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House of Lords

Tuesday, 7th October 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Search and Rescue Dogs: Quarantine

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will reconsider the need for search and rescue dogs to undergo six months' quarantine following their return from deployment in countries not included in the pet passport scheme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, following the deployment of British search and rescue dogs in Algeria, the Government considered their case for exemption from quarantine. We concluded that such exemption would not be consistent with our policy of maintaining a high level of protection from rabies. However, we would consider favourably proposals from search and rescue organisations to provide suitable facilities at quarantine kennels so that the dogs can maintain their training work, provided these facilities satisfy the normal requirements.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's response but point out to him that because dogs are in quarantine for six months, they are no longer available for search and rescue missions in this country should they be required. Furthermore, they may lose their skills because of lack of reinforcement. In these present times, is that not an unacceptable risk when search and rescue dogs may be required for disasters in the United Kingdom?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, clearly, search and rescue dogs undergo a high degree of intensive training. Therefore, it is important that we maintain that source of support, whether we are talking about disasters here or overseas. Normally, only a small number of dogs go overseas; I believe that there are seven dogs in Algeria.

We have some sympathy with the noble Lord's second point about training. We are discussing the issue with search and rescue personnel to determine whether we could maintain some training facilities within the quarantine requirement.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as well as looking at facilities that might be available within quarantine kennels, could the Government be more flexible about allowing a form of home quarantine for these animals? Is not the risk involved remote in the extreme? These animals would be of a very small minority if vaccination did not work, they then came into contact

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with rabies and then were not covered by home quarantine. This situation, which threatens search and rescue activities, has been going on for a long time. Could the department be more flexible than it has been in the past?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, although my noble friend is right about aspects of the risk, the risk is nevertheless enhanced because rabies is endemic in many disaster areas. That is why we have taken a precautionary view. My colleague, Ben Bradshaw, is looking at this issue to determine whether there are ways in which we could be more flexible, either within the quarantine arrangements or otherwise. We have not yet reached a solution on the issue.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a French dog has been awarded the Croix de Guerre? Unfortunately, the only thing that seems to happen to our dogs is that they come back and are put into quarantine.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, regrettably, I was unaware of this particular aspect of the French honours system. I think we may have to look into that a little more closely. After all, the quarantine system has protected this country from rabies for many decades. Any relaxation must be considered very carefully.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, how many dogs are involved? At the last count, to cover the millions of people going in and out of this country bearing curious parcels of meat, only two dogs were working and 600 were training. The Australians have infinitely more dogs for the same job. Surely, it is a very serious matter that people can carry the infective material for disasters such as foot and mouth.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think that there are some viruses that can be carried on food and some which cannot. I am therefore unsure that we are dealing with an identical situation when we talk about rabies, other animal diseases and illegally imported meat. As regards the situation on imported meat, Customs and Excise, which now takes responsibility for this area, is deploying six teams of dogs. The assessment of the effectiveness of the dogs has been positive so far and we may extend that scheme. But it is only part of the enhanced protection against illegally imported meat, which has been discussed in this House on a number of occasions.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further on the Government's consideration of the issue of quarantine. I gather that guide dogs going abroad do not have to comply with the restrictions when they come back into this country. If that is so, and if it is also true that rabies symptoms show themselves within 10 to 15 days, will the

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Government consider allowing search and rescue dogs a shorter time in quarantine, which might be of help to the search and rescue venture?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, some exemptions are made in relation to guide dogs and in relation to certain other dependent situations on a case-by-case basis. However, extending such exemptions to dogs in the search and rescue category must be considered bearing in mind that such dogs go to several different destinations. Although the dogs may be used by search and rescue personnel, they are not necessarily owned by them. The position is not quite so contained.

Turning to the point made by the noble Baroness about the incubation period, I think that she may be misinformed. The average length of incubation is between five and eight weeks. However, the Kennedy committee pointed out that it could be up to 125 days—18 weeks—because some symptoms of the disease show after that period. It was for that reason that the original six-month period was adopted in rabies prevention.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, given that it was a unanimous resolution by the agriculture committee in the other place which led directly to the change in the law in this area—against the opposition of many civil servants within the department as well as politicians and members of the Government—is this not an appropriate area for that same committee now to review? Perhaps, in a spirit of co-operation between the two Houses, my noble friend could prevail on the chairman of that committee to do so.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my relations with the Select Committee of another place are extremely cordial and constructive, but I do not think that I can prevail on the chairman of that committee to do anything. As I have said, within the department my colleague Ben Bradshaw is looking at this issue to see whether a constructive way forward can be found. We should leave it to the department to examine the position further and perhaps come back to it.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister a little further. I gather that this issue was first raised back in February. We are now in October. How soon can we expect a response?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the position is that the veterinary advice is fairly clear. However, we recognise the need to ensure that we have available an adequate number of dogs to provide support for search and rescue operations. Those two considerations must be balanced. I cannot give a time-scale for when we shall reach a final decision, but clearly we shall be in touch with all the organisations concerned in order to reach a conclusion.

We understand what lies behind this Question. As I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, we are trying to find ways around the problem.

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Foreign Direct Investment

2.45 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to reverse the decline in foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, inward investment responds to world economic growth. When that slows down, so do flows of investment. A global decline in mergers and acquisitions and the flat US market are the major factors. Against those global trends, it is not possible to identify whether non-membership of the euro is also a factor in the decline in inward investment flows.

Stock figures are a more complete measure of inward investment than foreign direct investment inflows. These show that the United Kingdom has retained its number one position in Europe, with 22.5 per cent of total EU accumulated stocks.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, do the Government agree that this is a matter of grave concern? The role of foreign investment in this country has been disproportionate in improving productivity. Is not the decline in investment in this country, as one can tell from warnings given by the heads of foreign companies, something clearly related to the Government's prevarication over the euro?

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