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Illegal Importation of Dogs (Fixed Penalty)

Volume 578: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for a fixed penalty charge for those caught smuggling dogs into the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.

I am grateful for this opportunity and wish to thank Clarissa Baldwin and Laura Vallance of the Dogs Trust, and David Bowles from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for their help in preparing for today. I also thank my researcher, Tom Evans, and the Table Office and Public Bill Office for their assistance. Members from both sides of the House have indicated their support for this Bill. I stress that this motion is not a criticism of the officers and staff who do so much to protect us; this is about policy. I am grateful to see the Minister and the shadow Minister in their places, and I hope that after today we might be able to follow up the issues I will raise over the next few minutes.

I wish not only to outline the problem that the Bill seeks to address, but explain why the present arrangements do not appear to be working and make some suggestions that could be pursued. The problem is threefold: the risk of rabies and other diseases; the criminal smuggling for profit in breach of regulations; and the animal welfare issues of puppies being transported with minimum food and water to prevent or reduce any mess they might make in the vehicles transporting them.

The problem is partly caused by the harmonisation of European Union rules and the relaxation of our quarantine controls, because—perversely—of the successful management of the risks. It is now easier to import dogs into the United Kingdom if they are microchipped, vaccinated and—most importantly—not for commercial sale. Here is my first interesting statistic: before the relaxation of our rules in 2010, 26,000 dogs were imported for non-commercial purposes; in 2013, 53,000 dogs were imported for non-commercial purposes. From 26,000 to 53,000 is quite a significant leap in a short period.

I hope I am not regarded in this place as a cynic, or—usually—as a sceptic, but I find some things difficult to believe: Elvis lives, West Ham United will win the premiership, and 53,000 dogs were imported into the United Kingdom in 2013 and none was for sale—not a single one. No doubt there are thousands of legitimate pets travelling, but it is a stretch of the imagination, to say the least, to believe that that includes all those dogs—I see a smile on the Minister’s face and I suspect there might be an element of understanding and agreement.

Here are a few more statistics that will add to the doubt that exists. Between 2011 and 2012 there was a 400% increase in illegal entries. Trading standards seized 127 dogs in 2011, but 417 in 2012. Some 2,800 dogs were refused entry in 2011, and 3,700 in 2012—another 40% increase. My final statistic is that in 2011 the number of puppies from eastern Europe—for example from Poland, Romania, Hungary and other countries—was 2,000, but it was 12,000 in 2013. That is a sixfold increase in two years, yet none of them—not one—was for commercial sale. Really? Those are the declared dogs, and it is believed that a lot more is going on under the radar than the data suggest.

Current penalties are severe: prison, and/or a fine of up to £5,000 for smugglers. However, I have no information about any prosecutions, and the suggestion is that the deterrent is simply not working. This Bill, which highlights the issues and offers another way to tackle the problem, will, I hope, make a difference. The fixed penalty provides another tool in the box, and could be introduced flexibly with higher penalties for more puppies smuggled, in the same way that smugglers of cigarettes can be fined more, the greater the number of cigarettes they carry.

There are other suggestions. We could increase spot checks at Dover and Holyhead; transfer the pet travel scheme monitoring responsibility from ferry operators to the UK Border Agency; and monitor internet sales to help target offenders. We could have better liaison with the European Commission and eastern European veterinary authorities to reduce the use of fraudulent passports and certificates. We could have better liaison with the Irish authorities—the Republic supplies so many dogs to the UK. We could have new risk modelling to scope the depth of the problem, create a new central database and have more quarantine spaces. The Minister answered a parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies)—the shadow Minister—this morning on the number of dogs licensed into quarantine in Great Britain in the past four years. In 2010, 89 dogs were licensed into quarantine. In 2013, 376 dogs were licensed. That is another 400% increase—there are repeated 40% and 400% increases.

Rabies and diseases such as Echinococcus, Leishmaniasis and parvovirus must be stopped because they are a risk to domestic and well animals, especially in the light of rabies reports in western France and Holland last year in which the disease was suspected to have come from eastern European imports.

In conclusion, we are a nation of animal lovers, whether through rescuing abandoned animals or paying between £500 and £750 for rare-breed pups. However, there are unscrupulous individuals and organisations out there, prepared to take advantage and make money at whatever cost to humans or animals. They also undermine legitimate businesses that play by the rules. Not only are the regulations open to abuse, but the monitoring appears to be too light touch. We need a review to assess the size of the problem.

The Bill will not solve all the problems and it might not resolve any of the them—hon. Members know that it will not go anywhere after today—but I hope that raising the matter today might improve the protection we need to ensure against the spread of disease, raise animal welfare standards, and act as an additional deterrent to criminals. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Jim Fitzpatrick, Robert Flello, Andrew Rosindell, Mr Adrian Sanders, Mark Pritchard, Sheryll Murray, Angela Smith, Sir Peter Bottomley, Mrs Mary Glindon, Miss Anne McIntosh and Sir Roger Gale present the Bill.

Jim Fitzpatrick accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 4 April and to be printed (Bill 189).