Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Lord is doing immense damage to my career. I wish he would stop!

Lord Kimball: My Lords, I am not. I am just saying how important it is for the procedures of Parliament that a Private Member's Bill should not come forward which involves the spending of money. That dangerous habit is proceeding in another place and must be nipped in the bud. We are grateful to the noble Lord for his excellent efforts. But we must face the fact that the fur farming industry has been operating under a form of stricture for the past two years, since the previous Private Member's Bill was muted.

I am privileged to have had a very enjoyable time meeting and consulting the mink farmers of this country. I realise that the worst thing they have had is a period of great uncertainty in the industry and a prolonged period of harassment, culminating with a judgment by the Crown Prosecution Service against the people who had been harassing one major mink farm in Northumberland. Fur farmers as a whole have been terrorised by acts of the animal welfare extremists. If you run a voluntary organisation or a gathering of extremists, what are you going to move on to? You keep the body together only by having something to campaign about. If they cannot campaign against fur farmers, I hate to think who their next victims will be. I hope that the Government will not be so misguided as to give in to them, as they have in this case. Fur farmers have also suffered at the hands of a misguided media campaign.

Having said that, I must admit to noble Lords that the 13 fur farmers have come to the conclusion that the sensible thing to do is to wind up their industry, subject to full and fair compensation. However, when we come to examine what will comprise full and fair compensation, let us be absolutely realistic about it.

Fur farming is a very prosperous agricultural diversification. In reality, which sheep farmer would not be thrilled if his ewes produced four to five lambs each year that could be sold, after seven months, for around £25? That is the reality of the situation. A single breeding mink gives birth on average to between four and seven young. At the end of nine months, the pelt of each mink is worth between £22 and £28. I have taken those figures from auction prices published in Copenhagen. As regards compensation, let us not pretend that this has not been an extremely profitable and worthwhile agricultural diversification.

What has also made an impression on me is the plight of the poor ladies who grade the furs at Christmas time? How will they earn their Christmas money? The industry makes a significant contribution to the rural economy.

Noble Lords will know that each year, early in December, every fur farm must make a return under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932. The exact

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1135

number of breeding mink is known. When considering compensation, all that needs to be done is to look at the agricultural return and base the payment on, I suggest, the average stocking rate of mink farms over the past five years, discounting the period of three years of uncertainty. That would be the right and fair way to approach this.

Furthermore, in looking at the level of compensation, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that loss of income is a crucial factor in such compensation? Will she further bear in mind the very large capital expenditure outlay involved in fur farming? I looked around a pelting place where the machinery used to remove the fat from the inside of the skin--a piece of equipment with an extremely limited life--cost almost £20,000. I was relieved that, when referring to compensation, the noble Baroness said that she appreciated the problems as regards restoring the sites on which these farms are based. Very little use can be made of the existing specialised buildings. They will need to be torn down and the sites cleared.

The noble Baroness quoted the European Union. I hate having to use an argument that the EU could in any way be of value to the English countryside, but we must face facts. The only country in the EU to have banned fur farming is Austria, although I appreciate that Austria may not be the flavour of the moment within the EU. However, I checked on the figures and allowed for the difference in exchange rates. It appears that the Austrian Government paid their fur farmers the equivalent of £390 for each breeding female. That is the level of financial compensation that has already been established.

It grieves me greatly to have to take the line that all that can now be done is to secure the best deal possible for the fur farmers because it is time that they gave up. I should like to see the industry continue, underpinned by high standards of animal welfare by means of regulation and enforcement. That is how we normally proceed in this country.

Let us be realistic about mink. The animals are regularly fed and watered in a safe environment. The mink thrive. When one visits a racecourse, one sees many people standing around in the paddock, looking at the horses. What in fact are they looking at? They may decide that they admire the conformation of a certain animal, but what they are really considering is, "What are their coats like? Are the horses thriving?" I promise your Lordships that at any mink farm that I have visited, you can walk down the rows of cages and ask the owner to open a cage-door and produce a mink, and the animals look glossy, well and happy. Of course they do, if the skins are to be sold.

