HL Deb 19 July 2000 vol 615 cc1130-56

10.3 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill was introduced in another place on 22nd November, thus fulfilling our pre-election pledge on the issue. It has a simple and a clear basis. The Government believe that it is wrong to keep animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. In the Government's view, fur farming is not consistent with a proper value and respect for animal life. Animal life should not be destroyed in the absence of a sufficient justification in terms of public benefit. Nor should animals be bred for such destruction in the absence of any such sufficient justification. All the indications are that this view is widely shared by the general public in the United Kingdom.

I wish to make clear at the outset that the Government believe that the position of fur farming is quite different from that of food production. Where the primary purpose of keeping an animal is the production of food, that purpose provides a sufficient public benefit to justify breeding the animals for slaughter. This is so even where the production of fur or hide is a secondary purpose of keeping an animal. We breed and kill animals for food. In the balance between respect for the dignity of animal life and our own survival, as a society we put survival first, and do our best to ensure that the animals we slaughter for food are well treated.

The Government are, of course, conscious of the concern that many have for the welfare of farmed mink. We share that concern and so we have sought to ensure that the highest possible standards are applied as long as fur farming continues. But this Bill is introduced on wider grounds and on the basic philosophy that animals should not be killed simply for the business of stripping their skins off their backs. That is, we believe, quite simply inappropriate in the 21st century. I should make clear to the House that the Government's view is that the Bill is compatible both with the Treaty of Rome and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Bill will make it a criminal offence in England and Wales to keep animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding progeny for such slaughter. It will provide a winding-down period extending at least until the end of 2002, and it will require the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a scheme providing for compensation for certain categories of loss. I understand that the Scottish Executive will introduce its own legislation to ban fur farming in Scotland. This will prevent mink farmers from moving from England or Wales to continue fur farming in Scotland.

As far as we are aware, at present only mink are farmed solely or primarily for their fur in the United Kingdom. There are currently 13 licensed mink farms in England and none in Wales. Other animals apart from mink can, of course, be farmed for their fur, for example, arctic fox, chinchilla, racoon dog, sable and fisher. All these will be covered by the Bill.

It is not intended to prohibit the keeping of animals where the primary purpose is the production of meat, with fur production as a secondary purpose, as is generally the case with the farming of rabbits. Nor will the Bill ban the production of fur or wool which can be clipped or shorn without slaughtering the animal, for example, the fur of angora rabbits or alpacas.

The ban will have the effect of preventing the importation of animals into the United Kingdom for the purposes of fur farming. It will also prevent the keeping of animals for the purpose of exporting them from the UK to be used for fur production abroad. The import and export of fur skins and fur products will not be affected.

During the winding-down period, existing farmers will have to dispose of their animals. The method of disposal will be at their discretion. It is likely that most will be slaughtered for their fur. Any such slaughter would be covered by existing animal welfare legislation which would continue in force. Some animals may be sold abroad. This will be legally acceptable, provided the animals are sold before the ban comes into force. I should make clear, however—I know that this is of concern to many in your Lordships' House—that at no point, either during the winding-down period or after the ban comes into force will farmers be permitted to release farmed mink into the wild. It is currently an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to release mink or to allow them to escape into the wild. It is also an offence under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932 to release mink or wilfully allow them to escape. These controls will remain in place.

At all times the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will continue to enforce the security requirements of the Mink Keeping Regulations 1975. These regulations prescribe the precautions that must be taken to prevent mink from escaping. In recognition of the serious damage to the environment that released mink can cause, the Ministry will remain vigilant against the illegal release of mink by animal rights protesters.

Turning to the detail of the Bill, it has seven clauses. Clause 1 creates a primary offence of keeping animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding progeny for such slaughter. The clause also creates a secondary offence of knowingly to cause or permit another person to keep animals for the prohibited purpose.

A person who keeps animals partly for slaughter for the value of their fur and partly for another purpose will only be guilty of the offence if slaughter is the primary purpose for keeping the animals. We anticipate that there will be relatively few cases where a person is guilty of the secondary offence I described. An example would be where the director of an overseas company may have caused the company to have committed an offence. For both the primary and secondary offences, the penalty on conviction is a fine not exceeding £20,000.

Clause 2 gives the court power to make an order for the forfeiture and destruction or other disposal of the animals following conviction for either the primary or the secondary offence. Clause 3 deals with the effect of a forfeiture order. It provides a right of appeal to the Crown Court for anyone claiming to have an interest in the animals being forfeited.

Clause 4 gives a power of entry and inspection to enable the evidence of an offence to be gathered and gives a power to enter premises to carry out a forfeiture order. Intentionally obstructing or delaying arty person in the exercise of either power of entry will be an offence.

Clause 5 requires the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a scheme for paying compensation to fur farmers who incur losses as a result of the banning of fur farming. The clause also allows the National Assembly of Wales to make a compensation scheme. There will be a duty to consult with those affected before making such a scheme. Such a scheme may provide for compensation to be paid whether or not the fur farmers are still in business at the date on which the ban comes into force.

I know that there is a great deal of interest in the compensation provisions of the Bill. The details of the compensation package—although not the principle of paying compensation—are not contained in the Bill but will be the subject of secondary legislation once the Bill becomes law. Only licensed fur farming businesses in existence on 2nd March 1999 will be eligible to claim compensation. No compensation will be payable for expenditure on assets acquired after that date. Existing fur farmers were reminded on 30th November 1999 of this cut-off date, which was originally announced when the Private Member's Bill to ban fur farming was presented in another place in the previous Session.

The full and exact details of the compensation scheme will be decided in the light of the consultation exercise. I should make clear at this stage that nothing has been definitely ruled out of the scheme and we are willing to consider all reasonable options. At present it is envisaged that the compensation scheme will be used to pay compensation where assets have ceased to have a use and the investment cannot be recouped by resale. We will decide on whether or not to compensate for income after the consultation exercise. The principal assets of fur farming are the land, buildings and equipment, breeding stock and young stock for slaughter. No compensation ought to be required for the land as it has alternative uses. Compensation may be required for buildings and equipment which do not have alternative uses. It may be required for wastage of some livestock over a winding-down period of two to three years. Disputes over compensation claims will be settled by either arbitration or the Lands Tribunal.

Clause 6 provides that the power to authorise a person to exercise the power of entry and the power to make a compensation scheme rests with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England and the National Assembly for Wales.

Clause 7 requires the Minister to make the commencement order for the ban to come into force. This may not be done before 1st January 2003. The Bill will thus provide a winding-down period extending at least until the end of 2002. The purpose of this delayed commencement is to give fur farmers an opportunity to adjust their affairs and to wind down their businesses in advance of the ban. In particular, it provides an opportunity to slaughter any existing stocks of animals; to give notice to employees; to make arrangements for future employment and the future use of land on which animals are currently kept; and to avoid incurring any new capital expenditure, other than that which is incurred for the purpose of complying with any statutory obligation.

The power to make a compensation scheme will come into force two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. The power can be exercised to enable compensation to be paid to fur farmers who close their businesses in advance of the date on which the ban comes into force.

