Monday 4 June 2018
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 200888 relating to the sale of animal fur in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The e-petition, headed “Ban the sale of animal fur in the UK”, explains:
“Fur farming was banned in England and Wales in 2000, followed by Scotland in 2002. However fur products can still be legally imported from other countries and sold here in the UK. Much of this fur comes from countries that have very weak or no animal welfare laws at all.”
I introduce the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee and will begin with some history. The issue has become one of wide public interest, culminating in a significant campaign to build on previous legislation and end fur imports, but there has long been concern about the issue.
I assure my hon. Friend that that is the direction in which I shall proceed in the next few minutes.
To return to the history and as the petition states, 18 years ago Parliament banned fur farming in England and Wales. That ban was extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2002. As the petitioners note, that means that in effect we now outsource the issue. We do not want fur farming on our own doorstep but are currently not strong enough to end our complicity in what can only be described as animal suffering. To end it, and reflect the national will, which clearly is that we should go further than we have done, we need more than just a domestic fur farming ban.
I was one of the MPs who voted for that ban in 2000. No man is an island, and no animal is either. Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituent, Candace Gledhill, about the cruelty by which foxes, minks and raccoon dogs are kept in
“wire-mesh cages on fur farms for months on end”
“coyotes and other animal are caught in the wild using crude, inhumane steel traps”?
Does he agree that if we do not act on the matter and do at least what it is possible for us to do here, we are complicit in that cruelty?
Once again, I agree; I shall come on in a moment to some of the cruelties that have been described—but I am still trying to look back 20 years. I shall get there. The ban was originally proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), in her private Member’s Bill, the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill. As some of us have cause to reflect, such Bills do not always get all the way, and sadly it was defeated in 1999. At that time, it was pointed out:
“The conditions in which mink are kept and slaughtered—highlighted last year by releases of mink by animal liberation activists—are now widely considered unacceptable. Mink are not domesticated, but are forced to live in small cages. Many show symptoms of extreme stress before being gassed and skinned.”
Those conditions continue today.
The debate is timely and my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on it. About 48 hours ago, a television programme was shown about mink farming purely for fur. Since 2000, 50%—5,000—of such farms are in 22 countries in Europe. That shows that there is a job of work to be done; does my hon. Friend agree?
The hon. Gentleman is very generous. I, too, was around as a Member of Parliament when the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000 was passed. Eighteen years later, it is inconceivable that other European countries, in particular, did not follow suit. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, on the day when we debate the Ivory Bill, by which we will end that abhorrent trade, we can find ways to end the abhorrent trade in fur in this country, and to make exemptions where they are needed for historically and culturally valuable objects? Clearly, that can happen, and frankly it must, sooner rather than later.
Before the hon. Gentleman steps back 20 years I ask him to step forward a few months, because as we leave the European Union whatever barriers may have prevented us from raising standards on imports at the point of entry will have gone. We will be free to decide whether we want to continue to import the proceeds of one of the grimmest of human activities. I suspect that, like people who have signed the petition and the majority of those who have written to their MPs, the majority of Members would support such a move.
Tempting though it is, I do not intend to widen the debate on to other issues. I am still trying to go back 20 years, so I shall continue for the moment. At that time we were of course fortunate in having a Labour Government, and they took up the cause. The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000 was passed, and the then Minister of State, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Baroness Hayman, said:
“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.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 July 2000; Vol. 615, c. 1130.]
That was true then, and is true now for the huge numbers signing the petition—hundreds in every constituency—and for many other people, which is why it is wrong for our country to continue to support such an industry, whether it lies inside or beyond our borders.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many consumers who think they are purchasing fake fur products are actually purchasing real fur products, and that in the past few years there has been quite a trend for what is really cruelly produced real animal fur to be retailed as fake fur? Does he think that trading standards need to play a role in ensuring that there is greater awareness and proper labelling of fur products?
The hon. Gentleman is prescient. I will come on to fake fur later, and I agree with his observations.
