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House of Lords

Monday, 10th January 2000.

Reassembling after the Christmas Recess, the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Pet Travel Pilot Scheme

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to start the pet travel pilot scheme.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the pilot pet travel scheme will start on 28th February. From that date pet cats and dogs meeting the conditions of the scheme will be able to enter or re-enter the United Kingdom without the need to go into quarantine.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. However, what is being done to make European vets, particularly French vets, aware of MAFF requirements? Will she consider launching a campaign so that British pet owners who take their pets abroad are aware that their pets must have treatment for ticks and ringworm before they re-enter Britain? Further, will my noble friend consider changing the 48-hour to 24-hour period in which this has to be carried out, to one of 24 hours only, so that it can be done at the point of re-entry? That would be far easier for people who are en route from a holiday resort. Instead of asking applicants to fill in a form to state that in the past six months their pets have not been in countries other than those participating in the scheme, will my noble friend consider making that part of the conditions for obtaining pet passports?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend asks me a number of detailed questions on this matter which are important as the success of the scheme depends on our getting the detail right. I reassure my noble friend that the Chief Veterinary Officer has been in touch with colleagues across continental Europe about the requirements for the scheme. Good progress is being made with vets in western Europe on providing the necessary certification, and that, of course, is important for families with pets who are returning to this country. We shall launch a publicity campaign so that pet owners in this country who plan to travel abroad with their pets are aware of all the requirements of the scheme. It is in no one's interests for people to turn up with animals which are not eligible for the scheme. We shall launch what I hope will be a high profile and effective campaign directly at pet owners, but also through travel agents and vets.

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The issue of "ticks and tapes" is a difficult one. These diseases can be dangerous for human beings and cause fatalities on the Continent each year. We do not want to import these diseases into this country when they are not endemic here. I recognise the concerns which exist as regards the difficulties of the 24- to 48-hour "window". We shall certainly look at that in terms of assessing the pilot scheme. I refer to the advice that we have at the moment from the expert committee in this regard. As regards the form and country of residence, that is the way we have arranged matters at the moment, but the whole aim of having the pilot is to address any difficulties before the main scheme is introduced next year.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, remembering that pets from non-participating countries will still have to go into quarantine, where the conditions often leave much to be desired, have the Government done anything about instituting a closer system of inspection for these kennels?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there has been concern expressed on occasion about standards within quarantine kennels. Certainly the ministry does, and will continue to, take action when concerns arise about animal welfare being endangered in those circumstances.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many people in this country are happy about the early introduction of the pilot scheme? Does the Minister recognise that a number of non-governmental organisations have been helpful in introducing the scheme, despite its various imperfections? I hope I may mention Passports for Pets which has been an effective organisation in this regard. If the pilot scheme is effective, will the Minister consider at an early opportunity the situation as regards the importation of animals from the United States and Canada?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I echo the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby. A number of organisations have not only been effective campaigners but now communicate well with pet owners to inform them of the detail of the scheme and what has to be done. Passports for Pets has been a particularly effective organisation in both areas and will continue to be relied upon to provide information to its members and other pet owners. We shall want to consider a number of issues in the longer term to determine whether it is possible to extend the scheme. As the noble Lord is aware, the position with regard to the United States of America was considered by Kennedy who recommended not implementing the scheme there. We shall conduct a further risk analysis next year when the main scheme comes into force.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House and the country that, where rabies is

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endemic and veterinary services leave much to be desired, there will be no possibility of a view being taken which would allow rabies to re-enter Britain?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, throughout the way in which we have framed the current pilot scheme and the long-term scheme the protection of public health has been uppermost in the Government's mind. That has to have the utmost priority. Equally, it has been recognised that science has moved on. Microchipping, vaccination and blood testing, coupled with the enormous efforts to stop endemic rabies in much of western Europe, mean that it is safe to implement this alternative scheme.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, does the certificate taken with the pet have to be issued abroad or can the preparatory treatment and the issue of the certificate take place in this country? That would be of particular use to those who need guide dogs and who have to go abroad for a day's business.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, if the noble is Lord is referring to the certificates in relation to rabies, microchipping and vaccination, they can certainly be issued in the country from which an animal is originally travelling. If a family is taking an animal on holiday with them, they would get the certificates in regard to its rabies-free status and its vaccination status here. If, for example, a service family is returning from Germany, they would get the relevant certificates there. The certificate or proof of treatment against "ticks and tapes" would normally be obtained at the end of a holiday or at the end of a period of stay abroad. In special circumstances--for example, where someone uses an assistance dog to go on a day trip--it will be possible to obtain that certificate here.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, will pets coming in through Heathrow airport, for example, be subject to a different system from the current one? I understand that currently the pet is booked on the same flight as its owner and that if, for any reason, there is not enough space the pet has to wait and travel on the next incoming flight. Is that included in this trial scheme? What is the position with regard to pets being booked on and travelling on the same flight if they are not going into quarantine?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am glad to say that dealing with the booking of pets will not be on my shoulders. We will be looking at the operating regimes that the individual transport operators are currently submitting to the Ministry. We must ensure that they fulfil the requirements of the scheme in terms of allowing appropriate checks for the animals concerned. That is the Government's most important responsibility. There will be a certain amount of consumer pressure about how individual operators choose to transport animals. As I understand it, at the moment the airlines that are thinking about participating are considering having animals and their

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owners on the same flight. However, ultimately, that has to be an operating decision for the companies and their customers rather than for the Government.

Benefits: Payment through Post Office

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What would be the effect on the Post Office and its network of the ending of the payment of benefits through the Post Office.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, there will be no change to existing methods of benefit payment before 2003 when the migration from order books and giro cheques to payment by automated credit transfer will commence. In the meantime, the automation of the post office counters network, due for completion by the spring of 2001, will enable the Post Office to extend its arrangements with the high street banks to offer a range of banking facilities at post offices. This will mean that benefit recipients who wish to access their benefits in cash at post offices will continue to be able to do so, both before and after the changeover, while post offices will be able to offer more services to all bank customers.

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