Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill

Neil Hudson Excerpts
Monday 5th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Neil Hudson (Penrith and The Border) (Con)
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It is a great privilege, Mr Hollobone, to serve under your chairmanship and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly).

First, I declare a strong personal and professional interest in this piece of legislation: as a veterinary surgeon, I am passionate about animal health and welfare. I was privileged to be a member of the Public Bill Committee for this important Bill and it has my full support. As we have heard, it covers important areas such as primates, puppy smuggling, pet theft, livestock worrying, zoos and the movement of animals for slaughter. I urge the Government to press ahead with this important legislation.

I commend all the groups, organisations and charities that have campaigned in this domain for many years now, such as Cats Protection, World Horse Welfare, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the Dogs Trust, Battersea, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross and the British Veterinary Association, to name just a few. I was privileged to lead a letter just this week to Ministers with 63 other parliamentarians and the Dogs Trust to that effect, urging them to press ahead so that we can tackle this scourge. We have heard a lot about the scourge of puppy smuggling, and this Bill can try and stamp it out. In the UK, we have the highest standards of animal health and welfare, and we are a beacon to the rest of the world. If we pass a piece of legislation such as this, we can hold our heads high and actually set an example to the rest of the world. Some of the things in this legislation can be done with a stroke of a ministerial pen, or in secondary legislation. We need to move forward and get some of this stuff done.

I will highlight some key areas. We have heard from hon. Members across the Chamber about the importance of pet theft. Obviously, dogs are the high-profile animal in this legislation, and I have campaigned—as have many of my colleagues and friends—to increase its scope; it must include dogs, it must include cats and it must include horses, ponies and farm animals as well. We must ensure that it is all inclusive of the distress caused to the owners of all animals when they are stolen and the distress caused to the animals themselves, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), so I would like the scope to be increased. The impact on people’s mental health when animals are stolen, when animals suffer, when animals die and when animals are killed should not be understated.

Much of the Bill also focuses on the movement of animals. I sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I triggered an inquiry early on in Parliament on the movement of animals across borders. This piece of legislation covers a lot of that area, and it is important that it passes, so that we can improve how animals are moved and checked and ensure that they are not being moved in inappropriate circumstances.

I will start with small animals. We have heard a lot about puppy smuggling and the awful practice of heavily pregnant dogs and cats being moved in and around the country as part of the puppy smuggling and kitten smuggling trade. We on the EFRA Committee and the Bill Committee took harrowing evidence from the Dogs Trust and other groups on these heavily pregnant animals, and we have heard today about them being moved across borders, having caesarean sections performed and being moved again, to and fro. The harrowing details are so upsetting, and we must really try and stamp that out. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) said, the Dogs Trust has said that it has taken 103 pregnant dogs into care in the last couple of years—and that is just the Dogs Trust. If that is just one charity—just one group—how many other animals are undergoing this cruel practice?

Currently, the movement of pregnant dogs is prohibited in the last 10% of gestation—the last 10% of pregnancy—and it is hard to assess that last 10% clinically. The Bill tries to push that back to earlier in the pregnancy, perhaps into the last 30% to 50%, to make the transport of heavily pregnant, late gestation dogs illegal. We must ensure that we ban the movement of heavily pregnant animals—of heavily pregnant dogs and cats—in commercial licensing as well. Another part of the Bill that we looked at was increasing the age of animals that are transported—for cats and dogs, that age needs to be increased to at least six months. If we do other health things as well, such as reinstating the rabies titre checks and increasing the wait time post rabies vaccination to 12 weeks, that will help protect the health of these dogs and the biosecurity of our country, and it will raise the minimum age at which these animals can be transported.

We have also heard that limits need to be set on the numbers of pets per vehicle. We have heard that should be set at five—I actually agree, although there is an argument that it could be lowered to three. It is very important that this is per vehicle, rather than per person. We have heard evidence on the EFRA Committee of vans taking on extra foot passengers, and each foot passenger then having an allocation of five dogs. There could potentially then be 20 or 25 dogs in that vehicle. If the number is restricted per vehicle—to three or five dogs—then that would nail the loophole that those unscrupulous, awful people are exploiting.

I very much welcome the fact that the Bill will take strong action to ban the import of mutilated dogs. We have heard about ear cropping, a horrific procedure that is rightly banned in this country. It is done for no clinical reason whatsoever. It is a cruel and painful process that makes the dogs’ ears erect for merely cosmetic, visual or aesthetic reasons. It is awful—it is hideous.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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We in the Petitions Committee did a piece of work, and held a debate in this Chamber, on ear cropping. One of the worrying bits of evidence we received told us that young people were being encouraged to buy dogs with cropped ears, because while their import is illegal, they can be bought if they are already in the UK. One of the big problems was that celebrities and public figures were promoting, and making attractive, buying an ear-cropped dog. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are to tackle ear cropping, the Government need to not only bring in this legislation, but crack down on the glorification of ear cropping?

