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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a Statement concerning this evening's business. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has given notice that he does not propose to ask his Unstarred Question tonight.

Animal Health (Amendment) Bill

10.6 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

I am very pleased that so many of your Lordships have felt able to stay as late as this in order to take part in the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, has asked me to say that, because he has had to catch a train, he cannot be here. He wishes me to apologise to your Lordships and to say that, had he spoken, he would have supported the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to give Ministers the power to make regulations to set welfare standards for animals kept in quarantine premises. It will also give Ministers stronger legal powers to regulate the structure of the premises. Those powers do not exist under the 1981 Animal Health Act. Ministers can require only that standards are set concerning the physical and disease security of the premises, and that inspections are carried out against those criteria. There is a voluntary code on welfare, but not all quarantine kennel owners have agreed to abide by it, and in any case it is a voluntary code and those who do not operate adequate standards cannot be forced to comply.

There are currently 80 approved quarantine kennels. I understand that 77 of those have agreed to adopt the voluntary code; three have refused. It was suggested in another place that of the 77, two have since failed to

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maintain the required standards. It is, of course, also the case that some kennels operate to higher standards than those required by the code, but the difficulty for the pet owner is that in making a decision between kennels there is no guarantee of a satisfactory standard of welfare and the choice must so often be made on the basis of geography.

As long ago as November 1996 the Quarantine Owners Association of the United Kingdom was concerned, among other things, that--and I quote from its statement--

    "Quarantine Proprietors must be placed under an obligation to run their businesses ethically and to keep the animals in their care to the highest standards of welfare achievable at reasonable cost and without contravening hygiene discipline".

One can understand that responsible kennel proprietors, of whom there are many, object to the fact that some kennels are getting away with what amounts to unfair competition.

The quarantine requirement also causes distress to pets and to owners, and is a considerable expense to the owners. Charges for the six-month period commonly range between £1,500 and £3,000. At the end of that period, pet owners surely have a right not only to find that their pets are alive and free from disease, but that the animals have not suffered any more distress than that which is inevitably caused by the separation. The Bill will help to achieve those aims.

The Bill itself is simple. Clause 1 amends Schedule 2 to the 1981 Act to encompass the new powers for Ministers to make the specific orders in relation to premises and to animal welfare.

Clause 2 sets the time for commencement and excludes Northern Ireland from the provisions because Northern Ireland is excluded from the 1981 Act. In any case, I understand that similar provisions apply in the Province.

The Bill has been approved by the other place, and I understand, and hope, that it is supported by the Government. It is interesting that it was supported in another place equally by those who are opposed to the removal of quarantine restrictions as well as by those who wish them to be retained. Clearly, whatever may happen to our future arrangements, this measure is desirable and should be introduced as soon as possible. I ask noble Lords to give the Bill their approval.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Baroness Nicol.)

10.10 p.m.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for her very clear exposition of the Bill's purposes. However, I believe that she will agree with me that it is very limited in its scope. It does not impose any statutory duty of care on the owners of quarantine kennels and it does not give the owners of animals in quarantine any rights at all, even the right to be informed if an animal is ill. All the Bill does is give the Minister power to make orders providing for the welfare of animals in quarantine, without laying down any standards and without giving any inkling as to how that power might be exercised.

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The Bill is a well-intentioned attempt to improve conditions in quarantine kennels and, to that extent, the sponsor of the Bill should be congratulated. However, I wonder whether noble Lords, when they are reminded of my experience, will really think that it meets the gravity of the situation. When we picked up our dog from quarantine kennels last October, he was gravely ill; indeed, he was dying. We barely recognised the pathetic creature which was carried out to us by a young kennel maid. He was pop-eyed and mis-shapen in appearance as a result of a gross swelling around his neck. He was coughing badly and could barely walk. An X-ray carried out the next day showed the dog was riddled with cancer and he was immediately put down.

I last raised this matter in the House on 4th November (cols. 1313 and 1314 of Hansard). The noble Lord, Lord Donoghue, speaking for the Government, said that the kennels in question were considered to be among the better ones and that veterinary inspectors had inspected the dog on three occasions and found no signs of disease. If these kennels are considered by the Ministry of Agriculture to be among the better ones, one dreads to think what the worst are like. What is absolutely beyond doubt--indeed, what cannot be contradicted--is the fact that the kennels must have been run by people who did not know what was obvious to everyone else; namely, that they had a very sick dog on their hands.

