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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 8 March 2016

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]


Welfare of Young Dogs Bred for Sale

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Looking at the number of colleagues present who wish to take part in the debate, I am minded to impose immediately a time limit of four minutes on speeches, other than that of the mover of the motion. That will allow 10 minutes for each of the three Front-Bench spokesmen, who I shall call at 10.30 am, with a little injury time in the case of interventions. Once Dr Cameron has spoken, I will endeavour to be helpful to colleagues and give an indication of the order in which I wish to call them.

9.31 am

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the welfare of young dogs bred for sale.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. It is a privilege to have secured this debate. This is an issue I feel very strongly about, having had rescue dogs in my family since childhood, and it is one on which there is overwhelming support from the public across the UK.

I would like initially to thank the organisations, many of which are here today, that work tirelessly on animal welfare and have supported this debate. They include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dogs Trust, Marc the Vet, the Blue Cross, Pup Aid and the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, to name but a few. There are three important strands to this debate that I will cover: the breeding, trafficking and sale of young dogs. I know that other Members are keen to contribute, and I will therefore aim to be concise.

In terms of what is most visible to the public—the sale of young dogs—there is a real issue with puppies being sold in pet shops on our high streets. That is a long-standing issue, which was debated in this House only last year. The sale of dogs in pet shops gives the impression that they are mere commodities and does not afford them their status as man’s best friend.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Can she inform the Chamber of the position relating to Scotland’s powers on the breeding and sale of dogs? Have the Scottish National party Government looked at this issue and are they going to act?

Dr Cameron: I am pleased to inform the hon. Lady that the Scottish Government are currently looking at this issue. I will touch on that later in my speech.

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The sale of dogs in pet shops badges them as commodities and does not give a clear message to the public that a dog is for life. Pet shop puppies are often removed from their mothers too early, separated after just four weeks. Many have been reared in puppy farms, which many notable recent reports have exposed as unacceptable in terms of their animal welfare conditions. Puppy farms do not foster good care, socialisation or attachment with mothers, and we know that those issues contribute to poor temperament in dogs and an increased likelihood of illness and disease. That is not good for puppies, and it is not good for the public.

The high street is not, in my view, the place to buy a puppy. Selling puppies on the high street fosters puppy farming and puppy trafficking. It also leads to impulse purchases, where the household may not be best suited to the dog, nor the dog to the household. That is a very poor start. I am not alone in my view: polling indicates that 90% of the public do not wish to buy a puppy that has been reared on a puppy farm. People are often doing so unknowingly when they buy on the high street.

Numerous recent reports on puppy farming indicate an overwhelming lack of care and concern for basic animal welfare. Mothers who are used excessively as breeding machines for profit purposes are then discarded or even killed when no longer of any use. They are kept for their whole lives in cramped, unhygienic and often horrendous conditions that make us weep.

Puppy farming and trafficking is, however, big business. Recent studies indicate that, in the European Union, trade in cats and dogs is worth £1.3 billion annually. In 2015, 93,424 dogs were imported into the UK from the EU. The RSPCA indicates that in the past year, 30,000 dogs were imported to the UK from illegal farms in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, and 40,000 came from Ireland.

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. This is an animal welfare issue, but it is also linked to serious and organised crime. Does she agree that if we are to tackle it, we should do so from a welfare point of view, but also from a crime point of view?

Dr Cameron: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. I feel extremely strongly about this. Having looked at the literature, it is clear to me that this is organised, professional and big business, and we must make concerted efforts to address it.

The RSPCA petition to scrap the puppy trade was signed by 50,000 UK citizens, with 82% of people surveyed indicating that they wanted the puppy trade scrapped. The petition highlighted the fact that a licence is needed to sell scrap metal, but not to sell man’s best friend. Concerns have also been raised by ferry companies and port authorities in Stranraer in Scotland and beyond that puppies brought in from the EU under puppy passport schemes often have no microchip, health certificates or rabies vaccines. That goes beyond animal welfare; it is organised and surely poses a public health risk.

Legislation must be fit for modern day society, where many transactions, including the sale of dogs, take place via the internet. The Pet Advisory Action Group indicates that, in conjunction with the authorities, it has had to remove 130,000 inappropriate adverts regarding

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animal sales. We must reform our system so that it is fit for purpose and that welfare requirements are universal in our modern society.

We know that in order to develop a healthy, well-balanced dog, puppies must be reared in natural environments. It is recommended, including by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that puppies remain with their mothers for a minimum of eight weeks after birth. That must be properly enacted and monitored in order to protect dogs, ensure puppy development, attachment and socialisation, and reduce the incidence of aggression, illness and premature death. All responsible breeders should abide by the best standards and take pride in doing so. The “Where’s Mum?” campaign, supported by the public, highlights those issues and argues that puppies should only be purchased from a breeder when the mum is present and standards are adhered to.

The journey of a puppy should also be tracked from birth by registration and microchipping. Disreputable breeders ignore guidelines but often go unpunished, which only reinforces their behaviour. Guidelines indicate that dogs should breed no more than six times in their lifetime, and the Kennel Club’s recommendation is no more than four times. The Kennel Club reports that one in five pups bought in pet shops needs veterinary care or dies before they are five months old. They become sick due to the sickness of our system.

We are aware that animal welfare legislation is a devolved issue. However, close collaboration is needed to ensure that we get this right across the board and across the nations of the UK. In Scotland and England, further consultations are under way. The Welsh Assembly introduced additional animal welfare legislation in 2014. I ask that all Governments across the UK view these issues with the gravity they deserve. Actions, not merely words, are required.

I request today that the Minister consider the following. We need a public awareness campaign, co-ordinated across the UK, outlining how to recognise best practice in dog breeding and providing the public with guidelines on how and where to buy puppies reputably. We are looking for leadership on this issue directly from Government, and I would advocate that concerned citizens contact their MP or Member of the devolved Governments and ask them to champion that.

We need stipulations that those selling a puppy must have licences with adequate welfare conditions attached, and we must reduce the threshold for a breeding licence from four litters to two, as recommended. The construction and monitoring of a national database of puppy sellers is required to ensure the enforcement and checking of welfare conditions. The microchipping and recording of all puppies for sale is needed to ensure welfare and consumer confidence. Internet advertisers must also display the licence number of the puppy seller so that the puppy journey can be checked.

On welfare, the minimum age of selling a puppy at eight weeks should be not just recommended, but clarified and made mandatory. The principles of the assured breeders scheme must be enacted. Guidance under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 needs to be updated to prohibit the sale of puppies from pet shops or retail premises, and training and increased resource for local authorities

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should be provided to ensure that regulations are randomly monitored and enforced. Reporting on the monitoring and conviction rates of rogue puppy dealers and traffickers is needed. The public require action.

We must tackle the sale and trafficking of illegally imported puppies. Key agencies require regular shared intelligence across the EU and a published strategy that is monitored, enforced and reviewed. Visual checks must be routine for dogs entering the UK. That is required not just on welfare grounds, but on public health grounds, as outlined.

Angela Smith: I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Lady has said. I am glad to hear of a consultation by the Scottish Government, but I do not see, in anything she has said, a clear commitment from them to do all the things that she is demanding of the UK Government—the Government relating to England. Is she saying that the Scottish Government will do all the things that she is outlining today?

Dr Cameron: I am saying that these are the issues that I wish to be taken forward across the UK, so that there are commensurate animal welfare policies right across all the devolved Governments, including in the UK Parliament. I would not seek to pre-empt the outcome of any consultations, but this is certainly an issue that I feel strongly about. It is an issue I have brought to the House and I hope that the Governments will take it on adequately, given what I believe to be the gravity of the situation.

In conclusion, there is cross-party support on this issue. More importantly, there is widespread public support. Fundamentally, we are here to represent our constituents, not to enable big businesses trading in puppy maltreatment. The public demand and deserve action—meaningful action—on the welfare of young dogs bred for sale. We claim to be a nation of animal lovers; it is time that we walked the walk, because at this moment—today and tomorrow—puppies are being maltreated in this country by rogue breeders, traffickers and traders. We must put a stop to it.

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): I said that I would try to indicate the order in which I will call Members to speak, so I shall do so now. In a moment I will call Sir David Amess and then, in the following order, Angela Smith, Jim Shannon, Drew Hendry, Jim Fitzpatrick, Margaret Ferrier, Liz Saville Roberts and Danny Kinahan. That should leave sufficient time for the Front Benchers to reply if everybody adheres to the four-minute time limit and does not take too many interventions.

9.44 am

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on her introduction to the debate; I wholeheartedly agree with everything she said. I hope she will not take offence, but as you and I know, Sir Roger, having debated this matter many times, unfortunately every time the House comes to an agreement on it, clever individuals try and get round the law. However, with our excellent Minister present today, I am sure that this will be a groundbreaking debate.

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Puppies are cute, but they grow up and then perhaps they are not so cute. I utterly condemn unlicensed breeders, as articulated by the hon. Lady. I also want to step into more controversial areas: I am not very keen on what I call “designer puppies”. To me, that seems to have increasingly got out of hand, and of course there are health issues there.

The illegal practice of the puppy farm trade affects the whole of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, in my county of Essex, an investigation was launched by the RSPCA last June into a puppy farm, as there were serious concerns about the owner selling underweight and ill dogs and not providing the right paperwork to buyers. Although the owner has insisted that no puppies are bred on the premises and the council has confirmed that the owner is covered under a pet shop licence, the grey areas surrounding the licensing laws make it very difficult to know whether these operations are legal or to check whether the welfare of the puppies is of a responsible standard.

The excellent RSPCA reported over 3,500 calls on puppy farms in 2015, which was a 122% increase on the last five years. Many of those calls included people complaining that their puppies had become ill after they had been bought, as the hon. Lady said—and I absolutely agree with everything that she said about the number of litters that should be allowed and think that the number of ill puppies that are being sold is totally reprehensible.

I do not want to start a row about membership of the European Union, but the importing of puppies from Europe to the UK has soared in recent years, due to the change in EU law in 2013 to allow the free movement of people’s pets—perhaps that is another reason to leave the EU. According to the RSPCA, the British puppy market has changed in the past three years, with the number of imported puppies increasing to over 60,000 puppies a year, coming from places such as Ireland, Lithuania and Hungary. That leads to puppies not being vaccinated against diseases and showing behavioural problems due to the transit conditions from the continent to the United Kingdom. EU regulation No. 576/2013, which intended to strike a balance between allowing the free movement of people’s pets for holidays or dog shows and ensuring that diseases such as rabies are contained, has simply not worked.

In conclusion, what can be done to tighten the rules and regulations of the puppy trade in the UK? I welcome the review by DEFRA of animal licensing, which recommends changing the legal framework, which, in some parts, is outdated and preceded the internet age. Furthermore, compulsory licensing ought to be implemented for anyone selling a puppy—including commercial breeders who breed two or more litters a year—setting out clear requirements for the vendor, such as clearer sales information on any online puppy adverts, and more transparency for consumers on the puppies they buy online. That could be achieved by having model licensing conditions for puppy breeding and selling to provide better harmonisation between local authorities. To mitigate the illegal trade in puppies from the continent, surveillance at ports to catch and prosecute puppy dealers should be intensified to ensure that puppy dealers are not evading import controls. Most importantly, there should be a revision of the current European Union regulation on the free movement of pets.

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9.48 am

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, especially on a subject on which you have so much expertise. It is a pleasure, too, to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), who is absolutely right to say that we have debated this issue many times, including in the main Chamber, where we had an excellent debate on it only two years ago.

