HL Deb 13 November 2000 vol 619 cc14-8

3.7 p.m.

Read a third time.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Hayman.)

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I wonder whether I may crave the indulgence of your Lordships to speak on this Motion. The Bill had a fairly good run in Grand Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, was enormously kind and exceedingly helpful. Perhaps I may say that she conducted herself in a delightful fashion.

However, I felt that I must say a few words on this Motion because not many people know about the Bill or what it is concerned with. The Bill puts 13 people out of business. It criminalises an activity which has previously been perfectly legal on the basis that mink farming is immoral.

We all have ideas as to what we like and do not like. Some people do not like eating meat and they become vegetarians. Some people do not like the way that chickens or pigs are kept. Some people may not like the way that mink are kept. But that has nothing to do with morality. I am astonished that that should be the basis upon which the Government have brought forward this Bill.

Apparently, it is morally acceptable to wear a sheepskin jacket but it is not morally acceptable to wear a mink jacket. It is morally acceptable to wear the hide of an animal on your feet but not on your back. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, the morality argument is deeply spurious.

The simple matter is that if the Government had not produced an argument of that nature, they would have fallen foul of European Union legislation. The noble Baroness and other Members of the Government have said that the mink farmers welcome this measure because of the compensation. Of course they welcome the compensation. But as they are being put out of business, that is the least that could be expected. The compensation is the result of the Government's policy; it should not be the motivator of it.

When agriculture is going through an unprecedented time of disaster and depression, when one farmer a week is committing suicide, farmers are told to diversify. But curiously, when they diversify in this direction they are told, "You must not do it. What is more, if you have done it, henceforth keeping mink will be a criminal offence for which the fine is £20,000".

I hesitate to muddy the waters, but I cannot help but recall the fact that the International Fund for Animal Welfare gave £1 million to the Labour Party and this is the pay-back.

Fur farming is carried on all over the world—in Canada, Russia, Denmark, Holland, and the United States of America. Are all those people immoral? Of course not. I reckon that that is a farcical argument. The majority of the world's mink is farmed in Denmark, Holland and the United States. As a proportion of the total, few mink are farmed in the United Kingdom.

The ban will have hardly any effect on the numbers produced, but the majority of all trade in fur takes place through London at a value of £400 million. Banning the farming of mink will have little effect on the fur trade but it will give huge encouragement to animal rights activists.

The European Union Secretary-General said that the United Kingdom should wait for the proposed European Union legislation on fur farming before taking any unilateral action. That follows opposition to the Government's proposals from France, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain and Greece. However, the Government did not take any notice and they produced this Bill.

I am bound to tell your Lordships that the Bill has a nasty provenance. Unilaterally it destroys people's businesses and it tries to pretend that it will all be done on the altar of morality. I do not believe that the Government should feel at all proud of this Bill. The Government should be in the business of protecting people's businesses, not destroying them and turning them into criminal activities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, must regret the day she became involved with this Bill. Some noble Lords have not made it easy for her to get this Bill through the House. As I said earlier, she was enormously courteous in Grand Committee, as she has been throughout all the stages of this Bill. However, I did not feel it possible to let this Bill pass on to the statute book without noble Lords realising what an unpleasant Bill it is and what a nasty provenance it has.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the banning of mink farming in this country. I address my remarks to the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He argues that the morality argument does not exist. He draws the comparison between mink and meat and chickens and he talks about leather from the hides of cows on one's feet and sheepskin on one's back.

Baroness David

My Lords, is it in order to have such speeches on Bill do now pass?

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Companion clearly states that, if no amendments have been tabled for Third Reading, The motion is usually moved formally. It may be opposed, and reasoned or delaying amendments may be moved to it, but … it is not normally debated". It is the practice of the House not to have Second Reading speeches on Bill do now pass.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, thank you. In that case I shall pose a question to the Minister. Is not the morality of the matter in the purpose of the breeding? Whereas cows and sheep are bred for the purpose of food, mink are not bred for the purpose of food but simply for cosmetic use. That is where the morality point arises.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I do not want to make a Second Reading speech, having already made one in the summer. This is a sad occasion and a highly significant one. Any moment now this country will find itself totally out of step with the rest of the civilised world. No other country bans fur farming, although two or three Austrian provinces do so.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has commended the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on her courtesy and helpfulness, which I would wholeheartedly endorse. However, this is a highly illiberal Bill, shot through with double standards. The Government, in the person of the noble Baroness, have been honest enough to admit that it has nothing to do with animal welfare or preventing animal cruelty, but it is purely about the killing of animals however well they may be treated. Some will ask what all the fuss is about since the English and Welsh farmers have capitulated, battered as they have been by the hard-cop/soft-cop treatment: the soft-cop being the Government with an increased compensation offer made since Committee stage and the hard-cop being the sinister individuals in black Balaclavas who threaten fur farmers—

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can the Government Chief Whip tell the House whether these speeches are being made on Bill do now pass?