Let us not beat about the bush: we are talking about vets who either did not inspect the dog at all close to the time of his release--and I can hardly believe that they would have behaved so improperly--or they did inspect the dog and could not see what was staring them in the face. The other fact which is absolutely certain is that the dog was showing signs of disease. I saw those signs for myself and the vet in Lancashire saw them for himself the very next day. I shall never forget the accusing way that the vet in Lancashire looked at me. He asked, "How long has this dog been in this condition?" I replied, "I don't know. I only picked him up from quarantine yesterday". All the vet's hostility evaporated at once. "Oh my God" he said. A day or two later he demonstrated his unwillingness to criticise publicly a member of his own profession, but in those three words the truth was out. He was accusing me of not having looked after my dog properly because he did not know that for the previous six months that dog had not been in my care but had been in the care of kennels, supposedly under the supervision of veterinary surgeons who were well paid to visit the kennels to ensure that the dog was properly looked after. The dog was dying when it was handed over to me.

There is an overwhelming case for the wholesale reform of the quarantine system and the abolition of quarantine for dogs such as Basil who had been vaccinated and had been in a rabies-free country. Such dogs do not face the slightest risk of contracting rabies. We must not be diverted from the task of wholesale reform of the quarantine system. In the meantime we must recognise that there will always be dogs which arrive in the country without having been vaccinated and who arrive from countries with a history of rabies. We

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must make absolutely sure, either through this legislation or other means, that the kind of abuses which I have described no longer occur.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I welcome the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, which I support. After the harrowing account of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, as regards his dog, it is difficult to talk of a moderate change in welfare conditions. This Bill has important implications. I hope that it will satisfy some of the concerns that my noble friend has just expressed.

In many ways it is surprising that this Bill is necessary in the first place. We have had quarantine for dogs and cats arriving from overseas since 1901. The detailed arrangements have been modified from time to time. Major changes occurred in the 1970s when dogs and cats had to be vaccinated before they entered quarantine. However, no one has given any thought to the welfare of the animals that are in quarantine kennels. As it is mandatory for dogs and cats arriving in this country from abroad to undergo six months' quarantine, one might expect a similar mandatory high level of security, management and welfare of animals in quarantine kennels. I do not think there is any doubt that security is adequate. The management of that security is adequate as regards keeping quarantine animals away from non-quarantine animals and keeping quarantine animals separated from each other.

The kennels are inspected regularly by government veterinary officers. They inspect security and the management of that security. However, there are no statutory requirements with respect to welfare and quarantine management. As has been said by the noble Baroness, a voluntary code of practice was introduced in 1995. However, there are sufficient concerns about the efficacy of the code to warrant a statutory approach. This Bill achieves that, and I welcome that.

The quarantine kennel system in the United Kingdom is in private hands. There are 81 premises, which handle approximately 5,000 dogs and 3,000 cats per year at an average charge of £1,500 per dog and £800 per cat. This represents a £10 million business. To my mind it is an acceptable, financially rewarding enterprise, capable of maintaining premises, management and welfare at an acceptable level.

However, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, despite the voluntary code, two kennels failed to meet the requirements of the code, and a further three have agreed not to participate in the welfare code. That represents 6 per cent. of the quarantine kennels. One might say that that is a fairly small number. But on average it represents 480 dogs or cats which experience a six-month quarantine--in all, 780,000 dog or cat days. It may give a new meaning to a dog day to be in quarantine in such a kennel!

But, even with voluntary codes and although only 6 per cent. of kennels do not participate in them, there continue to be a series of complaints by pet owners who have used quarantine kennels. My noble friend identified some of them. They range from a lack of

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veterinary presence to failure to let the owners' veterinary surgeon into the quarantine kennels to attend to a sick animal; the inability to visit on Sunday, for example, when many owners find it convenient to visit the quarantine kennels; and a lack of staff trained in the recognition of the changed behaviour of animals undergoing quarantine.

It is particularly important that the statutory approach to this welfare requirement is not simply a restatement of the voluntary code. More than that is required. It is important that, in addition to RSPCA inspectors, independent veterinary surgeons are allowed to gain access to quarantine kennels so that they can see the conditions.

Whatever the outcome of the Kennedy inquiry on quarantine, rabies and the admission of animals to this country, it is unlikely that quarantine will be abolished for animals coming other than from the European Union and rabies-free countries. On the contrary, quarantine will be needed for a considerable period subsequent to the Kennedy report. But it is proper that animals coming from elsewhere in the world should receive adequate welfare considerations.

