Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 15th March 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Animal Welfare (Import of Dogs, Cats and Ferrets) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Pets are a part of our family. They provide support and companionship when we need it most. In time-honoured Friday tradition, I would like to name my own pets, from my childhood cat Perdita through to Phoebe, who I adopted while I lived in the States, my yellow Labradors Harry and George, and my current much-adored fox red Labrador, Henry.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
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Has the hon. Lady ever owned a ferret? If so, what was that ferret’s name?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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That is an excellent intervention. I will come to ferrets, but unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of one at home myself.

The companionship of pets was highly valued during the covid pandemic, when there was a surge in demand for puppies and kittens, which unfortunately led to even more upsetting cases of pet smuggling in the UK. During covid, legal commercial imports of dogs rose by nearly 60% to more than 70,000 dogs in 2021, and trends in illegal imports could be expected to be similar.

Puppy and kitten smuggling came on my radar as an MP shortly after the first lockdown began in March 2020, when I was one of those people trying to find a new pup, which were hard to find. I am grateful to my great dog-loving friend Bethany Sawyer for her advice not to see the cute puppy that was the wrong age without both parents available in the advert. While Henry, my fox red Labrador was not smuggled into the country—I met his mum and dad at their farm just above my North Devon home—I understand how the emotions in adopting a new pet and companion often leave some of the rationality and questioning behind. Prices for specific dog breeds doubled, and the UK market struggled to keep up. With huge profits to be made, that imbalance provided ample opportunity for people acting illegally and irresponsibly to import puppies and take advantage of innocent pet buyers, who may not have known that their furry friends were suffering. YouGov polling shows that 83% of the public want the Government to crack down on puppy smuggling.

I was the Parliamentary Private Secretary on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill Committee, and I am delighted to be flanked by my Whip from that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler) and other members of that Committee who are supporting this Bill. Just this week alone, more than 100 colleagues have dropped in to see the Dogs Trust and support the Bill.

When the kept animals Bill was withdrawn and divided up, I made a commitment to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Dogs Trust that if I came high up in the private Member’s Bill ballot, I would take part of that Bill through. As I am not a regular raffle prize winner, I was more than a bit perplexed to find myself come sixth. I looked at Henry—I am still not sure whether he fully understands all the media attention—and explained that we were going to be helping puppies for many months to come. I am delighted that I have been able to keep that commitment here today.

As a dog owner myself, I find it horrific to hear stories of puppies and kittens being smuggled across the border and the poor conditions they have to endure. Pets are more than just property; they are family. The Bill will ensure that pets are not sold or traded as objects.

Natalie Elphicke Portrait Mrs Natalie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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This is such an important Bill, which my hon. Friend is bringing forward with passion and eloquence. Does she agree that the Government must put in funding at the border to deal with the problem and stop the smuggling of puppies, kittens and, indeed, ferrets? It is a worry that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has reduced, or proposed to reduce, biosecurity funding at the port of Dover and in the Dover area. Money must be put behind this important initiative.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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My hon. Friend is a huge advocate for her constituency and the port of Dover. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, is indeed looking at some of those matters. The Bill will deliver a manifesto commitment to crack down on puppy, kitten and ferret smuggling by closing loopholes exploited by unscrupulous commercial traders.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the passionate case she is making for her Bill, which I think we all support. Her legislation relies quite extensively on regulations. Does she have a sense of how quickly those regulations will come forward once the Bill hopefully passes?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I hope that the Minister can provide guidance on that at the end of the debate.

The Bill will ban the import of puppies and kittens under six months and dogs and cats that are mutilated or heavily pregnant. It will also address the abuse of non-commercial rules that compromise animal welfare and biosecurity by making it more difficult and less profitable for traders to fraudulently import animals for sale under the disguise of owners travelling with their pets. The Bill also addresses the issue of commercial imports being disguised as non-commercial movements by amending the rules that govern the non-commercial movements of dogs, cats and ferrets into Great Britain from third countries.

