HC Deb 16 June 1992 vol 209 cc455-6W
Mr. Hague

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what arrangements he has made to safeguard Britain's high health standards on protection from rabies.

Mr. Gummer

Agreement was reached in the Agricultural Council on 15 June on the so-called "Balai" directive which lays down trading conditions for species not covered by other Community rules. These include a number of species currently subject to quarantine for rabies on import to the United Kingdom. The measure covers animals that are traded commercially—not pets accompanying travellers.

The agreement includes strict measures to ensure against the possibility of rabies being introduced into this country. Quarantine remains where the risk of importing the disease exists. The only changes relate to cases where there is no such risk and only involve trade between approved operators after 1 January 1994.

Our existing rules do not require quarantine for farm livestock, which, although susceptible to rabies, present no real disease risk. After January 1994, similar rules will apply to animals such as rabbits, born and bred in the holding of origin, which can be imported with the same degree of safety.

We agreed some particularly tough rules to cover cats and dogs within this directive—that is, largely those imported for breeding purposes. If they are born, and have remained, in a single rabies-free premises, have been vaccinated, and the subsequent blood test has proved that vaccination has been effective, they may be exported to the United Kingdom without quarantine. They must also carry microchip identification, full and acceptable veterinary records, and be carried in an approved manner, in a special vehicle, directly from the place of origin to a previously notified destination where further checks may be carried out if necessary. The veterinary advice is clear that this constitutes as effective a safeguard against rabies as the quarantine system.

Our present arrangements, including quarantine, will continue as far as pet animals are concerned. The arrangements agreed for commercially traded animals provide us with at least the same level of security as the existing system. EC Ministers and the Commission unanimously agreed that they would not contemplate changes in arrangements for pets unless these were at least as effective.

This agreement is a further example of the success obtainable by Britain being at the heart of the Community. We have safeguarded the principle of the single market without lessening the protection of our nation from rabies. Also of importance, the Council agreed to continue with rabies eradication programmes on the continent. Some progress has been made already and we know that other countries are determined to succeed. We all look forward to the day when the Community will be rabies free. The outcome recognises the special situation existing in the British isles and fully safeguards this country against the introduction of rabies.