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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 any 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.
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.
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.
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--
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