It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I care a great deal about this issue, as do many of my constituents. I am a dog lover, and the proud owner of two rescue dogs, Phoebe and Herbie, who give me such joy. I want to speak about this matter and, like the many constituents who have written to me, to call for more action.
Our exit from the EU affords us an opportunity to improve on what is already a good regime. I am delighted that my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston, has secured this debate and laid out in his comments all the actions that need to be taken. I do not, therefore, need to add much more, but will just touch on some brief points.
Three areas need to be looked at: our efforts at the border; our internal regulations; and the international engagement we pursue. As hon. Members have mentioned, central and eastern European countries—Hungary, Poland and Romania in particular—most often provide the supply of puppies, which feeds a growing demand for fashionable dogs. Given the rise in the demand for fighting dogs too, other nations are becoming involved, including the USA; it is worth noting that some 13 American bulldogs have been intercepted at the border in the past year. However, the issue is predominantly a European one, and the EU pet travel scheme is routinely abused, allowing puppies to cross our borders to feed the growing demand. Forged documents, corrupt vets and an absence of border checks in the Schengen area all contribute to that environment.
Although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe or this problem behind, so we have to keep working with the states that are most heavily involved. Lithuania, for example, has introduced legislation that means that pet passports can be issued only by a vet from the state veterinary service. Figures from the Animal and Plant Health Agency show a huge reduction in the number of illegally landed dogs, from 106 in 2016 to just three in 2018. However, more countries need to act. Many countries are involved, and we need to co-operate with them all.
Many of the steps that have been outlined are not new, but they would bring the regulations back up to a more robust level and deter criminals from smuggling puppies into the UK. I pay tribute to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the Dogs Trust. I was delighted to go with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire to Downing Street to present the petition, and I thank everyone for their efforts in clamping down on the trade.