I begin by congratulating Robert Flello, who I know has been a long-standing campaigner on these issues. I am sure he will recall, as my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh said, that I pursued these issues when I was a member of the Select Committee. It would be remiss of me of not to mention Mono, my now deceased pet dog. He was a rescue dog from the RSPCA who, like many others, was a wonderfully dedicated friend, albeit with some behavioural issues.
Let me deal first with some of the issues on which the Government have made progress—tackling irresponsible owners, for example. We have increased the penalty for serious dog attacks and have made it an offence to have a dog attack on private land. We have tightened the law, too, when it comes to dog attacks on guide dogs, and we have introduced compulsory chipping. I recognise, however, that today’s theme has been about a different issue—the welfare of puppies. I have always been clear that we must look after the welfare of puppies and ensure that they are properly socialised. As many hon. Members have mentioned, that is crucial for the behaviour of the dogs as they grow up and mature.
My hon. Friend Mr Amess asked me to tear up my script and speak from the heart. I can confirm that I never asked for a script in the first place. I scribbled some notes of what Members said, and I want to use the available time to deal with as many points as I can.
On pet passports, I can confirm that a new EU regulation is tightening the rules of the EU pet passport scheme. From December this year, it will no longer be possible for a dog under 12 weeks to be vaccinated prior to transportation under the scheme. There is then a three-week period throughout which the puppy must remain in residence before it can be moved. In practice, that means that from December this year, no puppy or dog can be lawfully transported to this country under the pet passport scheme unless it is at least 15 weeks old.
Many hon. Members rightly raised the issue of the internet. The biggest concerns put to us by the animal welfare charities related not so much to the problem of puppy farms as to that of backstreet breeders that are completely unregulated and unlicensed. In many cases, the people involved are not the right people to be breeding dogs at all, and in the worst cases, they maltreat the puppies deliberately to make them violent by giving them violent traits—the so-called “status dogs”. That is a major concern, which is why at the end of last year, my noble Fried Lord de Mauley brought together a group in connection with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group to put in place a voluntary code, which has been running since the beginning of the year. I can tell hon. Members today that, since that code was put in place, 100,000 adverts have been removed from the internet. I pay tribute to the work done by the internet companies that acted so responsibly and by all the volunteers who took part in monitoring the internet for that purpose. Given the scale of the problem, I hope hon. Members will understand that making further progress on the internet continues to be our main priority.
Let me touch on the contentious issue of the five-litter threshold, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is right. When I sat on the Committee, we highlighted some concerns about the five-litter threshold being too high. Hon. Members who follow what has happened will know that the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 states that anyone carrying on a business of breeding and selling puppies must have a licence, irrespective of the number of litters. However, a second clause, always intended as an anti-avoidance clause, said that irrespective of who owns the puppies on a particular premise, a licence is compulsory if there are more than five litters. That was to prevent people from claiming that some of dogs belonged to their brothers, sisters, father or whoever.
Over the last few years, however, or since the legislation was introduced, it has been apparent that local authorities have taken the five-litter threshold to be the one to work towards. It became something of a mystery, which we managed to solve last night. The reason is that in 1999 when the Act was put in place under the last Government, the Home Office sent out a circular indicating for local authorities that in most situations five litters should be taken as the threshold to use.