I want to restrict my comments to illegal importation. The pet travel scheme—otherwise known as PETS—was set up to allow companion animals to enter the UK without the need for quarantine, as long as the owner complies with the rules of travel and the animal involved has a valid pet passport. I think we would all agree that since the scheme’s introduction, it has allowed many owners to take their pets away on holiday and helped reduce the need for pets to be placed in quarantine for many weeks, reducing stress both for pets and owners.

Unfortunately, however, the scheme is open to abuse, the level of which is now causing significant concern. There is clear evidence that the illegal importation of puppies into the UK is a major problem, especially when one considers that the practice is often coupled with the sale of puppies online through classified websites. The need to reform the scheme has been recognised, and I want to acknowledge that on the record. I welcome the recent changes that have seen the introduction of measures to improve security and traceability of passports, and a new minimum age of 12 weeks for rabies vaccination. However, I contend that more needs to be done.

In its second investigation into abuses of the scheme by commercial smugglers, Dogs Trust found yet again that dealers in Lithuania are regularly importing puppies illegally. It has also been found that there is a problem with Romania and Hungary, where vets and unscrupulous breeders are regularly exploiting loopholes in the scheme to import puppies illegally into the UK.

Adequate enforcement of PETS is part of the problem. It is left to carriers, ferry companies and Eurotunnel to enforce it and a Dogs Trust investigation reveals the inadequacy of the checks that are carried out. For example, there is no obligation for carriers to do even a sight check of the animals being imported. In fact, there are various problems, one being that the owner can scan the chip, which does not always belong to the dog, and may not be embedded in the animal.

Not only are buyers here in the UK being duped into buying puppies that they are told are UK bred, they often spend considerable sums on these animals. Tragically and most importantly, these puppies often suffer serious stress and illness because of the way in which they have been bred in those countries and the way in which they have been conveyed into this country. Welfare standards are just not being met.

What do we need to do about this? I am pleased that the Minister has started a broad consultation on the breeding and sale of dogs and that that includes online sales, which are a huge part of the problem. Illegal importation is not good for anyone. It is not good for pet owners, it is not good for legitimate puppy breeders who work to high standards and most of all it is not good for the puppies. I hope that the Minister will come up with a meaningful response today, especially on illegal importation. We need visual checks of all dogs

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entering the UK and more rigorous enforcement and penalties, such as fixed penalty notices or on-the-spot fines, to make sure the problem is tackled effectively before more dogs suffer and more owners are duped into buying dogs that are supposedly UK bred.

9.52 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate on this important issue. It is always good to come to this Chamber and say what we have done as a devolved Administration. The Minister will be aware of that because I am sure that he will have done his homework before coming here, as will the shadow Minister. The Northern Ireland Assembly has introduced legislation to make wonderful and important changes to animal welfare. My party is committed to that, has shown great concern about it, and has championed legislation and activism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) launched our party’s animal welfare policy about a year ago and we have taken steps to make Northern Ireland a zero tolerance country for those who seek to abuse animals. With great respect, Sir Roger, as so often happens, Northern Ireland leads the way legislatively and sets standards for other parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to follow.

In addition to introducing legislation, we have created public awareness campaigns throughout the Province to highlight the issues, making those who wish to report abuse aware of how and where to do so, and those who abuse animals aware that their time is up. The Democratic Unionist party supports the creation of a centrally compiled banned offenders register, which I think we should share across all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, one of our neighbouring countries. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow also referred to the movement of animals, so let us have a relationship and an offenders list that take in the Republic of Ireland.

Just last month, our plans were put into action with an amendment to Stormont’s Justice (No.2) Bill. Under the amendment, the maximum sentence that can be handed down in the Crown court for animal cruelty crimes will increase from two years to five, sending a clear message to those who abuse animals. As the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said, much more needs to be done. There is evidence to show that removing puppies from their mothers through sale or theft has a detrimental impact on the welfare and wellbeing of the puppies. How that affects pups is important.

There is an issue when selling puppies because of the inherently negative impact on their health, welfare and behaviour. Infection and diseasein puppies removed from their mothers before weaning is commonplace. These puppies have underdeveloped immune systems and are often sold to the public with infections such as, in my Ulster Scots accent, Parvovirus, Campylobacter, Giardia, kennel cough and hip dysplasia. Those are just

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some of the problems animals may have. Just last week, I was made aware that puppies can be bought on Google and eBay with absolutely no control. Again, I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

Inbreeding and lack of health testing leaves puppies prone to painful hereditary conditions that may be life limiting, and when someone buys a puppy, they want to know that it is healthy and well. On lack of socialisation,it is important to have a reaction and communication between human and animal so that behavioural issues can be addressed. Transportation of puppies, which the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned, from breeding establishments to licensed pet shops, poses an immense health and welfare risk. Again, enforcement must be part of the process. Acclimatisationof puppies to new premises before they are sold is necessary, otherwise they are exposed to the risk of disease. That must be addressed.

I have spoken about retail outlets. Poor health and behavioural issuesalso result in dogs being relinquished to the rescue system and possible euthanasia by owners who are unable to cope.

In conclusion, what we have done in Northern Ireland sets a pattern for the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that the shadow Minister and the Minister will respond to that positively. Animal cruelty and theft have no place in a civilised society. Although it seems to be only now that real and coherent action is being taken, it is encouraging to see the successes I have mentioned. We look forward to more of that.

I apologise to the shadow Minister and the Minister for having to leave to go to the Defence Committee.

9.56 am

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. As I have indicated, unfortunately I will have to leave before the end of the summing up due to a ministerial meeting, but I would like to underline and back up the comments so far about this trade.

It is impossible not to have an emotional reaction when seeing a puppy. They give us a warm feeling and we are automatically attracted to them so they are easy to sell. It is also easy to blind others with barriers against how they have come to be available for sale. One has only to look on the internet to see the booming business of so-called designer puppies and young dogs. It has never been easier to buy a puppy.

Despite that, puppy farming has been illegal in the UK since the 1970s. Scotland has taken additional steps through our Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009 to restrict further the sale of young cats and dogs and to ensure the welfare of any puppies that pass through a dealer. From 6 April this year, it will be compulsory for all dog owners in Scotland to microchip their dogs.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) about designer dogs, which is a growing issue. Dogs should be bred for the benefit of dogs, not for fashion. Mixed breeds, such as Jack Russell terriers crossed with pugs, which are called “Jugs”, may

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sound attractive, but are not necessarily a good thing. The consequences of mixing different genes will come through in time, perhaps with serious health problems and defects resulting in high vet bills, which owners may struggle to meet, not to mention the long-term suffering the dog might endure. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the benefits of being in the European Union because, last month, it introduced new resolutions to end the illegal trafficking of pets. That is a direct benefit us being in the EU.

The RSPCA received over 3,500 calls about puppy farms in 2015, which is a 122% increase from five years ago. Many were from people complaining that their puppies had become ill after they had been bought. The RSPCA claims that criminal gangs can earn £2 million annually from the puppy trade. That is also a cost to the taxpayer. A puppy farmer’s main objective is profit. As we have been told, to maximise their profit, they typically separate puppies from their mothers too early, and keep the dogs and puppies they breed in insanitary conditions.

Mr Kevan Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we also need to target some of the big breeders? As he rightly said, this issue is not just about welfare, but about organised crime. A targeted approach by DEFRA and other agencies, targeting some of the big breeders, would make big inroads into the issue.

Drew Hendry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree that there should be some targeting and, if it is not possible to get these people on other things, perhaps the Al Capone principle should come into effect and we should catch them for tax evasion.

As I was saying, the breeders breed the puppies in insanitary conditions and fail to follow breed-specific health schemes or to apply basic, routine health measures such as immunisation and worming. As a result, puppies bred by puppy farmers are more likely to suffer common, preventable infectious diseases, painful or chronic inherited conditions, behavioural issues because of poor early socialisation, and shorter life spans. According to Battersea dogs home, fewer than 12% of puppies born in Great Britain every year are bred by licensed breeders; 88% of puppies born in the UK are born to unlicensed breeders.

Angela Smith: The Kennel Club has asked the Scottish Government to endorse its assured breeders scheme and to prohibit the sale of puppies in pet shops. Can the hon. Gentleman give us a view on what the Scottish Government will do to respond to that?

Drew Hendry: I would have to look in detail at that, but I can say that pet shops do have to be licensed and they now account for fewer than 5% of puppies sold. I am sure that, as part of the consultation, further measures will be taken. It is important to say that there is a common purpose here across the piece. We do not necessarily need to make this a party political issue. There are issues on which we agree about the welfare of puppies and other young animals and about the long-term welfare of the families who are looking after them as well. We can come together across the political divide on this issue, and I am sure that there will be a warm reception for any suggestions that can improve our ability to clamp down on this illegal trade.

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Puppy farms are places where dogs are often bred in filthy conditions and, as I said, with very little human contact. Female dogs, or dams, are often discarded when they are unfit to breed anymore. As we have heard, a dam may be forced to have litter after litter of puppies, even though the recommendation is for only two to four. That can be quite a traumatic experience for the animals involved.

There needs to be a focus on Government help to fund rehoming centres, such as Dogs Trust and Battersea, which are actively working to end illegal breeding. It should be illegal for a puppy to be taken from its mother before the age of eight weeks. There should be stricter licensing by local authorities. Online adverts absolutely should carry the details of the licence, and we must continue to inform and educate people that puppy farms and the illegal importation of puppies will result in a generation of pets that are likely to have health problems and to suffer in the long term.

10.3 am

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). I thank colleagues at Dogs Trust and Battersea dogs and cats home for their briefings and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who is also my colleague on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I want to concentrate on the trust’s briefing on the illegal importation of puppies into the UK under the pet travel scheme.

Since the introduction of the scheme, Dogs Trust has found that it is being used as a cover for the illegal importation of puppies for commercial sale. In 2014, the trust’s undercover investigation, “The Puppy Smuggling Scandal”, found evidence of puppies being brought into the UK for sale via PETS from both Lithuania and Hungary. Despite changes to the scheme in December 2014, including the requirement for member states to carry out non-discriminatory checks, the problem continues, with the second investigation in 2015, “Puppy Smuggling: The Scandal Continues”, identifying that the changes have not been the deterrent that they were intended to be, with the trade continuing from Lithuania and Romania.

Dogs Trust tells me that it is conducting a pilot scheme with Kent trading standards to pay for the quarantine costs of any puppies that they seize at the border, in the hope that that will disrupt the trade. Last year, more than 3,000 dogs were imported into the UK from Hungary under PETS. From Lithuania, 2,000-plus dogs were imported, and more than 2,000 were also imported from Romania. However, those figures represent only the dogs that have been declared. The trust cautions that many more undeclared dogs are entering from those countries and others.

Despite the trust’s work to raise awareness of this illegal trade, it is concerned that little progress is being made in tackling the problem. This is a very important point, to which I would like the Minister to respond: during the pilot, it has not received any details about the puppies that are handed over to it and, as a result, it

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does not know whether the pilot is disrupting the trade because it is unsure where the puppies have come from and how they have been found. Dogs Trust would like to know, first, what assessments the Government have made of the Dogs Trust pilot quarantine scheme and, secondly, how effective the Government believe that that scheme has been at disrupting the illegal importation of puppies under PETS.

