On Monday 7 June, Sir David Amess urged the Government to increase animal welfare standards by banning shark finning, stopping the cruel import of young puppies for sale in harsh conditions and stopping ear cropping.
Sir David Amess said:
This is one of those wonderful occasions on which the House can agree on something, because all Members of Parliament are against cruelty to animals. That is not rocket science, but, of course, some of us have been saying these things in Parliament a little longer than others. For me, it is an enormous joy that so many Members of Parliament have prioritised this as the top of their agenda, for all sorts of reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) has introduced the debate so effectively that there is precious little left to say. I very much support what he said, although I will say that sharks are not at the top of my list of favourite animals. We do know that there was a film about sharks that did a great deal of damage; I have kept sharks in tropical fish tanks, but they are not quite like the ones that we see in that film.
Now that we have left the European Union, I hope that we will be able to drag some other countries up to our already high standards, and that we will continue to improve standards of animal welfare in this country. As such, I am delighted to say to my hon. Friend the Minister —who is yet again replying to such a debate—that I am very pleased with the progress that is being made on animal welfare. I was delighted that my ten-minute rule Bill on banning farrowing crates was recognised in the Government’s action plan. I again urge the Government to ban those cruel and unnecessary cages for sows. It might upset some of the farming community, but there is no reason to use them.
We banned shark finning 20 years ago, yet shark fins are still being traded today. As a country with strong marine conservation, we must ban the import and export of shark fins, as other colleagues have said, and press for stronger action against unsustainable fishing practices. Tomorrow is World Oceans Day—I do not know whether we have a badge to wear to celebrate it—so it is apt that we are bringing to the House’s attention the plight of sharks and are pushing for harsher financial punishments to act as a deterrent to the mutilation of those wonderful creatures, which are perhaps scary if one goes towards them but are fine if left alone.
We heard in the opening speech about a puppy that was just four months old and died after being transported from the Soviet Union to the United Kingdom, but that is only one example of the many puppies imported for sale. All puppies are cute; we love puppies. However, as we tell our children and grandchildren—I do not have any grandchildren yet—they grow up and develop different personalities. There is an enormous responsibility in owning a dog; it is not just that they are cute while they are a puppy. There should be much more careful thought about dog ownership generally. In the 18 months in which the pandemic has been with us, lots of people found great comfort in owning an animal. I understand all that, but I have talked to many animal welfare groups, and the number of dogs that have been returned to them is rather heart-breaking.
That puppy suffered harsh, cruel conditions before dying. Many importers exploit a loophole in Lucy’s law by legally bringing in five puppies at a time to the United Kingdom and selling them directly to the buyer for a larger profit. The number of dogs that can legally be brought into the country should be reduced to two per vehicle to stop criminals importing on a mass scale as they are currently doing. I would very much like our Government to increase the minimum import age for dogs to six months, and restrict the ability of unscrupulous traders to import heavily pregnant dogs. That is absolutely ridiculous. Although we are talking about dogs today, we must never forget about the very young farm animals that also endure long journeys for export and similarly need conditions to be improved. I feel very, very strongly about the live export of animals.
I will not go into the details of ear cropping, which other colleagues have mentioned, but it is preventable. It is painful, and is often performed without any sort of pain relief—how would we like our ears to be cropped? Despite it being illegal, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated that there was a 621% increase in reports of ear cropping from 2015 to today. It is, however, not illegal to sell ear-cropped dogs, import them from abroad or take dogs abroad to be cropped. As a patron of the wonderful Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, I encourage the Government, whom I support, to introduce further steps to ensure that the transport of dogs with cropped ears for sale in the United Kingdom cannot take place, and address that loophole.
At the border, there should be more thorough visual checks of dogs and importation methods. We must, however, be careful not to affect the importation of rescue dogs—we have heard wonderful stories about rescue dogs—or any dogs bred by responsible breeders who follow high animal welfare standards.
I welcome the Government’s intention to introduce three new Bills to continue to improve animal welfare—the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, the Kept Animals Bill and the Animals Abroad Bill—and I hope the House will come together, support them and get them quickly on to the statute book. A timeline for the urgent delivery of the Government’s action plan on animal welfare is much needed. I urge people to buy pets from trusted sellers and to follow the Animal Welfare Foundation and RSPCA puppy contract to ensure that dogs are in good health when they are purchased.