HC Deb 01 November 1988 vol 139 cc840-2 4.48 pm
Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 to require the labelling of furs procured by means of the trapping of wild animals and for related purposes. My aim is to make the potential British purchaser of furs at least aware that a fur has come from a trapped animal that has probably suffered a long drawn out and agonising death.

It will be remembered that earlier this year the Government introduced a similar amendment. Then, prior to the Toronto summit, which itself followed a debate on this issue in the Canadian Parliament in which some Canadian Members called for economic sanctions against our country, the Government dropped the proposed Bill because of legal technicalities.

One technicality was the legal definition of the term "commonly caught" by trapping. I have tried to overcome this technical difficulty in the drafting of the Bill.

Trapping is cruel, indiscriminate and unnecessary. It is not just cruel, but brutally cruel. It is bad enough for a man to be caught in a trap in the wild, but can you, Mr. Speaker, or any right hon. and hon. Member imagine the mental trauma of a wild animal caught in a trap—the feeling of sheer terror, of wild panic and mental and physical agony? A trapped animal's first reaction is to bite and to fight the trap itself, which of course is made of metal, so it invariably breaks its teeth and even its jaw. When it gives up that fight against an inanimate object, it starts to pull and gnaw off its limb that is caught in the trap to try to break free.

If it is still alive after two, three, seven or even 10 days of absolute agony and mental desperation, weakened severely by lack of water and food, the animal is then killed by the trapper. It may, if it is lucky, be shot, but shooting spoils the fur. Shooting is relatively expensive. Shooting involves the trapper in a risk of ricochet—of hitting himself—when firing at a target at such close range, as the bullet may hit a stone. So most of the animals are either clubbed or suffocated to death.

Clubbing is a very drawn-out way of killing an animal, but suffocation is even more grotesque, judging by the instructions that are found in trapping magazines. One example is the instruction to lay the exhausted animal out with one foot on its open throat and the other on its rib cage, using what is described as a rocking motion, to drive the air out of the animal's lungs while letting air out but none in by means of the foot pressure on its throat. Gradually—gradually—the animal dies, in a space of time, depending on its health at the time, of between five and 15 minutes. It is a grotesque form of death. I have pictures of these various forms of death which I shall make available for right hon. and hon. Members in the Library.

Trapping is nothing more or less than obscene, brutal and drawn-out cruelty to animals. It is also entirely indiscriminate. It is impossible to target a trap. Birds of prey are caught; endangered species are caught; even hunting dogs or the pets of people wandering in the forest and the outback are caught.

What is more, trapping is actually unnecessary. Yet it is defended vociferously as vital to indigenous life in the outback. It is estimated that more than 20 million animals are killed by trapping each year in north America alone—there are no statistics for the Soviet Union—and that there are more than 500,000 registered trappers in north America alone. They constitute a very well-organised and powerful lobby.

Yet the estimates of what I term the "native" trappers—the trappers who genuinely hunt animals by trapping for their living—are relatively small. Native trappers really exist today only in the Yukon and the North-West Territories of Canada, and in those provinces they represent fewer than 5 per cent. of registered trappers. The native trapper is in a very small minority.

Evidence shows clearly that trapping is overwhelmingly a hobby—a grotesque hobby. So let us see what the British public think of it. In a major poll conducted in March 1987 by Research Surveys of Great Britain Ltd., the statement that there should be a ban on the import of all fur and fur products made from trapped animals attracted an overwhelming 72 per cent. support. The tougher statement that there should be a complete ban on trapping animals for their fur attracted 74 per cent. support. When the sample was taken just from women—the main beneficiaries of furs in this country—a staggering 83 per cent. supported the ban.

Let us see how that public opinion has been translated politically. In this Session of Parliament we have had two early-day motions, No. 978 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), and No. 287 in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). Each of those early-day motions attracted about 200 signatories from the Back Benches, although the Government had dropped their proposed legislation.

I am proud to say that the British Government have made trapping illegal in the United Kingdom. I am also proud to say that the British Government have signed the Berne convention, and I am very pleased to hear that the EEC Commission strongly supports legislation such as that originally proposed by Her Majesty's Government and now proposed by me, along with my sponsors.

Public opinion in the civilised world demands action against trapping. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State needs this Bill so that he can inform individual people and so allow each person to take his own individual actions within our country.

Of course the Bill treads on many rich and politically powerful toes, but I emphasise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to my right hon. Friends in Her Majesty's Government, that when the abolition of slavery was first proposed in this House it also met massive resistance from rich and politically powerful vested interests. Yet the Members of this House stood firm, and England led the world in abolishing slavery. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Browne, Mr. Harry Cohen, Sir John Farr, Mr. Tony Benn, Mr. Churchill, Mr. David Steel, Mr. Sydney Chapman, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock, Mr. Donald Anderson, Mr. John Hannam and Mr. Alan Beith.