I should like to see well regulated and prosperous agricultural diversification allowed to continue. But that is not to be the case. The Government have decided that they are going to go on with this Bill of Attainder. All I would say to the noble Baroness is: please may we have fair and promote compensation? Can we have an assurance that the mink farmers will not suffer the same fate as the pistol shooters? Two years ago, pistol shooters were promised fair

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1136

compensation, and compensation for their specialist equipment; they have not yet seen it. There has been enough uncertainty affecting the fur farming industry for the past three years. Our job is to obtain an undertaking from the noble Baroness that she will proceed promptly with the quick delivery of a fair compensation scheme.

10.25 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I too should declare an interest, albeit a tenuous one. The British Fur Trade Association has affiliated membership of the Countryside Alliance, of which I am the current president. The Countryside Alliance holds no views on the Bill, which it regards as a matter for the NFU, to which, I understand, most of the remaining fur farmers belong. The views I express are entirely my own.

I should make clear as a starting-point my strong dislike of intensive animal husbandry. I particularly dislike the keeping of animals and birds in small cages. Legislation which improves the conditions in which such livestock are kept will have my full support where it is based on proper veterinary advice.

I also dislike the terrible damage which escaped animals--mink, in particular--have caused to our wildlife and our rivers and streams over many years. Many of the escapes were not the fault of the farmer, but the result of deliberate terrorist activity committed by people who said they loved animals. Many of the mink released died of starvation or in road accidents, being unfamiliar with life in the wild. Those which could be rounded up could often not be returned to their original family groups and often fought, with terrible injury or death as a consequence. Some animal lovers!

If the Bill had set out further to regulate and improve welfare conditions, particularly if it had done so in conjunction with other European countries where fur farming takes place, and if it had contained provisions to encourage the small number of remaining farmers to surrender their licences in return for fair compensation, it would have had my full support.

Instead, we have a Bill which seeks to criminalise 13 farmers, some of them in business in a very small way. One must pause for a moment and ask why the Government are proceeding with this matter now, at a time when the Session is crowded to bursting point with other legislation and when, I imagine, every government department has draft Bills of real substance for which it has been unable to secure parliamentary time--particularly when the European Commission has begun to work on its own fur farming directive.

The answer is to be found in the history of this matter. Before the 1997 general election, Mr Elliot Morley, who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, was appointed shadow spokesman for animal welfare. He accepted research assistants from the International Fund for Animal Welfare--which he properly declared in the Register of Members' Interests. That organisation, contrary to

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1137

the description sometimes given it by the media, is not a charity. It is an American-based organisation which appeals to the public for money by publishing sensational animal rights advertising campaigns world-wide. It receives donations in vast measure. Successful campaigns are important to it because they generate more funds for future campaigns.

As part of his brief, Mr Morley produced a leaflet entitled New Life for Animals which, among other things, advocated a ban on fur farming. There was no manifesto commitment to that effect. That is the pledge to which the Minister has just referred.

Shortly before the election in 1997, the Political Animal Lobby, a sister organisation of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, from which most of its funds were derived, made donations to a number of political parties, by far the largest of which was a sum well in excess of £1 million to the Labour Party. So it is that as this Parliament moves towards its closing stages somehow the Bill finds a place in the crowded legislative programme.

At Second Reading in another place Mr Morley made it clear, as the Minister has done today, that the Bill was not introduced primarily as an animal welfare measure, quite unlike the Private Member's Bill, introduced in another place by the honourable Member for Liverpool Garston, which did not reach this House. I suspect the reason is that the Government knew very well that if they had tried to do so they would almost certainly have fallen foul of Articles 28 and 29 of the European convention. Instead, they placed before Parliament a public morality Bill in an attempt, which I believe the Minister frankly admitted, to slip it in under Article 30.

In another place Mr Morley said:

    "Fur farming is not consistent with a proper value and respect for animal life".--[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/00; col. 41.]

The noble Baroness repeated those words today. According to Mr Morley, apparently it is morally acceptable to rear and kill an animal for its meat but not right to rear it and kill it in order to wear its skin--unless the skin is a by-product of the meat, in which case it becomes morally acceptable again.

The truth is that it is of no consequence to the animal what happens to it after it is dead. It is, surely, the conditions in which it is kept and the way it is treated while alive that should form the basis of legislation which this House should consider. If the conditions in which mink are kept currently are unsatisfactory, by all means legislate to change and improve them. But, please, spare us the politically correct claptrap about public morality in the way this Bill has been introduced.

