Animal Welfare

David Mundell Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I remind hon. Members that there have been some changes to normal practices in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will also be suspensions between each debate.

I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of Westminster Hall debates. Members are expected to remain for the entire debate. I also remind Members participating virtually that they are visible at all times to each other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks’ email address, which is westminsterhallclerks@parliament.uk.

I would also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall when Members are not speaking. Mr Shannon, as you are aware, you will need to move to the horseshoe to participate in the debate later.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con) [V]
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 300535, 326261, and 574305, relating to the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. Since these petitions were launched, the Government published their action plan on 12 May 2021, setting out their plans, aims and ambitions across the field of animal welfare. I know that in her summing up, the Minister will want to go into more detail about the plan’s contents, so I will try not to steal all of her material. However, I will briefly say how much I welcome many of the commitments made in the plan, which truly reflects the fact that the UK is a nation of animal lovers and that the Government are keen to put the highest possible animal welfare standard in place, not just in terms of our domestic aims and objectives, but in terms of importing animals from overseas. The plan includes three very specific commitments, all of which relate to one of the three petitions under discussion. I am grateful to everyone who has signed these petitions, who have demonstrated the power that they have to bring about change.

I will turn first to e-petition 300535, entitled “The UK should ban the importation of Shark Fins.” The prayer of this petition states,

“Now that we have left the EU, the UK has the ability to finally stop the importation of Shark Fins. They had previously stated that ‘Whilst in the EU, it is not possible to unilaterally ban the import of shark fins into the UK.’

Each year roughly 75 million sharks are killed for Shark Fin Soup where their fins are brutally cut from their bodies and thrown back in the sea to die. Despite countries in recent years making an attempt to crack down on Shark Finning no European country has yet to ban the importation of fins, meaning that loopholes still exist. Britain should become the first European country to ban the importation of Shark Fins before we lose these beautiful creatures forever.”

This petition closed with 115,382 signatures, including 155 from my constituency of Carshalton and Wallington, and I am incredibly grateful to the petition’s creator Robin for taking the time to speak to me last week about why he started this petition, in partnership with the charity Shark Guardian. I pay tribute to them both for their incredible efforts. As the Government outlined in their response to this petition in November 2020, it is true that shark finning is an illegal practice in UK waters, but imports and exports are helping to keep the demand—and consequently the practice—alive.

The prayer of this petition eloquently outlines the need for a ban, but I want to expand a little further on that. According to Shark Guardian, it is currently legal, under the fish and fish product allowances set by UK Border Force, to bring 20 kg of dried shark fin into the UK without declaration. Twenty kilograms of dried shark fin potentially equates to hundreds of sharks being butchered, depending on their size. Many of those fins could belong to threatened shark species listed under the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, and they could make their way into the UK illegally through this loophole. UK Border Force also requires people to declare goods worth more than £390, but 20 kg of shark fin could have a value of more than £4,000, so Shark Guardian identifies huge potential for tax evasion. It is therefore very welcome that the UK Government have committed in the action plan to ban the import and export of shark fins to and from the UK. The only clarification that I seek from the Government today is on the timeline for implementation.

I turn next to e-petition 326261, entitled “Ban the exploitative import of young puppies for sale in the UK”. The prayer of the petition states:

“Plenty of dogs from UK breeders & rescues need homes. Transporting young pups long distances is often stressful, before being sold for ridiculous prices to unsuspecting dog-lovers. Government must adjust current laws, ban this unethical activity on welfare grounds & protect these poor animals ASAP.

The recent tragic case of a puppy dying just 6 days after being delivered from Russia has exposed a completely legal but immoral route to market for pups bred hundreds of miles away & sold away from their mums. Who’s actually inspecting these breeders & transportation conditions? Selling imported pups like this is cruel & appears to contradict the Government’s own advice to always physically ‘see puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth’ as with Lucy’s Law in England.”

The petition closed with 128,549 signatures, including 217 from Carshalton and Wallington.

There has been significant interest in this petition. I am grateful to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group and others for briefing me prior to today’s debate. All organisations have spelled out, almost in complete agreement, why action is desperately needed. Animals imported from overseas have often been subject to much lower animal welfare standards and even abuse, and the long journey can be physically and mentally draining for a puppy. It is also evident that the EU pet travel scheme is being completely abused, and the enforcement at the UK border is not good enough.

