Clause 46 - Powers relating to importation of certain dogs, cats and ferrets

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 16th November 2021.

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Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 16th November 2021

I beg to move amendment 117, in clause 46, page 28, line 21, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would require the banning or restriction of importation of relevant animals which are below a specific age, have been mutilated or are below a specified number of days pregnant.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, in clause 46, page 28, line 23, after “age” insert—

“, with six months being the minimum age”.

This amendment would ban the importation into Great Britain of dogs, cats and ferrets aged six months or less.

Amendment 118, in clause 46, page 28, line 25, after “pregnant” insert—

“, with 42 days being the maximum length of pregnancy for cats and dogs”.

This amendment would prohibit the importation of heavily pregnant cats and dogs.

Government amendment 52.

New clause 14—Commercial movement of pregnant cats and dogs—

“The importation of pregnant cats and dogs for commercial purposes is prohibited.”

This new clause would prohibit the commercial importation of pregnant cats and dogs.

New clause 18—Prohibition on importation of cats and dogs with fashion-based mutilations—

“(1) Cats and dogs with fashion-based mutilations may not be imported into the UK.

(2) For the purposes of this section, ‘fashion-based mutilations’ include—

(a) cropped ears,

(b) docked tails, and

(c) declawed paws.”

This new clause would prohibit dogs and cats that had been subjected to ‘fashion-based’ mutilations such as cropped ears, docked tails and declawed paws being imported into the UK.

New clause 24—Healthcare requirements for imported cats and dogs—

“The Secretary of State must, by regulations, make provision for—

(a) compulsory tick treatment for all cats and dogs imported into the UK in non-commercial movements; and

(b) compulsory rabies blood tests for all cats and dogs prior to importation into the UK.”

New clause 25—Imported cats and dogs: rabies vaccination—

“Cats and Dogs may not be imported into the UK for a 12 week period after receiving a rabies vaccination.”

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Bill is a bit of a mixed bag of random measures, but it offers an opportunity to speed up the approach to animal welfare. Amendment 117 is a policy of Labour’s animal welfare manifesto. It is frustrating that the Bill has been half-hearted in its approach. I am afraid that we will be seeing procrastination on the issue even now. Although I welcome the steps in the right direction, the Government could go a lot further, which our amendment seeks to do. We want to see it in the Bill.

Having a firm commitment in the primary legislation is important in order to get to grips with the cruelty inflicted on not only very young and pregnant animals but animals that have been mutilated by their owners. Rather than saying that the Government “may” prohibit or restrict the importation of animals below a specified age that have been mutilated, or that are a certain number of days pregnant, the legislation should say “must”. I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House agrees on the importance of taking action on that issue, so let us get on with it and ensure that it is in the primary legislation.

The demand for pets such as dogs and cats is booming, and some of the biggest profits have been made on very young animals. The number of young animals that are imported legally continues to grow every year. Often puppies, kittens and others have been bred in horrendous conditions, and face further cruelty as they are transported over borders. They can be subjected to long journeys in cramped conditions, and when they arrive few questions are asked about where they have come from, or how they or their mother and father were treated.

The first aim of amendment 2 is to ensure that young animals that are legally imported and sold in the UK have not been subject to cruel practices such as puppy farming abroad. It also affects the illegal international trade of young animals. More and more we are seeing serious organised criminal groups involved in animal smuggling, generating massive profits through illegal imports. Just as in the legal trade, the biggest money is often made from the very young animals because of the cuteness factor, further incentivising smuggling.

For example, puppy smugglers exploit the fact that it is very difficult to tell just by looking whether a very young puppy is over 15 weeks. One outcome of the amendment would therefore be to aid law enforcers in identifying underage puppies, because it is a lot easier to tell the difference between an underage puppy at six months than at 15 weeks. There is also a much smaller market for animals that are around six months old. That makes it less profitable for smugglers to pass off animals at four or five months, because their market value is far less than that of an animal at around 15 weeks.

The amendment would improve the welfare of extremely young animals to ensure that the UK market is not complicit in animal welfare violations, and would make life harder for smugglers. That is why it is backed by a huge range of stakeholders, and is already law in countries such as the USA, which has a ban on imports of puppies under six months old. I hope that the Government will back that element of the amendments, and write it into the primary legislation.

