Pet Travel Scheme (Pilot Arrangements) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2002

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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I will not take up too much time, as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has covered much of the ground that I wished to.

We are satisfied with the scheme as it now operates, and with the extension to the US and Canada. The vaccination for rabies is an effective treatment, and there are very few breakdowns. The scheme has been successful and rabies has not been introduced into this country as a result of pets coming in under the scheme. Nevertheless, introducing pets from the US and Canada raises the possibility of introducing human and animal diseases other than rabies into the country. The Minister is aware that I have been concerned about such possibilities for quite some time, both as regards the foot and mouth epidemic and other exotic and zoonotic diseases that might come into the country.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire has given us a list of possible diseases. I should like to draw particular attention to West Nile fever, which has caused considerable fear and apprehension in a number of urban centres in America. West Nile fever, an avian disease transmitted by mosquitos, has now appeared as a human disease, causing quite severe illness and possibly death.

The other diseases mentioned, the ehrlichial and rickettsial fevers, are tick-borne diseases, and such diseases are not unknown in this country. The change of climate and increase in temperatures that we have experienced—although that is not spectacularly demonstrated today as the weather seems to have reverted to its old style—would lead us to suppose that

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mosquitos and certain ticks native to north America could survive in this country. Diseases that could be introduced might spread if the veterinary service were not alerted to the possibility and encouraged to ensure that all animals imported from the United States and Canada were checked regularly to ensure that they were not bringing those diseases into the country. Pets and pet owners are in a peculiar position to transmit the disease amongst themselves. Owners do a lot of patting, grooming, feeding, cleaning up and looking after their pets, which ensures that they come into very close contact with those animals. In my constituency, a tapeworm disease that is transmitted between dogs and humans and where the human species is the intermediate host has been difficult to eradicate. Therefore, we should not underestimate the threat to animals and humans of introducing pets from America that could bring in diseases.

As the hon. Member for North Wiltshire said, we must require that these animals are examined on a regular basis when they come into the country to ensure that they are not exhibiting any disease that could bring real problems to their owners and to other companion animals. We are proceeding rapidly in a particular direction without giving enough consideration to controls and the examination of those animals. We must ensure that people and animals in this country are not open to infection.

2.51 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The pet travel scheme was strongly espoused by a number of people. Lady Fretwell springs to mind, as she campaigned for many years on this issue. However, she was only one of many people who felt strongly that they should have the right to travel with their pets. It is clear that the scheme is greatly welcomed; 75,000 pets have travelled, and we should be pleased about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire covered a number of issues that I had been minded to raise, so I will restrict myself to making only one point. The Committee should be told the cost of the scheme, and where the costs fall. What is the per capita cost of the 75,000 animals that have travelled so far, and what is the anticipated future cost per capita—or per case? How much of those costs is paid by the owners and how much falls on the public purse—on the taxpayer? If none of the costs fall on the taxpayer, we should be told. If the expenses of the scheme are completely reimbursed by the costs, I would welcome that because, although I recognise that owners have every right to expect to travel with their pets, I see no reason why there should be a subsidy for them to do so.

12.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Elliot Morley): A range of comprehensive questions has been asked by Opposition Members and I will try to deal with them in detail. However, I will start my speech by running through the background to the extension of the scheme to north America.

I welcome the fact that the scheme has been a success. It has been running for quite some time and 75,000 animals have come into the country. We have

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no evidence of any problems in relation to diseases, and monitoring and certification seem to be working well at ports of entry.

I can be accused of many things, but rushing into this extension is not one of them. We were constantly being asked why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was taking such a long time to consider extension to north America. It took a long time because we had no intention of extending the scheme until we were sure that the risks of the extension were minimal.

As the hon. Member for North Wiltshire said, we had the original Kennedy report, which examined the issue in depth, and we commissioned a report from Edinburgh university to look at the risk assessment. That was a very thorough report: it raised several questions that we also wanted to examine in further detail, so we referred it to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency so that there could be a further detailed examination. So, with those two excellent reports, as well as the report by the university of Liverpool that looked into the risks to people of pathogens being introduced into the country, the examination that we undertook was thorough and detailed. We were cautious about extending the scheme because we recognise that both countries in north America have endemic rabies. However, for many years, pets from the US have been allowed into a number of European countries, without any problems at all.

When I announced in July 2002 that I intended to extend the scheme to the US and Canada, I made it clear that I would not do so unless there was sound scientific evidence that there would be no significant increase in the risk of importing rabies. I have had that assurance.

We are aware of the concerns raised by the BVA and the BSAVA. Those are important organisations. They were consulted at every stage. We very much value their participation.

I will touch on some of the concerns that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire mentioned. First, the BSAVA recommended that guidelines be issued to practising veterinary surgeons and the State Veterinary Service, on what constitutes a suspect rabies case and that an examination of contingencies and implications be conducted. We will do that in consultation with stakeholders, including the BSAVA. As the hon. Gentleman rightly stated, we have circulated guidance on rabies to veterinary practices.

Secondly, the BSAVA wanted reassurances on the use of acaricides in the USA and Canada. Our legislation requires that. The hon. Gentleman was mistaken. There is no exemption in north America from the use of tick or tapeworm treatments. It is compulsory as part of the scheme that we operate.

The BSAVA also looked for reassurance that we had considered the risk of importing diseases other than rabies, such as West Nile fever and brucella canis. The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens considered the risks from other diseases transmitted by dogs and cats. That was part of the assessment that we requested. The BSAVA also recommended surveillance for exotic diseases in companion

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animals. My Department is already considering the introduction of such a system and assessing how that can best be done. We have recently announced our surveillance strategy for diseases in the livestock sector.

Today, by coincidence, I launched the DEFRA consultation document on an animal health and welfare strategy, which looks ahead to the next decade. That strategy includes such things as surveillance of exotic diseases and commercial animals. We are developing those areas in some detail. We accept the points that have been made by the BSAVA.

At the moment, all cats and dogs from the USA and Canada are likely to go into quarantine. That is the point that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire mentioned. It is true that no commercial carriers are certified to carry animals into north America at present. That does not, however, stop animals coming in if they meet the criteria of the pet passport scheme. If there is no certified carrier, the animals have to go to quarantine premises where checks are carried out. Once they pass the checks, they are released. That is the role of the quarantine premises.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about quarantine kennels, but we are not completely removing the conditions of quarantine. A whole range of countries have endemic street rabies and it is unlikely that we would extend the pet passport scheme to include them. We do not propose to extend it to any other countries at present.

There will always be a demand for quarantine accommodation. Indeed many quarantine premises take forwarding animals as well. It is not as if the industry will be closed down completely, as was the fur industry. That is not an accurate comparison.

Mr. Gray: I will not press the Minister on compensation, although it may be something that he should consider. I emphasise that arrangements have not yet been agreed with a sensible carrier from the United States and temporary quarantine measures are still in place in mid-January. Why therefore was it necessary to bring in the extension to north America so quickly at the beginning of December? Would it not have been better to have first done the deal with the carriers and then put the scheme in place?

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