HL Deb 05 April 1922 vol 50 cc35-41

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill, to which I hope you will give a Second Reading to-night, is designed to facilitate the introduction of a new industry into these Islands—namely, the production of fur. The world demand for fur has increased with extraordinary rapidity during the last generation. I am sure noble Lords saw with their own eyes, when there was a period of prosperity among the working classes during the war, what a tremendous increase there was in the number of fur coats to be seen in every street. The result of that very great increase has been a tendency to kill the animals producing the fur at a greater rate than nature can reproduce them, and perhaps it is natural that, as a consequence, a large industry has grown up in Canada, and more recently in America, for the production of fur from animals bred in captivity on fur farms. The American Government, particularly, is taking a great deal of trouble to encourage that industry within its own sphere, and they hold the view, I believe, that ten years hence almost the entire supply of ordinary furs will come from fur farms.

In London we have by far the greatest market for furs in the world, and if it could be proved that the production of fur could be profitably carried on in these Islands it would naturally be to our advantage if some of the money that now goes abroad in the purchase of furs could be diverted to producers in Scotland. There is reason to believe, from experiments which have been made during the last year or two in Scotland and Northumberland, that the climatic conditions of these Islands are suitable to the production of fur. Those who have been concerned in these experiments, especially my noble friend, Lord Leven, sitting behind me, have throughout been in closest contact with Sir Robert Greig of the Scottish Ministry of Agriculture, and the experiments have been carried on with the co-operation and good will of the Scottish Office. I have also had the privilege of conversations with the advisers of my noble friend. Lord Ancaster, and I think I may fairly claim that the objects of those who are promoting this Bill have at all events the sympathies of the noble Lord's advisers.

With one possible exception to which I will allude in a minute, I do not think that there is anything that could be called contentious in this Bill. It is possible that the noble Earl, Lord Ancaster, may tell me that a great deal of this Bill is unnecessary, and that his Department have already the powers which this Bill proposes to confer on them. If that is proved to be the case, I shall naturally fall in with any advice given to me by the noble Earl, but as at present advised, I am not quite clear that in every respect his Department has the powers which we seek to confer upon it by this Bill.

The one contentious point, or possible contentious point, lies in the introduction of the word "breeding" into the second clause of this Bill. I propose in this Bill to confer upon the Ministry of Agriculture the power, in deciding whether a certain animal shall be admitted or shall not be admitted, to consider its breeding. What that is intended to cover is this. The silver black fox, which is probably the most profitable animal bred in captivity, is not a species. The silver black fox is the result of crossing red foxes on scientific principles. The dead silver black fox is a very valuable thing, and the live animal is still more valuable, but the difficulty that those of us who wish to start industry see ahead of us in this country is that the investor in Scotland or in England might be tempted to buy what he would imagine were valuable black foxes at a high price, import them into this country, and then be disappointed to find that they were nothing but red pups If your Lordships were to grant power to the Ministry of Agriculture to say that the question of breeding shall be taken into account in licences to import, I think the way that would work would be that silver black foxes would not he admitted into this country unless they were in the Canadian or American stud books. The industry is properly regulated, and there are stud books in those countries recognised by the Government. I do not think, therefore, that it would be at all difficult to make arrangements to secure adhesion to that provision.

The only other point I would wish to speak of is that it is not proposed that any expense whatever should be cast upon the Government by reason of this Bill, inasmuch as the breeders would expect to bear the expense of any inspection which was incurred as a result of their request. I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading. If I have overlooked provisions which anybody would wish to incorporate, in course of Committee I shall be only too glad to consider them, and to meet anybody. I may say that I have taken great care, drawing the Bill, to make sure that there shall be nothing in it which is in any way prejudicial to the powers of zoological societies to make importations. I have not infringed in any way upon the powers that they now have. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a,—(Earl Grey.)


My Lords, I have no wish to interfere with the fur trade, nor to prevent the importation of minks of any sort, but I confess that as an agriculturist I have been rather alarmed by the Bill as it is now printed, and my noble friend, Lord Chaplin, who is always on the look-out for some possible injury to agriculture in any Bill that is brought in, has come down to the House considerably perturbed by the prospect before us. What I want to ask the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill is this He stated that the Bill is entirely confined to preventing the importation of certain fur-bearing animals. I would point out that in Clause 4 the Minister has power to add to the Schedule the name of any foreign animal. That might mean a cow I or bullock or any of those animals the importation of which to England we are anxious to prevent. Further, the Definition Clause says the expression foreign animal "means an animal" brought to the United Kingdom from a country out of the United Kingdom. A mink is a mink, and I do not know whether the clause might not also include a bullock, or anything from the country from which the noble Earl proposes to import. I have no wish to oppose the Bill if it is limited simply to fur-bearing animals, but he will have to alter this clause in Committee if we are not to oppose it.


May I assure the noble Lord that the last thing I wish or intend to do by this Bill is to import Canadian cattle into this country.


Would it not be better for the noble Earl, in Committee, to give a more exact definition of the kind of animal he wishes to deal with and eliminate all hoofed animals.