Now is not the time to comment on the issue of rabies and quarantine. I have made my views clear in this House and elsewhere on more than one occasion. However, I wish to take issue with those who wish to maintain quarantine and all that it implies on the pretext that it prevents diseases other than rabies coming into this country--for example, parasitic infections. I believe that that is a mistaken concept. Various diseases such as leishmaniasis and heartworm in dogs have already come into this country beyond the quarantine period for which animals have been held. So quarantine is no bar to the introduction of these diseases. The vectors responsible for the transmission of such diseases do not occur in this country so there is little danger of a pandemic occurring.

However, most importantly, I believe that the veterinary profession in this country is fully aware of the dangers. Those diseases are readily diagnosed and treated. Therefore there is no danger of a pandemic of exotic diseases occurring as a result of quarantine being lifted. I admit that that is probably an unnecessary aside in this debate. However, I support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that the Bill be read a second time.

10.25 p.m.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in welcoming this modest one-clause Bill, which will, for the first time, give the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the power to introduce statutory welfare standards for all quarantine kennels. The word "welfare" does not appear anywhere in Schedule 2 to the Animal Health Act 1981. Good welfare standards are insisted upon in other boarding kennels where domestic pets are placed for short periods when their owners go on holiday, etc. Therefore, it must be right that health and welfare should be paramount in quarantine kennels where animals are kept for six months in isolation.

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We are in our 96th year of quarantine regulations. I am ashamed to say that until I started to read through the various briefing papers I had only a sketchy knowledge of the way these particular kennels are run. I accept that the majority adhere to a voluntary system of standards but the code of practice is not legally binding. Judging from complaints against specific kennels, not to mention the 1,200 deaths of pets in the past 10 years, it is patently obvious that some kennels fall short of what is acceptable conduct toward their charges.

It is absolutely right that kennels should be open to inspection from MAFF, the RSPCA and other authorities. Those authorities must ensure that the welfare of those quarantined animals remains uppermost during their period of isolation.

I also welcome the fact that this Bill will enable the Minister to publish a list of those kennels which comply with what will soon be a mandatory code of welfare. Not only that; I also welcome the fact that he could publish the list of those that fail to comply. Like the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, I, too, would like to see welfare standards raised, rather than just make the current voluntary code a mandatory one. Pet owners are at the very least entitled to that. I also believe that owners who are worried about their pet's state of health should have the right to call in a veterinarian of their choice, particularly if they are not happy with the treatment offered by the kennel in question. I am sure that some of the tragedies could have been avoided had that been an option. Owners pay a great deal of money for the quarantine service. They should have rights. On more than one occasion I have read reports of intimidation when owners have complained of poor welfare standards. That simply cannot be right. Knowing that neither the ministry nor the RSPCA, or any other authority, has the automatic right to enter the premises and check on the animals, even if they know all is not well, only makes the situation worse.

Some time ago the Quarantine Kennel Owners Association gave a talk to some of us from the Animal Welfare Group, voicing its concerns about certain facilities which were unsatisfactory in a number of ways.

Reading the report of Standing Committee D of Wednesday 18th March, I see that the committee recommended that at least four reforms be made when it wrote to MAFF at the end of 1996. I quote from that report:

    "No qualification is currently required to run a Quarantine Facility nor is there any contact with the Ministry except for adherence to the ID 50",
which of course deals with security and making sure that the animals are isolated from one another. The noble Baroness has already referred to the Quarantine Kennel Owners Association which stated that proprietors must be placed under an obligation to run their business ethically and to keep the animals in their care to the highest standards of welfare achievable at reasonable cost and without contravening hygiene discipline.

I suspect that "reasonable cost" could be interpreted in a number of ways. Once again, perhaps I may say that the health and welfare of animals simply cannot be

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left to a voluntary code of practice, but should be placed on a statutory basis. Pet owners have a right to that assurance from government while the current quarantine laws remain in place.

I know this debate is not about whether or not our quarantine laws should be changed, but rather about the condition in which our pets are kept. It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that I fully support the views of the Quarantine Reform Campaign, which is recommending a change in the law now that we have a credible alternative. No case of rabies has been found in a quarantined animal, certainly not in the past 20 years, and none from Europe. The advocates for change have recommended entry only for inoculated, micro-chipped, and blood-tested family pets from the EU and other rabies-free countries. Pets from those countries are already vaccinated, not only for rabies but also for various other diseases.