Neil Hudson Portrait Dr Hudson
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I completely agree with my hon. Friend; he read my mind, because I was about to cover that point. We need to ensure that owning those dogs is not normalised in society. Ear cropping may be illegal in this country, but as it is still legal to import mutilated dogs, the dogs are still coming in. Also, awful people are potentially mutilating in this country; there is evidence to suggest that is going on. That is not done by vets, nor with any form of anaesthesia or analgesia. It is an evil process that mutilates dogs and needs to be stamped out.

Six out of 10 small animal vets have seen ear-cropped dogs in the last year, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that there has been an 86% increase in them in the last year. As my hon. Friend said, we should not allow that to be normalised in popular culture, with celebrities advocating for it. Perhaps the celebrities do not realise how horrific the procedure is that their pet had done. People looking at those dogs think that they are acceptable. We have normalised that in society. One of my favourite animated films is the wonderful “Up”, but some of the dogs in it are cropped. “Up” is a few years old now, but when another wonderful animation called “DC League of Super Pets” came out this year, I was disheartened to see from the poster that one of the lead dog characters is cropped. We are normalising this in popular culture. It is a horrific process, and we need to stamp it out. The Bill could stop those dogs coming into this country.

As hon. Members have said, we should not forget about cats. Heavily pregnant cats are being smuggled, and some people outside this country mutilate cats. I am talking about declawing, which is actually just chopping the claws off. That is illegal in this country, but it is still legal to import cats that have been horrifically declawed.

We have heard today about the importance of checking animals for diseases as they cross borders. There have been increased reports of canine brucellosis in this country. That is a zoonotic disease—one that can be transmitted from animals to people. There is a case of a human who has caught that from an imported dog. We have to make sure that we do pre-import checks and screen animals that cross borders. There are other diseases as well, such as babesiosis, echinococcus and leishmaniasis. There are simple things we can do, such as reinstate mandatory tick and tapeworm treatments for companion animals coming into the country. We have to be cognisant of the biosecurity of animals in the UK, and cognisant of public health, because, as I say, some of these diseases can be transmitted from animals to people. The Bill will protect travelling animals, UK animals and people. It will protect animals large and small.

In promoting animal welfare, we need to ensure that animals are healthy. The Minister knows my stance on this, because I keep pressing him hard on it. We are in the midst of an avian influenza outbreak. The Animal and Plant Health Agency is coping admirably in this dreadful situation, but we need to ensure that APHA is adequately funded and staffed. Heaven forbid that something else comes into the country, such as foot and mouth disease, African swine fever or African horse sickness; APHA would be really stressed, so we need to ensure that the Treasury funds it. I sit on the EFRA Committee and was able to guest on the Public Accounts Committee when it looked at the National Audit Office report on the APHA site in Weybridge in Surrey. The site needs radical refurbishment that will cost in the order of £2.8 billion. The Government have committed around £1.2 billion, which is a lot of money in these tight fiscal circumstances, but I firmly believe that we need to fund it moving forward.

Larger animals should be covered by the Bill, too. Not one horse is moved legally from the UK to Europe for slaughter, but it is likely that thousands are moved illegally. The EFRA Committee took harrowing evidence on illegal animal movements across borders. It needs to stop, and this sort of legislation can control it. We need to improve equine identification and digital monitoring. I welcome the fact that the Bill covers the export of livestock, and would stop the movement of farm animals for slaughter and fattening, but we need to specify that it is all right in certain instances to move animals around for breeding purposes. That would be complementary to measures on the movement of animals. We need to ensure that the legislation works.

As I said, we have high standards in this country, and should be proud of that, but we need to work together to improve transport conditions for animals. It is important that farm animals be slaughtered close to where they are reared. One of the recommendations of the EFRA Committee report was on the need to bolster the abattoir network in this country. I attended a roundtable last week with the Minister on the importance of supporting the UK’s small abattoir network, so that animals can be reared, slaughtered and bought locally, and people can eat local and buy local. That would reduce the transport distances for animals, which we need to do.

I am proud that the Conservative Government have a strong record on animal welfare. We have heard about it today. The private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Chris Loder) on stronger sentencing in animal cruelty cases has been passed into law. The animal health and welfare pathway in the new environmental land management scheme is a new way to reward farmers and land managers with public money for a public good. Animal health and welfare is recognised as a public good; we should be proud of that.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, which the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth, talked about, has become law. It is so important that we recognise animals as fully sentient beings. We should be proud as Conservatives that we are driving forward a lot of these changes, but we need to hold our nerve and keep going. Let us go back to our manifesto, much of which the Bill would enact. Animal welfare unites us across the House, and unites us in humanity. Introducing this legislation is the right and moral thing to do for these wonderful sentient beings, which we have a duty of care towards. To quote a famous sports brand, I say to the Government: just do it.