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Lord Higgins: My Lords, I cannot hope to match the noble Earl's experience in these matters. I have only ever taught at Yale University in America where different circumstances generally prevail, although I did have a number of students who were working their way through college. My best course of action, therefore, is to leave the Minister to reply to the points made by the noble Earl on the basis of his personal experience.
I wish to make just two points. First, can the Minister say, despite the statement in the Secretary of State's reply to the Social Security Advisory Committee that the Government are now seeking to engage in a joined-up approach to these issues between the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Department of Social Security, how many students she expects to fall in the gap between the support systems of those two bodies?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has always shown a commitment to the welfare of his students; and, indeed, he did so again this evening. Perhaps I may remind him that the main thrust of these regulations is beneficial. The noble Earl asked me a number of questions and mentioned
In my opening remarks I said that mandatory support from the educational maintenance system has doubled from 28 days to 60 days. If sickness should continue, the relevant education authority has a discretion, at that point, to extend support further. If it goes beyond 28 weeks, that is when the student becomes eligible to claim social security benefits. So there are various points along the way at which the student is eligible for support from the educational maintenance system.
As regards the noble Earl's comments about discretionary funds, I can tell him that we consulted with local authorities. We are concerned that the take-up of discretionary funds has been quite low. So it is clear that we need to improve the flow of information to students. We are also giving further guidance to LEAs in relation to the whole area of discretion. Therefore, we are hoping that the take-up will be much higher. As far as we understand it, the discretion is interpreted sympathetically by most LEAs. On the question of funding. I should stress that the money is not the LEA's own money. The Government give a full specific grant to cover any payments that have been authorised.
The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, asked about the number of students who are falling between the social security system and the education system. Again, the LEAs tell us that very few students approach them for discretionary support. Universities and students need to apply before LEAs can respond. Therefore, I am not able to answer the noble Lord's question in terms of the detail. We are giving students more information about the entitlement. However, if I have any further information in that respect, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord.
As regards the length of time and the cost involved, the noble Lord talked about our commitment to remain within the spending limits of the previous administration for the first two years of the Parliament. The cost of the concession for "recovered ill" and "former carers" is some £3.5 million. Of course, that has to be considered against other spending priorities. I believe that that point was made in the other place by my honourable friend Angela Eagle who answered these questions last week--
The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill was introduced in another place on 22nd November, thus fulfilling our pre-election pledge on the issue. It has a simple and a clear basis. The Government believe that it is wrong to keep animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. In the Government's view, fur farming is not consistent with a proper value and respect for animal life. Animal life should not be destroyed in the absence of a sufficient justification in terms of public benefit. Nor should animals be bred for such destruction in the absence of any such sufficient justification. All the indications are that this view is widely shared by the general public in the United Kingdom.
I wish to make clear at the outset that the Government believe that the position of fur farming is quite different from that of food production. Where the primary purpose of keeping an animal is the production of food, that purpose provides a sufficient public benefit to justify breeding the animals for slaughter. This is so even where the production of fur or hide is a secondary purpose of keeping an animal. We breed and kill animals for food. In the balance between respect for the dignity of animal life and our own survival, as a society we put survival first, and do our best to ensure that the animals we slaughter for food are well treated.
The Government are, of course, conscious of the concern that many have for the welfare of farmed mink. We share that concern and so we have sought to ensure that the highest possible standards are applied as long as fur farming continues. But this Bill is introduced on wider grounds and on the basic philosophy that animals should not be killed simply for the business of stripping their skins off their backs. That is, we believe, quite simply inappropriate in the 21st century. I should make clear to the House that the Government's view is that the Bill is compatible both with the Treaty of Rome and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Bill will make it a criminal offence in England and Wales to keep animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding progeny for such slaughter. It will provide a winding-down period extending at least until the end of 2002, and it will require the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a scheme providing for compensation for certain categories of loss. I understand that the Scottish Executive will introduce
As far as we are aware, at present only mink are farmed solely or primarily for their fur in the United Kingdom. There are currently 13 licensed mink farms in England and none in Wales. Other animals apart from mink can, of course, be farmed for their fur, for example, arctic fox, chinchilla, racoon dog, sable and fisher. All these will be covered by the Bill.
It is not intended to prohibit the keeping of animals where the primary purpose is the production of meat, with fur production as a secondary purpose, as is generally the case with the farming of rabbits. Nor will the Bill ban the production of fur or wool which can be clipped or shorn without slaughtering the animal, for example, the fur of angora rabbits or alpacas.
The ban will have the effect of preventing the importation of animals into the United Kingdom for the purposes of fur farming. It will also prevent the keeping of animals for the purpose of exporting them from the UK to be used for fur production abroad. The import and export of fur skins and fur products will not be affected.
