I agree, but as the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh, said, legislation on pet shops is already in place. The thrust of this debate is on new legislation, but I say to the Minister that we should better enforce existing legislation, because then we might all get on a lot better.
Poor puppy farms are responsible for many health problems, including infectious diseases such as parvovirus, internal and external parasites and a range of breed-related and inherited diseases such as heart disease, epilepsy and glaucoma. It is crucial that puppy farms are not only properly licensed, but properly scrutinised—the powers are there to scrutinise them—so that we can root out the ones that operate with inappropriate conditions. As I have said, we need to enforce existing legislation better.
Secondly, the breeding of dogs for specific desirable traits can lead to serious genetic health problems as a result of inbreeding and closed gene pools. The body shape of some dog breeds can also cause immense suffering. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is illegal to beat a dog with a stick, but there is nothing to stop a breeder mating dogs to produce offspring that will then suffer from health problems.
Thirdly, I recommend that all breeders adopt puppy contracts, which are produced by the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and the Animal Welfare Foundation. Too often, buyers are not aware of the possible genetic problems related to poor welfare and breeding conditions.
Fourthly, the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, which was set up by this Government, could be in a perfect position to assist with the welfare of dogs. However, its performance to date has not met the desired level. The board should take a more active interest in the welfare of dogs, which it does not do at the moment. I urge the Government to give it a role in devising light-touch regulation, ideally based on the Dog Advisory Council’s recommendations on regulations under the Animal Welfare Act so that we can see active improvement in the welfare of dogs.
The Dog Advisory Council, under Professor Sheila Crispin’s chairmanship, was funded entirely through the generosity of patrons, principally the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross and the PDSA. It operates with a budget of only £25,000, yet the Government give £225,000 to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. There seems to be a slight imbalance within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the treatment of farm animals and companion animals. I hope that the Minister will take those facts back to his Department. If nothing else, we are a nation of animal lovers, and we need to take more seriously the welfare of companion animals such as dogs and cats.
Obviously, it is welcome that micro-chipping will be mandatory from April 2016, but I urge the Minister to bring the date forward. We need a comprehensive list of registered dogs as soon as possible, and I see no reason to delay this for another two years. Currently, more than 100,000 dogs are stolen, abandoned or lost each year. If lost, the owner can suffer huge emotional turmoil. If a dog is abandoned, it is a crime. The urgent introduction of micro-chipping will help us to reduce dramatically the numbers of stray dogs on our streets.