As I said earlier, the Government's view is that the Bill is compatible with the Treaty of Rome and the European Convention on Human Rights. We consider that, although the ban arguably has an equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on imports, the ban is lawful under EC law, being justified by Article 30 of the EC Treaty. As I have just outlined, there will be a winding-down period before the ban comes into force. That, together with the payment of compensation for certain categories of loss, reinforces the Government's view that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Hayman.)

10.15 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I must declare an interest as a member of the National Farmers Union, the body that has been representing the interests of the fur farmers in all the negotiations.

On all sides of the House we have enormous respect and admiration for the Minister. It grieves me to have to say this to her. Does she actually realise that she has introduced into the House a Bill of Attainder which will deprive people of their right to earn a living and which has not been preceded by any trial? The last Act of Attainder was in 1798, the time of the rebellion in the southern Irish states. Lord Edward Fitzgerald had an Act of Attainder passed against him for trying to make the Irish ports available to Napoleon. The first Act of Attainder was under Henry VIII. So I am rather shattered that the noble Baroness should have moved into this area. Many of us on this side of the House are concerned by the draconian nature of the legislation.

We are all grateful to the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms in that over the past two years he has sensibly realised the danger of allowing this legislation to come forward under the Private Member's Bill procedure. That would have been an absolute disaster.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the noble Lord is doing immense damage to my career. I wish he would stop!

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I am not. I am just saying how important it is for the procedures of Parliament that a Private Member's Bill should not come forward which involves the spending of money. That dangerous habit is proceeding in another place and must be nipped in the bud. We are grateful to the noble Lord for his excellent efforts. But we must face the fact that the fur farming industry has been operating under a form of stricture for the past two years, since the previous Private Member's Bill was muted.

I am privileged to have had a very enjoyable time meeting and consulting the mink farmers of this country. I realise that the worst thing they have had is a period of great uncertainty in the industry and a prolonged period of harassment, culminating with a judgment by the Crown Prosecution Service against the people who had been harassing one major mink farm in Northumberland. Fur farmers as a whole have been terrorised by acts of the animal welfare extremists. If you run a voluntary organisation or a gathering of extremists, what are you going to move on to? You keep the body together only by having something to campaign about. If they cannot campaign against fur farmers, I hate to think who their next victims will be. I hope that the Government will not be so misguided as to give in to them, as they have in this case. Fur farmers have also suffered at the hands of a misguided media campaign.

Having said that, I must admit to noble Lords that the 13 fur farmers have come to the conclusion that the sensible thing to do is to wind up their industry, subject to full and fair compensation. However, when we come to examine what will comprise full and fair compensation, let us be absolutely realistic about it.

Fur farming is a very prosperous agricultural diversification. In reality, which sheep farmer would not be thrilled if his ewes produced four to five lambs each year that could be sold, after seven months, for around £25? That is the reality of the situation. A single breeding mink gives birth on average to between four and seven young. At the end of nine months, the pelt of each mink is worth between £22 and £28. I have taken those figures from auction prices published in Copenhagen. As regards compensation, let us not pretend that this has not been an extremely profitable and worthwhile agricultural diversification.

What has also made an impression on me is the plight of the poor ladies who grade the furs at Christmas time? How will they earn their Christmas money? The industry makes a significant contribution to the rural economy.

Noble Lords will know that each year, early in December, every fur farm must make a return under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932. The exact number of breeding mink is known. When considering compensation, all that needs to be done is to look at the agricultural return and base the payment on, I suggest, the average stocking rate of mink farms over the past five years, discounting the period of three years of uncertainty. That would be the right and fair way to approach this.

Furthermore, in looking at the level of compensation, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that loss of income is a crucial factor in such compensation? Will she further bear in mind the very large capital expenditure outlay involved in fur farming? I looked around a pelting place where the machinery used to remove the fat from the inside of the skin—a piece of equipment with an extremely limited life—cost almost £20,000. I was relieved that, when referring to compensation, the noble Baroness said that she appreciated the problems as regards restoring the sites on which these farms are based. Very little use can be made of the existing specialised buildings. They will need to be torn down and the sites cleared.

The noble Baroness quoted the European Union. I hate having to use an argument that the EU could in any way be of value to the English countryside, but we must face facts. The only country in the EU to have banned fur farming is Austria, although I appreciate that Austria may not be the flavour of the moment within the EU. However, I checked on the figures and allowed for the difference in exchange rates. It appears that the Austrian Government paid their fur farmers the equivalent of £390 for each breeding female. That is the level of financial compensation that has already been established.

It grieves me greatly to have to take the line that all that can now be done is to secure the best deal possible for the fur farmers because it is time that they gave up. I should like to see the industry continue, underpinned by high standards of animal welfare by means of regulation and enforcement. That is how we normally proceed in this country.

Let us be realistic about mink. The animals are regularly fed and watered in a safe environment. The mink thrive. When one visits a racecourse, one sees many people standing around in the paddock, looking at the horses. What in fact are they looking at? They may decide that they admire the conformation of a certain animal, but what they are really considering is, "What are their coats like? Are the horses thriving?" I promise your Lordships that at any mink farm that I have visited, you can walk down the rows of cages and ask the owner to open a cage-door and produce a mink, and the animals look glossy, well and happy. Of course they do, if the skins are to be sold.

I should like to see well regulated and prosperous agricultural diversification allowed to continue. But that is not to be the case. The Government have decided that they are going to go on with this Bill of Attainder. All I would say to the noble Baroness is: please may we have fair and promote compensation? Can we have an assurance that the mink farmers will not suffer the same fate as the pistol shooters? Two years ago, pistol shooters were promised fair compensation, and compensation for their specialist equipment; they have not yet seen it. There has been enough uncertainty affecting the fur farming industry for the past three years. Our job is to obtain an undertaking from the noble Baroness that she will proceed promptly with the quick delivery of a fair compensation scheme.

10.25 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I too should declare an interest, albeit a tenuous one. The British Fur Trade Association has affiliated membership of the Countryside Alliance, of which I am the current president. The Countryside Alliance holds no views on the Bill, which it regards as a matter for the NFU, to which, I understand, most of the remaining fur farmers belong. The views I express are entirely my own.

I should make clear as a starting-point my strong dislike of intensive animal husbandry. I particularly dislike the keeping of animals and birds in small cages. Legislation which improves the conditions in which such livestock are kept will have my full support where it is based on proper veterinary advice.

I also dislike the terrible damage which escaped animals—mink, in particular—have caused to our wildlife and our rivers and streams over many years. Many of the escapes were not the fault of the farmer, but the result of deliberate terrorist activity committed by people who said they loved animals. Many of the mink released died of starvation or in road accidents, being unfamiliar with life in the wild. Those which could be rounded up could often not be returned to their original family groups and often fought, with terrible injury or death as a consequence. Some animal lovers!

If the Bill had set out further to regulate and improve welfare conditions, particularly if it had done so in conjunction with other European countries where fur farming takes place, and if it had contained provisions to encourage the small number of remaining farmers to surrender their licences in return for fair compensation, it would have had my full support.

