Vehicles belonging to puppy smugglers should be crushed at the Port of Dover to deter others from committing the same crime, ministers have been told.
The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill would reduce the number of pets that can be brought into the country for non-commercial reasons to five per motor vehicle on rail and ferry routes, and three per person for those arriving by air or as a foot passenger.
The Bill also gives ministers powers to introduce further restrictions at a later stage, with a recent consultation examining proposals to raise the minimum age for importing a puppy from 15 weeks to six months and ban the import of heavily pregnant dogs.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the number of dogs intercepted rose from 390 in 2019 to almost 1,300 in 2020, adding there is “growing evidence” showing commercial importers “abuse” non-commercial pet travel rules in place to “bring lost of puppies at once”.
Conservative Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) was among several MPs to urge the Government to go further on reforming import laws.
He said: “The illegal importing of puppies is horrific. The diseases that are brought into the country and the state of the animals is frequently appalling.
“The misery it causes for the animals and the recipients of those animals is equally grim.”
Sir Roger, whose son works as a veterinary surgeon, added “we need to throw the book” at the people doing it.
He went on: “I would actually like to see a car crusher on the dock at Dover and I’d like to see, as a result of the Proceeds of Crime Act, the cars used by anybody found to be smuggling puppies crushed in front of them.
“It might just act as a deterrent.”
To laughter, Sir Roger noted: “I’d of course remove the puppies first, just in case. I’m not so concerned about the driver.”
Earlier, shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard insisted not only it is important to raise the minimum age for imported puppies from 15 weeks to six months, but that the Government should also increase the sentences given to pet smugglers.
He said: “We also want to raise the maximum penalties for those illegally importing dogs, because currently you can get a longer sentence by illegally importing cigarettes than you can by illegally importing puppies.”
Neil Parish, Conservative chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, echoed Mr Pollard’s remarks, saying: “I would ask the Secretary of State to move on this quite quickly and that is to move to the fact that the puppies should be six months old, when they won’t be puppies any more. This will be twofold.
“One, I think the Border Agency … it will be much easier for them to be able to recognise that these puppies are young, they’re not six months old. Also, you know, the puppies are not as cuddly and as sale worthy.”
The Bill would also ban live exports of farmed animals for slaughter or fattening and give police new powers to deal with dogs attacking or worrying livestock.
It also aims to stop people keeping primates as pets in England – with the Government expected to table an amendment to extend this to Wales – although MPs said more needs to be done in this area.
The Bill sets out licensing conditions for primates to be kept outside of licenced zoos and scientific facilities, with Mr Eustice noting: “The new primate keeper licence will ensure the only people keeping primates are those able to meet the highest welfare standards appropriate to meet their welfare needs.”
Conservative MP Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) was among those to ask for the Government to go further.
She said: “I stood on a manifesto which promised to ban keeping primates as pets. And I want this Bill to fulfil that promise.”
Mrs Murray added: “I’m very concerned about the proposed licensing of keeping primates as pets by some people. I would like to see a complete ban on the practice.”
The Bill later received an unopposed second reading and will undergo further scrutiny at a later date.