The puppy trade has become a multimillion-pound, transnational industry, with UK sales of up to 2 million puppies annually and a value of £3 billion. However, 50% of the industry is either illegal or unlicensed and off the enforcement radar. Of that, half originates from animals coming from outside the UK.

According to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, in 2023, more than 500 landings of dogs and cats were intercepted at the port of Dover and found to be non- compliant with import requirements. Of those, 116 puppies and kittens were quarantined for being below the legally required minimum age for import. That data does not include animals detained at airports or found inland. We cannot know the true extent of puppy smuggling operations, so those figures likely capture only a small proportion of the animals smuggled into the country.

Ferrets are included in the Bill, because dogs, cats and ferrets are in the same category for rabies risk. I have not had strong representations from the ferret community, but I would like to mention on the record the ferret of the right hon. and learned Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), who was the Minister for the original Bill. Her gorgeous ferret, Roulette, is no longer with us, but I know that the now Attorney General has previously ensured that references to many of her much-loved pets are recorded in this place, and I am delighted to remember Roulette today.

While not many ferrets have made my inbox, I have done much to support the work of our fantastic animal welfare charities on puppy and kitten smuggling, so I will focus on their travel arrangements. Pet animals can be brought into the UK from EU member states through two different schemes. One is for the travel of owners with pets and the other is for the commercial import of pet animals. Under the EU pet travel scheme, or PETS, vaccinated and microchipped dogs, cats and ferrets are allowed to travel between EU countries for non-commercial reasons, as long as they have a pet passport and have complied with all the requirements of the scheme, which include a rabies vaccination.

The current pet travel scheme is designed to allow a maximum of five pets to travel with their owner rather than for the commercial movement of animals intended for sale as pets. Under the scheme, pet owners must fill in a declaration confirming that they will not sell or transfer the ownership of the pet. An approved transport company must be used for the travel of the pets, unless travelling between the UK and Ireland, where a private boat or plane can be used.

Although I understand that the pet travel scheme was created to make it easy for owners to take their family pets on holiday with them, the system has been abused by unscrupulous traders. Traders have taken advantage of the scheme’s simple set-up to illegally import thousands of puppies for sale, making a huge profit at the cost of welfare. The most common method of attempting to smuggle puppies into Great Britain is by bringing them in under the pet travel scheme when they are, in fact, being imported for commercial sale and should instead be subject to the requirements of the Balai directive and the Trade in Animals and Related Products Regulations 2011.

Most of all, I highlight the great work that the pet charities have done to raise this issue. Dogs Trust exposed the cruel puppy smuggling trade in 2014 and has been pushing for changes to the law to help stop it ever since. The Dogs Trust puppy pilot scheme was set up in 2015 to aid the interception of illegally imported puppies by APHA at the ports and to provide care and rehabilitation for them until they find loving new homes. Since then, it has cared for more than 2,000 puppies.

As part of the Dogs Trust puppy smuggling taskforce, I first experienced the documentary and identity checks that currently operate at the border. I saw for myself the tactics that smugglers employ to avoid detection. I thank Dogs Trust for all its hard work in campaigning on this issue and for working with me on the Bill’s progress, through the roundtable and the event this Wednesday to discuss their recent “Tragic Tales and the Decade of Delay” campaign, which featured four real-life case studies of dogs who have been helped by the puppy pilot. Special thanks goes to my local Dogs Trust site in North Devon between Ilfracombe and Braunton, which does exceptional work to rehome dogs locally.

I also thank the RSPCA for its work on this issue and for its #ForPupsSake campaign, especially during the pandemic when interest in getting a puppy sky-rocketed. The campaign called for a stop to illegal puppy imports and highlighted how smuggled puppies can cost the owner more than they think. On behalf of the fluffy, furry kittens, I would like to thank Cats Protection, which published its 2023 “Cats and their Stats” survey. It found that 3% of the cats obtained in the 12 months preceding the survey were from abroad, equating to 50,000 cats. It is unclear what conditions those cats were subjected to during travel.