Again, since responding to this petition the UK Government have taken action in the form of the action plan, which states that they will increase the minimum age at which dogs can be brought into the UK. That has largely been welcomed. The action plan also contains a commitment to reduce the number of dogs and cats that can be moved under pet travel rules.

There are many common themes from all the organisations that have approached me with briefings prior to today’s debate, and I hope that the Minister will address them in her response. They include the need to reduce from five to two or three the number of dogs that can be moved under the pet travel rules, to increase the maximum sentence, and to ensure much better enforcement at the border, including by using trained animal professionals and having trained staff available 24/7 to avoid lapses at weekends and out of hours. Additionally, any information that the Minister can provide on timelines would be very welcome indeed.

Finally, I turn to e-petition 574305, entitled “Stop the rising number of ear-cropped dogs in the UK”. The prayer of the petition states:

“Leading veterinary and welfare bodies are concerned by the alarming rise in ear-cropped dogs in the UK. Ear cropping is illegal in the UK and an unnecessary, painful mutilation with no welfare benefit. The practice involves cutting off part of the ear flap, often without anaesthesia or pain relief.

The RSPCA states a 621% increase in reports of ear cropping from 2015 to 2020. We believe a rise in UK celebs sharing images of their cropped dogs on social media is helping to fuel this. While illegal to crop in the UK, it’s not illegal to sell ear-cropped dogs, import them from abroad or take dogs abroad to be cropped. These loopholes act as a smokescreen for those illegally cropping in UK. We call on the Government to close these loopholes and end the trend in ear-cropped dogs for good.”

This petition is still open and at the time of my writing this speech it has over 104,000 signatures, including 147 from Carshalton and Wallington. I am grateful to the petition’s creators for speaking to me last week about why they feel it is important.

Similar to shark finning, the practice of cropping a dog’s ear is indeed illegal in the UK, but importing and exporting is keeping the practice alive. However, as the petitioners have outlined, there is an added pressure given the increase in the number of celebrities and so-called social media influencers who have been buying ear-cropped dogs and parading them online. Although I am sure that some want to provide them with a loving home, many are buying them for their aesthetics—in other words, the way they look.

I will not waste time naming and shaming those celebrities, because they have all been well covered in press reports. However, I will join animal charities in urging them not to buy ear-cropped dogs or parade them around social media, which could lead others to buy them, too. We need to take the demand away, so I hope that when she replies the Minister will join me in condemning this celebrity trend and in urging them not to do it.

There is no need to crop a dog’s ear, and many people who do so put the animal through this awful procedure without any sedation or pain relief. Again, I praise the Government for the measures in the action plan, which states that they are seeking to prohibit the importation and non-commercial movement into Great Britain of dogs that have been subject to low welfare practices such as ear cropping and tail docking, in line with domestic legislation.

Although the practice might be banned in the UK, however, UK-based companies are still offering do-it-yourself cropping kits for sale on online platforms such as Google and Amazon. What steps are the UK Government taking to tackle that?

Will the Minister also confirm that the commitment to ban imports and non-commercial movement includes a ban on the private sale of ear-cropped dogs within the UK, regardless of whether the seller caused the dog’s ears to be cropped in the first place? Finally, as with the other petitions, any news on timelines would be greatly appreciated.

Overall, the Government should be commended for their action plan on animal welfare and on listening to the petitioners’ concerns. I thank those who have signed each of these three petitions, who have demonstrated the power of the petitions system in the UK, as evidenced by the fact that all three petitions have secured changes in policy.

The big question coming out of today’s debate must be this: when can we expect to see these measures brought before the House? In addition, while the UK is showing leadership, the lead petitioners to whom I have spoken said that we cannot act alone. Although the UK may take firm action—which I am sure the Minister will further outline in her reply—overseas animals will still be subject to these practices unless we encourage others to follow our lead. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will also touch on what we are doing to influence animal welfare standards around the world, taking advantage of our hosting of the G7 and our new trading relationships, to ensure that others can follow our example.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I do not intend to impose a time limit at this stage, provided that Members can stick to a self-disciplined time limit of four minutes.

