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Lord Monson: I wonder whether the noble Earl, or indeed any other Member of the Committee, could say whether the method of slaughtering farmed mink differs in any way from the method of slaughtering farmed rabbit or indeed farmed moles, should any such establishment exist. If there is no difference, and if the degree of distress at the time of slaughter is no different between those various species, it seems to me
Lord Kimball: I am rather worried about Amendment No. 4 because I quite understand what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said about an animal being dead and about its skin, whether it is for shoes, handbags or something else. But what is the position with reptiles? Surely, the thing about a reptile is that it sheds its skin and carries on with the rest of its life unharmed. I should be grateful if we could have a little guidance on the position of reptiles as against that of the other animals which are dead because they have given up their skins.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I hesitate to venture into the technicalities of this, but I should have thought that a shed reptile skin was not much use for anything. I believe that the skin is used only after the reptile has been killed for its skin. But I rise mainly to speak to Amendment No. 5. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches believe that Amendment No. 5 has the potential to encourage a live trade in animals, so we do not feel this would be a good amendment to include. We feel that it would encourage the very trades that we are trying to see diminished. I have no particular comment on the other amendments, except to say that we do not believe that they forward the purpose of the Bill.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: We are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for pointing out the similarities between this and some other kinds of farming where it overlaps between fur and meat. That raises the whole question of the farming of other animals. It is extremely good that our attention is drawn to it, and noble Lords, particularly members of the noble Earl's party, will no doubt take that argument away and think about what further legislation is needed.
In the meantime, there are quite clear reports and agreement that mink and foxes are kept in bad conditions, and that the fur farming of them has led to very considerable cruelty over a period of time. Therefore, no problem of how the practice spills over into other areas should prevent us from pursuing this Bill with, if necessary, one or two minor amendments.
Lord Hardy of Wath: I support this Bill. I want to touch upon the cruelty argument which the noble Lord has just mentioned. As regards the effect of fur farming within the British environment, great disadvantages have accrued. One thinks, for example, of the enormous damage done in the Norfolk Broads as a result of the release of coypu. One looks now at the problem presented by mink throughout many parts of the United Kingdom. My noble friend may recall that before the Summer Recess I said that I supported the Bill. However, I had one principal anxiety; that is, as the industry is wound down, further mink might be released. I asked the Minister to ensure that the inspectors from the appropriate department maintained their vigilance to ensure that no further mink escaped because of the damage they do.
I noticed a few weeks ago that people from the animal rights organisation sought to attack a fur farm to the west of Doncaster. They were taken away by the police and some evil people burnt the car that they left behind. They are in the process of suing South Yorkshire Police for that particular incident. I do not know what will happen and that is nothing to do with the case. But it worries me that animal liberation people have themselves released mink. The mink that they released probably suffered a crueller death than the mink that were to be killed on the fur farm, but some were not killed and entered British wildlife.
We are seeing a critical situation arise with regard to the water vole. The population of water voles has dropped dramatically and they are now the subject of a biodiversity recovery programme. One wishes it well. But the remaining water vole will not benefit if more mink are released into the wild. Therefore, I trust that the Bill will go through, and that steps will be taken to ensure that the mink problem is not exacerbated.
One can go on. Furs become fashionable. The coypu fur was extremely fashionable 40 or 50 years ago, and a tremendous penalty was paid. Mink, I understand, are not quite so fashionable today. But what happens if another species is regarded by the fashion trade as the "in" fabric for their future sales? We will then find yet another non-indigenous species coming into Britain and inevitably escaping. Members of the Committee on both sides strongly supported the provisions of the 1981 Act to prevent alien species being brought into Britain; we have had too many. One can go through a wide variety of both animals and plants which present real problems in the United Kingdom. This Bill can therefore be seen as having a conservation value as well.
Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, is a great expert in these matters. Can he tell us whether most of the released mink were accidentally released by fur farmers, or deliberately released by so-called animal rights saboteurs?
Lord Hardy of Wath: I suspect that the majority have been released by saboteurs. I hold no brief for saboteurs; they have done a great deal of harm. However, I do not suppose that every mink farm in this country has operated with such a degree of security that no mink have escaped. They are fairly intelligent animals, even though their lifespan is relatively short, apart from the breeding females and they may not have many weeks of life before them. It is possible that some of them are sufficiently ingenuous, where proper care has not been exercised, to escape by themselves.
But it does not matter whether they were released or escaped. A great deal of damage has been done. It needs to be minimised. The problem needs to be resolved, and we should certainly not get ourselves into a situation in this country where releases from another species designed for the same purpose cause havoc in many parts of the country.