Significantly, following its examination of the industry in this country, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which clearly had reservations about fur farming, as I do, did not advise a ban but listed recommendations for improved conditions. The reality is that no single mink will be any better off as a result of the Bill. As the noble Baroness said, the majority will be killed. So long as there is a profitable

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1138

market, mink will be bred and kept, often in less satisfactory conditions, in the 12 EU countries where fur farming continues to be legal.

This Bill will almost certainly reach the statute book because the farmers have, frankly, had enough of terrorism and vilification. Those 13 farmers will lose their livelihoods. The very least that the Government can do if they want this law is to provide proper compensation, which involves giving an undertaking now that that will include loss of earnings. It is not good enough to say, as did Mr Morley in the other place, that the Government will consider that aspect after the Bill has passed into law and the consultation exercise has been completed. After all, the beneficiaries of the Bill are, on the one hand, the Government who will be able to say that they have discharged a debt, and, on the other, the animal rights lobby which will draw some comfort from it.

I warn the Government of this. When you once take the animal rights shilling and begin to dance to its tune the music does not stop when you want it to, and serious problems are likely to follow. It will become increasingly difficult to manage the countryside and its wildlife properly if the Government are afraid to authorise the necessary culling of badgers when TB is shown to be spread by them to cattle. It will become increasingly difficult to license necessary and important research involving animals with the result that that research cannot be done in this country and our finest doctors and scientists will be forced to go abroad to do this work, and others, not Britain, will benefit from their achievements.

Ultimately, what is the moral difference between rearing an animal to eat it or to wear it? Mr Morley says that there is one, but to the animal there is none. The job of Ministers is surely not to give lectures on morality, to seek to force their personal ethics on others or to do the bidding of rich pressure groups. It is to make real improvements for people and animals, to open up new opportunities for the people of this country, not to make them into criminals.

I have known the noble Baroness for over 30 years. Good sense and sound judgment are her trade marks. I am sorry that she finds herself having to present this illiberal piece of politically correct gesture politics to this House. She has my sympathy.

10.36 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure as well as a hard act to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. It was interesting to observe in the current edition of the House Magazine that she is by no means the only Labour parliamentarian to regard this Bill with disfavour.

I declare, first, that I have absolutely no interest whatsoever to declare. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, I have not met, or had any representations from, the few remaining fur farmers. It is sad, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman--she is deservedly popular in all quarters of this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Kimball pointed out--has been landed with the task of

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1139

piloting through this House this thoroughly illiberal Bill. It is not only illiberal but dangerous, setting all sorts of alarming precedents. It is not only dangerous but hypocritical. "Hypocritical" is a strong term, so I propose to justify it.

In order to secure the votes of the urban and suburban population, all too large a proportion of whom are unwilling or incapable of making any mental connection between the meat they eat virtually every day of the year and the killing of animals and the shedding of copious quantities of blood in the process, the Government imply that the Bill is designed to stop a unique form of animal cruelty. But it has nothing essentially to do with cruelty, unique or otherwise. If, after careful research, a team of vets, biologists and other scientists concerned with animal welfare were to recommend that the cages in which these animals are kept are too small for comfort and should be made larger, the Government would be totally entitled morally to legislate to remedy that; and I should happily support them. However, it is clear that, even if the cages were 20 times their current size, it would not deter the Government from bringing forward this Bill.

It appears that it is not humane or practical considerations but doctrinaire considerations which drive them. But even doctrine presupposes a certain consistency and at least a degree of logic. The politically correct term "inappropriate" is subjective and therefore quite inadequate. Therefore what philosophy underlies the Bill? Is it that no animal shall be kept in a cage, however large the cage? But then broiler chickens and the rearing of rabbits would have to be banned, to say nothing of zoos.

Is it that no animals should ever be killed by humans, only by predators or the particular diseases of old age, as members of eastern religions and many vegans believe? Obviously not. Is it that animals should be killed only when it is necessary to human health and survival? Obviously not, as humans can perfectly well survive without meat and the Government have not banned meat--at least, not yet! Is it that animals should never be killed other than for food? Obviously not, as animal experiments which end in death continue and leather shoes are still legal.