Since the implementation of the ban, we have effectively continued fur farming internationally, by allowing in fur imports. Some estimates put the value of the fur imported at £670 million. Humane Society International, which has campaigned powerfully on the issue, estimates that, based on the value of pelts at auction houses, that may equate to some 2 million animal skins imported into the UK in 2016 alone.
I want to say a little more about the conditions in which animals are kept. Beyond the simple idea that farming animals simply for their fur is wrong, the animals in fur farms are too often forced to live in terrible conditions. Humane Society International recently held a drop-in for MPs, and I am sure that some colleagues present for the debate will have attended it. We saw harrowing videos of how animals are treated in the fur trade, and we saw examples of cages and the very small spaces in which animals farmed for fur spend their entire lives. It was a very graphic demonstration of what we are talking about, and it is not easily forgotten—as it should not be.
There is plenty of expert scientific evidence. The European Commission Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare puts it clearly:
“Current husbandry systems cause serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur”.
As we have heard, animals such as foxes and minks are suited in their natural habitat to roam far and wide. When those animals are farmed for fur they are kept in small cages less than 1 metre square.
We rightly banned fur farming about 20 years ago, to end such barbaric and unnecessary suffering, but does my hon. Friend agree that as long as we continue to import fur we are complicit in creating a market so that animal suffering continues?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on a very fine speech. By banning fur imports, we would depress that market, but would we not also set a good example to other countries? We have a proud record of humane treatment of animals in this country and we could inspire other countries to do the same.
All my hon. Friends are so prescient that my hon. Friend has now stolen my peroration, but never mind; we will come to that in time.
On the subject of faux fur, I do not think anyone, on witnessing or reading the evidence given recently to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about the living space allocated to some of these poor animals, could help but be sickened.
It was my Bill, which was talked out in 1998, that became the 2000 Act. One reason I took it forward was that the Farm Animal Welfare Council had made clear that there is no way to humanely keep wild animals such as mink in cages and farm them—I do not really call it farming—for their fur, and that a ban was the only way to tackle the inhumanity that that implied. It is true in this country, which was the first nation to ban fur farming, and true in the rest of the world.
I absolutely concur with my hon. Friend’s comments, and commend her for the work she did all those years ago. Now we have the opportunity to build on that and go further.
Going back to the awful conditions faced by animals, sometimes they are overfed to become much larger than their frames are suited to. Apparently that yields more fur but, unsurprisingly, it can give the animals terrible health problems. As some hon. Members have already mentioned, while fur farms in the UK were at least regulated, we have no control over those fur farms abroad.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in the time he is giving people. Does he agree that, 20 years or so ago when the ban was brought in, absolutely nobody would have thought there would be such a market for the import of animal fur, and it is vital we toughen the legislation on that?
Once again, I agree with my hon. Friend.
Going back to those fur farms abroad, the evidence is somewhat contested and there are different conditions in different countries, but it seems to me that the straightforward answer to that is to stop the outsourcing in general. It is not a case of it being out of sight, out of mind; while we are still allowing imports and the sale of fur in this country, I fear we are still complicit, culpable—call it what you like, but we are responsible. Turning to public opinion, it is clear that there is overwhelming public support for a fur ban.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this debate. Some 100,000 people signed this e-petition, and 400,000 people signed a petition taken to 10 Downing Street. That is an indication of the large volume of the general public who are against any type of fur farming whatever. Does he agree that it is time the Government listen to the half a million people who have said, “We need action and we need it now.”?
Once again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The petition itself is testimony to the strength of public feeling, but on top of that, a YouGov poll in February this year showed that 69% of the public, nearly seven in 10, would support a ban on the import and sale of fur in the UK. There is a significant majority across Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat voters too. It is cross-party. It is not a party political issue; it crosses party political allegiances.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous. I understand that we currently import fur from two other fellow European Union members, Poland and France. Does he know whether we have the power to prevent the imports as an EU member?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the widespread public support. One should always be careful to differentiate grassroots and astroturf in email responses. On this issue, it is clear that there has been sustained interest for a long time from all the different areas of my constituency, all indicating a deep and long-standing concern that the trade should be ended. I am sure that that is true of other hon. Members as well. That is not just a transient mood, but a long-standing demand.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The number of hon. Members present shows the breadth of support, and the petition shows that it is consistent across the country. It has also been a response to some strong campaigns. There have been 109,554 signatures to the petition, but there is a spectrum of support behind it from significant organisations, including the Humane Society International; businesses such as Lush; and a range of cultural figures such as Brian May of Queen and Evanna Lynch of “Harry Potter”. It is fair to conclude that our country wants to ban fur.
