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Quarantine: Swedish Scheme

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Lucas: My Lords, senior officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food visited Sweden and Norway late last year to get a first-hand idea of how the new quarantine systems there are working. They found that there were significant administrative problems due to the vast increase in numbers of people wishing to import their pets and the complexity of the procedures required. Smuggling also still remained a problem.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but does he accept that over many years both pets and their owners have suffered great stress because of our quarantine rules which mean six months in quarantine? Given that there are now proven inoculations against rabies, microchip identification and other precautions, does not my noble friend agree that we should move more towards the Swedish model?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I certainly think that we should keep the Swedish experiment in mind, but we must also keep in mind several other points. Yes, there is a lot of inconvenience at the moment for people who return to this country with pets and for people who

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would like to take their pets abroad. We estimate that, in addition to that inconvenience, the financial cost to both pet owners and the taxpayer is about £12 million per year. However, that is very small beer compared with the problems that would result if rabies became endemic in this country. We reckon that the financial cost of protecting the dogs and cats in the United Kingdom would run to about £200 million per year. There would also be incalculable inconvenience to everybody from knowing that there was rabies in this country and that bites from pets and wild animals were dangerous.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is it true that there have been only two cases of rabies from imported animals since 1966? Is the Government's reluctance to change the quarantine laws due to concern about human health or is it the result of some extremely effective lobbying by the Kennel Club and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons?

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords. As I think that I have just explained, we have reached a balanced judgment on the course of action that will cause the people of the United Kingdom in general the least cost and the least inconvenience. At the moment, while rabies still remains widespread in the near parts of the Continent of Europe, we are convinced that our current regime is the right one.

Lord Desai: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain to the House how every other country in Europe manages without rules of this kind? Surely, they do not incur the same kind of costs in taking care of their pets?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, they pay the cost of vaccinating their pets and have the inconvenience of having to vaccinate people when they are bitten by animals. We reckon that in the United Kingdom there are 200,000 or 300,000 such incidents a year, every one of which would require subsequent vaccination if we had rabies in this country. They cannot keep rabies out of continental countries. Not surprisingly, the borders are too porous and open to foxes. This country is in a privileged position and it is one that we wish to retain.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that a considerable number of people try to smuggle their dogs into the country?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, yes. One of the great advantages of the current system is that it is known that when a dog comes in with a person who has returned from abroad that animal must have been brought in illegally, because all animals have to go into quarantine. Under any other system smuggling would be a worse problem, as indeed the Swedes have found.

The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a great number of people in this country would very much like to export their pets but are unable to do so--I am referring to holidays and matters of that kind--because of the current legislation? Does the

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Minister agree that the Swedish system has proved the efficacy of tagging, inoculation and blood testing? Can he provide some encouragement to those pet owners who expect some kind of relaxation of the very onerous six-month quarantine requirement?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as to the second part of the question posed by my noble friend, when rabies becomes much less common on the near continent than it is at the moment that may be a good time to look again at the balance of inconvenience. Referring to my noble friend's first supplementary question, we are aware that there have been problems in exporting pets to countries. It has not always been possible to sign the necessary export certificates without prior agreement. That has caused considerable and regrettable inconvenience. However, we have quickly contacted all of the importing countries when we have become aware of such problems and many have agreed to new import conditions which will allow people to move their pet animals with them.

Passenger Rail Franchises

2.52 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied that the conditions under which the eight rail passenger service franchises so far awarded are reasonable and, in all eight cases, capable of being fulfilled.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, yes.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will realise how grateful I am to him for his very expansive reply. Is he aware that at least on the surface some of the franchisees have set themselves or have accepted some very stiff targets?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree that the targets which have been set are properly ambitious. Those high targets mean better levels of service to the travelling public and more investment. I believe that that is greatly to be commended. Those promises are matters of contract and are legally enforceable.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, can the Minister give an assurance that the oldest named train in the world is not interfered with? I refer to the train from Euston to Holyhead which is known as the Irish Mail.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raises a subject with which I am not especially familiar. I shall endeavour to find out the details that he requires. I am not entirely sure whether he refers to the locomotive itself or to the line. What is clear is that under franchising the passenger gets a better deal, and more investment is put into the network to the benefit of all concerned.

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Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the noble Viscounnt agree that over the years one of the biggest problems suffered by the railways is under-investment? Does he consider that under the franchising arrangements that have been made that will be put right, particularly as far as concerns rolling stock?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I believe that the benefits of the privatisation programme will flow in terms of investment. The noble Lord is quite right. In the past British Rail has had to compete with all kinds of other areas of government spending for access to capital. We believe that under the new arrangements it will be much easier to bring in new sources of capital and there will be considerable improvements.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that once a week I travel by train from King's Cross to Aberdeen, which is a considerable distance? In the past that service has been one InterCity service. I am advised that now the InterCity service ceases at Edinburgh, which means that the rest of the journey is made via ScotRail. Can the Minister assure me that, as there is a complete change of regime and personnel, there will be satisfactory co-ordination between the private owner of InterCity East Coast main line and the public owner of the Edinburgh to Aberdeen line via Leuchars?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I give the noble Lord the assurance that train operating companies will work together. Very shortly, we hope to see all train operating companies in the private sector, which will be to the considerable benefit of the country. I am glad that the noble Lord has referred to the InterCity East Coast main line. We have seen a further £7 million of promised investment in the refurbishment and improvement of rolling stock and a £15 million programme of station improvements, including security, accessibility and so forth. Those are examples of the improvements in the InterCity East Coast main line which have been promised. We certainly believe that they will be carried out.

Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend whether the Government will encourage the new companies to buy British-made rolling stock and other equipment.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am certain that the new train operating companies will work very closely with the rolling stock leasing companies in identifying the kind of rolling stock which will be to their benefit. I am sure that they fully realise the capacity and capability which this country has for manufacturing the same.

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