Pet Travel Scheme

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Mr. Morley: Yes, I will. We believe that we are justified in applying those measures because certain tick-borne diseases are not in the UK and because we are free of the particular tapeworm that the treatment is for. We do not want to risk changing our status on those diseases or parasites. The Commission accepts that. Other member states feel that they do not need to apply those measures. A further issue is blood testing, and there is debate over whether that has value.

We expect those issues to be reviewed after five years, and we have no objection to that. It is only right and proper that, whatever system a country has, it reviews it after a certain period to see whether the regulations are delivering what is intended, whether there is another way to achieve that or whether the regulations are still required. Part of the review will be our own veterinary and scientific assessments, which we expect the Commission to take into account. The matter will also be put to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, previously the Standing Veterinary Committee, which consists of technical experts from all the member states, who will assess the situation.

We have no problem with that, and if we felt that there was still a case for measures to protect our interests, we would argue it and expect the Commission to support us. If there were potential changes to be made, we would accept that. The Commission may, of course, make proposals for change, which would go before the full Council of

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Ministers. If we were unhappy with any of them, we would have the opportunity to resist them there.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): I read in the annexe the animal species involved in the scheme and in the UK pet travel scheme. I am 100 per cent. against live animal exports. Can we include all the animals subject to live export in the pet travel scheme? People can have pigs, or anything, as pets. On that basis, we could cut out something drastically wrong in Europe.

Mr. Morley: My hon. Friend has an interesting idea about live exports. I understand the serious point that he makes about the live export of animals, particularly for slaughter. We take such issues seriously and we are addressing them, in terms of talks with our industry and the proposals currently before the Commission on long-distance movements regulations.

Mr. Francois: The Minister said that discussions are still ongoing with countries on the eastern edge, as I think he put it, of the EU. It is a known fact that many people who try to get through the channel tunnel and subsequently seek political asylum come from that part of Europe. I do not want to get into the debate about the wider asylum issue, which is not what we are here for, but I have a specific question. What would be the procedure if someone caught trying to come through the tunnel were found with a pet in their possession? How would the Government react to that eventuality, and does the regulation affect it in any way?

Mr. Morley: No, the regulation does not change that. If anyone comes through the tunnel with a pet in their possession that has not met the standards laid down in the pet travel scheme, the animal will be put in quarantine and might have to stay there for the full six-month quarantine period. There are procedures in place in the channel tunnel to detect any animal that might seek to come through. In the whole of its existence, there has never been evidence of any animal getting through, unlike people.

Lawrie Quinn: Will my hon. Friend inform us whether there has been any breach of the UK regulations, any prosecution or any failure by pet owners to comply with regulations resulting in legal action being taken against them?

Mr. Morley: I am not aware of any legal action being taken against pet owners who have tried to enter the UK in breach of the pet travel scheme. In our experience, the vast majority of people appreciate the facility that has been put in place and make every effort to comply with it.

There have been a number of cases, although I am glad to say that the number is reducing, of people failing to comply with the criteria—not deliberately, but because the paperwork from the vet in the country from which they have come was not in order or because the microchip was not detectable. In one, the people involved paid for a microchip to be inserted, but that clearly did not happen. That is between them and the vet whom they paid to do it, but it caused difficulties when they arrived at a point of entry. Some

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90 per cent. of failures are rectified within 24 hours. Only a small number of people with pets have been unable to meet the criteria, and their failure has not been deliberate, but the result of a failure of procedures in the countries from which they have come.

Norman Lamb: I note that at an earlier stage in the development of the proposals, the advisory group on quarantine expressed its particular concerns about the effectiveness of tattoos, which can be tampered with, as opposed to electronic methods. Will the Minister confirm how many countries use tattoos and how much effort was made to rule them out as a means of identification? Tattoos seem to be a wholly flawed method while the microchip is a recognisable alternative that is already used in this country.

Mr. Morley: Offhand, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a full list of those countries that use tattoos as a method of identification, but I certainly know that France does. The Standing Veterinary Committee and the Council took the view that those countries with an existing identification system should retain it throughout the eight-year interim period. Although such countries may retain tattooing, they can still use microchipping.