It is not just the UK. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting a Finnish member of the European Parliament, Sirpa Pietikäinen, who leads the cross-party group on animal welfare. She assured me that there is growing and widespread support not just in the Parliament but in countries that have traditionally been more sympathetic to the fur trade.
The faux fur issue is an added complexity that is currently being probed by the EFRA Committee. The public are being duped into buying fur by mistake. We have a bizarre situation where less scrupulous retailers, or retailers that have been misled by wholesalers or people further down the supply chain, mislabel their products as faux fur when in fact they are real fur. That is partly a consequence of the fact that, from some suppliers, the real fur is very cheap, which says a lot about how it is produced.
The nub of this particular item on the hon. Gentleman’s agenda is that it is perfectly possible for anybody half-bright to tell the difference between faux fur and real fur. It is done all the time. The fact is that it is because it is cheap that this material is brought into the country and sold by supposedly reputable outlets. They are conning the public. Should we not throw the book at the people doing that?
I will agree and disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely right that we look hard at the people doing that, but in some cases it is not necessarily easy to tell. Hon. Members who were shown examples at the exhibition in the House a few weeks ago saw that, if it is only one or two pieces disguised within a wider piece, it is hard to tell. Some are very cheap indeed—fur bobble hats keep turning up in this context. The consumer is unlikely to know that fur is in the product. It is important that we crack down on those retailers, but to do so we must have a system. That means giving trading standards officers across the country support and resources.
Of course, if we ban fur imports in general, customers will no longer be in the position of buying what they think is fake but is actually real. Many organisations that made submissions to the EFRA Committee’s inquiry on the fur trade lamented the inadequate fur labelling regime we have in this country, which leads to some of that mis-selling. Hopefully, from that Committee’s work, we will see some practical recommendations.
It is worth noting in passing that the evidence from both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Select Committee noted that the Government have not carried out any assessment of the size of the fur trade in the UK. That could show either a lack of diligence on the Government’s part, or that the contribution to the UK economy is of no great significance. I suggest it is probably the latter.
The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) asked whether we can ban fur should we wish to. The advice I have been given is that we can. Straying into trade territory, which is slightly controversial at the moment, I am told that the World Trade Organisation rules contain article XX (a), which provides an exception to the trading rules for measures that are necessary “to protect public morals”. In 2010, the European Parliament and Council banned trade in seal products in the European Union. That led in 2015 to a challenge from Canada and Norway, which fell when the WTO upheld the right of the EU to prohibit trade in seal products because it was a proportionate measure necessary to protect public morals. That may not be quite the terminology we would use, but hon. Members will get the drift. That important case indicates that WTO members have the freedom to define—with proof—their interpretation of that phrase.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She again pre-empts my argument—I will come to that strong point in a moment.
There is a clear case for that same WTO exception to be applied because there are legitimate and widespread public moral concerns about fur, as we have heard. Similarly, within the European Union, as we currently are, our trade is governed by the principle of the free movement of goods, as set out in articles 34 and 35 of the Lisbon treaty. Article 36 provides a similar clause to that in the WTO rulebook, permitting trade barriers in specific circumstances. It says:
“The provisions of Articles 34 and 35 shall not preclude prohibitions or restrictions on imports, exports or goods in transit justified on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security; the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants; the protection of national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value; or the protection of industrial and commercial property. Such prohibitions or restrictions shall not, however, constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between Member States.”
I therefore argue that there is a legitimate argument for the UK to prohibit fur imports on grounds of public morality, similar to the exemption allowed under WTO rules, which has been used successfully, as I just mentioned.
