HL Deb 17 July 1997 vol 581 cc1082-4

3.25 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking in the Council of Ministers to secure the implementation of EU Regulation 3254/91 banning the import of furs into the European Union from countries which still sanction the use of the leghold trap.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the Government remain committed to ending the use of leghold traps. We shall continue to resist adoption of the framework agreement on humane trapping standards because it does not go far enough in banning the use of leghold traps. If the agreement is rejected by the Council of Ministers next week, we shall press the Commission to bring forward the necessary measures to implement the fur import ban as soon as possible.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Yes, of course I welcome that reply as far as it goes. But is it not a fact that at the meeting next Tuesday of the Council of Foreign Ministers our own Foreign Secretary will have an opportunity to vote out that inadequate alleged agreement in relation to allegedly more humane methods of trapping animals by the leg to restrain and kill them? Is the Minister not aware that the Environment Council and the European Parliament previously rejected that framework agreement out of hand? Can we please ask that the British Government vote boldly at next Tuesday's meeting and that we insist that EU Regulation 3254/91 is implemented without further delay?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The weaknesses in the agreement that is to be considered at the General Council next week is that, far from prohibiting leghold traps, it risks giving an international seal of approval to padded leghold traps and drowning leghold traps. The Government believe strongly that that agreement must not be accepted next week. If no further satisfactory agreement is reached under the terms to which my noble friend referred, the Government believe that there should be an implementation of the ban.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, what confidence do the Government have that a European Union ban will accelerate significantly the phasing out of those traps in view of the fact that non-European markets are also being exploited?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it is a difficult area. The Commission has produced a certification system which would require that all fur imports from countries that had implemented the ban were accompanied by an appropriate certificate. It is sometimes difficult to police legislation, but as with domestic legislation, where there is a strong moral case, that must be done.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, can the noble Baroness enlighten the House as to whether this regulation is to be made by unanimity, in which case, of course, we would have a veto, or whether it is to be made by qualified majority vote? If it is the latter, what hope is she able to hold out of Her Majesty's Government carrying the day?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it is always difficult to predict the exact line that a vote will take. We are aware of concerns. Perhaps I ought not to give that information to your Lordships. It is quite clear that if a majority vote is against implementing the agreement and the agreement is not to go ahead, we need to influence people to ensure initially that we seek to achieve a proper agreement with the countries concerned.

I think I did say, "if a majority voted against the agreement". I apologise. I failed to express myself properly. If we fail to achieve a vote against implementing the agreement, obviously we will wish to take the matter further. If we are successful in preventing an agreement going ahead which is unacceptable, we will then have to use the argument that we are prepared to face in detail the issue of the World Trade Organisation being threatened by Canada and—

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Is it not a fact that, even if the framework agreement for this allegedly more humane system of trapping were to be approved, it still would not include the United States of America, which has the largest number of sinners in this field of any country? Therefore, even the Trade Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, would have no grounds then for refusing to operate the import ban against furs coming from the United States. Will the Minister bear that in mind?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I shall ensure that the concerns raised by my noble friend will be borne in mind. It is the case that the USA Federal Government are unwilling to sign the agreement or enter into a legally-binding agreement because of the constitutional difficulties as regards the rights of individual states. However, the concerns raised by my noble friend are, of course, important and ought to apply to the states.

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