Our view is that the EU is moving to a standard on microchipping, which is the preferable method of identification because, as the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) rightly says, unlike tattoos it cannot be interfered with. Sometimes tattoos are hard to read, and sometimes they are hard to find because in some countries animals are tattooed on the back of their neck, which means that one has to part the fur and start looking around. That is not always a good idea with very large dogs. Overall, the microchip is a more convenient way for people to achieve identification, and that is the standard that we apply in the UK.

Lawrie Quinn: Mr. Taylor, you may remember an important historic breach when an animal, the famous monkey, came to this country during the Napoleonic wars through a port just up from Whitby, namely Hartlepool. My serious point is that in coastal areas such as my constituency, a lot of east European vessels, which occasionally carry pet animals, pop in and out of port. Will the Minister inform the Committee of the safeguards and measures that can be taken by port authorities to ensure that our regulations and those of the EU cannot be breached? Indeed, members of the Committee have alluded to those animals perhaps becoming civic dignitaries.

Mr. Morley: I am afraid that I cannot do much about animals becoming civic dignitaries, which is a matter for the electorate. Exactly the same procedures apply to all points of entry, including ports. Of course, animals that come in under the pet scheme have to do so through designated points of entry. Any animal covered by the regulations and found in a port that is not designated is, of course, subject to quarantine regulations until the matter is resolved. That also applies to animals that do not meet the standards and have strayed off ships. Everyone coming to UK ports is well aware of the regulations and generally complies with them.

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 11596/00 and 12488/01, draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the animal-health requirements applicable to non-commercial movement of pet animals; and congratulates the Government on securing for the United Kingdom, during the subsequent negotiations, the continuation, for at least five years, of arrangements similar to those contained in the successful United Kingdom Pet Travel Scheme.—[Mr. Morley.]

4.54 pm

Mr. Francois: I do not intend to detain the Committee for long, but I want to make a few brief points.

First, I thank the Minister for his reassurance on the channel tunnel. We do not want to discuss the wider matter of asylum this afternoon, but it is reassuring to know that procedures remain in place to prevent any unauthorised animal from entering the United Kingdom through the channel tunnel under its own power or assisted by someone attempting to come through the tunnel. I reiterate our thanks for that reassurance.

Secondly, I want to make a point about the five-year review period. I suspect that our discussion is not controversial because we have the prospect of quinquennial review, so we shall be able to return to the matter in 2007, but I put down a small marker. As with all matters relating to the EU, we in the United Kingdom sometimes believe that we have done well to achieve a period of grace. We must return to the matter, however, so we cannot kid ourselves that it is parked indefinitely. The Government have bought time for five years and the issue is not settled for all time.

Thirdly, and before you rule me out of order, Mr. Taylor, as I have not detained the Minister inordinately this afternoon, I hope that he will allow me to meet him in the near future to discuss an unrelated constituency matter.

4.57 pm

Norman Lamb: I shall be equally brief. It is important to say that we support the proposals, and it is good news that the whole of Europe is adopting the scheme introduced in this country. That must be welcome.

I asked about the five-year review and I would be grateful for clarification from the Minister. He said that any change would be considered by the Council of Ministers, where we would have an opportunity to make representations. I presume that the matter would be subject to qualified majority voting. Will he confirm that? The Conservative spokesman managed to introduce asylum seekers to a debate on pets, and I thought that he might suggest that dogs would have to apply for asylum. I shall not comment further.

My final point concerns the Committee process. I am pleased that we have a bound volume of papers. As a new Member, I have been frustrated by the awful mix of documents that we must consider with no pagination or clarity in their labelling. This is an advance, but there is still no pagination and I have written to the Clerk on the matter. It would be helpful if the complete set of documents were properly

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paginated. The explanatory memorandum at the front is dated 17 October 2000 and a search must be made deep into the bundle for a later explanatory memorandum. It would be helpful to have a document at the front to guide Members through the papers.

 
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