HC Deb 05 March 1999 vol 326 cc1331-403

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am
Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before making my introductory remarks, I should make a declaration of interest. Since 1 January 1999, I have received staff assistance from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Respect for Animals in preparing the Bill and dealing with issues arising directly from my choice of subject for my private Member's Bill.

I am grateful for my good fortune—at least, many say that it is good fortune, although over the past few days I have been wondering quite how good it is—in coming so high in the private Members' ballot and so having a chance to present my Bill to the House. Like all those who have had the same opportunity, I spent many difficult hours deciding how to use it. Finally, I decided to deal with a small matter. Fur farming is no longer a massive industry in this country, but it is one that is controversial in many ways: many object to it and believe that it perpetrates cruelty to the animals involved. My Bill would prohibit fur farming in this country.

Fur farming has been going on in Great Britain for 70 years. It began in this country in 1929 and still exists here, albeit in a small way. There are now 11 fur farmers and 13 fur farms remaining, all in England. That represents a precipitate decline in numbers over the past 30 years or so, as, back in the 1960s, there were 700 fur farms. As far as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I are aware, the only animal still farmed in this country is mink. Mink are not indigenous to this country, but are natives of north America.

Fur farming is the intensive breeding of essentially wild animals, mink in this country and other animals elsewhere, although until recently fox, too, was farmed in this country. Because the animals have to be kept and bred intensively, they are kept in relatively small cages and are unable to exhibit their natural behaviour. They live relatively short lives in some distress prior to being slaughtered for their fur.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

I am sure that the House will be keen to learn when the hon. Lady last visited a mink farm, how many times she has visited mink farms and how much time she has spent studying mink.

Maria Eagle

I have arranged to visit two farms. Since I decided to take up the Bill, I have had some difficulty in arranging to visit a farm.

Mr. Gray


Maria Eagle

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall complete my answer. Then, if he wants to intervene again, he can.

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Maria Eagle

I shall finish answering the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and then give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin).

I had an arrangement to visit one farm, although it took me some time to get through the obstruction of the British Fur Trade Association, which controls access to mink farms. Since taking up the Bill, I have attempted to visit mink farms and I asked the BETA to allow me to visit two. It offered a visit to only one farm—a farm in the west country, to which visitors are always taken—and I made it clear that I should be happy to visit that farm. However, the association would not allow me to visit any other farm. I said that I would visit the farm that the trade association wanted me to visit, but only if I was allowed to visit another.

I am happy to say that an arrangement has, at last, been made. I was due to visit one of the farms on Tuesday, but, because of the sudden onset of what I assure the hon. Gentleman was a rather painful medical condition, I had to cancel the trip. However, I hope to rearrange it as soon as possible, and I have every intention of visiting at least two of the remaining farms. That is not a bad percentage, given that there are only 13 fur farms left. Now, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead.

Mr. Austin

I was merely going to make the point that, although I had never been to South Africa, that did not make it impossible for me to conclude that apartheid was an obscene evil. Has my hon. Friend, like me, never seen bear baiting, but would agree that it is an obscene spectacle?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I want to be reasonable: I recognise that my Bill would make unlawful something that until now has been lawful in this country, and I realise that that, in itself, is draconian. I recognise that I have an obligation to visit fur farms, so I have done my utmost to do so. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is perfectly possible to conclude, without having seen it, that that sort of rearing of wild animals is not acceptable. I believe that, but I assure the hon. Member for North Wiltshire that I shall visit fur farms.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

I do not believe that my hon. Friend will be invited to the Swalesmoor fur farm in my constituency, which prosecuted Lynx in 1989. The farm was described as a hell-hole, and from what I saw of the conditions there for mink, that description was absolutely correct. The mink were living in their own filth and were self-mutilating. Unfortunately, Lynx lost the court case because, I understand, the judge had a fondness for hunting. The fur farm is a hell-hole, and it still exists. Because of the violent methods that are used at the fur farm, I am sure that my hon. Friend would not be welcome if she tried to visit.

Maria Eagle

In view of what my hon. Friend says, I may attempt to visit that fur farm, and I should be happy if she could facilitate a visit. Certainly, the British Fur Trade Association, which represents the farmers, has been unable to facilitate that visit, although I have been attempting for some time to go there.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

May I warn the hon. Lady to strengthen her stomach—indeed, to go with an empty stomach—when she visits a mink farm? I have visited such places.

In respect of what was said by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), it is worth noting that many convictions have been secured against the keepers of mink. However, no matter how far access to fur farms for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) has been restricted by the British Fur Trade Association, access to the mink farm in my constituency has not been restricted far enough, and disastrous consequences have followed for the natural fauna surrounding it.

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the fur farm in his constituency that was one of those that suffered from the release of mink, however it was perpetrated. I appreciate his concern, and I shall refer further to the effect of the release of mink.

First, however, I come to the long title of the Bill, which explains as fully as possible precisely what is to be prohibited if the Bill becomes law. The Bill's purpose is: To prohibit the keeping of animals with a view to their slaughter solely or primarily for the commercial value of their fur; and for related purposes. The question of whether the animals are being kept solely or primarily for the commercial value of their fur would be a matter for the courts, and it could be dealt with on the basis of evidence before the courts. I do not seek to define what is kept primarily for that purpose; it is a matter for the courts to decide.

Clause 1 establishes the offence. Clauses 2 to 4 bestow necessary powers on the courts so that they may make the legislation effective. The main purpose of my Bill is to allow the Minister, should he so wish, to establish a scheme under which compensation could be paid to existing fur farm businesses that would have to close if the Bill were enacted.

We are speaking of small numbers of fur farms. As I have said, only 13 remain, and there are only 11 farmers. However, my Bill provides for compensation, as I hope its opponents will note. I do not believe that it is legally necessary to compensate, but it would be preferable to do so. That is why the provision is in the Bill, and I am grateful that the Government have been persuadable on compensation.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

The hon. Lady touches on compensation, saying that it is preferable that it should be paid. Would she answer two points? First, if that is her view, why is the obligation to pay compensation not mandatory? Secondly, losses are defined so as to exclude loss of income. In other words, businesses may receive some compensation, but the main loss that they will suffer—revenue—is put outside the compensation regime.

Maria Eagle

I understand those points. There are arguments on both sides of them. They are suitable points for the Committee stage, should the Bill succeed in obtaining a Second Reading. I am sure that those points will be raised in Committee by the Bill's opponents.

As a mere newish Back Bencher, I found that obtaining the Government's agreement to having a money order for a private Member's Bill was a sufficiently difficult task without my laying down the law about figures. As the Member promoting the Bill, it is not for me to decide on the precise compensation. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) can see that the clause sets out a methodology by which to work it out. The Bill also allows for negotiation between the parties over what should be compensated for, and allows for an independent appeals process so that farmers who are dissatisfied about the final determination may appeal to an independent body—the Lands Tribunal. An independent decision can therefore be made on what compensation they should be paid.

I thank the Government for their support in introducing the Bill. It is unusual to allow private Members' Bills to spend Government money, and it was not easy to get the Government to agree to that. I am glad to have their agreement, as compensation is a vital part of the Bill. In due course, when orders are laid, if the Bill becomes law, I trust that the matter will be dealt with amicably and that farmers who lose their businesses will be satisfied. I have every expectation that that will be the case.

In order to define what the Bill is about, I should say something of what it is not about. There has been hysteria among some opponents of the Bill who have sought to suggest that it is the thin end of a wedge that will affect a much wider range of farming. That is not my intention. The Bill is not about banning fur as a by-product. It is not intended to bring about, and nor will it, the banning of the use of fur where fur is a by-product of, for example, food production. Where rabbits, for example, are produced for food, the Bill will not prohibit that.

The Bill is not about banning the production of skins as a by-product of food production. It has been suggested that cattle hide and leather might be banned as a result of the Bill, but that is simply nonsensical. Where animals are produced primarily for food, nothing in the Bill will prevent the use of their skins or fur as a by-product. The Bill is not about prohibiting the wearing, purchase, sale or trade of fur. It will not prohibit other elements of the fur trade.

What the Bill does seek to prohibit is the cruel exploitation of what are essentially wild animals for an unessential luxury item—their fur. Opponents of the Bill will doubtless tell me that others would go further than I do, and that is true. Many supporters of the Bill would like other elements of animal husbandry to be changed. They may wish to see fur banned. Those are matters for them—the Bill is not intended to go along that path.

The Bill is not the thin end of a dangerous wedge. It is narrow in its scope and application. It is a simple, straightforward Bill with simple and obvious objectives. That makes it suitable for the private Member's Bill procedure. I should be foolish indeed to seek to ban the entire fur trade by way of a private Member's Bill. It would require far too many clauses, and opponents would be able to stop me in my tracks.

I aim simply to end a barbaric practice that is already in severe decline. Public opinion is with me, and it has been so for some time. In the latest opinion poll commissioned by the RSPCA, 74 per cent. of those questioned thought that fur farming should be banned. Opposition Members who are disinclined to support my Bill may think that I am pursuing a populist measure, but they should note that 86 per cent. of those questioned thought that the wearing of fur was unacceptable, and I do not seek to ban that.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Is the hon. Lady saying that legislation can, or should, be justified by opinion poll ratings? Is she prepared to allow that principle to be extrapolated to other issues? If she is, we may explore the idea further later this morning.

Maria Eagle

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, even if no one else is, and I understand his point. I do not seek to justify the Bill on the basis of opinion polling; I am merely calling to my aid, as one point in my speech, the latest opinion polling.

My overwhelming concerns in introducing the Bill, which I am about to discuss in more detail if hon. Members will forgive me, are animal welfare considerations. Mink, which are farmed in this country, are still essentially wild, not domesticated. They prefer to live alone in the wild and are territorial, ranging over territories between 1 to 3 km wide. They are known to keep a number of dens on their territories and to move between them. They are semi-aquatic animals with semi-webbed feet and therefore like to spend much of their time playing and hunting in water.

It is impossible, in farm conditions in this country or any other, for mink to display their natural behaviour while being kept in small, barren cages. I remind the House that the cages in which mink are typically kept measure merely 90 cm by 30 cm by 30 to 40 cm. Those cages often hold more than one mink. Being kept in that way makes it impossible for mink display their natural behaviour. They react by being stressed.

Mr. Hogg

Will the hon. Lady accept that to call mink a wild creature is to overlook the time that they have been held in those conditions? Many generations have been held in captivity and the genetic pool has changed between the existing generation and the wild creature.

Will the hon. Lady further accept that her point about creatures exercising their natural tendencies also applies to chickens, which are kept in battery cages, and many of us find that as objectionable as anything that she has described?

Maria Eagle

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a point that I had anticipated. Those who do not object to the fur trade argue that mink in captivity are no longer wild. However, there is evidence on both sides of the argument. Mink have been farmed in this country for only 70 years. While there may have been 70 generations of mink in that time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should consider how long other animals in this country have been domesticated. It has taken thousands of years to breed the typical domesticated animals that we see on farms.

Mr. Hogg

The domesticated pig is very different from the wild hog.

Maria Eagle

I am interested in the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is able to joke about himself—that is a very endearing feature.

It is not possible to be certain that animals that have been farmed for only 70 years are domesticated. One need only consider what occurs when they escape or are released. They become feral extremely quickly and are perfectly able to survive in the wild. They immediately revert to their natural behaviour. Some of the mink that have been released in the past couple of years have been found, within a day or two, three or four miles away from the farms. They have attacked and killed, as is their nature, local wildlife. There is a great deal of evidence that mink kept in captivity are still wild.

There is clear evidence also that mink in captivity display a far higher level of stereotypical distressed behaviour than other animals—including chickens, which the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham mentioned—that are kept in confined conditions. That is why I say that mink are still effectively wild.

Until recently in this country, we farmed fox. Most people would not argue that the fox is domesticated, and when foxes were kept in captivity they displayed an even greater incidence of stereotypical behaviour associated with stress and distress.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

Does my hon. Friend agree that most geneticists believe that it is not possible to change an animal's genetic make-up and instinctive behaviour by imposing on particular generations a certain behaviour pattern or even physical changes? Under Stalin, Lysenko tried to propagate the belief that it was possible, and it was very widely discredited after that.

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend's point is interesting, but if he will forgive me I will stick to the subject of breeding animals.

The animals are bred for their fur and its different colours rather than to try to make them more docile. In any event, if it is possible to domesticate an animal, I do not believe that it can be done in only 70 generations.

I am not alone in suggesting that mink kept on farms suffer worse welfare problems than other, domesticated animals. The Farm Animal Welfare Council, which advises the Government on technical and welfare issues, said in 1989: Mink (and fox) have been bred in captivity for only about 50–60 generations"— as I said, it is now about 70 generations— and the Council is particularly concerned about the keeping of what are essentially wild animals in small barren cages. The Council believes that the systems employed in the farming of mink and fox do not satisfy some of the most basic criteria which it has identified for protecting the welfare of farm animals. The current cages used for fur farming do not appear to provide appropriate comfort or shelter, and do not allow the animals freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour. In my view, it would not be possible to provide sufficiently improved conditions on farms to justify retaining fur farming in this country.

The industry has been declining precipitately, perhaps even more so since the Farm Animal Welfare Council made that statement in 1989. Since then, the number of farms has fallen from 61 to 13. Since 1980, the UK market for fur has declined by 99 per cent. Many owners of fur farms have already gone out of business. Now is the time to deal with the remaining 13 farms, pay proper compensation to those farmers and end the practice.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Lady is right to say that fur farming in the United Kingdom has declined hugely in recent years, but is she not aware that the use of fur and its farming around the world has significantly increased in that time? As recently as this morning, The Daily Telegraph reports that fur, particularly mink, is the latest fashion accessory. Is not the hon. Lady concerned that her Bill might drive fur farming offshore and thereby reduce the standards in which mink are kept in overseas fur farms?

Maria Eagle

I do not know how my measure would reduce existing standards anywhere else. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's implication that I cannot legislate across the world or even across Europe, but only in this country, as I seek to do.

In addition to the statement by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, I have a letter dated 8 February from Professor Broom, referring to his study called, "The welfare of farmed mink and foxes in relation to housing and management." He said: Based on all the research to date I conclude that the welfare of mink and foxes is always poor in the cages at present in use on fur farms in the UK. Many of the needs of the animals are not met. I have presented such scientific information on several occasions at the Council of Europe Standing Committee on the Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes. The fur farmers show no signs of making significant changes to their cages. They could not afford to do so in the current economic climate. That is why my Bill will end the practice and compensate farmers. It would be most unfair to require much higher standards of welfare when it is evident that farmers are unable to invest in the industry because of its precipitate decline.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)


Maria Eagle

I must get on, but I will give way.

Mrs. Winterton

I am most grateful. Before the hon. Lady leaves the issue of animal welfare, will she say whether she has consulted, in any way, shape or form, the veterinary profession which is the profession most interested in and responsible for animal welfare? For example, has she consulted the British Veterinary Association or the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons?

Maria Eagle

I have had letters from veterinary organisations, but I am afraid that I do not have them with me. I shall have to drop the hon. Lady a line to give her details of what those letters said. I have also had discussions with vets who regularly visit fur farms, especially vets attached to the RSPCA. I know that they have concerns similar to the ones that I have expressed, but I accept that some vets might not. I have no problem with that; I realise that there are arguments on both sides. I accept that some vets may believe that the current situation is acceptable; I do not, and there are many vets who do not. I must now get on with my speech so that others have a chance to speak in this debate.

Several minor arguments have been put to me to as to why the Bill should not proceed. One is that it would have a severe effect on employment. I have been trying, through the British Fur Trade Association, to find out how many people are employed on the remaining fur farms, but I have not had a satisfactory answer. I have been sent some figures which suggest that, across Europe, there is an average of four employees per farm. I do not believe that there are that many per farm in this country. However, even if there were four per farm, we would be talking about 44 jobs. It is always regrettable when people lose their livelihood, but, in this case, I believe that it is acceptable to lose a small number of jobs in order to put an end to this cruel practice.

I have also been told that the Bill would have a major economic impact on the areas around the farms. A figure of £1 million has been quoted to me by the British Fur Trade Association in respect of a particular farm in the west country. I was told in a letter that that figure is based on the cost of a blue iris pelt being £47. My information is that at the latest auction at the Copenhagen fur centre in February this year, the price of a female blue iris pelt was not £47 but US$24.5, or £15.30; and male pelts sold for US$33, or £21. I therefore take the figures that I have been given in respect of the Bill's general economic impact as unproven. I shall not be ungenerous. I accept that there will be an economic impact on the farmers, which is why the Bill contains provisions for compensation.

Farms have other impacts on their local areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) referred to the experience in her local area. I shall read to the House a letter from Brigadier Tynan in support of the Bill. He is the chairman of the Crow Hill and district residents association and has a fur farm very close to his own property. He states: Apart from the main thrust relating to cruelty there is a secondary aspect which may be helpful in discussion. My house is about 400 yards from a mink farm and there are several other properties in this residential area which are very much nearer. May I tell you that an abominable fetid stench emanates from the farm, especially when the mink population is at its peak as the slaughtering time approaches. Believe me, this disgusting smell is unique and quite different from the 'honest farmyard smell' which we all know. Brigadier Tynan goes on to say that the discarded food and other by-products—I am being polite—on the site are breeding grounds generating myriads of flies which infest the area in the late Spring and Summer. To my certain knowledge, this considerable nuisance and potential health hazard has been the subject of complaint for many years. It has been pursued regularly and energetically by the District Council with limited and unenduring success. This official activity, resulting in the imposition of fines in the Magistrates Court on no fewer than three occasions, has not had any significant lasting effect. One assumes that the local council prosecuted under the nuisance provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990—a different kind of prosecution. In other words, these farms are not universally liked by people who have the dubious pleasure of living nearby.

I shall read from a letter sent by Professor Harris, chairman of the Mammal Society. He also supports the Bill. He writes: The Mammal Society works to protect British mammals, halt the decline of threatened species, and advises on all issues affecting British mammals. We promote conservation and other policies based on sound science. The Mammal Society is very concerned about mink farming in Britain. Mink are wild animals, not domesticated, and the welfare argument against the continued farming of this species are clear. We are further concerned about the potential impact of this species on British wildlife. Mink have played a major contributory role in the dramatic decline of the water vole (the population has declined by approximately 95 per cent. this century), and their impact on breeding populations of birds, especially sea-birds on off-shore islands which previously had no terrestrial predator. He concludes: Without an end to mink farming, further escapes … are inevitable, and this will compound the problems already posed by free-living mink. There are environmental impacts when mink are released deliberately or when they escape. They establish feral populations and threaten our indigenous wildlife, something which should concern the House.

Because I have taken several interventions, I have detained the House for long enough. I do not wish to use up all the time allocated for this debate, but want to leave enough time for other to speak.

As we approach the new millennium, it is up to the House to set the standards that we want for the next one, and to set the parameters within which society should operate—that applies equally to ourselves and to animals. I hope that the House will take this opportunity to say, as the Farm Animal Welfare Council did some 10 years ago, that keeping wild animals in small barren cages simply to obtain an unessential luxury product is unacceptable. It is not necessary to believe that animals have rights in order to believe that human beings have obligations towards them. Let us put an end to the cruel barbaric practice of fur farming and take this opportunity to do it. I commend the Bill to the House.

10.7 am

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Given the interest that the Bill clearly generates and the desire of many hon. Members to speak, it may be helpful if at this stage I make a few remarks on behalf of the official Opposition. First—this will unite hon. Members on both sides of the House—I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for the way in which she introduced the Bill. Anyone who has steered a Bill through the House knows that, even for Ministers, who benefit from help from the civil service, it is a daunting experience. For the hon. Lady to put everything together as she has is a remarkable achievement.

It seems to me that the main consideration today has to be the welfare of the mink—that is the beginning and end of the argument. If mink could not be farmed humanely, mink farming would have to go—despite the devastating effect that that would have on the livelihood of those engaged in it. It is as simple as that.