Dogs Trust makes four recommendations. First, if there is to be real progress in tackling the ever growing problem of illegally imported puppies, the UK’s key agencies need to share intelligence. Secondly, visual checks, as raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge and others, of all dogs entering Britain will help to ensure that they are healthy, not underage and match the information given in their passport. Thirdly—this was also raised by colleagues previously—there should be immediate sanctions such as fixed penalty notices or on-the-spot fines that are large enough to act as a deterrent for those found to be illegally importing puppies. Fourthly, there should be a crackdown on vets who supply fake pet passports, through work with the veterinary regulatory authorities in the countries that import puppies into the UK.

Battersea raises a number of points, mostly on domestic matters. It welcomes the consultation launched in December 2015 by DEFRA and the progress that has been made, but it raises a number of issues and statistical anomalies to which I hope the Minister might be able to refer. The Minister is held in high regard—he knows that—and we would be very grateful for his responses. We look forward to his comments and those of other Front Benchers.

10.6 am

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I might “litter” my speech with a few dog puns, but if you think any of them are a bit “ruff”, I will understand if you have to “paws” the proceedings to “collar” me.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate. It is often said that the UK is a nation of dog lovers, although the pedant in me would point out that we are four nations. That is salient, as it is important to bear it in mind that these animal welfare matters are devolved. Although my speech today is made in London, the points that I raise are just as pertinent in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast.

I think that the scale of the problems associated with the breeding and trade of young puppies would shock most people. The RSPCA estimates that anywhere between 700,000 and 1.9 million puppies are sold each year in the UK. About 60,000 puppies are imported, as we have heard, from other European countries. Only 70,000 puppies are born to licensed British breeders. That massive shift in how the industry operates has it operating much more like an industry, and anyone who has ever taken on the responsibility of raising a pup will understand why that is so damaging.

In the first eight weeks of life, a pup needs to be mentored by its mother and, in playing with littermates, will learn important lessons in behaviour and interaction.

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Those few formative weeks are crucial for a pup to grow up balanced, confident and healthy. Unfortunately, many of the puppies mass-bred and reared purely for profit are denied that, and disease is an inevitable consequence. There are major issues, too, with the import of puppies, as we have heard. However, not all people who sell puppies are irresponsible. I acknowledge that there are many very capable, principled and accountable sellers and breeders.

There are simple things that prospective puppy purchasers can do to ensure that they are not, as it were, being sold a pup. They should always see a pup with its mother. They should ensure that it is not being sold when it is younger than eight weeks old, and it is important that they understand what they are letting themselves in for and educate themselves about the animal’s welfare needs. Most important, they should not buy a pet on impulse; it is a serious commitment.

I know that the UK Government are consulting at the moment. I hope to see serious consideration given to restrictions and regulations to address the issues discussed today, and I hope to see similar action from the devolved Administrations. There is a great need for the nations to work together to tackle the trade and to ensure that rogue dealers are not able to evade the law by crossing a border. I would like the Minister and the responsible Ministers in the devolved Administrations to give serious consideration to measures that could ensure that puppy welfare improves across the UK.

The licensing of puppy sellers and breeders needs to be looked into closely and there needs to be greater surveillance at ports to catch and prosecute puppy smugglers. Many measures can be taken, and a far-reaching consultation involving key animal rights and welfare charities will highlight many others. I thank hon. Members for taking the time to listen to my contribution. If they will permit one last dog pun, I will tail off my speech now.

10.10 am

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing the debate.

It is worth remembering that it is now 15 years since the foot and mouth outbreak, so we should be alert to animal welfare and health. Unlike foot and mouth disease, a number of particularly unpleasant and possibly fatal diseases are transferrable between animals and people. Some are passed directly from dogs and other mammals to people, and others involve parasites.

One disease that causes concern to vets and doctors alike is echinococcosis, which is transmitted by a type of tapeworm. The disease causes cysts in people’s livers and lungs that may require surgery to remove. It presently affects 1 million people worldwide and the particular species of tapeworm is increasing in range and numbers across the continent. It is worth mentioning that the UK chief veterinary officer has expressed concern about the disease.

Another serious risk is rabies. The rabies virus attacks the brain and, unless treated during the incubation period, it is fatal. The World Health Organisation estimates that someone dies every 15 minutes from rabies and that 40% of victims are children. Some 99% of cases in

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humans are caused by dog bites. However, the rabies risk must be considered proportionately because the disease is completely preventable if dogs are vaccinated against the virus. Vaccination against rabies is therefore a critical requirement of the pet travel scheme.

In December 2014, changes were brought in that stated that puppies must be at least 12 weeks of age before they could be vaccinated against rabies. The vaccination requires three weeks to take effect, which means that no puppies under the age of 15 weeks should be entering the UK. Surely that needs to be clarified in Government advice about pet travel and, more importantly, must be enforced properly. No dog with any risk of carrying rabies should be allowed to enter the UK, which would mean extending the waiting period for travel from three weeks to three months.

Sir David Amess: I understand that the problem of puppy farming is a very serious issue in Wales. Would the hon. Lady advise the House whether the Welsh Administration have debated the subject in the past year?

Liz Saville Roberts: I have to answer completely honestly: I do not know. However, issues regarding dogs, including their welfare and how they are treated with electric collars, have been taken very seriously. I will find out and come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Dogs Trust has been supporting overwhelmed trading standards officers and port authority staff in Kent by stepping in to care for illegally imported puppies that are seized by funding their veterinary treatment and quarantine fees. The pilot scheme has been in operation for only three months, yet it has had to deal with 100 illegally imported puppies, and the charity believes that that figure is just the tip of the iceberg.

Although some puppies were so ill that they did not survive, many have been saved, socialised and found loving homes at great cost to the charity, with one puppy requiring veterinary care costing in the region of £5,000. The sickly puppy was destined to be sold online and its new owner would have been dumped with that hefty bill had the charity not stepped in. The scheme receives no Government funding at present and is due to be reviewed in May.

Consider what is likely to happen if Dogs Trust were to cease funding the care of those puppies. What incentive is there for local authorities and port authorities to prioritise issues such as dog smuggling at a time of ongoing budget cuts and concerns over the movement of people? How are they expected to identify a 15-week-old puppy? What incentive is there to seize puppies when it will only result in extra costs?

I have been very kindly informed that the subject was last debated in the Welsh Parliament in December 2014. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) for informing me of that, as hon. Members will appreciate that I have been concentrating on the topic of rabies.

If traffickers are caught, they can abandon puppies at the border. Regardless of the fact that dogs are living creatures, in law they are simply property. Surely, many traffickers are making regular journeys through the Eurotunnel. Could agencies not share information such

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as car registrations? Such cars must be going back and forth, and must be seen regularly. Surely that information could be used and we could make better use of it.

I call on the Government to respond to Dogs Trust’s proposed actions regarding the pet travel scheme; to share intelligence about those caught illegally importing puppies across agencies; to ensure that proper visual checks on dogs entering the UK are undertaken; and to ensure that key staff to have the expertise to assess the health and age of dogs. That last point is an important one. Vets may not be at hand, and the critical point is to know the age of the dogs—staff must be able to age them.

Dogs Trust also proposes that the waiting period for a rabies vaccination is extended to six months to safeguard against the disease’s incubation period—we should at least have a full discussion about that—and that sanctions such as fixed-penalty notices are imposed to deter the dog smuggling trade.

10.15 am

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate, in which I am pleased to speak. I did not want to have any puns in my speech but then realised that I wanted to say, “It’s quite nice to be tail-end Charlie”, which is one of the better speaking positions.

I thank all the people who work so hard on animal welfare in the devolved Administrations and here. In particular, I thank Dogs Trust for bringing the issue to my attention. I am deeply ashamed when I hear that 40,000 dogs—various numbers are mentioned—come from Ireland, through Northern Ireland, into Scotland and into the trade here. My main drive today is to call for us all to work together and to set up some mechanisms to make it possible for us to stop the trade.

I asked a written question on the pet travel scheme in January. The answer I received stated that 184,000 dogs came here under the scheme in 2012, and that the figure went up to 267,000 dogs in 2015. However, the number of quality assurance checks decreased from 6,070 in 2012 to 4,863 in 2015. Over those years, we did fewer checks although more animals came in.

The numbers we hear about differ between speakers. We are told that there are 9 million dogs in the UK and that some 900,000 puppies may be needed each year. That is why we have to deal with 70,000 coming in illegally. I ask that all the devolved countries work together.

As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, legislation was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2013 that works on breeding establishments based on three breeding bitches having three or more litters a year. That is the way we have been dealing with the issue, but that is different from the recommendations we heard earlier. We must adopt something that works. There are nine councils and there is one council inspector in each whose job it is to check, so we do not even cover it. In Northern Ireland, crime is still linked to the troubles of the past. There is not just puppy farming, but fuel laundering and cigarette trading. A whole mass of things are going on and puppy trading is part of the criminal world.

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Coming back to my main point, we must start working together, and sharing information and data. That includes working with the Irish, who work phenomenally well with us on other major crimes. We must learn from the issue and look at how we deal with advertising, including on Gumtree and Google, which just makes dog trading look easy. We do not know where those dogs have come from, what diseases they are carrying and how they are looked after. Think of the poor things travelling long distances.

While I am here, I will keep banging on about the need for the Union to work together. It is not just about little Northern Ireland. It is about Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all the parts of England working well and ensuring that we deal with things together. We need a Committee or a group that meets at least twice a year so that we can work together, share information and deal with the matter.

Everyone adores their animals. Dogs, particularly, are a great love. Every year our little Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary in my patch does a draw. Hon. Members might expect that small numbers of tickets are sold, but 8,500 are sold every year. The sanctuary does a wonderful job. However, going around knocking on doors, we can see how many dogs are probably illegal. We need to deal with the problem together.

10.19 am

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): I will be brief, as I have just an odd few comments. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. Pets are an emotive issue. They have affection, they develop relationships and they understand torment and mistreatment. However, the purchase of dogs seems all too easy, particularly from overseas breeders but also from domestic breeders. There is a real issue here.

The 2013-14 figures, the most recent available, in my Hyndburn constituency were drawn to my attention under freedom of information. Seventy-one dangerous dogs had to be put to sleep—rescued from their owners but then destroyed—and 525 had to be kennelled. Those figures are absolutely appalling, and a lot of those dogs are pit bull types, and so on. They are trophy dogs that are bought from breeders, both domestically and internationally. That ease of access between breeders and disgraceful, poor owners is causing the problem we need to address. Breeders should not be easily able to supply dogs to people who are clearly inadequate in looking after such pets. The Government should look at that. Something should be done, because to see so many pets put down is disgraceful, to be honest.

Not enough information is provided to some dog owners. Besides tougher regulation, we need to do something about some of the breeders. I have a Sealyham terrier. He is a small dog, but he is difficult to breed. Sealyham terriers have an eye disease, and if they are not cared for, and if the eye disease is bred and re-bred through generations, further dogs bred from the parent suffer, too, and are imported. There is not enough regulation of dogs and the diseases that they carry, such as through dog passports and checks on breeders to ensure that their dogs are healthy before they breed and

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before they put them on Gumtree or wherever for sale into the United Kingdom. There is an issue with disease and the breeding of disease into breeds. Pet owners in the United Kingdom buy such dogs in all good faith, only to find that, when they take their dog to the vet, there is a serious issue.

Many issues in this industry need to be considered, and I am deeply concerned that we do not seem to be a nation of pet lovers any more. I see so many dogs being destroyed in my constituency alone, and I hate to think what the figures are for the United Kingdom. I will draw my comments to an end on that sad note.

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Members have been extremely prudent in their time conservation so, if the Front Benchers act in similar vein, Dr Cameron should have a few minutes at the end to wind up the debate.

