HC Deb 29 June 1989 vol 155 cc1092-3
1. Dr. Kim Howells

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last discussed with representatives of the Council of Europe the deliberations of that body on fur farming.

3. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he proposes to raise in the EC Council of Ministers the issue of fur farming and regulations relating thereto.

5. Ms. Primarolo

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his response to the Farm Animal Welfare Council's statement on mink and fox farming.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson)

I discussed the Council of Europe recommendations with my officials before the last meeting in April and asked them to take account of the Farm Animal Welfare Council's recent statement. Until this work is complete, there would be little point in raising the matter in the Council of Ministers. In the meantime, I have asked the state veterinary service to continue its monitoring of fur farms, as recommended by the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

Dr. Howells

Will the Minister put to the Council of Europe the case for phasing out fur farms, as it is clear from a wide range of evidence that fur farms do not and cannot meet the basic requirements of farm animal welfare?

Mr. Thompson

The Farm Animal Welfare Council did not recommend that I should ban fur farms. The Council of Europe is a good forum in which to discuss fur farming. The British are well down the league of people who farm for fur. The Danes farm 10 million animals, the Swedes 2 million, the Dutch 1.5 million and the French 500,000, compared with 250,000 in the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Mahon

Will the Minister acknowledge that there has not been proper research into fur farming? Will he instruct his officials not to support any recommendations until there has been research into this sort of farming? Will he undertake to publish that research? Fur farming worries many people. The animals are in great distress and often self-mutilate. This is a very serious issue.

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Lady is right to be worried. About 25 per cent. of fur produced in the United Kingdom comes from Calderdale. We have asked the Farm Animal Welfare Council to investigate fur farming. The council always publishes its conclusions in full. We in no way restrain the council in who it calls to give evidence, nor in any way do we restrict what it does with that evidence afterwards.

Ms. Primarolo

What action will the Minister take on the farming of arctic foxes in breach of the Berne convention, to which we are signatory? Farming animals for their fur is abhorrent. We should stick clearly to the conventions that we have signed. What steps will the hon. Gentleman take to reinforce our commitment to the Berne convention?

Mr. Thompson

We shall follow the guidelines of the Council of Europe and those laid down by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. There seems to be much more emotion about the farming of foxes than about the farming of mink, although the hon. Lady probably feels as emotional about both. We are considering all aspects, and we undertake to publish all our research.

Mr. Jessel

Has my hon. Friend noticed that some of those who complain about fur farming wear leather shoes?

Mr. Thompson

My hon. Friend is right. Most people wear leather shoes. Hon. Members are saying that to rear an animal purely for one purpose, but not for meat, is abhorrent. The Government well understand that point, but I am not undertaking to restrict mink farming. I pledge that we shall ensure that mink farming observes the most hygienic and proper codes. The Fur Breeders Association of Great Britain is to be commended for its code of practice, which its members follow closely.

Mr. Colvin

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he accepts the 1984 ruling of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that animals in fur farms are semi-domesticated, not wild? Will he further confirm that before he returns to the Council of Ministers for more discussions, and on receipt of recommendations from his officials when they have completed their work, he will discuss the matter with fur farmers' representatives before reaching any conclusions?

Mr. Thompson

I often meet the Farm Animal Welfare Council, the RSPCA, fur farmers and others. My hon. Friend rightly said that animals in fur farms are semi-domesticated, which is why it is abhorrent for people to release them into the wild. I am sure that no hon. Member agrees with that practice, which in the past has destroyed the ecology of valleys. I shall consult the relevant bodies before taking further steps.