There have been significant changes in the cat market in the past five years, with a big rise in pure bred and pedigree cats. Of the cats obtained in the past 12 months, 42% were pedigree and pure bred cats, compared with 17% five years ago. It is likely that many of the imported cats are pedigree. Having had a cat while I was living overseas, I know that cats are extremely stressed by transportation over long distances, which in turn can supress their immune systems so that their risk of infectious disease and other stress-related illness is markedly increased by importation.

Vet charities, such as the British Veterinary Association, have also raised directly with me the significant threat posed to biosecurity by the large number of smuggled puppies entering the UK. Although it is not in scope of the Bill, I hope that raising the issue is a first step and that the Department will take forward those concerns. Other charities, such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, FOUR PAWS and the Kennel Club, have all done invaluable work to campaign on the issue. I thank them all today.

Moving on to the Bill and the measures that will be enacted through primary legislation, clause 4 will reduce the number of animals that can travel under non-commercial rules from five per person to five per vehicle, or three per foot or air passenger. The charities would have preferred three animals per vehicle, as their research shows that over 97% of pet owners have three or fewer dogs. However, the reduction is a significant and welcome step to tackle the illegal smuggling of pets. The non-commercial rules are intended to make it easier for genuine pet owners to travel. Unscrupulous traders fraudulently claim ownership of several pets that they are actually importing for sale. They do that because the requirements for owners travelling with pets are less stringent. The Bill reduces the number of dogs, cats and ferrets that can be brought into Great Britain non-commercially. Reducing that number is proportionate and takes into consideration other pets owned by the household that may also travel.

Article 5A in clause 4(5) ensures that when a non-commercial movement of a dog, cat or ferret is carried out by an authorised person, it may only take place within five days of the movement of the owner. There is evidence that the ability for a pet to travel with an authorised person under the non-commercial rules is being used as a loophole to bring in animals that should be moved under the commercial import regime, and therefore subject to more stringent requirements for sale or transfer of ownership. The new measures will ensure that pets are moved under the owner’s direct responsibility or, where the pet animal cannot be moved at the same time as the owner, under the responsibility of a person authorised by the owner and within five days of the movement of the owner. An authorised person is one who has authorisation in writing from the owner to carry out the non-commercial movement of the pet animal on their behalf. This will also ensure that only an owner of a pet can sign a declaration that a movement is non-commercial. This will stop non-commercial routes being used as a loophole by traders. Movements that are not within five days will require the dog, cat or ferret to be brought in as a commercial import, rather than a non-commercial movement.

On the measures to be enacted through secondary legislation, the Bill contains an enabling power to make regulations on the bringing of dogs, cats or ferrets into the United Kingdom for the purpose of promoting their welfare. The first regulations that can be made in relation to dogs and cats in Great Britain under that enabling power have been outlined on the face of the Bill to provide reassurance of the Government’s intention to lay the measures through secondary legislation. The enabling powers provide the opportunity for the Government to gather further evidence and discuss the proposals with stakeholders and the public in order to develop the new restrictions effectively. The powers will enable the Government to tackle low welfare imports dynamically. They will allow us the flexibility to address known issues quickly, but also act to close down emerging practices, including those attempting to circumvent previous restrictions.

The Government will use that power alongside the other powers in the Bill. Subsections (2) and (3) to clause 1 introduce prohibitions that restrict the commercial import and non-commercial movement into Great Britain of puppies and kittens under six months. We are still seeing high volumes of smuggled puppies—dogs under six months which do not comply with current animal health rules and are landed in Great Britain for the purpose of commercial sale—as well as other low-welfare movements and imports of pet animals.

I understand the Kennel Club’s concerns about genetic diversity and rescue dogs that are brought into the country at the age of four months. However, the need for a six-month minimum age is due to the practicalities of identifying the age of a dog or a cat that can come into the UK: at six months old, the majority of puppies and kittens will have a full set of permanent incisors, canines and premolars, and can therefore be aged more accurately. The measure will enable the identification of puppies and kittens that are being moved at young ages and are thus at risk of low welfare.

