Neil Parish chairs the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee
Ministers are today accused of “twiddling thumbs” over tougher sentences for puppy smugglers – allowing the cruel trade to “flourish”.
A new report, Moving Animals Across Borders, from the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee calls on the Government to introduce harsher jail punishments for pet smugglers – and make full use of existing powers.
Committee chairman Neil Parish, a senior Conservative backbencher, said: “While the Government twiddles its thumbs, bad actors are seizing the opportunity to bring animals – including kittens and puppies – over the borders, risking their welfare and the spread of diseases, with little fear of detection or punishment.”
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The 48-page report says: “The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will reduce the number of pets that an individual can bring into Great Britain from five to three.
“This is a positive step, which should help to reduce pet smuggling. However, there is evidence that the current rules are not being enforced at the border making it easy for pets to be illegally brought into the country.
“Prosecution rates and the sentences for pet smuggling are low, and do not act as an effective deterrent.
“The Government should increase the sentences given to pet smugglers, including greater consideration of custodial sentences. Increasing prosecution rates must also be a priority, as prosecution rates are proportionately low given the estimated size of the trade.
“Furthermore, Defra should include a ban on animals younger than six months, heavily pregnant animals, and animals which have been subject to poor welfare practices on the face of the Bill, rather than in secondary legislation.
“The Bill should also include a clear definition of ‘heavily pregnant’.”
The Government last month announced plans to raise the minimum age for imported puppies from 15 weeks to six months and banning the importing of dogs with cropped ears or docked tails.
Importing heavily pregnant dogs into the UK would also be banned.
The number of puppies seized at the border jumped from 324 in 2019 to 843 last year amid a surge in demand blamed on coronavirus lockdowns.
Some 66,000 dogs were imported into the UK last year.
But Defra believes cases of poor treatment and smuggling are rising.
Today’s study comes nearly 18 months after Lucy’s Law came into force in a triumph for the Mirror’s campaign to end the horrors of cruel puppy farms.
The legislation made it illegal for third party dealers, such as pet shops and online traders, to sell puppies – and is designed to stop unscrupulous breeders having a route to market.
Anyone wanting to buy a puppy or kitten in England must purchase directly from a breeder or consider adopting from a rescue centre.
Licensed dog breeders must show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth
The campaign was founded by vet Marc Abraham – a past winner of a Mirror Animal Hero Award – and named after a Cavalier King Charles spaniel who was rescued after years of abuse on a puppy farm.
Marc said at the time: “This is a huge milestone, the first major step in ending puppy farming and puppy smuggling.
“It will also tackle the legal licensed trade which has enabled puppies and kittens to be sold after being bred in the most horrendous conditions.”
A Defra spokeswoman said: “The Government takes the issue of puppy smuggling, and other illegal importations and low welfare movements of pets, very seriously.
“It is an abhorrent trade which causes suffering to animals and puts the health of pets and people in the UK at risk.
“Our recently introduced Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill commits to tackling unscrupulous traders by reducing the number of dogs that can be moved under the pet travel rules – and we have now launched a consultation on further proposals to crack down on this illegal trade.”