canine welfare, I would like to promote better awareness of how human activity impacts on the welfare of all other sentient beings—on our farms, in our seas and throughout our natural world. The bill is a great place to start, and I fully support its general principles.


Rhoda Grant

This has been a good debate, and there has been much consensus around the need for further education on purchasing dogs—a point that has been made by Christine Grahame and amplified by many other members, indeed all members, this afternoon. That means education to encourage people to think, to ensure that people know how to identify a rogue breeder and to ensure that people know what is required from a breed and whether it will be suitable for their home.

Colin Smyth talked about impulse purchasing and, to prevent that, having people pause to think. A number of speakers, including Colin, have talked about puppies being found at Cairnryan having been smuggled into the country. If Cairnryan appears to be a place where illegal puppies are being smuggled into the country, I wonder whether the Scottish Government might speak to Irish counterparts to try to put a stop to that.

Colin Smyth also talked about the certificate that, under the bill, would be required to be signed by sellers and buyers, and about sellers and buyers having to answer a number of questions, which are outlined in the bill, before they could get that certificate. The certificate itself was not a cause for concern, because it would provide a pause, but there were concerns about those certificate questions being in the bill. People have been very clear that the questions are necessary, and a number of people talked about having more questions. Colin Smyth and Maurice Golden talked about breed-specific questions on breed health and on what to look out for and what should be discouraged during the purchase of a dog such as one of the flat-nosed breeds that have difficulty in breathing. I am minded to support the suggestion that the questions be set in regulation so that they can be updated and modified as necessary, which Christine Grahame might consider as we go through to stage 2 of the bill.

A number of members have talked about the code of practice, which the bill legislates for. We heard in committee that the Scottish Government already has powers to introduce a code, but the bill would extend those powers and put pressure on the Scottish Government to use them, because it was in 2010 that the existing code of practice was last updated. Christine Grahame is clear that that code of practice is unwieldy and far too long, and that the one under her bill would be much shorter and would be user-friendly and educational, rather than punitive. However, a number of those who gave evidence, such as the SSPCA, thought that it would be better and simpler to keep to one code.

Christine Grahame

Apart from the fact that I consider the existing code to be unwieldy and that it is directed at people who already have a dog, my concern is that I do not think that many people read it. I would be interested to know whether the Government has any data on how many people have read that code. In contrast, my code is short and, under the bill, before getting a dog, a person would have to sign a certificate to say that they had read it, as would the person who was transferring the dog.

Rhoda Grant

I absolutely take that on board, but there must be a way that we could simplify it to get to the place where Christine Grahame wants us to go, with people reading the code, taking it on board and, indeed, acting on it. If they do not—Colin Smyth mentioned this in his speech—should there be penalties for a breach and should there be better enforcement of current regulations? We might need to see that.

There has been discussion in the debate about pets and working dogs. In her opening speech, Christine Grahame said that she was considering extending the bill provisions to working dogs. We all know that people want to buy working dogs that will do a job for them and that they take much more care when doing that. However, if a loophole were created whereby people could opt to say that their dog was a working dog and did not need to be registered, that would be an issue. I do not believe that someone buying a working dog would have to take any further action if they also had to fulfil the needs of the bill—they would already be taking those actions to ensure that they were getting a dog that was fit for purpose.

There has been agreement that the bill and any subsequent publicity would raise awareness, which, in itself, is a positive outcome. However, we need to deal with the illegal traders who go to great lengths to cover their tracks. I ask the minister, who said in his opening remarks that the bill would not stop the illegal trade, whether he would work to strengthen the bill. I urge him to do so in order to stop that trade.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I am grateful for the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I congratulate Christine Grahame on successfully bringing the bill to Parliament at last.

As we have heard today, we are a nation of dog lovers. I have three dogs, in which I take great pride and from which I take great enjoyment. However, I could not choose which one I would bring to the Holyrood dog of the year competition, so I choose not to enter. It would be simply unfair to choose only one, because they are all too gorgeous.

In our naivety, we believe that dogs are purchased with thought and care, and that no one would buy a puppy that came from a disreputable breeder. However, that is not the case, as the examples that colleagues have given have demonstrated. Bad practice was demonstrated during the Covid pandemic, when demand outstripped supply. As my colleague Maurice Golden said, it is the demand for dogs that gives the unscrupulous breeders an opportunity to exploit. As we know, that has led to animal abandonment and a crisis in the rescue sector.