The prohibition is intended to prevent the import of under-age puppies and kittens by increasing the minimum age from 15 weeks to six months. To illustrate the importance of that, I want to talk about Bruce, who is available after today’s sitting for photos in room W3, if you would like to meet him, Mr Speaker. Bruce highlights the need for a change to the minimum age. He is a French bulldog who was seized at the border at just 10 weeks old alongside three of his siblings, who had all endured a journey in cramped and squalid conditions over thousands of miles from Bulgaria in 2018. Ten weeks is well under the 15 weeks that puppies must have reached to legally enter the UK.

Bruce and his siblings were found in a poor condition, infested with worms and severely underweight. All four of the dogs weighed roughly 2.8 kg, which is half the expected weight of French bulldogs of their age. Their passports were faked, with at least three claiming that the dogs had been wormed before they were even born. The dishonest traders claimed that Bruce and his siblings were all their own pets. Upon seizure, however, Dogs Trust staff were able to find evidence of all four dogs being advertised for sale online. Fortunately for Bruce, the Dogs Trust was able to take him in and care for him until he could find his forever home. Bruce has now been rehomed responsibly through the Dogs Trust. He is a very cute French bulldog.

Some of these dogs are bred for fashion, and the Kennel Club, along with other animal charities and vets, has highlighted the health and welfare issues that can be associated with such breeds. Although the issues of breathing and flat-faced dogs are about genetic mutilation and are therefore not in scope of the Bill, I would like to highlight the need still to safeguard dogs of this type that are already in the country. We must look at what else we can do to help with genetic mutilations, which cause our pets to suffer.

Last week, it was reassuring to hear about Crufts’s respiratory function grading—RFG—scheme for brachycephalic dogs, such as French bulldogs, pugs and bulldogs. It was great to meet Dr Jane Ludlow, the vet who has devised the scheme, which assesses dogs with a stethoscope. The dog exercises for three minutes, and the process is then repeated. We saw at first hand that the test is quick and straightforward, and it assigns an RFG rating to each dog. Those with the lowest grades should not breed.

Far too many flat-faced dogs have brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome, known as BOAS, which can chronically impair the ability of the dog to breathe normally and carry out everyday tasks. All the dogs at Crufts had the option of being tested, which becomes compulsory next year, and all those that win are tested to ensure that the breed retains high health standards. I hope that my highlighting this issue today will ensure that more potential pet owners ask questions about the health of the parents of their future pet.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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I am really glad that the hon. Lady has brought up this issue. I do not know whether she has seen the number of brachycephalic dogs that are going to Battersea because pet owners cannot afford to have the operation. The charity has seen an exponential rise in these dogs being dumped. Does she agree that much more needs to be done?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I have indeed been to Battersea, which is what really triggered much of my interest in this particular area. Like the hon. Lady, I was deeply shocked by what I saw, which is why it was such a relief to see the new system come into effect at Crufts. It gives people the opportunity to find out whether their dogs are unwell—ideally, before they have been adopted as puppies.

Cats Protection has highlighted the issue of under-age kitten smuggling. Nala was smuggled illegally into the country when she was around eight weeks old. She had been with her owners for eight days when they brought her into the UK from Germany without a pet passport and appropriate vaccinations. They became concerned for her health and took her to a vet, who realised that she had arrived without meeting the requirements of the pet travel scheme and reported the matter to trading standards. The pet travel scheme—PETS—allows pet cats, dogs and ferrets to enter the UK without quarantine as long as they are microchipped, have a pet passport and a rabies vaccination, and have waited 21 days after the vaccination before travelling.

In addition to breaking the terms of PETS and been facing prosecution, Nala’s owners were also unable to pay for the costs of seven weeks of quarantine, which came to £1,500, so they signed her over to feline welfare charity Cats Protection. It ensured that the tiny cat was appropriately quarantined and received vet care before being taken into its Ferndown adoption centre. Despite being removed from her mother at about seven weeks old, a week earlier than is advised, Nala was a lively, energetic kitten, and a suitable home was found for her.