Instead, we have a Bill which seeks to criminalise 13 farmers, some of them in business in a very small way. One must pause for a moment and ask why the Government are proceeding with this matter now, at a time when the Session is crowded to bursting point with other legislation and when, I imagine, every government department has draft Bills of real substance for which it has been unable to secure parliamentary time—particularly when the European Commission has begun to work on its own fur farming directive.

The answer is to be found in the history of this matter. Before the 1997 general election, Mr Elliot Morley, who is now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, was appointed shadow spokesman for animal welfare. He accepted research assistants from the International Fund for Animal Welfare—which he properly declared in the Register of Members' Interests. That organization, contrary to the description sometimes given it by the media, is not a charity. It is an American-based organisation which appeals to the public for money by publishing sensational animal rights advertising campaigns world-wide. It receives donations in vast measure. Successful campaigns are important to it because they generate more funds for future campaigns.

As part of his brief, Mr Morley produced a leaflet entitled New Life for Animals which, among other things, advocated a ban on fur farming. There was no manifesto commitment to that effect. That is the pledge to which the Minister has just referred.

Shortly before the election in 1997, the Political Animal Lobby, a sister organisation of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, from which most of its funds were derived, made donations to a number of political parties, by far the largest of which was a sum well in excess of £1 million to the Labour Party. So it is that as this Parliament moves towards its closing stages somehow the Bill finds a place in the crowded legislative programme.

At Second Reading in another place Mr Morley made it clear, as the Minister has done today, that the Bill was not introduced primarily as an animal welfare measure, quite unlike the Private Member's Bill, introduced in another place by the honourable Member for Liverpool Garston, which did not reach this House. I suspect the reason is that the Government knew very well that if they had tried to do so they would almost certainly have fallen foul of Articles 28 and 29 of the European convention. Instead, they placed before Parliament a public morality Bill in an attempt, which I believe the Minister frankly admitted, to slip it in under Article 30.

In another place Mr Morley said: Fur farming is not consistent with a proper value and respect for animal life".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/00; col. 41.] The noble Baroness repeated those words today. According to Mr Morley, apparently it is morally acceptable to rear and kill an animal for its meat but not right to rear it and kill it in order to wear its skin—unless the skin is a by-product of the meat, in which case it becomes morally acceptable again.

The truth is that it is of no consequence to the animal what happens to it after it is dead. It is, surely, the conditions in which it is kept and the way it is treated while alive that should form the basis of legislation which this House should consider. If the conditions in which mink are kept currently are unsatisfactory, by all means legislate to change and improve them. But, please, spare us the politically correct claptrap about public morality in the way this Bill has been introduced.

Significantly, following its examination of the industry in this country, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which clearly had reservations about fur farming, as I do, did not advise a ban but listed recommendations for improved conditions. The reality is that no single mink will be any better off as a result of the Bill. As the noble Baroness said, the majority will be killed. So long as there is a profitable market, mink will be bred and kept, often in less satisfactory conditions, in the 12 EU countries where fur farming continues to be legal.

This Bill will almost certainly reach the statute book because the farmers have, frankly, had enough of terrorism and vilification. Those 13 farmers will lose their livelihoods. The very least that the Government can do if they want this law is to provide proper compensation, which involves giving an undertaking now that that will include loss of earnings. It is not good enough to say, as did Mr Morley in the other place, that the Government will consider that aspect after the Bill has passed into law and the consultation exercise has been completed. After all, the beneficiaries of the Bill are, on the one hand, the Government who will be able to say that they have discharged a debt, and, on the other, the animal rights lobby which will draw some comfort from it.

I warn the Government of this. When you once take the animal rights shilling and begin to dance to its tune the music does not stop when you want it to, and serious problems are likely to follow. It will become increasingly difficult to manage the countryside and its wildlife properly if the Government are afraid to authorise the necessary culling of badgers when TB is shown to be spread by them to cattle. It will become increasingly difficult to license necessary and important research involving animals with the result that that research cannot be done in this country and our finest doctors and scientists will be forced to go abroad to do this work, and others, not Britain, will benefit from their achievements.

Ultimately, what is the moral difference between rearing an animal to eat it or to wear it? Mr Morley says that there is one, but to the animal there is none. The job of Ministers is surely not to give lectures on morality, to seek to force their personal ethics on others or to do the bidding of rich pressure groups. It is to make real improvements for people and animals, to open up new opportunities for the people of this country, not to make them into criminals.

I have known the noble Baroness for over 30 years. Good sense and sound judgment are her trade marks. I am sorry that she finds herself having to present this illiberal piece of politically correct gesture politics to this House. She has my sympathy.

10.36 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure as well as a hard act to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. It was interesting to observe in the current edition of the House Magazine that she is by no means the only Labour parliamentarian to regard this Bill with disfavour.

I declare, first, that I have absolutely no interest whatsoever to declare. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, I have not met, or had any representations from, the few remaining fur farmers. It is sad, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—she is deservedly popular in all quarters of this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Kimball pointed out—has been landed with the task of piloting through this House this thoroughly illiberal Bill. It is not only illiberal but dangerous, setting all sorts of alarming precedents. It is not only dangerous but hypocritical. "Hypocritical" is a strong term, so I propose to justify it.

In order to secure the votes of the urban and suburban population, all too large a proportion of whom are unwilling or incapable of making any mental connection between the meat they eat virtually every day of the year and the killing of animals and the shedding of copious quantities of blood in the process, the Government imply that the Bill is designed to stop a unique form of animal cruelty. But it has nothing essentially to do with cruelty, unique or otherwise. If, after careful research, a team of vets, biologists and other scientists concerned with animal welfare were to recommend that the cages in which these animals are kept are too small for comfort and should be made larger, the Government would be totally entitled morally to legislate to remedy that; and I should happily support them. However, it is clear that, even if the cages were 20 times their current size, it would not deter the Government from bringing forward this Bill.

It appears that it is not humane or practical considerations but doctrinaire considerations which drive them. But even doctrine presupposes a certain consistency and at least a degree of logic. The politically correct term "inappropriate" is subjective and therefore quite inadequate. Therefore what philosophy underlies the Bill? Is it that no animal shall be kept in a cage, however large the cage? But then broiler chickens and the rearing of rabbits would have to be banned, to say nothing of zoos.

Is it that no animals should ever be killed by humans, only by predators or the particular diseases of old age, as members of eastern religions and many vegans believe? Obviously not. Is it that animals should be killed only when it is necessary to human health and survival? Obviously not, as humans can perfectly well survive without meat and the Government have not banned meat—at least, not yet! Is it that animals should never be killed other than for food? Obviously not, as animal experiments which end in death continue and leather shoes are still legal.

Is it that animals should be killed only for the production of mundane products as opposed to luxury ones? Here we may be getting nearer the mark but we are not there yet. After all, animals may still legally be killed for their musk glands, producing extremely expensive scent and much meat in the luxury class; for example, the first grouse of the season, expensive cuts of beef and so forth. As regards non-edible luxuries, consider expensive leather coats, handbags, purses, jewel boxes and so on. Some of the leather doubtless emanates from countries whose religious dietary laws make consumption of the carcasses taboo for the inhabitants.