At one end of the spectrum are the people who say that all farming is ultimately immoral. That notion will probably appeal even to some hon. Members, but I do not think it will appeal to the majority. I certainly reject it.

The Bill is predicated on two assumptions. First, it assumes that, under the present law, even if properly enforced and observed, mink cannot be fanned humanely. Secondly, it assumes that it would be impossible to devise any system whereby mink could be farmed humanely.

I claim no special expertise in this matter. I come to the subject with a long-standing interest in animal welfare. I have read widely; I have received many letters; and I have made a point of visiting one of the country's leading fur farms to test at first hand what I have been told about the industry. I express my thanks to Michael Cobbledick for allowing me to visit him at his fur farm in Cornwall, for answering straightforwardly and unequivocally the questions that I put to him, and for allowing me free access to his farm. I understand the problems that the hon. Member for Garston may have had, given the demands on her time in putting the Bill together, but I wish that she had been able to visit as many fur farms as she wanted.

While I commend the hon. Member for Garston for the fact that she is still prepared to visit fur farms, that is a bit like saying that one is prepared to consider the possibility of a reprieve after the execution. That approach has a certain theoretical charm, but the hon. Lady will have missed an opportunity—whether or not fur farming should be abolished—of seeing for herself that to describe all fur farming and fur farmers as indulging in a barbaric practice may not be the way forward.

Mr. Gray

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Minister was invited to visit a fur farm this time last year? He declined because he felt that it would not make much difference, as he knew what conditions on a fur farm were like already. Does that not stand in stark contrast to the approach of my hon. Friend, who has visited fur farms to find out what happens?

Mr. Nicholls

Yes, it does. I had assumed that the Minister had visited fur farms, and we will find in due course whether that is the position. It will be surprising if he has not. I always enjoy debating with the Minister, and he will say in due course how he has been able to reach a conclusion—if he has reached one—without seeing one particular part of the evidence.

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

I have looked at the issue for many years and have visited fur farms privately. I was invited by Mr. Cobbledick and the Fur Breeders Association, who wanted to offer me an all expenses paid trip to Denmark. I thought that it would be inappropriate to accept that invitation.

Mr. Nicholls

Not only would it have been inappropriate: the Minister would have been unable to accept under the rules of the House. I am sure that he would be able to see fur farms in this country, and that it would not take all expenses paid trips to do so. However, we may find ourselves being diverted into discussing who takes expenses-paid trips in helicopters. I am not quite sure that the Minister would want to do that.

On the evidence that I have seen, I have not been able to conclude that it would be impossible to conduct fur farming humanely. I was helped in considering the evidence by a Library paper produced by Stephen McGinness and Patsy Hughes, which many hon. Members will have seen. The paper says: The scientific evidence for animal welfare and fur farms remains in its infancy. There is, however, little support for the claim that it would be impossible to provide good welfare for captive mink. I telephoned Mr. McGinness, and he was content that I should relay his response to the House. He told me that, in its first draft, the paper said that there was no support for the claim that it would be impossible to provide good welfare for captive mink. On reflection, however, he took the view that, as he could not logically prove that no evidence existed at all, it would be more accurate to say that there was little evidence.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

Will the hon. Gentleman read another quote from the Library briefing, which says: There is solid evidence of shortcomings in the current standards of welfare and that some methods of killing fur-bearing animals are inhumane"?

Mr. Nicholls

Of course there is some evidence of people falling short of the present law, and I shall deal with that in a moment. If the hon. Gentleman—who is, as I recall from previous exchanges, a distinguished lawyer—is going to turn round and say that because some people may fall short of the standards of a profession, that profession should be abolished, he will not have a profession to return to after the next election, when he will need one. That was not quite as good a point as the hon. Gentleman may have thought.

That conclusion from two impartial House of Commons researchers will surprise many people in the country. By the looks of it, it has surprised many Labour Members. Facts are sometimes surprising and, in this House, we should be guided by the facts.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

If the hon. Gentleman is so convinced that there are far more humane ways to rear mink for their fur, why have they not been adopted already?

Mr. Nicholls

If the Bill is to succeed, it will be necessary to show not only that it is impossible to farm mink humanely under present conditions, but that mink cannot be farmed humanely in any circumstances.

I want the Minister to address the fundamental proposition that mink cannot be farmed humanely. I do not know whether this is a hand-out Bill from the Government or not. [Interruption.] There would be nothing wrong if it were. The Government have made perfectly clear in opposition and in government that it is their intention to outlaw fur farming. I do not know whether they intend to back the Bill today. I see the Minister nodding his assent. This is a reasonable opportunity for the Government to address the fundamental proposition—can mink be farmed humanely or not?

There are those who will justify on an almost theological basis their desire for abolition: the sort of people who believe that their genuine and sincere conviction is sufficient justification to use this Parliament to impose that conviction on others, and who believe that any reference to science—unless, of course, that science supports their predetermined conviction—is heartless equivocation. I reject that approach—as, I hope, does the Minister.

We have an existing framework of law. Again, that surprises many of those who have written to me, who believe that, in some curious way, fur farming is outside the ambit of present law. There is a substantial body of European and domestic law dealing with fur farming. There is the European Union directive on farm animal welfare, adopted in 1998; the Mink Keeping Order 1997; the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1999; the European convention on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes of 1991; the Mink Keeping Regulations 1975; the Mink Keeping (Amendment) Regulations 1998; and the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 1968.

Fur farmers already have a substantial body of law with which to comply. Clearly, that does not mean that the law cannot be reformed. However, it does mean that fur farming cannot legally be carried out in the cruel and capricious way that many of those who have written to me clearly believe it is.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman respond to the comments of the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1989, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle)? The council said that fur farming does not meet all the basic welfare needs of what are essentially wild animals. Will he say why there has been no reform to drive up welfare standards?

Mr. Nicholls

There has indeed, and I will come to that perfectly fair point in my speech.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

We hear allegations that mink farms are hell-holes. Does my hon. Friend agree that if that were the case, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—which inspects such farms regularly—would have been failing in its duties?

Mr. Nicholls

Yes, and it would mean that the system was breaking down. This picks up on the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who suggested that, because the law had been broken, abolition should automatically take place. There is no doubt—it is evident to anyone who has visited a fur farm—that if the law were properly observed and enforced, as it should be, it would be quite impossible in law for hell-holes to exist. If the present law were observed, I see no reason why barbaric practices should be able to take place. The Minister may wish to address that matter. If it is the Government's contention that the present law is not adequate to deal with some of the outrages about which we have heard, one wonders why it has taken so long for action to take place.

What are the arguments for the proposition that mink cannot be farmed humanely? There are two, and the hon. Member for Garston, to her credit, addressed both. First, it is said that mink are essentially wild. Secondly, it is said that mink are aquatic animals, condemned to live out their existence in a water-free environment. I will address both, briefly. Clearly, mink were once wild—indeed, all farm animals were at one time wild. However, the proposition is whether they can be considered wild now.

There is some authority for that view, albeit from the continent—although I see nothing particularly wrong with that. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is twitching a bit, but this is not a day for him and me to share our European prejudices.

In his paper, "Re the zoological status of farmed fur animals", written in June 1993, Professor Knud Erik Heller of the Institute of Population Biology in Denmark said: From a scientific point of view, fur animals that have been domesticated for more than ten generations must be considered as so far genetically removed from their ancestors that they have to be treated as fully domesticated species. In a paper entitled "Production conditions, behaviour and welfare of farmed mink", Dr. Steffen Hanson of the National Institute of Animal Science in Denmark says: Significant behaviour and physiological changes achieved through domestication therefore make it unreasonable to make direct comparisons between farmed mink and their relations in the wild, when considering their welfare. I note in passing the reference to 10 generations. I understand that, in this country, we are into the 80th generation.

Perhaps most interesting of all was the report by Professor P.R. Wiepkema who, in a submission to the Dutch Government at their request on the implications of fur farming, said: Mink have unmistakably gone down the path of domestication. They display the majority of characteristics of domestic animals: they are not shy. They are inquisitive, sometimes even hand tame, and they grow and reproduce without any great problems. In summary, he says: Mink kept on the farm can be considered as domestic animals. I have handled mink and ferrets, and I must tell the hon. Member for Garston that she would be safer handling mink than ferrets.

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend has quoted studies undertaken in Denmark and Holland. Does he accept that, for many years, the Governments and Parliaments of Denmark and Holland have shown themselves to be as sensitive to animal welfare issues as has this House?

Mr. Nicholls

That is my understanding.

It is interesting and informative to refer to academic studies. There is nothing wrong with being a campaigning organisation, be it the Farm Animal Welfare Council or any other, but when we are trying to reach a conclusion it is more relevant to consider academic evidence on both sides of the argument than simply to say that a campaigning organisation, with great sincerity, happens to believe that something is wrong.

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech, which inclines me to think that the official Opposition may oppose the Bill. Do they intend to do so?

Mr. Nicholls

The official Opposition will not oppose the Bill, but we believe that fundamental questions must be answered before the Bill is passed. I am presenting the arguments in this way because, given the rational way in which the hon. Lady has introduced the measure—in contrast to some of those who purportedly support her—I believe that the assertion that there is a case to be made will appeal to her. Ultimately, whether the Bill is successful will depend on Ministers' attitude, so I believe that Ministers must answer some questions.

Mr. Swayne

My hon. Friend will appreciate that some of us are sceptical of academic studies, as we were of a certain Bateson report. Does he accept that it is incredible to expect a chicken or cow to escape and live in the wild as mink populations do? We now have feral mink populations in the countryside.

Mr. Nicholls

My hon. Friend may have more experience than I do about what happens to cows and chickens when they escape into the wild; I do not know. Certainly if their wings and beaks—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I thank the hon. Member for returning to address the Chair.

Mr. Nicholls

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Obviously, some animals are better equipped for returning to the wild than others, but today we are discussing mink, not whether we should release or prevent the husbandry of chickens and cows.

Academic evidence exists that casts doubt on whether mink are wild. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) approaches academic evidence with scepticism, as he should, but academic evidence cannot simply be dismissed if it does not fit one's predetermined views.

Mr. Dismore

The hon. Gentleman quoted some of the academic ideas that support the keeping of mink. Perhaps he would comment on whether there has been academic research on killing methods. The Library research paper suggests that there is no humane method of killing mink. It deals with gassing and the possible stresses and traumas that that causes mink. It deals with the possibility of drugging the animals before they are killed and refers to the significant stresses, difficulties and cruelty that that may cause. Have any of the academic studies addressed the final solution for mink—the way that they are killed and the cruelty involved?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman has obviously reached a conclusion. He is entitled to do so, and doubtless he will argue in his speech that it is impossible to kill mink humanely. I have not read the evidence that supports that proposition. If there is evidence that supports that proposition conclusively, that will be an end of the matter. The hon. Gentleman's remarks would be better made to the Minister because if, uniquely among farm animals, it is impossible to kill mink humanely, one wonders how they can be killed at all under the present law.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman comes from an urban background. If he thinks that the killing of animals, for food or fur, is an attractive process whereby animals can be laid to sleep in a way that is completely undistressing for them or for those who must take part in that process, he should visit a slaughterhouse.

Mr. Dismore

I grew up in east Yorkshire, which is not known for its great urban sprawl; it is the heart of farming country. However, may I quote to the hon. Gentleman the Library research paper on the need to kill the animals without spoiling their pelts? This means that killing methods have be employed other than those accepted as humane for food animals such as cattle and sheep.

Mr. Nicholls

If the hon. Gentleman takes the view that it is impossible to kill mink humanely, he will support the Bill. However, he should ask the Minister why, if it is impossible to kill mink humanely, the process is taking place at the moment.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Nicholls

I give way to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock).

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

On the hon. Gentleman's many visits to mink farms, did he witness the mink being killed? If so, I should be grateful if he would describe to the House what he saw.

Mr. Nicholls

I have visited only one mink farm and I was not there when the mink were harvested, so I cannot give any information about that. However, the fact that I made that one visit probably distinguishes me from many of the hon. Members who are now seeking to intervene.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)

It does the hon. Gentleman credit that he visited a farm. Many of his arguments are about whether mink are domesticated, and he seems to have concluded, "mink—not as bad as you think." He says that academic research might back up that claim, but does he accept that when mink escaped—and there were mink escapes last year—there was not much evidence that they had become domesticated? I believe that the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) would agree that when mink returned to the wild, they showed all their natural wild tendencies.

Mr. Nicholls

They certainly showed some of their vicious tendencies, because that is in their nature. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman goes ferreting very often, but it is commonly accepted that ferrets are domesticated animals, and they are difficult and can be vicious.

I said that the two arguments that are advanced for the proposition that mink cannot be farmed humanely are first, that they are wild—I have pointed out such evidence as is available to support that proposition—and secondly, that they are aquatic and that therefore they cannot be suitable to be held in captivity.

In his report, Professor Wiepkema said, on the question whether mink should be provided with swimming water: In close connection with their supposed wild nature it is often postulated that farmed mink need swimming water. It should be apparent from point 2.2 that feral mink intensively use the waterside (and the water) as a foraging area, but also may leave it at their own initiative. This opportunistic foraging behaviour leads me to the conclusion that swimming and fishing water is agreeable to the mink, but presumably not crucial. There are also no indications from the limited research done so far that mink, outside of their foraging behaviour, need water. He summarises: On the farm swimming or fishing water is not an absolute necessity for mink.

Angela Smith

Given the hon. Gentleman's remarks about mink swimming, will he comment on the point made by Robert Morgan of the British Fur Trade Association, who said: If mink"— presumably in captivity— had access to swimming water, then they would get wet and probably get cold and die.

Mr. Nicholls

I am not here for the British Fur Trade Association. I am here to put the proposition to the House—I think that it is a fair one—that the Bill deserves to succeed if it can be shown that mink cannot be farmed humanely under present conditions and that it is impossible to devise humane conditions in which they could be. I have set out the evidence for those two propositions.

Having said that, could the position of mink be improved? Of course, the answer to that is yes. The conditions of any farm animals can certainly be improved. Professor Wiepkema's report to the Dutch Government now forms the basis of new progressive standards being introduced in Holland in line with the revised Council of Europe recommendation on fur farming.

Mr. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Nicholls

I have given way at least once to the hon. Gentleman and I must make some progress before I do so again.

I want to hear how the Minister answers this aspect of the debate. It seems that a number of points are emerging. First, such scientific evidence as there is specifically rejects the proposition that mink cannot be farmed humanely. Secondly, there are already pan-European measures in place to secure the welfare of mink. Thirdly, the British fur trade has apparently committed itself to raising standards. Fourthly, following the Dutch initiative, those improvements are in hand.

In November 1997, when talking in the House about fur farming and mink farming in Europe, the Minister said that the Government would be working with the Council of Europe to ensure the adoption of the highest possible standards consistent with scientific evidence and expert opinion. I think the Minister was right to say that. We will need to know whether he believes that Holland and virtually the whole of the European Union are wrong and are conniving at an inherently cruel practice that cannot take place except in certain circumstances of cruelty.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that specific point?

Mr. Nicholls

I give way for a third time to the hon. Gentleman, but that is it.

Mr. Thomas

To help the hon. Gentleman, this is the second time that he has given way to me.

The hon. Gentleman has made much of Professor Wiepkema's advice to the Dutch Government. Will he acknowledge that that advice has been criticised by many international scientists already on the basis of the conclusions at which Professor Wiepkema arrived?

Mr. Nicholls

That may or may not be. I am saying that we need to examine the scientific evidence and to take it into account. If we in this place are to do our job properly, we should consider the available evidence and not legislate by assertion. If the hon. Gentleman has examined the evidence both for and against and has come to a certain conclusion, that is a matter for him.

I do not think that the Minister could convincingly say that the evidence does not matter because the public are against mink farming. Politicians have a duty to inform debate as well as to follow it. The proposition, "I am their leader, I must follow them," is no more attractive now as a basis for legislation than it was when that remark was first made.

Given the Minister's commitment in November 1997 to examine the evidence, we would like to know what he has made of the farms that he has visited. He has said that he has visited them in his private capacity, and I commend him for so doing. Perhaps he can draw on that experience and tell us what he found when he visited the farms. If the Minister can establish that only abolition and not reform can secure the welfare of mink, clearly the Bill should succeed. If he has come to that conclusion, that has certain implications.

If the Minister has concluded that mink farming is inherently and inevitably cruel, what representations has he made to the rest of the European Union? Given that Andrew Turnbull, the outgoing chairman of the Standing Veterinary Committee, which effectively oversees fur farming in the European Union, is himself a senior vet in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, what does Mr. Turnbull feel about these matters? If the Minister simply ignores the weight of the evidence because it is popular to do so, the interests of animal welfare will not be served. If we abolished fur farming in this country against the evidence, what credibility would the Minister have in the European Union when he wanted to argue for an increase in standards for mink in the EU? The Minister will lose his ability to make that case from a position of principle.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

As my hon. Friend knows, I hold him in high esteem, particularly on account of his often pungent comments on conformity with the European Union. I am a little surprised to find him taking the position that we must be extremely cautious in case we in any way deviate from what is European practice, and inviting the Minister to try to conform with what is being established in Brussels.

Mr. Nicholls

The Minister will be in a far harder position than I am when he has to talk about speaking to his friends in Europe. That is not something that would cause me any hardship. However, Europe does have some uses. I have put a perfectly fair proposition to the Minister. The cause of animal welfare goes wider than national boundaries and there is a case to be made in Europe.

To re-establish my credibility with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), let me make it clear that I believe that the House should settle this issue for better or for worse. I believe that we will hear from the Minister in due course that he cannot go as far as many of his hon. Friends would like, because the House has lost the ability to deal with these matters—but I shall return to that.

How will the Minister explain to the public that although fur farming could become illegal in the United Kingdom, fur trading and the manufacture of items out of fur will not—I shall cheer my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea up—because our present relationship with Europe will make that impossible? How will the Minister justify the argument that there is a moral difference between farming for food and farming for fur and leather, when neither is essential for human life? Does the Minister not realise that, queueing up behind this measure, will be those who, in relation to animal husbandry in general, have an altogether darker and more sinister agenda?

I have asked questions and I hope that I have dealt with these matters in some detail. I have taken interventions because it is clearly a serious issue and because I commend the hon. Member for Garston on the way in which she has introduced the Bill. Again, let me make it absolutely clear that the official Opposition have no intention of impeding the Bill's passage. However, whether the Bill is entitled to become law—not on a wave of assertion or on a wave of sincere emotion—depends on the answering of a central proposition, which is whether mink can be farmed humanely. It is my responsibility to ask that question from the Opposition Dispatch Box and it is the Minister's responsibility, in due course, to satisfy the House as to the reply.

10.28 am
Angela Smith (Basildon)

First, on behalf of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for bringing the Bill forward. I am grateful to have the opportunity to debate the matter in the House.

Society changes, and attitudes to animal welfare have changed substantially over the years. We have far more information on, and knowledge about, wildlife and animals than we had 50 or 100 years ago. Attitudes to fashion also change. Most of us would regard it as considerable progress that we have moved on from when, within the Palace of Westminster, Henry IV boasted of wearing a fur robe made from the skins of 12,000 squirrels and 80 ermine. Perhaps the mink would regard it as progress that, today, it takes about 60 mink to make a fur coat.

Mink may also regard it as progress that, as my hon. Friend said, because demand for pelts is falling, the price paid for them is falling drastically. At last month's Copenhagen fur centre, the price of most mink skins had fallen to $21 from $30 last year. The industry is dependent on the whim of fashion and the fluctuations of the marketplace.

