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Colchester Borough Council Bill [H.L.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the promoters of the Bill have leave to suspend any further proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that notice of their intention to do so is lodged in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments not later than 12 noon on Monday 27th November and that all fees due on or before that day have been paid;

That the Bill be deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments not later than noon on the second sitting day in the next Session with a declaration annexed, signed by the agent, stating that the Bill is the same in every respect as the Bill at the last stage of the proceedings thereon in this House in the present Session;

That the proceedings on the Bill in the next Session of Parliament be pro forma in regard to every stage through which the Bill has passed in the present Session, and that no new fees be charged to such stages;

That the Private Business Standing Orders apply to the Bill in the next Session only in regard to any stage through which the Bill has not passed during the present Session.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

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Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill

3.8 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Offences relating to fur farming]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 5, leave out ("or primarily").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as most of your Lordships were not able to be present at earlier stages of the Bill--not least because the Committee stage was held in Grand Committee in the Moses Room--it may help if I explain the background to the amendment.

Within the past couple of years the Government have formulated a novel doctrine; namely, that it is morally and politically correct to kill animals for meat, however expensive and esoteric that meat may be; it is morally and politically correct to kill them for the purposes of scientific research; to kill them for their musk glands from which expensive scent is manufactured; and to kill them for the leather from which expensive shoes, handbags and furniture can be made; but it is politically and morally incorrect to kill them for fur--although fur is rather less expensive and luxurious than many of the other items I have mentioned--unless the fur is a by-product of meat production. In other words, it is all right to sell rabbit fur provided that most of the profits from rearing the rabbits come from the rabbit meat. But what happens when, as in France at present and possibly other countries, the value of rabbit meat slumps and the value of their pelts rises?

The noble Lord, Lord Luke, posed just such a question in Grand Committee to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, replied,

    "It would be for the courts to decide on the meaning of 'primary' in particular cases".--[Official Report, 17/10/00; col. CWH9.]

She went on to imply that one could reliably count upon the courts to interpret the law in a sensible manner. But is it wise to base the creation of a new criminal offence upon such optimistic assumptions? Surely it would be more sensible to avoid ambiguity and the possibility of unintended consequences by restricting the draconian new law to cases where the animal is bred solely for fur and nothing else. I beg to move.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, as the noble Lord said, we had a debate in Grand Committee which reflected some of the fundamental arguments on the Bill to which any Member of your Lordships' House could have contributed had he so wished. We also had a debate at Second Reading about the basis on which the Government believe that it is not consistent with a proper value and respect for animal life to allow the slaughter for their fur of animals kept specifically for that purpose. That is the fundamental basis of the Bill. Whether it is appropriate to outlaw that form of farming on grounds of public morality and ethical standards is an

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area of fundamental disagreement among some Members of your Lordships' House and another place.

There has been great debate about it. There are disagreements. However, the Government are firmly of the view that it is justified and that the arrangements in respect of those farmers affected have been made on the proper timescale with the appropriate compensation arrangements. At the urging of noble Lords, during passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, we have considered that issue carefully. We have taken on board the issues raised by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee of your Lordships' House. We have amended the Bill to ensure that the compensation arrangements cover income as well.

However, we cannot accept the amendment. It would undermine fundamentally the purpose of the Bill. It would remove from the scope of the Bill any animals kept primarily for slaughter for the value of the fur where there was any by-product. It would not matter what the nature of the by-product was--for example, whether it was meat for human or animal consumption, or animals kept for show, or stud animals, or those kept for oils or fats for cosmetics, lubricants or any possible usage. If there were any by-product it would mean that the animal was not being kept solely for its fur. In effect, a coach and horses would be driven through the main purpose of the Bill. The size of the loophole that the amendment would create is not acceptable to the Government. It would undermine the primary purpose.

I accept that the noble Lord and others may genuinely believe that this primary purpose is not a correct one. We have argued that out. I believe that we have had proper scrutiny of what we are doing. The Government have taken on board the concerns expressed. I believe that now the National Farmers Union and the affected farmers believe that appropriate steps have been taken. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that not unexpected reply. I think that she fails to appreciate that in this country mink--I believe that they are the Government's target--have no usable by-products. In the United States I understand that after the fur has been removed, mink meat can be used for fertiliser and possibly pet food; and mink oil, for some reason, is extremely valuable. I was told this morning that Jerry Hall uses it on her hair--which gives food for thought. If the amendment were accepted, it would still not prevent the Government from banning mink farming. However, I do not think that I shall move the Government or the House. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 2:

    Clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out ("£20,000") and insert ("level 5 on the standard scale").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, this simple amendment is the most important amendment of the day. In a nutshell, it would reduce the maximum fine for infringement from a vicious £20,000 to £5,000, although that latter figure would tend to rise with inflation as fines on levels 1 to 5 do.

It is not a wrecking amendment. Some might wish that it were; but it will not have much practical effect since no one is likely to rush out and start a new, illegal fur farm on the basis of slightly lower maximum penalties. The amendment would provide the first opportunity for either House of Parliament to stand up and be counted, to demonstrate their distaste for this illiberal Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I accept, as the noble Lord says, that this is not a wrecking amendment. It looks at the appropriate level of maximum fine that should be available to the courts on the offence being proved of keeping animals for their fur.

First, I make clear that, if there were successful convictions, the maximum of £20,000 is per offence of keeping animals for fur and not per animal kept. It is the Government's view that the effect of the amendment--it would reduce the maximum fine to £5,000--would not act as sufficient deterrent to the keeping of animals for slaughter for their fur once the ban is in force. I understand that the number of mink kept can range substantially from a few thousand animals up to 30,000 or more per farm. Each animal is worth approximately £20 and in the Government's view a maximum fine of £5,000 would not act as a sufficient deterrent.

I should make clear that £20,000 is a maximum fine and the court would have the discretion to impose a lesser penalty if it deemed that to be appropriate. I suggest to the House that it is sensible to leave that as the maximum, appreciating that the courts would take a proportionate view according to the scale of the business conducted. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her, as always, considered and emollient reply. I do not thank the Official Opposition for their silence. It is extraordinary that a party which professes to oppose political correctness sits firmly glued to the Bench when there is a chance to demonstrate its professed aims. None the less, it is a matter for that party.

I should dearly like to divide the House. However, there are no more than 25 noble Lords in the Chamber. The remainder have not heard the arguments for and against the issue. It would be foolish, therefore, to divide the House now. I shall postpone pressing the matter until the next stage when the House will be full for the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill and the national press will be present in force. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 7 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

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