In addition to a recent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on dog control and welfare, my noble Friend the Under-Secretary, Lord de Mauley, has received a number of letters on the subject of puppy farms, irresponsible breeders and the internet advertising of dogs. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides the necessary powers for local authorities to investigate allegations of poor welfare among all dog breeders.
I am grateful for that answer. In the Committee’s recent inquiry, we received evidence that a contributory factor in respect of the problem of status dogs is the number of backstreet puppy breeders, because dogs are more likely to become aggressive and unmanageable if they are not socialised and cared for properly in the first few months. The law currently allows people to breed up to five puppy litters a year without licensing, but we recommended that the figure should be reduced to two. Will the Minister look carefully at that proposal?
I have every sympathy with the reasoning behind the hon. Gentleman’s proposal, and I certainly deplore the irresponsible breeding of dogs. I can assure him that it is already the case that if a local authority considers that someone is in the business of breeding and selling dogs but they have produced fewer than five litters in a year, a licence would still be needed, and any dog-breeding establishment that produces five or more litters in a 12-month period will also need a licence regardless of whether it is considered to be in the business of breeding and selling dogs. Guidance on that was given to local authorities back in 1999, explaining precisely where those responsibilities lie.
Backstreet puppy farms are a problem in the entire United Kingdom. As a Northern Ireland MP, I am also aware of such farms in the Republic of Ireland, with puppies coming through Northern Ireland to the UK and going directly from the Republic of Ireland to the UK mainland. Has the Minister had any discussions about this problem with the Government in the Republic of Ireland, so that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland together with the Republic of Ireland can address it?
I will certainly draw that point to the attention of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary and see whether he has had an opportunity to speak to his counterparts in the Republic of Ireland and also in Northern Ireland on the issue. If he has not, I am sure he will want to take up the suggestion that has been made.