The lives and conditions that mink live in are dependent on the whims of the fashion market. The Bill is not about the wearing of fur. Instead, it is a challenge to the cruelty of the farming of wild animals for their fur. It is those wild animals that are ultimately fashion victims. Public and political awareness has been heightened by the tireless work of campaigners, who have exposed the conditions in mink farming through video footage and photographs, and we should pay tribute to them. Many of us do not have the strong stomach of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and other hon. Members who have visited fur farms to see the conditions at first hand. I make no apology, and no excuses, for not wanting to visit a fur farm. That video footage and those photographs clearly illustrated how awful fur farming is. They brought into sharp focus the secret side of a business that many of us had not seen, and that is a discredit to Britain.

I recently saw film of mink being caught in their cages, having their heads bashed, and then being stuffed into a box to be gassed. I am well aware that emotional and ethical questions arise. I am sure that any hon. Member would feel emotional, having witnessed such scenes. Few people could fail to be moved by the sight of mink panicking in tiny wire cages.

However, as the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) argued, my views and those of other hon. Members are not enough to justify the banning of fur farming. Therefore, perhaps on this issue only, I endorse the advice of the British Fur Trade Association, which stated: science, not emotions, should take the lead in setting animal welfare standards". We should examine the scientific reasons why mink should not be farmed for their fur.

Mrs. Mahon

Does my hon. Friend agree that some farms operate in a state of secrecy? Last year, at one such farm in my constituency, a Channel 4 team was prevented from filming from outside—two of the crew members were beaten up, the video was taken away and the camera was wrecked. It is sometimes difficult to get into the real hell-holes.

Angela Smith

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. One wonders why mink farmers are so averse to such publicity and to having their farms filmed.

If we compare conditions in the wild and those in captivity, we can see why fur farming is so inappropriate. In the wild, mink swim for about 60 per cent. of their waking hours, hunt live quarry, climb and dive, and travel between two to five dens, which are sometimes as much as 2 km apart. Male territories never overlap, and they will fight to the death to defend their territories.

Compare that with conditions in a fur farm, where, in rows of small wire cages—often just 38 cm wide, 30.5 cm high and 61 cm long—the mink are entirely deprived of opportunities to engage in their natural behaviour. In fur farms, mink may spend a quarter of their waking hours performing endless repetitive motions, going round and round in their tiny cages. They mutilate themselves through pelt and tail biting, they cannibalise other mink, and the mortality rate among young minkkits—is extremely high. They are confined, in the words of a leading mink expert, Dr. Nigel Dunstone, to a life of "sedentary torture".

Is all that an exaggeration? Are the facts hyped up by those who oppose mink farming? Not according to a Cambridge university report, which stated that stereotypical behaviour is an ever present feature of farm mink behaviour. As we have heard from several hon. Members, the Government's Farm Animal Welfare Council announced under the previous Government: mink (and fox) have been bred in captivity for only about 50–60 generations and the Council is particularly concerned about the keeping of what are essentially wild animals in small barren cages. The council's chairman made clear his views and those of the committee. He stated: We have decided against drawing up a Welfare Code for mink and fox farming to avoid giving it the stamp of approval which a Government-backed Welfare Code would imply. We should take those comments seriously.

The conditions in which mink are kept would be illegal if they were in a zoo, but at least if they were in a zoo, that would expose the animals' conditions to intense public scrutiny. The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 specifies that mink be provided with space and furniture sufficient to allow such exercise as is needed for the welfare of the particular species. Where in a fur farm do we see nesting boxes, pools and branch-work to aid natural behaviour? Where is the recommended 40 sq m pool? Where are the natural soil, sand and gravel, and the hollow logs and rocks that would at least represent an attempt to create a natural environment? Nowhere in a mink farm do we see such facilities.

The opponents of the Bill have failed to mention the inhumane conditions in which mink are transported within the United Kingdom. We hear little about that, so I shall give the House an example. On 21 December last year, mink were transferred from Coneyheugh farm in Northumberland to Woodview farm in Devon—a journey of more than 10 hours. The 800 mink were left on the lorry overnight before being unloaded. Another batch of mink was delivered just last Sunday, 29 February. Overseeing the arrival of the mink was a MAFF vet. He stayed for just seven minutes. We should remember that the mink is a wild animal and is not used to captivity.

Mr. Gray

All animal lovers would be concerned if the conditions that the hon. Lady describes occurred normally. Does she agree that one of the good things about mink fanning, in this country and elsewhere, is that the mink are bred and farmed in the same place as they are slaughtered—in other words, there is no transportation of mink to slaughterhouses, as is the case for all other farm animals?

Angela Smith

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree that it is better for mink to be kept in small cages and slaughtered on site. I have not dreamed up the events that I described. That transportation of mink happened. Does it matter whether it happens every day of the week or not? It happened, it is wrong and it should not be allowed to happen, but the law allows it to happen.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

The owner of Coneyheugh farm is a constituent of mine. When he moved those mink, they were moved with the full approval of MAFF. As the hon. Lady rightly said, a MAFF vet was present. My constituent cannot be blamed if the vet left after seven minutes. He did everything exactly by the rule book.

Angela Smith

The hon. Gentleman makes my point. The rules allowed that to happen. Many Labour Members and some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues find that wrong. Humane conditions should be provided.

Some people treat mink simply as a product. They are farmed for maximum profit for a frivolous reason—for fashion. The term "fur farm" is totally misleading. Livestock farms give the impression of animals roaming over open spaces and fields and the production of food. A better term for mink farms would be "fur factories". That is the one group of factories that I want to see closed down for ever.

10.46 am
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

May I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on the way in which she introduced the Bill. I have come to a conclusion that is quite different from hers, but I recognise that she has produced arguments that are rational and moderate in their tone, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on the approach that she adopted.

I oppose the Bill, both in general terms and for particular reasons. I shall start from two general propositions, which the House would do well to acknowledge. The first is that one should be very slow to use the criminal law to impose one's own moral views on the community as a whole. In many other contexts, hon. Members would largely agree with that proposition. It is certainly a view that permeates the debate on abortion, and it was manifest in the debate on homosexuality on Monday. One should be slow to use the criminal law to impose one's own moral standards.

The second point is a related one, but is also important. The House needs to be cautious about trampling on the rights of minorities. In a constitution such as ours, the rights of minorities are not firmly entrenched. It may well be that the European convention incorporated into the United Kingdom's domestic law will have a beneficial effect in that respect, but the defence of minority rights depends on the restraint of right hon. and hon. Members in this place.

Therefore we have an obligation, when we are considering the criminal law, to look strictly at the consequences of what we are about. We must ask ourselves whether we are unduly constraining the rights of minorities. I accept that neither of those propositions is absolute, but they are a guide as to how right hon. and hon. Members should legislate.

The first question that I have asked myself—I hope that other right hon. and hon. Members will also do so—is whether fur farming is in principle wrong. I stress "in principle". Let us not for the moment discuss whether it is humane. That is a different but extremely important issue. Is it in principle wrong? The hon. Member for Garston raised a number of arguments that depended on the inhumane method of husbandry. One of her principal contentions, which is also to be seen in the early-day motion, is that fur farming is, in principle, wrong. She argued, for example, that fur is not an essential requirement, implying that if it is not essential, it is right to prohibit fur farming. That is the question which we must consider.

It is important to remind ourselves that, although many people in this country may believe that wearing fur is wrong, that is not the conventional view in many countries whose standards in this regard are no different from our own. If one goes to the countries of central Europe—or, indeed, many of the countries of western Europe in winter—one finds that many people, and often the majority in richer areas, wear fur coats. One has only to go to Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany or Austria to find that wearing fur is a common practice.

That is relevant to the debate because if it be true that in many civilised countries many, if not most, people think that wearing fur is a perfectly acceptable practice, one should be cautious about concluding that it is so unacceptable in principle that we should make it criminal.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Hogg

Not the wearing of fur, but the breeding.

Angela Smith

I offer assistance to the right hon. and learned Gentleman; he seems to be under a misapprehension. The Bill would not stop the wearing of fur, but it would stop mink fur farming in this country.

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Lady does not do justice to my case. It flows from the assertion being made that fur farming is an unessential luxury business.

Mr. Forth

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend does not rest his argument entirely on the proposition that, if people on the continental mainland wear and approve of fur, that is okay. I hope that he does not accept that, even if most people in this country disapprove of fur farming, that would justify prohibiting it. He is not saying that, is he?

Mr. Hogg

No. My right hon. Friend is entirely right about this. I pointed to the different views which one finds abroad to reinforce my real caution about seeking to impose one's moral standards by the criminal law. Millions of people in countries no different from our own take a profoundly different view on this issue. That should make one cautious about having a sense of confidence in one's own moral standards.

My right hon. Friend made another important point, which relates to the second issue that I mentioned—minority rights. It also relates to fox hunting. I do not mind if 95 per cent. of the population are against fox hunting; I am in favour of preserving people's right to hunt foxes, because that is the nature of democracy.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

No. I will make a little progress, but I will give way if the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene later.

That is the proposition from which I started. I then asked myself, as all hon. Members need to do, "What is the difference in principle between farming creatures for fur and farming animals for leather?" Looking around the Chamber, I see that hon. Members, in large numbers, are wearing leather shoes, have leather handbags or are wearing leather braces. I also see a briefcase or two and leather watch straps.

Mr. Gray

Leather seats.

Mr. Hogg

We are all sitting on leather seats; you look particularly elegant on yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We could pop you on nylon and you would look just as nice. We could sit on velvet and we would be just as comfortable. We do not need leather, so we need to ask ourselves at this juncture, what is the difference in principle between rearing animals when the primary purpose is to enable us to wear belts and rearing animals to enable us to put fur scarves around our necks?

Maria Eagle

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. As ever, he is making a well argued contribution. I attempted to address his point in my remarks; my Bill is aimed at the keeping of animals where the primary purpose is farming for fur. Most hon. Members have no objection to fur or skins as by-products of food production, and nor do I. That is the difference.

Mr. Hogg

There is a difference, but it is not conclusive. Many animals are reared where the primary purpose is the use of what the hon. Lady refers to as by-products. Skins are a by-product of many animals reared for food, and that involves the tanning process and so on. However, the primary purpose in respect of a range of other animals is provision of leather of a specialist kind for a variety of luxury, or even non-luxury, goods. Man-made fibre could be substituted for all those goods.

Standing back from all this, my conclusion is that there is no difference in principle between farming animals for fur and farming animals for the provision of leather, for example. That takes me to a much more difficult question: what is the proper approach to adopt? The proper approach is that which is advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). We should be asking ourselves whether it is possible to breed those animals in humane conditions. If it were impossible to do so, and the evidence was conclusive on that point, I would favour prohibition, but we must ask whether the systems of husbandry are acceptably humane. That approach has been taken to veal calves, to sows and, increasingly, to chickens.

We concluded that the use of veal crates was an unacceptable practice. We do not need to eat veal—there are plenty of alternatives to it—but we did not conclude that we should ban the keeping of veal calves. We decided that the loose pen system was the proper way to rear veal calves. The same is true of sows. The House decided many years ago that the proper approach was not to prohibit pig keeping—that would be monstrous—but to prohibit the use of close tethering and close stalls.

I am deeply concerned about battery cages for chickens. I have visited many battery cage farms and found those visits deeply distasteful. I say, en passant, to the hon. Member for Garston that much of what she said about the frustration of natural instincts could be said, with equal force, in respect of chickens in battery cages. Chickens go in for all the practices that she referred to in respect of mink. My conclusion is, not that we stop rearing chickens, but that we set about asking the question whether they ought to be reared in a wholly different way. That is the proper approach.

Maria Eagle

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way a second time. Is he aware that improved animal welfare, such as he suggests, has been introduced in Hessen in Germany? The result is that there are no fur farms. Such improvements are not economically viable. He would put people out of business by stealth whereas my Bill accepts that improving standards is not economic and that compensation should be paid to those who would lose their business.

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Lady makes a fair and an unfair point, and I believe that what she describes has happened in one of the lander. She is right that such standards can be required of fur farmers so that the process is made uneconomic.

Mr. Nicholls


Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend says tough; I was going to say, "Hard cheese," but it is the same thing. If we conclude that the requirements are necessary, but the consequence of those requirements is that the farmer goes out of business, I say, "Hard cheese," and my hon. Friend says, "Tough." We agree with those consequences, but we approach the matter in a different way. We have not decided that such farming is wrong in principle, but that, in order to make it tolerable, the farmer has to comply with a range of standards. If that cannot be done, he goes out of business.

Mr. Gray

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned pig farmers. Is he aware that a number of pig farmers in my constituency have gone out of business because of the abolition of tethers and stalls, and that they received no compensation of any kind because they were unable to live up to the welfare standards that the Government demanded? Precisely the same would apply to mink farmers: if they were unable to live up to those standards, they would go out of business. Hard cheese, as he says.

Mr. Hogg

I shall come to the matter of compensation, because it is one of the specific points that I want to address. To round up what I have been saying on this point, I believe that this practice should not be prohibited because of principle. We should ask ourselves whether it is intolerably inhumane or whether we can impose requirements that would make it acceptable. If we could make it acceptable, that would be the way forward.

There is much evidence to suggest that it may be possible to impose acceptable standards. It is interesting that the Farm Animal Welfare Council in its 1988–89 report, although it identified shortcomings, did not say that the practice was inherently so inhumane that it should be prohibited. In Holland, the report of Professor Wiepkema—I apologise if I have mispronounced his name—made a number of recommendations that have been implemented, especially regarding the size and nature of cages. It is important to remind ourselves—as I did in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge—that Holland and the Scandinavian countries have high animal welfare standards and are sensitive to these issues. We must not disregard what they think is proper, because they are alert to these matters.

Mr. Swayne

My fear is that my right hon. and learned Friend, in his pursuit of a more humane way of fur farming, will create another, quite different, danger. I contend that a more humane form of fur farming would be less secure, and would give rise to a larger feral population that would be a greater danger to our ecology.

Mr. Hogg

That is a perfectly proper concern. My hon. Friend is a good advocate for the New Forest, and he is right to raise that issue. If the requirements of animal husbandry and ensuring a sufficiently humane regime were such that the animals could not be securely kept, the licence would not be issued. As my hon. Friend knows, the licensing regime takes account of security. If the consequences of improving animal welfare were such that the creatures could not be kept securely, the practice would have to stop. I would live with that, as I would regard it as a proper conclusion.

Mr. Phil Sawford (Kettering)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to make serious points about whether fur farming is correct in principle. I am not sure whether the issue of minority rights—very few people run fur farms—or the fact that many people wear fur necessarily establishes the principle. One of his key points is that there is no difference between leather by-products used for clothing and seats and the fur-farming industry. For me a significant difference is the cosmetic nature of what is essentially a fashion accessory. Is there not a key difference between leather and fur products?

Mr. Hogg

I disagree in principle. The hon. Gentleman is making a value judgment. He is entitled to live up to his moral judgment: I am not asking him to wear crocodile skin. It is his moral judgment, and it may be perfectly proper. I am not criticising it. However, he should not use the criminal law to impose his value judgment on others. The Bill does not prohibit the wearing of fur, but in a sense it is the same principle, because it prohibits the breeding of fur creatures based on a moral judgment such as the hon. Gentleman is making. That is why I think it is wrong.

Mr. Drew

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, and then I shall make progress.

Mr. Drew

If we took the right hon. and learned Gentleman's logic on minority rights to its natural conclusion, we would allow people to arrange dog fights or bull fights. Why do we not have an opinion on that?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman has forgotten what I said when I began my speech. I said that there were two important propositions: that we should not impose our own moral standards by the criminal law; and that we should have regard for minorities. However, I said that they were not absolutes: they were an important guide to legislation. If I were a Spaniard, I would not prohibit bull fighting. I would, however, prohibit dog fighting. Although this point is slightly at a tangent, there is a difference, because the bull fighter—by which I mean the human—stands a considerable risk.

Mr. Alan Clark

No he does not.

Mr. Hogg

I should like to see my right hon. Friend in the ring. I know what the bull would do to him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Tempting though some of those images may be, we should return to mink farming.

Mr. Hogg

All I can say is that if my right hon. Friend were too close to the bull's horns, he might have cause to regret it.

The central issue is that the proper approach is not to prohibit on grounds of principle, but to ask ourselves whether the methods are inhumane, and if they are to make them more humane. If that cannot be done, it is proper to accept the consequences.

Mr. Hancock

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the head of the service that is responsible for this matter, did he visit fur farms, and if so, what was his opinion of them? Were they run properly and were the animals looked after humanely? If they were not, his comments today beg the question why was not more done by fur farmers to achieve the improvements that the right hon. and learned Gentleman now suggests should be made?

Mr. Hogg

That is a perfectly fair criticism of my regime. I focused on that question when I was thinking about the Bill. I asked myself whether, when I was Minister, I directed my attention to the matter of welfare in fur farming. The honest answer is that I do not think that I did. I accept that criticism, but it does not go against the principle. It merely means that I did not do that which I now think I ought to have done, and that is a different point.

Mr. Hancock

Why have the fur farmers not done it?

Mr. Hogg

They may now make improvements as a consequence of the hon. Lady's Bill, but that does not go to the main issue. The hon. Gentleman is merely arguing that the people who should have addressed the problem previously did not do so, and not that the problem cannot be addressed, which is a difference issue.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Perhaps I can help my right hon. and learned Friend. The fur farmer in my constituency would have been delighted to make such improvements, but the difficulty was that the Labour Opposition had a commitment to abolish fur farms. As my constituents could read the political runes fairly well, they did not think it wise to spend many hundreds of thousands of pounds on modernising their farm, but they are prepared to do so.

Mr. Hogg

I am glad to hear that the runes were disproved to the extent that my hon. Friend was returned. I want to move away from that point, although I accept that criticism can be directed at me as the then Minister. I did not address this issue, and I rather regret that I did not.

Compensation is an important issue, and it is raised in the hon. Lady's Bill. The extent to which compensation should be paid when a person's business is totally destroyed or prohibited as a consequence of legislation is an important principle. It arises much more frequently than we think, because many bits of legislation either impose intolerable costs—my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) referred to pig farming—or prohibit an activity. Governments and the House have been ambivalent towards compensation because of the substantial cost implications. For example, the trading profits of gun dealers were excluded, and my hon. Friend was wholly right when he said that the substantial costs of improving standards imposed on pig farmers have not been allowed for in any direct payment. On balance, I believe that compensation should be paid, but that we should not be discussing a governing principle of this kind in the context of a Back-Bench Bill.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that the same issue arose in a recent debate about the possible replacement of the long-standing quarantine arrangements. If my memory serves me correctly, the Government resisted any suggestion that owners of quarantine kennels should be compensated if they lost their livelihoods as a result of a Government decision. In that context, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the Government support today's Bill, that will mark a distinct shift of direction and may establish an interesting precedent?

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. Friend raises an important issue. I should like to have taken action on quarantine when I was Minister and I broadly agree with the Government's present position. However, I remain of the view that compensation should not be paid in those circumstances, or at least it is not self-evident that it should be paid as the kennel farmers had been on notice for a long time that there might be a change in the regime. I find compensation an extremely difficult issue. It is so important that it is undesirable that it should be addressed in the context of today's Bill or any other Back-Bench measure.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is a distinction between compensation in respect of the owners of quarantine kennels and firearms dealers—and this point will endear me to neither—in that at least there is a possibility of further, albeit restricted activity, whereas if the Bill becomes law fur farming will be illegal and it will be impossible to diversify and use the facilities for anything else?

Mr. Hogg

Yes. There will be a limited use for the kennels even if we substantially change the quarantine laws. The same does not apply to gun dealers, however—at least not to the same extent—as they were primarily hand gun dealers. Some were also supplying other guns, but broadly speaking they were hand gun dealers so their businesses went out of the window. Today's Bill would impose total prohibition. If it is right in principle that compensation should be paid, it is far from evident that it should not extend to loss of income, which is after all the major loss. However, the Bill excludes loss of income from any compensation that is payable. That worries me a great deal, albeit from a different side of the argument.