I am told that there is no known EU case precedent for the application of the public morality exemption in the trade of cruel animal products, so this would be an important first and perhaps a welcome gift to our friends in Europe. Crucially, as the UK has no domestic production of fur, as my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood said, a UK fur import ban could not be viewed as disguised discrimination or protectionism. To use that defence to impede trade, we will need to prove that the public morality against the fur trade is significant and sustained, which is demonstrated, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) said earlier, by decades of deep support for a ban in opinion polls, plus the massive public response to the Fur-Free Britain campaign.
I do not wish to draw the hon. Gentleman away from the core of the debate, but given that he has just outlined why he believes that there are grounds within EU legislation for our stopping the import of fur, does he think that we might set other precedents and extend that to the import of foie gras, which I am deeply uncomfortable with?
I am grateful to my constituency neighbour. I had not necessarily considered that, but as so often with legislation, it seems that there is more scope to do things than people tell us. There may be more flexibility than is sometimes suggested, so that may certainly be worth looking at.
That is an extremely important point and is actually an important part of the wider debate. Many of these issues are not a matter of EU regulation—they are a matter of political will and choice in this country. The debate’s clear message to the Minister needs to be that the Government have options and should exercise them, and not keep hiding behind a figment of rules from Brussels, which do not have the weight that the Government put on them.
I once again find myself very much in agreement with my right hon. Friend. My conclusion is very much on those lines, which you will be glad to know I am finally coming to, Mr Hollobone.
The Government’s response to the petition said:
“While some fur products may never be legally imported into the UK the Government’s view is that national bans are less effective than working at an international level on animal welfare standards.”
That sounds very laudable, although it is in fact civil service waffle. I hope the Minister will show some more ambition, exactly as has been suggested. The Government’s response sets up a false dichotomy. A national ban would not stop our Government from continuing to work on international animal welfare, and it would give our country a firm platform from which to work with others. We should be leading, as we should be in Europe generally.
Having had a quick glance at the House of Commons Facebook page and its coverage of the debate, I have to say that I do not think I saw one comment advocating maintaining the import of fur into this country. The vast engagement seems to be entirely on the side of a fur ban, which also seems to reflect the feelings and the comments made by hon. Members.
The EU banned the import and export of cat and dog fur in 2008, and the Fur Free Alliance has active campaigns across the world. New Zealand prohibits mink fur imports; India banned imports of several species of fur; São Paulo adopted a fur farming ban in 2014 and an import and sales ban in 2015; and West Hollywood became the first city in the world to ban the sale of fur in 2013. A few months ago, San Francisco became the largest world city to ban the sale of fur. Designers such as Gucci and Versace have adopted fur-free policies, as have high street retailers such as Topshop and House of Fraser.
Britain has a chance to lead the way in Europe and across the world and become the first country to ban fur imports and trading. What an opportunity we have.
The hon. Gentleman has been incredibly generous with his time. Does he agree that we in this country sometimes underestimate our power to influence and show leadership? What a powerful statement of intent it would be if we were to take this decisive action and ban fur imports into our country.
I am grateful that there has been a cross-party voice appealing to the Secretary of State, who is not normally shy in coming forward to seek such opportunities. Why will he not grasp this one? This is what the public want. It is the right thing to do.
It is a great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on introducing this important debate. It is a great honour to stand here and represent the 177 people from my constituency who signed the petition and who, like me, believe that a ban on the sale of animal fur in this country needs to be implemented soon.
Although the Government are rightly recognised as a world leader in promoting animal welfare standards, we must ensure that they have no blind spot on this issue. There remains a significant and, as has been said, sustained demand for fur trade products in this country. Thanks to that demand, fur imports exceeded £55.6 million in 2016. As an animal lover, I believe that should concern us all, since those products are the direct result of shameful animal welfare practices elsewhere in the world. Around 85% of those products come from foreign fur farms where animals are intensively reared in battery cage systems and where conditions are as bad as, or even worse than, the fur farms we once saw and eventually outlawed in this country.