10.23 am

Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate. She has raised an issue that touches the hearts and minds of many people living in Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK. We have heard powerful arguments that have attempted to give voice to the plight of young dogs that have been bred in appalling conditions, removed from their mothers early and exported, sometimes thousands of miles, to be sold as pets to unwitting owners who are ignorant of the suffering and torment that the new member of their family has experienced.

The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, recently reported on greyhound welfare. While conducting that inquiry, my colleagues and I encountered many accounts of dogs being bred in poor conditions and smuggled across borders for sale as puppies, whereas other animals, having been deemed unfit or too old to race, were transported abroad for breeding or other activities so horrific that I can scarcely begin to imagine their torment. We live in a cruel world, and I know that the Minister takes a keen interest in animal welfare.

Backstreet breeding is the unregistered, unauthorised and unlicensed breeding of dogs, and it has much in common with puppy farming. Unseen, but commonplace across the UK and elsewhere, mothers live miserable lives in sometimes squalid conditions and are forced to produce litters repeatedly without respite, so that their puppies can be sold for easy money. Exhausted and under-socialised, such dogs are all too often thrown on to the streets once they have served their purpose.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) noted that puppy farming has been illegal in the UK since the 1970s. Anyone involved in the large-scale production of puppies without being licensed, or without fulfilling licence conditions, can already be prosecuted under existing UK legislation. Scotland, as we have heard, has taken additional steps, through our Licensing of Animal Dealers (Young Cats and Young Dogs) (Scotland) Regulations 2009, to further restrict the sale of young dogs and to ensure the welfare of any puppies that may pass through a dealer or pet shop.

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The Battersea report on breeding licensing exposes the ineffectiveness of the current system. The law currently states that a licence is required if more than five litters are produced in a year and/or if dogs are sold commercially. The report notes that there are currently only 895 licensed dog breeders in the UK, and 40% of those breeders are located in just 6% of local authority areas. A third of local authorities do not have any licensed breeders. Some 90% of licence applications each year are renewals, rather than first-time applications. Licence fees vary greatly, from £23 in Glasgow to £741 in Lambeth. Only 12 licensed breeders are registered in London, a city of more than 8 million people, of whom on average a quarter, or 2 million, are dog owners. Less than 12% of puppies born in the UK each year are bred by licensed breeders, who produce an estimated 67,000 puppies each year. Those facts prompt the question as to what the current system is for, given that it is clearly not achieving what is expected. Nevertheless, it has been identified that the trade in puppies within England and Scotland has significantly increased over the past 10 years. The main areas of increase relate to the importation of pups into Scotland from eastern Europe and Eire.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises me that pups from eastern Europe are predominantly high-value breeds such as British bulldogs, pugs and French bulldogs. Those points have also been made by the hon. Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick). The countries involved include Romania, Hungary and Lithuania. The average price of a pup imported from eastern Europe is between £1,000 and £1,500.

The increase in imported dogs from Eire is most notable in new crossbreeds such as labradoodles. Research shows that a large number of dog breeders have been established throughout the Republic. Premises are both licensed and unlicensed for the purpose of breeding, and some are known to have more than 1,000 breeding bitches—this is dog breeding on an industrial scale. Evidence obtained by the SSPCA reveals that pups are being transported from the Republic, through the north of Ireland and into Scotland via ferries at Cairnryan, a point made by the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan). From there, the pups are transported throughout the UK, with little consideration given to welfare by dealers intent on making a profit. Pups can quickly become ill, often with fatal consequences, among a group of animals with already compromised health due to breeding conditions, lack of vaccination and stress, having been removed from their mothers at an early age—a point eloquently made by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts).

Enforcement by the SSPCA has evidenced efforts by breeders to maximise the value of their pups by subverting attempts to trace dogs back to the Republic. For example, pups are not being microchipped, which is a legal requirement in the Republic, and they are not being vaccinated. Unvaccinated pups, as we have heard, are at risk of developing diseases, most commonly canine parvovirus. Risks also increase where pups are held in poor conditions, such as in the boot of a car, or become stressed through transportation or changes in circumstance and/or diet. Pups are being sold in Scotland to consumers who are told that they have been bred in Scotland or England. To promote that, bitches—often not the parent

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bitch—are transported with pups by breeders. Once the pups are sold, the bitches are returned to the breeder to enable further breeding. Within the illicit trade, these bitches are referred to as “show bitches”.

The motive, of course, is money. Pups are believed to be purchased in Eire, for example, for as little as €50 and sold in the UK for up to £700. Pups originating in eastern Europe are also believed to be purchased for as little as €50 and sold in the UK for up to £1,500. As we have heard, a recent investigation by Dogs Trust showed that vets in Lithuania and Hungary freely admit falsifying information on pet passports, such as vaccinations, and that breeders and dealers regularly transport under-age puppies to the UK, as the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) noted.

Dogs Trust also found that vets issue passports for puppies that they have not seen, that puppies’ ages are changed to evade the pet travel scheme, that dogs banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are being brought into the country and that false vaccination stamps are added to indicate that puppies have been given rabies vaccinations when they have not. That point was made eloquently by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd.

Worryingly, the scale of profit and the rapid turnover mean that organised crime groups become involved in the puppy trade to exploit the potential for making profit from offences with relatively low risk and penalties, and for laundering the proceeds of other crimes, as the hon. Member for South Antrim pointed out. Eurogroup for Animals suggests that puppies are the third most valuable illegally traded commodity in the EU, after narcotics and arms. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) rightly highlighted the importance that we should place on tackling organised crime.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that between 700,000 and 1.9 million puppies are sold in the UK each year from all sources. The RSPCA also claims that criminal gangs can earn more than £2 million annually from the puppy trade, costing the Treasury millions in unpaid tax and the animals concerned significantly greater hardship—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), who also noted that animal welfare is devolved to Scotland and that the Scottish Government have used their powers to good effect, initiating a review of existing companion animal welfare legislation, including legislation on the breeding and sale of dogs. The Scottish Government are developing long-term options for further work in that area. My colleagues in Scotland are at the forefront of animal rights. From 6 April this year, it will be compulsory for all dogs in Scotland to be microchipped.

Last month the European Parliament introduced new resolutions to end the illegal trafficking of pets. The regulations will ensure that microchipping of pets across EU member states is more harmonised, so that pet microchips can be more easily compared and more compatible databases are produced. A range of additional measures are being considered to enhance the powers of local authorities and to make breeders identifiable and accountable.

Scotland’s voluntary sector is not being found wanting either. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ special investigations unit has been collating intelligence and targeting offenders in an attempt to disrupt and reduce the illicit trade in dogs bred for sale.

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Importantly, it has been working with the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) noted.

Nevertheless, the ease and popularity of the internet has meant that the impulse buying of pets has in many ways become an even more pressing issue. As we have heard, online sellers have little accountability, and web adverts are often a front for puppy farms with highly questionable welfare standards. The problem is exacerbated by the ease of acquiring pet shop licences, which are often used by puppy dealers to distribute animals for sale rather than regulating traditional high street pet shops.

How can we effect change in the UK context? First, as we heard, principally from the hon. Member for Strangford, a public awareness campaign is needed. We have also heard that an outright ban on the sale of puppies through licensed pet shops might be the simplest, cheapest, most effective and most easily enforceable means of making a significant and swift improvement to the welfare of thousands of dogs and puppies. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow noted that a ban on the sale of puppies under eight weeks old would also help, and the hon. Member for Southend West suggested the introduction of a required breeding licence for any household producing two or more litters per year.

A system involving a single animal establishment licence should be introduced and applied equally to online and offline sellers of dogs. The list of registered and licenced sellers should be publicly accessible and, ideally, centralised, so that potential buyers can check breeders’ credentials. Website sellers could be required to enter their licence number as a mandatory field on adverts, so that each potential buyer can see it. We also need revisions to the pet travel scheme, as we have heard. All those measures would be consistent with the proposals outlined in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ consultation on the breeding and sale of dogs, issued at the end of December 2015.

However, the key message remains simple. Anyone considering buying a puppy should do so only if they can see it feeding with its mother at the breeder’s premises. The importance of visual checks cannot be overestimated. That simple demand minimises the risk of buying an illegally imported puppy or one that has been bred in unsuitable conditions, and it should form the basis of any consideration undertaken by any individual or family seeking to purchase a dog.

10.35 am

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this important debate. She and others have put a powerful argument about the need for change. Although we know that activities in this area are currently subject to consultation, I hope to hear at least some encouraging noises from the Minister in answering the debate to show that he recognises that need.

Animal welfare issues always attract a great deal of support among the people we are here to represent. We have heard about the problems of unregistered,

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unauthorised and unlicensed dog breeding. Colleagues from across the House have put forward many excellent points that are worth emphasising. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) referred to our many past debates, but was sure that this one would be groundbreaking. I leave him to judge that, but he demonstrated great confidence that the Minister would put an end to what he called the dodges used by the unscrupulous to get around the law. We will hear later what the Minister has to say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) reminded the House of the need for action across the UK, and rightly placed the challenge at the door of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and the Scottish Government to use their powers in that area. Others referred to other delegated responsibilities. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) took the opportunity to promote the benefits of EU membership and outlined how European legislation protects animals. Perhaps the Minister, who I believe is in favour of leaving, will tell us what work he is doing to ensure that animal welfare will retain those rigorous controls if we leave the EU.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) littered her speech with puns—I will just leave that there. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) questioned whether we are still a nation of dog lovers, but also made the point that there is insufficient information for buyers out there in the marketplace. I hope the Minister will comment on that.

I was stunned by the size of the trade that we are discussing and horrified by the content of some of the briefings from animal welfare organisations. The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow rightly paid tribute to such organisations. The briefings outline how some dogs are effectively bred to death, resulting in the birth of weak dogs, themselves likely to face suffering and even abandonment.

The RSPCA tells us that as many as 1.9 million puppies are traded in the UK each year. That number is driven by factors including fashion, family and friends. I am sure that hon. Members across the House will have had substantial numbers of contacts from constituents angry about what is happening. I agree that it is appalling that the latest fashion can drive overbreeding and suffering for dogs, or any other animal for that matter. Steep demand creates a market for puppies that often focuses on small numbers of popular breeds, such as Shih Tzus, labradoodles or pugs. As demand increases, prices rise and the unscrupulous enter the market on a huge scale. The puppies to satisfy that demand come from a vast array of sources both within the UK and further afield. Breeding practices and welfare standards vary enormously during the rearing, transport and sale of such animals.

Sadly, one upshot of this situation is that thousands of animals end up being mistreated, with many developing health problems and being abandoned each year. Institutions such as Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, along with the rescue centres run by organisations such as Dogs Trust, see the sorry results of this growing problem on a daily basis. They are being left to care for the dogs, to rehome them or to take the decision to end their lives.

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One issue of particular concern is the ease with which breeders, dealers and traders can advertise and sell puppies, not to mention an array of other animals, online. We do not have to look very hard to unearth some shocking examples of animals being purchased over the internet that have been cruelly mistreated after being acquired by abusive owners. The RSPCA tells me that it has received over 3,500 calls about puppy farms in the last year—a 122% increase on just five years ago. Many were from people complaining that their puppies had developed illnesses after they had been bought, and of those calls where the point of sale was noted, almost nine out of 10 of them involved an internet advert. That is backed up by data from the Kennel Club suggesting that as many as 20% of puppies bought from pet shops or directly over the internet, where many so-called farmed puppies are sold, will suffer from parvovirus and other potentially fatal diseases, which can cost up to £4,000 to treat. That represents an incidence rate roughly four times higher than among puppies from other breeders.