We should also bear in mind some important parliamentary points. The ability to pay compensation is not an obligation; it is within the discretion of the Minister. Therefore, the Minister would be able to pay out public money without any authority from the House. He or she would be able to make payments under a scheme that had not been positively ratified by the House. The hon. Member for Garston is shaking her head, but she is wrong. She will be aware that statutory instruments that are subject to negative procedure are seldom debated in the House. So we are talking about compensation in a context about which I have real doubts, which excludes as a subject for compensation the main head of loss, namely loss of income, which would be paid entirely at the discretion of the Minister and which in all probability would never be considered by the House. That strikes me as a pretty offensive procedure and I am against it.

In conclusion, having spoken for longer than I had intended, I congratulate the hon. Lady on the way in which she presented her Bill. She has done it well; she deserves applause from the House and I hope that she will get it. However, I hope that she will not get our votes as I do not believe that the principle that underlies her argument is a sound one. We should be asking whether or not the standards under which the animals are kept are sufficiently high. If they are not, we should seek to improve them and if the consequence of that proper process is that fur farmers go out of business, so be it. However, that is a different approach and I commend it to the House.

11.14 am
Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

I join the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on her good fortune in the ballot and on her excellent presentation of the Bill. In the spirit of today's debate, I also pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Although I disagreed entirely with his views, I found his speech interesting and thoughtful.

For many years, fur was a popular accessory for those who sought to portray themselves as sophisticated and fashionable. Indeed, the fur of dead mink was a regular raw material for the fashion collections paraded on the catwalk. Harrods, Selfridges and the Hudson Bay Company would all religiously advertise, promote and joyously count the sales of expensive fur clothes. We owe a considerable debt to the work of the RSPCA, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and other animal welfare organisations, together with some of the more enlightened members of the fashion industry, for the fact that fur has become a much less economically rewarding product. Only 4 per cent. of the population in Britain wear fur and the number of mink factory farms has substantially reduced. Specialist fur retailers are in decline—the Hudson Bay Company has left Britain and Harrods, Selfridges and many other retailers no longer stock fur.

The Bill is extremely welcome as it will finally kill off the remnants of a sick and discredited domestic industry in Britain. It will also send important signals to the international fur trade that there is simply no place in decent, modern society for fur farming—an unnecessary industry that is completely indifferent to the animals that it exploits.

Mink farming is cruel and vicious at many levels. As we have heard many times already in this debate, mink are essentially wild animals. They defend semi-aquatic territories of up to 22 acres in the wild. They hunt, swim, explore and patrol their territories using aggression and scent marking. According to recent research, they sometimes make journeys of up to 4.3 km, yet on fur farms a typical cage is no longer than a person's arm. It does not allow access to water and is designed purely for the benefit and ease of the fur farmer.

Recent studies of mink have highlighted their natural and instinctive response to water and to a stimulating, extensive and diverse environment. One cannot help wondering what quality of life such lively and intelligent animals can possibly enjoy by being forced to spend their short lives in small wire cages. The conditions in which mink are kept lead to stereotypical behaviour which includes tail biting, self-mutilation, running to and fro along the floor of the cage, sometimes on two legs, rising up and down on their hind legs, moving their heads and forelegs, circling, sham feeding, rising up and head circling. Scientists at Cambridge university recently concluded that such stereotypical behaviour by mink is an indication of stress. Indeed, certain forms of stereotypical behaviour are likely to derive from attempts by the mink to escape their cages—evidence that their physical conditions are completely inadequate. While the levels of such behaviour vary—one study shows 70 per cent. of animals demonstrating such behaviour and 10 to 20 per cent. showing signs of self-mutilation—all scientific evidence has concluded that it is an ever-present feature among farm mink.

In 1979, the Farm Animal Welfare Council—the Government's scientific and technical advisers—stated that fur farming does not meet all the basic welfare needs of what are "essentially wild animals".

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), in an extremely helpful intervention, pointed out that, as a Government body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council has refused to draw up a new code of conduct for fur farming precisely to avoid it being seen to be given any form of Government approval. Fortunately for the fur trade, its appalling treatment of those animals has not impacted on the individual value of a mink pelt. Mink are killed after the winter moult when the fur is in prime condition and does not reflect the animals physical condition.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) travelled fairly widely in looking for research to suggest the contrary of what I have outlined. He made much reference to Professor Wiepkema's advice on mink to the Dutch Government. I re-emphasise the point that his advice on mink has been heavily criticised, not least by a number of international scientists in a report that was compiled by Frank Wassenberg, a member of a leading Dutch animal protection organisation. In that report, Dr. Georgia Mason criticised Professor Wiepkema's statement that there were no indications that swimming water was necessary for mink, because there was no data on how hard mink would work for access to water. Recently, she has published further research demonstrating the importance of water to mink.

What clinched my support for a ban on fur farming was the way in which the animals were killed. The main method for killing mink in Britain is by gassing. However, gassing with carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide does not prevent considerable distress and discomfort. Death requires the mink handler to place the mink individually in a killing box, which, as they are not tame and may struggle, requires the handler to grip each mink extremely firmly. That in turn leads to most of the animals demonstrating the behavioural signs that come with fear and terror: screeching, defecation and urination. One account of the death of mink by gassing described the mink running so fast up and down its death cage that it was impossible to keep track of where in the cage it was—proof of the terrible distress that it was suffering in death.

Mr. Alan Clark

I am following the hon. Gentleman's speech with great attention and I agree with practically everything that he has said. In describing the killing process, will he also express his contempt, which is widely shared, for the euphemism that was deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) when the mask slipped for one minute and he referred to "harvesting," which is an ad man's euphemism for the process that the hon. Gentleman has described? What is interesting is that that term conceals the innate guilt and distaste that is felt by everyone who is associated with the process.

Mr. Thomas

The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. I join him in his condemnation of that term.

Because mink are semi-aquatic, they are capable of holding their breath for lengthy periods, extending the distress that they experience during the death period. Other forms of killing mink that have been used include neck breaking and electrocution. Perhaps I should describe that process. Electrodes are clamped to the animal's mouth and inserted into its rectum. An alternative method is by lethal injection.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

Which mink farm in the United Kingdom uses the method of execution that the hon. Gentleman has just described?

Mr. Thomas

When the Bill is passed, no mink farm will be able to use such methods because there will be no mink farms about.

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Thomas

I am coming to the end of my remarks, so I will not.

On the method of death, we do not require anyone in this country to have any training for that grisly task. The fur farming industry in Britain cannot say that it has not been warned that a ban on fur farming is coming. The 1989 view by the Farm Animal Welfare Council gave a strong hint that action would be forthcoming. Ministers have been clear on the issue, too. In opposition, our intention to ban fur farming could not have been clearer. Written questions since the general election from hon. Members have produced ministerial responses that have reconfirmed the Government's intent to support a ban on fur farming. Indeed, when the new Mink Keeping Order was approved in November 1997, the Government confirmed again in writing the intention to ban fur farms.

The Bill allows time for fur farms to wind down their activity. It gives time for employees to find new work and allows compensation to be paid. Ample notice has been given of our intent to ban fur farming. The overwhelming majority of public opinion expects and wants a ban on fur farming. Now is the time for the House to deliver exactly that.

11.25 am
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on the successful way in which she has presented the Bill and her success in coming so high in the ballot. She now has a good chance of getting the Bill through the House. She is undoubtedly doing a great service for a number of people in this country—me included—who have long held the view that legislation was long overdue and in the public interest.

I hope that the House will get behind the hon. Lady. I hope that the official Opposition will join in supporting the Bill. A number of their obvious concerns over the matter have been allayed by hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who eloquently and positively explained the reasons why the overwhelming majority of the British public are against those farming practices and the way in which the animals are killed.

I share with other Members the distaste for the suggestion that "harvesting" mink in that way was something of a corn-keeping exercise. That was completely distasteful. I am sure that the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) will live to regret the use of that word, as I am sure many people in the fur-farming industry will.

Mr. Gray

In giving way, the hon. Gentleman is braver than the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), who refused to give way on that point. The hon. Member for Harrow, West, whom the hon. Gentleman is now praising, used emotive language in talking about electrocution of mink. He made some highly charged remarks, but he should know that, of the 15 mink farms that were surveyed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food some years ago, 14 used gassing and one used barbiturates. There is no evidence that electrocution of the type described, or breaking of necks, is used in the UK.

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have seen film taken in mink farms in this country and documentary evidence that proves that the practice has been carried out. He has made a number of interventions on that and other issues affecting mink. He made the point when he attacked the hon. Member for Garston just minutes into her speech, criticising the fact that she appeared not to have been to a mink farm. He has not been to another planet, but on animal-related issues he talks as though he has. Hon. Members should bear that in mind when considering his interventions. [Interruption.] You are laughing. The hon. Member needs—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. First, the hon. Gentleman should remember that he is addressing the Chair; secondly, it might be helpful if the debate did not descend into personal criticisms. We should concentrate on the subject matter.

Mr. Hancock

When someone puts himself above the parapet like the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has and says some outlandish things to other hon. Members, he should be able to take it a bit.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. My strictures were not directed simply to the hon. Gentleman; I was speaking to the House as a whole. It is best that we deal with the subject matter rather than personalities.

Mr. Gray


Mr. Hancock

I will allow the hon. Gentleman to get the point off his chest.

Mr. Gray

Perhaps I can clarify my position as the hon. Gentleman has made some strange remarks about it. I strongly support the Bill, will not seek to divide the House and will vote in favour of it if the House divides, but I will do so because, in Committee, we will be able to examine some of the welfare issues about which I am still concerned. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that I am against the Bill is incorrect.

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman could have given a clearer indication of that by not pursuing some of the points that he has, but I welcome the suggestion that he is wholeheartedly behind the Bill and will do all he can—

Mr. Gray

Not wholeheartedly,

Mr. Hancock

Not wholeheartedly, but the hon. Gentleman supports the Bill.

The information that we have been sent shows that the lobby advocating fur farming has come up with four key issues. Those of us who have followed the issue with great interest over the past 20 years have heard them before. The first argument is that the measure is an infringement of the individual's right to conduct business and that fur farmers are law-abiding. The response to that is that people do not have the right to do lots of things that are considered inhumane. For that reason alone, there is reason—it is time—for the decision to be taken.

We have progressed as a society and become more intolerant of many inhumane practices, which are legion. Over the past 100 years or so, we have successfully passed laws to end many of those practices. Our attempt to ban fur farming, once and for all, is the latest example of the progress that we are trying to make.

The second argument—which was made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg)—is that fur farming is no different from normal legal farming. The rebuttal to that argument is that, in most cases, other animals are farmed for food to be used for the common good, not for something that is regarded as a luxury item. When that fact was pointed out earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) said, "Here we have the class battle." It is no such thing, and it was nonsense for her to have said that. I am sorry that she is not in the Chamber to hear my reply.

Farm animals are domesticated, not wild. I cannot believe that anyone could reasonably suggest that a mink is anything other than a wild animal. Generally, all parts of farm animals are used. Very little of animals that are reasonably described as farm animals and that are used for food is not used in one way or another. Perhaps, in time, our society will evolve out of meat farming, although that is probably a long way off. Undoubtedly, however, that evolution will eventually come.

The third argument is on the rights of fur breeders. The hon. Member for Garston has more than justified her position by providing in her Bill for fur farmers to be compensated for the loss of their business. In all conscience, surely we must admit that loss of those businesses is a small price for the United Kingdom, as a community, to pay in ending a practice that undoubtedly unnecessarily tortures and kills animals.

The fourth argument against the Bill pursued by those who advocate continuing the trade is that the Government should regulate the industry, to prevent animal abuse, rather than ban it. We have already had that opportunity, have we not? The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham himself told us that he felt that, when he led on the issue for the previous Government, he had neglected addressing the issue. He chose not to do so. The farmers have had the opportunity to deal with the issue, but they have neglected to do so. Therefore, there cannot be any reasonable excuse for us not now to take on the issue.

The four key arguments levelled against the Bill are easily and remarkably quickly despatched. Sadly, it is a lot quicker to dispose of them than it is to dispose of the animals that those people continue to torture.

The dimensions of the cages in which the animals are held are not much larger than the Dispatch Box. Do advocates of fur farming honestly believe that those are proper conditions in which to keep any animal—especially an animal that should develop and flourish—for any longer than a few minutes? It cannot be right to keep animals in such conditions.

I cannot believe that even the most hardhearted hon. Member would want to go home and tell his or her children that he or she is in favour of animals-100,000 of them every year in the United Kingdom—being caged in such conditions for long periods, simply so that they can be put to death and more than 1,000 fur coats made, so that people can prance around feeling that they look a little more attractive than they might in a man-made alternative. It is not reasonable for the House to allow the trade to continue.

The consequences of our vanity is around for us all to see. For centuries, we have used and abused animals to satisfy our own vanity. But there is no excuse for us to continue exercising that right, if it is a right. I am disappointed that the Council of Europe did not take a much harder line on the issue. I represent the United Kingdom Parliament in the Council of Europe, and I am disappointed that the United Kingdom did not fight harder to ensure that the community of Europe took a more forceful line on the issue.

Many of the arguments that hon. Members made today on the scientific evidence can easily be rebutted. For every argument in favour of continuing fur farming, there are many more arguments against it. We have to consider carefully payments supporting some of the research programmes, especially the exercise in Scandinavia and in Denmark. The scientific evidence in that exercise was produced not without solicitation, but often at the specific request of those whose only interest was to ensure continuation and justification of the trade. It cannot be right, and must not be thought to be right, to allow animals to be so mistreated and abused. I am disappointed that 13 fur farms are still operating in the United Kingdom. I only wish that we had been able, long ago, to force those farmers to reconsider their futures. Like many people, I was hoping that the campaigns against wearing and farming fur that have been fought in the past 20 or 30 years would have been sufficient for farmers to realise that they should change to alternative ways of making a living.

I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Garston that fur farming creates nowhere near the number of jobs that the industry claims. I agree with her appraisal that the industry provides about 50 jobs. Hon. Members who have, like me, visited fur farms will know that that employment figure is realistic. I am glad to say that both the farms that I visited closed long ago. I have also stood outside other farms, which are still operating, and never saw anywhere near the number of employees that has been suggested coming out of them.

We have to be extremely careful, of course, about how we use legislation. Nevertheless, the hon. Member for Garston was right to promote the Bill and to use the public opinion statistics on the matter. On issues such as fur farming and fox hunting, the public have made their feelings known, and they expect the House, for a change, to respect and respond to those demands.

I am disappointed that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has left the Chamber. At least I do not think that he is here. Today, he has moved his seat three times already—I had better ensure that he is not here, as I should not comment on him in his absence—[Interruption. He is a man who many hon. Members have found it very difficult to avoid, although those who have done so have found their effort well rewarded. It is very disappointing for some of us that he has chosen to exercise his rights in the House to frustrate many good pieces of private legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has remembered what I said in my previous ruling.

Mr. Hancock

I had a slight lapse there, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and apologise to you and to the House for it. I feel that those points should occasionally be made, but I shall vigilantly remember your ruling.

I should hope that the House will today give the Bill a fair wind and wish it well. I hope that there will not be a vote, and that the Bill will move uncontroversially to its next stage. In Committee, I hope that hon. Members who are concerned about the Bill will vent their concerns. I am sure that, in his reply, the Minister will give a very steady steer in telling us how the Government might respond to some of the points. I am sure also that the Government will take on board all the very interesting and well-made arguments on the issue. Nevertheless, I believe that the Bill very precisely identifies, clarifies and answers many of the concerns.

For those reasons alone, I believe that the Bill is worthy of support. I believe that it is worth supporting also because it is about time that the United Kingdom rid itself of a trade that does so much harm to the nation's character and causes so much distress and inhumane treatment to the animals concerned.

11.39 am
Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on her success today in introducing the Bill. Like many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I find it incredible that, this year—the final year of a century in which we have seen unparalled acceleration in development of science, technology, civil rights and animal welfare, which are all vital ingredients of a civilised society—the House should have to draw its attention to a practice that is more congruent with an uncivilised society lacking development in those spheres.

Nevertheless, the House is no stranger to debating the merits of practices—or traditions, as their apologists weakly claim them to be—that belong to the dustbin of history. One has only to look at the fine Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) in the previous Session. Like that Bill, today's Bill commands the support of the majority of our fellow citizens: the people whom we are here to represent and in whose name we legislate.

The Bills are similar, in that they recognise that our attitudes towards animal welfare reflect on the integrity of our society, but I hope that is where the similarity ends, because, in the previous Session, the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill fell, at the hands of a small number of hon. Members who employed some of the more outdated procedures of the House in their hell bent pursuit of thwarting the wishes of the majority.

Now is not the time to discuss the merits of some of our parliamentary procedures, but perhaps it is the time, as we stand on the eve of a new millennium, to suggest to last year's culprits a new millennium experience: the experience of accepting the overwhelming arguments against fur farming and recognising the overwhelming support that those arguments enjoy. Perhaps I may be called democratically naive for accepting the will of the people.

Mr. Swayne

The hon. Lady does not help her cause by drawing a parallel between the Bill and the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, for they are entirely different.

Jane Griffiths

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.

The millennium has generated many problems in computing and information technology—problems that may touch all our lives—but I believe that it also presents us with another set of challenges, some symbolic and some more tangible. The Government are making great progress in meeting the tangible challenge of modernising Britain, transforming it into a country equipped for the 21st century, with improvements in the economy, the health service, education and other aspects of our national life. The symbolic challenge is for Britain to enter the 21st century as a country with moral integrity, and that integrity is at least partly based on the humane treatment of animals.

The Bill would take us one step closer to achieving that integrity. At present, thousands of mink are kept in unacceptable conditions for the sake of a luxury product. Those conditions severely limit the extent to which the animals can behave naturally, and that is cruelty.

The Bill is supported by the RSPCA, the country's defenders of animal welfare, yet the British Fur Council is foolish enough to have published in the national press disingenuous photographs purporting to show the hands of an RSPCA inspector holding a healthy mink from a fur farm. People will not be conned by that. Even if the pictures told a true story, it is worth noting that the RSPCA has no powers of entry to fur farms; inspectors can visit them only with permission and view only what they are shown.

The majority of people in this country want an end to fur farming. Last Saturday in Woodley, a part of my constituency that I cherish greatly, as it is always a reliable barometer of public opinion, more than 600 people in three hours approached me to express support for such a ban. I believe that the Government are minded to support the Bill. I give it my unreserved support and call on last year's democratic bandits to vote with the people.

11.43 am
Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on promoting the Bill and I pay tribute to the animal welfare organisations, and the RSPCA in particular, that have given freely of their services to back it. I am delighted to be one of its sponsors. It has wide cross-party support, as it should.

I am not naturally one to advocate banning things, be it as an emotional kneejerk reaction to furry animals or as a pandering to populist opinion polls. I am certainly not in favour of banning foods or supplements that individuals choose to consume, or of the nanny-state attitude that is so much a hallmark of the Government, trying to tell us how to run every aspect of our lives every hour of the day—

Mr. Forth


Mr. Loughton

—but—I am pre-empted—in the case of fur farming in the United Kingdom, we have the last vestiges of an industry that has virtually banned itself. There are 13 farms run by only 11 licensed farmers, producing 100,000 pelts a year from 130,000 mink, accounting for less than 1 per cent. of world production. As the hon. Member for Garston said, the number is down from 600 farms early in the century, and 68 in 1982, to almost nothing.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

My hon. Friend and I are fellow Conservatives and share many values. Does he agree that one of the finest attributes of Conservative thinking is that we always protect minorities from oppression, however small they may be, because they have a right to state their view and carry out what up to now has been a perfectly legitimate activity?

Mr. Loughton

That is a perfectly legitimate point, but there is a minority of child killers, and we do not necessarily support them. There must be a cut-off point for common sense to come into the argument.

Mr. Leigh

Child killers break the criminal law, the civilised common law that has been established for centuries to protect other human beings. Fur farmers do not kill or oppress human beings and, as Conservatives, we should surely protect their minority interest.