Clauses 1(3)(b) and 1(4)(b) introduce prohibitions that restrict the commercial import and non-commercial movement into Great Britain of heavily pregnant dogs and cats—those that are more than 42 days pregnant. There is an emerging trend in the import of pregnant dogs, but there is a strong consensus to tackle that, with Dogs Trust polling showing 79% support for a ban on the import of heavily pregnant dogs. The prohibition in the Bill is intended to ensure the welfare of pregnant dogs and cats by lowering the gestation limit to prohibit the movement into Great Britain from a third country of dogs and cats that are more than 42 days pregnant—and so within the final third of the gestation. That aligns with clear markers in pregnancy, and therefore pregnant dogs and cats under that limit can be more easily identified. In addition, we expect that traders will respond to an increase in the minimum age for importing puppies and kittens by increasing the number of pregnant dogs and cats that they import. This measure is needed to prevent that anticipated increase in imports of low-welfare dogs and cats from producers with unacceptable welfare standards.

The tragic case of Snowy, the heavily pregnant bichon Maltese, shows how important this measure is in this Bill. Snowy was seized at the port of Dover in May 2023, after being illegally transported into the UK. Before she was intercepted, Snowy had travelled to the UK from an EU country. Snowy was 56 days pregnant when she was seized—in the final 10% of her pregnancy, when it is illegal to transport dogs. Just days after she was seized, and despite her ordeal, Snowy gave birth to four healthy puppies. Snowy and her puppies have all now been responsibly rehomed through the Dogs Trust. The disturbing trend of transporting heavily pregnant dogs into the country in the later stages of pregnancy causes significant suffering and health implications to both mum and puppies. Not only will importing one dog attract less suspicion at the border, but as responsible buyers will ask to see the puppies with their mother, this tactic allows criminals to give the impression of being legitimate breeders, and thus avoid being reported to trading standards.

Clauses 1(3)(c) and 1(4)(c) introduce prohibitions that restrict the commercial import and non-commercial movement into Great Britain of dogs and cats with non-exempted mutilations, for example, dogs with cropped ears or docked tails, and declawed cats. From my previous meetings with pet charities, I know there is a clear consensus among the charities about a ban on dogs and cats with cropped ears and declawed cats, and I am delighted that it has been taken forward. The intended approach to the prohibition of mutilated animals is set out in further detail in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation “Commercial and Non-Commercial Movements of Pets into Great Britain”. The summary of responses and the Government response to that consultation are due to be published in due course, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the consultation response.

The ban on cropped ears mutilations would have helped six-year-old Maisie, who came into RSPCA care in October 2023 due to welfare concerns. She was incredibly malnourished and underweight. She is a sweet and gentle girl who absolutely loves playing with a football, chasing tennis balls and eating sausages. She arrived in RSPCA care with a docked tail and cropped ears. She has a passport from overseas, so the RSPCA believes she was imported having already been cropped and docked. Unfortunately, it is not just dogs that are mutilated. Many kittens are subjected to declawing, an extremely painful and distressing procedure that prevents cats from exhibiting normal scratching behaviour, and is the equivalent of amputating a human fingertip at the first knuckle. Although it is already illegal for cats to be declawed in the UK. Cats Protection, the RSPCA and Battersea have been campaigning hard to ensure that cats with this mutilation are included in the Bill and banned from importation. That is both to deter any market or interest in declawed cats, and to keep in line with ensuring that the highest standards of cat welfare are consistently maintained in the UK. The PDSA “Animal Wellbeing Report 2022” states that

“alarmingly, 5% of cat owners who got their cat from abroad, equating to 31,000 cats, told us that they chose to get their pet from abroad because they wanted them to be declawed.”