That leads me to an issue that has been touched upon briefly this morning already, but is worth mentioning again—the suspected illegal puppy trade from Ireland and continental Europe that supplements the legal movement of puppies. Estimates of the number of puppies born to licensed British breeders stand at just 70,000, with the Kennel Club registering around 250,000 puppies each year and rescue organisations rehoming roughly the same number, so there remains a significant shortfall to meet the demand. Inevitably, the remainder are imported or come from unlicensed breeders. Dogs Trust has noted a huge increase in the number of puppies being brought into the UK for sale, particularly from eastern Europe. Other hon. Members have already mentioned this in some detail, but Dogs Trust also says that it has identified a 61% increase in the number of dogs entering Britain in the 12 months after the introduction of the pet travel scheme in 2012, with the number arriving from Lithuania and Hungary between 2011 and 2013 rising by 780% and 633% respectively, and those figures only account for the dogs that were actually declared.

Although some unlicensed British breeders, including many of those registered by the Kennel Club, will sell only one litter a year, other litters will doubtless come from large-scale commercial breeders for whom animal welfare is often only of secondary consideration, if it is considered at all. As we have already heard, this backstreet breeding has much in common with puppy farming. As the RSPCA has highlighted, these practices, although frequently hidden behind closed doors, are alarmingly commonplace across the UK. The mothers often live miserable lives in sometimes squalid conditions and are forced to produce litter after litter so that their puppies can be sold for easy money. Exhausted and under-socialised, these dogs are abandoned once they have served their purpose.

Although it is not our primary concern here today, it is none the less important to recognise that such trade, based on cash transactions, could be costing the UK millions of pounds each year in undeclared income. A recent European study found that the trade in cats and dogs was worth €1.3 billion annually in the EU, with 10% of the trade coming from breeders who each breed more than 200 dogs annually. A ring of puppy dealers

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in Manchester who were uncovered by RSPCA investigations were found to be earning £35,000 a week—more than £1.8 million of undeclared income annually. A separate investigation estimated that a different dealer was earning £200,000 a year importing puppies from Ireland into Scotland.

It is to be welcomed that the Government are working with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, which, in co-operation with several internet sites, has agreed a set of minimum standards for animals sold online. Indeed, I understand that as many as 130,000 inappropriate adverts have been removed as a result of this code, which is undoubtedly good news for animal welfare. However, the practices of puppy farming and backstreet breeding still exist, along with the various welfare problems with which they are inherently associated. I would therefore be interested to hear what actions the Minister is considering taking to widen the uptake of the PAAG’s code of conduct and what measures are being examined to further strengthen these minimum welfare standards. At the same time, I would also like to hear what steps are being considered to better enforce higher welfare standards and to better target enforcement actions across the board.

As many Members present this morning will be aware, the Government are currently reviewing animal licensing schemes, including for the sale of pet animals, with a consultation running until the end of this week. A couple of months ago, we had a debate in Westminster Hall about the trade in exotic pets—pets sold to people who were ill-equipped to care for them. The Minister was clear in his resolve on that occasion to take action on that particular issue. I recognise that today the Minister may not able to pre-empt the responses to the consultation exercise and that it would be unwise for him to commit to decisions without a thorough consultation and an evidence base in place. Nevertheless, I would like to hear his current thinking on the steps that could be taken to drive up standards and drive out unregulated breeders and dealers, in order to improve and safeguard animal welfare. I challenge him to tighten current licensing requirements to achieve those goals.

10.45 am

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, especially since you yourself have done so much on the issue of animal welfare over the years.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) on securing this debate, which is undoubtedly an important one on an issue that many Members have strong views about. Indeed, when I was a Back Bencher and a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, I spent a number of years pressing for change, and it has been a pleasure to be a Minister responsible for this area.

I start by saying that we have made some progress over the years. First, there had been concern for many years that local authorities were taking an interpretation that said that, if someone was breeding fewer than five litters of puppies per year, they did not need a licence. It took me some time in the Department to get to the bottom of why that was the case—the figure used to be

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two litters per year. The law had been changed in 1999 because in one debate in Parliament, the view was expressed that the authorities should focus more on large puppy farms and not on smaller breeders. Although the law, as drafted, means that anyone who is in the business of buying and selling puppies requires a licence, an idea had taken hold—encouraged by a Home Office circular sent at the time in 1999—that five litters per year was the correct threshold to go by. In 2014, therefore, we clarified things. We wrote to all local authorities and made it clear that anyone in the business of breeding and selling puppies, irrespective of the number of litters per year, must have a licence.

The second area where we have made progress is microchipping. I hope hon. Members have seen the attempts in the last few days to raise awareness about the new provisions that will commence from next month. They require all dogs to have a microchip and will make it easier to reunite stray dogs with their owners, to tackle the problem of dog theft and to track down irresponsible dog owners.

The third area where we have undoubtedly made good progress is, as a number of hon. Members have already alluded to, through the Pet Advertising Advisory Group. I pay tribute to those online advertisers who have participated in that group. Some real progress has been made. In total, 130,000 inappropriate adverts have been taken down. We have had volunteers from a number of the animal welfare charities assisting in moderation to do that.

However, when I talk to companies such as Gumtree—I regularly attend the PAAG meetings on these issues—they say that, in the last three years, they have seen an 80% reduction in the number of pets being advertised on their websites. It is a real credit to them that they have engaged in a responsible code of practice that has seen such a drop in the number of pets being advertised online. For instance, if any of those companies see high-velocity sales—that is, if anyone advertises a pet on their website more than three times in a year—they immediately block that individual or firm from being able to advertise again, and they report that to animal welfare charities. If someone has a licence, it must be displayed in any advert on a website, and they have to show a photo.

PAAG also looks for keywords. One of the saddest, most tragic things is when pets are being sold online for use in baiting or dog-fighting. There are certain keywords—code words—that people who are involved in that dreadful and appalling activity understand, and PAAG is now picking up on them.

Angela Smith: I am greatly enjoying the Minister’s response to the debate. I acknowledge absolutely the work that charities, online sellers and websites, and indeed the Government, have done on this issue—I will be absolutely honest about that. However, does he not acknowledge in return that there has been a shift from registered sites to unregistered sites, and that more needs to be done?

George Eustice: Yes, and I was going to come on to that point.

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Finally, Gumtree, Preloved, Friday-Ad, Pets4Homes, Epupz and Vivastreet have already signed up to be members of PAAG, and some of them are now starting to send guidance on buying a puppy and caring for it to anyone who expresses an interest in buying a puppy or searches for puppies online. Again, that is quite a big step forward.

I agree about getting others to sign up. Some of the classified ads are registered and based overseas, and it is harder for us to track them down. Just a few weeks ago I had a meeting with Facebook, to encourage it to participate. It obviously has a slightly different model and it is harder to search for puppies in the same way as on the internet in general. Nevertheless, it has given an undertaking to go away and think about whether there is something it could do.

I also accept that there is more to do, and that is why we are doing more. First and foremost is the consultation, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned, that is reviewing the licensing of animal establishments. The consultation closes at the end of the week, and I encourage anyone watching the debate who has ideas to make a contribution. We are looking at a number of key areas, including in relation to puppies.

First, we are reviewing the Pet Animals Act 1951. The Act makes it clear that, if someone is in the business of selling pets online, they require a licence. Not everyone understands that, so we are looking to tighten the provisions to put it beyond doubt that, if someone is internet trading, they require a pet shop licence, whether or not they have a shop in the high street.

The second area we are looking at, and which a number of people have raised with me, is that of selling puppies that are under eight weeks old. Under the new microchipping regulations, it is illegal to microchip or transfer ownership of a dog until it is eight weeks old, but when it comes to pet shops, there is a quirk that allows such practices to continue. We propose to tighten the provision and ban the sale of puppies that are under eight weeks old.

Sir David Amess: Does my hon. Friend think it sensible for puppies to be sold in pet shops?

George Eustice: Only about 70 pet shops in the whole country still sell puppies. There is a danger that we get distracted by what is a small part of the overall sales when, to me, we should focus our efforts on the much bigger problem of people who are totally unlicensed, not inspected by local authorities, off everyone’s radar and trading on the internet. That is my priority.

Thirdly, on the number of litters, we are adding a condition that puts it beyond doubt that, if someone breeds more than three litters a year, they must have a licence, whether they are in the business of trading puppies or not—it is a backstop. That would bring us into line with countries such as Wales.

We are also looking at the issue of giving information on the sale of a pet, which is particularly important for exotic pets. The matter was considered in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and we are now considering adding it as a legal requirement.

Graham Jones: Will the Minister give way?

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George Eustice: I am going to make some progress—I am conscious of the time.

On enforcement, it is all very well having a licensing system for the breeding of puppies, but it is a big problem if local authorities do not enforce it. The statistics for most local authorities are in single figures. We are considering introducing a system that is accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service—UKAS—under which responsible puppy breeders, who sign up, for instance, to the Kennel Club accreditation scheme for rearing puppies, can be exempt from the licence requirement. Local authority resources could be freed up to go after those who are off the system altogether. In doing that, we borrow an idea that the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) pioneered in the field of greyhound racing. There is a UKAS-accredited system for most tracks and a backstop local authority licensing system for those outside that system. People have their own views about greyhound racing, but that hybrid system has been successful and we want to learn from it.

A number of hon. Members have raised the issue of enforcement. I accept, particularly when it comes to the importing of puppies, that we can do more. In 2015, the border police, trading standards and the Animal and Plant Health Agency worked together on Operation Bloodhound and brought a number of prosecutions. At the end of last year, I met with our chief veterinary officer to ask what more can be done. Some veterinary practices, particularly in Lithuania, Hungary and Romania, have been fraudulently signing off paperwork for pet passports, and the chief veterinary officer has written to the authorities in those countries to raise his concerns. Investigations have taken place and, in some instances, veterinary licences have been suspended, so we have taken action on that front.

We are also working with the Dogs Trust initiative. The trust has made available some quarantine premises, which is helpful to the work of the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Since 2 December, when the operation, led by APHA and local trading standards and supported by Dogs Trust, began, 108 puppies have been licensed into quarantine. The principal reason is that the puppies were under age when inspected by a veterinary officer,

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either because they had not been left for three weeks after receiving their rabies jab or because they were given the jab prematurely. That is a matter of serious concern and APHA will follow it up, learn lessons from it and raise concerns where necessary with any other European authorities. In one case, there was a deliberate attempt to deceive, with microchips being hidden in the collars of five puppies. The puppies appeared to have valid pet passports but these did not correspond to those particular dogs.

We are doing a lot of work on enforcement but there is more to do. I have considered whether we can do many more random inspections, for instance tracking vehicles that are associated with the trade, working more closely with the border police and making use of thermal imaging. I asked our veterinary experts to give consideration to that. It is not easy. It is a complex area, but we are redoubling our efforts to tackle the terrible trade of illegally imported puppies.

10.56 am

Dr Cameron: I thank all the gracious and hon. Members for their contributions. It is clear that we are all equally keen that best practice is realised right across the UK. Constructive dialogue and policy formation is required to ensure best practice across and between devolved Administrations. I particularly thank the Minister for his detailed response, and for his reassurances regarding both the progress that has been made in some areas and the action that will be required as a result of the consultation.

No one wants to return to the debate in a year’s time, to reiterate the same grave concerns. I am sorry that there was regression in 1999, because I feel that this is an area in which we always need to show progress. I am heartened, however, as it is clear that the issue is not a party political one but one of animal welfare, dear to the public and dear to all.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the welfare of young dogs bred for sale.