Mr. Loughton

There must be a cut-off point. There is a wide choice of perfectly legitimate pursuits for people to follow. The majority of people engaged in the industry favour the Bill, because they want to get out of the business, and the Bill is rather a good way of affording them an opportunity to do so. My hon. Friend is advocating protecting a minority who do not want protection.

We often hear that the Labour party is the party of the many, not the few. I agree with my hon. Friend that it has been up to Conservative Members to stand up for the minorities whom the Government are unduly attacking, but this is a different matter.

I am not pandering to a populist issue, but neither am I taking a primarily moral stance, although there may be a valid moral case. I believe that the current practice is just plain unacceptable, and that making it remotely acceptable in the United Kingdom would prove wholly unviable economically, for practical and sensible reasons.

I am hard pressed to see how rearing mink or other animals in cages can possibly conform to the terms of the European convention on protection of animals, although I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), in that is not the sanctuary that I would normally seek in matters European.

The convention says: Freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour is a requirement in animal welfare.

Mr. Forth

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is up to a combination of the European Commission and the national Government concerned to ensure that something conforms to a European convention? How does he make the leap from non-compliance with a convention or directive to an outright ban?

Mr. Loughton

I am not recognising a European recommendation or directive as an overriding source, but merely using it as an example of how the practice does not fit with what is considered appropriate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge said, animal welfare standards, like pollution, do not respect national boundaries. If we can set precedents, as we did on the use of veal crates, we should do so, to encourage better animal husbandry on the continent. We can take a stance and press for better practices among our European neighbours.

The semi-aquatic mink, which is accustomed to roaming and defending areas of river bank up to 2.5 miles long, is not encouraged to exhibit its natural behaviour on a fur farm, where it is not in its natural habitat. On farms, mink are typically kept in long rows of barren cages in open-sided sheds and fed with dollops of paste. A typical cage is 70 cm by 45 cm by 40 cm—I use the metric unit purely because I did not have time to convert into proper imperial measures. It is not surprising that there are so many reports of disturbed behaviour among farmed animals.

The Government's scientific advisers have said that fur farming does not meet all the basic needs of those animals. They say that it is impossible to recreate a mink's natural free-roaming environment in fur farms, where those wild animals have no opportunity to express natural behaviour such as swimming, diving and climbing, and that results in serious welfare problems. The Farm Animal Welfare Council was set up by the Conservative Government in 1979 to advise on welfare of farm animals—another successful animal welfare measure for which, most unfairly, the Conservative Government gained little credit. The council reported on fur farming on several occasions and stated: The Council believes that the systems employed in the farming of mink do not satisfy some of the most basic criteria which it has identified for protecting the welfare of farm animals. As the hon. Member for Garston said, the German state of Hessen prohibited the use of cages in 1996 and required climbing facilities, access to water and other measures. Now, there are no fur farms in Hessen, because it is not economically viable to breed the animals for fur in acceptable conditions—the farmer cannot make a living from it. If it were economically viable, farms in this country would have adjusted years ago—they certainly cannot deny having seen the writing on wall. For many years, it has been clear that animal welfare measures should be taken, but the industry has done nothing. Now—especially given the current slump in auction prices for fur—most fur farmers favour the Bill because it would allow them to get out of the business altogether.

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman is probably not aware that, this morning, I did an interview on BBC Radio Stoke with the chairman of the Fur Breeders Association of the United Kingdom, who spoke overtly for all the farmers. He said that neither he nor they opposed the passage of the Bill: although they regretted it, they saw the writing on the wall and wanted to co-operate in implementing the legislation. They were more concerned about proper compensation, which is fair enough.

Mr. Loughton

I am not at all surprised by those comments. I fear that I am not a regular listener to Radio Stoke, but I am sure that the many people who are benefit greatly from it.

I support the Bill because it is simple: it has only seven clauses and seeks solely to end the farming of fur in the UK after a realistic winding-down period. It includes mechanisms to pay due compensation, which is a matter that should be closely examined in Committee, because it might prove to be a major bone of contention which will need thrashing out. The Bill does not in any way pass judgment or impose restrictions on the wearing of fur or on the trading of fur. It does not make provision regarding the capture of animals for fur in the wild; nor does it make any attempt to restrict the import of fur. It is not an attempt to further some sort of ideological class-war terrorism against fur-wearing fat cats, who will be entitled to continue to wear fur, if they so choose.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I have a fur coat.

Mr. Loughton

That may be so, but I would never describe my hon. Friend as a fur-wearing fat cat.

Any of the features or omissions that I have described would be creditable and credible in current or future legislation. The hon. Member for Garston has gone out of her way to make the Bill acceptable, practical and simple, so as to allay the fears and concerns of many hon. Members.

It could be said that one may not object to the Bill because it was a Labour election commitment to ban fur farming. In that case, it is a shame that, yet again, as with so many of the animal welfare pledges that Labour made before the general election, the Government have not produced the goods, but have instead relied on a Back Bencher to bring the measure before the House. I have received a great deal of post on the subject, almost all of it in favour of backing the Bill. I was happy to be able to write back saying, "Not only am I backing the Bill, but I am sponsoring it, hope to speak on it and will vote for it, if I am given the opportunity to do so." However, a number of people have said that they feel that they have been let down by the Government on animal welfare issues, because the Government have not delivered and their promises turned out to be hot air.

There might be a modicum of justification for fur farming if it produced some sort of essential foodstuff that provided sustenance, but it does not. Fur farming exists purely to produce a luxury item for which there are many artificial alternatives, or for which the buyer should be prepared to pay a higher market price, if that enabled animals to be reared in conditions that take proper account of their welfare during their lifetime, rather than in the current conditions, which have been described as a fate worse than death. As the RSPCA has said, its opposition to fur farming is based on the knowledge that it causes considerable suffering to produce an unnecessary luxury product.

Even if, as one of the bullet points being touted by the British fur industry states, there is a law in Russia requiring people to wear fur hats in temperatures below minus 20 deg C, that law should be changed to allow a different sort of hat to be worn by the good burghers of Russia, Siberia or anywhere else. In any case, even the Labour Government have not become nanny enough to introduce the compulsory wearing of headgear in this country—at least, not yet, but there is plenty of time for them to do so.

Last week, I took part in a radio programme with a representative of the British fur industry, who described in detail, with great relish and glee, his recent visit to a fur farm. He said that he had found mink that were relaxed, inquisitive, lively, even cheerful". I think that one of the rather fairyland phrases he used was: Mink all lined up in their little cages. I do not know which mink farm he visited, but it struck me that, when he drove up the M1, he must have taken the turning marked "Fantasy Island", because his is not the sort of description that one readily associates with a mink farm, on which animals live in wire cages.

Maria Eagle

Is that gentleman Mr. Robert Morgan, who in the Daily Mail the other morning described the Bill as a threat to the bacon butty?

Mr. Loughton

I cannot remember the name; it was not Mr. Robert Morgan, but it appears that he has bedfellows who also make seriously fatuous statements.

The man I met went on to challenge the case made by those who support the Bill, that fur is an unnecessary luxury item, by asking what the difference was between farming for a luxury item and buying an expensive luxury steak derived from an animal reared solely for its meat. For a start, I would not expect to buy a steak produced from a steer kept in a wire cage 70 cm by 45 cm by 40 cm; and when I pay up for the best sort of steak, it is because it typically comes from an animal reared in conditions that are as natural as possible, and if the meat bears the RSPCA "freedom foods" badge—which we should all look out for in our supermarkets—I can be certain that the animal had been so reared.

Mrs. Gorman

The phrase "luxury item" has come up more than once in the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if people are determined to own fur—we all crave some luxury, whether it is a fur, a Porsche or a Ferrari—they will attain it by shooting animals in the wild? People who want mink will still have it. The humane raising of animals for which there is a demand and a market is a sensible alternative that conservationists advocate for animals threatened by extinction because of hunting. The corollary is that, if we provided humane conditions, the rest of the Bill would be negated.

Mr. Loughton

I got a little lost during my hon. Friend's intervention. The point is that the Bill would in no way ban people who legitimately hold licences from shooting mink in the wild. It is purely about mink and other animals that are kept in small cages on fur farms.

While we are on the subject of luxury items, my hon. Friend may be interested to know that a well-known underwear retail store is currently advertising fake-fur-trimmed knickers that she can buy quite cheaply. My point is that there are alternatives to fur, but I shall give my hon. Friend the details of the store, the prices and the available colours after the debate.

Mr. Forth

Lend her yours.

Mr. Loughton

Indeed, I could lend her my own.

Let me return to food labelling. Following the excellent action taken by the then Conservative Government, who received little credit for it, British veal no longer comes from wholly unacceptable veal crates.

There are many practical reasons to end fur farming in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) is understandably obsessed with the New Forest and the havoc wreaked there by the disgraceful actions of some lunatic so-called animal liberationists who released mink from a farm in his constituency; those actions have annoyed the brigadier who writes prolifically to my hon. Friend, and we have heard from the brigadier many times this morning.

When mink escape or are released, they wreak havoc in the wild. They are not native to this country, and in Hampshire they have attacked wild and domestic animals and birds. They can spread diseases such as Aleution disease and distemper. An Oxford university study has blamed mink for the virtual disappearance of water voles from most English rivers over the past 15 years. The animals that we seek to support through the Bill are not really very nice.

Serious questions have been raised about killing practices, and I shall not repeat what other hon. Members have said. However, no qualifications or training are required in the United Kingdom for those who carry out the killing, and that may require consideration.

Compensation costs will not be considerable because the remaining industry is minimal, and the Treasury will not pay much attention to the costs. In 1997, legal opinion from a counsel used by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concluded that no legal bar existed to banning mink farming immediately without compensation. As with many other matters, I should much prefer to use properly scrutinised primary legislation to bring that about rather than relying on the secondary regulations that the Government use all too often, even in matters of taxation. The Bill could end up helping to bail out a dying industry.

Some 60 per cent. of world trade in fur pelts is done through London. Fur traders do not believe that they will be negatively affected by the ban proposed in the Bill. The fur farming industry cannot legitimately be described as a traditional country pursuit, although that case has been put forward by opponents of the Bill. Mink were introduced here only 70 years ago; they are not native to this country. The demise of fur farms, and the affect that it would have on unemployment, would have no serious impact on rural economies; it is unlike the serious case that I could make on the impact that the end of fox hunting would have.

There is a conflict between welfare and profit. Quasi-genetic modification practices currently produce rare colours on the fur of mink that can fetch higher prices and that can be manipulated through careful breeding. Such breeding programmes concentrate on the colour of the pelt regardless of all else, and rare colours may be linked to poor physical conditions experienced by the animals. For example, the white pelt is produced by a line of congenitally blind mink.

"Made in Britain" is not a phrase of which I feel proud when it is applied to fur. It would be hypocritical to legislate merely to tinker with welfare standards when, to all intents and purposes, the fur industry is crying to be put out of its misery from a long, slow, uncomfortable and lingering death. As long as we can get right the compensation packages, the Bill will benefit everyone, not to mention the animals that are forced to exist—they do little more than that—in wholly unacceptable conditions. This is a good little Bill; it is straightforward, realistic, centrally focused and achievable. It deserves our support.

12.5 pm

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) on the way in which he weaved a course between supporting the Bill and being rude about the Government. Apart from that, I disagree entirely with his remarks, because, like so many other hon. Members who have spoken in favour of the Bill, he confuses a personal moral issue with one of welfare.

It is all very well for people to say that they want to ban this practice because they disapprove of people wearing unessential luxury fur coats—a view reflected by my hon. Friend and Labour Members who are in favour of the Bill—but that is not necessarily my judgment or that of other hon. Members. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, it is wrong to use criminal law to impose one's views on other people.

It is utterly wrong to call fur farmers a minority in a dying trade and cite that as a reason to use the Bill to kick them and wipe them out. They are indulging in what, up to now, has been a perfectly legal operation and the Conservative party should therefore support their minority interests. That is why I am a Conservative and why I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.

The hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), who has just left the Chamber, spoke of moral integrity in terms that I translate as moral tyranny. The difficulty with opinion polls is that they produce many figures. The fact that they may say that 74 or 84 per cent. of the public are against fur fanning is not a reason to impose moral tyranny on people who are practising a trade that is perfectly legal. Those people should look to this House to defend them in their activities.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) made an inordinate number of utterly wrong and untrue allegations about the conditions in mink farms. He said that mink were executed with electrodes. That is completely illegal. The killing of mink in this country is covered by the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995, which were introduced by a Conservative Government and which specifically forbid the use of any methods other than the legal ones. When mink are killed on fur farms, vets from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have to be present to ensure that it is done properly.

When the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) intervened very early in the debate and mentioned hell-holes, she was referring to institutions that are regularly visited by MAFF inspectors. Those inspectors are involved when mink are transported around the country and when they are killed. Mink farms in this country are carrying out their duties according to existing law.

The mink farm at Coneyheugh in my constituency has been run by the Harrison family for nearly 30 years. I have visited their 5-acre site and I have spoken to Mr. Harrison several times. Some of my hon. Friends might find the smell of the farm a little unpleasant but the husbandry satisfies current rules and regulations.

I declare an interest—perhaps I should have done so earlier—in that I am a consultant to the Countryside Alliance and a member of the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association. I believe that some mink farmers are members of the NFU.

The family who run the farm in my constituency have been subjected to a campaign of terrorism for many years. I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned what the farmers have had to put up with from the animal rights activists, who make their lives an absolute misery. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, that is one reason why some mink farmers want out. My constituents have had their house burgled and their children spat on. They have had pickets outside their property day and night, on weekends and weekdays. People have broken into their premises and threatened the family's security.

Maria Eagle

I take this opportunity utterly to condemn such activity, which is completely unacceptable. However, does the hon. Gentleman accept that there have been prosecutions for violent offences on both sides of the issue and that it is not only animal rights activists—or animal liberation activists, as they are known—who perpetrate unlawful acts, but mink farmers and their employees? There has been wrongdoing on both sides.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I did not wish to imply that she was in favour of such action, and I am glad that she joins me in condemning it. Some people engaged in mink farming have been involved, but I am talking about those who have been subjected to a campaign of terrorism and harassment for several years. It is no wonder that sometimes their patience snaps and they attempt to protect themselves and their property. That is not an excuse for what they have done but, having seen at first hand the conditions in which they are forced to live, I can begin to understand it.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham holed the Bill below the waterline when he rightly identified that this should not be an issue of moral principle—it is a welfare issue. He cited a great deal of evidence, which I shall not repeat, to the effect that if we introduced the standards imposed in Holland, Denmark and other mink-farming countries, we should then have the conditions that would satisfy most experts.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council has been prayed in aid by several hon. Members who support the Bill. The council disapproves of the way in which mink are currently kept, but has also said that, with more research, it would be possible for mink to be kept in confinement. We should be moving in that direction. My constituent, who, as I said, is a serious mink farmer with a 5-acre site, made it perfectly clear that he would have invested the money necessary to bring his farm up to the Dutch standard, but when he heard the Labour party, then in opposition, say that it would ban mink hunting in its entirety—I mean mink farming, but, sadly, mink hunting, too—he was naturally reluctant to invest. At the time at which he would have been prepared to make that investment, the price of mink pelts was extremely high and the trade extremely profitable, so he would have had the necessary money.

Mr. Leigh

It is said that mink cannot be farmed humanely because they are naturally wild animals. On the other hand, the National Farmers Union says that they have been farmed for more than 80 generations, and the mink now being farmed are therefore domesticated. Will my hon. Friend explain how it is possible to ensure that mink are farmed humanely, just as we have done with pigs and veal?

Mr. Atkinson

It is perfectly possible. As my hon. Friend says, mink have been bred in captivity for more than 80 years. One of the techniques of breeding is always to breed from the most docile animals. During those 80 generations, we have therefore encouraged a docility in the breed, which would not be there in the wild. When mink escaped or were released by animal rights activists, it was noticeable that at feeding time many went back to where they knew they belonged because they were domesticated and, apart from a few lucky ones, incapable of surviving out there in the wild.

Mr. Swayne

It is a mistake to believe that mink are bred for docility. They are bred for their pelts, not their docility. Last summer, our experience in the New Forest was that a voracious wild animal had been let loose on our natural fauna. One might as well expect a mink to inherit a wooden leg as to inherit docility.

Mr. Atkinson

I see that docility is not something that was bred into my hon. Friend. I do not accept his point. I was talking about a particular strain in mink as well as their pelts. My hon. Friend is being disingenuous.

Mr. Loughton

If my hon. Friend is saying that mink can be so Pavlovian in their behaviour that they come back at feeding time, why have fur farmers not seized upon the opportunity for free-range mink to encourage better welfare standards?

Mr. Atkinson

This point is in danger of descending into farce. Larger cages that allow greater movement would satisfy the concerns of many of the opponents of mink farming. It would be possible, no doubt, to provide those if farmers invested. If they cannot invest, hard cheese—as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said.

A similar Bill, passed in Austria, illustrates the futility of what we are trying to achieve today. There was one fur farm in Austria, which the Austrian Government decided they wanted to close. They compensated the farmer at a rate, which the Minister will recall, of £380 per breeding female; a lot more than he proposes. The farmer in Austria said, "Thank you very much" and closed down his fur farm, then moved 30 miles across the Czech border and opened another.

Effectively, we are proposing to close 13 fur farms in this country—businesses which should be run to strict MAFF standards. We will replace the 100,000 mink pelts a year from English fur farms with pelts from other fur farms. Some will come from Holland and Denmark, where the mink are well brought up, but many will come from countries in eastern Europe such as Lithuania, where conditions are intolerable by comparison. We are giving comfort to those who rear mink in a poor environment at the expense of those who provide a better environment—which, in future, could be improved still further. That is illogical.

The same happened when the previous Conservative Government decided to ban tethers and stalls in the pig industry. I was one of the few Conservative Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) may have been another—who did not agree. That was not because I did not want to see higher welfare standards in the pig industry, but because I wanted those standards on at least a Europe-wide basis. As a result, the cost of our pork has gone up, and all the people who said in the opinion polls that they wanted to abolish tethers and stalls are now choosing to buy cheaper pork from Denmark, which still uses tethers and stalls.

If we are to improve the welfare standards of mink by making sure that the conditions are right, we want our Minister to go to Europe to campaign for better conditions for fur farming. He cannot do that—he would be going there naked—if fur farming were abolished.

The explanatory note states that, overall, the compensation will be £400,000—an average of something under £40,000 per farm. I know that that will not be the figure per farm, as the amount will change according to the size of the farm. However, my constituent, who has a 5-acre site, will have costs of £20,000 or more to remove and clear the site. He will lose all his income, and he will have to pay redundancy costs for the three full-time staff he employs in addition to the members of his family who work on the farm. He will have no money left out of the compensation. He will be lucky to sell his property.

This is a bad Bill, and it does not address the question of welfare. That is why I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). In passing, I believe that it is wrong for Ministers and Governments to take over private Members' Bills which attack the liberties of our citizens and involve the expenditure of public money. That has happened before—it happened when the Conservatives were in power, and it is happening now. However, I wish to place on record that I think it is wrong. This is not the right forum in which to propose such legislation.

12.19 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on the way in which she moved the Bill, and on the detailed way in which she has addressed the issue. We have had discussions during the preparation of the Bill, and I and my officials have been most impressed by the way in which she grasped the issues, made proposals and understood the points. Hon. Members will not be aware that my hon. Friend has been unwell this week, and it is a great tribute to her commitment that she was able to speak as she did.

The Government have made a pledge to end fur farming as soon as practicable, and we have been seeking the most appropriate way to do so. We shall support the Bill, and we wish it every success in its passage.

The majority of the points that hon. Members have made are fair and reasonable, and they deserve an answer. I shall try to answer them.

I was disappointed in the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton), who made some good points but could not resist a partisan attack on the Government. We, as a Government, are proud of our commitment to animal welfare and proud of what we have achieved in 18 months. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to name a Government who, in 18 months, have done as much to improve animal welfare.