We have discussed the lucrative smuggling market and some of the methods that are used to illegally import animals into the country. In addition to the forms of deception that we have already dealt with, another way of getting puppies into the country is by importing pregnant bitches that give birth to puppies in the UK. Again, it is a very lucrative market. The approximate total market value of the puppies born to pregnant bitches admitted to the Dogs Trust through its puppy pilot scheme, which I mentioned earlier, is around £400,000.

The practice has obvious detrimental impacts on the wellbeing of both the bitch and the puppies. For that reason, amendment 118 calls for the prohibition of importing heavily pregnant bitches, by which we mean those more than 42 days pregnant. That would enhance the welfare of the animals and crackdown on the activities of smugglers, while acknowledging that sometimes the non-commercial movement of animals in the early stages of pregnancy is unavoidable.

I will talk about some of the new clauses—

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

You are doing a great job.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Great. I think Members on both sides can agree that the practice of moving pregnant cats and dogs across borders to avoid checks on the welfare of the puppies or kittens is abhorrent. We have already said that it might be unavoidable in some non-commercial circumstances; however, there is no commercial reason to move a pregnant dog or cat across a border, subjecting it to a long and arduous journey that will, in all likelihood, have a negative impact on its wellbeing and welfare. New clause 14 therefore seeks to end the commercial importation of pregnant cats and dogs. There is no justification for it; the loophole in the law is just being utilised by unscrupulous illegal importers.

People have now got wise to illegal puppy imports and are insisting on seeing the mother of the puppy. That is one of the simple steps that the many people who are seeking to own a puppy can undertake. Unfortunately, that has led to the importation of pregnant bitches to ensure that prospective buyers can see the mother before they buy. It is really quite sad, because the bitch is then returned to her country of origin to breed again. This puppy farm on wheels is a horrific situation for the dogs involved. This new clause would end the practice—a move that we would support fully.

I hope that new clause 18 will be welcomed. It should be uncontroversial; the practices outlined in it are undoubtedly cruel. This new clause seeks to ban the importation of dogs and cats that have been subjected to fashion-based mutilations, such as cropped ears, docked tails and declawed paws. Despite being illegal in the UK, those cruel practices are still carried out in other parts of the world. However, it is currently legal to import a dog that has been abused in that way. That is clearly wrong. It impacts on the wellbeing of animals domestically and can act as a smokescreen for those who illegally mutilate animals in the UK. Unfortunately, we are seeing those kinds of mutilations more regularly. For example, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that calls about ear cropping have risen by 621% since 2015, which is absolutely horrifying. Sadly, it is also the case that fashion mutilations often go hand in hand with other kinds of animal abuse and form part of a pattern of mistreatment. The new clause would stop dog and cat imports fuelling animal abuse internationally and would make it harder for anyone to abuse domestically.

To put it simply, we also support objectives to reintroduce tick treatment and for all dogs and cats to have rabies blood tests prior to being imported, as covered in new clause 24.

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

I rise in support of what the hon. Lady has said, and again I refer hon. Members back to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report entitled “Moving animals across borders”. We on that Committee took significant amounts of evidence, and we saw some of that last week on the Bill Committee as well. I understand what the Government are doing with the Bill, and I very much support the Bill and the Government’s wanting to get things on the statute book quickly and then have the powers in secondary legislation to tweak and amend things as we go further on. I firmly believe, when it comes to the health and welfare of animals, that we can crack on and do things. We have left the European Union.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam made the point about tick treatment. That was stopped in 2014. We have the power to reintroduce that treatment of animals before they come into the country, and that will protect those animals travelling and protect the animals in this country as well. The concept of pre-import screening and checking of animals, before they come into the country, has huge implications for the health and welfare of those animals and animals in this country and also, indirectly, people in this country. As we have seen—we have also taken evidence on this—there are diseases potentially coming in that have zoonotic potential. I am thinking of things such as canine brucellosis. Animals being imported from countries such as Romania and Macedonia are potentially coming in with a disease that can be transmitted to people.

I urge the Government to act on this. I have been submitting written questions, as the Minister well knows. She mentioned the other day that I am quite repetitive on it. I will keep banging on about it. As I said, I have been submitting written questions, and there are no plans to make changes. I really encourage the Government to crack on and do this to protect the animals coming in and protect the animals in this country.