Many members and animal welfare charities recognise that the issue that needs to be tackled is that of awareness—or, according to the PDSA, lack of awareness. I wonder why that issue needs to be tackled if, as the minister said, the Scottish Government’s awareness campaign has been so successful. Furthermore, Rhoda Grant said that we might be able to help potential owners to identify rogue dealers. Although that might be desirable, it might not be achievable through the lens of the bill.

Jamie Halcro Johnston highlighted the fact that some dog owners find that they cannot provide the right care for their dogs. As my colleague Edward Mountain, who is an informed dog owner and breeder, said, it is essential for the happiness of animals to ensure that dog owners know what they are doing. Similarly, Colin Smyth spoke about the lack of understanding of owners. Addressing that issue is an important part of the bill. Part 1 would deal with knowledge gaps, but the committee noted that the questions pertaining to the code should not be included in the bill. It is clear that that needs to be fleshed out.

As Edward Mountain highlighted, part 2 of the bill is also problematic. I agree with Gillian Martin, who was the relevant minister at the time, and the committee’s stage 1 report that part 2 should be removed at the next stage. The report specifically notes the concerns about the workability and the enforcement costs of the proposed registration scheme that were highlighted by a number of local authorities and other organisations. There is also the uncertainty about the length of delay before the proposed registration scheme would be introduced.

However, I welcome the fact that Christine Grahame is open to exploring alternative approaches to improving traceability. I will follow with interest the progress of her suggestion about having a centralised database of microchip data, and I know that my colleagues will do so, too. An important caveat that is noted in the stage 1 report in relation to that alternative approach is the need for it to be taken on a collaborative basis with the UK Government, as Christine Grahame highlighted.

I would welcome further discussion on the inclusion of the proposed code in the existing code of practice for the welfare of dogs, which came into force in 2010, which is an issue that the committee discussed at length. The incorporation of the proposed code into the existing one would minimise any potential confusion for the public, as our convener, Finlay Carson, mentioned earlier. Moreover, as the committee noted in its stage 1 report in relation to a concern that was raised by the Scottish SPCA, incorporating the proposed code into the existing code would also provide for more practical enforcement in relation to animal welfare investigations.

Christine Grahame said that she believes that the new code will somehow address the issues with the current code, of which she said that there is little awareness. However, how will a certificate—a piece of paper—become enforceable? Is that practical? We need to flesh out the answers to all those questions during the stage 2 process.

Finlay Carson

Does the member share my concern that a piece of paper might give credibility to an illegal puppy breeder? How do we get around the fact that, if there is no enforcement behind it, a piece of paper might lead to people believing that they are dealing with someone who is reputable when that is not the case?

Rachael Hamilton

I agree that there is the potential for the certificate to be open to abuse and I am yet to be convinced that a piece of paper will tackle illegal puppy dealers and rogue traders. I am really concerned about that. The other problem is that people could get fake certificates. We just do not know how that is going to pan out.

Christine Grahame

I think we are going down a rabbit hole. I am by no means saying that a piece of paper will prevent illegal puppy breeding, but what it will do is ensure that the public will prevent that. That is the whole thrust of the idea. I use the term “policing by the public”. If members of the public read the code before getting a puppy, and if they check that puppy and see it with its mother, they are policing that. The piece of paper will only say that they have read the code and understand it, but it will make them take time. What will make an impact is the fact that the public are doing that, because that is who we must rely on. Trying to stop supply when the legislation is beyond us has not been working.

Rachael Hamilton

Christine Grahame is absolutely right to say that what is in place has not been working, but Jim Fairlie said that awareness campaigns have been successful, so I do not understand how this awareness campaign could be more successful than the previous one, even though we want to achieve that success.

Christine Grahame’s bill represents a valuable opportunity to provide greater protections and improved welfare standards for dogs, and the Scottish Conservatives will be delighted to support the general principles of the bill at stage 1.

I call Jim Fairlie to respond on behalf of the Scottish Government.


Jim Fairlie

I am pleased to hear such broad support from across the chamber for the general principles of the bill, which we share.

There are many interrelated issues regarding the responsible breeding of, access to, and acquiring of puppies or dogs. Owners should make a commitment to care for those dogs throughout their lives and we can help the public to make informed choices.

The bill does not attempt to solve all those issues, but it raises the importance of behavioural change in tackling many of them, which will take time, engagement with educational resources, and effective public awareness raising. There is merit in creating additional and up-to-date resources to be used as part of a long-term plan dedicated to achieving vital behavioural change among dog owners as a whole.

