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Mrs. Mahon: Does my hon. Friend agree that some farms operate in a state of secrecy? Last year, at one such farm in my constituency, a Channel 4 team was prevented from filming from outside--two of the crew members were beaten up, the video was taken away and the camera was wrecked. It is sometimes difficult to get into the real hell-holes.

Angela Smith: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. One wonders why mink farmers are so averse to such publicity and to having their farms filmed.

If we compare conditions in the wild and those in captivity, we can see why fur farming is so inappropriate. In the wild, mink swim for about 60 per cent. of their waking hours, hunt live quarry, climb and dive, and travel between two to five dens, which are sometimes as much as 2 km apart. Male territories never overlap, and they will fight to the death to defend their territories.

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Compare that with conditions in a fur farm, where, in rows of small wire cages--often just 38 cm wide, 30.5 cm high and 61 cm long--the mink are entirely deprived of opportunities to engage in their natural behaviour. In fur farms, mink may spend a quarter of their waking hours performing endless repetitive motions, going round and round in their tiny cages. They mutilate themselves through pelt and tail biting, they cannibalise other mink, and the mortality rate among young mink--kits--is extremely high. They are confined, in the words of a leading mink expert, Dr. Nigel Dunstone, to a life of "sedentary torture".

Is all that an exaggeration? Are the facts hyped up by those who oppose mink farming? Not according to a Cambridge university report, which stated that stereotypical behaviour is

As we have heard from several hon. Members, the Government's Farm Animal Welfare Council announced under the previous Government:

    "mink (and fox) have been bred in captivity for only about 50-60 generations and the Council is particularly concerned about the keeping of what are essentially wild animals in small barren cages."

The council's chairman made clear his views and those of the committee. He stated:

    "We have decided against drawing up a Welfare Code for mink and fox farming to avoid giving it the stamp of approval which a Government-backed Welfare Code would imply."

We should take those comments seriously.

The conditions in which mink are kept would be illegal if they were in a zoo, but at least if they were in a zoo, that would expose the animals' conditions to intense public scrutiny. The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 specifies that mink be

Where in a fur farm do we see nesting boxes, pools and branch-work to aid natural behaviour? Where is the recommended 40 sq m pool? Where are the natural soil, sand and gravel, and the hollow logs and rocks that would at least represent an attempt to create a natural environment? Nowhere in a mink farm do we see such facilities.

The opponents of the Bill have failed to mention the inhumane conditions in which mink are transported within the United Kingdom. We hear little about that, so I shall give the House an example. On 21 December last year, mink were transferred from Coneyheugh farm in Northumberland to Woodview farm in Devon--a journey of more than 10 hours. The 800 mink were left on the lorry overnight before being unloaded. Another batch of mink was delivered just last Sunday, 29 February. Overseeing the arrival of the mink was a MAFF vet. He stayed for just seven minutes. We should remember that the mink is a wild animal and is not used to captivity.

Mr. Gray: All animal lovers would be concerned if the conditions that the hon. Lady describes occurred normally. Does she agree that one of the good things about mink farming, in this country and elsewhere, is that the mink are bred and farmed in the same place as they are slaughtered--in other words, there is no transportation of mink to slaughterhouses, as is the case for all other farm animals?

Angela Smith: I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree that it is better for

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mink to be kept in small cages and slaughtered on site. I have not dreamed up the events that I described. That transportation of mink happened. Does it matter whether it happens every day of the week or not? It happened, it is wrong and it should not be allowed to happen, but the law allows it to happen.

Mr. Peter Atkinson: The owner of Coneyheugh farm is a constituent of mine. When he moved those mink, they were moved with the full approval of MAFF. As thehon. Lady rightly said, a MAFF vet was present. My constituent cannot be blamed if the vet left after seven minutes. He did everything exactly by the rule book.

Angela Smith: The hon. Gentleman makes my point. The rules allowed that to happen. Many Labour Members and some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues find that wrong. Humane conditions should be provided.

Some people treat mink simply as a product. They are farmed for maximum profit for a frivolous reason--for fashion. The term "fur farm" is totally misleading. Livestock farms give the impression of animals roaming over open spaces and fields and the production of food. A better term for mink farms would be "fur factories". That is the one group of factories that I want to see closed down for ever.

10.46 am

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): May I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on the way in which she introduced the Bill. I have come to a conclusion that is quite different from hers, but I recognise that she has produced arguments that are rational and moderate in their tone, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on the approach that she adopted.

I oppose the Bill, both in general terms and for particular reasons. I shall start from two general propositions, which the House would do well to acknowledge. The first is that one should be very slow to use the criminal law to impose one's own moral views on the community as a whole. In many other contexts, hon. Members would largely agree with that proposition. It is certainly a view that permeates the debate on abortion, and it was manifest in the debate on homosexuality on Monday. One should be slow to use the criminal law to impose one's own moral standards.

The second point is a related one, but is also important. The House needs to be cautious about trampling on the rights of minorities. In a constitution such as ours, the rights of minorities are not firmly entrenched. It may well be that the European convention incorporated into the United Kingdom's domestic law will have a beneficial effect in that respect, but the defence of minority rights depends on the restraint of right hon. and hon. Members in this place.

Therefore we have an obligation, when we are considering the criminal law, to look strictly at the consequences of what we are about. We must ask ourselves whether we are unduly constraining the rights of minorities. I accept that neither of those propositions is absolute, but they are a guide as to how right hon. and hon. Members should legislate.

The first question that I have asked myself--I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members will also do so--is whether fur farming is in principle wrong. I stress

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"in principle". Let us not for the moment discuss whether it is humane. That is a different but extremely important issue. Is it in principle wrong? The hon. Member for Garston raised a number of arguments that depended on the inhumane method of husbandry. One of her principal contentions, which is also to be seen in the early-day motion, is that fur farming is, in principle, wrong. She argued, for example, that fur is not an essential requirement, implying that if it is not essential, it is right to prohibit fur farming. That is the question which we must consider.

It is important to remind ourselves that, although many people in this country may believe that wearing fur is wrong, that is not the conventional view in many countries whose standards in this regard are no different from our own. If one goes to the countries of central Europe--or, indeed, many of the countries of western Europe in winter--one finds that many people, and often the majority in richer areas, wear fur coats. One has only to go to Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany or Austria to find that wearing fur is a common practice.

That is relevant to the debate because if it be true that in many civilised countries many, if not most, people think that wearing fur is a perfectly acceptable practice, one should be cautious about concluding that it is so unacceptable in principle that we should make it criminal.

Mr. Forth rose--

Mr. Hogg: Not the wearing of fur, but the breeding.

Angela Smith: I offer assistance to the right hon.and learned Gentleman; he seems to be under a misapprehension. The Bill would not stop the wearing of fur, but it would stop mink fur farming in this country.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Lady does not do justice to my case. It flows from the assertion being made that fur farming is an unessential luxury business.

Mr. Forth: I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend does not rest his argument entirely on the proposition that, if people on the continental mainland wear and approve of fur, that is okay. I hope that he does not accept that, even if most people in this country disapprove of fur farming, that would justify prohibiting it. He is not saying that, is he?

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