I congratulate Robert Flello on securing this timely debate.
I refer Members to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on dog control and welfare and the Government response to it, and in welcoming the Minister, my hon. Friend for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), to his position, may I add that I hope his views have not changed too much since he contributed to that report? I also support the comment of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South that a review of existing legislation is needed.
In the limited time available, I want to make some brief points. The hon. Gentleman highlighted the role of self-regulation, but I am slightly confused as to why he put so much emphasis on pet shops, because my understanding is that they are the one part of the trade that is pretty much regulated; the evidence we received in our report, which was published together with our recommendations, suggests that the Pet Animals Act 1951 pretty much covers that. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he has had any representations that the Act should be improved or reviewed.
I would also like the Minister to update us on the Government’s response to our report: are the Government working with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group on the issue of sales of pets online, and, in particular, are they supporting the work to develop a voluntary code of practice? If the voluntary code is to succeed, it must have good animal welfare at its heart.
The message from the House today should be that there is a role for self-regulation. Any responsible potential dog or cat owner should not be buying puppies or kittens where the mother is not present. That is so self-evident that I wonder whether we need not to legislate on it but simply to go out and educate the public.
I congratulate all the charities involved. They briefed the Select Committee in the context of our report, and it is important to recognise their work, although the following is not an exhaustive list: Blue Cross in my constituency; Battersea Dogs and Cats Home; the Dogs Trust; the Dog Rescue Federation; the wonderfully and aptly named Four Paws. I also want to pay tribute to those who fund these charities. In doing so, they are taking many stray dogs and cats off our streets.
I am asking the Minister today to tackle the rogue backstreet breeders and the rogue importers who import animals from puppy farms across the European Union. I hope that he will take this opportunity to update the House on internet advertising and on the voluntary code. Each and every one of us must do everything possible to discourage irresponsible dog breeders, and we need to set a lower threshold for licensing breeders.
I would also like to ask the Minister whether his views have changed since he made his positive and welcome contribution to our discussions when adopting our report on dog control and welfare. Does he, for example, still hold to the view that, under the legislation, five litters a year should be the maximum, because a bitch would not be in a good enough state to have any more? That was his personal view at that time, and we benefited from his sterling contribution to our report. Has his view changed since he was with us on the Committee? I remind the House that the Committee’s conclusion was that five litters a year was too many. We recommended that a requirement to breed no more than two litters a year should be written on the face of the licence. Also, we would like to support better publicity for puppy contracts. I commend our report and recommendations to the House—