The Government is set to launch a fresh crackdown on dangerous dogs alongside the imminent ban on American XL Bullies.
Ministers are concerned that there are too many loopholes in the existing law which allow people to keep banned breeds such as pitbulls.
Confirming that the Government will pass legislation to ban XL Bullies by the end of this year, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey announced that she would set up an expert group to define the breed.
Advisers including “police, canine and veterinary experts, and animal welfare stakeholders” will be asked to help ensure that a definition can be written into law as part of an amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act.
Ms Coffey said: “I intend to have the legislation in place to deliver this ban by the end of the year. This will make it an offence to own an unregistered XL Bully, or to breed, gift or sell one.”
There will be a “transition period”, expected to last around one year, during which time owners of XL Bullies will be able to register their dog. They will be allowed to keep the animal only if it meets certain conditions and they commit to keep it on a lead with a muzzle at all times, and any unregistered dogs will be killed after the end of the period.
The intention of the Dangerous Dogs Act is that because all banned breeds must be neutered and they cannot be bred or imported, they die out from the UK over time.
But there are believed to be thousands of pitbulls still registered in the UK, suggesting that banned breeding is taking place or that the authorities struggle with proper identification of the dogs.
Ms Coffey said: “While the courts have the power to allow people to keep banned breeds with certain conditions, like being muzzled and neutered, the number of so-called exempted dogs is higher than a decade ago. That was not the intention of the legislation passed over 30 years ago. Therefore, we will also review our guidance to enforcers of the law.”
A No 10 spokesman said: “We will need to safely manage the existing population of these dogs. Exactly what that looks like will be a topic for the consultation. And there will need to be some sort of transition period.”