Some people want us to do more and to work faster. We must work within the restraints of Government. We cannot deliver everything that we want in the first year; we must act within the parliamentary process, and that takes time. We would have delivered more were it not for the activities of some Conservative Members, who have delayed and frustrated a range of animal welfare measures introduced by hon. Members. If the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham wants to make political points, that is my response.

The history of fur farming is not a happy one. Over the years, a variety of animals bred for their fur have escaped. Mink is the well known one and has become established; coypu is another. Other exotic species have escaped from fur farms and become established in the wild, with undesirable results for our country's biodiversity and ecology. It is not just fur animals; the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) mentioned wild boar. We have wild boar living in the wild, and they are causing problems in Kent. The Government are addressing that issue.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) vividly described the devastation that arises when mink escape or are released from whatever source, and the resulting costs—which fall on the Government, because in all the recent escapes the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made staff available to try to round up mink, to trap them and to try to minimise the damage to the environment. That cost falls on the taxpayer.

Mr. Alan Clark

I do not want the Minister to slide on past and ignore the accusation that he made at the start of his speech—that some of my hon. Friends had frustrated measures that he has brought to this place and has now, presumably, abandoned. It is notorious in the animal welfare world that many of the manifesto pledges that the Labour party made have so far been ignored, and yet, on the basis of those pledges, they derived much support—traditional support—at the general election. Which measures were frustrated, and why did the Minister not use the very substantial majority—

Mr. Loughton

Government measures.

Mr. Clark

Which Government measures were frustrated, and why did not the Minister use the substantial majority that he commands in the House to push them through?

Mr. Morley

One measure that springs to mind is the Bill to regulate puppy farming introduced by one of my hon. Friends, which was frustrated by Opposition Members. The other, of course, was the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, which was also frustrated by Opposition Members. It is no use hon. Members saying that they were not Government Bills. There is the process of finding Government time, and we must live within the restraints of time that is made available.

Mr. Loughton


Mr. Morley

I do not want to be diverted. People will judge for themselves in due course.

Mr. Loughton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister specifically mentioned Government animal welfare measures that had been frustrated by my Conservative colleagues. He has so far failed to list a single Government measure.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order but a point of argument, and I hope that it is a point of argument that will be confined, because we are dealing with this particular Bill.

Mr. Morley

I understand that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The measures which were frustrated to which I referred were ones that we supported as a Government. Perhaps I should make that clear if Conservative Members want to be absolutely accurate. The Government will be judged in due course on what we have done and achieved in relation to animal welfare, as will those hon. Members who have opposed what the Government had been trying to do. Other Members on both sides of the House will also be judged accordingly.

Public consultation on mink farming was started in August 1997. The response was overwhelming opposition to fur farming and an overwhelming desire to see it ended. As part of the consultation, it became clear that the way to end fur farming would have to be through primary legislation. It cannot be done through secondary legislation, contrary to what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham suggested. It is our advice that that is not the position.

We announced as a Government on 30 July 1998 that primary legislation would be required and that that process would be adopted. All fur farms have been informed of that in writing, and particularly when the Mink Keeping Order was renewed.

There are heavy demands on the Government programme. Many Bills are due to go through Parliament. It takes a while before Government time is made available for any Bill. In that respect, we are very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston for introducing the Bill. It means that we can make some progress, and there are many people who want to see that progress made.

The Bill's provisions have been well outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston. One of the key issues is that of compensation, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members. We take the issue seriously and we understand the arguments. We accept that there is a case for compensation. We have listened to the points that have been made by hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), on how that compensation should be paid. When I had a meeting with hon. Members who represent mink farmers in their constituencies, I made it clear that I would reflect on what they had said about such things as buildings and the effect on those who work for mink farms if mink farming comes to an end. I repeat that I will reflect on the points that have been made. They certainly could be addressed in Committee.

Mr. Hogg

There are two points about compensation on which I think the House would like the Minister's views. First, why is he excluding compensation for loss of revenue, profit or income? Secondly, are we not as a House facing the problem that the Bill provides only the opportunity for compensation? It does not provide for the certainty of compensation. Consequently, the House is not being asked to approve or disapprove a particular compensation regime. In reality, we never will be, so we are giving the Minister a discretionary power that can be exercised without any subsequent parliamentary procedure because the negative procedure is very uncertain.

Mr. Morley

It is fair to say that the details of compensation would be put before the House after the Bill went through its passage successfully. It is true that the present proposal is to use the negative statutory instrument procedure. However, I am prepared to reflect again on the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham on scrutiny of the details of the compensation arrangements. I do not want to be unreasonable and I shall give some thought to the matter.

I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—in my notes I have included his point on income—that no Government Bill for any sort of compensation could provide any open-ended commitment on income that could or could not be forgone in future. That is just not possible and it is not done. It is not the way in which any sort of Government compensation scheme would operate.

Mr. Hogg

Of course. No hon. Member could ask the Minister to give a blank cheque. However, the Minister will know that, for example, in personal injury cases the courts have a mechanism for formulating or calculating damages to be awarded for loss of income. There are procedures that can readily be adapted to the situation that we are discussing if the principle of future revenue loss is to be accepted as right.

Mr. Morley

To a certain extent, we have accepted the principle of income loss. Generally, mink breeding is on a three-year cycle and given the phase-out date that is proposed in the Bill, it may be that one year's cycle in relation to the sale of pelts will be denied to the mink farmers. We are prepared to deal with that. I hope that that goes some way towards meeting the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. The details will be addressed after the Bill has been passed.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

The Minister has obviously worked closely with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on the preparation of the Bill. I note that there is no statement in the Bill to the effect that it is compatible with recent European human rights legislation. Has he calculated the potential cost to the British taxpayer if one of the fur farmers took his case right to the top in the European courts?

Mr. Morley

The explanatory notes state that the Bill is compatible with legislation under the European convention on human rights. That point has been taken into account in the drafting of the Bill and in the Government's attitude to it. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are confident that the Bill addresses the matter.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham knows that as a strict legal principle, the Government are not obliged to give compensation for the effects of any measure that they introduce. This is a private Member's Bill. In the past, private Member's Bills have contained enabling powers to make compensation. They do not usually specify figures.

To be fair, we have accepted the principle of compensation in this case. That was not the case when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He closed down the head-deboning industry without offering any compensation whatever. Legally, he was well within his rights, which I accept. The Bill addresses the issue in a way that it is not strictly obliged to do.

Mrs. Gorman

On compensation, is it not a fact that the Government argue that they could not take back into national ownership industries such as British Rail because of the cost of compensation, which would be too expensive? The Government therefore accept the principle.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Lady is confusing the acquisition of assets with the Bill's impact on people's livings. Those are two different issues.

It is proposed in the Bill that the ban will take effect from 1 January 2002. That is to allow a reasonable winding-down period so that the companies concerned can make arrangements. When the Mink Keeping Order was last renewed, it was renewed for three rather than five years, in recognition of the fact that the Government intended to take steps to phase out fur farming. If some farmers choose to go to the end of the phase-out date, the order may have to be extended to that date. That action will be taken to ensure that mink farms are still regulated.

Perhaps I should explain to the House the purpose of the Mink Keeping Order. Some groups are badly informed and think that if the order was not renewed, fur farming in the United Kingdom would end. That is not so. If we had not renewed the order, mink keeping in this country would simply have been deregulated.

The order deals with the security of the mink farms. It does not cover welfare issues. If the order had not been renewed, we would not have the power to stop new mink farms being set up in areas where they may have had enormous environmental consequences, such as offshore islands, which are covered by the order.

I wanted to clarify the position. Some people think that by renewing the Mink Keeping Order, we were going back on our pledges. That misunderstanding was shared by some of those who wrote to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. We will keep the order in place as long as mink farms exist in the UK.

The Government wholeheartedly condemn attacks on mink farms, people who release mink into the wild and people who abuse and intimidate those who are going about a legal trade. We may have our concerns and our disagreements about it, but the trade is legal. There is no justification for such irresponsible behaviour as releasing mink into the wild, whoever is behind it. The consequences for the mink and for wildlife are enormous. Such actions abuse the welfare of those animals and are based on anarchy and ignorance. We certainly have no truck whatever with that.

Time and attitudes in respect of all kinds of farming—not only mink farming—have moved on. Although I absolutely accept the point made by some hon. Members that public opinion should not in itself dictate policy or policy making, by the same standard none of us, as elected Members and representatives of the people, can ignore public opinion and the different trends within society.

Mr. Leigh

The Minister will remember the great campaign, fuelled by public opinion, to ban stalling and tethering. He has earned some credit with the farming community because he has told it that he has learned the lesson, in respect of battery hens, about acting unilaterally. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) has mentioned the impact on that industry.

There are only 13 mink farms in this country and 8,000 in Europe. If we ban those farms, and if we attack the industry in the same way that we have attacked the pig industry, will not they simply move to Europe? What is the Minister's response to that?

Mr. Morley

I shall come to those points in a moment; I intend to address them.

The wearing of fur was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and others. The Bill is not about banning the wearing of fur. That is a moral choice for people to make. People increasingly decide not to wear fur, which is one reason why the fur industry is declining in this country.

It is perfectly reasonable to argue about justification in respect of phasing out fur farming, and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) raised that matter from the Opposition Benches. I have met and consulted the Fur Breeders Association on a number of occasions, in opposition and as a Minister, and I have visited fur farms in Denmark privately, when on holiday. I did not go in and was not shown around, but I had a look at the farms, which are at the top end of the scale in terms of modernity and being well run. However, I noticed that, even on those farms, many of the animals displayed stereotypical behaviour, which suggested that they were under stress—an issue that has been mentioned by many academic reports on fur farming.

As I said in opposition, the Fur Breeders Association offered to fly me out, at its expense, to look at those farms. I would rather not do that. There are difficulties with taking support from different lobbying organisations; I have never done that, and I will not. I would much rather act privately. I have stood watching hunts in the crowd, with the hunt supporters and with the hare coursing supporters, so that I can see what goes on and can gain knowledge of the arguments. Those matters are not for this debate, but, in many cases, my concerns about and disgust with some of these activities have been reinforced.

I have also looked at different farming systems—officially as a Minister and unofficially as an individual—even to the extent of making sure that the French sheep had ear tags, in compliance with European Union regulations, while I was on holiday in France, although my family think that that is taking it a bit far. I am not convinced that fur farms in this country benefit the animals, but the argument concerns whether fur farming is acceptable or whether it could be made acceptable by changing the law and the regulations. I shall address those points.

The question whether any kind of animal rearing system is acceptable to the Government relates to the advice that we receive from our independent advisers. Our principal independent adviser is the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which laid down five absolutely basic criteria with which any kind of animal rearing system must comply—the five freedoms, as they are called. For the information of the House, the five freedoms are freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.

Fur farming could comply with some of those basic freedoms. Animals could certainly be kept free from hunger and thirst, and there are regulations in respect of that. Other issues, such as discomfort, pain and injury, and fear and distress, are debatable from both sides of the argument. However, one of the crucial basic freedoms that is not debatable is freedom to express normal behaviour. That key issue should be addressed, and there have been some detailed studies.

Some hon. Members asked about the attitude of other countries. It is true that, although we may take steps to ban fur farming in the United Kingdom, it would not be banned in other countries. Austria has taken measures to ban fur farming there, and I do not doubt that other countries will follow suit. That problem should not deflect us from dealing with this moral and welfare issue.

There is also a practical matter to be considered. This country is an island, and the problems of animals escaping into the wild could have been avoided if such farms had not been established. As long as fur farming goes on, there will be the risk of animals escaping. As an island, it is to this country's advantage to ban such practice. I accept that that should have been done a long time ago, because some of these species are now well-established in the wild. Unlike coypu, which was eradicated, although it was difficult and expensive, it would probably be all but impossible to eradicate mink.

The Council of Europe has discussed the issue of improving cage standards on mink farms. Everyone agrees that current standards, which are applied in this country, are not acceptable. We took part in those discussions, and we made it clear that we believed that fur farming is unacceptable. I can tell the hon. Member for Hexham that Austria took part in those discussions even though it has taken steps to ban fur farming. Banning fur farming in this country would not preclude us from giving our opinion on standards, because we are entitled to do so as part of the democratic process. Even with the Dutch standards, which are an improvement on those applied in this country, despite the use of the new cages there is still a problem of animals expressing stereotypical behaviour.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

I thank the hon. Gentleman for meeting my colleagues and I the other day. I was churlish to forget to thank him for the hour that he gave us, and for promising to consider compensation in more detail.

Austria banned fur farming, but with the money that they were given some farmers set up shop 30 miles away in Czechoslovakia, which has far lower standards of supervision than those in Austria, so where is the benefit?

Mr. Morley

We are applying new standards in the Council of Europe, which goes beyond the countries of the European Union and covers eastern Europe. What happens in other countries should not deter us from taking decisions about what we and the people whom we represent want.

My hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Angela Smith) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to the impact on mink. They are right and I agree with their analysis. Many detailed studies have been carried out in support of both sides of the argument. The question is whether fur farming can be made acceptable for the future.

Mink are solitary animals, and in the wild they have wide ranges and have access to water. Many scientists believe that they should have access to water, although some hon. Members argued the contrary. It is difficult to provide that access in a system of commercial rearing. No system so far proposed can meet those standards. If we went for higher standards, it would undoubtedly squeeze most, if not all, fur farmers out of business. It is strange that some Conservative Members were arguing that we should follow that path, and that, instead of taking a clear decision with a phase-out period and a compensation package, we should raise standards and bankrupt the people involved without paying any compensation. That does not seem a fair way in which to deal with this problem compared with the proposals in the Bill.

As has been said, the chairman of the Fur Breeders Association and the fur farmers with whom I discussed the Bill want to be clear about the future. If fur farming is to end, they want a phase-out date and compensation arrangements. They want to know what is happening so that they can plan for the future. The Bill meets all their concerns, so it came as no surprise to me that although the Fur Breeders Association would prefer not to have such a Bill, it is prepared to accept it.

Many scientific studies argued against fur farming and cast doubts over the conditions in which the animals are kept. Other vets and scientists put alternative views and suggested that the cages could be redesigned and made acceptable. Some of those arguments were also disputed by the scientific and veterinary profession.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham was inconsistent in his argument as he said that battery cages were unacceptable and created animal welfare problems. Hens have been bred from jungle fowl for a very long time—no creatures are more domesticated—yet they still exhibit natural behaviour such as scratching and dust bathing. However, the five freedoms do not apply to battery cages. The Government have adopted a consistent approach. That is why we are arguing in Europe for the phasing out of battery cages in the long term.

Mr. Hogg

The Minister is quite right. However, in the short term he and many of his hon. Friends are eating eggs produced by the battery system. Therefore, I find his disparaging approach difficult to understand.

Mr. Morley

Consumers can choose whether they buy free-range or battery-produced eggs. There is no such choice in respect of fur—people cannot buy free-range mink fur. We are taking a consistent approach to the criteria. Although there are issues to be addressed in respect of welfare standards and alternative conditions, other European countries support our proposal and the European Parliament has voted for a 10-year phasing-out of battery cages.

Some scientists argued against the abolition of veal crates, sow stalls and tethers. There will always be arguments about the pros and cons of phasing out certain practices, however the right decision was taken. The European scientific and veterinary committee reached similar conclusions in respect of veal crates, sow stalls and tethers and in due course those practices will be phased out in Europe.

Mr. Paterson

Following my earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and I have gone through the Bill and the explanatory notes very carefully, but we can find no reference to any European human rights legislation, so the Bill may be committing the British taxpayer to substantial legal expenses in Europe. Is it not a futile gesture? The total sum of mink happiness will not be increased as the same number of mink will be farmed. The industry will simply move abroad to Czechoslovakia or the Slovak Republic where conditions will be worse than they are here.

Mr. Morley

I assure the hon. Gentleman that his point about the European Court of Human Rights is certainly being addressed. If it is not mentioned in the explanatory notes to the Bill, I am happy to write to him to confirm that the issue is being addressed. We are not committing the Government to such challenges. Any Bill that the Government support and that ultimately may become Government legislation has to bear that in mind. I have dealt with the point on other countries. What other countries do should not dictate what we do in this country.

The Government have been consistent in applying the same standards to any animal-rearing system. In Committee, we will examine the issues that have been raised in the debate to find out whether they are being dealt with, but the important thing is that there is a clear case against fur farming on welfare and moral grounds. It is a dying industry. The trends are against it. The Bill is a fair package that reflects overwhelming public concerns and the legitimate concerns of fur farmers.

It would not be in the interests of fur farmers to oppose the Bill, which would lead to further uncertainty and fly in the face of the overwhelming concern of the people whom we represent. The Government support the Bill. We are prepared in Committee to address the reasonable and fair points that hon. Members have raised, but, as we approach the next millennium, such rearing systems are no longer acceptable in a modern and compassionate society.

12.51 pm
Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

The House of Commons has a long, remarkable and honourable tradition of debating animal welfare issues, usually at the behest of Back Benchers. Indeed, many years ago, I made my maiden speech in this place in support a private Member's Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), which would have outlawed hare coursing.

I am glad to be a sponsor of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill and to congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on its concise and lucid quality, which is in marked contrast—I see him sitting beside her—to the Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). That was so ludicrously ill-drafted, penal and repressive that I spoke against it, although I had looked forward to it with high expectation.

If Back Benchers draft their measures properly and get the sympathy and support of the House, much good can come of them. I say in parenthesis that I am somewhat apprehensive, although I support the principle, of the Right to Roam Bill because it is in the name of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who, whenever I hear him, is usually recommending to the House that one or other Tory Member should go to prison, and whose general attitude to social issues is down-market Leninist, as far as I can make out. He is the worst possible person to promote a Bill that has, in principle, much to be said for it and that should enjoy the support of the whole House. However, it remains to be seen what happens to that Bill.

I will not repeat many of the arguments that we have heard already; I do not want to take the House's time on that. I say simply that I, many hon. Members and many of the people who have written to us on the topic hold the view that man has a duty of care to all living creatures, consistent only with his own survival on the planet.

For example, where it is necessary for man to survive by eating animals, we have a duty to control and to regulate as far as we can, and to make as humane as possible the process by which they are put to death. Where man is advised, or believes, that medical science will be advanced by experimentation—a precept about which I am exceedingly doubtful—it is equally necessary for proper regulation to surround the process. But, here we have a case where animals are being bred simply for adornment. It is purely a commercial and profit-oriented activity.

Mr. Forth

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Clark

I recognise the voice of my right hon. Friend, who is not in his usual place—I do not know why; he usually sits next to me. I will tell him what is wrong with that. It is gratuitous cruelty, inflicted on other living creatures for a purpose that is totally unconnected with man's survival on the planet. It is thus in breach of a feeling that I hold in conscience—I know that I am not alone in that. We should do our best to eliminate such cruelty.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I have not been able to follow the argument being made by my right hon. Friend on the equivalence—or lack of it—of breeding for meat and farming for fur. He is a vegetarian and takes all sorts of funny supplements to make up for the absence of meat in his diet, and he has survived perfectly well to whatever age he is. If he does not have to eat meat, meat must not be required for man to survive. His argument could therefore be used to advocate banning not only fur farming but meat farming.

Mr. Clark

It could not. My hon. Friend—whose forensic skills are usually at a high level—makes a ridiculous and inconsistent argument. He knows perfectly well what I am saying. However, he did mystify me by saying that my diet includes all sorts of strange supplements. I am not aware of them. I should like to put it on record that—unless people are lacing my food and drink—I am not "on" anything at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Viagra?"] I thought that there might be some reference to that, and have literally lost count of the number of times that I have been asked that question. The answer is no, because I am far too cowardly; not for any other reason.

I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) meant in his assertion, but am very happy to deny it. I have not taken even an aspirin for at least seven years.