Lord Carter

My Lords, the motion that the Bill should receive a Third Reading is always taken formally. If there are speeches, the only time to make them is on Bill do now pass. It has been the custom of the House not to make such a speech on Bill do now pass.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I do not intend to make a long speech, and certainly not as long as that of the noble Earl. An industry that pays substantial taxes will be ruined and taxpayers will have to pay £1.5 million, a factor that has not been raised in any debate so far. Perhaps the International Fund for Animal Welfare should pay that rather than taxpayers. I am reluctant to take up the time of the House by inviting your Lordships to divide, but I invite noble Lords to express their disapproval of this thoroughly illiberal and dangerous Bill vocally when the Question is put.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I say categorically to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that there is no relationship whatever between the donation made by the International Fund for Animal Welfare to the Labour Party and this Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, we on these Benches feel strongly that this Bill should now pass. We feel pride that Britain has led the world in improving the standards in which animals are kept, whether pigs or calves kept for veal, and in outlawing fur farming. Surely we should not descend to the lowest common denominator.

Lord Luke

My Lords, today fur is being worn by more people worldwide than ever before and yet we have a Bill to abolish 12 fur farmers' businesses in this country. That is quite extraordinary. My noble friend Earl Ferrers has made all the points that I wanted to make. I reiterate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has been most courteous and helpful during the course of the Bill. Let it be gone and let us give these unfortunate farmers the adequate compensation that the noble Baroness has said that the Government will pay. On these Benches we shall keep a sharp eye on the progress of negotiations and ensure that those farmers receive their money as soon as possible.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. The fault lines between the Government and those who oppose the principles of the Bill have been examined at some length at Second Reading, in Grand Committee, on Report and again at Third Reading.

The legislative protection that human beings accord to animals reflects the values of a society at any given time in its development. This Bill reflects this Government's view that it is wrong to rear and to slaughter animals solely or primarily for the value of their fur. We shall not resile from that basic principle.

As noble Lords who have spoken today have courteously pointed out, we have done everything that we can to accommodate issues of detail around compensation that have been raised during the passage of the Bill. However, the principle remains—it is absolutely correct that we are drawing a distinction between the rearing of animals for slaughter for food and for slaughter for fur. There are no absolute lines in the treatment of animals for most people. We need to look at each case individually and challenge whether the purpose of the activity is sufficient justification for the taking of animal life involved. This is an ethical judgment that goes beyond the welfare considerations and standards which apply to all farmed animals. It is in the nature of such ethical judgments that there will be different views as to where lines are appropriately drawn. I recognise that other Members of your Lordships' House do not agree with the Government or the public sentiment reflected in the many thousands of letters of support received on this issue. That is the nature of democratic politics. I am sure that there were minority voices in the debates on legislation which went through Parliament in 1835 to ban bear-baiting and in 1849 to ban cock-fighting. And I suspect that we will devote many hours of debate to related issues when we discuss the future of fox hunting in your Lordships' House.

But we are where we are. This Bill has been scrutinised at all stages. Sadly, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was unable to be with us for the debate at Second Reading. However, he managed to give his Second Reading speech both in Committee in the Moses Room and today on the Floor of the House. I do not underestimate the commitment of the noble Earl and other Members to the cause that he argues.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene. She is being slightly unfair to say that I managed to get a Second Reading speech into the present debate. The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that in Bill do now pass debates speeches are often made saying how good the Bill is. That is all right. Occasionally, someone will make a speech saying that the Bill is not very good. That is what I was doing. I was not making a Second Reading speech.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, that was not a judgment. I am sure each of us will make an individual judgment on that issue. However, I say to the noble Earl, very gently because he was most: polite, that he may not be the most reliable barometer of the social and ethical attitudes of Britain in the year 2000.

Noble Lords


Baroness Hayman

My Lords, he may be. I suggest that he may not be.

Lord Luke

My Lords, the noble Baroness, on reflection, may care to rephrase that sentiment.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I would if I could rephrase it in a way which was not offensive because it was not intended to give offence in any way. The noble Earl said that I was not a barometer of social attitudes. I did not consider that offensive; I considered that to be his view. We will have debates on social attitudes and the attitudes towards minorities later today. I am talking of ethical and social attitudes, the reflection of which in public opinion polls shows clearly that the majority of the public would like to see the banning of fur farming.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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