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 prohibit the import of puppies aged under six months; to prohibit the import of pregnant dogs in specified circumstances; to prohibit the import of dogs with cropped ears or docked tails; and for connected purposes.
I thank the charity Dogs Trust and the many charitable organisations that have done an amazing job engaging with us as Members of Parliament over the years, looking out for the lives of our four-legged friends. The issue of animal welfare is felt passionately by my constituents and, I am sure, all our constituents around the country.
For many years, my constituents have been getting in touch with me about the issue of cropped ears and puppy smuggling. I can understand why there is such a strong feeling about the topic. In moving the motion, I declare an interest, as I am an avid dog lover myself. I have seen at first hand the love, comfort and, sometimes, the hard work that a dog can bring to a house. I am lucky enough to have two wonderful golden retrievers, Willow and Lola, and two Staffordshire bull terrier crosses, Snoopy and Jazz, who have been my constant companions for some time. And I am not alone in that regard.
Indeed, figures suggest that in the 28 million households in the UK there are 13 million dogs, which means that almost half of all households in the UK own a dog. Our status as a nation of dog lovers was plain for all to see last week, when these very corridors of power were filled with barking and numerous wet noses. I am, of course, talking about the Westminster Dog of the Year awards, where we had the chance to see our four-legged friends up close and in action. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) and TJ on their victory.
The 2019 Conservative party manifesto outlined how the Government would crack down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies. That commitment was reconfirmed in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. I understand that the Government have been unable to progress with that Bill because of the scale of the number of amendments that were proposed, so I am proud to be introducing a private Member’s Bill to enact the manifesto commitment myself.
The scale of the problem must not be underestimated. The relaxation of the pet travel scheme in 2012 has led to an exponential growth in illegal smuggling into the country. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that before the relaxation some 85,000 dogs were smuggled into the country, which had increased to 275,000 in 2016. That increase in illegal dogs has also caused an increase in the cases of zoonotic disease, including brucella canis. That is a risk to public health and the country’s biosecurity.
Dogs Trust has in recent years conducted five investigations, which found that smugglers are using the pet travel scheme to cover up illegal activities in the UK. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill had previously sought to stop illegal puppy trafficking by reducing the total number of animals allowed to travel into the UK within a year. It also sought to increase the minimum age of imported dogs, place restrictions on pregnant dogs and put a complete ban on mutilated dogs.
The original Bill was designed to
“make provision about the welfare of certain kept animals that are in, imported into, or exported from Great Britain.”
However, I know that there is still a determination in this House to right the wrongs currently being perpetrated against animals; to close the loopholes that are available to smugglers, which they continue to exploit; and to strengthen the existing laws and legislation. This private Member’s Bill stands to do just that. Although I wish I had the time to acknowledge every Member’s contribution, I would particularly like to thank the Minister for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), who has done incredible work leading up to this 10-minute rule motion, including holding his own Westminster Hall debate on puppy smuggling, which was centred around the same issues that I am trying to address today.
Back in 2019, when that debate was held, it gathered vast support from all parts of the House, and I hope that this Bill will enjoy the same cross-party support. I know that the British public certainly support this Bill. A total of 65,000 people have previously written in favour of its contents, and a recent study by Dogs Trust found that 83% of all respondents thought that the Government should fulfil our manifesto commitment to crack down on puppy smuggling.
In the past year alone, 485 puppies were found to be smuggled into the country, as well as 110 pregnant dogs. This transportation can have huge effects on a dog’s mental, emotional and physical health, causing lasting trauma and health issues—and that is if the dog survives the journey at all—all of which can go on to cost many unsuspecting dog owners greatly, both financially and emotionally, as they seek to rectify such issues.
Dogs bring joy into our homes, but we need to make sure that we are not putting traumatised dogs into people’s houses. To illustrate the horrible journey that some of these dogs have had to endure, I shall briefly outline the story of Waffle and her nine siblings. They were crammed into shoeboxes and tied up for almost 20-plus hours on a 1,000-mile journey from Slovakia. They had no food, no rest and very little water. The puppies were severely underweight and infested with worms when they were found. At eight weeks, they were barely half the current legal travel age of 15 weeks. Waffle and her siblings were luckily rescued by Dogs Trust and have now all been taken care of and rehomed with loving families. However, sadly, more often than not, puppies do not have such a lucky outcome.
The Bill would seek to put an end to such tragic stories and improve the lives of these dogs as well as their owners. It would seek to stop the premature importing of puppies and spare them from the often traumatic journeys at such an incredibly formative point in their lives. It would also go further in helping to disincentivise people from transporting pregnant dogs, as well as hopefully putting a stop to the importation of mutilated dogs, sending a strong signal to stop the inhumane practice of cropping ears and docking tails—although I do recognise that the docking of tails is sometimes necessary in certain medical circumstances.
Dogs have been mankind’s companion for millennia—15,000 years, to be precise. The Bonn-Oberkassel dog, discovered buried alongside two humans in Germany, is believed to be the oldest example of the relationship between man and dog. Then there were the hunting dogs of the Palaeolithic era, and the Siberian sled dogs of 9000 BC; right through to the pets adorning many medieval paintings, and, even more recently, the brave four-legged search-and-rescue team members. Dogs have protected us, helped us, provided companionship, and even sought out lost friends and family. Now it is our chance to repay that companionship and that assistance by protecting them. That is what this Bill does.
To conclude, the Bill sets out to right the wrongs currently being perpetrated, to close the loopholes that smugglers continue to exploit, and to strengthen the existing laws and legislation so that we can continue to give love to our four-legged friends.
This would be the opportunity for anyone to speak against the 10-minute rule motion. I have not been notified that anybody wishes to do so—I would be amazed if they did—so I will put the question.
Question put and agreed to.
That Elliot Colburn, Nick Fletcher, Caroline Nokes, Selaine Saxby, Aaron Bell, Matt Vickers, Dr Neil Hudson, Sir Robert Buckland, Cat Smith, Patricia Gibson, Sarah Champion and John McDonnell present the Bill.
Elliot Colburn accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 368).