HC Deb 16 July 1997 vol 298 cc409-10

4.1 pm

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to improve the welfare of animals in quarantine; and for connected purposes. Our quarantine laws are cruel to animals and distressing to their owners. Those laws are entirely irrational, unnecessary and inefficient. They cost the taxpayer £1 million a year, and animal owners £5 million a year. They survive only because of the previous Government's reluctance act in the face of all the objective opinion, including the unanimous decision of the Agriculture Select Committee, that there was no need for the present system to continue for animals coming from rabies-free countries, especially in Europe.

Quarantine has played little or no part in reducing the incidence of rabies worldwide. That has come about through the use of vaccine, and there is now a sophisticated and far superior method of controlling the spread of rabies, as well as controlling other diseases coming in from other countries.

Most countries, especially the Scandinavian countries, have abandoned quarantine as archaic, inefficient and even dangerous. It is dangerous, because people seeking to evade the six-month quarantine period smuggle animals in. We know that 374 dogs and 234 cats were smuggled in the past six years—and those represent the cases that were detected. There will almost certainly be many thousands more coming in, and we do not know whether they have been vaccinated, or from what countries they come. They may come from countries where rabies is endemic.

The superior system should be used in this country, and I believe that the Government will have the courage to challenge the general public's prejudiced and ill-informed view of the dangers of rabies. Sadly, past Governments have played on people's emotions and vastly exaggerated the threat.

It is extraordinary how futile the process has been: 200,000 animals have been held in quarantine since 1970, and there has not been a single proven case of rabies among them. The last two cases of rabies that we had were in the 1960s, and both the animals had been held in quarantine.

It is extraordinarily unfair that, with certain precautions, we allow bred animals, such as racehorses and cattle, to enter in great numbers. More cattle come into this country from France alone than do dogs from all the rest of the world, yet every warm-blooded mammal can contract and pass on rabies. It is sobering to realise that more people than dogs—13 people since 1974—have entered the country suffering from rabies.

We put our citizens, and especially service men and others who serve this country abroad, at a great disadvantage, and we do not help the disabled: a concession was refused for dogs for the blind, which seems very mean to me. The fact that concessions are allowed exposes the futility of the present laws.

I know that the Government are considering major reforms and that the robust campaign being conducted by Passports for Pets and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will bear fruit. The purpose of my Bill is to correct a major defect in the law that prevents welfare facilities from being guaranteed for animals in quarantine. The Government currently have no power to enforce animal welfare standards in kennels and the RSPCA cannot insist on inspection of quarantine areas.

Many quarantine kennels are run well by people who are doing their best, but it is impossible to overcome the trauma for domestic pets who are parted from their owners and suffer terribly because of their incarceration. Even worse are those rogue kennels that treat animals in an abominable way. Sadly, there is a great deal of evidence of that.

I have testimony of 100 cases of bad treatment by kennels, and I shall refer to one or two. I will not mention the names of the kennels on this occasion, but I may well do so another time. A lady told of how her dog had gone into kennels and she recognised that he had something wrong with his eyes. She tried to get him to a specialist, although the kennel owner was against it.

The dog was eventually taken to a specialist, who went mad and asked why the manager of the kennels had not brought the dog to her earlier. The lady got no support from the kennels and was sworn at by the owners. The kennels were filthy, and there was no effective heating, no exercise and a bad food supply. The animal went blind.

Another lady talks of her three cats in kennels. One died after a couple of months from flu-like symptoms, and another died some time later from an infection, picked up in the kennels, that travelled to the animal's brain.

Another lady talks of her dog who went into kennels that were permanently running with water. She had to ask the managers to clean the dog, because he was in such a state and his feet were sore. She got no co-operation, the animal's bedding was not raised from the ground, he developed trench foot and finally had to have his toes amputated.

Sadly, there is an endless catalogue of cases in which there has been no access to the kennels for those who should be helping out and should be able to inspect them. There is a misapprehension that, because inspections are carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the kennels and other quarantine areas are approved. The Ministry has only to inspect the security of the site and ensure that the animals will not escape. There is no guarantee of the welfare standard.

We must look forward to the major reform of quarantine, but this modest Bill can and will become law—people are usually cynical about ten-minute Bills and suggest that they have no chance of becoming law, but 59 have. I hope that the Government will co-operate on the Bill. I know that the Ministers are sympathetic to its aim and I hope that they will ensure it a swift passage so that we correct this defect, which was an error or an oversight in the Animal Health Act 1981.

In the House, we all recognise our duty to protect defenceless animals from unnecessary and avoidable suffering. The appalling conditions in some of our kennels besmirch our reputation as a nation of pet lovers. The Bill will bring force to bear to protect those defenceless animals and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Edward Davey, Mr. Ken Livingstone, Mr. Nick Palmer, Mr. David Hanson, Mr. Tim Loughton and Mr. Huw Edwards.