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European Standing Committee A Debates

Humane Trapping Standards

European Standing Committee A

Wednesday 12 January 2005

[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]

Humane Trapping Standards

2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): It may help hon. Members if I give the background to the proposal. Animal welfare concerns in the European Union led to the introduction of EEC regulation 3254/91 prohibiting the use of leghold traps, more commonly known as gin traps, in the EU. The regulation also prohibited the import into the Community of pelts and manufactured goods of certain wild animals originating in countries using leghold traps or trapping methods that did not meet international humane trapping standards.

As there were no agreed international standards for trapping, the import of such goods was effectively banned. Understandably, the major fur exporters—Canada, USA and the Russian Federation—strongly objected to what they considered to be a restriction on trade and insisted that standards should be established. As a result of those objections, the European Commission entered into two international agreements to establish humane trapping standards at an international level. The commitments and obligations arising from those agreements have to be implemented by the Community and they led to this proposal for a directive.

The directive is welcome as it provides an opportunity to improve welfare standards of trapped animals across the EU. However, it will remove barriers to the international trade in fur and thus potentially increase the availability of trapped fur products entering the UK. The wearing of fur is an emotive issue and some will be very much against the implementation of the directive.

The UK was one of three countries that argued against the directive on the two occasions when it was discussed. The Government remain concerned that the standards may not go far enough to achieve benefits for animal welfare in the UK. The UK proposed extending the scope of the standards to cover all trapped species. That position is more consistent with our legislation, but it was not supported by the Commission or by a majority of member states. However, it is still hoped that such an extension may be possible in future and the UK will continue to suggest that all trapped species are included in any directive.

The proposed directive would have little practical impact on trapping in the UK. In practice, the standards will affect only the trapping of stoat for pest control measures and the licensed trapping of badger, otter and pine marten. However, a wider application
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to all species in the UK would not be universally well received by all interests and it is possible that some less humane methods, such as illegal poisoning, could be used as a result.

The proposal may also present difficulties for the control of new and existing traps. Some traps, such as drowning traps, are being developed to meet the new standards in other member states, but they are normally considered to be inhumane in the UK. The directive would permit those traps. Some existing traps, which may be classed as inhumane for stoats under the new standards, will remain legal for trapping other similar species, such as weasel.

Our initial reaction was fully to implement the directive, but to say that a lot of further work was required on the proposals. However, due to the concerns that I have outlined, at this stage we do not have a firm view on how the proposals should be taken forward and I would welcome the views of hon. Members.

We have three options: first, not to implement the directive. There is pressure from anti-fur campaigners and animal welfare groups to reject the proposals as drafted. However, that is an unattractive option as we have already been outvoted and it would risk trade disputes with the agreement countries and possible infraction proceedings against the UK.

Secondly, we could implement the minimum requirements. That would have a minimal impact on the use of traps in the UK; it would not benefit the majority of trapped species; it would produce a two-tier trap-testing standard; and it would be difficult to enforce. Derogations within the proposal would also mean that there would be limited application in the UK. Also, initial views from the trap users indicate that that option is not ideal in practice.

A third option would be to go further than the proposed directive, which may be the most practical and, some would say, ethical option. It would give us the opportunity to modernise existing trapping legislation, which goes back to the 1950s, and develop a uniform testing regime, which might have resource implications.

The debate is a valuable opportunity to discuss the options and hear the views of Committee Members on humane trapping standards. Whatever option we undertake, we will strongly resist measures that would lead to a reduction in animal welfare in the UK. We will also ensure that there is not an increased use of less humane traps or of illegal pest-control options, while meeting our international trade obligations.

The UK is one of the leaders in the EU in animal welfare and is constantly striving to improve standards, not just for farmed animals but for wildlife, too.

The Chairman: I thank the Minister for his statement. We now have until 3 pm at the latest for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity to ask more than one question.
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Matthew Green (Ludlow) (LD): The Minister outlined the proposal well, but in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs response he said that it would carry out a regulatory impact assessment, and that is not in the pack. What progress has been made on carrying out an RIA?

Mr. Bradshaw: We have not done so yet. The timescale that the Commission envisages is rather ambitious. I think that our explanatory memorandum says that we foresee consulting over a 12 or 18-month period, so we will have plenty of time to draw up the RIA that the hon. Gentleman requests.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green) (Lab): I, too, welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's introductory comments, but I have a slightly different question from that asked by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green). Is there such a thing as humane trapping?

Mr. Bradshaw: That is a matter of opinion. Certain traps that we have outlawed in this country are still used in other EU countries. There are also traps that the EU as a whole has outlawed, but which are still used in other parts of the world. One of the classic dilemmas that we face in a global economy is that we want to encourage free trade, but at the same time we want to ensure that the goods traded are the result of humane activity or activity that we would approve of in our own country.

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): I seek clarification from my hon. Friend the Minister. I welcome his comments and share the view that if we are to have trapping, it should be proper humane trapping. He commented on the way forward and the options. Could he clarify that in relation to the recommendation before us? Would the recommendation lead to us still not being able to ban fur from animals caught by leghold traps in other countries? If we approve what is before us today, will we still be unable to ban the fur coming from America and elsewhere?

Mr. Bradshaw: The motion is carefully worded. I am sure that my hon. Friend has noticed that we do not refer in the second part to the directive, but say that the Government will support ''humane trapping standards'', and we do support that. We are trying to make a distinction between our desire to support humane trapping standards and our will to support the directive as it stands. To be honest, it is unlikely that the directive will emerge in its current form. The European Parliament, for example, has not yet considered it and there is considerable opposition to it in that Parliament, not least for the reasons that my hon. Friend has highlighted.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Are we saying that if the directive is implemented, our existing bans would still apply? Or, would they be removed? That is the issue on which we must be clear.
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Mr. Bradshaw: We are perfectly entitled to maintain the existing bans on activity within the United Kingdom. We could not prevent other EU countries from maintaining lower standards than we have so long as they met the standards that the directive would require. If the directive were implemented in its current form, we would not be able to prevent the import of fur into the EU and therefore the UK from countries that still did not have the high welfare standards in respect of trapping that we have. That is one of the trade-offs that are always inevitable in a free global trading environment.

Matthew Green: Will the Minister confirm that we cannot prevent the measure from being implemented? It comes under qualified majority voting, so the best that we can do is to ensure the highest standards in Britain.

Mr. Bradshaw: We can certainly do the latter and, as I have made clear, we will. We alone cannot block any regulation. There is no regulation at the moment; these are just proposals. However, I reiterate my comments about the European Parliament, where co-decision making is now practised. The measure would also have to get over that hurdle. There are things that could be done to stop that happening but, in the end, if we were in a minority under QMV, we would not be able to stop it.

Dr. Vis: Has the directive been negotiated by members of the World Trade Organisation or by animal welfare officials?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure who was responsible for the negotiations on the Commission side but, if it is helpful, I will write to my hon. Friend with that information.

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