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Session 2002 - 03
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Northern Ireland) Order 2002

First Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Monday 2 December 2002

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Draft Fur Farming (Prohibition)
(Northern Ireland) Order 2002

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Northern Ireland) Order 2002.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Roe, at my first outing as a Minister in Committee.

The provisions in the order mirror the measures in the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, except for a minor amendment relating to article 7. That was made at the request of the Committee for Agricultural and Rural Development, which considered the matter when the measures were contained in a Northern Ireland Assembly Bill. The Bill had completed its consideration in the Assembly on 7 October and, had the Assembly not been suspended, it would almost certainly have become law on 1 January 2003. With the suspension of the Assembly, the measure is now progressing as an Order in Council.

The provisions of the order were the subject of wide public consultation in Northern Ireland, and the responses generated general support for the measure. The order prohibits the keeping of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. It is an issue of public morality. We believe that fur farming should be banned because it is not consistent with proper value and respect for animal life. Although the killing of animals is not of itself either right or wrong, animals should not be destroyed without sufficient justification in terms of public benefit. I believe that the rearing of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for their fur fails that test, and hence fur farming cannot be justified. Fur farming is distinct from food production.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The Minister said that the killing of animals is neither right nor wrong. Will he explain what he meant by that statement?

Mr. Pearson: I was making clear the distinction between the killing of animals for food and the killing of animals solely for their fur. The latter practice cannot be justified. That was the common position of the political parties in Northern Ireland prior to suspension of the Assembly.

Mr. Curry: I am referring to the words, ''the killing of animals is neither right nor wrong.'' If the Minister means that the killing of animals to eat is right, why does he not say so?

Mr. Pearson: I am happy to say that the killing of animals for food purposes is right. It is something that would be expected of a Minister with responsibility for

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agriculture in the Northern Ireland economy where there is substantial sheep and beef production for food. I support such a practice.

Although there are no fur farming businesses in Northern Ireland-as far as I am aware-that does not mean that there is no need for the order. Measures to ban fur farming in Great Britain will come into effect on 1 January 2003. In espousing the principles inherent in banning fur farming, it is important that the order becomes law in Northern Ireland to prevent businesses that can no longer operate in Great Britain from relocating in Northern Ireland, and to prevent new businesses from starting up in the Province.

I shall comment on the core elements of the order. Article 3 deals with offences and creates a primary offence of keeping animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding progeny for such slaughter. It also creates a secondary offence. Both the primary and secondary offences are summary offences for which the maximum penalty is £20,000. Article 4 deals with forfeiture orders and gives the court power to make an order for the forfeiture or destruction or other disposal of the animals in the event that a person is convicted of either the primary or the secondary offence. Any person claiming to have an interest in the animals may apply to the court for the purpose of resisting the making of a forfeiture order. Article 5 deals with the effect of a forfeiture order and provides a right of appeal for a person claiming to have an interest in the animals, which are subject to a forfeiture order. Article 6 confers a power of entry and inspection to enable the gathering of evidence and a power to enter premises to carry out a forfeiture order. The order also creates an offence of intentionally obstructing or delaying any person in exercise of their power.

Article 7 provides for the Department to introduce a scheme to pay compensation to persons who claim income losses as a result of the discontinuation of their businesses. As there are not thought to be any fur farming businesses in Northern Ireland, that provision is unlikely to be invoked. However, it is included as a precaution to satisfy human rights issues.

I ask the Committee to approve the order for the reasons that I have outlined.

4.35 pm

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Roe. When I find myself sitting in the same Room as you-

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Steady.

Mr. Taylor: Yes, I will be steady. Normally, Mrs. Roe, it is in the Members' Dining Room, where we are equal.

Mr. Pound: Thank God the hon. Gentleman said that.

Mr. Taylor: I may have to ask you to protect me, Mrs. Roe. This afternoon I find myself in an inferior position whereby I must defer to you, and I do so with the greatest pleasure. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) should know that at my age it is far too late to be cautious, or even careful, and that every opportunity is welcome, including this one.

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I congratulate the Minister on his debut. I am sure that he will serve on other such Committees with diligence and that he will serve the community of Northern Ireland with that same diligence. He represents a Dudley constituency. Hon. Members may like to know that I fought a Dudley constituency twice in 1974, but unfortunately Dudley fought back. It is fair to say that I am rather happier in the seat where I am. None the less, Dudley is a fine town and a splendid constituency for the Minister to represent.

I am in favour of the order, not least because it unifies the law in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I have always thought that the culture and conventions of the United Kingdom mean that its citizens are under a harsh duty-namely, that we are all presumed to know what the law is, so if we break a law even in ignorance, that ignorance is no excuse. That was originally a Latin principle that came from Roman law. As we are all presumed to know the law, the fewer the regional variations the better. It is also better for reasons relating to the United Kingdom Union that the law should, as far as possible, be the same.

The Minister was mildly amused by the fact that the order prohibits an activity that does not take place. My brief tells me that no known businesses of the sort that we are discussing are operating in Northern Ireland, so the activity is being prohibited where, at the moment, there is nobody to be prohibited. However, I recognise that once the activity had been prohibited in England it might have been tempting for an English operator to transplant to Northern Ireland. The measure has logic, and the Minister has my party's support behind it.

If I may be allowed a final anecdote before I resume my place, the fact that we are stopping an activity that does not exist reminds me of Damon Runyon's character, the horse thief, whose friends knew that although he had never stolen a horse, if the opportunity arose he certainly would.

4.39 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Roe, and to have heard the opening exchanges involving the Minister, who represents a Dudley constituency. Unfortunately, I have no anecdotes about the west midlands, which reflects my lack of knowledge about the area rather than anything else. It was also a delight, as always, to hear the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) in full flow.

I understood why the Minister said what he did about public morality. Throughout the passage of the legislation, the Government have been at pains to emphasise that they accepted the original Back-Bench legislation and introduced the order in pursuance of article 30 of the European convention on human rights, rather than for animal welfare reasons. However, I have never understood that, because the public morality issue is the animal welfare issue of whether it is proper to keep a solitary carnivore in a small cage.

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We are talking about mink, because that is the only species that is farmed for fur in this country. In its normal habitat, a mink is semi-aquatic and ranges over a wide territory. The public morality issue lies in the animal welfare implications of that. It would be refreshing if the Government would accept that equation rather than simply saying that this is a matter of public morality. That leaves them open to contentions such as that advanced by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), which may have given the Minister pause for thought, at least for a moment.

When we discussed the legislation in June 2000, the Conservative party's position was very different from how it has been expressed today, but let us set that aside. At that time, there were dire warnings that the legislation would inevitably be challenged in the courts. Indeed, it was suggested that the Committee of Agricultural Organisations in the European Union and the General Committee for Agricultural Co-operation in the European Union-COPA and COGECA-were preparing cases to go before the courts to establish that the measure was in contravention of human rights legislation. Has action been taken in that respect, or was it merely sabre rattling that produced no result?


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Prepared 2 December 2002