I have some chilling words from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which says that animals are packed into
“unbearably small cages, preventing them from taking more than a few steps in any direction or doing anything that is natural and important to them, such as running, swimming, making nests, and finding mates. Many animals go insane under these conditions. The anguish and frustration of life in a cage leads many animals to self-mutilate, biting at their skin, tail, and feet; frantically pace and circle endlessly; and even cannibalize their cagemates.”
Even though we should celebrate our world-leading ban on fur farming here in this country, it seems that, as the hon. Member for Cambridge suggested, we have only outsourced this form of animal cruelty. That is why I believe that an import ban should be put in place. I recognise that the Minister might not agree with me, as the Government’s position is to pursue international animal welfare standards and to phase out cruel farming and trapping practices, rather than introducing the ban, which is seen as less effective.
However, although I see the merit in that global approach, and I accept that the ban would not be a silver bullet for animal welfare—the practice will continue in other countries—I do not believe that it is right for our country to remain open to these products. Moreover, I am concerned that the Government’s position relies on the full co-operation of the industry to implement these improvements. Such co-operation has not been forthcoming in the past when, even in the face of intense criticism and public opposition, the industry responded by introducing questionable animal welfare improvement schemes, which only pay lip service to the idea, rather than address the fundamental inadequacies of the battery cage system.
I do not believe that co-operation will be forthcoming in the future, either. This is a profit-driven industry, and behaviour will be slow to change. By waiting for that to happen, we only prolong our role in supporting and enabling these dreadful animal welfare practices. That is not in keeping with our British values.
With that in mind, I ask the Government to use Brexit not to maintain but to improve on the shockingly weak EU regulations on the import of furs and skins. We have heard that there are countries inside the EU that carry out these appalling practices. The ban should be extended to all animal fur products after our exit. In that regard, Brexit presents us with a positive opportunity: not only to deliver the Brexit that my constituents in Clacton voted for, but to ensure that our laws truly project our British values.
As I have sought to demonstrate, there are significant animal welfare grounds for introducing a ban. I know that point is important, because the Minister has stated previously that any further restrictions on the importing and sale of fur and fur products after we leave the EU will be based on protection of animal welfare. Therefore, as we move forward, I ask the Government to consider the animal welfare issues that I have raised today. I also ask that colleagues—this has been mentioned already—do not see this as a party political issue. There is clearly a significant animal welfare cost from this industry, and we should look to change that together, because although we might not see that cost in this country, that does not mean that we should be turning a blind eye to it elsewhere.
I ask the Government to bear it in mind that more than 69% of the public would support a ban—according to figures from Humane Society International—as would the 400,000 or 500,000 people who have already backed this proposal across, I think, two petitions. I am sure that colleagues here today have had emails from many active supporters—I know they have been emailing me—to ask us to support a ban. That is a further demonstration of the public support for a ban.
I am clear that we must work together to stop the flow of fur trade products into this country. Those products are the result of terrible and sustained animal welfare abuses. Our involvement in this industry as a consumer does not reflect the values of modern Britain. As has been touched on, we will surely hear in the main Chamber today that tusks belong on an elephant, but we should also hear that fur belongs on the back of an animal. I therefore ask the Minister seriously to consider implementing what would be a very popular ban.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I want to bring word from the far north of Scotland to all who are here today, and perhaps I had better clear the decks by confirming hon. Members’ worst suspicions: I do live in a house in a very remote part of the highlands that contains, I am afraid to say, some animal trophies. Worse than that, I am old enough to remember when well-off ladies wore fur coats. They were made from skins that were probably farmed in those days. My aunt had a fur coat, although I doubt that she paid for it, such was the precariousness of her finances.
That is my background. I now want to give hon. Members a short physics lesson. If we take a rod of glass and rub it with a piece of silk, it takes a negative charge. If we rub it with something else, it takes a positive charge—I am sure that we all did this in physics lessons—and if we put it near little bits of paper, it will pick them up. What shook me at the age of 12 or 13 was what we rubbed it with, which was cat skins—pussycats; moggies. In the physics lab at my state school there were cat skins, and as a young lad I thought, “This was somebody’s cat; it was a pet, surely. What on earth is going on?” So at that age I was put off the whole idea that has led to today’s debate.