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Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell, and to follow the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who makes a very good point about the diseased animals that people are likely to buy and the great cost and heartache to people when they have to have them put down. It is essential that we do more about this. I am also happy to follow the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), who is a great member of the EFRA Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), who of course brings his veterinary experience to our Select Committee.

I very much support the petitions that have come through. On shark finning, let me say to my hon. Friend the Minister in all seriousness that I think that we have to take that issue up with the European Union. I will not name the particular countries that are interested in shark finning. They are well south of Europe, and I do not need to name them. That is where we need to act to stop that happening. Of course, the trouble with shark fins is that they are very valuable, but the practice must be stopped.

As for puppies, I very much endorse what every Member has said. I will explain what I am going to concentrate on. In the Committee, we have taken oral evidence on pet smuggling from the veterinary director of Dogs Trust, from Dr Jennifer Maher of the University of South Wales and from Daniella Dos Santos, senior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association, as well as from the RSPCA and others; and it is key that we act on this. I congratulate the Government and the Minister on putting together some very good legislation, but I think that the biggest issue of all is enforcing that legislation. I also think that Border Force needs to have many more staff and many more trained staff so that as puppies come through, they can work out whether they are 15 weeks old or not. All these things have to be done.

Those staff have to be there late at night, early in the morning and at weekends—perhaps not every weekend and every night, but they need to come and go so that those who are smuggling puppies through illegally will be caught. We are talking now probably about a sum of between £2,000 and £3,000 per puppy. It does not take too much arithmetic to work out that if someone smuggles quite a number of puppies through, it is very lucrative. Of course, up until now, the sentencing has been very light. We are now welcoming longer sentencing of up to five years, but we have to ensure that that happens. Puppy smuggling does not always fall within the animal welfare legislation, either. It is therefore absolutely key that we get on with this and ensure that we enforce it properly.

I am going to say something that perhaps is slightly more controversial: we in this country probably need about 800,000 puppies a year. I think that there are in this country about 10 million dogs and they have an average life expectancy of about 12 years, so again, if we do the arithmetic, we probably need between 700,000 and 800,000 puppies. We do not breed that number, and that is a problem. I do not want to go into vast puppy farming, but somehow or other, the Government need to encourage substantial breeding of dogs in a humane way. That is not easy, because we do not want to overbreed from any bitches—lots of things have to be done carefully—but I fear that if we do not do something about the number of puppies that are needed, the sheer price of them will mean that the temptation to smuggle remains. I therefore say to the Minister in all seriousness that I would very much consider this.

I am not going to raise all the points that every other Member has made about the action plan and the minimum of 15 weeks. I believe we should reduce the number of puppies that can come in legitimately to two: not many people go out and buy five puppies for their own use, so therefore those puppies are coming back legitimately through a system that is being abused. There are lots of things we can do, including about the cropping of tails and ears, which is absolutely abhorrent and something we should do our best to stamp out. I think we are agreed on this across all parties: one thing I enjoy about chairing the Select Committee is that we can bring all parties together. I am sure the Minister would congratulate all parties on working on this, so it is not a party political issue.

I will finish where I started: we can have the best rules in the world, but if we do not enforce them, they will not work. We have rules about microchipping and all of these things, but very often when these puppies that are found are taken to a vet, most of the information on those microchips is fictitious: they are not kept up to date. When people genuinely sell dogs, their microchips should be kept up to date, and then we will start to pick up on those that are illegally traded. These gangs are very clever—there is big money to be made—and we must not underestimate them. Let us all work together to try to stamp this out, but that will require Government to work across all Departments, not just DEFRA. I am sure that the Minister would agree with me about that. Thank you very much, Mr Mundell.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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Thank you, Mr Parish. Let us all work together to stick to the four-minute limit on speeches.

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Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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I am delighted to participate in this debate. In the past, others and I have spoken many times about the unscrupulous elements who exploitatively import puppies in horrific conditions, so today I will focus on the ear cropping of dogs and the need to ban the importation of shark fins.