As we have heard, it is imperative to invest in public awareness campaigns to encourage engagement and to ensure that responsible dog ownership is at the front of people’s minds. To answer Rachael Hamilton’s point, we have very good figures for previous campaigns, but we must reiterate that message, which is not a stand-alone piece of work.

Rachael Hamilton

Although Christine Grahame, who is the architect of the bill, does not want this to happen, has the Government considered either reviewing the current code to make it simpler and easier or bringing the codes together?

Jim Fairlie

We are working with Christine Grahame to look at the best way forward, which might be by interlinking the code in the bill with the one that already exists. We are very open to working to find the best possible solution to make things work.

The point that I was about to make is that anyone can get caught out. I have been working with dogs for my entire life. I was determined to buy myself a red beardie pup, but I could not get one anywhere. I tried for years to breed one, but I could not get one. Eventually, I saw an advert in the paper for a red beardie collie pup down in the Borders, so I jumped in the car with my daughter—which was a big mistake—and drove down to the Borders to look at that pup.

It was supposed to be a working pup from a farm, but it was in a house on a council estate. The girl gave me the story that it was from her father-in-law’s farm. She said that he had been very ill and the dog had not been looked after. The dog was not well, and my daughter said, “We can’t leave it here, Dad.” That is the point. People should not go and look at the pup because, once they have looked at it, they are going to buy it. It is one of those things about head over heart and heart over head. Anybody can get caught out. We ended up spending thousands of pounds on that pup and eventually had it put down.

We all have a responsibility to set the highest standards and ensure that we do everything in our power to educate the breeders, the sellers, the owners and, more important, prospective owners on how to meet a dog’s needs and ensure that they are buying from a reliable source. We have a shared responsibility towards Scotland’s dogs. Most important, we have a responsibility to show solidarity with and provide Government support for organisations such as the SSPCA and the Dogs Trust, which interact with the public daily, working relentlessly to improve responsible dog ownership and tackle the illegal puppy trade.

In the past year, there was a lot of concern when the UK Government announced the ban on XL bully dogs. The Scottish Government is committed to the “deed not breed” approach but, unfortunately, we had to follow the UK legislation. We do not want to find ourselves in that position again.

I announce that the Minister for Victims and Community Safety, Siobhian Brown, and I will hold a responsible dog ownership and control summit on 26 June this year. The summit will provide an opportunity for us to hear at first hand from stakeholders who are dealing with the various aspects of dog ownership and control in our communities. It will provide an opportunity for a free exchange of ideas in a focused environment to discuss how the current laws and approach on dangerous and out-of-control dogs are operating and what further measures are needed to improve public safety and continue to improve the welfare of dogs.

Finlay Carson

Minister, in the past, we have relied on Christine Grahame introducing legislation on the control of dogs, and we now have her bill on the welfare of dogs. In your discussions, will you consider introducing a consolidation bill to pull all the different bits of legislation together? At the BVA dinner last night, there was some discussion about the fact that there are far too many bits of legislation. My colleague Maurice Golden could bring forward something on electric shock collars, and my colleague Jeremy Balfour previously proposed legislation on pet shops. Will you consider bringing all the pieces of legislation together to start to work for the benefit of the welfare of dogs?

I ask members to speak through the chair, please.

Jim Fairlie

Finlay Carson’s point is very well made. One reason why we want to bring the round table together is to do exactly that—to look at what legislation there is, whether it is too cluttered and whether there is room for us to bring it all together.

With that in mind, I close by saying that we are committed to ensuring—with Christine Grahame, the committee and the Scottish Government’s next steps—that we fulfil the responsibility of making sure that dog welfare is at the heart of what we do.

Thank you, minister. I invite Christine Grahame to wind up the debate.


Christine Grahame

I will comment on one or two of the contributions that have been made in the debate. I have already responded to some points in my interventions. On the types of dog that the bill should apply to, my initial preference was for the code and the certificate to apply only to dogs that are intended to be pets. As I said, however, the committee’s scrutiny has highlighted a potential loophole. On that basis, I am seriously considering amending the bill at stage 2 so that the code and the certificate will cover all dogs.

On publicity, which Ariane Burgess raised, I could not agree more with the committee’s clear view that the public awareness that accompanies the bill will be vital. I have pressed the Government for years to show the same serious commitment to publicity for members’ bills that it shows for its own bills. That is why I have estimated funding for a sizeable initial campaign and then follow-up work in future years to raise awareness. After all, the Parliament passes members’ bills just as it passes Government bills. They all become acts of the Scottish Parliament and they all deserve to be treated equally.