I take great comfort from what other hon. Members have said—I will be brief, because I know that many Members want to speak. I am referring to the widespread support for a ban. It is just as deeply felt in the remote parts of Scotland as it is in Camden, the west country or Yorkshire. Believe you me, that is true—I have had a shedload of correspondence about it. Even last week I was contacted by a lady who comes from a crofting background on Skye, Alexandra Smith. One would think that a crofter, out in the sticks, would know about the rougher end of life, but she, a good Sgitheanach lady—a Sgitheanach is a Skye person; that will test Hansard—said to me, “Please speak in this debate. This practice is abhorrent. I hate it and everything else that is cruel to animals: transporting animals, fur farming and”—
I just want to make a very quick point. Does my hon. Friend agree that it makes no logical sense that there is special protection, in the form of an EU ban, for cats, dogs and seals while other animals are left unprotected? If the logic applies to them, it should apply to the protection of all animals.
I absolutely agree. My good and right hon. Friend is quite correct. One thing that we should be proud of in this country is our well known love of and care for animals. We should never forget that. If the Government can see their way to a total ban, perhaps we will set an example to the rest of the world and do away with this horrific and hateful practice.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for securing such an important debate.
I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister on their work so far in leading the way on tackling animal cruelty. However, we still have a long way to go. As an animal lover, vegetarian and lifelong animal rights activist, and as a compassionate human being, I urge the Minister to listen intently to the strong messages in this Chamber, coming from across the parties, in support of a ban.
I was pleased when fur farming was banned in England and Wales in 2000, and in Scotland in 2002. However, as we have discussed, fur products can still be legally imported from other countries and sold in the UK. In my opinion, the use of fur in 2018 is unnecessary and cruel. The fur trade is responsible for the suffering and death of more than 100 million animals each year—the figure was 135 million in 2015. The majority of the fur —about 85%—is produced by intensively farming animals in battery cage systems, as has been described.
Humane Society International has documented the conditions in which the majority of the animals are kept. I will touch on just a few points. As we have said, animals kept in battery cages on a fur farm are “at best” restrained for their whole lives in wire-floored cages hundreds of thousands of times smaller than their natural territory. They are denied their most basic behavioural needs. Many are killed by gassing or electrocution. Remember that those are the “best” conditions. Examples of the worst conditions of animal suffering in fur farms involve such things as cannibalism, poor psychological wellbeing, untreated wounds, deformities and injuries, and animals having been selectively bred to grow to unnaturally large sizes, with excessive folds of skin, which yield more fur. Then, finally, they are often brutally beaten and stamped to death, and some are even skinned alive.
Shockingly, 100 million animals every year live their entire lives in the barbaric conditions described. In the UK, leghold traps have been banned since 1958 because of their inhumaneness: animals caught in those traps suffer intense pain and injuries until the trapper returns to kill them. However, the three largest exporters of fur—Russia, Canada and the United States—have not banned the use of leghold traps, even though they are banned in the EU.
In 2016 the value of the fur imported into the UK was £55.6 million. The UK has some of the strongest animal welfare protections in the world. However, all we have done, as my hon. Friends have said, is outsource animal suffering to other countries. The only way to end the trade is to ban the sale of fur in the UK.
According to a 2018 YouGov poll, there is now major public backing for a ban; 69% of those participating supported a ban. I am pleased to say that 153 people in my constituency of Morley and Outwood have signed this petition and agree with me that we need a ban on the farming of wild animals in tiny wire cages, as it is demonstrably inhumane. There is no need for it in 21st-century Britain.
As I said, the Secretary of State has shown real leadership when it comes to banning ivory, introducing CCTV in slaughterhouses and cleaning up our oceans. I hope that he and his Ministers see the need to tackle this animal cruelty. In my opinion, by not banning fur, we are inadvertently condoning it by allowing it to be imported from other countries.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). It is always difficult to present the results of an e-petition, particularly when so many people want to intervene. He did a sterling job. I also thank the more than 109,000 people who signed the e-petition. That shows the strength of support across our constituencies for a ban on fur sales in the UK.