I firmly support the suggestion in the amendment to specify six months in the Bill. Another issue is stipulating what we mean by “heavily pregnant” animals. At the moment, bringing in animals is illegal in the last 10% of gestation; Dogs Trust, for instance, has suggested that we could extend that to the last 30% of gestation. I think that we are all agreed on mutilations, and as I said on Second Reading and many other times in this House. Animal welfare unites us in humanity, and we abhor some of these procedures carried out in other parts of the world, such as the ear-cropping of dogs and the removal of cats’ claws, and are stipulating that those procedures are not acceptable in this country or for animals brought into this country for sale. I very much support that.

Again, I agree with the points about pre-import checks. The rabies titre test and introducing the wait time post-rabies vaccination will be a great help in terms of that pausing and that period to allow the animals to get older, as well. If we not only put “six months” in the Bill but reintroduce the rabies stipulations, the dogs and other animals coming in will potentially be older than the animals coming in now.

We received harrowing evidence on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I strongly encourage the Government to look at this issue closely. I think that we are all agreed about what we want to try to do, although we may differ on how we would do it. Nevertheless, there is the scope in this Bill to do some good stuff for the health and welfare of both animals and people.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:00 pm, 16th November 2021

I was tempted to push for a vote just now, but we can continue our discussion.

There is plenty to discuss, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam for moving the amendment and then speaking to the group so forcefully and powerfully. However, I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who speaks on the basis of huge knowledge. I think that what he is saying—he said it on Second Reading, as did others from across the House—is that there is acknowledgement of the widespread public interest in and concern about these issues. While I can understand from a kind of technical point of view why the Government might want to do this thing through regulation, the politics of it are very clear: people expect this to be done now. We are giving the Government the opportunity to do it now through these amendments. I have lost count of the number of Government Members who raised these issues, so the Government ought to be able to see what is coming. It is a question of how to deal with this matter in as graceful a manner as possible because, frankly, I do not think there is any dispute about it.

When we consider some of these practices, many of us find them extraordinary. Why would anyone declaw a cat? I do not think that anyone here could possibly imagine why anyone would do that.

One of the issues that we will come back to in some of the later debates is that there has been a lot of emphasis on puppy smuggling—rightly so. However, there is a slight sense on the part of organisations representing cats that there is a danger that those who seek to gain a commercial benefit out of these awful practices will just shift to other practices. I know there is some debate about how likely that is. Nevertheless, we should be mindful of the fact that many of our constituents are looking at this Committee closely and will want to know why we are not being as robust as we could be to guard against all these eventualities.

I do not have the expertise on this issue that some other members of the Committee do, but when I listen to the accounts and to the arguments being put, I find it hard to imagine why we would not want to introduce all the things we are discussing into the Bill as speedily as possible.

We will pursue this matter relentlessly, through every opportunity open to us, because we think that is where the majority of feeling in the House is, so the Government would, as I say, be sensible to move as swiftly as possible. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that, because I cannot see any reason not to do this thing as swiftly as we can.

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

Neatly done, Mr Davies.

I agree—indeed, it is clear—that there is a great deal of consensus across the House on our manifesto commitment to crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies. Where we differ slightly is how to bring that crackdown about. I want to reassure all Members that I am absolutely committed to bringing in further restrictions in regulations.

One of the reasons we are using regulations is to enable Government to act in a way that is relatively nimble. What we have found is that after we restricted the import of puppies, the criminals started to import pregnant bitches instead.

What we need to do is to remain one step ahead of the criminals. We feel that the best and speediest way to do that is through secondary legislation. There is absolutely nothing half-hearted about our determination to crack down on illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies. I am determined to do that in a fair way, but as quickly as we possibly can.

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

I hear what the Minister says, and I do not doubt her sincerity, but I do not understand how it can be quicker to do this through secondary legislation, nor do I understand why the two are mutually exclusive. It is quite possible to do both; I encourage her to do so.

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

We are taking the steps we are taking today, if the Committee votes for them, in the Bill, which we hope will soon become an Act. We have not taken the foot off the accelerator for organising the regulations.

