This is my first Bill Committee as a Front-Bench spokesperson, so I am excited to be here. As a dog lover, this is an issue that is close to my heart. My two rescue dogs are the pride and joy of my life, and I know that many dog owners feel the same.
The amendment is very important. Clause 45 is about puppy smuggling, which we know is a lucrative business. In 2015, the Dogs Trust set up its puppy pilot project to offer support to puppies that have been illegally imported. The organisation calculates the total market value of the puppies that it has helped to be more than £2 million. However, this is not just about puppies, as the clause also covers cats and ferrets. They are in high demand, especially kittens, which provides a huge incentive for illegally importing them.
One way that animal smugglers avoid the authorities is by posing as legitimate owners of the animals as they cross a border. Currently, clause 45 proposes to crack down on this practice by limiting the number of animals that can be transported in a non-commercial vehicle to five, but we are concerned that it does not go far enough. The Government could make the law much stronger and more resistant to abuse by smugglers if they were to agree to our amendment.
As we heard in evidence, five seemed a strange number, given that a survey of a quarter of a million dog owners by the Dogs Trust found that 97.7% of respondents have three dogs or fewer. Others have estimated that around three quarters of dog owners have only one dog; roughly a fifth—18.9%—have two; and only 4% have three, so our amendment to reduce the number from five to three should be considered. Only a tiny fraction of dog owners have more animals than that. The idea that they would regularly travel across borders is a bit strange, given how five animals would fit in one vehicle. Strengthening the law would make it much harder and far less lucrative for puppy and animal smugglers involved in this cruel practice to operate. We should seize the moment that the Bill affords. I hope that the Minister will agree to our amendment today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I rise as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and as a veterinary surgeon. Opposition Members will probably be relieved that I rise in strong support of what they say. We need an evidence-based response, and the evidence that we on the EFRA Committee took from the Dogs Trust during our inquiry was powerful. I refer Members to our report on the movement of animals across borders, where we looked at a lot of the issues, from farm animals and horses to pets and so on. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam has said, the research suggests that 97.7% of owners have three dogs or fewer, so if we changed from five to three it would strengthen the legislation and make it a significant deterrent to the unscrupulous people who try to exploit loopholes in the law.
We took evidence from the British Veterinary Association as well. The Government could put in exemptions for people who are permanently relocating—they could apply for a special dispensation—but moving from five to three would strengthen the law.
I welcome the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam to her first Committee. I am afraid I am going to resist the amendment while speaking to Government amendment 51. I appreciate the concerns raised about the number of pets that can be moved in a single non-commercial movement. I want to assure hon. Members that we completed extensive engagement with relevant groups, including authorised pet checkers, carriers, animal welfare organisations and veterinary bodies to determine a suitable limit. The aim was to strike a balance between disrupting the illegal trade, which we all want to do, while minimising the impact of genuine owners travelling with their pets—cats, dogs and ferrets. It is already a large change for a traveller to go from five pets per passenger to five per vehicle.
However, we have heard the arguments from across the House, and we would be willing to look at any further evidence that shows genuine pet owners would not be unduly impacted by a decrease to three pets per vehicle. I am particularly concerned about two pet owners travelling together with two dogs each, for example, but I am willing to look at evidence that hon. Members wish to send in, or to discuss it. If we decide to make the change at a later date, we could use the enabling power in clause 46, which allows us to make regulations on the importation of relevant animals on welfare grounds. In these circumstances, I therefore ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 51, in my name, simply ensures that consequential amendments are made in relation to the relevant Welsh regulations, as they are for Scotland and England.
I must say that I am disappointed. I will press the amendment to a vote because we think that the evidence was quite powerful. As was said, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have considered the question in a lot of detail and believe that this is the right way to go. I take the Minister’s point about people travelling together, but a balance must be struck between what could be seen as a loophole and a way of allowing this practice to continue, especially when we know how many puppies can come from one dog. There are large concerns around the issue and that this would remain as a potential loophole to allow puppy smuggling. I would ask the Minister to reflect again, but we will press the amendment to a vote.
Bad news. I have the casting vote, but I have an obligation not to vote in favour of an amendment that changes the Bill, even though I am on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee—Neil, I love you. I will have to vote against the amendment, because I am obliged, as Chair, to do so. Unfortunately, the amendment falls.
Amendment made: 51, in clause 45, page 28, line 16, at end insert—
‘(9) In regulation 3(1)(b) of the Trade in Animals and Related Products (Wales) Regulations (S.I. 2011/2379 (W. 252))—
(a) in the English language text—
(i) at the end of sub-paragraph (i) for “or” substitute “and”;
(ii) for sub-paragraph (ii) substitute—
(ii) Article 5(4) of the Pets Regulation does not apply.”;
(b) in the Welsh language text—
(i) at the end of sub-paragraph (i) for “neu” substitute “a”;
(ii) for sub-paragraph (ii) substitute—
Thank you for your casting vote, Mr Davies. I would like to reiterate that we will continue to look at any evidence, and I am very happy to meet colleagues to discuss further. This is clearly an issue on which there are genuine differences of opinion.
Clause 45 limits the number of dogs, cats and ferrets that may be moved into Great Britain in a single non-commercial movement. There is evidence, as we all know, that commercial importers abuse our non-commercial pet travel rules to bring in lots of puppies at once for sale. The welfare of these puppies, as we have heard many times and as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee reminded us, is frequently compromised. The clause will help to prevent the misuse of these rules. The new limit will be five per vehicle or three per air or foot passenger. I commend the clause to the Committee.
Having moved some hundreds of amendments and never gotten that close, I am extremely jealous. Would my hon. Friend agree that the vote we have seen this afternoon reflects that there are many others in the House who will come to a similar conclusion, and that it would be sensible for the Government to move sooner rather than later on their position?