Mr. Paterson

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clark

Is it on diet?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Perhaps we can now return to the subject of fur farming.

Mr. Clark

I hope that we can, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) seems keen to question me on my argument. I am delighted to give way to him.

Mr. Paterson

My right hon. Friend is taking the line that fur is a luxury, perhaps recalling the old jingle: Would you prefer to sin with Eleanor Glyn on a tiger skin or would you prefer to err with her on some other fur? However, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, in the northern countries, fur is a vital product. If there were a cheaper and more suitable product for keeping out temperatures of minus 20 or 30 deg, surely people in Scandinavia, northern Russia and northern China-Mongolia would have found it. Fur is the only serious option.

Mr. Clark

That may very well be the case in those countries. Nevertheless, fur is farmed in the United Kingdom not to keep out the cold, but for the adornment of various fashionable people.

The belief that fur farming should be stopped is very widely held, and I have heard very little to destabilise that belief. The arguments against it can be grouped broadly under two headings. The first is that the activity will move to another country if we ban it here. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) gave the examples of Austria and Czechoslovakia. He asked what would be the benefit of banning it here if farming moves some miles away. The benefit will be to our own consciences. We legislate for this country, not for other countries. If we believe that a practice is inhumane and repellent, it is our duty to see that it does not occur within our own frontiers. If the practice is moved and practised elsewhere, it is not our business.

The second group of arguments can be grouped under the broad heading of self-regulation. My hon. Friend said, "Farmers are very keen to sort out the matter and to do the right thing. Let's leave it to them and it will all, ultimately, be smoothed out. Be patient."

Self-regulation never works: one cannot self-regulate greed. As we know, the system of self-regulation established by the Press Council is a paper tiger and a laughing stock. Self-regulation in the City of London never operates effectively, and scandal proliferates. I have absolutely no confidence in self-regulation by a body whose profits depend on finding ways round those regulations, whether anyone pays lip service to them or not.

All those objections may have some substance, but they are not central to the Bill; they are matters of detail that should be discussed in Committee. I was very glad to hear the Minister say that the Government want the Bill to go to Committee. I strongly urge that it should receive its Second Reading.

1 pm

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

One or two of the points that have been made today seem to me to be specious. No one has said that we should not have humane conditions for mink or any other animal in captivity, although captivity, even for cows and sheep, is essentially unnatural. All herbivores roam over large distances, but we keep them confined to a certain extent, and all carnivores go hunting, so they probably travel even further, but we still do not say that we are treating them unnaturally when we keep them confined. If we did, we would close down all zoos and circuses. Some hon. Members may favour that, but that is not what we are debating.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) adduced the argument of popular support. Her case would have been stronger if she had voted against the lowering of the age of consent in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, because the great majority would have favoured the status quo, so that is hardly an argument that she should pray in aid for the Bill.

Maria Eagle

As I said in response to an intervention by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I was merely praying that argument in aid and not making it central to my case. Given that public opinion is so strong, it was worth mentioning it.

Mrs. Gorman

Many hon. Members, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), said that fur is a luxury. That is classism, if anything is. Primitive man used furs and many people rely on sheepskins to keep them warm. The fur people wear need not be mink, but to condemn the wearing of fur for classist reasons is nonsense.

One does not have to get fur from animals bred in this country, as it is available worldwide, and if it does not come from bred animals it may well come from animals trapped in the wild, a practice that is a danger to the survival of many species. Many conservationists advocate the keeping of animals in some form of captivity in order to preserve them. Wild animals such as tigers and lions can cause havoc in rural communities and are being hunted to extinction because people see them as a threat. It has been pointed out that mink, in the wild, are a threat.

Angela Smith

Will the hon. Lady name the conservationists who advocate keeping wild animals in small wire cages in which they cannot follow their natural behaviour?

Mrs. Gorman

That is a perfectly valid point, but it has often been said that, if animals are kept in captivity, there is a strong case for humane treatment, and we would all support that.

The point about compensation has been dealt with rather poorly. I know that it is in the Bill. When I spoke about the Labour party's record of arguing against renationalising certain industries because of the cost of compensation, the Minister pooh-poohed my argument, saying that it was simply a matter of paying for the cost of the assets of the business, and the Government were prepared to do that; but a business is the sum not only of its assets but of the goodwill, know-how, jobs and livelihoods involved.

If the Government close the businesses down, people should be compensated properly. The assets often lack face value because they are old and have been in use for some time—that is the principle when there is a takeover bid in the City—but the value to the individual fur farmer would be much greater. Most of the farms are small businesses and, when their assets are destroyed, the families involved can no longer support themselves.

Internationally, the arguments for compensation are extremely strong. Almost weekly, we read of demands for proper compensation for assets seized as long ago as the second world war. Most hon. Members would support proper compensation at today's values being paid to those whose assets were taken from them. The case for international action against the confiscation of assets is also well established: for example, Castro, who confiscated many American assets, still suffers sanctions. Those principles are well established, and I urge the Government, if they support the Bill and the payment of compensation, not to address only the odds and ends that go to make up the farms themselves.

The Minister advances the concept of basic freedoms, but it is absurd to suggest that those freedoms are natural rights—a natural part of an animal's existence—for, in the wild, animals do not enjoy those basic freedoms. Unlike the Minister, I cannot reel them all off, but let me cite the freedom from disease, pain and distress. Most animals in the wild die as a result of disease; many, having been attacked by other animals, die in pain; and I am sure that both those causes of death cause them some distress. To lay down acceptable standards and call them basic freedoms is nonsense.

The case for the Bill should be argued, and has been well argued today, on the basis of humane conditions and, if the Government are to proceed, of proper and thorough compensation. On those grounds, most people would support the Bill. However, the underlying arguments, which are based on envy of people who can, who want to, or who dare to, wear fur, are discreditable. As for popular support, if that is to be used to support the Bill, let me remind hon. Members that there are many examples of the House voting contrary to popular feeling, and I pray in aid last week's vote on the age of consent.

1.7 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I wonder where the Bill really comes from. When a Bill is a private Member's Bill, a clear understanding of its provenance is important because it enables the House to make its own judgment on how to react. The Minister was characteristically open in acknowledging that the measure is one that the Government had said they wanted to introduce, and he claimed popular support for it. He then said—I think these are his exact words—that the Government are most grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who is the promoter of the Bill. I bet they are.

Anyone with a suspicious mind—I have occasionally been accused of being such a person—might think that the Bill is a Government Bill that is being slipped through the private Members' Bill procedure on the QT. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that—it is entirely a matter for right hon. and hon. Members to decide for themselves. However, if the private Members' Bill procedure is being used as a sort of conduit for Government Bills for which the Government cannot or will not find the time, we should be informed of that, so that we can judge the Bill in that light.

Maria Eagle

May I satisfy the right hon. Gentleman on that point? The Bill is not a Government Bill that is being slipped quietly through under the private Members' Bill procedure. It is a Bill which I decided to promote and which I subsequently discussed with the Government. I can reassure him on that point.

Mr. Forth

I would not impute anything but the highest motives to the hon. Lady—that is not the point that I am trying to make. My point is that the Minister said that the Bill is one which the Government wanted which has now popped up, thanks to the hon. Lady and her desire to take such a Bill through the private Members' Bill procedure. That is all I am saying. However, on Fridays, when we discuss private Members' Bills, the House might want to know whether it is helping the Government by giving or not giving fair passage to a particular Bill. That is a relevant consideration for the House to take into account when considering private Members' Bills. That is the background point.

My approach is similar to that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). I support the thrust of the argument that he made with typical elegance. The word that caught my eye immediately when I looked at the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill was "prohibition". The word reveals the attitude of mind that lies behind measures such as the Bill. It is assumed that it is legitimate and valid for a majority in the free society on which we pride ourselves to say to others, "If I disapprove of something, I believe that it is legitimate for me to legislate to make sure that you do not do it."

There is a profound matter of principle here on which I must take issue with the hon. Member for Garston, who said as she introduced the Bill, that it was a small matter. It is not.

Mr. Swayne

Will my right hon. Friend reflect that this is not a matter of principle, but one of degree and judgment? I am sure that he would agree that it would be quite improper for him to eat his grandmother simply because he had bought the carcase on a free and open market.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend may wish me to make some comparison between my grandmother and a mink, and I may do so if he waits for a while. I thought that someone—although I did not expect it of my hon. Friend—would attempt to draw parallels between laws designed to protect one human being from the behaviour of another and laws relating to the activities of humans regarding animals. There is an important distinction, and I cannot share the view—although I respect the honesty and integrity of those who hold it—that places animals in the same category as humans. I hold a view about the hierarchical nature of nature itself that precludes my accepting that analysis.

For the moment, however, I am more concerned about prohibition. We must face up to what we, as legislators, feel about the important principle of whether we are entitled to legislate to prevent other people from behaving in ways of which we disapprove. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Garston and the Minister that we are not talking—not yet—about people's right to wear fur. We are discussing whether people have a right to conduct a business in the production of fur.

I am worried by the Bill's implications. The hon. Member for Garston talked about thin ends of wedges, denying that the little measure that she is promoting for limited reasons should in any way be seen as the start of a process that might lead to further prohibitions. I accept totally that she does not see it that way, but others may. They may say that a start has been made and a bridgehead established. They may say that they have established that the law can be used to prohibit the production of fur in ways of which they disapprove, and that that could provide a basis on which to take further steps.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I am trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he suggesting that because it would infringe individual liberty, it would be wrong to enact any legislation that stopped someone mistreating a dog or any other animal? Is he saying that it is an infringement of individual liberty if the law prevents a human being from acting cruelly towards an animal? If so, I totally disagree with him. The Bill is simply saying that it is wrong to be cruel to animals.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I shall take it head on. I regard myself as a libertarian, and I have always striven to be one. It is a difficult posture to take in modern-day politics, but I strive towards it. I accept none the less that in a civilised society, albeit one that likes to think that it is free, there is of course a legitimate role for the law in seeking to limit behaviour that is harmful to other people and other species. I shall return later to the animal welfare point, which has arisen many times during the debate, because there is a danger of confusing the need to make sure that the welfare of animals is protected and promoted as far as possible, which is a well-established principle, and the need to ban an activity because welfare measures are insufficient or are not sufficiently policed or enforced. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) for raising that issue.

Opinions polls, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), have limitations, and we must deal with those. The hon. Member for Garston has been honest about such polls and said that she is not using them as a principal argument, but she said that she was confident that the majority view in this country is that fur farming should be banned, and prayed in aid that view. That is a dangerous argument.

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay mentioned homosexuality. The House recently acted in defiance of what appeared to be the majority opinion because some hon. Members, principally Labour Members, believed it was right to do so, and said so again and again. The example that I always give in this case is capital punishment. If established majority opinion were the main determinant of what we did in the House, we would have restored capital punishment a long time ago, but I am sure that Labour Members would not find that argument attractive.

Mr. Swayne

Will my right hon. Friend agree that it is important, when examining opinion poll evidence, to ask to what extent the person being polled was informed about the subject on which he was polled and how many times in the previous days it had exercised his mind? It is therefore much more important to take account of the opinions of Brigadier Tynan and the people of Crow Hill, which were quoted by the hon. Member for Garston, who have informed themselves about the issue.

Mr. Forth

I am sure that the brigadier's views will greatly influence the House and I hope that my hon. Friend will shortly have an opportunity to expand on his own views and those of the brigadier.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the distinction, of which I am sure all hon. Members are well aware, between the pre-printed postcard and the carefully handwritten letter, which is one of the aspects of modern politics and MPs' postbags. What relative weight do we place on a letter that is carefully composed and handwritten by someone who is worried about an issue and wants us to think about it, and a mass-produced, pre-printed postcard, on which people simply write their name and address before sending it to their MP? Some hon. Members may give them equal weight, but I have always thought that if someone takes the trouble to express a view, we should pay close attention. I confess that the pre-printed postcard does not carry nearly as much weight with me. That is rather analogous to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). That is an aspect of opinion polls of which we should be aware.

We all know that it is easy to fashion a question to which the first 100 or 1,000 people whom one meets in the street will almost certainly give a positive response. I suspect that if one asked people, "Do you believe that the cruel techniques of fur farming should be banned in this country?", most people would say yes. I am not sure how one would fashion the question if one wanted them to answer no.

I now move on to the next part of my argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) touched on this point in a typically impassioned intervention. We all know and respect my right hon. Friend's sincere and long-held views on this matter. One can adopt one of two positions, at either end of the spectrum. One can either say that human beings and all other animals, or species, are broadly equivalent and that we must not use or abuse animals in any way for food, shelter, clothing or anything else. Alternatively, one can say that all other species are subordinate to human beings and therefore available for our reasonable use. My right hon. Friend probably tends to the first view, whereas I tend to the second.

Mr. Alan Clark

Surely there is a third position. Other species, as my right hon. Friend calls them, have less fully developed central nervous systems and, most significant in this context, do not have the power of speech. They may be inferior to the extent that they are subordinate—I use his word—but it is precisely that which imposes a duty of care on the human race, consistent only with their own survival. One does not have to regard other animals as having parity with human beings, but nor should we fall into the trap of regarding them as inferior and to be exploited because they cannot communicate with each other as we do. Surely, they are part of the miracle of creation of which man, as the highest form of life, has a duty of custody.

Mr. Forth

I accept that argument. Having identified the two extreme positions, so to speak, I was about to go on to say that most people occupy a position somewhere in between. Very few people—not even, I think, my right hon. Friend—would eschew all products from other species. I am glancing at his feet—unless he is, unusually, wearing plastic shoes today, that would make the point adequately. However, that is not the issue. The issue is what sort of reasonable use or exploitation with care do we find acceptable?

Today's debate is about whether one makes a distinction between the reasonable use of chickens, pigs and so on and the use of animals raised for fur. Whether they regard that as an important distinction is, I suspect, what will motivate most hon. Members to support or disagree with the Bill. Personally, I do not discern a distinction between the proper raising or breeding of animals for eating and for wearing that is sufficient to drive me to support the Bill. Support for the Bill rests on whether one feels able to make that distinction.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

In a similar vein, has my right hon. Friend reflected that if the proponents of the Bill argue that it is unethical to keep animals in small cages simply to provide titillation for those people who wear fur, surely the same is true for those who, for purely aesthetic reasons, keep budgerigars, rabbits and various other creatures, not for eating or to keep the human race alive but solely for their own enjoyment?

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend is correct. Like me, he has probably received many postcards about circus animals. I have taken this matter up with Ministers and received several ministerial replies, which I have of course passed on to my constituents. This is similar territory. One has to ask how comfortable we feel about the use of animals for domestic or public entertainment, and the conditions in which they should be kept. We all have different views. Some hon. Members may easily make the leap to saying that we should ban animals in circuses because such use and abuse of animals is unacceptable. Others may have views on domestic pets—be they goldfish, birds in cages, rabbits in hutches, or whatever. These are all legitimate areas of concern, which serve to illustrate that the absolute argument used by some today about mink is not as absolute as it might seem.

Mr. Dismore

There may be concerns about all sorts of aspects of animal welfare, and I personally am concerned about circus animals. However, the fact that there is a series of other issues does not mean that we should not tackle this very important issue, on which many people have sent me handwritten letters. I should say also that I have not had a single letter opposing the Bill.

Mr. Forth

One rarely does—that is not as conclusive an argument as the hon. Gentleman suggests. After years and years of receiving such letters, he will find that most people who are content with the status quo tend not to write to their Member of Parliament saying, "Please maintain the status quo." It is almost invariably those who want change who take the trouble to write. I do not know how many letters the hon. Gentleman has received. I imagine that, like me, he has about 72,000 voters. I do not know what proportion of them have taken the trouble to write to him on the matter. I invite him to divide the number of voters by the number of letters he has received to find the level of concern among his constituents.

There has not been too much discussion about the Bill. I have always thought that Second Reading was the appropriate opportunity for hon. Members to give some thought to a Bill, if only to guide themselves and others as to how the Bill could be looked at in Committee and beyond. Unusually—especially for a Bill with Government input—clause 1(4) refers to a person guilty of an offence being liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000. In my experience, it is most unusual for a specific figure to appear in the Bill in this context. The reason is straightforward. I can remember years ago when I used to argue for such penalties to be included in Bills. I was persuaded—I still am—that that was not wise, because if one ever wanted to vary the penalty—if, for example, it was decided that the penalty was insufficient—one would require primary legislation to amend the Act to alter the figure.

That is why nearly all Acts involving a penalty refer to a scale. As scales can be dealt with by regulation and statutory instrument, flexibility is provided. I am trying to be helpful to the supporters of the Bill by saying that putting a figure of £20,000 in the Bill is unwise. Suppose we had a period of rampant inflation.

Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)

Not under Labour.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman—the Whip on duty—would say that, wouldn't he? Knowing him, he will probably produce a press release on the back of that comment.

I was asking whether it was wise to have a fixed, explicit penalty figure in the Bill. I was puzzled by its inclusion. On reflection, I realise that the Government may not have played as large a part in the Bill's drafting as I had supposed, because they surely would not have allowed that provision to appear in the Bill if they had drafted it. My initial suspicions may have been unfounded.

The subject of forfeiture orders bothered me because, unless the process of forfeiture is defined much more closely than it is in the Bill, there is a distinct possibility that the welfare of animals may be prejudiced, rather than improved. I say that because, as I read the Bill—I may be wrong—the assumption appears to be that, if it is found that the animals concerned are being abused or are suffering, their forfeiture will end that. The Bill reveals that a forfeited animal may be killed. That strikes me as an odd way to go about things; it is as though one were saying to the animal, "To spare you the problems of being raised in inhumane conditions, we shall take you away and quietly kill you."

Clause 3 concerns the effect of forfeiture orders. Unusually, it says: Any person claiming to have an interest in the animals concerned may appeal against a forfeiture order", and it says how he may do so. I should have thought that that was a matter of rights under common law, but the Bill insists on saying that, and in so doing it raises the usual problems about access to justice and the likelihood that a person who had been involved in such farming and who wanted to appeal against a forfeiture order could take his case to court and pursue it effectively against the powers that be—the bureaucracy. It is a time-honoured but real problem. It is pointless to talk about forfeiture in a Bill when there is no means of ensuring access to justice.

The question that I want to ask—I am really asking these questions so that the Bill's promoter may deal with them when she winds up the debate—is whether such people are likely to have access to legal aid when pursuing the matter of forfeiture through the courts. There is no point in our saying in the Bill that people may appeal such an order in court if, realistically, such people will be unable to do so.

Clause 3(4)(c) says: Where the court makes a forfeiture order, it may order the offender to pay such sum as the court may determine". It then says that the court may order that the offender keep the animals pending their destruction or other disposal. That strikes me as extremely odd. For a start, the offender may be unable to pay the sum involved, in which case I shudder to think what will happen to him under the law—whether he will be in contempt and so on. Secondly, it hardly fits the Bill's aim for it to say that the person against whom a forfeiture order has been made should be ordered to keep the animals pending their destruction or other disposal. We have been told all morning long that the Bill's purpose is to prevent animals from suffering. Here, in the Bill itself, is a measure that could be said to contribute to animals' suffering, unless I have misread it badly.

The hon. Member for Garston dismissed those points as Committee points, and implied that it was inappropriate on Second Reading to consider any of the detail—that we should give the Bill a grand sweep of approval and leave it to the Committee to sort out the details. I have never accepted that approach to our responsibilities in the House. I believe that Second Reading is an opportunity for Members to study the Bill—not just to decide whether they accept it in principle, but to concern themselves with what they regard as important provisions of the Bill, especially where its detailed provisions may work against its stated objective. That cannot be right or sensible.

Under clause 4 we have our old friend—no, it is not a friend; our normal cause for concern—powers of entry and enforcement. Yet again it would appear that the authorities are being given very wide powers of entry to people's premises and powers to enforce the Bill. I want to hear much more about that before I am satisfied of the workability or desirability of the measure.