Clause 1(2)(b) delivers relevant exemptions to the prohibitions, for example, for recognised assistance dogs or military or service working animals. The enforcement measures and exemptions for the Bill will be delivered through secondary legislation. As with the exemptions, delivering the enforcement measures through secondary legislation will enable us to work closely with enforcement bodies to develop guidance and ensure they have the correct tools to deliver these measures effectively.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)
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I commend the hon. Lady for bringing forward this Bill. The legislation we pass in this place is only as effective as the enforcement that follows from it. A 2014 Dogs Trust investigation found that two of the authorities involved in enforcing breaches of existing regulations in this area—the Animal and Plant Health Agency and trading standards—had no officers on active duty at ports of entry over weekends. Does she agree that, as well as passing this welcome piece of legislation, we need assurances from the Minister about the resourcing and capacity of those agencies to ensure the Bill is properly enforced?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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Although I agree that we need to ensure enforcement, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), I believe we have an opportunity today to highlight the need to educate people who are about to adopt a puppy or kitten. They need to ask those questions. If illegally imported animals are not adopted, the trade will dry up. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I also think we have an opportunity today to extend knowledge about the process of adopting —I have learned so much in developing this Bill.

The measures will be enacted through secondary legislation in order to refine the scope and detail of the policy and take on the views of the public and key stakeholders. The Bill provides that the prohibitions must be enacted the first time the enabling power is used in relation to dogs and cats in Great Britain to show commitment to delivering these measures. I have been assured by the Department, which I thank for its help in getting the Bill to this point, that it will lay secondary legislation as soon as possible following Royal Assent, and DEFRA officials are already working on developing it. That will ensure that the Bill is future-proofed and that it responds dynamically to smuggling practices.

As is the nature of organised crime, the illegal pet trade is unpredictable and ever-changing. These enabling powers will ensure the Government can tackle low-welfare imports dynamically. They provide the flexibility to address known issues quickly, and ensure that we can act in the future to close down emerging practices whereby people try to circumvent previous restrictions.

Finally, let me set out how this will be applied as a GB-wide Bill, and the extent and application involving the devolved Administrations. Clause 3 sets out the meaning of “appropriate national authority” regarding the devolved Administrations. Clause 8 sets out the territorial extent of the Bill and describes the jurisdictions in which the Bill will form part of the law. The territorial extent and application of the Bill is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, except clauses 4, 5 and 6, which extend and apply only to England, Wales and Scotland.

The Bill relates to animal welfare, which is a devolved matter in Scotland and Wales, including in relation to the regulation of movement of animals for the purposes of protecting animal welfare. In Northern Ireland, animal welfare is generally a transferred matter, but the subject matter of this Bill means that the reserved matter in schedule 3(20) to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is engaged. I thank my DUP colleagues, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who are unable to join us today but have written to support the Bill.

Karin Smyth Portrait Karin Smyth (Bristol South) (Lab)
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The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech about this really important Bill, which I fully support. It is good to see it coming forward. As she outlined, we are still waiting for a consultation response from the Government, but does she agree that it is deeply disappointing that the Government dropped their Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which would have looked at these issues more carefully? We need greater action from the Government on animal welfare. Even though this Bill will help, we need more.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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This Government have done more on animal welfare than any previous Government, and we will continue to do so. Like everyone else, I was disappointed that that Bill collapsed, but that was due to amendments that changed the nature of the original Bill. I very much welcome the cross-party support for this Bill.

The amendments to the non-commercial pet travel scheme rules and related measures, which include the maximum number of dogs, cats and ferrets that can be moved into Great Britain within five days of the owner’s movements will extend to England, Wales and Scotland. The Bill does not apply to the domestic movement of dogs, cats and ferrets within our United Kingdom, so travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britian will not be affected.

Many colleagues and hon. Friends are in the Chamber to support this Bill, and I know that some may think that we have not gone far enough, but we need to be pragmatic with this Bill and do not want perfection to be the enemy of the good. I believe that, as it stands, it will do a lot to safeguard the welfare of the thousands of puppies, cats and ferrets that come into Great Britain from overseas each year. It will also prevent the heartache and unexpected cost to families who unknowingly buy young and ill pets that often come with hidden health conditions.

