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Mr. Forth: I confess that that is a problem.

Mr. Paterson: It is a huge problem.

Mr. Forth: It is. We will examine the matter further in a few moments. I am trying to focus on penalties notwithstanding. Let us resolve the matter about sheep, rabbits, fur, wool, fleeces and arms and elbows later, and concentrate now on the merits of the clause, discuss what we think the proper penalties are and how effective they might be. Then we will go on, perhaps even under the next group of amendments, to talk about pelts, rabbits and all sorts of other fascinating things.

We are talking about what will be most effective in implementing the Bill. Our argument is simple. The hon. Member for Garston was generous enough to praise the clarity with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) had put the case. I cannot better it, but I want to reinforce our slight puzzlement that, in our efforts time and again to strengthen the Bill, we are being resisted. I would have

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thought that the question of penalties is a relatively straightforward matter. It is one about which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I feel strongly.

I do not feel inclined--it will be for my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border to say because he moved the amendment--to accept what the hon. Lady says. I do not believe that £5,000 will be enough to deter a very wealthy farmer and that we should not make available to the courts a term of imprisonment. If that penalty was good enough to look after the welfare of puppy dogs last week, it is certainly good enough to look after the welfare of mink or any other fur-bearing species this week. I hope that our decision will be consistent with that taken last week and that the Bill will include a term of imprisonment.

1 pm

Mr. Paterson: Following the unsatisfactory answers that we received on the matter of definition, and that we may receive on further clauses, talk of fines of £20,000 and imprisonment is excessive. The people who will be caught up in future will be innocent. We established in earlier debate that there are very few fur farmers left in this country--11, I think, and they will almost certainly go.

Those who will get caught up by the legislation will be innocent parties in another trade--the rabbit farmer who switches his production to fur, and so on. It will be an appalling burden for magistrates courts to have to decide such cases. I am not a lawyer, and I apologise to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for my earlier comment disparaging lawyers. I have always found my dealings with them rather expensive, but it is a fine profession and I am sure that she is an excellent example of it.

As I understand it--the hon. Lady may correct me--the decision will be taken in magistrates courts, without recourse to jury. The only people likely to be swept up will be those involved in the rearing of animals that are not clearly defined--people from entirely different trades. I find any discussion of imprisonment excessive, and fines of £20,000 are out of order for the mainly innocent people who will be swept up.

How would the hon. Lady answer to some sheep farmer or rabbit farmer who was taken for £20,000 on the decision of a magistrates court, where he could not be represented by a proper lawyer--possibly someone of her standing?

Mr. Maclean: It falls to me to conclude the debate on this group of amendments. I disagree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). I know that perhaps only 20 of my colleagues agree with my general approach to the Bill. There is contention about the subject.

Some of us may take the view that the Bill is wrong in principle, or misguided, or that it should be approached by another route. However, if the measure goes through Parliament--the Commons and the other place--it will be become an Act of Parliament prohibiting an activity. The fact that I thought initially that it was misguided does not change my belief that the laws of this House must not be disobeyed by anyone.

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One day people may be innocent, legitimate fur farmers. If the Bill goes through and turns them into criminals if they continue in business, I believe that the full force of the law should bear upon them afterwards.

Mr. Swayne: Hang them.

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend interjects from a sedentary position a suggestion that I consider too severe. There are quite a few people in this country whom I may have wished to see hanged, but people in the trade do not come into that category. My hon. Friend will not tempt me down that route.

If, after the Bill is enacted, people continue in an activity that has been made illegal by the House, irrespective of my views on the merits of making it illegal, the law must be obeyed. The financial penalty without the term of imprisonment is not as great a deterrent as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) suggests.

The marvellous thing about this debate is that it is a matter of judgment. There is no great fundamental principle at stake in this part of the Bill or these two amendments. The hon. Lady was courteous and kind enough to say that she had considered our amendments carefully and in her judgment she had gone for one side.

I wish that the people who, my secretary tells me, have jammed my answering machine with death threats would listen to the debate that we have had this morning and hear the points of view expressed from all sides. They might then realise that although there might be some issues of principle between us, when the House of Commons debates matters such as fines, penalties and periods of imprisonment for those who break the law, there is not much between us.

I do not intend to push the amendment that lowers the £20,000 fine to level 5 on the standard scale, as that is not adequate. However, a period of imprisonment would act as a greater deterrent to some people than even the fine. Under my amendment, the fine would be level 5 on the standard scale and it would be possible for someone farming mink to be prosecuted for half a dozen offences. The hon. Lady said that multiple prosecution is possible, and in my experience, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is usually happy to bring several prosecutions, particularly in animal cruelty or welfare cases. The farmer could be prosecuted for farming 10, 20, 30 or 40 mink. Half a dozen specimen charges could be laid, with the level 5 fine of £5,000 applying to each. That means that a person could be fined £20,000, £30,000 or £35,000.

None the less, a term of imprisonment would act as a greater deterrent than just the fine. I would have level 5 on the standard scale, which could be applied to half a dozen cases, or 50, or 11 or 2,000. The fine could exceed the one proposed by the hon. Lady, and there would be forfeiture too. Imprisonment for up to six months would be a further deterrent.

Mr. Paterson: I am surprised that my right hon. Friend is taking the line also taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in supporting these extremely severe penalties for people

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whom I see as being innocent. Only complete idiots will carry on mink farming once the Bill becomes law, and the people swept up by it will be innocent people undertaking entirely separate activities. Surely, there should be a scale that reflects that fact.

Mr. Maclean: I disagree. Those people are innocent today, and they will remain innocent until 1 January 2001, or some other date if the hon. Member for Garston moves or agrees to an amendment. However, irrespective of the fact that what they are doing is legal today, if the House turns them into criminals, they must be punished properly. It does not matter that what they did was once not an offence. That point of principle should be accepted by every parliamentarian who believes in the rule of law.

I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend. The people to whom he refers are not criminals today, and nor is anyone involved in farming. But once this wrong-footed Bill, which approaches a welfare problem from entirely the wrong angle, is passed, the sanctions must apply. People should not continue an illegal activity. That must be a criminal offence, and the penalties proposed by the hon. Lady could be toughened up. I want to add a period of imprisonment so that we may be consistent with what we did last week on puppy dogs. We applied a three-month term of imprisonment then, and my proposals on the Bill would set a higher financial penalty and a six-month imprisonment term.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 1, Noes 66.

Division No. 176
[1.8 pm


AYES


Paterson, Owen

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. Eric Forth.


NOES


Austin, John
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Breed, Colin
Buck, Ms Karen
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Colman, Tony
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Fyfe, Maria
Gale, Roger
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hancock, Mike
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hill, Keith
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Leslie, Christopher
Linton, Martin
Livingstone, Ken
Loughton, Tim
McDonnell, John
McIsaac, Shona
McNulty, Tony
Morley, Elliot
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Olner, Bill
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Primarolo, Dawn
Ryan, Ms Joan
Shipley, Ms Debra
Skinner, Dennis
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Swayne, Desmond
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vis, Dr Rudi
White, Brian
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)

Tellers for the Noes:


Angela Smith and
Mrs. Linda Gilroy.

Question accordingly negatived.

14 May 1999 : Column 589

Mr. Forth: I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 1, line 17, at end insert--


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