Parliament: Quaratine - Minister gives green light to pet passports

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The Independent Online
THE TIMETABLE to scrap Britain's tough quarantine rules could be moved forward because there are no "insuperable obstacles" to new anti- rabies laws using the so-called "pet passports", the Government indicated yesterday.

Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, said the period of three years, which has previously been recommended, seemed "quite a long time".

He added that a pilot project could be brought in ahead of general reforms but stressed nothing would be done to compromise public safety.

Opening a Commons debate on the quarantine rules, Mr Brown said the Government was "minded to agree to change and reform".

He acknowledged the current rules, which mean that pets are kept in quarantine kennels for six months at a cost of up to pounds 1,500 for owners, were "harsh" and not "strictly necessary" when scientific advances could provide alternatives and there was no risk to public health. "I am sympathetic to the case for change," he told MPs, after an advisory committee report recommended reforms last month. "I believe in the light of the report we cannot maintain the status quo. We can no longer argue that quarantine is the only way of protecting this country against rabies.

"I do not see how we can keep our present system unchanged when there is a less onerous alternative which gives no greater risk and has some advantages," the Agriculture Minister said.

Under the scheme being considered by the Government, dogs and cats being brought into Britain from EU countries and rabies-free islands would be vaccinated, "tagged" with a special microchip and their owners given a certificate.

But quarantine provisions would still apply to pets being brought from other countries and for those that failed the certification system.

Mr Brown said rabies still caused many deaths in some parts of the world and promised he would recommend nothing that would put at risk Britain's rabies-free record.

There would be no "green channel" for pet owners at ports and airports, he insisted.

Quarantine would remain the rule for animals from most countries outside Europe, while those with certificates would have to satisfy the strict entry rules to get in. A consultation period on the proposals runs until the end of this year.

But Tim Yeo, the shadow Agriculture Minister, accused Mr Brown of choosing to debate quarantine rules, which were still under consultation, when there was a crisis in farming.

"Farmers up and down the country will be puzzled as to why the Government could think that it is more important for Parliament to discuss quarantine when there is a crisis in agriculture," he said.

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