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Lord Bach: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

17 Oct 2000 : Column CWH1

Official Report of the Grand Committee on the

Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill

Tuesday, 17th October 2000.

The Committee met at half past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi): Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one important respect, our proceedings will be exactly the same as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard.

The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in the Grand Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division may be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

I should also explain what will happen if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting. This Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and then resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Lord Monson: I am not, of course, privy to discussions between the usual channels--I never have been and am never likely to be--but I had always understood that Bills suitable for discussion in Grand Committee in the Moses Room were confined to Bills which are relatively non-contentious in the political sense but highly technical or detailed. The Data Protection Bill and the Transport Bill are cases in point. This Bill, however, does not fall into either of those categories. It is highly contentious politically and not particularly detailed technically. I wonder, therefore, whether I could have an explanation as to why we are following this procedure rather than having a Committee stage on the floor of the House.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: This is not really a matter for me. But as the noble Lord has seen fit to intervene in this way, it may be helpful if I tell him that this Motion was agreed by the House after having been agreed by the usual channels.

Clause 1 [Offences relating to fur farming]:

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No 1:

    Page 1, line 5, after ("animals") insert ("other than rabbits or moles").

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The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No 1, which is grouped with Amendments Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6. I must apologise to the Committee and indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that unfortunately I was unable to be present at Second Reading. I apologised to the noble Baroness afterwards and said that I hoped that that would not mean that I should be unable to participate in the Committee stage. She assured me that that was not so. However, I did not want her to think that I had forgotten about it because I did not speak at Second Reading, nor that I was, like Banquo's ghost, coming to haunt her. However, my name appears on the Marshalled List with uncomfortable regularity. These are important matters in many ways so it is quite right that we should seek the Government's view upon them.

The first amendment would read that a person is guilty of an offence if he keeps animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur, other than rabbits or moles. Rabbit farming is carried out by a considerable number of people and it would be absurd if those people who sold their pelts were to fall within the ambit of this Bill. The amendment of my noble friend, Lord Luke--Amendment No. 2--deals with that in greater detail and I shall leave him to deal with that.

It is possible for the price of rabbit meat to go down, in which case the value of pelts would exceed the value of the meat and, therefore, the rabbit farmer would find himself convicted, being fined up to £20,000 and his animals having to be destroyed. When the price came up, he would be legal again. But of course he would not have any animals. Therefore, it would seem to me to be right to exclude rabbits in the Bill.

Moles are rather a different matter. Moles do damage to grassland and there are such things as mole-catchers whom many people employ to catch their moles. The mole-catchers, being very prudent people, make sure that there is a good stock left for the following year. So they could be accused of fur farming, because they catch the moles, strip them of their pelts and then sell the pelts. Some people are lucky enough to have moleskin waistcoats, moleskin trousers and even, I believe, moleskin hats.

What happens if a mole-catcher is catching moles on somebody's land and is accused by the Bill of indulging in fur farming? After all, that is why he does it. He does not do it pro bono publico; he does it to farm the pelts. Does he get fined £20,000? What happens if he does it on 10 farms? Is he caught 10 times and fined £200,000? Of course that is absurd. But if the words of the amendment were included in the Bill, it would make it much clearer and everyone would know where they were.

Amendment No. 2 is similar to Amendment No. 1 and I invite my noble friend Lord Luke to speak on that, with which I am sure I shall agree and, if I do not, I shall take the opportunity to tell the Committee later.

Amendment No. 4 refers to reptile skins and says,

    "In this section 'fur' does not include skins used for leather or reptile skins".

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This is a matter for clarification. I am sure the noble Baroness will say that fur is not a skin but, of course, it is a skin. We should not regard the taking of the skin of a mink so reprehensible when we take the skin of cows and use it as shoes, and we take the skins of crocodiles and apparently make them into ladies' handbags--I do not know whether the noble Baroness has a crocodile skin handbag or even a pair of crocodile skin shoes.

So the noble Baroness may say that furs are not the same as skins. But the Oxford English Dictionary says,

    "The short, fine, soft hair of certain animals ... growing thick upon the skin".

So when we remove the skin of a cow, we remove it plus its hairs; when we remove the skin of a pig, we remove it plus its hairs; when we remove the skin of a mink, we remove it plus its hairs. The only difference is that the density of the hairs on the skin of the mink is such as to make one call it fur. Therefore, it ought to be perfectly clear that this does not include the skins used for leather or of reptiles.

We turn to Amendment No. 5, which seeks to clarify whether the prohibition applies to animals which are imported into the country for immediate slaughter. Mink can be brought in from anywhere. The trade is very much alive and will only suffer indirectly from this ban while people are still allowed to buy, sell and wear fur. I presume that the Government do not wish to ban that too; the Bill certainly does not say so. Therefore, to ban imports into the United Kingdom is pointless, as the United Kingdom makes up less than 1 per cent. of the entire European fur trade. I hope that the noble Baroness may consider this amendment to be worthy of incorporation. She will see that all the amendments that I have tabled are not destructive. They are not offensive or anything like that but are intended to help the noble Baroness to improve her rotten Bill.

I turn now to Amendment No. 6. This is a matter of interpretation. The Houses of Parliament in Westminster can legislate only for England and Wales and not for Scotland. What happens therefore in Scotland if fur farming is banned in England and Wales? Does that mean that fur farming in Scotland is all right until the Scottish Parliament does something about it? This amendment seeks to avoid confusion caused by the accidental criminalisation of overseas concerns where a director of an overseas company may have caused the company to commit an offence under subsection (1).

This amendment confirms that only the owners of animals in England and Wales can be prosecuted but not the employers of the owners who have knowledge of the illegal farms but who are not technically bound by English and Welsh law. That is a slightly technical amendment but I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond to it. I have spoken to each of these five amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Luke: I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Ferrers who has introduced this group of

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amendments, and who has mentioned that I shall be speaking mainly to Amendment No 2. However I should like briefly to say that I agree with all that he has said with regard to Amendments Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 6. The question of what happens in Scotland has been exercising my mind, as it did that of my noble friend. I imagine that someone may receive compensation in England; may move to Scotland and set up there, just in time to be caught by some new Bill going through the Scottish Parliament. He will then be paid double compensation. That does not sound very sensible but is not altogether impossible if someone moves at the appropriately fast speed.

Amendment No. 2 seeks to deal with a situation (save with rabbits) where the animal is kept both for its meat and fur. Therefore, it is obviously not primarily for its fur. Let us take a hypothetical situation where the market value of this animal's meat falls substantially so that the overall value of the animal is now dependent largely upon its fur. If that were to occur, a previously law-abiding farmer could then be breaking the law as set out in this Bill, since it could be stated that the animal was now being kept primarily for its fur. This exception does not of course apply if the animal is being kept solely for its fur.

Without my amendment, confusion may arise as to when or whether a person was or was not in breach of the law. If an animal was being farmed for both its meat and its fur, and kept in a manner appropriate to its status as livestock, bred for food production, then the change in the value of parts of the animal, in the hypothetical situation I have already mentioned, would mean in effect that the fur farm could be operating under exactly the same, and therefore highly regulated, welfare conditions as the food production business beforehand.

This scenario shows how serious a precedent this Bill could create for the livestock industry, since the complaints against the treatment of fur farm animals made by animal rights lobbyists can just as forcibly be applied to other creatures which are held in captivity to meet a human requirement, whether that requirement be a luxury or a necessity according to one's point of view.

The amendment raises a debate on the similarities between the farming of livestock for meat and farming livestock for fur, because it attempts to allow for the cross-over between the two industries which has not been fully appreciated in the Bill as it stands.

3.45 p.m.

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