As we have heard, ear cropping in dogs is vile, mutilating dogs’ ears for so-called aesthetic reasons. It is illegal in the UK and the EU, but it continues to be a challenge. Dogs that have their ears cropped undergo an incredibly painful procedure, typically with no pain relief, and are vulnerable to infection as a result. The practice has the potential to influence a dog’s behaviour, welfare and quality of life. As dogs use their ears to communicate, ear cropping can impact a dog’s relationship with other dogs and with people.

The RSPCA has reported a 621% increase in the number of cases between 2015 and 2019. That is truly shocking. Loopholes in current legislation mean that it is legal to sell ear-cropped dogs and to import dogs with cropped ears from abroad. These loopholes act as a smokescreen for those who illegally crop dogs’ ears inside the UK. If the ban on ear cropping in the UK is to truly safeguard dogs, as is the intention, then banning the importation of dogs with cropped ears into the UK is vital. That would allow much more robust enforcement action to be taken against those cropping dogs’ ears in the UK.

In addition, the law should make it clear that arranging to take a dog abroad for the purposes of cropping is an offence. The Scottish Government are looking seriously at that. Work on that would be carried out most effectively with a co-ordinated set of actions across the UK, so I am sure that the Minister will seek to liaise with the Scottish Government on that important issue.

The petition on the importation of shark fins is also very important. The shark population is declining rapidly on a global scale, because humans have now replaced sharks as the ocean’s top predator. The shark population has been severely impacted by the horrific practice of shark finning, which is the process of slicing off a shark’s fin and discarding the rest of the still-living animal into the ocean where, unable to swim, it sinks to the bottom and dies a slow and painful death.

Shark fins are considered a real prize for some fishermen because they have a high monetary and cultural value. Conservation, advocacy and education have cut China’s consumption of shark fins by 80% since 2011. Sadly, that has been offset by a rise in the consumption of this fish in places such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

In order to protect the shark as a species, given the terrible cruelty the practice inflicts on the sharks and the vital role sharks play in our ocean ecosystem health, I urge the Minister to do all she can to guide progress on banning the importation of shark fins, following the Government’s announcement on the global shark-fin trade last month. It is important that action proceeds with all due haste, sending a clear signal that we will have no truck with such a cruel and shocking practice. I conclude my remarks, Mr Mundell, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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Thank you, Ms Gibson, particularly for sticking to the time limit. I hope James Daly, whom I will call next, will follow your example.

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Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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Diolch, Mr Mundell. I am grateful to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly), and I echo his comments regarding Gizmo’s law being brought in as soon as possible. I am also grateful for being called to speak in this debate on a topic that is close to heart for so many of us, and about which I have spoken at length in this place. The welfare of animals big and small has undeniably taken a hit as a consequence of the pandemic, but it is our duty and moral obligation to protect animals from harm. Like many others, I have fears that the Government’s action plan for animal welfare does not stretch far enough.

Residents across my Pontypridd constituency topped the signature count for the petition focused on the worrying rise in the ear cropping of dogs, so that is where I will focus my comments. Let us be clear: ear cropping is a barbaric and illegal practice that is completely unnecessary and which brings no welfare benefit to dogs. There are some fantastic charities out there that are leading the way on tackling this issue—none more so than Hope Rescue, which is a dog rescue charity based in the constituency of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore). Hope Rescue does genuinely brilliant work and is a proud former partner of the “flop not crop” campaign, which is a collaboration led by the Focus on Animal Law Group and the British Veterinary Association.

The strength of feeling on ear cropping is particularly clear in south Wales, and Hope Rescue is currently caring for eight micro-bully puppies seized from a breeder. Of the eight, six have had their ears cropped. It is all very well to outlaw such cruel practices, but it is clear that in the case of ear cropping, the law is doing nothing to protect dogs that are at risk. As others have mentioned, although it is illegal to crop in the UK, it is not illegal to sell cropped dogs, import them from abroad, or take dogs abroad to be cropped. Such loopholes act as a smokescreen for illegal cropping in the UK. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic, and the overall increase in demand for dogs and puppies, has seen an increase in demand for dogs with cropped ears. It is utterly shocking that the RSPCA has reported a 621% increase in reports of dogs with cropped ears over the past five years, and this is clearly something that charities on the ground are having to cope with too. In the past few weeks alone, Hope Rescue has reported a number of breeders across south Wales to both the police and relevant local authorities, but ultimately the severe delays in the court system are having a major impact. Sadly, the ability to create meaningful change is very limited.

