Mink Keeping (England) Order 2000

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Mr. Morley: I welcome the support given by the hon. Members for North-East Cambridgeshire and for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I shall respond to the points that they raised.

I have consistently condemned the harassment and intimidation of fur farmers and related illegal activities. Although I do not suppose that the extremists involved would pay much attention to what I say, I hope that they will get off fur farmers' backs, given that such operations are being wound down and that most, if not all, fur farmers want to exit the industry as quickly as possible. Naturally, I shall do whatever I can to assist them in that.

I have to tell the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire that the statutory consultation period is now three months, not two months. We have no option but to follow that procedure, because it is in the new Cabinet Office guidelines. However, the timetable should not slip, because we have started our valuation procedures. The recruitment of independent consultants, who will be asked to visit fur farms by 21 February, is proceeding according to schedule. The advertisement to recruit such consultants went out last week, we have already received inquiries from firms that wish to work on behalf of the Ministry, and we expect to appoint independent valuers by the end of January. We are in the consultation period, but that does not mean that we can start preparation work, such as valuations, to help those people who want to leave the industry quickly. I understand the point about the time scale, and we shall bear it in mind as we follow the procedure.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): Will existing fur farmers who wish to quit at the earliest possible opportunity know roughly what their compensation package will be by the end of February, which is before next season's breeding process begins?

Mr. Morley: In all fairness, if a valuer visits on 21 February, it will be difficult to produce a valuation by the end of February. I understand the connection between the February time scale and the next breeding cycle, and I shall discuss it with my officials to see what we can do to ensure that farms are valued quickly.

Mr. Moss: It is perhaps expecting too much to have a valuation by the end of February, but a stocktake could certainly be done. That would only require a count of mink on the farm, which would form the basis for valuation, depending on the formula that was adopted. Will the Minister give an assurance that stocktaking measures will be included in the time scale, so as to prevent next season's breeding from starting?

Mr. Morley: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not in a position to give definitive time scales while procedures are being implemented. I repeat that I understand the time scale issue, and I shall discuss it with my officials to ensure that we handle the matter speedily. Given that we have already advertised for independent consultants and that we intend to appoint by the end of January, we are moving as fast we can in the available time. Although we are in the three-month consultation period, we recognise that it is an important issue for people who want to proceed quickly, and we are trying to help them.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked about welfare inspections. I can assure him that they will continue as normal because, even during the winding-down period. We want to safeguard mink welfare, so the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency's visits will continue.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about diversification. Individual fur farmers, depending on their location and the business that they wish to diversify into, may find opportunities under the English rural development programme, which provides funds for diversification through both the rural enterprise scheme and the marketing and processing scheme. However, the marketing and processing scheme is on a large scale, so the rural enterprise scheme may be more relevant to individual fur farmers who want to turn their businesses over to other activities. If fur farmers' plans are feasible and they qualify, we shall be pleased to help them.

With regard to control and eradication, some years ago a combination of MAFF, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office attempted to eradicate mink, but that was eventually deemed to be impossible—current proposals for eradication only apply to some Scottish offshore islands. Control of mink is the responsibility of individual landowners, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the damage that can be caused by feral mink.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932, which enables mink to be controlled. An order under section 10 of that Act applies only to mink, so an order will still be needed, even after mink farming is banned. This order may well be kept in place. That would be the most logical way to proceed.

The keeping of mink and coypu under special licence involves a number of institutions, including wildlife parks and zoological gardens that exhibit those animals. They will still have to comply with the procedures to ensure that the animals do not escape into the wild. The order could still play a role in that, even after mink farming is ended.

Mr. David Heath: I am not clear about why mink and coypu would require separate orders rather than an order that covered all non-indigenous species kept in a zoo or wildlife park.

Mr. Morley: If my memory serves me rightly, the separate orders are required because those animals come under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932. That Act provides for certain controls on those animals, including powers of eradication. If animals such as coypu and mink are kept and they escape, they can cause the problems to which the hon. Gentleman rightly referred. Coypu were the subject of an expensive eradication scheme run by the Ministry some years ago, which was successful. We need these orders, even if these animals are being kept under licence, to ensure that security is of an adequate standard.

Some animals may be covered under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, but wildlife parks and collections may be different, so we must have the necessary powers to ensure that those animals are kept in secure conditions. That is why we will need these provisions even after mink farming is no longer practised in this country.

I hope that I have answered the points raised by hon. Members. It is a routine procedure, and we need to ensure that this measure is in place. I welcome the support that has been given to the order, and I am confident that the vast majority of existing fur farmers will want to exit the industry as quickly as possible. We shall certainly do what we can to assist them.

Question put and agreed to

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Mink Keeping (England) Order 2000.

Committee rose at eight minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Illsley, Mr. Eric (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Blizzard, Mr.
Brake, Mr.
Darvill, Mr.
Dismore, Mr.
Follett, Barbara
Grogan, Mr.
Heath, Mr. David
Hoyle, Mr.
Ladyman, Dr.
Morley, Mr.
Moss, Mr.
Quinn, Mr.
St Aubyn, Mr.
Sutcliffe, Mr.

 
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