Tuesday 14 May 2002
[David Taylor in the Chair]
Pet Travel Scheme
[Relevant Documents: European Community Document No. 11596/00 and European Community Document No. 12488/01.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): I congratulate you, Mr. Taylor, on taking the Chair for this sitting. We look forward to your oversight of our deliberations.
This is an opportunity to debate the proposed changes to the United Kingdom pet travel scheme. The European Union proposals, which were published in September 2000 in document No. 11596/00, were modelled on the UK travel scheme, and we understand the logic of that. Little progress was made on the directive during 2000 and 2001, but Spain indicated that the proposal is one of its priorities for its presidency during the first half of 2002, and there have been several meetings to discuss it.
The latest text is in document No. 7947/02 dated 17 April 2002, which members of the Committee have and which we are discussing today. The Agriculture Council considered it on 22 April. The scheme is modelled on the UK scheme, so we very much agree with it, but two main differences arose in the discussions about the changes. The first is to do with blood testing—there was some debate about whether our measures are acceptable. The other difference is on the tick and tapeworm treatments that we insist on for animals coming to the UK. Several pathogens and parasites are not found in the UK, and it is important that we protect the health of animals and humans in this country. The proposal allows us to keep our tick treatment, unchanged, for five years. The treatment will be reviewed at the end of that time.
In effect, the EU proposals will result in little change to what we are already doing. All cats and dogs—the scheme now also applies to ferrets—coming to the UK must be identified by a microchip. The regulation temporarily allows the continued use of tattooing for those countries such as France that continue to use that system. We do not use tattooing as part of our pet travel scheme, and we do not propose to change that. In the UK, identification will continue to be based on microchips. However, French animals coming to the UK, even though they may be tattooed, also have to be identified by a microchip to meet our standards. That will continue to be the case.
Animals must also be vaccinated against rabies. That, too, is a current requirement. If the animal is coming to the UK from another member state or a country listed in annexe II, part B, which is in the documents that members of the Committee have, a blood sample has to be taken and sent for analysis. If a
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satisfactory result is obtained, the animal can enter the UK six months after the blood sample is taken, not six months after the result is provided. Again, that is exactly the same as at present.
Currently, under the pet travel scheme there are 51 qualifying countries, including rabies-free islands such as Australia, Cyprus and the Falklands, from which cats and dogs that meet the scheme's requirements—identification, vaccination, a blood test and a six-month wait—can enter the UK without going into quarantine. Exactly the same is true under the EU regulations.
The draft regulations lay down in article 9 the criteria that countries must meet to be considered for addition to the list. The criteria are very similar to those used in the UK, with the main difference being that the UK requires countries to have been free from indigenous rabies for the previous two years. The EU regulations do not require that because, although the EU is mostly rabies free, there are pockets of the disease, so the regulations could hardly require qualifying countries to be totally rabies free when the EU is not yet in that position.
The rabies eradication programme in mainland Europe has been successful, and rabies is now found only on the eastern edge of Europe—there is a concentration on the German-Polish border. The list of favoured countries will be decided by the European Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health—previously the Standing Veterinary Committee—and will be published in a Commission regulation before the Council regulation comes into force.
Overall, the EU has accepted that the UK, Ireland and Sweden are free from the echinococcus tapeworm, and the regulation provides for current controls to continue. That is covered in article 15 of the proposal. The UK and Ireland argued that they are also free from certain cat and dog diseases that are transmitted by ticks. We argued that article 15 should be extended to allow us to continue our requirement that dogs and cats coming to the UK should be treated against ticks. The Council agreed to that on 22 April, and we expect a suitable amendment to appear in the next version of the text. I am happy to take questions on the proposals.
The introduction of the pet travel scheme has been popular and has dealt with many concerns of people who had been separated from their animals, not just about expense, but about the effect on their families and on animal welfare. We have always understood those issues. I was pleased to see in one of the Sundays that the pet travel scheme has been included in a list of great recent innovations. The scheme is developing, and it is compatible with the EU scheme, which is modelled on our experience. Debate continues over the number of countries that should be on the candidate list. That will be given careful consideration. The scheme has been successful overall, and I am pleased that an agreement with the EU has been reached that meets our requirement and which is subject to the Committee's scrutiny.
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The Chairman: We have until 5.30 for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. We are likely to have ample opportunity for all Members to ask several questions.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Taylor. Someone once said that some are born great, some acquire greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. In a small way this afternoon, I suddenly appear to be in category C.
I thank the Minister for the explanatory memorandum. I notice that the tailpiece states:
''Lastly, there is provision for Member States to demand additional guarantees where special circumstances so require.''
That wording has obviously been carefully chosen, so can the Minister elaborate on those special circumstances?
Mr. Morley: I must be careful that what I say is in line with the EU's intention, because this is an EU directive.
We shall operate within the directive's framework, but will apply exactly the same regulations as we do currently. The only change will be that, after a five-year transitional period, there will be a review of the blood testing and tick requirements. Those are special provisions that we have always had in our scheme, and we are being allowed to keep them because we believe that that is right for our country.
We consider the other candidate nations to see whether they are rabies free. We have progressively extended the number of countries on our list in the light of representations. If there are requests to extend the number further, and there have been requests to consider North America, we would commission risk assessments, as we have done, to see whether we could accede to them.
We occasionally receive special requests from countries about working dogs, which are also considered on their merits. We have, for example, allowed a number of United States army sniffer dogs into this country under strict criteria. Sadly, we also occasionally receive requests from terminally ill people who may not have complied with the six-months criterion, and we consider those on their merits. We have that flexibility. It will also allow countries to apply third-country rules to applicant countries, if agreed through the Commission procedure, because EU expansion is proposed and some of those countries have endemic rabies. We shall have to give careful thought to the procedure that will apply to them.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): I offer you a warm welcome from these Benches, Mr. Taylor. It is always nice to see a new Chairman in his place. We shall try to be gentle with you this afternoon.
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): Will he be gentle with the hon. Gentleman?
Lawrie Quinn: We are old friends. At least, we used to be.
As ever, one important issue that the Committee must consider is the consequences of enlargement. The Minister referred to concerns about the frontier
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between Germany and Poland. Will he outline the discussions that have taken place with potential new entrants, particularly because quite a large chunk of the Russian Federation lies between the Baltic countries and Poland, a new entrant?
Mr. Morley: The applicant countries will be considered according to the rabies and the risk there at the time of accession. The regulation contains a safeguard provision, which is article 17. If the rabies situation changed in any member state, not just the accession countries, and became a cause for concern, the Commission could request that it be considered through the Committee procedure. That could result in animals from the member state having to meet the import requirements applicable to third countries. For the United Kingdom, it could mean animals going into quarantine. However, that would be a major change in countries where there might be a big upsurge in rabies, for example, so it is a theoretical risk.
Norman Lamb: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Taylor. I know that you are a frequent visitor to North Norfolk, and I am pleased to say that there are no vaccination requirements for transporting any animals that you might have from Leicestershire to my constituency.
The documents say that a number of concerns arose as the proposals took shape bit by bit. The Minister explained that, at this point, the only variation from the current UK arrangements is the review in five years. Will the UK have control or a veto over the outcome of the review, or could a rule change be imposed? Will he say more about how the review will work?