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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

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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 bear 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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.


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