We all await the report from Professor Kennedy and hope that he and his colleagues will argue for a change in the quarantine laws. Finally, quarantine must become the exception rather than the rule. On that note, I wish this modest Bill a speedy journey on to the statute book.

10.30 p.m.

The Earl of Liverpool : My Lords, this one-clause Bill we are debating tonight has the singular merit of brevity--a virtue which at this hour I shall do my best to emulate. But I am sorry to say that one of the resulting weaknesses of brevity is that if the Bill receives Royal Assent, it will still leave in place a number of unpalatable elements of the existing quarantine regulations. However, like other noble Lords, I support the Bill as far as it goes because any increase in accountability which has the aim of improving the lot of pets who currently have to be incarcerated for six months is to be welcomed.

As my noble friends Lord Soulsby and Lord Waddington and the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, have already said, the Bill as it stands will do little to address the justifiable concerns of many pet owners whose animals are in quarantine at the present time and will be in the future. I refer in particular to the continuing absence of any right of an owner to appoint an independent vet in the event of illness. That means that there will still be a great lack of confidence in the standard of treatment and care currently provided in quarantine kennels. This may be unjustified, but it is born out of a fear that there is some cosy alliance between the kennels and their vet which, in the event of a pet falling ill or worse, may not act quickly enough and, in the end, will do everything to reflect the kennel in the best possible light and nothing to address and deal with the real facts.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, gave the statistics for deaths. I believe that many deaths which have occurred in quarantine kennels could have been prevented if the illness had been identified and treated earlier.

What has to be remembered is that pets who are consigned to quarantine are, in practically all cases, much loved extended members of the family. The idea

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of placing them in a quarantine kennel for six months is intensely painful and worrying to that family. That is especially so as some of the appalling stories are well known. I need do no more than refer to the harrowing account of the fate of the dog of my noble friend Lord Waddington, about which he told the House so movingly this evening.

The same worry applies to the fact that, as the Bill stands, the RSPCA will still be denied access to quarantine kennels. It is not clear what the content of the proposed new welfare system will be, but if it does not aim to go much further than simply formalising the existing voluntary code of practice which came into effect in February 1995, it will not in my view be nearly enough.

I support the Bill as far as it goes, but I may wish to introduce amendments if the Bill goes to Committee stage. Finally, in common with other noble Lords, I seek the Minister's assurance that if the Bill becomes law it will not be seen as having got the whole issue of seeking an improved solution to existing quarantine laws off the front burner.

I eagerly await the independent review under the chairmanship of Professor Kennedy which is currently in progress. I understand that it is expected that it will be delivered to the Secretary of State in June this year. While one cannot prejudge its findings, I hope that it will lead to this country finally adopting the comprehensive inoculation, blood testing, microchip tagging and passport which were unanimously recommended by the Commons agriculture committee in its 1994 report but which sadly were never implemented.

10.35 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, there is a large number of animals at any given time in quarantine. Last year there were 4,028 dogs, 3,351 cats, 29 rabbits, 11 ferrets, five guinea-pigs, four chinchillas, two gerbils and a rat! That is a large number of animals about whose welfare we are rightly concerned. We therefore welcome the Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol.

Back in 1959, returning from Hong Kong, I put a very neurotic poodle into quarantine; six months later I extracted an even more neurotic poodle from quarantine. I have no reason to believe that the standard of the kennels in which it was housed was anything but first-class; and I have no reason to believe that the standard of most quarantine kennels is anything but first-class. But there are some which are not up to standard and even some which are not prepared to accept the voluntary code. It is therefore extremely important that this Bill is passed.

I have sympathy with those who say that the Bill should be stronger. I suspect that we may run into problems if we try to amend it. It is a simple Bill which we can get through without too much trouble in its present form. I would be in favour of amending it and strengthening it, but that may not be possible.

In an interesting debate in another place, misgivings were expressed in regard to the difficulty of getting the kennels into order to enable them to play their part as

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expressed by the Bill, particularly if the whole thing soon becomes unnecessary because quarantine is done away with. Though I agree with those who would like to see considerable reform of the quarantine laws, I suspect that there will be a need for quarantine kennels for some cases for a long time to come. I would not give any concessions to those kennels whose present behaviour is ethically unacceptable. I do not see that we owe them anything. They should already be living up to the high standards that the Bill will expect of them.

My party and I myself strongly support the Bill and hope that it has a speedy passage into law.

10.37 p.m.

