Monday 28th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be here under your stewardship, Mr Pritchard, although it will not be so much of a pleasure for my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who brought the debate, because unfortunately he will have to listen to me for the next couple of minutes talking about my own pets. I think it is important to do that, because that is what humanises the debate.

In the nearly 18 months I have been here, this is one of the easiest speeches I have had to give, talking about my pets, Roux and Ada, who are two very silly whippets, the first of whom was bought before the first lockdown. In the same week that Michel Roux died, we got Roux, a grey, very small—very tiny—very meek whippet. She was supposed to be my wife’s dog, while I was away down in Westminster, but of course we went straight into lockdown and Roux joined me, at my feet, at my beck and call. Every single day, during those phone calls, from 6 o’clock in the morning to 11 o’clock at night, dealing with my constituents in the pandemic, Roux was there. My only break was to get her a drink or feed her, to let her out and to take her for a walk. She was my companion.

That of course meant a problem, because that dog was supposed to be my wife’s—so we had to get a second. The second came in the form of Ada, named after Ada Lovelace for two reasons: she has a great big heart—literally, on the side of her chest—and Ada Lovelace has a special place in my constituency. Ada is the complete opposite of the meek Roux; she is tenacious and grunty, and she has only one gear, which is forward. That is problematic. When I go out across the fields of Leicestershire, Ada and Roux head out and leave me for dust. They are not only whippets by name. As people who have a whippet know, they are digital animals—they are either on or off. Most people say of having a whippet, “You don’t own one; you wear one”—they are on the sofa, they are around our neck or lying in our lap. When we take them out, however, it is a different kettle of fish.

I am lucky to have the fields of Desford, Peckleton and Newbold Verdon all at my beck and call, because the dogs love to run across them. The problem is, they will spot children and other dogs on the other side of the fields, and be gone. The good news is that mine are so meek that I am yet to see a dominant display at any point. It usually ends with them rolling over and showing their tummy.

Whippets are fantastic escape artists. They are brilliant at defusing all my ways of keeping them in the garden, from chewing through chicken wire to leaping six-foot fences. That, however, is of course the cut and thrust of what we are talking about: they escape easily and, should they escape, they can disappear; and if they disappear, they can be lost and, unfortunately, lost forever—as we heard, tragically, from my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns).

About 8.5 million dogs in the country are chipped. I like to think that most of them have good homes, so that is at least 8.5 million people looking after them, although of course they are family animals. That is why the debate matters; it cuts through to who we are. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) hinted at that. He gave many stats about how the subject not only is the soft underbelly of the emotional aspect of the UK, but leads to the harder crime aspect.

Given those serious points, I would like to think that if my dogs ever went missing, a vet would scan my dog. We know that the numbers have gone from 58% to 90% when dogs are chipped, but we also know that prices have gone up and that there is puppy profiteering. In my own experience—which with whippets, not the most popular breed—prices doubled in that timeframe. Worse still is puppy smuggling. I know, from when I asked about pet fish and how to protect oneself when buying them, that the Minister is working hard to deal with the issues. Most people are good people, they do their diligent research, but we need the vets and the industry to support our fight in dealing with theft and loss.

I am completely open to the fact that unintended consequences are possible. I would like to see the consultation get underneath what is going on, bringing with the Government the vets, the associations, the rescuers and of course the public, because at heart, as a Parliament, we can all agree, no matter which side of the House we are on, no matter which industry we are in—receiver or carer—that this can be resolved. I would like the Minister to consider that, to provide some dates for when the two measures are likely to come forward and, I hope, be passed.