HL Deb 11 December 2001 vol 629 cc1234-5

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Gale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will follow the lead of the United States of America and introduce a ban on the import, export and trade in domestic dog and cat fur.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government agree that the import, export and trade in domestic dog and cat fur is abhorrent. I can therefore tell the House that we are exploring what proportionate and enforceable steps we might take to ban any such imports. Over the coming months we shall work with the European Union to see whether there is a practical way forward on this issue. In the meantime, I shall be sending a letter to all MPs explaining what the Government propose to do about the matter.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very positive reply. I am sure that all animal lovers in this country and those who care about animal welfare will be greatly heartened by her response. Is she aware that one reason that the United States introduced a ban was because fur traders in America were mislabelling the product in order to disguise its true origin and that, therefore, consumers were unaware of what they were purchasing? Is she further aware that a recent "Newsnight" undercover investigation showed that fur traders in this country were quite happy to do the same?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am aware of the United States ban on the import, production and use of cat and dog fur. I believe that it is clear that in the United States large quantities of cat and dog fur were mislabelled to mislead consumers. I remind my noble friend that legislation is already in place to stop consumers being misled about what they are buying. Under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 it is a criminal offence to apply to goods by any means false or misleading statements. I am also aware of the "Newsnight" investigation which was undertaken a couple of years ago. We are carrying out further investigations into the current situation in this country and I hope to be able to report further.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a very strong case for a major increase in such traffic, given the very beneficial effects that it would have on the preservation of wildlife and, in particular, small song birds?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord knows what he is letting himself in for in terms of the post bag that he will undoubtedly receive. I am kindly not naming the noble Lord in pointing out that in this country there is an enormous surge of public opinion about this trade. I believe that it is right to see what, if anything, can be done to meet the substantial public opinion that exists in relation to this matter.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, will the noble Baroness say what labels are used to describe these furs?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, no fur in this country is labelled "cat fur" or "dog fur". Some fur is labelled simply as "fur"; some as "other fur"; and some as "exotic fur". It is not illegal per se to import cat or dog fur and it is not illegal to label it simply as "fur". However, it is illegal to misrepresent such fur as, for example, rabbit or wolf fur. When none of it is labelled "cat" or "dog" fur, it is very difficult for us to be precise even about how much is coming in to the country.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, so far as we know, there is no Cruella De Vil in Britain, unless it is my noble friend Lord Marsh in heavy disguise?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, is a bolder lady than I am in naming her noble friend. It is important for me to say that the British Fur Trade Association has assured us that it does not deal in cat and dog fur. However, of course, some fur traders outside that organisation may be undermining the stand that the British Fur Trade Association has taken.