Lord Luke: My Lords, I too welcome this Bill on behalf of these Benches. As the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said--and we are all grateful to her for introducing this sensible Bill into the House--it will strengthen and reinforce the system of quarantine that we enjoy in this country.

The Bill may become partially redundant if quarantine regulations in respect of rabies are changed. In that regard I reiterate what other noble Lords have said and ask the Minister where the discussions have got to with regard to the possible change in the regulations in relation to rabies. Many different figures have been bandied about; let us hope it comes as soon as possible.

However, I am informed that there are other communicable diseases prevalent in animals on the continent, let alone in other parts of the world. While I would not dream of disputing with my noble friend Lord Soulsby, who is a great expert on this matter, I have been informed that there is likely to be a continuing demand for high standard quarantine facilities even if the rabies regulations are changed.

The main object of the Bill, as stated by the noble Baroness, is that it will allow the Minister concerned to make regulations on animal welfare in quarantine kennels. A Minister in another place has already said that, although minimum standards are acceptable, the code of practice adhered to by the enormous majority of kennel owners still requires higher standards which should be legislated for.

If the Government, as we may expect, use the Bill as a basis for improving standards of welfare in quarantine kennels, the owners of the kennels are bound to incur extra costs. I am concerned about these costs, which could be onerous. I hope that the Government will take that fully into account. Obviously, owners will hope to recover such costs in the course of their businesses, but if their businesses are curtailed by changes in the regulations as a result of the current review of rabies' arrangements, can the Government give an assurance that no new regulations will be introduced until the results of the review are known and what subsequent action the Government intend to take as a result of the review? Could they also publish any draft regulation that they may have in mind as soon as possible and, preferably, before the Bill leaves this House?

That is all I have to say about the Bill at this stage, except to join with the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, in wishing it a swift passage into law.

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10.41 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, there is very little that I need add to what the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has argued. At the moment Ministers do not have a clear legal basis for regulating the design, construction and management of quarantine premises and neither do they have the power to lay down welfare standards for animals kept in quarantine premises. The Bill would rectify both of those problems.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, told a moving story about his dog and picking it up from kennels. He described the Bill as modest. But any order made under it will provide that the owner be notified if an animal is ill. Ministers will consult before making any order, so there is that opportunity in this case.

I say also to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, that it could be the right of other vets to visit quarantine kennels. The Minister will wish to consider that question in drawing up the statutory rules. As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, knows, and as referred to by many other noble Lords, Professor Kennedy is already looking into the question of quarantine. He is due to report to the Minister in June and, having received the report, the Minister will publish it and hold a full public consultation thereafter. I hope that that answers the questions which have been raised because I, like everyone else, want to be brief in relation to the Bill.

The net effect of the Bill will be totally beneficial. It will enable Ministers to set unequivocal mandatory standards which the owners of quarantine premises will have to follow. I hope that it will reassure the owners of animals which have to stay in quarantine that the interests of their animals are being properly looked after.

It is the Government's policy that rules governing the welfare of animals in quarantine should be placed on a statutory basis. Although this is not a government Bill, it provides an excellent opportunity to meet this objective.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, asked about costs. There are only about three kennels which do not comply with the present standards. The vast majority--77--do comply, so there should be minimal costs. The burden of enforcing separate legislation arising from the Bill will fall on the ministry. Ministry veterinarians already visit all quarantine premises at least four times a year and the inspection responsibilities can easily be adapted.

The Government fully support the Bill and hope that it will be given fair passage by the House.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I am very grateful for the support given by every speaker in the debate. I reinforce what my noble friend has just said. There is nothing in the Bill to preclude the strengthening of the existing code. I hope that that will happen. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, said that he might table an amendment. Perhaps that would be a good way of discussing methods of strengthening the Bill. However, I hope that the Bill will not be amended, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. If it is amended it must go back to the other place; otherwise, it will go straight

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through. In the process we could obtain from the Minister undertakings as to the form that the code might take in future, which might be useful.

I express sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. As a former dog owner I know exactly how he must have felt. I hope that whatever we do during the passage of the Bill will prevent such an event recurring in future.

I do not enter into the question of the ending of quarantine. It is a complicated issue that must await the Kennedy report. My personal view is that the sooner it comes to an end the better. But that is a simplistic view and much more information is needed before the issue can be properly dealt with.

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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill its Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Bank of England Bill

Returned from the Commons with an amendment disagreed to with a reason for such disagreement and with the remaining amendments agreed to; the reason ordered to be printed.

        House adjourned at fourteen minutes before eleven o'clock.

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