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Earl Ferrers: That is the argument which is used; I do not agree with it. One keeps animals for food, but uses their skins for other purposes. That apparently is all right. If you did not eat those animals, doubtless you would still keep them for their skins, unless the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, wants to walk around in clogs. While he may not like the idea of people wearing skins, it does not mean to say that other people do not. It is not the Government's job to moralise and tell us what to do; it may be the job of Government to ensure
Baroness Hayman: I hope the noble Earl will allow me briefly to interrupt. I shall try not to be tempted into the wider argument to which he alluded. He said that it is absurd to argue that there is a difference in purpose between keeping animals for food and keeping them for fur. He would probably not consider it to be an absurd argument to say that there is a difference when the animals are kept and bred in order to satisfy the amusement of those who take pleasure in cruelty. For example, bear-baiting might be a simple example of that. We have to draw lines in society about the purposes and ways in which we treat animals.
I accept that the noble Earl does not agree with where this particular line has been drawn. I have to say that there are others who agree with it totally. Those of us who have been involved in this debate could be in no doubt about the strength of feeling that exists on this issue. He is not right, therefore, to say that it is absurd for the Government to take a position on an issue which is of grave public concern, although I accept absolutely his right to take a different view on that.
I rose to speak mainly to ask him whether he will be kind enough to correct an earlier point that he made, on which he may have given the wrong impression. I hope that nothing I have said and nothing that this Bill puts forward encourages illegal activity by those either who intimidate people going about their legal business or who, against the law, release mink into the wild. There is no encouragement for that either from the Government or from this Bill. I should like firmly to put on the record the Government's opposition to any such illegal activity.
Earl Ferrers: The noble Baroness was quite right to say that and naturally I accept it entirely. I meant to imply that people--animal rights activists--who have been doing these terrible acts have taken succour from the fact that the Government have introduced this Bill to prohibit an activity which they consider to be morally wrong. That has "encouraged" them in their crusade. I do not mean that the Government have deliberately set out to encourage them.
Baroness Hayman: I say only to the noble Earl that even that statement is contentious. The level of animal activists' activity against fur farms has diminished rather than increased since the prospect of Government action.
Earl Ferrers: In view of everything the noble Baroness has said about these amendments, I beg leave to withdraw them. I cannot guarantee that I shall not return to them but I certainly appreciate her comments.
Baroness Hayman: This is a matter of a simple disagreement between the noble Earl and the Government--and that is not a unique situation--as to the appropriate level of the penalty. I would remind him that the maximum fine--and it is a maximum fine--of £20,000 would be for the offence of keeping any number of mink and not per animal, if one can put it that way. Our belief is that a maximum fine of £1,000 will not act as a sufficient deterrent to the keeping of mink once the ban is in force. As I said earlier this is a maximum fine but we ought to legislate in terms of allowing that penalty to fulfil its deterrent purpose and on that basis the Government believe that £20,000 is an appropriate figure.
Lord Monson: Can the noble Baroness confirm that there would be no right to jury trial for this offence, and that the maximum fine, if imposed, would be imposed in the magistrates' court? Is that correct?
Baroness Hayman: Given the current flux in debate on these issues, I would wish to be absolutely certain of my territory when answering the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and I can confirm that he is correct. There would not be the option of a jury trial; this would be a magistrates' court offence.
Lord Hardy of Wath: I take the point made by my noble friend that this is a maximum but one would hope that in many cases the court would shrink from applying the maximum fine. On the other hand, I have from time to time been horrified by fines imposed by the court which bore no relationship either to the maximum penalty available to the court or to the scale of the offence.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, may recall that a long time ago there was a very substantial trade in falcons. Virtually all young falcons in the nest in the United Kingdom were under threat because they could be sold for £600 a bird and the maximum penalty which then applied was £2. A Bill to amend the protection of birds legislation was introduced and one of its provisions was very substantially to increase the fine. Both Houses of Parliament saw that Bill reach the statute book within about a fortnight. I watched with horror a few months later when the first prosecution came up in court: although both Houses had seen the wisdom of increasing the fine massively, the court applied a fine of £5. That was more than the previous maximum but it bore no relationship to the maximum laid down by law.
I have again been horrified in recent months by the fines imposed for polluting water courses. A very substantial fine was imposed but it covered only about 10 per cent of the public cost of carrying out the investigation to establish that an offence had been committed. The courts are very flexible, sometimes too flexible, but it is appropriate that from time to time a substantial fine can be awarded where circumstances justify it.
Baroness Hayman: My noble friend makes the Government's case eloquently here. We need flexibility and range to deal with the variety of circumstances that may occur. It might well be that an extremely small fine was appropriate for an extremely small breach. However, given the turnover possible for some of the larger farms, it is our responsibility as legislators to make sure that we put into the armoury of deterrent penalties an amount substantial enough to ensure that the fines do the job for which they were introduced. It is on that basis that the £20,000 was reached as a maximum.
Earl Ferrers: I knew that, if the noble Baroness did not find acceptable my helpful amendments earlier, she would not find this one acceptable and I understand the reasons why. It just seems to me to be a gargantuan figure. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Ferrers: Clause 1 is the meat of the Bill and its purpose is to criminalise what is a perfectly legal form of farming. My noble friend Lord Kimball said it is equivalent to a Bill of Attainder, where someone's right to do something is taken away without there ever having been a law passed or that person ever having been convicted of wrongdoing. I find it unbelievable that the Government should set out to harry, to penalise and to destroy 13 people and their businesses. The Government ought to be protecting minorities.
Then the noble Baroness said that the public benefit does not justify mink farming. The Government are not there to pontificate on people's morals. The real reason is that, according to Elliot Morley who was one time Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and has now passed on--or moved on--
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