Nor is fur necessarily a luxury. It would not seem a luxury to anyone obliged to spend a winter in Russia or in the eastern or central parts of Canada. So the logic and the arguments do not add up—unless veganism prevails in Government circles and this is merely the prelude to a long series of bans. For self-evident electoral reasons, that is probably unlikely.

About 20 years ago I happened to stumble across one of Bertrand Russell's more striking maxims. It had been translated into French, so I do not know exactly how it read in the original English. Unfortunately, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who might have been able to help, is not in his place. The gist of the observation was that the test of a country's civilisation was whether it treated small minorities as well as it treated larger minorities. That was a typically acute observation, as large minorities who have the capacity to cause trouble and disruption are often, though not always, treated with some respect by governments. On the other hand, the feelings and interests of small minorities—the minority we are discussing is particularly tiny—can be safely ignored. That is all the more reason, especially bearing in mind the dangerous precedent set by the Bill, why their interests should not be ignored by this House.

10.42 p.m.

Earl Peel

My Lords, initially, I had no intention of taking part in this Second Reading debate. That was until I received a briefing supporting the legislation. When I read what I can only describe as the selective nature of the argument supporting such a ban, and was told that it was immoral to keep animals for their fur and that fur was surely a luxury, I began to feel a sense of indignation. Having listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, told the House about the history of the Bill and the reason why the Government have introduced it, my antagonism towards it has grown. What she said was sad and disturbing. I cannot disagree with anything she said and I believe that those are the reasons why the Bill is before us today.

I do not want to say much, other than to protest. I have little knowledge of fur farming, but I become extremely angry when mindless vandals release mink into the wild. They then cause irreparable damage to wildlife and those responsible have no concern whatever.

From what my noble friend Lord Kimball said, I gather also that the few remaining fur farmers are now resigned to their fate and, quite understandably, are concerned primarily with receiving the maximum compensation, which I believe they are due. That is a point to which I may return in just a moment.

What really bothers me is the imperious way in which this moral diktat is being placed upon us simply because one or two Government Ministers appear to have a hang-up about wearing fur. They try to substantiate their action by saying that the majority of people are in favour of a ban. As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said—I agree with him—and as has been said elsewhere and in this House many times, that is no reason to ban anything. The whole principle of parliamentary democracy must be broad enough to incorporate the wishes and habits of minority interests.

In any event, if we are to argue for a majority point, I can only assume that on Monday the Government will give way on Section 28. I doubt it, but the same principle applies. What is more, I have seen figures—I assume that they are right—which show that over 80 per cent of people believe that it is acceptable to farm animals for any purpose provided that the farming principles are supported by proper standards of animal welfare. I believe that that is the absolute key to this argument. As the National Farmers Union said, we want regulation rather than criminalisation.

I believe that the Government are absolutely right to ensure that proper standards are set and adhered to. I do not believe that any right-minded individual could disagree with that. I am only too well aware that there have been one or two dreadful cases where fur farmers have not gone any way to adhering to those standards, and it is only right and proper that they should have been closed down. However, I should like to ask the Minister whether those affected by the legislation were given an opportunity to meet the required standards of welfare before the legislation was introduced; and, if so, how long they were given to meet those standards.

We are told that fur is a luxury and that there is no justification for wearing it. Who says so? Who makes those subjective judgments? From what I have read in the newspapers—so it must be right, must it not?—it appears that fur is the height of modern-day fashion. The fashion comes and it goes. However, I suggest that that is irrelevant. I believe in the right of the consumer to choose to buy fur if he or she wishes to do so.

We are told that producing—

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. I believe that I made it clear in my speech that there is nothing in the Bill that prohibits a consumer from buying fur. The Bill deals only with the activities of breeding and slaughtering animals for their fur.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness says but I still believe that consumers should be able to buy fur which would be banned under this legislation. That is my point. I shall come to the question of imports in just a moment because I was not absolutely certain what the noble Baroness said on that particular point.

We are told that producing fur is immoral. I return to the point that, provided that the welfare standards are of a sufficiently high level, this legislation is, quite frankly, irrelevant. Like other noble Lords who have already spoken, I believe that killing an animal for meat is no different from killing an animal for its skin. It is a perfectly natural phenomenon that has happened since time immemorial. The only reason that it is being stopped now is that the Government have decided that it should no longer happen.

I am reminded of a silly story about somebody who was very dear to me and my family. She went into a shop in Middlesbrough to buy a muff and the person behind the counter said, "Yes, madam. What fur?" She replied, "To keep my hands warm, of course." The point of that story is simple. Why should not that lady be given the opportunity of choosing for herself whether she wants to buy a fur? She did not want a synthetic product; she wanted the real thing. I see no reason why she should not be allowed to have it.

The Minister said that alpaca farming would not be caught by the Bill. I cannot see much difference between producing alpaca for the hair on the animal and farming for fur. Ultimately, the animal has to die. Whether it is killed immediately or later in its life makes little difference. I should be interested to know whether the Minister can justify the difference.

The Minister also mentioned imports. As I understand it, at least six European countries have decided not to impose any such legislation. Will the fur produced in those countries be banned in this country? If not, that is double standards. If the Government intend to prevent such imports, I should be interested to know how.

Finally, I come to compensation, which the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, mentioned. The Government have said that capital assets will be compensated. However, the fur farmers' operations will not be available for alternative income production. I hope that the Government will take loss of income into account in the compensation package. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, who pointed out that the Home Office has been immensely slow in dealing with compensation for firearms under the two Acts. The Government have a bad record on compensation. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that there will be no delays in compensating fur farmers for what I believe are their rights under this confiscation Bill.

To summarise, I believe that the Bill is a nonsense. It is based on no more than the cynical whims of a few Ministers. It has no logic behind it. It would be only too easy to argue that we do not require meat to survive. That is true. Will we all one day be forced into being vegetarians for the sake of animal welfare and political correctness? I remain bewildered about why the Bill has been introduced in this way. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain further why we have to have it.

10.54 p.m.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I welcome this Bill to end fur farming in England and Wales. It is possible that I will be a lone voice in the Chamber. I have been involved for many years in animal welfare organisations, including being the vice-chair of the Labour Animal Welfare Society.

I welcome the Bill for a number of reasons. The first is that there is a moral case to be made. Government have a special role in defending the interests of the innocent and the vulnerable, and that is what this Bill addresses.

Most people want to live in a society that discourages the infliction of suffering; to live in a less cruel society. Government cannot make people be kind to animals, but they should try and reflect the genuine concern of the majority that cruelty does not prosper. I believe the Bill contains these sentiments.

My second reason for supporting this Bill is that no one needs to wear mink fur. I will quote from a book called Cruelty and Christian Conscience published in 1992: In today's sophisticated world, the killing of creatures for the sake of their fur, often with great cruelty, is entirely unjustifiable. Humans do not need to wear fur. There are so many attractive alternatives available for those who want to be seen in 'fur'. It is now possible to buy simulated fur, which is warm and attractive and complimentary to creatures it copies. In a civilised, aware, society the killing of creatures for their pelts has no justification I add that fur farms breed mink for the sole purpose of providing the fur for mink coats, mainly for women to wear. As someone who has spent all my working life defending and supporting the rights of women, I could not defend the right of a woman to wear a mink coat. It is not necessary and I believe it is sheer vanity.