The measures I have outlined aim to make vast animal welfare improvements to the current pet import rules. With secondary legislation, the measures will go further than the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill to ensure that loopholes are tightened. I again thank all the charities and interested groups that have shared their views about the Bill. I hope that the Bill has met some of the expectations and illustrated the positive steps that we are taking to stop this cruel trade. We are a nation of animal lovers—a Parliament of pet lovers—and this legislation will ensure that the UK is leading the world when it comes to animal welfare.

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Ashley Dalton Portrait Ashley Dalton
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I thank my right hon. Friend for recognising how important this is in farming communities such as mine. This is crucial, and we have legislation in place, some of which many farmers find quite onerous, to protect the biosecurity of their livestock and land. It is particularly relevant in my constituency, which has wetlands and bird sanctuaries.

Some protections are difficult to put in place, and I have had long discussions with chicken and wildfowl breeders in West Lancashire about the things they have to do to protect our nation’s biosecurity. We need to ensure there is continuing awareness of the legislation because, obviously, parasitic infections take no notice of borders.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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As I said in my speech, this is not covered by the Bill, and the British Veterinary Association is quite comfortable that it is not fully included and that the EFRA Committee is continuing its work in this area.

Ashley Dalton Portrait Ashley Dalton
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I thank the hon. Lady for that welcome clarification.

The provision in the Bill to reduce the number of animals that can be claimed as personal pets, and that can therefore be imported under the pet travel scheme regulations, will help to address this biosecurity risk. Reducing the number of puppies, kittens and ferrets that can be admitted to just three will help to reduce the numbers that a smuggler can import under these less stringent biosecurity rules.

Proposed new article 5A of the regulations should further help to limit abuse of the pet travel scheme. Under this article, the movement of a cat, dog or ferret would not be classed as non-commercial unless the animal is accompanied by its owner, or unless the movement occurs within five days of its owner arriving in the country. This change would help to prevent abuse of the non-commercial importation regulations and limit the awful feigning of commercial animals as pets to circumvent the requirements for commercial imports.

Alongside that reduction, the Bill would place an emphasis on greater enforcement mechanisms, which we have talked about at length. I would welcome any further detail that the hon. Member for North Devon can provide to ensure that this sensible and worthwhile legislation is able to be enforced.

Having looked at the Bill with great interest, and having considered the specifics of each measure carefully, I am proud to support the hon. Member for North Devon in the passage of the Bill. Along with many millions in this country, I hold our pets in the highest regard. They make the lives of families and individuals up and down the country fuller and brighter. It is with the societal benefit of cats, dogs and ferrets and their welfare and health in mind that I am proud to support the Bill. Its measures will protect the welfare of our domestic animal imports and protect our animals and public health at home.

I also support the Bill because, as I said, we sadly lost our cat, Colin, to congenital heart disease just after we had moved house. We are looking forward to getting a new cat—yet to be named—and hopefully a new dog, which I am insisting will be called Kenneth. It is really important to me that legislation is in place to ensure that anybody buying a new cat, dog or ferret as a member of their family can be reassured that it has been treated properly. After the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Samantha Dixon), I am seriously considering also getting a ferret. My father has always wanted one.

Once again, I thank the hon. Member for North Devon and congratulate her on picking up what the Government have hitherto refused to advance. This is a necessary, important and common-sense piece of legislation that I urge all Members who are present today to support.

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Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) on bringing the Bill forward and on coming up in the private Members’ Bill ballot. That is not easy—it has only happened to me once in 26 years—so she has done well.

The hon. Lady has picked an issue that is very important to many Members from across the House. I can say for sure that over the years I have been a Member—as I say, it is now 26 years—the postbag I have received, either by letter or more recently by email, text and social media, has been overwhelmingly dominated by those constituents who write to me about improving animal welfare. I suspect my experience is not dissimilar to that of many other Members, and that we all get a big postbag from our constituents raising animal welfare issues. We are indeed a nation of animal lovers, so she has done well to select this issue. I am not being unpleasant to her if I say that she seems to have had some help with the drafting. Given the issue’s complications, that is probably a good thing. I am sure the Government have improved on the drafting of the more comprehensive animal welfare Bill that they withdrew, which included some of these issues.