It is absolutely vital that when we consider issues of animal welfare, including those covered by the petitions that we are debating today, we also consider the knock-on effects and long-term problems that animals may face in years to come. Puppies that have been subjected to ear-cropping have often been subjected to poor breeding techniques that consequently impact their overall health and welfare too.

Put simply, in its current form the Government’s action plan for animal welfare does not go far enough to protect animals, both now and in the years to come. If we are truly to get a grip on tackling the abuse of animals, part of the conversation is to improve law enforcement practices. Although I welcome the recent introduction of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, tougher prison sentences for animal cruelty offences will do little to change the situation on the ground and are unlikely to lead to meaningful and much-needed change for animals that are suffering today.

I urge the Minister to take forward my concerns and those of colleagues across the political divide in her conversations with colleagues in the Home Office. The Government have the opportunity to improve practices, but they are dragging their heels when it comes to ear cropping. I truly hope that today’s debate will make it clear to the Minister that urgent action is required, and required now.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I now call Jim Shannon to speak. Mr Shannon, if you stick to four minutes, then the Minister and the opposition spokespersons will have plenty of time to contribute.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I certainly will do that, Mr Mundell; thank you for that clarification.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) and everyone else who has spoken. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for presenting the case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who has just left the Chamber, referred to the Assisi Animal Sanctuary, where my wife has been a dedicated volunteer for many years; indeed, many of the animals in our own home are animals that have been rescued. They now rule the roost.

My comments today will largely focus on the puppy issue. The facts are clear—there has been an absolutely massive increase in demand for puppies during the pandemic. People who are spending more time at home have realised that a wee dog may be something that can complete their family; that is lovely and it should be the case. However, my wife has highlighted to me that often after peaks of demand such as this one there will be a devastating peak of abandoned dogs, when owners realise the huge responsibility that comes with a cute little puppy, as the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) has said.

Dogs are a lot of work. In my opinion, as someone who has had dogs all his life, they are worth every second. The fact is that dogs will always love their owner and will always wag their tail. The springer spaniel that we have—Autumn—probably came from a home where it was abused. It was certainly nervous and unsure. Now, it is confident; it is now my hunting dog and also my guard dog.

I first realised the scale of the problem when one of my staff members told me that she had been approached during lockdown while she was out on a walk with a two-year-old Dachshund by a man who offered to buy her dog. She laughed it off by saying that she would rather sell her husband before she would sell her dog—there is a thought for us. My goodness me, that was not a nice thing to say and it was not my wife who said it. Perhaps my wife did not hear—there we are.

Here is the story. My staff member was met with a stern expression and the man saying, “I will give you £1,000. I can’t source Dachshunds anywhere.” She had paid £550 for the dog to a local lady who had invited her into her home. When she saw the dog’s mum and dad, and the papers, she was happy that all was well; that is the way it should be done. This type of dog is now listed as costing over £2,000, so it is little wonder that she was approached like that. We are now seeing people who are capitalising on people’s isolation and loneliness, and when there is a demand the unscrupulous will do whatever it takes to try and meet it.

Therefore, despite Lucy’s law, the unscrupulous are exploiting the loopholes in order to exploit animals and make a quick buck. The problem is that these animals are not checked against rigorous standards and the results can be dire. There can be health risks for both pups and unsuspecting new owners; families in the UK could get infectious diseases. We must be aware of them: parvovirus; e-coli; brucellosis; parasitic infestations of ticks; tapeworms; rabies; and other problems that are endemic. Those are diseases that we cannot ignore. These are serious issues. Indeed, I read an article recently that outlined an increasing fear of diseases that cross the human-animal divide. In some cases, those diseases have an impact upon human beings as well.

At present, puppies must be at least 15 weeks old to enter the UK legally. It is virtually impossible to establish the age of a 15-week-old puppy accurately by its teeth or appearance alone. Documents, including certification and animal passports, are commonly forged and microchip numbers can be falsified, thus compromising both traceability and accountability.