My third reason is that there is a clear desire by a majority of people in this country to end fur farming, and public opinion polls have shown that 75 per cent of people support a ban on fur farming. Hardly anyone in this country now wears fur. All big department stores have closed their fur departments. I am not aware of any stores, either big or small, that now sell furs in this country.

This is surely a question of consumers not just voting with their feet, but shouting in a very loud voice that they do not wish to wear fur. The Bill does not state that department stores cannot sell fur in this country if the consumer wishes to buy it. Consumers have clearly shown that they do not wish to purchase fur garments and hardly anybody in this country now wears a fur coat.

I believe this is a good Bill and will end the practice of breeding animals simply for their fur. The fur farmers who would have to cease business would be compensated. The Bill gives them time to adjust to their new circumstances, as Clauses 1 to 4 will not come into force before 1st January 2003. The Bill reflects public opinion and the majority of people welcome it.

In conclusion, this Bill deals with moral issues. it deals with how society cares about creatures for which we have responsibility, and it deals with unnecessary cruelty.

The people of this country in the main welcome it, and, as I understand it, as has been mentioned earlier in this debate, the fur farmers have accepted the Bill.

I am pleased this Bill is with us today. I believe this Labour Government have shown great courage in bringing this Bill forward, and I am very proud to be part of a Government that can bring this measure to us tonight. I look forward to its smooth passage through your Lordships' House.

11 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I have been looking at the feet of government Ministers and at the feet of Members of the Government whose Bill this is. I have observed that most government Ministers and most Members of the Government are shod in leather shoes, or at least shoes which appear to be made of leather—what I think the shops advertise as leather uppers. Certainly, the Minister is wearing a very, very elegant pair of shoes which I would suspect have leather uppers at least. I have also observed that a great many female Members of the Government have leather handbags.

I am very sorry and perhaps I am extremely stupid and obtuse but I cannot see the moral difference between killing an animal for shoes or to make a handbag or to eat a steak. I just cannot understand why it is so terribly morally appalling to kill an animal for clothing but apparently not morally appalling to kill an animal for food. I just do not think this makes any sense at all.

What seems to me important is the quality of life that the animal has while it is alive. What we should surely be going towards is enforcing regulations on the keeping and breeding of animals for food or arty other purpose rather than prohibiting their breeding at all. This is just totally idiotic.

If it was the month of February, I would be wearing my fur coat in this Chamber now. Often in February I would very much like to because it gets pretty chilly. I can only say to your Lordships that I did not have a fur coat until animal rights activists started throwing paint at people who were wearing them. When that happened, I went out and bought a fur coat, simply in order to strike a blow for freedom. I want tonight to strike a little blow for freedom.

11.5 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the National Farmers Union and of the Country Landowners Association. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on what I thought was an astoundingly good speech. She hit the nail on the head with every sentence.

I am neither in favour of nor against the farming of animals for their fur. I have no interest in it. But I am totally against the banning of any legal activity without very considerable justification. I firmly believe that the route that this Government should be taking is that of strong regulation of the industry, ensuring that the highest possible standards of animal welfare are enforced and complied with.

I was entirely against the banning of handguns—indeed, I was very much involved in that campaign—first, by the last administration, my party, and then by the present Government. The banning of handguns has achieved absolutely nothing. I am absolutely certain that the banning of farming animals for their fur will also achieve absolutely nothing, for the very reason that this industry in the United Kingdom is minuscule, with only 13 or so producers. Probably the Government would do a great deal better to ban the activities of those who wish to disrupt the legal activities of those who farm animals for their fur and for research purposes.

Some years ago a cousin of mine owned and ran a mink farm on the edge of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. I might add that it was a very well-run, humane operation. One night his farm was raided and broken into. The cages were opened and the mink let free. In the morning following the break-in many mink were found cowering in the corners of their pens through sheer fright. A number had been released into the wild and many died from stress. They were captive animals which had never had to hunt for food. They were fed regularly and well and had never lived in a wild environment. Those which were released and were not recaptured caused absolute havoc among the wildlife of the countryside around where I live and they certainly still do. We try to catch them all the time. They have now become feral. So much for animal rights.

The Government justify this ban with the words "public morality". That is a little rich and extremely weak. If fur farming is contrary to public morality, is it publicly moral to kill a sheep and sell its skin? Is it publicly moral to kill a beef animal and sell its hide to be used for leather shoes, jackets, bags and what have you? Is it publicly moral to rear rabbits for human consumption and use their pelts for clothing? I have a serious objection to Halal slaughtering, as do many veterinary surgeons. Is Halal slaughtering against public morality? I doubt it. Perhaps the Minister can tell me: if not, why not?

A recent public opinion poll by Taylor Nelson Sofres plc revealed that the British public, contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, mentioned, overwhelmingly support the farming of animals for any purpose provided that good animal welfare is practised. Surely, that is the basis of livestock farming. The poll was not one conducted on behalf of those groups which have lobbied the Government for a ban on fur farming: it had a much wider base than that. It included all the British public from every walk of life, not just the animal liberationists.

I am sure the Government will get their ban. We all know that. It is up to Parliament to make absolutely certain that those who suffer the loss of their legal business are treated fairly. They must be fairly and adequately compensated for their enforced loss of business.

Fur farming is a highly specialist type of farming. The equipment used cannot be used for other purposes. Therefore, when the ban becomes law that equipment will be rendered completely useless. Compensation for that equipment must be paid. The precedent for such compensation is, of course, the handgun ban. Although it took a long while for the compensation to be paid, it paid for the affected weapons and other ancillary equipment. In addition, the farmers who will lose their businesses at the introduction of this ban run profitable businesses from which they derive their living. Their capital is tied up in their businesses.

We in the agricultural industry constantly hear the Government telling us to diversify. What could a fur farmer diversify into? Perhaps the Minister can provide your Lordships with a few ideas. It would be grossly unjust if those affected by the ban were not to receive compensation for the loss of their business. Their business should be valued on the basis of a going concern by an independent firm of accountants knowledgeable about fur farming and the Government should pay the full compensation valuation.

I understand that the Minister, Mr Morley, stated in another place that compensation would be looked at after the ban has taken effect. At the beginning of this debate, the Minister mentioned the cut-off date, which I believe is 2nd March 1999. I am not sure of the significance of that date. Perhaps the Minister can advise the House on that.

Mr Morley's comments, as I have heard them, are simply not good enough. This House must fight to ensure that adequate and fair compensation is built into the Bill before it passes into law. The amount of compensation involved will not be particularly large.