Before we bring forward regulations, we consult with those involved in the sector, to make sure that the regulations hit the spot, in so far as we can. In August of this year, we launched our consultation to seek views on the new restrictions that we are proposing, which are very much in line with the views expressed by hon. Members across the House. The proposals include raising the minimum age that dogs can be imported from 15 weeks to six months, for all the reasons that have been given. It is a lot easier for a Border Control checker to see if a dog is six months old or still a puppy. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam mentioned the cuteness factor. I do not think they lose the cuteness factor, but on the commercial market, puppies areó more saleable than adult dogs. That is absolutely the Government’s intention.

We also stated our proposal to prohibit the commercial importation and non-commercial movement of heavily pregnant dogs, specifically those over 42 days pregnant, into Great Britain. We needed to get that right. I listened with interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said in last week’s sitting and what I have heard him say before—I do not mean that critically—about the difficulty of checking gestation periods. We have to get this right and make sure that it is operable, easy for checkers to check and will deter criminals.

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

I am sorry to labour the point. Of course consultation is always a great thing, but I think the Minister has made it quite clear what she believes needs to be done. I am trying to imagine what kind of consultation response it would take to undo all this weight of evidence from so many experts. I cannot see that happening. I am genuinely baffled as to why there is a problem here.

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

It is true that my Department places a great weight on consultation—indeed, it has to, under the rules set out in various pieces of legislation. I do not think we were wrong to do so in this particular case. There are difficult issues here, the bitch’s stage of pregnancy being one of them. I was just coming on to proposals to prohibit the import of dogs with cropped ears and tails. We all agree that these practices are abhorrent, but we have to make sure that we are not inadvertently making a problem—for example, for dogs that are already owned or rescue dogs that have been rescued from inappropriate ownership. It is important that we consult and get it right, but Members should not take that as any indication that we are going slowly. We really are not.

The evidence that we have seen to date, not least that which was gathered in the consultation, suggests that the import of young, heavily pregnant or mutilated animals is mainly an issue for dogs. We are therefore initially focusing our efforts on dogs, and we consulted on dogs this year. However, I reassure members of the Committee who feel we are being cattist in this matter, that there is an enabling power in clause 46 that allows us to expand the regulations to improve the welfare of dogs, cats and ferrets in future, should we gather evidence that that is necessary.

The consultation closed on 16 October. We are currently analysing the responses and will publish a summary in due course. I hope hon. Members feel reassured by our proposals, which make it clear how seriously we take the welfare issues with this trade. It is important that we consider the views of the public and interested groups before we make a final decision on new restrictions, although I would hope that the text of what we agreed on gives a fairly clear indication of the direction of travel of the Government. We need to ensure that the measures we introduce are necessary and proportionate and that there are no unintended consequences.

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

I appreciate the Minister’s comments that the Government are listening and consulting. I recognise and applaud that, because it provides an evidence base: the Government are casting out for opinions and stakeholders will get back to them.

There is also an evidence base about health treatments for dogs coming in with regards to the tick treatment that was stopped in 2014. There is scientific evidence that a dog in Essex, for instance, picked up a tick and contracted an exotic disease called babesiosis. That particular dog had never travelled out of the country, so another dog must have come into the country, or gone away and come back, with a tick onboard that it shed. The dog then took that tick onboard and contracted an exotic disease.

That evidence base makes it clear that we can act and put in place tighter guidelines to protect our biosecurity. A benefit of being a United Kingdom of islands is that we have a biosecurity barrier that we can and should strengthen for the animal population.

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

I turn to new clauses 24 and 25, which relate to the health requirements of imports of non-commercial dogs and cats—that was a well-timed intervention. I reassure hon. Members that any regulations needed to introduce preventive health measures necessary to protect animal or public health due to the movement of pets into this country could already be introduced under existing powers to make regulations, including article 19 of the pets regulation—regulation 576/2013 as retained—or section 10 of the Animal Health Act 1981.

In relation to ticks, on which I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border is something of an expert, it is true that we have seen small numbers of localised infestations of non-native ticks in recent years. It is also true that the Government strongly encourage pet owners to treat their dogs against picking up ticks wherever they can. I look forward to working with him further on the issue and I know that he will be talking to the chief veterinary officer in the next few weeks to discuss his views as to why we need to deal with the problem now.

