The UK must toughen penalties for those caught perpetuating the vile trade of puppy smuggling
Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, Nigel Huddleston, writes in advance of his Westminster Hall debate on Puppy smuggling.
Back in 2017, the Dogs Trust first brought to my attention the growth of the underground puppy smuggling trade as an unintended consequence of the harmonisation of pet travel across Europe. Following the relaxation of Pet Travel Scheme regulations in 2012, the number of dogs entering the UK had risen sharply and the Dogs Trust had uncovered evidence of widespread abuse of the system – which was meant to cover non-commercial pet travel – by puppy smugglers.
The Dogs Trust shared with me harrowing stories about puppies being illegally transported thousands of miles in cramped, hot conditions by unscrupulous gangs looking to sell them on to unsuspecting British families. These puppies – some just weeks old – were often deprived of food, water, exercise, and had not been given the vaccinations that they needed. Following these torturous journeys many of the puppies went on to develop serious health and behavioural issues and sadly some did not survive. Unsuspecting Brits who had been excited to welcome a new puppy into their families found themselves dealing with the emotional and financial hardship of caring for a sick pet. In the most extreme cases, they were forced to go through the traumatic experience of putting the puppy down.
After the Dogs Trust published its report, I began receiving hundreds of emails from constituents urging me to take action against this cruel trade. Heeding their calls, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the issue in November 2017 and have raised the issue during Oral Questions on a number of occasions – always receiving an encouraging response from Defra Ministers. But now, nearly 18 months later, very little has changed and meanwhile, thousands of puppies continue to be smuggled into the UK each year.
The Government has made clear that it takes animal welfare very seriously and some significant policies designed to protect animals have been announced in recent years. The bans on ivory and third party sales are very welcome, but there is more the Government can do. With negotiations about our future relationship with the EU ongoing, I want the Government to have at the forefront of its mind the opportunity Brexit provides to close some of the loopholes in PETS that are being exploited. The Government could introduce stricter vaccination requirements, mandatory visual checks at the border, and increase the minimum age at which puppies are allowed to travel to the UK.
There is action we can take regardless of the outcome of our Brexit negotiations too. In my debate I will encourage the Government to bolster our presence at the border and toughen the penalties for those caught perpetuating this vile trade, for instance by legislating for an increase to the maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years.
The Government should not underestimate the strength of feeling that the British public – well known as a nation of proud animal lovers – has about this issue. More than 130 of my parliamentary colleagues have joined me in pledging to tackle puppy smuggling and I hope that there will be a strong showing at my debate this afternoon to urge the Government to take action.
Nigel Huddleston is the Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.