My Lords, the Ministry take the view that at the present time they are solely concerned with the health of animals in this country; and they have not. found it necessary to ask for any fresh powers from Parliament in order to enable them to deal with the importation of animals of any class or kind into this country. The powers they possess at present are sufficient for the purpose, if wisely exercised, of keeping this country free from disease. As I understand this Bill it places the importation of animals mentioned in the Schedule on the same footing as sheep or cattle. At the present moment a bullock is not allowed to he imported into this country without an Order from the Ministry of Agriculture. In certain eases the Ministry grants such an Order. It is done in the case of a bison, or buffalo, brought to the Zoological Gardens. The Ministry allows it to be imported subject to certain restrictions as to quarantine. As I understand the matter, the noble Earl desires that all animals he mentions in the Schedule should be placed on the same footing as ruminating animals. All these animals can be imported now, and in allowing these fur-bearing animals to be so imported the Ministry considers whether there is any risk of disease. If they think the importation of these animals may bring rabies, or mange or any other disease, the Ministry prohibit their importation.

The Bill throws a new duty on the Ministry of Agriculture. At the present moment the animals mentioned cannot be brought in if the Ministry thinks there is anything wrong with their health, but the noble Earl wishes the Ministry not only to take notice of their health hut also of their breed. I do not intend to oppose the Bill on the Second Reading, though I am not aware what other noble Lords may do, but I cannot promise the noble Earl that in Committee I shall not take a different attitude. I listened for his reasons for throwing this new burden on the Ministry, why they should have the duty of discriminating between foxes and wild cats, between otters and beavers, as to whether they were well-bred or not; as to whether a mink was well-bred or not. That is the duty he is seeking to impose on the Ministry of Agriculture, and his reason was that certain wicked fellows may induce people to invest their money by saying they were going to start a wonderful fur-breeding scheme, importing one only of the animals mentioned in the Schedule—a silver black fox—and that these unfortunate investors might be disappointed if the offspring of that silver black fox turned out to be red foxes. You might as well bring in a Bill to prevent people painting sparrows instead of painting canaries.

The only argument of the noble Earl, as far as I followed him, was that there is an association in Canada which can so discriminate between silver foxes and red foxes as to be able to say which is likely to breed red foxes. He says this association is able to discriminate also in the case of beavers, otters and minks; but he gave us no other reason for his Bill. The noble Earl will have to find sonic better reasons for this measure before he throws on the Ministry of Agriculture the burden of discriminating between the breeds of these different animals. He will have to show much stronger argument for his Bill than the one he advanced of some rather stupid people who, having invested their money in purchasing foxes which were supposed to breed silver black foxes. find they breed red foxes instead.


My Lords, I owe an apology to the House, and to the noble Earl, for not being in my place when he rose to speak on this question. It was not altogether my fault for I had been making inquiries as to when the noble Earl would he likely to move this Bill. This is a measure which specially affects matters with which I have been concerned in days gone by, matters which are of the greatest possible interest. One of them was the extinction of the disease known as pleuro-pneumonia from this country, and the danger I see in this Bill if it is passed in anything like its present form is the possibility—in the course of years a certainty, I believe—of a return of that most abominable disease, which cost so much to extinguish in this country and which was only finally extinguished after two or three years of very strenuous work. For more than thirty years now this country has been wholly free from that most noisome disease. The noble Earl said just now that the last thing in the world that he wanted to do or to see done was to introduce foreign cattle into this country.


By this Bill.


Yes, by this Bill. But if that is so, how is it that his Bill contains, in Clause 4, these words?— The Minister may by order add to the Schedule to this Act the name of any foreign animal Why, all that a Minister of Agriculture who might hold that view would have to do under the noble Earl's Bill would be to add to the Schedule the name of Canadian cattle or of any cattle from any other part of the world, and they would be included in the Bill and subject to all the many provisions which it contains. I am sorry that I am not in a condition to say one-tenth part—perhaps it is fortunate for your Lordships—of what I could say, and would wish to say, upon a subject of such vital importance to the whole agricultural industry of this country. Although many people forget it, and it is not always looked upon in this light, it is and remains absolutely true to this day that, in some respects at all events, the industry of agriculture is still the greatest, the largest and the most important industry in the country. By passing the Bill in its present shape you might be running again the infinite dangers of cattle diseases, one of the worst of which—not, perhaps, quite the worst, but second only to cattle plague—was extinguished, as I have already told your Lordships, with great pains, and at great cost. I hope that in these circumstances your Lordships will not think of allowing such a Bill as this to become law. Although it may be altered, I confess that in my own view it would be infinitely better to leave out the question of foreign animals al together.


My Lords, if your Lordships are good enough to allow my Bill to have a second Reading, I shall, of course, apply myself to any Amendments suggested in Committee with the greatest anxiety to meet any view which is put forward. I should like particularly to assure my noble friend who has just spoken that I would gladly accept any words suggested by him to make it absolutely clear that cattle could never be included under the terms of this Bill.

The noble Earl "pulled my leg" with some success as to the difference between a canary and a painted sparrow. I think