In relation to rabies, there is already a requirement for all pets entering GB to be vaccinated against rabies, with a minimum 21-day wait period. We operate one of the most rigorous and robust pet travel checking regimes in Europe. All pets entering GB on approved routes undergo 100% documentary checks, which includes checking vaccination status. In addition, recent quantitative risk assessments have concluded that the risk of a pet animal with rabies entering the UK under the pet travel rules is very low. It is obviously good and to be applauded that our rabies status is as it is and I do not consider that further requirements are necessary in this area.

Finally, I turn to amendment 52 in my name, which amends clause 46 to ensure that we can set out exemptions to any prohibitions or restrictions brought in under the clause and set out a permit system through which to issue such exemptions. It will ensure that the new prohibitions do not have an unfair impact on individuals who need to travel with their pet under exceptional circumstances—for example, moving permanently to GB or because of a natural disaster. I ask the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam to withdraw amendment 117.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I am sure Dr Hudson will be very happy to have had a tick from the Minister.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It has been an interesting debate, and many concerns have been raised by Members on both sides of the Committee. I completely agree with everything that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said about the risk of zoonotic diseases and their increase. Ticks can cause horrific diseases in animals and humans—it is equally important to consider that risk. It is a biosecurity issue that we should take a lot more seriously.

On the wider issues of pregnant dogs and cats travelling, I am yet to be convinced of the Minister’s arguments. We should be mindful of the mutilation issues as well, and ask ourselves what the purpose is. Is it to uphold the highest animal welfare standards, or to create loopholes? We heard evidence on movement to resting centres being a loophole that will not be welcomed by some of those we received evidence from.

It is important that we vote on many of our amendments. I am willing withdraw amendment 117, but I will press for a vote on the others we tabled. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 2, in clause 46, page 28, line 23, after “age” insert—

“, with six months being the minimum age”—(Olivia Blake.)

This amendment would ban the importation into Great Britain of dogs, cats and ferrets aged six months or less.

Division number 7 Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill — Clause 46 - Powers relating to importation of certain dogs, cats and ferrets

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 8.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I have the casting vote, and I am obliged to vote for no change, which is a vote for the Noes.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 118, in clause 46, page 28, line 25, after pregnant insert

“, with 42 days being the maximum length of pregnancy for cats and dogs”.—(Daniel Zeichner.)

This amendment would prohibit the importation of heavily pregnant cats and dogs.

Division number 8 Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill — Clause 46 - Powers relating to importation of certain dogs, cats and ferrets

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 8.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

I have the casting vote, and I am obliged to vote no.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: 52, in clause 46, page 28, line 25, at end insert—

“(2A) The regulations may—

(a) provide that a prohibition or restriction is subject to specified exemptions, including an exemption in cases where a permit issued under the regulations is in force,

(b) make provision for and in connection with applications for permits and the determination of such applications, and

(c) require a specified fee to be paid on the making of such an application.”

This amendment provides that regulations under clause 46(1) may contain exemptions, including exemptions applying where a permit is held, and may make provision about permits (including applications for permits, the determination of applications and fees).

Amendment 53, in clause 46, page 29, line 37, leave out “or a” and insert “, summary sheriff or”—(Victoria Prentis.)

This amendment adds a reference to a summary sheriff, in relation to warrants issued in Scotland.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

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

When the UK harmonised its pet movement rules with the EU in 2012, we saw a significant increase in pet movements into Great Britain. Evidence from stakeholders suggests that that also led to a considerable increase in the illegal trade in puppies, whose welfare is, as we heard, frequently compromised. Clause 46 provides the powers to crack down on puppy smuggling and the low-welfare movement of pets. The clause provides powers to introduce restrictions on the importation of pets on welfare grounds, as well as powers to set out the associated enforcement process, including offences with the appropriate penalties.

We have had an interesting and useful debate. We were well informed by our evidence sessions, by evidence submitted in our extensive consultation launched in August, and by the excellent report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. As we move forward, it is clear that Members on both sides of the House are committed to these improvements, which ought to crack down on illegal puppy smuggling. I will look at how we can speed up the work going on alongside the Bill—the reply to the consultation, publishing the evidence received in the consultation, and work on drafting the regulations—to ensure that the twin tracks of the Bill and the regulations go hand in hand, so far as is possible. That ought to provide reassurance across the House that the Government are extremely keen to crack down on this illegal trade.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 46, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Heather Wheeler.)

Adjourned till Thursday 18 November at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

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