Is it that animals should be killed only for the production of mundane products as opposed to luxury ones? Here we may be getting nearer the mark but we are not there yet. After all, animals may still legally be killed for their musk glands, producing extremely expensive scent and much meat in the luxury class; for example, the first grouse of the season, expensive cuts of beef and so forth. As regards non-edible luxuries, consider expensive leather coats, handbags, purses, jewel boxes and so on. Some of the leather doubtless emanates from countries whose religious dietary laws make consumption of the carcasses taboo for the inhabitants.

Nor is fur necessarily a luxury. It would not seem a luxury to anyone obliged to spend a winter in Russia or in the eastern or central parts of Canada. So the logic and the arguments do not add up--unless

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1140

veganism prevails in Government circles and this is merely the prelude to a long series of bans. For self-evident electoral reasons, that is probably unlikely.

About 20 years ago I happened to stumble across one of Bertrand Russell's more striking maxims. It had been translated into French, so I do not know exactly how it read in the original English. Unfortunately, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who might have been able to help, is not in his place. The gist of the observation was that the test of a country's civilisation was whether it treated small minorities as well as it treated larger minorities. That was a typically acute observation, as large minorities who have the capacity to cause trouble and disruption are often, though not always, treated with some respect by governments. On the other hand, the feelings and interests of small minorities--the minority we are discussing is particularly tiny--can be safely ignored. That is all the more reason, especially bearing in mind the dangerous precedent set by the Bill, why their interests should not be ignored by this House.

10.42 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, initially, I had no intention of taking part in this Second Reading debate. That was until I received a briefing supporting the legislation. When I read what I can only describe as the selective nature of the argument supporting such a ban, and was told that it was immoral to keep animals for their fur and that fur was surely a luxury, I began to feel a sense of indignation. Having listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, told the House about the history of the Bill and the reason why the Government have introduced it, my antagonism towards it has grown. What she said was sad and disturbing. I cannot disagree with anything she said and I believe that those are the reasons why the Bill is before us today.

I do not want to say much, other than to protest. I have little knowledge of fur farming, but I become extremely angry when mindless vandals release mink into the wild. They then cause irreparable damage to wildlife and those responsible have no concern whatever.

From what my noble friend Lord Kimball said, I gather also that the few remaining fur farmers are now resigned to their fate and, quite understandably, are concerned primarily with receiving the maximum compensation, which I believe they are due. That is a point to which I may return in just a moment.

What really bothers me is the imperious way in which this moral diktat is being placed upon us simply because one or two Government Ministers appear to have a hang-up about wearing fur. They try to substantiate their action by saying that the majority of people are in favour of a ban. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said--I agree with him--and as has been said elsewhere and in this House many times, that is no reason to ban anything. The whole principle of parliamentary democracy must be broad enough to incorporate the wishes and habits of minority interests.

19 Jul 2000 : Column 1141

In any event, if we are to argue for a majority point, I can only assume that on Monday the Government will give way on Section 28. I doubt it, but the same principle applies. What is more, I have seen figures--I assume that they are right--which show that over 80 per cent of people believe that it is acceptable to farm animals for any purpose provided that the farming principles are supported by proper standards of animal welfare. I believe that that is the absolute key to this argument. As the National Farmers Union said, we want regulation rather than criminalisation.

I believe that the Government are absolutely right to ensure that proper standards are set and adhered to. I do not believe that any right-minded individual could disagree with that. I am only too well aware that there have been one or two dreadful cases where fur farmers have not gone any way to adhering to those standards, and it is only right and proper that they should have been closed down. However, I should like to ask the Minister whether those affected by the legislation were given an opportunity to meet the required standards of welfare before the legislation was introduced; and, if so, how long they were given to meet those standards.

We are told that fur is a luxury and that there is no justification for wearing it. Who says so? Who makes those subjective judgments? From what I have read in the newspapers--so it must be right, must it not?--it appears that fur is the height of modern-day fashion. The fashion comes and it goes. However, I suggest that that is irrelevant. I believe in the right of the consumer to choose to buy fur if he or she wishes to do so.

We are told that producing--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page