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Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. I wish to say before I call the next speaker that a number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. If contributions are reasonably brief, it will be possible to call most hon. Members who wish to speak. If contributions are not brief, many hon. Members will be disappointed.

11.5 am

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I shall heed what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and try to keep my remarks to within about five minutes.

I welcome the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) to her new position of Leader of the House. I wish her well in her arduous duties, particularly at a

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time of constant change. The right hon. Lady will certainly receive support from the Opposition for sensible change.

As we enter the holiday season, and for us at Westminster the summer recess, with I am sure a short holiday somewhere along the line, it is appropriate to raise the subject of quarantine laws. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) in his place. I know that he has introduced a ten-minute Bill on this subject and has worked extremely hard in trying to ensure that we have sensible changes in our quarantine laws. I hope that he, like me, will be pleased very shortly by some announcements that the Government may be making. An announcement is long overdue.

There are 12 million pet owners in this country. Between 1972 and 1995, 170,000 pets were put into quarantine. During that period 2,500 of those pets died.

People go abroad for many reasons, not only for holidays. Some do so by force of work. Indeed, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned Cyprus, where we have air force bases. One person came to my attention. He was forced, when he finished his three-month stint in Cyprus, to return to this country. His dog had to go into quarantine for six months. That is a long time. If someone is in the armed forces, he might be moved somewhere else fairly shortly after returning to this country. Quarantine law is something that we should consider.

A former Member, David Waddington, became governor of Bermuda. He took his dog with him. In due course he returned to this country and the dog went into quarantine. Unfortunately it died when in quarantine.

The question that must be asked is whether there is room for sensible change. I know that a committee of experts is currently examining these matters. It is to be hoped that shortly it will make some recommendations. We would like early recommendations to come forward because there are many people who would delay holidays while waiting for an announcement while others would not take holidays: because they do not want to be separated from their pets, going abroad is completely alien to them.

There are variable kennel standards within the United Kingdom. However, people do not want to be separated from their pets for six months, even if their pets are in the best kennels.

None of us wants to see rabies introduced into this country, or even the threat of that happening. That applies to any other diseases for that matter. However, we must look at the facts. If there is a sensible alternative, which I believe there now is, particularly with the introduction of new technology and such things as passports for pets, we could take a sensible step and ensure that people could go abroad with their pets without being separated from them for six months.

In 1995, the Select Committee on Agriculture recommended changes for cats and dogs and passports for pets. If we carry on with the current quarantine laws, some people will take their pets abroad illegally and smuggle them back into this country, which will be a problem. Between 1988 and 1995, 769 animals were detected and officially reported as being smuggled back into this country, so one can only imagine how many more pets were brought back in--they are a real threat.

We need a properly regulated system under which we know that pets have been properly inoculated and have in their necks microchips which can be properly scanned.

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That would ensure that pets are clean going out and clean coming back in. Now that new technology is available, we can do that. Some people will be deterred from the introduction of passports for pets by the expense, but putting pets in quarantine is extremely expensive. The cost is reckoned to be between £800 for cats and £1,500 for dogs, but that is not the only issue. People are concerned about the emotional separation of the pet from the owner.

National Opinion Polls conducted a poll on the subject in 1996, and 86 per cent. of the sample said that they would prefer sensible change, if available. A sensible alternative is available. Will the Leader of the House take on board the fact that some people--for example, the blind, who have guide dogs--have no choice? They are unable to go abroad because the quarantine laws state that they would have to be separated from their guide dogs when they returned.

If we cannot have an early announcement about quarantine laws generally, may we have one for those who rely on their dogs, such as the blind, so that they might at least have the opportunity to go abroad? Passports for pets are backed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and 12 million pet owners are waiting to hear what the Leader of the House has to say about them.

11.11 am

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): I have abiding memories of a speech of some urgency made recently by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who spoke strongly about an escape of acid gas in his constituency. I echo the pleasure expressed by Madam Speaker at my hon. Friend's reappearance in the Chamber last Friday, following a recent stroke. I send him my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

This issue has been pursued for some years by a constituent, Mr. G. Badley, of Stafford, who has pressed successive Home Secretaries and even petitioned the Queen on a subject about which he feels strongly. I support my constituent, a retired prison officer, on the issue of introducing a long service medal for prison officers. There were calls for such a medal in the previous Parliament and, for completeness, I should say that hon. Members also spoke of its covering good conduct and bravery. Although those are commendable criteria for recognition, I shall confine my remarks to a long service award.

There has been a prison in my constituency for hundreds of years. Stafford prison is currently a category C training prison with a prisoner population of more than 600. I last visited it in March and, although some facilities are clearly not up to modern standards because of the prison's age, the regime is excellent, with reasonable but firm control by prison officers. A good job is done in demanding circumstances. Budgetary matters were raised with me by the management, and I took them up with the Home Office. I also canvassed serving prison officers about a long service medal, and there was overwhelming support for its introduction.

The Imperial Service medal, which was introduced in 1903 for junior grades of civil servants in this country and abroad, is available to prison officers. It is a silver medal with the sovereign's crowned head on the obverse and the inscription "For Faithful Service" on the reverse. I asked

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prison officers for their comments about it. One said, "Some staff are recommended for it after retirement and it appears to be awarded in an haphazard way." Another said, "Numerous staff are recommended for the award, but only a few receive it". A third member of staff wrote that

    "as it is only awarded after completion of service, the pride of wearing it on our uniform is not there."

That is an important point to bear in mind in respect of the call for an award given during service.

Other regular and volunteer services have long service awards. Perhaps the best example is the police service, whose current long service award was instituted in June 1951. The basic qualification is 22 years' service. I was reminded that the police have a long service award during the dispute between the Home Secretary and the Prison Officers Association about recognising the right to industrial action. Part of the Home Secretary's argument was that prison officers are office holders, not employees, and should not have such a right, just as the police are office holders and have no such right. Could not prison officers be like police officers and have a long service award?

Curiously, my research about medals led me to the Colonial Prison Service long service medal, which still exists. It was instituted in October 1955 for 18 or more years of service in colonial prisons. It is odd that there should be such an obscure and backward-looking award, but not one that is modern and relevant.

For several months, I have been asking the Prison Service and the Home Office to support my constituent's call for such an award. In January 1998, Mr. Richard Tilt, the Director General of the Prison Service, told me in a letter that the question has been under consideration for a number of years. It was kind of him to say that that consideration had been prompted from several sources, including Mr. Badley. Mr. Tilt confirmed that the Imperial Service medal was awarded for more than 25 years' service and only on retirement. Officers can of course be nominated for the OBE and the MBE.

I have continued to press for a new long service award. In April, the then Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), wrote to me that, although the Home Office was willing for such an award to be created, the decision was in the hands of the ceremonial branch of the Cabinet Office. I am told that discussions have been going on for some time, but, at that stage, there were still outstanding concerns.

I wrote again. The latest letter from my hon. Friend, which arrived in June, said that the Home Office was still willing to create a Queen's prison service medal to recognise long service, but was still waiting for news from the Cabinet Office. Interestingly, the letter also said that the future of the Imperial Service medal was under consideration, so the time is clearly right to consider introducing a new medal.

I hope that this airing of the issues will speed a decision to institute a new long service medal for serving prison officers. To prepare for the debate, I read the Prison Service annual report for 1996-97, which was the most recent that I could find. If I have totalled up the columns correctly, assaults on staff in that year totalled 2,531, so

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it is fair to say that they bravely carry out a tough job and fulfil part of the necessary task of maintaining public order. Prison officers deserve the recognition for which I am calling.

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