Examination of Witness

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 9th November 2021.

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Rob Quest gave evidence.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton 2:52 pm, 9th November 2021

We will now hear from Rob Quest, the chairman of the Canine and Feline Sector Group, who is appearing virtually. We have until 3.30 pm for this session. Could the witness please introduce himself?

Rob Quest:

Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Rob Quest. I am the current chair of the Canine and Feline Sector Group.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Hello, Rob. Thank you for giving evidence to us. I have only a few questions for you. You will have heard some of the debate about livestock worrying. Are you in the lead or no-lead camp?

Rob Quest:

Interesting. I think our consensus would be that we would support dogs on a lead in an enclosed field with cattle. That is easier to enforce than the general “at large” wording that was there, but we understand that the main concern with worrying is dogs that get out of people’s houses and have no one anywhere near them.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q We heard evidence from Rob Taylor that there were concerns with dogs being on a lead around cattle in particular, because of the risk to the human with the dog of being attacked. Would that tally with your experience?

Rob Quest:

Yes. I think the guidance would be that if cattle come towards you and there is an issue, you have to let go of the lead or take the lead off the dog, because we understand the dangers there.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Moving on to the pet travel rules, where do you stand on putting in an exemption to include rescue dogs?

Rob Quest:

Wearing my hat as chairman of the CFSG, and with my local authority experience of whoever knows how long, we would not support an exemption for rescue animals. The puppy issue is one thing, but we have problems with rescue animals as well.

Rob Quest:

We get some of the same problems that you have with puppies—false paperwork, fake vaccine certificates and so on—with rescue dogs as well.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q Good afternoon. You may well have heard some of the evidence given by previous witnesses, but to return to the importation of dogs and cats in a vehicle, what is your view on the number—five or three?

Rob Quest:

We would support three. It is probably easier for the enforcers if there is just a blanket of three, but we understand that there are also issues if you limit it too much. When families are travelling, they may have more than three. We understand from the data that it is very unlikely that individual families would have more than three animals, but if more than one family were travelling they may have three. Overall, we think that three is a good number.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q I put this question to one of our earlier witnesses. There are pretty strong measures in the Bill to deal with puppy and dog smuggling, but there is a view that some of those who are driven by profit might begin to look at cats as well. There is some evidence to suggest that, particularly with some breeds, money has been extorted through that process. Does the Bill need to be strengthened in terms of cats? I am particularly thinking of such things as declawing.

Rob Quest:

Yes, we would support cats being treated in the same way as dogs, and the same rules applying to cats as to dogs. From an enforcement point of view, again that makes life easier. Families may have dogs and cats, and to have different rules confuses things, so we would support treating cats the same way. There is evidence that the number of cats being imported has increased. Certainly, through Heathrow airport our cat seizures have gone up over the last two years.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q You may well have heard the discussion earlier about so-called fashion-based mutilations. Does the Bill do enough to tackle those?

Rob Quest:

We agree wholeheartedly with banning the import of cropped and docked dogs. My experience at Heathrow airport is of a big increase in the number of dogs coming in from the USA with cropped ears. As part of our remit, we also know that there has been an increase in breeds such as the Dobermann coming from Europe with cropped ears. We would fully support a ban on the import of those.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q From your experience, how confident can we be that the various authorities charged with enforcement have the resources, training, numbers and skills to do what we expect them to?

Rob Quest:

We have a concern about dogs coming in through the ports and on the train, because the requirement of the checkers is just to check the microchip numbers. They do not get them out of the containers. If they are flown in through an airport—as I say, we get cropped dogs coming in from the US—they will generally be released into a kennel, and it is very easy to see that they have cropped ears, but we have a concern that they are not inspected fully by the pet checkers, which are usually the ferry company or the train company, when they come in on that route. That is something that we highlighted in our response.

Rob Quest:

You need to have a visual check; otherwise, you will not know whether the animals have been cropped and docked.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q To what extent should the responsibility lie with the carrier?

Rob Quest:

If they do a visual check, it is easy to tell that a dog has had its ears cropped. It could be a requirement to do visual checks, or the whole checking process could be handed over to officials, but that comes with another pile of issues.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q Indeed. Would you like to say a little more about what those issues might be?

Rob Quest:

Resources would be the main one, and the priorities of officials at ports. If the checkers could be properly resourced and part of the official enforcement authority, that would be a good result, but we understand that issues of resources go along with that.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Q Hi Rob. I have just looked on your organisation’s website. Your organisation advises the Government on important dog and cat health and welfare issues and standards. Is that correct?

Rob Quest:

Yes, the Canine and Feline Sector Group is made up of a wide range of organisations, such as Dogs Trust and the RSPCA, which you have already heard from, and the British Veterinary Association.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Q If the state is detaining an animal in kennels, for whatever reason, for a lengthy period of time—potentially up to 12 months, or longer—would you advise the Government or have any views as to the welfare issues for that animal, which will almost exclusively be a dog, in respect of the legislation?

Rob Quest:

Overall, animals in kennels under long-term official control are usually under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, rather than this legislation, but we would always advise that dogs should be in kennels for the absolute minimum amount of time. The sooner we can get them out of kennels and put in a proper home, the better.

Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North

Q But where there is no other option, if a dog is detained by the police or any authority, perhaps for very good reason, are there any facilities other than kennels where it can be looked after for a lengthy period of time? I am asking in complete ignorance, so please forgive me.

Rob Quest:

No, if a dog is not compliant on import it would have to go into one of the authorised quarantine kennels. The maximum time in those kennels to make a dog compliant is currently four months, and then it can come out. The minimum time is generally 21 days, but it may be less, depending on what subsequent paperwork turns up regarding that non-compliance.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Q Rob, I noted your comment that, sadly, you have noticed an increasing number of dogs with cropped ears coming through Heathrow, which really rams home the importance of visual checks. The legislation aims to reduce the movement of animals that have been mutilated, so I wanted to ask if you have seen a similar increase in the number of cats coming in with their claws removed. That will be much harder to detect visually than a Dobermann with cropped ears. Have you picked up on that at all? We need to ensure that cats that have been mutilated are covered by the legislation as well.

Rob Quest:

No, we have not, but that might because, as you say, it is much more difficult to know if a cat’s claws have been taken out. We have not noticed that, but it is certainly something we could look for in future. As you say, it is very easy to see if a dog’s ears have been cropped when they are taken out of the container. We have not seen anything like cropped claws. I imagine that would be mostly from the States, because that is quite routine practice there.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Q Your evidence, and the evidence we heard from Dogs Trust this morning, has really reinforced that this is good legislation but it needs an effective effector arm, if you like, to monitor and enforce it. With border checks and adequate resources for that, we will be able to try to stop people moving animals in those situations.

Rob Quest:

I would agree.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

We have talked a lot today about cats and dogs, but the legislation also covers ferrets. I wonder if there are any animals that have been missed, or what you see with regard to ferrets in particular. I understand the reasoning behind it, but is there any comment there? The Committee has not heard anything about that todayQ .

Rob Quest:

We do not see many ferrets being imported, to be quite honest. We see literally thousands of dogs and cats, but a handful of ferrets.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Conservative, Bosworth

Q That is really helpful for the Committee to know. Are there any other animals that you feel should be covered by the Bill?

Rob Quest:

No, I do not think so at the moment. We can get things right for dogs and cats first, and then perhaps look at other animals.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Conservative, Tatton

As there are no further questions, I thank Rob Quest, chairman of the Canine and Feline Sector Group.