It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, and to follow the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish. I was a member of his Committee for three years, and I spent a long time following him, so this is not a novel experience. I congratulate Nigel Huddleston on having secured this debate.
Suffice it to say, the illegal transportation of puppies is a serious issue. Underage and unvaccinated animals are being smuggled from mainland Europe for sale in the UK, causing suffering to those puppies and endangering the health of animals here. Concerns about the illegal transportation of puppies include underage puppies being removed from their mothers too young and fears that some vets are falsifying data on pet passports for the pet travel scheme, including falsely declaring that puppies are more than eight weeks of age. Illegal importation is putting pressure on animal rescue centres, particularly in the south-east of England, and controls at border inspection posts are few and ineffective. It is still unclear how those will operate as Britain leaves the EU. There are also concerns about consumer protection and the risk to human health.
The RSPCA believes that the market for the puppy trade in Britain is anywhere from 700,000 to 1.9 million pups annually. Poor breeding, dealing and trading practices can have a long-term impact on animal welfare, leading to chronic health and behaviour problems and disappointed consumers, who find their new puppies falling ill or dying not long after purchase. Many would like to see the reintroduction of the requirement for a rabies blood test, which would reduce the risk of disease spreading, and the introduction of a wait period. Will the Minister comment on that?
Puppy smuggling is a shameful practice that causes trauma to innocent dogs and can lead to the spread of diseases to other dogs and humans in the UK. Puppies ought to be protected from that treatment, and consumers ought to be prevented from unwittingly purchasing an animal that may be unhealthy and badly behaved. It is time to raise sentences, bring in more rigorous border checks and increase consumer understanding to ensure that this immoral trade is stamped out and that animals are kept free from harm. I thank Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA for their briefings.