In conclusion, I believe the Bill to be wholly unwarranted and completely unnecessary. It is yet another heavy-handed approach by a nanny Government which believes in placating the few with loud enough voices and big enough pockets. It will achieve absolutely nothing, while altering dramatically the lives of the few who have farmed legally, efficiently and humanely for years. The fur trade which will disappear from this country will be replaced by other fur farmers abroad where welfare standards are atrocious in comparison to those practised here. The Government will be doing no favours whatever to those animals which are farmed for their fur in this country.

11.11 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I find tonight's debate most interesting, particularly concerning issues of morality and especially so after yesterday's lengthy debate when the Conservative Benches were arguing for many issues, about which our children must be clear in moral terms, to be strictly laid down in legislation. The Conservatives wanted to impose strict, dogmatic views through legislation, whereas today the moral and philosophical issues should apparently not play any part in the consideration of this Bill.

I find that particularly ironic because the young people about whom we were talking yesterday do not care about very much in politics. However, one issue which usually makes them stand up to have their views heard is that of animal rights. They are interested in animal welfare issues. Indeed, if a poll were taken among the under-30s of their views on fur farming, the results would be very different—

Earl Peel

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. She referred to "animal rights". Does she mean animal rights or animal welfare, because there is a world of difference between the two?

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I am talking about young people interested in animal rights. In addressing the Bill, I shall move on to talk about animal welfare. Young people are interested in the issues of animals and how they are kept, in both animal rights and animal welfare, but they would call it animal rights.

We have moved on and young people are anxious that we move on further. The wearing of fur coats started in the caveman era when there was no other option and when animals lived in the wild. They were taken for their fur coats and died in the wild. Things were very different. Now there are too few animals in the wild for us to want to take them for their coats. We have mostly stopped being hunters and have developed alternative clothes.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, quoted other examples, such as musk glands. I would add the example of aphrodisiacs from tigers. We do not find that an acceptable way to use our wild animals. It is interesting that no one this evening has differentiated between the fact that mink are essentially wild animals that roam over vast territories and have a semi-aquatic life and that, through tradition, sheep and cows have become domesticated and live more naturally.

Perhaps I may draw the attention of noble Lords to the five freedoms listed by the RSPCA as a measure of whether or not it is reasonable to keep an animal for the purpose man wishes. They are freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition; freedom from the need for appropriate comfort and shelter; the prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment of injury, disease or infestation; freedom from fear; and freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour.

It is important to hear in mind that the mink is essentially a wild animal and has a semi-aquatic lifestyle when comparing them with sheep. I declare that I am not vegetarian and wear leather shoes. I find the fact that we farm sheep and cows for food acceptable. But I can imagine a time in the distant future—200 or 300 years hence—when people view that differently.

Although we on these Benches are not generally in favour of banning things and it is not a road we enjoy taking, in this instance we will go along with the Government in their wish to introduce this Bill, particularly in view of the fact that the industry has now run down to a very small size and compensation could, if the Government were so minded, be generous to those remaining in it. That is an important consideration in choosing this moment to phase out the keeping of animals for fur.

I am concerned about the issues of compensation. There may be a temptation on the part of the Treasury to say that, because only a small number of businesses are involved, the issue itself is very small. I remind noble Lords of the reply of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to me when I asked a question in relation to the sparkling cider industry. He said, "I am sorry for the individuals concerned, but they are very few". In that case there were 28 or 29. So, although there may be only a few fur farmers involved, to them it is a big issue. I urge the Government to be clear as to what compensation offer they will make. We may need to come back to that issue at a later stage.

In conclusion, I should like to ask the Minister a question on a point of detail: what will happen to the livestock? Will there be an option to export it to other countries or do the Government expect the stock to be killed? Other noble Lords covered the points in relation to the re-use of assets.

11.17 p.m.

Lord Luke

My Lords, it is very late and I shall do my best not to keep your Lordships too long. I declare an interest as a member of the CLA.

This "nonsense of a Bill"—I forget which noble Lord said that but it thoroughly describes the Bill—is brought before your Lordships with the object of stopping fur farming in this country. It will stop a small band of beleaguered farmers from carrying on their legitimate businesses and from earning an entirely respectable living thereby. It criminalises those people on the grounds of what the Government call "public morality". That is not the same reason as that given on the introduction of the failed Private Member's Bill in another place, which was animal welfare". I wonder why.

However, those farmers are not the real target. Those the Government believe they are getting at are the wearers of fur. So where in this Bill do the Government ban the wearing of fur in this country? Or is it not included because they have created the biggest demand in history for ermine? I fear not. It is because such a Bill would contravene European law and human rights. This Bill, therefore, is a second-best attempt to satisfy their animal welfare paymasters.

Apparently there is a difference between wearing fur from an animal killed specifically for eating and one which is killed to supply clothing. I am afraid that I, like many other noble Lords, cannot see any difference at all and believe that such an argument goes directly against common sense.

If this principle of, "Thou shalt not do this because we don't like it", is enshrined in legislation, as it would be by this Bill, it would be only too easy to extend it to anything that this Government feel that they want to extend it to—a point made by my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Monson. The wearing of leather has been mentioned. The argument applies also to sheep fleeces, rabbit skins, the eating of any meat and certainly to the abolition of hunting, shooting and fishing. People's rights do not come into it unless those who might be targeted carry a significant number of votes.

This Bill will not in any way influence the wearing of fur which is now, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Peel, on the increase throughout the world; neither will it affect fur farming elsewhere in the EU. It will simply hand an increased share of the market in fur production and trade to our EU competitors. It will not improve the lives of mink anywhere in the world. I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that, although they seem to be pretty wild if you get bitten by one, mink are in fact domesticated and have been so for some 80 years. As has been said, if you let them out into the countryside, they do not know what to do. Of course, they soon learn, but they do not know at first.

We on this side of the House are extremely sensitive to any suggestion that we are not in favour of the highest possible welfare standards for animals kept for farming purposes or, indeed, for any purpose. I believe that we have sometimes been impugned on this issue. Indeed, I wonder whether noble Lords are aware of the way in which really wild mink and foxes are trapped in Canada, Russia, South America, and so on. They are caught by the leg and either bleed to death, starve to death or freeze to death; or all three at once, and slowly. Is that what the animal welfare lobby wants? Of course not, but those people want to ban all wearing of fur. I wonder what noble Lords think about Eskimos. They trap a great number of animals in this rather unpleasant way, but they need the fur to stay alive.

Government supporters who oppose the wearing of fur as part of other people's legitimate lifestyle are determined to force their views on to the rest of us. As my honourable friend Malcolm Moss said in another place, quoting the journalist Roger Scruton: To imagine that we have the right to outlaw those lifestyles merely because they get up our class-conscious noses, is to base our legislation not on public morality, but on private snobbery"— I give way.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

Thank you. I am very grateful. The noble Lord referred to the leg-hold trap. During the 10 years that I was a Member of the European Parliament, I was an active member of the group on animal welfare. One of our prime aims was to get the leg-hold trap banned, not only in Europe—we succeeded in that—but also throughout those countries that traded with us in Europe. Parliament passed that law but, I am sorry to say, our own Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan (not my party's Commissioner; the Commissioner of the noble Lord's party) argued against it ferociously on the ground that the World Trade Organisation would not tolerate it. So we did know in Europe; and we did care in Europe. We will fight and continue to fight for the abolition of the leg-hold trap. It is the indifference of people like the noble Lord which paves the way for the continuation of this barbaric habit, which I think is contrary to public morality.