I will finish with this point. The suggestion has been made that the import age must be raised to six months. I understand that some people may be less inclined to get a dog that is older and therefore harder to train. At the same time, I have had many older dogs over the years, so I can testify that a gentle hand and love can teach any old dog the basics. Six months may affect the cuteness factor of a dog that is being bought, but it certainly will not affect its training.

In conclusion, I will ask the Minister a question. The Republic of Ireland is seen as a place where puppy farming can happen, and dogs can be trafficked from the Republic into the UK, and vice versa. What discussions has the Minister had with Ministers in the Republic of Ireland to ensure that laws are used right across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland so that that does not happen? Loopholes exist. We must work to close them as soon as possible and to prevent the abuse of this system, which translates into the abuse of animals and can pose a danger to families throughout this UK. I think that was just about four minutes.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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Excellent; thank you very much, Mr Shannon. I will now call Dr Lisa Cameron, followed by Luke Pollard and the Minister. If they could each stick to speaking for about nine minutes, that will allow Mr Colburn some moments to conclude the debate.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)[V]
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It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in such an important Petitions Committee debate, Mr Mundell. I thank all those who have spoken, the people of the United Kingdom who signed petitions of the utmost importance on dog and shark welfare, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his dedicated work on animal welfare issues and for leading the debate. I also thank the numerous animal welfare charities, organisations and experts who have been in touch, including the Kennel Club, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, SSPCA, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, CARIAD, Marc Abraham and the League Against Cruel Sports, to name just a few.

I must declare an interest as the owner of Rossi the rescue French bulldog, who came fourth in the Westminster dog of the year competition a few years ago. We are very proud of Rossi. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group and we have been championing Lucy’s law, cross party, for so long, as Members know. It has had such success across the United Kingdom. We are proud of that, but this debate shows that there is much more work to be done and that we can work together, across parties, to ensure that that happens.

The contributions have been absolutely excellent. I highlight my hon. Friends the Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and for Angus (Dave Doogan), who proudly raised the Scottish Government’s work on animal welfare and the work that will be taken forward by the Scottish Parliament over the next five years. I was also particularly delighted to hear about the experiences of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), who is himself a veterinary surgeon, and the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), who spoke passionately about puppy welfare.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) speaks in so many of these debates, and his wife works on the frontline of puppy welfare, so he spoke with great family expertise. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) works endlessly on animal welfare issues on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and always attends these debates. He is dedicated to the issue of animal welfare. I could not believe my ears when I heard the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) say he was a keen shark keeper. I was glad that he clarified that he meant little tropical tank sharks. He is assiduous in speaking on animal welfare across the House and has achieved so much in raising and taking forward these matters. The hon. Members for Bury North (James Daly) and for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) gave detailed rationales against cropping dogs’ ears and on the need for Government action, particularly in relation to the petition on that aspect of animal welfare legislation.

In line with others who have spoken, I press the Government on their commitment to increase the minimum age at which dogs can be moved non-commercially and imported commercially. I place on the record my support for the recommendation of the Scottish animal welfare commission and the more than 120,000 members of the public across the UK who signed the petition calling for the Government to increase from 15 weeks to six months the age at which puppies can be imported to the UK. Under present restrictions, it is incredibly difficult to identify by appearance alone whether a puppy is 15 weeks old, and therefore almost impossible to effectively enforce current legislation, as attested by the fact that documentation such as pet passports can be easily forged or falsified. Much more must be done.

There is growing scientific evidence that a single rabies vaccination at 12 weeks is largely ineffective for puppies, which means that the pups imported from countries where rabies is endemic pose a significant public health risk of rabies transmission among humans and dogs in the UK. As we have heard, there is increasing evidence, collected by the Dogs Trust, that suggests that puppies are bred in absolutely horrific conditions and endure journey times of often over 20 hours with little food or water in order to be sold in the UK. The mental and physical health risks associated with travel and unscrupulous low-welfare breeding have led not only to tragic deaths in transit but to the potential transmission of infectious diseases, some of which are zoonotic, including parvovirus, E. coli, brucellosis and parasitic infestations of ticks and tapeworms. Those are extremely serious medical conditions.