I move on quickly to clause 5, which deals with compensation. We have had some debate on that, but it is an important matter. I think that it was first raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. I shall raise it in a similar way because I believe that we should have heard more from the Minister about whether the Government are accepting a new and different principle and establishing a precedent.

A few months ago we had an interesting debate on quarantine, in which the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is now on the Government Front Bench, was involved. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will recall it. Against that background, I detect a difference of view between Ministers. The Parliamentary Secretary seemingly accepts the principle of compensation and is prepared to build it into the Bill, whereas only a few months ago the Minister of State was saying that he did not accept the principle. We may be breaking new ground.

As my hon. Friends have asked, whether or not we are setting a precedent and whether or not it is important, should compensation appear under the aegis of a private Member's Bill or should a new principle be established in a Government Bill?

Mrs. Gorman

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth

I will, but I want to conclude my remarks.

Mrs. Gorman

I wish to intervene only briefly. My right hon. Friend has long and detailed knowledge of Government policies, and will know that in the past a Labour Government, when they were nationalising our great industries in the 1960s, paid more than adequate compensation to businesses that they took over. Some of those businesses with moribund stocks received—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. Has the hon. Lady finished?

Mrs. Gorman

I was about to finish, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before you told me to sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Unfortunately, I could not hear what the hon. Lady was saying because she was not addressing the Chair. Perhaps she could do so now.

Mrs. Gorman

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was complimenting my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) on his knowledge of the history of political activity and pointing out to him that in the past the Labour party has accepted the principle of a more than reasonable level of compensation. When a Labour Government were nationalising all our great national industries—shipbuilding, railways, the mines and the car industry—they paid more than adequate compensation. Some industries with moribund plant received many millions of pounds. The Labour party has accepted the principle of compensation and it should be incorporated into the Bill.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful as ever to my hon. Friend. She has led me to my penultimate point, and that is the reference in clause 5(3)(a) to the role of the Lands Tribunal, which puzzles me. Surely the Lands Tribunal is distinctly unqualified to make judgments on appropriate levels of compensation in the area that we are discussing. It would be difficult enough to establish the appropriate level of compensation in the event that fur farms were closed down by law. To provide in the Bill that the Lands Tribunal is the appropriate body to make such judgments strikes me as being somewhat odd. The hon. Member for Garston no doubt had a perfectly good reason for the reference. When she replies, she might tell us why the reference was to the Lands Tribunal as opposed to any other body or institution that could deal with the matter. The reference strikes me as being somewhat odd.

I intended to refer—perhaps one of my hon. Friends will pick up the point—to welfare. If the argument is about the welfare of the animals rather than some other principle, surely the thrust of the argument should be about the enforcement of welfare conditions.

Mr. Maclean

Leave it to me.

Mr. Forth

I shall leave it to my right hon. Friend.

I round off my speech with the point that if we are talking about the welfare of animals—mainly or almost exclusively mink in this instance—we should look to existing regulations to see whether they are adequate, and then to enforcement. Simply to say that animals are suffering and therefore we should go straight to a prohibition or ban is not acceptable.

I fully accept the arguments about animal welfare. As a society, we have long since accepted them. In fact, we have gone further than most other societies in that direction. I have no problem with that. However, I have a problem when it is said that, because a particular type of animal is suffering in particular circumstances, we cannot deal with the matter by means short of prohibition. I do not accept that. That is my problem with the Bill. I should have preferred it had the hon. Member for Garston used the occasion of the Bill to deal with any welfare problem rather than producing a Bill which includes in its short title the word "prohibition" and so scares off people like me.

1.40 pm
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

I shall not detain the House for long, as most of the arguments that I would have made have been made—some by Opposition Members, surprisingly, and some by Labour Members—and I have disposed of some of my points in interventions.

Tendentious nonsense is associated with both sides of the argument. The early-day motion that trailed the Bill referred to inessential commodities and luxury and expensive items. Traces of that argument have been rehearsed today. I regard that as entirely irrelevant. It would appalling if we banned items because they were expensive or luxurious or inessential. I do not wish to go down that road.

Mr. Maclean

In case I am not able to speak in the debate, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that 90 per cent. of the output of British mink farms is not used for the fashion trade and worthless accessories, as some have put it, but is exported to bitterly cold countries where it is made into absolutely essential life-saving articles of clothing?

Mr. Swayne

The question of where the output goes is a matter of supreme indifference to me. I am indifferent whether it goes for a luxury item or an essential item. Given the limited output of a limited number of farms, I do not see my right hon. Friend's point as being particularly salient.

We have heard the libertarian argument—the vital principle that we should not legislate to ban activities simply because we disapprove of them. There should be a self-denying ordinance on politicians in any free society. The test of true liberalism is whether we are prepared to tolerate aspects of behaviour with which we are profoundly unhappy. That is an important principle, but it is not inviolable. It must have a test applied to it. The test must be the public good that will be achieved or the public evil that will be avoided by breaching that principle.

I come down in favour of the principle of the Bill. I do not appreciate that there is any difference in principle between farming for food and farming for leather or fur. I would not follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) in the arguments that he advanced, which appeared to be a form of militant vegetarianism. I have not dined with my right hon. Friend, but my reading tells me that he has a sophisticated palate. Given the arguments that he put before the House today, it would seem that in future he would be lucky if he were able to dine on birdseed.

The issue of cruelty as far as it attends fur farming is underlined by the fact that we have been told by those who oppose the Bill that fur has been farmed in the same way for 80 generations. It strikes me that if we were unable, in 80 generations of farming, to come up with a more humane method of doing so, that is a logical argument for moving straight to a ban, rather than filtering that process through some form of regulation.

Given the nature of mink as wild animals, there is no humane way of farming them that would not present an unacceptable level of danger to the natural wildlife and fauna of this country, which is after all a small island. Exactly the same argument applies to genetically modified crops.

The science that has been adduced with respect to the mink gene pool strikes me as fundamentally flawed. It seems to owe a great deal more to the discredited ideas of Dr. Lamarck and the case of the midwife toad in the last century than to any kind of logical examination of the facts as they present themselves.

It is monstrous for hon. Members to suggest that mink are a domestic animal. We have, over generations, bred a number of domesticated species, so much so that chickens are now egg-laying machines and could not possibly survive in the wild. Nor, indeed, could cows, which are bred as milking machines—they could not survive in the wild because there would be no one to milk them. That is not the case with mink.

Mr. Peter Atkinson

I am fascinated by my hon. Friend's turn of argument. Is he saying that we should not raise pigs in confined circumstances and all should graze the New Forest?

Mr. Swayne

The pigs that graze the New Forest for those commoners with such a right provide a great service and the other stock in the forest provide a vital ecological function. The mink do not do so. They destroy our indigenous animal populations, which have never been exposed to such a threat. I urge my hon. Friend to attend the owl sanctuary at Crow Hill and speak to the curator about the damage and destruction done as a consequence of the escape of mink. Such escapes are an inevitable consequence of mink farming and do not always arise from direct action by lunatic animal rights organisations.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way a second time. I agree entirely that feral mink are a tremendous problem, which is why I enjoy hunting them with a pack of hounds. Will he join me in saying that Labour Members should stop attacking the hunting of mink with hounds and support it?

Mr. Swayne

I entirely concur with my hon. Friend. It was regrettable that New Forest district council did not call upon the mink hounds to assist with the remedying of the situation when it dealt with the escape in July last year.

I am in favour of the principle of the Bill, but I have a reservation with respect to compensation. First, I am deeply opposed to secondary legislation. This House, which has a well-oiled machine for examining primary legislation, should not hand over to Ministers the power to make law through secondary legislation. We do not have adequate procedures for the scrutiny of secondary legislation and I am not happy with the Bill in that respect.

Neither am I happy with the level of compensation suggested in the explanatory notes. Last Friday, I had the unenviable task of visiting Mr. Smith, who farms mink at Crow Hill, to explain why I would vote for a Bill that would deprive him of his livelihood. Having told him that, it is incumbent on me to ensure that he is compensated properly for the loss of that livelihood. I will be involved in taking his livelihood away from him and I feel strongly that, because my vote will have such an effect, I and other hon. Members must frame the compensation that he will receive. That issue must not be handed over to Ministers to deal with beyond our control and direct scrutiny.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend takes a novel position for a Conservative—he is arguing for more public expenditure. Will he please explain why we should spend even more money to drive those people not out of business, but simply on to the continent, where there are 8,000 mink farms? How does he justify that, as a Conservative?

Mr. Swayne

I justify it on the simple principle that I enunciated at the outset: the great public good to be achieved or the public evil to be avoided. I have summed that up in my arguments in respect of the distasteful, unpleasant and cruel nature of mink farming. I have made a value judgment about which is the greater of the evils involved. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) said about compensation payable during the 1960s, although, given her looks, I am surprised that she has any recollection of those times. I am not sure whether she spent those days in suspended animation, because I have no recollection of generous compensation.

The Minister said that he will examine these issues. I urge him to consider carefully the case that will be made by the small number of fur farmers who will lose their livelihoods as a consequence of this measure.

Mr. Paterson

How does my hon. Friend square that view with his earlier statement that he was supporting the Bill because he was being driven by a vexatious constituent, the NIMBY brigadier?

Mr. Swayne

That is a monstrous suggestion. Undoubtedly, the attitude of people who live near mink farms is coloured by the proximity of the farm. That is entirely appropriate. It is understandable for someone to dislike a mink farm because of the smell and the nuisance, and as a result to take an interest in what goes on in the farm.

The residents of Crow Hill wrote to me immediately after the election and asked for my view on the banning of fur farming. I palmed them off with a reply saying that I was not in favour of banning anything, and that one should consider better regulation to make it more humane. The residents then sent me a video that they had taken of the fur farm. I was appalled when I watched it, and as a result I examined the matter in much greater detail and visited the farm. That has led me to support the Bill today.

1.52 pm
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), who always gives a colourful and punchy display. Unfortunately, I do not agree with his argument on this occasion. I join other hon. Members in heartily congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) on her good fortune in coming so high in the ballot. It reflects on the excellent governance of this country in the past 18 years that her priority is to close down 11 mink farms.

I should begin by declaring an interest. There has been some confusion between the leather industry and the fur industry. Before entering the House, I spent my whole career in my family's leather business, and I have declared my interest in the Register of Members' Interests. I am also the United Kingdom's delegate to COTANCE, which is the European confederation of tanners and leather dressers, and I was president of that organisation from 1996 to 1998.

In her excellent and well-explained introduction, on which I congratulate her, the hon. Member for Garston stated that the Bill excluded all skins or furs from animals that have been raised for meat. She is quite right, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) was slightly unclear about the difference between skin products from animals raised for meat or milk production and those from animals whose skins are the end product in themselves.

The leather industry processes by-products of the meat, milk and wool industries. The skin and hide represent about 7 to 15 per cent. of the total carcase value. It is important that the House understands the difference between processing a by-product, which is a valuable service for the whole country, and raising an animal specifically for its skin. If the House will excuse the pun, there is a woolly area. Certain skins are anomalous. The harmonised customs tariff is in the Official Journal of the European Communities volume L292, and I should like to refer to two or three areas that should be tidied up if the Bill is to proceed, otherwise some people may unwittingly get caught.

The first point states: Throughout the nomenclature references to 'furskins' other than to raw furskins of heading No. 4301 apply to hides or skins of all animals which have been tanned or dressed with the hair or wool on. There is a very small trade in bovine hides where the hair is left on, generally for use by interior decorators or architects. I admit that it is a long shot, but it is conceivable that someone might breed Belted Galloways that have wonderful skins that look very good for use by some abstruse New York architect and the skin might just be more valuable than the carcase of the beast.

A much more likely case that really does need tidying up is that of sheepskins. According to chapter 43 many sheepskins of rare breeds qualify as fur. Heading 4301 refers to: Raw furskins … other than raw hides and skins". Heading 4301 10 00 refers to the skins of mink whole, with or without heads or tails or paws". Virtually in the same category is heading 4301 30 00 which refers to the skins of lamb, the following: Astrakhan, Broadtail, Caracul, Persian and similar lamb, Indian, Chinese, Mongolian or Tibetan lamb, whole with or without head, tail or paws". Under the Bill as drafted, if a farmer in Britain raised those species and the value of the skin was more than that of the carcase—I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Garston would listen as it is a deadly serious point—that person would be in breach of the law.

In respect of the fur trade, I have something in common with the hon. Lady and the Minister in that I have never been to a fur farm. I have absolutely no connection with the fur industry. However, furs have been a trade commodity since the Chinese and the Phoenicians, since the Russians drove west to Siberia and since we fought it out with the French over the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. Fur is not just a luxury product; it is a fundamental commodity. I totally disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), who is no longer in his place. Fur is part of a huge international industry that goes way beyond the requirements of luxury trade. If it is minus 20 deg or minus 25 deg in Novosibirsk, northern Norway or Urumchi, no one has yet devised a more suitable material for keeping out the cold than fur.

In the European Union it is estimated that the fur trade employs 175,000 people directly, plus a further 50,000 in supply trades. The total retail trade turnover of the EU in fur is estimated at more than $6 billion. It is a substantial industry that goes well beyond the small world of fashion.

Farmed furs are the mainstay of the fur trade, accounting for some 80 to 85 per cent. of the industry's turnover. In Britain, mink predominate as the main species. I find it extraordinary that we are debating the future of 11 British fur farms producing only 100,000 mink pelts against world production of 26 million. We are talking about 11 fur farms out of 8,000 in Europe.

In Denmark and Holland they will be laughing all the way to the bank. They have more than half of world production, so if British production is closed down they will pick up the slack. Another fundamental point is that the sum of mink happiness will not increase because the same number of mink will be farmed. They will still be kept in the cages that Labour Members find abhorrent, but those cages will be in Holland, Denmark and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) pointed out, the Czech Republic, where they will not be subject to regulation and control by British vets and the British Government.

Several Labour Members have argued that mink are wild animals and live miserable lives. I find that hard to understand when the first symptom that an animal is unhappy or unhealthy is that its coat becomes dull. It is fundamental to the success of those enterprises that they produce healthy pelts to get the best value. I have yet to hear any evidence today that farmers are deliberately rearing unhappy or unhealthy animals. It defies all logic.

Mr. Gunnar Krantz, former chairman and chief veterinarian of the Swedish Federation of Animal Protection Societies, said: Only a person who is interested in animals and who likes them becomes a fur farmer. The farmer who has no real interest in his animals or feeling for their welfare soon suffers himself, in the form of poor financial return. Several hon. Members have said that the animals retain their wild characteristics, despite having been reared for 80 generations. If one walks into a fur farm, the wild animal runs away and to the back of the cage. Fur farmers whom I have talked to have told me that the animals come to the front of the cage because they look forward to being fed. Professor Knud Erik Heller of the Institute of Population Biology at the university of Copenhagen has said: From a scientific point of view, fur animals that have been domesticated for more than 10 generations must be considered as so far genetically removed from their ancestors that they have to be treated as fully domesticated subspecies. Irrespective of the present taxonomy of the animals it has to be realised that it would be disastrous to the welfare of the animals to go on treating them as wild animals in respect to legislation. The majority of farmed fur animals require the same status as all other commonly held animals in modern husbandry. I quote another expert from Denmark, where there is a huge fur industry. Steffen Hansen, a doctor at the National Institute of Animal Science, said: significant behavioural and physiological changes achieved through domestication therefore make it unreasonable to make direct comparisons between farmed mink and their relations in the wild, when considering their welfare. The House should pay attention to the opinions of those experts.

Mr. Forth

In that context, does my hon. Friend recall that, when the Minister spoke, he said that he had paid a private visit to a fur farm in Denmark and that it was at the top of the range. He seemed to imply that the practice in Denmark was either acceptable, or certainly much more acceptable. That suggests that we should listen carefully to the Danish experience because it may point the way in which we should go.

Mr. Paterson

That is an admirable intervention. I am coming on to that. Our regulation system and our Ministry have failed to enforce a substantial range of powers that already exist.

Mr. Leigh

Before time runs out, will my hon. Friend deal with the view that has been expressed by the National Farmers Union, which sums up the debate: It would be a major step to move from accepting what has hitherto been a legitimate form of farming, which is the subject of assiduous regulation and inspection by the authorities, to banning it altogether"? Will he deal with that philosophical point, which is the kernel of the argument?

Mr. Paterson

Again, I was coming to that point. We have a raft of regulation that should be properly enforced. The reaction should be to improve the regulation and enforce it better, rather than to go for the sledgehammer approach of banning the whole business.

We have the Mink Keeping Order 1997. There is the European convention on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, and the European Union directive on farm animal welfare. I take just one. The European convention refers specifically to animals bred or kept for the production of food, wool, skin or fur or for other farming purposes". It is very detailed. Article 3 states: Animals shall be housed and provided with food, water and care in a manner which—having regard to their species and to their degree of development, adaptation and domestication—is appropriate to their physiological and ethological needs in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge. [Interruption.]

Mr. Forth

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the context of the debate, should Labour Members be protected against external stimuli applied by someone who is not here?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

That is not a sensible point of order.

Mr. Paterson

It was still quite amusing and relevant to the control of Labour Members.

Article 6 of the convention states: No animal shall be provided with food or liquid in a manner, nor shall such food or liquid contain any substance, which may cause unnecessary suffering or injury. Article 5 states: The lighting, temperature, humidity, air circulation, ventilation, and other environmental conditions such as gas concentration or noise intensity in the place in which an animal is housed, shall have regard "to its species".

Time is running on. Although I could quote further from European legislation—

Mr. Swayne


Mr. Paterson

As a gesture to my hon. Friend, I shall return home, to the United Kingdom, and deal with the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1968, which gives the Minister huge powers to intervene.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 127, Noes 4.

Division No. 94] [2.5 pm
Amess, David Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Atherton, Ms Candy Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Atkins, Charlotte Hancock, Mike
Austin, John Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Banks, Tony Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Barnes, Harry Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Hill, Keith
Benton, Joe Hodge, Ms Margaret
Betts, Clive Hopkins, Kelvin
Blears, Ms Hazel Horam, John
Blizzard, Bob Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Brake, Tom Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Buck, Ms Karen Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Burden, Richard Kelly, Ms Ruth
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Cann, Jamie Kumar, Dr Ashok
Caplin, Ivor Lepper, David
Cawsey, Ian Leslie, Christopher
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Linton, Martin
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Livingstone, Ken
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Coaker, Vernon Loughton, Tim
Coffey, Ms Ann Love, Andrew
Cohen, Harry McCafferty, Ms Chris
Colman, Tony McDonnell, John
Cooper, Yvette McIsaac, Shona
Corbett, Robin Mackinlay, Andrew
Corbyn, Jeremy McNulty, Tony
Cousins, Jim Mahon, Mrs Alice
Cox, Tom Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Darvill, Keith Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Miller, Andrew
Day, Stephen Morley, Elliot
Dismore, Andrew Naysmith, Dr Doug
Dowd, Jim O'Hara, Eddie
Drew, David Olner, Bill
Drown, Ms Julia Palmer, Dr Nick
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Plaskitt, James
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Pollard, Kerry
Efford, Clive Pond, Chris
Etherington, Bill Pound, Stephen
Field, Rt Hon Frank Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Flint, Caroline Roche, Mrs Barbara
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Rooker, Jeff
Gapes, Mike Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Gardiner, Barry Ruddock, Joan
Gerrard, Neil Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Goggins, Paul Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Ryan, Ms Joan
Sawford, Phil Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Sedgemore, Brian Vis, Dr Rudi
Shaw, Jonathan Wareing, Robert N
Shipley, Ms Debra White, Brian
Skinner, Dennis Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wicks, Malcolm
Soley, Clive Wise, Audrey
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen Tellers for the Ayes: Angela Smith and Ms Bridget Prentice.
Tipping, Paddy
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Owen Paterson and Mr. Peter Atkinson.
Hunter, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Swayne, Desmond

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).