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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That is a possibility. I hope that I have made it clear that we consider this to be a fairly exceptional case. We are concerned that the consumer panel should not overlap with the responsibilities of the content board.
I also want to make clear that what I now say is not new. After all, the very words that I used about a high consumer dimension were used in the policy document which was published alongside the draft Bill. Paragraph 4.2.3 on page 22 states that,
Furthermore, since the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is in his place, I make it absolutely clear that the fact that we started on this group of amendments because it was "not yet half past one" does not in any way inhibit him from having a full debate on his Amendments Nos. 72, 76 and 77, which we will reach in their place when we return after Starred Questions.
Viscount Falkland: I thank the Minister for his full reply within the time constraints which he has at his disposal, and specifically as to my Amendment No. 80 on which he was particularly helpful. We shall read carefully his remarks and come back as and when necessary, although many of the amendments to which I have spoken have been probing ones.
I do not know whether the Committee agrees but I think we have run on to a degree which is becoming outrageous. We are supposed to stop at half past one, or close to it. We have had to rush through the amendment. I admire the way the Minister has done that. There is a crude Army expression that one might use for the way in which the Government have decided when to break this afternoon.
I put on record that the usual channels must get together their act on this breaking near half past one. It imposes an intolerable strain, particularly as regards the kind of amendments we have discussed recently. People have calls of nature, want to go to lunch and do various other things. The Government must take this matter more seriously before we end these ludicrous arrangements which have been imposed upon us for this year and which I hope will quickly be put back in their normal place next year. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Puttnam: Before the noble Viscount sits down, perhaps I may support what he said. I have worked extremely hard, as have other noble Lords, to create an atmosphere of goodwill towards the Bill. That atmosphere of goodwill has been severely strained in the past 20 minutes. It was a great mistake by the Government to attempt to start this group of amendments before lunch.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government introduced a compensation scheme through the Fur Farming (Compensation Scheme)(England) Order 2002. Following a challenge by fur farmers, the order was quashed by the High Court on 13th March 2003. The Government have been granted permission to appeal. The appeal is listed for hearing between 31st October and 27th November. In view of the current litigation, the House will understand that I may be somewhat constrained in the answers that I can give hereafter.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the courts found some defects in the balance of the scheme, but it did not of course deal with its quantum, which is what really lies behind the fur farmers' concern. Until we receive the result of the appeal and any implications for a future scheme, I cannot really go further in stating the Government's intentions.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, although one cannot comment on the legal situation, does my noble friend accept that the argument in favour of compensation was to ensure that mink were not released or allowed to escape as the businesses were properly wound up? Were there any such escapes or releases? We must ensure that no further mink enter the wild and do enormous damage to British wildlife.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is well aware that there were releases into the wild while we were discussing the closure of the mink fur industry. However, I am unaware of any such escape or release that related to closure as a result of legislation, which was conducted responsibly.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, when the Bill went through the House, we supported it because we believed in ending fur farming. However, I made the point that it was imperative that compensation should be fair, transparent and quick. When she replied, the Minister said that it would be transparent and fair, but that some time would need to be taken to negotiate what was fair. When supporting the Bill, we did not believe that it would take so long or that the Government would take an attitude that does not now seem to be very fair.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, without straying into the subject matter of the litigation, the Government believed that our proposition was fair and would be quick. The reason that it has not been quick is that it has been challenged. We must therefore await the outcome of the full legal proceedings before fur farmers will receive their compensation.
Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, is the Minister aware how pleased I am personallyothers may share my delightat the respectful way with which he has spoken of a judgment in which his department was found to be wrong?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there was clearly a great deal of feeling in the country about mink farming, which is why the Bill was introduced in the first place. The Government shared the view of those behind the ban that the cultivation of animals solely for their fur, when the animals had to be killed to obtain that fur, was not an appropriate activity in this country in our society today. That is why the ban was introduced, and why it received widespread support in the House and outside.
Baroness Byford: But, my Lords, does not the Minister accept that we find ourselves in a disgraceful situation today? It is four years since the Act was passed. Compensation was due to be paid; it has not been paid. Obviously, until after the next court hearinguntil Novemberno money will be paid. I do not think that the Minister is at present constrained by litigation; no court case is under way at present. Will the Government consider making some modest adjustment to help those who have lost their livelihoods by dint of the Government's deeds?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, some compensation was paid. The court's judgment was that the basis of that and pending compensation was unreasonable. We are now appealing against that. Strictly speaking, one could argue that the Government should have sought to recover the compensation paid under our formula. The Government have not sought to do that, but it would be unreasonable to expect the Government to pay out further compensation until the appeal court has made its judgment.
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