Lucy’s law, on which many of us worked hard on a cross-party basis during the previous parliamentary Session, has gone some way to improve the welfare of pups and their mums, but the loophole remains and more must be done. The loophole continues to allow breeders to sell puppies that have not been born in licensed and inspected breeding premises. That flies in the face of the Government’s advice that puppies should always be seen interacting with their mum in the place they were born. By introducing a ban on the importation of puppies younger than six months, the Government would not only protect young puppies from arduous travel and curb the spread of potentially fatal diseases; it would also be a far more robust system. A puppy’s age can now be verified by visual appearance due to their adult teeth being visible, and puppies would be travelling after a much more effective full course of two rabies vaccinations.

I would also like to press the Government on their commitment in the action plan to prohibit the importation into the UK of dogs that have been subject to low-welfare practices such as ear cropping and tail docking—[Inaudible.]

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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We are slightly struggling to hear you, Dr Cameron. Could you repeat the previous sentence?

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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Thank you for pointing that out, Mr Mundell.

I want to press the Government on the commitment made in the action plan to prohibit the importation into the UK of dogs that have been subject to low-welfare practices, including ear cropping and tail docking. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has documented a 200% increase in the number of dogs with cropped ears coming through its gates since 2016. That is absolutely startling. The RSPCA reports a 621% increase in instances of the cropping of dogs’ ears in the past six years.

This ear-cropping phenomenon is often carried out in a crude and amateurish manner with no pain relief, causing immense amounts of pain and trauma to young puppies at a crucial stage in their development and socialisation. Until recently, DIY cropping packages, including scalpels, blades and scissors, could be purchased online for £30. Disturbingly, the phenomenon seems to be fuelled by a growing number of celebrities posing on social media with cropped-ear pets. This really must be addressed.

I echo hon. Members’ calls for the Government to act on the importing of shark fins. Other hon. Members have covered the issue at length, and once again there appears to be broad cross-party agreement. It is not only the public who wish for it to be addressed; animal welfare organisations are also in agreement. The Government must now act.

I thank everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate and my constituents across East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow who signed the petitions in their droves. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments and to working on a cross-party basis to take these issues forward.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
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I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate. This has been a good debate, and I thank in particular the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), who stole much of everyone else’s speeches by being so comprehensive in his introduction. He was very good at pulling out the reasons why the petitioners brought forward these petitions, and the injustices that compelled them to petition Parliament to get a debate. I thank him for that. I also thank the petitioners and all those who signed the petitions—they have made a really big difference—including the nearly 1,500 people from Plymouth.

It feels like we have been here before. In fact, in this room we held an evidence session during the passage of the Ivory Act 2018, which sought to ban the sale of elephant ivory. Since the Act passed on to the statute book, not a single one of its provisions has been enforced by the Government. We must be careful about Governments, or political parties, using animal welfare as a reason to put stuff into legislation but then not enacting it. I fear there is a risk that in our hurry to pat ourselves on the back and cite our cross-party passion for animal welfare, we let the Government off the hook in what comes afterwards.

That is why some of the contributions from hon. Members have been so powerful. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), whom I want to preserve for many decades to come as he articulates it so very well—I do not want anything to happen to him and I hope he fares well in the boundary changes—talked powerfully about the need for proper enforcement. If we are to make the case for animal welfare law, we must also make the case for it to be properly enforced. The National Wildlife Crime Unit is a great example of something that is absolutely essential and completely underfunded.

The animal welfare action plan is a step forward and contains welcome words, lots of which are borrowed from the animal welfare manifesto that my party stood on at the last election. That is good, because frankly I want to see the change more than I want to see a party rosette attached to it, but we need to ensure that those words are properly enforced as well.

Hon. Members made a number of good contributions in relation to shark finning. The figures are utterly staggering. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) would need a much bigger tank if he were to rescue the 100 million or so sharks that are killed each year. Although this debate has focused on shark fins, we should be aware that it is not shark fin soup alone that is responsible for the decimation of shark populations. Greenpeace estimates a 50% decline in sharks in the last 30 years. Shark meat, illegal fishing practices and criminal fishing activities also contribute to that decimation.

The hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) asked if we should ban all shark fin products. It is important that we look at that, because the wording of the action plan might be good on shark fins but not necessarily on shark fin products. We must not drive huge numbers of dead sharks through that loophole; we need to make sure that this works. Similarly, the Ivory Act 2018 bans only elephant ivory, so even if it were enforced, rhino ivory is not included. When we take the time to legislate, let us ensure that we do so in a comprehensive way.

The Shark Trust, a fantastic organisation that is based in Plymouth and operates globally, says that

“it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter responsibly sourced shark fin soup and so shark fin should be avoided.”

That is the message that we need to send. We are going into a new era where China will be more dominant, so the practices of the Chinese Government and the state-sponsored practices of illegal fishing activities around the world are more than just welfare matters. It is a matter of geopolitics.

We must be careful about how we have this debate and how we encourage others to come with us. When we talk about the illegal trade in shark fins we must ensure that we also talk about the illegal trade in people that so often accompanies it. We are talking about not just the massacre of 100 million sharks every year, but, in many cases, illegal slavery, oppressive conditions and overfishing. That is why there needs to be a comprehensive strategy on shark fins, not just a tactic to deal with pressure from well-meaning and vociferous lobbying by constituents. The strategy needs to be broader.

We have heard enormously passionate and heartfelt speeches about the ear cropping of dogs. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) spoke passionately about its effects, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who is a real animal welfare champion. When we talk about this subject, let us remember what happens to a single dog when its ears are cropped. Let us remember the risk to the animal of infection, the person who carries out the practice regularly, the owner who allows it to happen, the person who turns a blind eye to the transit of that animal, and the person who purchases the animal, who also turns a blind eye.

As has been said about the influencers who do this, let us also call out people who put an image of a cropped dog on their Instagram or TikTok to get likes, shares and followers, and who ignore the pain that comes with that dog. Let us properly call out the influencers and also make sure that animal welfare is properly included in the action being taken on online harms by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The Minister knows that I feel strongly about this, and I encourage her to speak regularly to her DCMS colleagues about how the online world is driving poor behaviour in relation to animals. That needs to be addressed and it is also the responsibility of social media companies.

We have a leaky law on dog ear cropping and it is poorly enforced. Many Members, including the hon. Member for Southend West, have referred to the 621% increase in reports of ear cropping since 2015. Although that figure is shocking, it should shock only those who have not been paying attention to what has been a growing trend over many years. That is why we need proper action and a law that is not only tighter but properly enforced. There is a real boom in dog ear cropping—a disgusting criminal activity—so the cross-party message needs to be really powerful. I am certain that the Minister will echo that when she gets to her feet.

On the campaign to ban puppy imports, it feels as though its time really has come. During lockdown, thousands of people felt that something was missing from their homes—it was a pet-sized hole and more and more animals have been bought. I liked it when the Select Committee Chair asked whether the market is sustainable. It is not sustainable, but the animal welfare plan does not address that. I would be grateful if the Minister would not skip over that in her response.

We need to recognise that there are things that need to be improved in the action plan. When the legislation comes forward, I hope that some of the suggestions mentioned in this debate will be taken up. I have a lot of time for the Minister, but, speaking frankly, I fear that the Government as a whole have dragged their feet on some of these issues for too long. In addition, that is fuelling a dog abandonment catastrophe, because lack of action now is fuelling an increase in the number of animals with behavioural issues and real problems. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke passionately about dog abandonment issues, which should have had a much more prominent position in the debate.

I thank Marc Abraham and others, and The Mirror campaign, for talking about puppy smuggling. There has been a fantastic focus on this issue and now we need proper action. That should include making sure that there are no imports of puppies younger than six months.

Finally, we have a real opportunity to have cross-party consensus on bold action. I wish the Minister the very best of luck in strengthening the legislation that her Department is currently preparing. The hon. Member for Bury North (James Daly) made a very good plea for the inclusion of Gizmo’s law, and I echo that. It is in these coming weeks, before the Minister publishes Bills for First Reading, that we have a chance to ensure that the proposed legislation is good not just in terms of soundbites but in terms of action. I wish the Minister the very best of luck with that, because plenty of MPs will hold her accountable if we see good soundbites but no action.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I call Minister Victoria Prentis. Could you leave a couple of minutes at the end so that Mr Colburn can respond to the debate?