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Autism Diagnosis Waiting Times

10.58 am

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered autism diagnosis waiting times.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and to lead this important debate.

As hon. Members will know, autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It is a spectrum condition, which affects different people in different ways. Some people with autism are able to lead a substantially, or even completely, independent life, while others may need a lifetime of specialist, complex support.

Diagnosis, which is what we are here to discuss, is a critical milestone for people on the spectrum. It helps individuals to take control of their lives and can unlock access to essential support and services. Diagnosis is important not only for those who are on the spectrum. It can be just as important for their parents, friends and loved ones, enabling them to better understand their child, friend or partner.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend may know that I have an autistic child in my family and that I chair the newly formed commission on autism. Would she agree that it is absolutely about the family support that would come from early diagnosis? At the moment, so few people get it.

Jo Cox: Absolutely. I bow to my hon. Friend’s experience, expertise and doughty campaigning on this issue, and I could not agree with him more. Tragically, as we know, many thousands of people up and down the country, including children, wait far too long for a diagnosis. For children, on average the current wait is now more than three and a half years.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on obtaining this debate, which is very important to a large number of people beyond this Chamber. As she knows, I hold the honour of being the elected chair of the all-party group on autism, which has been going for many years now. Diagnosis waiting times are a very important issue for Members of Parliament involved in this area. Does she also hope that we will hear in the Minister’s reply about the importance of NHS England’s collecting and monitoring those diagnosis times for each clinical commissioning group in England? That is important and will mean that we have the data.

Jo Cox: I agree entirely. Let us hope that we have an answer on exactly that point from the Minister. I applaud and bow to the right hon. Lady’s commitment and experience on this issue.

While the average waiting time for children is more than three and a half years, many adults receive a diagnosis only five years after concerns first emerge and often two years after seeking professional help. Some 61% of people who responded to a National Autistic Society survey said that they felt relieved to get a diagnosis when it finally came, and more than half—58%—said that it led to their getting new or additional

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much-needed support. It is of particular concern that children are having to wait so long for a diagnosis. Not only does that place tremendous strain on their whole family, but it means that many children do not receive the early intervention that could have a big impact on their formative years. Indeed, in many cases, children are being locked out of the services available to them, and that support can be life-changing.

Snowflakes is a nursery for children with an autism diagnosis or who are awaiting an autism diagnostic observation schedule assessment. The nursery is run by my sister-in-law, Stacia. One of its children was lucky and got an early diagnosis aged three. He joined Snowflakes and the team worked with him and his family for two years. The dedicated staff managed to help him in into a mainstream primary school with support, and he is still in that school and is thriving. Another child came to Snowflakes because her mainstream nursery was unable to cope with her challenging behaviour. She is now on an 18-month waiting list for a diagnosis, but is due to start primary school in just six months’ time. She is making good progress within the specialised setting and is now a role model for other children. Her parents want her to move on to a primary autism resource, but to get a place she needs a diagnosis.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate, which I feel strongly about. In my constituency, I have had contact with families experiencing exactly the issues that she is raising. In terms of obtaining diagnosis, is it not important that more clinicians are trained to diagnose and that teachers are able to pick up very early signs of autistic spectrum disorder?

Jo Cox: I thank the hon. Lady for that helpful intervention. I agree with her, and let us hope that the Minister addresses that point in his comments.

To return to the example of a little girl who faces a choice, without a diagnosis she will be forced to accept a place in a mainstream primary school that will not be able to meet her needs. With a diagnosis, however, she would go to a primary autism resource using the specialised teaching methods she knows and trusts. She would be able to continue her education and in turn increase her life chances.

Many parents tell the National Autistic Society that delays in getting diagnoses have also led to the development of serious mental health problems, both for the individual and for the family. For example, having presented himself to GPs for 20 years, Chris was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2007 after finally deciding to go private. Without a diagnosis, appropriate support or an understanding of his needs, he experienced mental health conditions for most of his life, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mild Tourette’s. He was hospitalised when he was 15 and later became suicidal when his needs were not met.

We now know the value and importance of early and fast diagnosis, yet our system continues to fail so many children and adults. Members present will have heard stories from their constituents or family members and will have no doubt been deeply affected by them, as I have. One has to meet only a handful of parents to realise the unbelievable pressures that the waiting times put them under.

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I could tell a number of stories from my own constituency—members of some of the families affected are here today—but I want to tell the story of a young man from Batley. He is one of the lucky ones: he now has his diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. His mum wrote to me and told me what a blessing the diagnosis has been. It did not just provide access to support and services, but it helped everyone, including him, to understand why he felt and behaved the way he did. He said he wished he had been diagnosed earlier because:

“I always knew I was different, now I know why.”

He is one of the lucky ones, because his parents had the ability to pay for a private diagnosis. They raised £2,500 to fast-track the process, but they should not have had to do that. What about the great many of my constituents who do not have the means to afford a private diagnosis? Another of my constituents, who is also from Batley, has had to give up his job to accompany his son to school every day. Without a diagnosis, the school is not able to fund the additional staff it needs to take care of his complex needs. It is a problem not only in my constituency, but throughout the country.

Mr Sheerman: My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. Is it not also disappointing for constituents and for people we know in the autism field—some very experienced people have intervened on her on that count—when someone goes into a health diagnosis and the health people say, “We can give you the diagnosis, but you will not get any help because the local authority does not have the capacity or the trained people to provide that help”?

Jo Cox: Absolutely. My hon. Friend again raises a very valid point. We are talking specifically about diagnosis delays, but once someone has a diagnosis, that opens up a whole range of issues that I hope the Minister will address.

Mrs Gillan: Further to the intervention by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), one of the key things that the all-party group has been pushing for is better data collection on local areas so that we can more effectively plan and commission services. Nationally, it would mean that we could then ensure that each area is meeting the needs of its local population. Does the hon. Lady agree that it will be interesting to see whether the Minister can tell us what discussions he has had on that and how he intends to take the subject forward appropriately and properly with NHS England?

Jo Cox: I agree entirely, and one of the worrying things that became apparent to me in my research for this speech is the growing regional disparity in autism diagnosis waiting times, as well as in the service someone gets once they have a diagnosis. Let us hope that the Minister addresses that point.

My constituent from Batley has given up his job so that his son can attend school every day. As I have said, the problem exists not just in my constituency, but up and down the country, and stories from the NAS highlight that. There is Mel from Watford, whose son waited nine years. Noah, who is four, waited two years for his diagnosis—that is half his life. Meanwhile, data from Public Health England from the latest adult autism strategy show huge regional variation in adult services,

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with waiting times between referral and first appointment —not even the whole diagnosis journey—in the south-west reaching 95 weeks. In my region of Yorkshire and the Humber, it is 84 weeks. The NICE quality standard on autism is clear: once referred, people should wait no longer than three months before having their first diagnostic appointment. For this to happen, the Government, local authorities and NHS England need to act.

In my own local authority, Kirklees, despite strong leadership and a clear commitment to protect and safeguard vulnerable children and adults, there is an acknowledged crisis in children’s mental health and autism services. Some families have been waiting more than two years for a diagnosis, often longer. I have been encouraging Kirklees and its clinical commissioning groups to clear the backlog and redesign their services, and I am pleased to announce that, starting last Friday, a plan to clear the backlog within 12 months is now being rolled out regionally. This will quadruple the number of diagnoses that can take place in my constituency.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Autism diagnosis across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a big issue. In Northern Ireland, some 2,000 young people are waiting for a diagnosis, although the Minister has set some money aside. There is a need not only for early diagnosis, but for further stages of the education programme as well. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Minister should consider what has been done regionally—in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—because there are lessons to be learnt that would benefit all of us?

Jo Cox: I agree entirely. It is time for the Government to bring a wider discussion about autism services to the Floor of the House.

My local authority’s announcement last Friday now means that we will quadruple the number of diagnoses that can take place in my constituency. It still needs to redesign the service in a way that prevents future backlogs, but this is good news for Batley and Spen and for people across Kirklees. However, it should not go unacknowledged that local authorities such as mine are working hard to reform services in an environment of severe and disproportionate budget constraint, imposed on them by Government. Of course, this is just one local authority; what about the hundreds of others and the desperate families in their care?

We also now have to accept that this failure to diagnose autism early ends up costing taxpayers much more. When developing its guidance for health services, NICE stated:

“Investment in local autism services also contributes to: a reduction in GP appointments, fewer emergency admissions and less use of mental health services in times of crisis, including the use of inpatient psychiatric services.”

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): The hon. Lady speaks with great power and passion. I support her absolutely and thank her for securing this debate. In my own constituency, the Grange Park School, which I have often visited, specialises in autism care. The school’s view is that proper care and diagnosis relieves the burden on the police, who are often called in to deal with situations that are not policing matters and

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not for the judicial system, but for the mental care system, and, if handled properly, for the education system.

Jo Cox: The hon. Gentleman makes a fascinating and pertinent point, particularly as we heard about a case this morning that was very tragic and relates to some of the themes he has raised. I know he is personally committed to this issue, and it would be good to have a response from the Minister on his point.

The National Autistic Society tells us that by investing in autism diagnosis, the NHS could save the enormous amounts of money currently spent on mental health services that result from autistic people not getting the support that they need, as they have not got a diagnosis. As well as having negative consequences for someone’s life, acute services are also very expensive, with inpatient mental health care costing between £200 and £300 a day. In other words, the annual cost of supporting two people with autism in a mental health ward would fund a specialist autism team serving an entire borough for a whole year.

Furthermore, identifying and supporting someone on the autism spectrum can save money in the wider public sector. According to the National Audit Office, an 8% identification rate would save £67 million a year. Over the five years to 2020, that is a potential saving to the public purse of £337 million.

Tom Tugendhat: We rightly look at pounds, shillings and pence when we talk about the public purse, but does the hon. Lady recognise that identifying and supporting autism saves families from failing? The saving to the public purse is significantly greater than the figure she has given, because it relieves the burden on many other branches of public services that would otherwise have to support a failing family.

Jo Cox: I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point.

Crises in autism services are a decade or more in the making. The blame cannot and should not be pinned on one party or one Parliament, but now that we are more aware of the problem, and the scale of it, this Government should be judged on how they fix it.

I urge the Minister, who I know is personally committed to this issue, to agree to implement in full the National Autistic Society’s key recommendations to help tackle the crisis: first, a new requirement on NHS England to collect, publish and monitor data on diagnosis waiting times, including data on how many people are known to their GP to have autism. Secondly, NHS England should ensure that standard waiting times on mental health reflect the NICE national guidance that no one will wait longer than three months between referral and being seen for diagnosis. Finally, the Government must share in this commitment, ensuring that NHS England now meets the three-month target. To help fulfil that aim, access to an autism diagnosis should be clearly written into the Department of Health’s mandate to NHS England, which means that it will be held to account on this target and it becomes a priority to get it right.

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Before I finish, I have three additional questions that I hope the Minister will address directly. What steps has his Department taken to ensure that the work done by NHS England’s information board will improve the collection and recording of data on autism in primary and secondary care? Will the Minister ensure that the recommendations in the King’s Fund’s recent report relating to autism diagnosis waiting times are taken forward? Finally, what assessment has the Minister made of the costs to the NHS of failing to diagnose people with autism in a timely manner?