During the winding-down period, existing farmers will have to dispose of their animals. The method of disposal will be at their discretion. It is likely that most will be slaughtered for their fur. Any such slaughter would be covered by existing animal welfare legislation which would continue in force. Some animals may be sold abroad. This will be legally acceptable, provided the animals are sold before the ban comes into force. I should make clear, however--I know that this is of concern to many in your Lordships' House--that at no point, either during the winding-down period or after the ban comes into force will farmers be permitted to release farmed mink into the wild. It is currently an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to release mink or to allow them to escape into the wild. It is also an offence under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932 to release mink or wilfully allow them to escape. These controls will remain in place.
At all times the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will continue to enforce the security requirements of the Mink Keeping Regulations 1975. These regulations prescribe the precautions that must be taken to prevent mink from escaping. In recognition of the serious damage to the environment that released mink can cause, the Ministry will remain vigilant against the illegal release of mink by animal rights protesters.
Turning to the detail of the Bill, it has seven clauses. Clause 1 creates a primary offence of keeping animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur or for breeding progeny for such slaughter. The clause also creates a secondary offence of knowingly to cause or permit another person to keep animals for the prohibited purpose.
Clause 2 gives the court power to make an order for the forfeiture and destruction or other disposal of the animals following conviction for either the primary or the secondary offence. Clause 3 deals with the effect of a forfeiture order. It provides a right of appeal to the Crown Court for anyone claiming to have an interest in the animals being forfeited.
Clause 4 gives a power of entry and inspection to enable the evidence of an offence to be gathered and gives a power to enter premises to carry out a forfeiture order. Intentionally obstructing or delaying any person in the exercise of either power of entry will be an offence.
Clause 5 requires the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a scheme for paying compensation to fur farmers who incur losses as a result of the banning of fur farming. The clause also allows the National Assembly of Wales to make a compensation scheme. There will be a duty to consult with those affected before making such a scheme. Such a scheme may provide for compensation to be paid whether or not the fur farmers are still in business at the date on which the ban comes into force.
I know that there is a great deal of interest in the compensation provisions of the Bill. The details of the compensation package--although not the principle of paying compensation--are not contained in the Bill but will be the subject of secondary legislation once the Bill becomes law. Only licensed fur farming businesses in existence on 2nd March 1999 will be eligible to claim compensation. No compensation will be payable for expenditure on assets acquired after that date. Existing fur farmers were reminded on 30th November 1999 of this cut-off date, which was originally announced when the Private Member's Bill to ban fur farming was presented in another place in the previous Session.
The full and exact details of the compensation scheme will be decided in the light of the consultation exercise. I should make clear at this stage that nothing has been definitely ruled out of the scheme and we are willing to consider all reasonable options. At present it is envisaged that the compensation scheme will be used to pay compensation where assets have ceased to have a use and the investment cannot be recouped by resale. We will decide on whether or not to compensate for income after the consultation exercise. The principal assets of fur farming are the land, buildings and equipment, breeding stock and young stock for slaughter. No compensation ought to be required for the land as it has alternative uses. Compensation may be required for buildings and equipment which do not have alternative uses. It may be required for wastage of some livestock over a winding-down period of two to three years. Disputes over compensation claims will be settled by either arbitration or the Lands Tribunal.
Clause 6 provides that the power to authorise a person to exercise the power of entry and the power to make a compensation scheme rests with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England and the National Assembly for Wales.
Clause 7 requires the Minister to make the commencement order for the ban to come into force. This may not be done before 1st January 2003. The Bill will thus provide a winding-down period extending at least until the end of 2002. The purpose of this delayed commencement is to give fur farmers an opportunity to adjust their affairs and to wind down their businesses in advance of the ban. In particular, it provides an opportunity to slaughter any existing stocks of animals; to give notice to employees; to make arrangements for future employment and the future use of land on which animals are currently kept; and to avoid incurring any new capital expenditure, other than that which is incurred for the purpose of complying with any statutory obligation.
The power to make a compensation scheme will come into force two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. The power can be exercised to enable compensation to be paid to fur farmers who close their businesses in advance of the date on which the ban comes into force.
As I said earlier, the Government's view is that the Bill is compatible with the Treaty of Rome and the European Convention on Human Rights. We consider that, although the ban arguably has an equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on imports, the ban is lawful under EC law, being justified by Article 30 of the EC Treaty. As I have just outlined, there will be a winding-down period before the ban comes into force. That, together with the payment of compensation for certain categories of loss, reinforces the Government's view that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
On all sides of the House we have enormous respect and admiration for the Minister. It grieves me to have to say this to her. Does she actually realise that she has introduced into the House a Bill of Attainder which will deprive people of their right to earn a living and which has not been preceded by any trial? The last Act of Attainder was in 1798, the time of the rebellion in the southern Irish states. Lord Edward Fitzgerald had an Act of Attainder passed against him for trying to make the Irish ports available to Napoleon. The first Act of Attainder was under Henry VIII. So I am rather shattered that the noble Baroness should have moved into this area. Many of us on this side of the House are concerned by the draconian nature of the legislation.
We are all grateful to the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms in that over the past two years he has sensibly realised the danger of allowing this legislation to come forward under the Private Member's Bill procedure. That would have been an absolute disaster.
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