Rachael Hamilton

From what Christine Grahame has said, it seems that she is filling a void. She is providing something that is needed, but she is not getting back-up and support in the form of a Government commitment to awareness raising. If you did not take the bill forward, would you be happy for the Government to consolidate the animal welfare legislation, give it backing and support a public awareness campaign?

I ask members to speak through the chair, please.

Christine Grahame

I am not going to give an off-the-cuff response to that, but it is worth considering. When I was a solicitor, I saw much consolidated legislation and it was very useful.

The certificate is simply evidential. I gently suggest to Edward Mountain that he checks with Mrs Mountain where their marriage certificate and the children’s birth certificates are. I am sure that his wife will know if he does not. [Interruption.] Mr Mountain can intervene, if he likes.

I stand by my comment that I believe in a separate code. I refer to paragraph 45 of the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee’s stage 1 report:

“The majority of the Committee agrees with Christine Grahame that a standalone, concise and accessible code of practice relating to the acquisition of dogs would seem more likely to engage and, therefore, inform prospective dog acquirers than incorporating the proposed code into the existing 36-page 2010 code.”

Game, set and match.

On some of the core criticisms of the content of the code being on the face of the bill, I stand by my view that the elements of the code that I set out will stand the test of time. They are just the questions that good owners or prospective owners ask themselves. The bill allows for more content to be added to the code over and above those points. I appreciate that the committee and the Government consider that approach to be unusual—or, as Sir Humphrey would have said in “Yes Minister”, courageous. The Government has indicated that it will seek to amend the bill in that regard. I will consider the purpose and effect of those amendments closely, in advance of deciding my position at stage 2.

As I intimated in my opening speech, I support the removal of part 2, with the caveat that meaningful work be undertaken on a UK-wide single portal for microchipping information. I am delighted to tell the chamber that I have communicated with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I wrote on 11 March, and had back a lovely letter, dated 15 April, from Lord Douglas-Miller, who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, about a UK-wide dog microchipping database. I am happy to share that letter with members, because this is a collegiate and collective issue. In my view, there is no point in having a portal just for Scotland. It is good to have it on a UK-wide basis.

DEFRA did a huge consultation. To quote the letter:

“We have recently published our response to this consultation, which is available at”—

the link is given—

“in which we committed to introducing a single point of search portal. My officials will be discussing with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations the scope to devolve the portal on a UK basis.”

That is good news for animal welfare—for dog welfare in particular. The letter continues:

“The planned reforms will improve traceability by requiring information on the dog breeder to remain as a permanently accessible part of the microchip record, as well as requiring a dog’s first keeper to supply the microchip number of the puppy’s mother. This information will remain permanently accessible for enforcement purposes.”

The letter goes on. I do not want to spend too much time on it—I know that it is late in the day—but it is a really positive letter, and I hope that the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland will collaborate. Just think of the difference that that would make, even in respect of the illegal puppy factory farms, as I call them. It is an insult to call them farms—they are factory farms; they are factories. If we can deal with that and if we have a database that applies to Northern Ireland as well, we might get somewhere.

Finally, as other members have mentioned their dogs, I will conclude with my fond memories of my long-gone dog, Roostie. She was a wonderful, loving Irish setter—a puppy that came from a gamekeeper’s setter. The mother had a litter, and of course the gamekeeper did not need all the puppies. That was in Twynholm—I make reference to Galloway because I lived there at the time—and we took her back to Old Minnigaff. It was the gamekeeper who said, “Come on, I’ll show you the puppy’s mother,” because I was a novice at all that.

Roostie was a wonderful dog and, best of all, she taught me how to be a good owner; people learn a lot from their dogs. I am not going to get emotional—I refuse to be emotional—but, 40 years later, I still have her collar and leash, and I still have a picture of her upstairs, beside my computer. The bonds that we make with those animals, whether it is one dog or a succession of dogs, or whatever, are for ever. I want all puppies and dogs to have the kind of life that members’ dogs have, and that Roostie had right from the beginning, until I had to have her life ended peaceably at the end of the day, as is part of owning a dog.

Assuming that the general principles of the bill are agreed, I look forward to line-by-line consideration by the committee at stage 2. Let us do something, please, to ensure that we have a good relationship with owners and their puppies, and that we stop illegal factory farming as best we can. Thank you. [Applause.]

That concludes the debate on the Welfare of Dogs (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.