The fundamental question facing us is this: the crisis is now so acute that some desperate parents and individuals are paying for help that by right they should be able to access on the NHS, but what about those without the resources to pay? They are currently left in a distressing and damaging limbo, often for years. I hope, for their sake, that when the Minister responds we will hear clear, time-bound commitments and actions, rather than vague assurances. I also hope, along with other Members, that he will commit to more time on the Floor of the House to discuss the many challenges facing individuals and families even after they have received a diagnosis.

I want to pay enormous tribute to the National Autistic Society, whose relentless campaigning continues to raise awareness and continues to press for action on this critical issue. I also pay tribute to all the parents, carers and professionals who support and love people living with autism.

11.18 am

The Minister for Community and Social Care (Alistair Burt): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing the debate and on how she has represented her constituents’ particular interests and also the wider interests of those with autism. I thank colleagues for their interventions. The hon. Lady was right: there are a number of colleagues in this room with considerable experience in autism. Before I get into specifics, let me say that I will not have time to answer all her questions, but I will write to her on those that I cannot answer.

The debate raises once again one of those issues that in the course of my parliamentary lifetime has changed markedly. Only a generation ago, recognition and understanding of autism was extremely vague, but now it is very different. Recognition of the need to treat and to understand the families involved is beyond where it was, but that creates pressures in the system.

I want to say a little bit about what is happening locally. What the hon. Lady has described is a good example of how things can be recognised over a period of time. As she said, it is not the responsibility of one particular Government, but the responsibilities have grown over time, and what has been done about them might be a pattern for others. I will also say something about what we are trying to do nationally. I also want to recognise the work done not only by parents and those who are intimately involved, but by the National Autistic Society and the Autism Alliance—organisations that have done much work to represent those involved and will continue to do so.

Before I forget, I should respond to the hon. Lady’s last question: I would be very happy to spend more time discussing autism in the House. We ought to have a

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three-hour debate, or longer, and I would be very happy to respond to that. There are a number of questions out there about autism, not only in the House but in other places, and I would be happy to try to answer them, although I would have to deal with the general rather than the specific.

Mrs Gillan: As chair of the all-party group on autism, I am hoping to apply for a three-hour debate so that we can celebrate national autism week. I hope that the Backbench Business Committee will look on my application favourably, and I am sure that several colleagues present would not mind signing up to it as well.

Alistair Burt: I am sure it is of little interest to the Backbench Business Committee whether or not a Minister welcomes a debate, but if it is in any well helpful, colleagues can be sure that I would indeed welcome such a debate.

Before addressing the national picture, I shall discuss briefly the situation in Batley and Spen. Why has it taken so long to resolve the issues there? The list built up over a period of time because of pressures on both autism services and child and adolescent mental health services, and because of how services were commissioned. The number of referrals has increased to a level greater than one would expect based on national prevalence, so the clinical commissioning groups involved—North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield—had to identify a service that had the right capacity and expertise to meet requirements. Colleagues who made points about training and the need to ensure that professionals are in place were absolutely right.

The CCGs have been working on the service for some time. As the hon. Member for Batley and Spen said, the issue has been identified and they are investing £340,000 over the next 12 months to bring down the backlog, including agreed funding for additional diagnostic capacity. The CCGs recently appointed Socrates Clinical Psychology, an independent sector organisation, to deliver extra assessments over a 12-month period, and they are about to begin writing to parents and guardians to inform them of developments. Appointments will be prioritised based on the length of time patients have been waiting for an assessment. As the hon. Lady said, the extra capacity will see the number of assessments rise from four a month to around 16.

The CCGs are currently in the process of redesigning adult social care services to meet national guidelines, to provide a greater number of assessments and to avoid the development of long waiting lists in future. A draft service specification and business case, which includes several options, will be discussed by the CCGs in the coming months, and the new service is to be in place by, at the latest, March 2017, when the existing contract comes to an end. Their response in recognition of the pressures that have built up is to be commended.

It is important to understand what is happening nationally as well as locally. We are all agreed on the importance of the timely diagnosis of autism. Although diagnosing someone with autism can be complex and involve a number of different professionals and agencies, it is clear that some children and adults can wait too long. Getting an autism diagnosis can be particularly important for families who are worrying about their

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children or for adults who did not have their condition recognised when younger and who need support to live their lives.

Yes, of course early diagnosis saves money, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) said, it is not simply a question of saving money later in the system: early recognition makes such a difference for the families involved, as well as the individual. That is taken as read, which is why there is now much more concentration on early diagnosis than there used to be.

Young people with autism face challenges to their education and wellbeing in all areas of their lives, and that can have an impact on their academic attainment and their ability to make the transition to independent adulthood. For adults who have not been diagnosed, their life to date may have been affected by a sense of not fitting in and not understanding the way they respond to situations or why they find social settings difficult.

Let me outline the framework that is in place to improve the lives of adults with autism. The 2010 cross-Government autism strategy, which came out of the Autism Act 2009, was updated in 2014 as “Think Autism”. New statutory guidance was issued in March 2015 which set out what people seeking an autism diagnosis can expect from local authorities and NHS bodies. The aim of the adult strategy is to improve the care and support that local authorities and NHS organisations provide for people with autism.

Nevertheless, we know that there is more to do to ensure that all those with autism get the help and support they need. In January, the Government published a progress report to further challenge partners across Government in areas such as education, employment and the criminal justice system—the latter was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The reforms to the special educational needs and disabilities system that came into effect in September 2014 represent the biggest change to that system in a generation. They are transforming the support available to children and young people, including those with autism, by joining up services across education, health and social care to identify and meet their needs.

The Department of Health’s mandate to NHS England for 2016-17 sets the priorities for the NHS and signals what the Department will hold the NHS accountable for. It includes an important call on the NHS to reduce health inequality for autistic people. Waiting too long for a diagnosis can be one of the health inequalities that autistic people face. Local authorities and the NHS should work in collaboration so that there is a clear pathway to diagnosis that is aligned with care and support assessments. Commissioning decisions need to be based on knowledge and awareness of autism and the needs of the local population, and, importantly, informed by people with autism and their families.

We know that in some parts of the country more needs to be done on developing diagnostic assessments. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen referred to the bane of the NHS system: local variability and the fact that things are not always done in the same way in the same place. I absolutely support the call by the National Autistic Society to ensure that good practice is shared

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across all areas. It is essential that the practice of the best becomes the practice of all, and I know that right hon. and hon. Members support that.

To help to standardise and improve the care and management of autism, particularly around diagnosis, and to enable health and social care services to support people with autism more effectively, NICE has published three clinical guidelines on autism and a quality standard. It recommend that there should be a maximum of three months between a referral and a first appointment for an autism assessment, and the NHS should follow that recommendation. Local areas will continue to be asked to assess their progress on implementing the adult autism strategy through Public Health England’s informal local area self-assessment exercise.

Let me address the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), as well as by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen. The Department of Health has discussed with NHS England the difficulties that can arise in getting a diagnosis. As a first step, NHS England, with support from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, is currently undertaking visits to CCGs and local authorities with the specific purpose of developing an understanding of the existing diagnostic process for children and adults, including engaging with people who have had experience in accessing the process, and their families. The focus is on identifying local barriers and how they can be overcome; how local areas measure quality and outcomes; the alignment with care assessments; and the identification of positive approaches that can inform learning for other areas. NHS England will issue an initial report in April, once the visits are complete.

To help with local planning, NHS England has also made a new commitment to collect data on the number of people in touch with learning disability and mental health services who have a diagnosis of autism. It is not for me as a Minister to task NHS England formally with monitoring waiting times; it is for NHS England to determine how it holds commissioners to account.

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Nevertheless, it will have to demonstrate effectiveness to me in meeting its mandate requirement. It is essential that waiting times are monitored locally by commissioners and included in their oversight of provision. I am interested to see the information that will be collected on the commissioning exercise that was mentioned. That information must be made public and will help with the provision of much-needed extra data about this subject. I hope that will help the new commission, the all-party group and others.

It important to note that there are others involved. I draw particular attention to the service provided by our hard-pressed and excellent GPs. They are, of course, usually the gatekeepers to diagnostic services, and need to have a good understanding of the autistic spectrum and the diagnostic pathway that has been developed in their area. To build knowledge and expertise among health professionals, the Department has provided financial support to the Royal College of General Practitioners’ clinical priorities programme on autism, which is undertaking practical work on autism awareness and training for GPs. That will enable people who may have autism to be supported more effectively from the start of the assessment process.

In recent years there has been considerable progress on how effectively we identify and support the needs of people of all ages on the autistic spectrum. I do not deny that the complexity of autism and the multifaceted nature of the needs of those on the spectrum pose particular challenges to professionals and commissioners. CCGs locally and NHS England at a national level are working to bring down the waits in line with NICE guidelines, working with many different agencies, along with service users and their families, to create a more responsive environment of diagnosis and support. I know that the House will welcome that, although there is more to do.

Question put and agreed to.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Swansea Tidal Lagoon

[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Many colleagues have indicated that they would like to speak in this debate, so it might help if I point out that we anticipate Divisions in the Chamber at 3.50 pm. It is entirely up to hon. Members whether they wish to continue the debate after 3.50 pm. If so, we will have to come back after an adjournment.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential economic benefits of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.

The 2015 Welsh Conservative manifesto said:

“We know how important Wales is to the UK’s energy security…We’re entering into the first phase of negotiations on a Contract for Difference for Swansea Tidal Lagoon to recognise Wales’ potential to become a major hub for tidal and wave power. This project will create thousands of jobs and attract millions of pounds worth of investment into Wales. We will continue to support strategic energy projects in Wales to boost the Welsh economy and help secure Wales’ energy future.”

So far so good. It is unusual in this day and age for a manifesto commitment to have the widespread support of quite so many interested groups. They include the UK Government, all parties in this House, the Welsh Government, all parties in that Assembly and local government in areas where the lagoon might be constructed and other areas in Wales that will reap the benefits of it. Environmentalists by and large see it as a clean form of renewable energy; economists across the UK and further afield recognise the long-term value of the project; and, almost without exception, the local communities affected directly or indirectly support the proposal. I can remember few, if any, commitments from any party’s manifesto that have such widespread and cross-party support.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman did not mention the Scottish National party—perhaps for understandable reasons—so may I say, as an SNP Member, that I am very supportive of it as well?

Simon Hart: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The only reason I did not mention the SNP is that I forgot. I hope he does not take that to heart.

The Swansea bay tidal lagoon project ticks a lot of boxes—to use that rather awful expression. If I make only one point this afternoon, it is this: it must not be seen as a one-off project or a stand-alone proposal. It is part of a four-part proposal for the Severn estuary. It will lead to other projects around the UK coast, and after that—who knows?—perhaps across the rest of the globe. We have a chance to be a global leader in this technology; to start it down with us in the Swansea bay. It is equally important that the Government look at it not as a stand-alone project, but in the context of the proposals for Cardiff and Newport. This is not about just Swansea, Wales or the UK; nor is it about just renewable energy, which has been debated so often here.

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I have four issues that I will deal with as quickly as I can, given your steer, Mr Brady: the current situation; employment opportunities; the question marks about costs, which have been reported in the press; and other benefits, which sadly do not seem to have been reported at all. On the current situation, this is about a long-term plan for the UK and beyond. Over the next 10 years, the UK will lose 11 of its coal-fired power stations, followed by our ageing nuclear capability. In technical terms, that is the same as a 25 GW reduction out of a total capacity of 85 GW across the UK. As yet, nobody has made it entirely clear how we will fill that void. Hinkley Point is 10 years off, and today further questions were raised about the speed and certainty of that project. No new gas-fired power stations are under construction in the UK.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I congratulate my constituency neighbour on securing this debate and on his opening remarks, many of which I agree with. The big issue with Hinkley C is the strike price. The problem with the tidal lagoon is that the financing model that is envisaged for it is the contract for difference. Does he agree that we should perhaps look at other models, such as direct public investment? If we go for a CfD, the cost ends up with the consumer. If we go for direct investment, it ends up with the public, but it is far cheaper than a CfD.

