HL Deb 27 July 1988 vol 500 cc257-8

2.55 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have dropped plans for cruelty labels in fur coats.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, we gave careful consideration to the representations made during the consultation process. Legal difficulties were raised, and we regretfully came to the conclusion that it would not be practicable to proceed in the way originally envisaged. We therefore decided not to proceed with the proposed order and to defer further action on the matter.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister two questions. If there are legal difficulties now, why were they not foreseen and investigated before the department made such a fuss in February about how it was going to apply the cruelty label process? Secondly, is it the case that representations have been made by the Canadian Government to protect their trappers; that one of the factors which has influenced Her Majesty's Government is that they are trying to sell £4 billion worth of nuclear submarines to Canada; and that the Canadians also have an offer from the French which they are inclined to take if the British Government do not play ball with them?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I fear that on his occasion I must disappoint the noble Lord. It is true that the proposed order was vigorously opposed by the fur trade and by the Canadians, who argued that it would destroy the livelihood of the Canadian native peoples. But it became apparent during the course of the consultation that the legal advice was that such an order, if made, was liable to be struck down as ultra vires under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. In those circumstances, and in those circumstances alone, it was decided not to proceed with the order.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend know how many stoats have to die to make a full set of new judge's robes, and would not rabbit and nylon do even better?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am glad to he able to assure all your Lordships that I have not had the misfortune to appear before a judge.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that similar difficulties arose in connection with the labelling of seal products? The Government made difficulties, legal and otherwise, Canadian and otherwise, until Europe stepped in to make it obligatory for EC countries. It accomplished what the British Government had been unable to achieve.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, on this matter it may satisfy some in your Lordships' House to know that the European Commission is considering vol. 500 the possibility of action on this subject. Commissioner Clinton Davis announced on 5th July last that it is looking carefully into the idea that furs imported into Europe as a whole should bear labels indicating whether or not those who trap the animals use the leg-hold trap. That of course would obviate any difficulties under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many believe that Her Majesty's Government are due the highest praise for withdrawing that order, demonstrating yet again their ability to listen to the merits of arguments and to act accordingly? Furthermore, should they need any more confirmation of the dottiness of the original idea, they need look no further than the fact that it appears to be supported by the noble Lord opposite.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, my noble friend demonstrates that your Lordships' House contains at least two sides.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, could the very useful concept of a cruelty label be transferred from fur coats to starred questions, particularly those of a repetitious character?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I should wear such a label with pride.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord would never accuse me of cruelty to him. However he has not answered either of my questions. If there are legal difficulties, why were they not foreseen before his department announced in February that the Trade Descriptions Act would be used for this purpose? Secondly, is it the case that the Canadian Government have threatened not to enter into the deal for 4 billion pounds-worth of nuclear submarines if this is carried through but have threatened to take up the French option, which I believe is cheaper?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I must confess that I do not share the infallibility which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, normally has in these matters. I was not able to see all the legal difficulties at the time when this matter was first raised. Subsequently it became clear that the order would be ultra vires. In those circumstances we did not proceed.

As regards the second part of the noble Lord's question, I did not answer it previously because I did not think it worth answering. However, if the noble Lord really thinks it is worth answering, then quite assuredly there is no connection between the fur marketing order and any sale of submarines to Canada. The noble Lord should try on occasion not to wave his prejudices about too much in public.