I mentioned the farm close to Doncaster. If any mink were released there, I would be very anxious because only two or three miles away is an important nature reserve of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Denaby Ings. Three miles to the west of that is a splendid nature reserve, heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, developed as a result of the improvement of the Dearne Valley. A mile and a half from that is a lake at the back of my house on which wildfowl have been encouraged to breed, and the population is quite high. I would hate to think I had to spend time walking around that lake trying to ensure that mink do not exercise depredations on the wildlife I like to watch.
In my view, it is essential that great care is exercised when closing fur farms. I am sorry to have spoken at length but the noble Lord will realise that the environmental effect is not dependent on the nature of the release of the mink.
Lord Kimball: Perhaps I may suggest that when we consider the compensation clause, we must ensure that payment is made for the dead meat in order to be absolutely certain that every mink for which we are paying is dead.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): We have had an interesting short debate which has raised many of the fundamental issues that were raised at Second Reading. I do not think of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as a ghost who has come to haunt me. He is very much alive and kicking, I would say, in terms of the contribution he has made today, that there are certainly worse ghosts in one's past that one may have to confront.
We missed him at Second Reading and he was right to raise with us today some of the basic issues that we covered in that debate. I must say I thought we dealt with many of the possibilities arising from this Bill, but I underestimated his imagination. I was surprised when I saw his amendment dealing with the commercial keeping of moles, and it was not until he expatiated on that in his contribution that I considered the possibility of being an accessory before or after the fact in trying to deal with the molehills in my own garden. I hope I can offer him some reassurance on that issue in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, took us back to some of the fundamental issues here; namely,the question of the breeding of animals for slaughter as a matter of principle, and the basis on which we in our society consider that breeding and slaughter to be justifiable.
At the heart of this Bill is the Government's answer to the challenge to which it is appropriate that any of us should rise when asking for a justification of killing animal life; that is, whether the purpose justifies the slaughter. At the heart of this Bill is the Government's
I deal now with the individual amendments. I am afraid I am not able to accept any of the amendments that we have discussed; but I hope I can offer some reassurance on the reasoning behind the arguments in favour of the amendments that have been put forward. I shall deal with them slightly out of order but in what may be seen as a logical sequence.
Amendment No. 6 deals with the scope of the Bill. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that there is a general presumption in UK law that UK Acts of Parliament do not apply outside the United Kingdom. Equally, it is made clear in Clause 7(4) that the Bill applies to England and to Wales. Therefore, it is clear on the face of the Bill that none of its provisions can apply outside England and Wales. In that sense, therefore, I hope that there is some reassurance.
As regards the possibility of the transfer of activities to Scotland, the Bill does not apply to Scotland, as is clear from Clause 7(4). That is one of the consequences of the division of responsibilities between the UK Parliament and the Scottish Parliament following devolution. I can, however, tell the Committee that the Scottish Executive have said that they intend to put a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to ban fur farming. Unless and until that comes into force a person will be free to keep animals for fur in Scotland and this Parliament cannot legislate for North of the Border in that respect.
I turn to Amendment No. 1. As I said earlier, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, suggests in this amendment that rabbits and moles should be exempted from the purposes of the Bill. As regards moles, the reassurance is that the skins used are traditionally from moles trapped in the wild, not from farmed moles. It is, of course, the farming of animals with which the Bill is concerned. I hope that that gives him reassurance. I have looked for examples of commercial mole production but without success. If he has found some, we may need to look at that matter again but, as he outlined, the use of the skins appears to be very much a by-product from wild moles and therefore not within the scope of the Bill.
Rabbits are farmed for their meat with fur as a by-product. It is not the purpose of this Bill to prohibit that activity. When we turn to Amendment No. 2, we come to the problem outlined by the noble Earl and by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, about the possibility of "primary purpose" being misinterpreted or changing in the light of fluctuations in market value--the relative value of the meat production and the fur production.
The Government do not have to introduce an arbitrary test to determine when someone is keeping an animal primarily for the sake of its fur. There is some guidance in the explanatory notes, to which I can
Amendment No. 4 is not necessary in that fur does not extend to leather. The Bill covers only fur and it would not extend to leather, the Bill only covers fur and it would not extend either to reptile skins. I can do no better than to read to the Committee the legal advice I have on this matter for people to reflect upon, which is that fur may indeed be a skin, but a skin is not a fur unless it has fine hair on it. In that clear and simple definition, we see the distinction that is to be made.
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