Simon Hart: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I will come to that issue later in my speech. That is an important message to the Government. I entirely agree that using a model for this form of energy infrastructure simply because it is used for other forms, such as offshore or onshore wind, is potentially a mistake. There is an opportunity, especially with the Government review, to look at other models to see whether we can make it work over a longer period using different technology.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): My hon. Friend is being very kind in giving way. He is making a series of very good points. Does he agree that time is of the essence not just for the company and its employees, but for investors, for the communities that he mentioned and for our ability to show technological leadership, which could lead to a great export business?

Simon Hart: My hon. Friend is spot on. Many people are watching the Government’s approach to this—not only investors, but people who question whether we have the technical capability and the political will to proceed with this type of project. He is absolutely right that, as long as the Government do not prevaricate about the outcome of the review, they have the chance to put right the concerns that he raises.

Craig Williams (Cardiff North) (Con): I apologise for turning up late because of the vote in the Chamber. I commend my hon. Friend for securing this debate. Is not the issue that we are at the proof of concept stage? The review is very welcome. I know that we need time on our side, but proof of concept is a difficult stage for any project. Although we wholly support it, we need to review it and look at the financing.

Simon Hart: I think I understand my hon. Friend’s comment. I should have said earlier that we are not unique in using tidal power. This technology has, in

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various forms, been tried and tested in other parts of the world, so there are not significant doubts about its workability. We should look elsewhere to ensure that the lessons learned from projects in other parts of the world are applied here.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Simon Hart: I will. The chances of us finishing at 3.50 pm are getting slimmer by the moment, but we will do our best.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate and on his opening remarks. This project is as significant as the previous investment in the offshore wind industry in the east of England, which included £60 million of pump-priming for port infrastructure and so on. This project is as significant, not only because it will have an immense impact on the region, but because it will make us a global leader. The hon. Gentleman is right that there are those looking to take it elsewhere if we do not get on with it.

Simon Hart: I will devote a section of my speech to concerns about the cost, which are raised in the media. I want to address those points, because at the moment we are looking at added value or some of the other elements that move this project from being simply a good idea to being an irresistible one. However, I will hopefully deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point properly in a moment.

Before I took those interventions, I was talking about the uncertainty about Hinkley Point. Until literally the last few days it was seen as the saving grace of UK energy production, but suddenly we discover that we are back in the land of the unknown. An important message for the Government is that an energy void needs to be filled, about which we know very little. I do not want to sound too melodramatic, but there will be a lights-off moment in about a decade’s time unless the Government—I would say this to any Government—take it seriously. They must act with haste, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) said, to ensure that no uncertainty creeps into the proposals.

It is also reasonable to say that everyone who supports the proposal understands that it is not a silver bullet. Our energy demands will be met by a range of different options, of which this happens to be one, but it is an important one. Tidal lagoons can provide—there is no doubt about the statistical back-up for this—8% to 10% of the UK’s total requirements. That is an extraordinarily tempting prospect. To quote, or possibly misquote, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it is home-grown, reliable, affordable, sustainable and clean, and I am not aware of any other current proposed energy projects that can boast such descriptions.

The second thing that I want to cover is the added value, which has not been discussed in great detail in this House or in the wider media. It is important to point out that the Swansea bay tidal lagoon will employ nearly 2,000 people at its peak construction period. The programme over the whole of Wales—including Cardiff, Newport and Colwyn Bay—if it goes ahead, will consist of a £20 billion investment, which will need an average of 12,000 jobs for 12 years and result in more than

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2,000 full-time positions. That does not even begin to touch on some of the supply chain, tourism and leisure benefits associated with the proposal.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): The statistics for the steel required for the project include 8,000 tonnes in the mechanicals package, 60,000 tonnes of rebar and 3,000 tonnes of structural steel. Furthermore, Sheffield Forgemasters and DavyMarkham, another world-class manufacturer in Sheffield, are both well placed to work on several of the core turbine and generator components, remembering that the project includes 16 turbines. On that basis, it would be good just to get on with this—UK steel would be helped enormously to get over its difficult period if the project were given the go-ahead as soon as possible.

Simon Hart: The hon. Lady makes a good point, although of course I want all the construction work, including the steel, to be in Wales and, preferably, with bits of it in Pembrokeshire. However, I recognise with a heavy heart and rather grudgingly that we may have to extend our reach to Sheffield—

Angela Smith: This is a UK debate, but nevertheless DavyMarkham has said that it will invest in Wales as a result of the project, so I think we are all friends on this.

Simon Hart: I accept the hon. Lady’s polite reprimand in the spirit in which it is intended. According to my figures—I will come on to steel in a moment—we are talking about 370,000 tonnes of steel for the Swansea project alone, and double that as we scale up to include Newport and Cardiff. As that figure goes up, it brings a whole range of other possibilities for UK steel, which, given the state of the industry at the moment, can only be welcome. I take her point.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): To keep the Yorkshire theme going, one of the chief advisers for the Swansea tidal lagoon project is my constituent Bernard Ainsworth, who has also managed construction of the Shard and the millennium dome. Does my hon. Friend agree that this project, as the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) has just said, is not only about boosting the economy and confidence of Wales, but about benefiting all of us across the whole of the United Kingdom?

Simon Hart: My hon. Friend is of course absolutely right. At least 50% of the £20 billion investment figure to which I referred is to be in Wales, so by definition the other half is not. My very next comment was to be that more than 1,000 companies have already expressed interest in this project, or these projects. I have seen a rough outline map of that, and the whole of the UK is covered. The line-up is impressive, and includes companies such as General Electric, Andritz Hydro, components suppliers, construction companies and a whole range of small and medium-sized enterprises from sandwich makers to pretty much every area of SME activity in Wales and beyond. Everyone in the Chamber will have a bite of the cherry, in terms of constituency interest, as might plenty of those who are not present and do not yet realise it—our job is to remind them of that.

My third point is about cost, which has been cited regularly as a major obstacle to progress on the project, despite its being a manifesto commitment and Government

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having trawled the numbers for a long time—it cannot come as a particular surprise that the costs are what they are. However, over 90 years—this is key—the Swansea bay tidal lagoon needs a contract for difference, or CfD, of £118 per megawatt-hour, which is the same as for offshore wind projects that already have consent. So Government have already taken a favourable view of projects at that cost, admittedly possibly over a different timescale. None the less, the revised figures show a more attractive number as far as value for money for the British taxpayer is concerned and, once we add in Newport and Cardiff, the cost actually falls to £68.3 per megawatt-hour, which really gets it into the realms of acceptability in anyone’s language—even that of the Treasury during these difficult times.

That means that if the Swansea project alone were to be built at the current cost, arguably 10p per annum would be added to energy bills throughout the UK. If we add Newport and Cardiff into the scheme, let alone all the other places that we are talking about, annual bills would be reduced by between £8 and £12. So Swansea alone will add 10p per household bill per year, but Swansea with Cardiff and Newport will start to make significant reductions to householders’ energy bills.

That leads me to my fourth and final point, which is the other benefits. We have not learned much about them so far. Starting with leisure and tourism, the comparable Rance project in France attracts between 70,000 and 100,000 people a year, and there is no reason to believe that the same level of attraction cannot be generated for Swansea and the other tidal lagoons. There is already interest in individual sporting events around the lagoon constructions, which could attract up to 8,000 people a year. Plans are afoot for an offshore visitor centre, sailing and boating centres, and a hatchery. Local and national sporting groups have put in for a sailing triathlon, and there are rowing, canoeing, open-water swimming and sea angling ideas and concepts. There is no shortage of significant extra activity around the lagoon constructions, which can only be good for the tourism offer and employment in Wales.

The great unknown is the export of technology. The lagoon products will be at the cutting edge of global technology, so we have the possibility of creating and growing our own experts in the field, with our own concepts, ideas and plans, which could be exported to 30 or 40 countries, all of which have potential capacity for tidal lagoon generation.

That leads me to steel. I have had various conversations with interested parties, and the fairly modest figure for the steel requirement on the Swansea bay project alone is 370,000 tonnes. Anyone who has been following the plight of the steel industry in Wales and beyond will prick their ears up at that potential for rescue and sustainability. In passing, one potential investor in the project is Liberty Steel, which has already stated that it would move its operation to Wales in the event of the go-ahead from the UK Government, because it sees the opportunity for a UK recycled steel project. At the moment, recyclable steel is exported, recycled and then reimported for use in the UK, which is a crazy situation in anyone’s language. Now we have investors thinking that the scale of the tidal lagoon projects is sufficient to enable them to set up shop properly in the UK, thereby forgoing the need to export 5 million tonnes of recyclable

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steel. We could do it all here, with significant benefits for the country that are not only to do with tidal lagoons.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a strong case for looking at the development in the round. Is it not also the case that a tidal lagoon in north Wales would not only be an energy and tourism-generating opportunity, but play a significant part in flood defences? That is another issue that should be brought into the equation.

Simon Hart: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Many people have raised issues with me in support of tidal lagoon technology but I had not heard that one. It is useful to use occasions such as this in Westminster Hall to bring to the Minister’s attention the added benefits that somehow never seem to get into the Treasury calculations as prominently as they might.

Dr James Davies (Vale of Clwyd) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for calling for the debate and for his reference to north Wales. It is important to protect national infrastructure such as the A55 and the north Wales branch of the west coast main line. In fact, tidal lagoons on the north Wales coast offer an opportunity for that as well as for development in areas currently categorised as flood risk zones.

Simon Hart: My hon. Friend reinforces the earlier intervention. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister on that.

We have a Minister representing the Department of Energy and Climate Change here, which is welcome, but I hope that she will share her thoughts with the Treasury, because it is as much a decision maker in the process as her Department. I know that she takes our manifesto commitment seriously and recognises that the project comes with almost unique widespread support, and I hope that she recognises the huge economic, social and practical benefits that this and other projects will bring, should they be rolled out. Her Department is aware of the safe and clean nature of the proposal and the longevity it offers the country in an uncertain time.

Back-Bench Members welcome the Government’s review, but we have all been down the review road before on various issues and so often we have come away disappointed that instead of “review” we could have said “delay”. I have no doubt that the review is genuine, but that needs to be demonstrated—the Minister has an opportunity for that—because as colleagues have mentioned, investors and interested parties do not want prevarication, delay and doubt; they want us to honour our commitment, stick to our word and see the project through under the new, revised terms. DECC has already been involved in negotiations on this project and others for five years, so it has got a lot of the information it needs and it has already granted the development consent order, so it is not as if the project is coming out of the sun without having been seen before. A lot is known about it, so there is no reason to delay matters beyond the lifespan of the review.

I hope that the Minister will address the issues that colleagues have raised and that above all she will recognise and confirm that Swansea on its own is not the entire picture. We are looking at a range of projects of which that is just one, but it is important because it is the first one. I hope that she recognises that, for Wales and the

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wider UK, there is nothing but upsides from the project and that, as a result, the Government will give it the go-ahead at the earliest opportunity.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Graham Brady (in the Chair): Order. Before I call Mr Flynn, it may be helpful to say that, because a large number of hon. Members have indicated their desire to speak, I propose a five-minute limit for Back-Bench contributions in the debate.