Lord Luke

My Lords, we always love to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, speaking; indeed, it is absolutely marvellous. However, I believe that what she has just said is not terribly relevant to what happens in Europe. Unfortunately, due to that intervention, I believe that I have lost my thread completely.

In spite of what the Minister said, it seems that there is a possibility that this Bill may contravene European law, whatever may be the reasons for changing from animal welfare to public morality as a way of getting past it.

In 1998, fur-bearing animals, together with cattle, pigs and sheep, were identified as being part of the established farming industry. Would the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers have supported that if mink and fox farming were seen as cruel and unnecessary? Incidentally, the British Government voted in favour of that measure. Has the Minister any estimate of the likely cost to the British taxpayer of defending possible actions in European courts?

I shall not enlarge on the public morality argument as it has been covered by other noble Lords, in particular in the interesting and informed speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. As far as I am concerned, it means nothing. However, I remind noble Lords that Nick Brown himself admitted on 22nd June that, 'Public morality' is not susceptible to an absolute definition: it inevitably involves subjective judgment".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/6/00; WA300.] The ticklish question of compensation has been mentioned by many speakers. As my noble friend Lord Kimball said, fur farmers have been under threat for many years from both the Labour Party and from a band or bands of terrorists whose motives, beyond an obvious delight in destruction for its own sake, are dubious in the extreme. So, it seems only right and proper that the compensation that the Government have correctly guaranteed to pay to dispossessed fur farmers should reflect the real value of the businesses which the former are closing down. What criteria will be used in assessing levels of compensation?

It will, I think, be legal to buy mink pelts in France after the enactment of this Bill, bring them across the Channel and sell them to retailers here and abroad, so what a waste of taxpayers' money in compensation to achieve precisely nothing. This demonstrates, if nothing else, this Government's fixation with presentation, which they put above substance, and with populism, which they put above the rights of minorities. This, I am afraid, is the act of an illiberal and intolerant government. Public morality means, in effect, public opinion for this Government. As my noble friend Lord Peel said, support for minorities and minority opinion is perhaps the most important factor in a properly democratic system of government. Anything else is an abuse of democracy.

We on these Benches will not divide on the Bill, but, make no mistake, we do not like it at all. I thoroughly agree with my right honourable friend Douglas Hogg, who called it in another place, an odious little Bill—political correctness gone mad".

11.27 p.m.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, we have heard some strong language, as from the noble Lord, Lord Luke, just now, and some interesting arguments. I hope that noble Lords meant to be kind in the words that they addressed to me and that I am not in any sense an "illiberal", if I may coin a noun.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that simply because a view or an activity is performed by a minority that does not ipso facto make it either moral or acceptable. Judgments have to be made. While he is quite right to say that we should be careful of the rights of minorities, simply because a minority wishes to indulge in something particularly unpleasant does not mean that it should be supported or allowed to be legal.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, can I conclude from what the noble Baroness has just said to the House that therefore the activities of the various animal rights terrorists over numerous years are morally acceptable?

Baroness Hayman

Absolutely not, my Lords. I do not think that anything I have said has suggested that they are either morally or legally right, as I think I made clear in my speech. I have made clear recently in the issue of the sabotaging of the Krebs trials in regard to badgers and bovine TB the absolute opposition of the Government to illegal activity and to the disruption of legal pursuits.

I was trying to explain to the noble Lord that the issues which have been explained in very black and white terms today are issues of judgment and value judgment. Simply because something is supported by either a majority or a minority does not mean that the view of the Government of the day must be that it should be enacted in legislation. We can think of many examples of that—for instance, the analogy with Section 28 has been made.

I was interested when the noble Lord, Lord Luke, said that he found it difficult to see the nuance between animals for food production and animals for fur production. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, found it difficult to understand the difference between the use of a by-product of an animal that was kept for food—for example, for leather and sheepskin—but the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, did not find it difficult to see the distinction between the two.

I am sure that when we come to the discussion of an issue which will be hotly debated in this House—fox hunting—there will be those on the Benches opposite who will argue for the continuation of the hunting of mammals with hounds but who would not argue for the reinstatement of bear baiting and cock fighting.

Judgments have to be made about what is appropriate and acceptable in a society at any one time. The speech by my noble friend Lady Gale made it clear that it would be wrong for noble Lords, whose opinions I respect and who are perfectly entitled to believe that the line is being drawn in the wrong place at this time with this particular Bill—I disagree with them, but they are entitled to that view—to assume that they are dealing with the views of one or two Ministers in another place. A large number of people support a ban on fur farming. There has been a great deal of correspondence about it and a great many opinion surveys that have borne that out. I am not suggesting that just because something is supported by a large number of people or a small number of people it should therefore become government policy, but one should not underestimate the amount of support for this measure.

Earl Peel

Does the noble Baroness accept the findings of the opinion poll which established quite clearly that farming for any purpose is acceptable—I think 81 per cent of the people polled agreed—provided that the animal welfare standards were up to scratch? That is the key issue.

Baroness Hayman

I have not seen that particular poll; I should like to see it. I accept the noble Earl's view that that may well be the view of some people or many people. In many opinion polls, the answer you get depends very much on how you phrase the question. I was not basing the Government's position simply on majority support, as I think the noble Earl accepts, but on the Government's interpretation of public morality at the present time. I am sure that we will have that debate on Section 28 on Monday.

It is important that I should say one thing very clearly. In the course of speeches—which I know were strongly felt—aspersions were cast on the motivation of my honourable friend Mr Elliot Morley in terms of the introduction of this Bill. Noble Lords who know my honourable friend should accept that he has a long-standing and deep and personal commitment on these issues. They may not share his views but I do not think that he should be accused in any way of hypocrisy on this issue.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It may have been my remarks which gave rise to the comments that she has just made. I would not for a moment intend that anything I said should reflect a suggestion that Mr Elliot Morley is other than wholly sincere in the views which he holds.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. I felt it important to get that on the record.

I dealt with some of the basic arguments in my opening remarks. I was asked why we consider that it is not right to kill farmed animals for their fur but acceptable to kill farmed animals for meat. That reflects the view that the breeding of animals for slaughter is not right or wrong per se in any circumstances. It depends on the purpose for which the animal is slaughtered. I hope noble Lords will agree that it is incumbent on us always to challenge the motive for killing anything. If the motive or purpose does not justify the slaughter, the slaughter cannot be justified by the fact that the animals were bred specifically to be slaughtered for that purpose. We believe that the primary purpose of keeping an animal for the production of food is justified in terms of sufficient public benefit and that that is so even where the production of fur or hide is a secondary purpose of keeping the animal. I accept that noble Lords may not share that view, but that is our view.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, I am very sorry but I do not think that that is acceptable. That is the doctrine of expediency.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, it is a doctrine of analysing differences in specific circumstances and coming to judgments about the nuances and rules which one applies. I accept that the noble Lady may not agree, but I am saying that the Government see a distinction. We believe that that distinction around purpose will be seen by other people; that the support of Members in another place, reflecting, one hopes, the views of their constituents, was strongly in favour of the Bill; and that many people can see such a distinction between the farming of animals for food and the farming of animals for fur.