I can compliment the hon. Lady on one other thing, before I move on to the substance of the Bill, which is that she is implementing a manifesto commitment of her party. That is more than the Government have managed to do so far from their own Front Bench, so she should be congratulated on that too. It is not a usual or easy thing to do. The only issue is whether this Parliament will last long enough for her to get the Bill all the way on to the statute book. Obviously, it has to go through the other place and its remaining stages here. If the Bill passes Second Reading today, there are a few Bills ahead of it, so there is a bit of a queue in Committee. My advice to her, as somebody who sort of managed to get a private Member’s Bill on to the statute book by forcing the Government to do it later, is to not stop fussing behind the scenes: do not stop pressing and pushing them to make sure that if the Bill passes Second Reading, and it looks very much as if it will—

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind words, but she clearly does not know me very well; I never stop pushing.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle
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I am very glad to hear that, because it certainly gives her a better chance of making sure the Government do not go soft or slack when it comes to doing the necessary things to ensure the Bill ends up on the statute book. She would be congratulated by many from across the House if she managed that. Obviously, the regulations will have to be written and consulted on. The Bill has to go through the Committee and Report stages in this House. There is a concertina effect on when private Members’ Bill Fridays are coming up, so she will have to get the Bill through Committee fast. That would be my other little bit of advice: there is a queue of Bills ahead of her that have passed Second Reading, so she needs to keep pushing in the right direction.

The Bill takes up some of the provisions that were in the more comprehensive Bill that, as I recall, the Government withdrew in 2023. They have been trying to legislate on this issue since the 2019 election, when it was in their manifesto, so I think it is a good thing that the hon. Lady is bringing forward these provisions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (James Murray) said, there is a little extra detail in this Bill than was apparent in the original legislation. That is also a good thing. It is not correct, as is the modern fashion in legislative drafting, to leave everything to the regulations; sometimes it is a good idea to have the provisions in primary legislation. That might make me a bit old fashioned, but I do think that there is something to be said for it. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Devon on getting a few more details on precisely what is going to be done into primary legislation. That holds to the feet of whatever Government are then trying to implement the legislation to the fire, and there is something to be said for that.

The change in the law that the hon. Lady is seeking to make is good in respect of dogs and cats, as has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. Currently, the lower age limit to import a dog or cat is 15 weeks. Pregnant dogs and cats may be imported—as the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), who has extra knowledge of these things, mentioned— until the last 10% of their pregnancy. Up to five dogs or cats can be imported per person, and the owner can authorise somebody else to travel for them. The changes that are being made to those limits can only be entirely good, for the reasons that have been made by other Members during the course of this debate and that I will not repeat.

Ferrets are included in the short title of the Bill. The hon. Member for North Devon was kind enough to respond to me when I intervened on her, saying that the reason that ferrets had been included is that they can get rabies, so there is something desirable to be said about controlling the import of ferrets. That, for me, is a good enough reason to include them in the short title of the Bill, but I have noticed that we do not seem to have had a lot of representations about ferrets, or examples of the abuse of ferrets in the way that we have in respect of dogs and cats. Perhaps the Minister, when he comes to reply, can let us know whether ferrets are there purely as a rabies control measure, or whether there is evidence that there is abuse in the importation of ferrets? I do not have a wide knowledge of that, so I would be interested to know whether the issues facing ferrets are similar to those of dogs and cats, or whether the fact that they are in the short title of the Bill is simply to do with disease control. To my mind, that is a good enough reason, but I wonder whether there should be further provisions on the safety of ferrets that are not set out in the regulations so far. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

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Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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I thank the Minister and my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken today. I also thank my team for all the work that they have put in behind the scenes to get to this point today, including Tara Benniman, Emily Gordon and Alice Richards, who is on maternity leave, watching at home with baby Luke and cat Beany. I also remind Members that Pixie the one-eyed spaniel and Bruce the French bulldog will be available for media engagements in W3 at the end of today’s sitting.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).