Animal Welfare

Neil Parish Excerpts
Monday 7th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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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.