Some specific questions were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, worried me with his assertions on Acts of Attainder. Erskine May tells us somewhat reassuringly that Acts of Attainder are now of historic interest only. Since they followed on the imposition of death penalties, I am sure the noble Lord will be reassured by that. It was not suggested that the abolition of either bear baiting in 1835 or cock fighting in 1849 was equivalent to an Act of Attainder. However, I understand that noble Lords have strong feelings. I understand that noble Lords have questions to ask. Perhaps I may deal later in my speech with the issue of compensation. I suspect that we shall return to that issue at later stages of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, challenged my assertion that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Under Article 1 of its first protocol, the convention guarantees the right to peaceful enjoyment of property and possessions. Any interference with the use of property must achieve a fair balance between the general interests of the community and the individual's right to the enjoyment of possessions. It is the view of the Government that the provisions are compatible with the ECHR. We believe that over-riding moral arguments can be brought forward in favour of a ban. A period of at least two to three years is being allowed before the ban comes into force and compensation will be payable. There will be a duty to consult on compensation with those affected.

Perhaps at this point I may respond to the query raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about what is to happen to the livestock involved. A variety of options are available at the discretion of the farmer. We believe that the majority will go for slaughter for the pelts, but they could be sold abroad, as long as that is done before the ban comes into force. In terms of exports and imports—a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Peel—as I tried to make clear, nothing in the Bill affects the trade in fur. Only the trade in animals is affected.

I believe that the noble Earl also suggested that we should be concerned about animal welfare standards in countries where fur farming is not banned. The noble Earl, along with the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, was absolutely right to point out that the only other country within the EU to have imposed a ban is Austria. I believe that the Dutch are also looking at a potential ban.

I should also point out that the EU directive on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes also covers animals farmed for their fur. That directive lays down minimum welfare standards. We have participated in Council of Europe discussions on changes to raise standards in order to fulfil our obligations as regards animal welfare throughout the Community.

Earl Peel

My Lords, is the noble Baroness saying that mink produced in another European country could still be imported for use in this country? If that is what she is saying—I see that she is shaking her head; that is not what she is trying to say—I would regard that as totally hypocritical. Could she confirm her statement?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I am trying to find the exact language to make the position absolutely clear. The difference is that the import of animals to breed and slaughter for fur would be illegal. The import of the fur itself would not be illegal. That difference occurs because each country within Europe is entitled to decide for itself the balance between public morality and the carrying on of a business. Different countries take different views on that issue. That is the situation.

I was trying to suggest to the noble Earl that we have not completely abrogated responsibility for ensuring that, as regards standards in animal welfare, we make every effort to take the lead within the Community. That is because we uphold very high standards of animal welfare in this country. Only last Friday the noble Baroness and I discussed the need to secure a level playing field on this issue.

The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, asked me about the significance of the cut-off date for compensation; namely, 2nd March 1999. That date was chosen because it marked the Second Reading of the Private Member's Bill in another place. Obviously, one needs to put a constraint on the potential of people entering the business theoretically in order to claim compensation.

Perhaps I may move on to the issues relating to compensation. I believe that throughout the debate it has been recognised that, given the support now offered by the NFU and from the affected farmers, the Bill should progress—although I take the point that that acceptance has not come about on the matter of principle. A great deal of interest has been expressed on the issue of compensation. As I explained, the Bill is an enabling measure and it is not appropriate for details of the compensation scheme to be included in the Bill itself. But, on behalf of the Government, I should like to reassure noble Lords that we expect fair compensation to be made available to fur farmers put out of business by the ban.

Under the Bill, the Government are required to consult publicly on the details of the compensation scheme. This is in order to allow the views of fur farmers to be taken fully into account in an open and fair manner. I should not want there to be any perception, real or otherwise, that the Government would not take into account the views of the industry.

I have been pressed to say exactly what will or will not be in the compensation scheme—for example, whether it will be based on headage, and whether income and costs associated with closure will be taken into account. We have not ruled out any items at this stage. But to give guarantees now would prejudge the outcome of the consultation exercise, and that would not be right.

Lord Luke

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She spoke of "consulting publicly". I thought that the consultation was to take place with members of the industry—in other words, the farmers. I did not know that there would be public consultation. Perhaps she would be kind enough to say what that means.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I meant that, in the normal sense of the word, it would not be secret consultation. If that is incorrect, I shall of course write to the noble Lord to correct it. It may well be that, for example, trade associations or the NFU are equally appropriate bodies for consultation. Perhaps I may take advice on the point. The answer may be that anyone can comment in a consultation but that the consultation itself will be addressed to the farmers who are affected. As I think I made clear in my earlier remarks, it is from the affected farmers that we particularly want to hear.

In our commitment to providing a fair scheme, we must consider the options with an open mind and be persuaded of the strength of the argument. It will perhaps be of help if I say something about the process that we intend to follow. We are proposing to use professional valuers and accountants to assess the assets and income of fur farmers to assist us in drawing up the compensation scheme. We shall then consult those affected by the Bill over the details of the scheme.

Several noble Lords raised the issue of timing. This is usually done over a two-month period. The Government will then consider the responses to the consultation exercise and draw up a statutory instrument to be laid before Parliament. It would be wrong to suggest that that would not take a number of months, but the Government understand the need to move as fast as possible on the matter. As I said, there is no bar to people who have already wound down their businesses, so long as they were in business on the operable date for claiming compensation. So there is some flexibility there.

I suspect that we shall return to specific details of the compensation scheme at a later stage in our consideration of the Bill.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Will the Minister do her utmost to ensure that the compensation issues are fast-tracked? The experience of many people in the hand-gun world when hand-guns were banned was appalling. The inefficiencies on the part of the unit of the Home Office concerned with compensation were awful. Many people had to wait for months—in some cases years—to receive adequate compensation. I ask the Minister to advise her honourable and right honourable friends that it is most important to provide compensation quickly.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I understand the strength of feeling about the need for a speedy response. Obviously, one cannot so telescope a consultation exercise as to make it unfair. Equally, I am a great believer in learning from experience. If there are lessons to be learnt about how these matters can be dealt with more smoothly I undertake to do all that I can to ensure that that takes place.

Lord Luke

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving away. Can we have this in two months' time, and before the Bill passes through both House?

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I believe I made clear that this is an enabling Bill which contains a responsibility to put in place a compensation scheme. Once the Bill becomes law we can move on to the next stage. That cannot be done in anticipation of the Bill becoming law. On that basis, I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading this evening.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Lord Carter

My Lords, in rising to move that the House do now adjourn, I cannot help observing that proportionately nearly as many interventions were made during my noble friend's wind-up speech as were made during the wind-up speech of my noble friend Lord Whitty on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. I make that observation merely as an innocent observer of the passing scene in your Lordships' House. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at eight minutes before midnight.