In my view, we should avoid all exploitation, abuse and slaughter of animals where we can. Fur farming is just a tiny part of that.
I agree. Thankfully, we have made great strides in recent years in banning cosmetic testing on animals. I am not totally averse to all animal testing. People might assume that I would be averse, but I would make an exception in cases of important medical research where there is no alternative. However, people can live without personal vanity and frivolity. There are sustainable, ethical alternatives on the market for clothes, cosmetics, household products and other things that have not been banned from animal testing. In such cases we ought to be pushing for progress. That is why I am speaking today. Although I would like to see far more progress across the board in terms of animal exploitation and cruelty, I am happy to be here, supported by colleagues who are also in favour of a ban.
As we have heard, fur farming was banned in England and Wales in 2000, and in Scotland two years later, on the grounds of public morality. The fact that imported fur produced using the same methods is still allowed is fundamentally illogical and surely immoral too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge has dealt with the legal position. I tabled a lot of questions at one point about foie gras. Why, if we banned it in this country on the grounds of public morality, could we somehow accept that it was fine for the French to do it and send it over here for people to have in their Fortnum & Mason hampers? There is a strong legal case for us banning it even if we do not leave the European Union.
Surely the reason that there is so much cross-party support behind this motion is because we all feel so compassionate. It is not the details of what happened. It is just a feeling of compassion that makes us all support what the hon. Lady is saying.
I totally agree. That is why so many people signed the e-petition. I would like to see people’s compassion extending to other animals, such as farm animal welfare, but I will not go there today—we would have substantially less consensus.
A lot of our fur imports come from countries that have lower animal welfare standards than the UK has, even before we introduced the fur farming ban. In some countries, the standards are simply non-existent. The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which I am a member of, has just conducted an inquiry into fake faux fur, where people are misled into buying real fur when they think they are buying cheap faux fur. We heard about the conditions on some of the fur farms in other countries.
The idea of ethical fur farming, even in countries which purport to be high-welfare, has been shown time and again to be a complete fiction. A recent investigation by the Daily Mirror into Saga-certified fur farms in Finland found morbidly obese foxes that had been grossly overfed and selectively bred to have large folds of skin so that they would produce more fur. This kind of breeding causes an array of health problems for the foxes, including poor reproduction, metabolic disorders and even DNA damage, which cannot easily be identified by the brief visual inspection required for a fur farm to become certified. One awful symptom seen repeatedly is foxes having bent and malformed feet, which occurs due to their forced obesity. That is hugely painful for the animals and severely impedes their mobility, sight and ability to breathe. There is a parallel with how birds are force-fed for the production of foie gras, which leads to their inability to lift themselves off the ground because they are so obese.
This is not just happening on one rogue farm on a bad day. A year later, the Daily Mirror went back and found the exact same conditions. Unfortunately, rather than the animal welfare charities cherry-picking the worst examples of fur farming, I have been told that the only cherry-picking taking place is filtering out the most graphic injuries and deformities. Investigations have recorded incidents of cannibalism, infanticide and severe, untreated wounds. Instead of a so-called humane death, there are reports of animals being beaten and stamped to death, and of some even being skinned alive.
Even if we do not look at those worst-case scenarios, the best condition that animals on a fur farm can hope for is to be kept for their whole life in wire-floored cages, which are thousands of times smaller than their natural habitats, while being denied basic behavioural needs such as hunting or swimming, with no mental stimulation and constant stress from being in unnatural social groups and situations, before being killed by gassing or electrocution. No one could argue that that standard of life for an animal on a fur farm constitutes a good or happy life.
The European Commission Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare stated as far back as 2001 that the typical cage in fur farms—not just the worst cage, but that used most frequently—
“does not provide for important needs of foxes”
or mink. As a result, abnormal behaviours are far from unusual. In fact, they are “widespread”.
The UK’s ban on fur farming was introduced only after our Farm Animal Welfare Council spent years gathering evidence, eventually concluding that fur farms are simply unable to satisfy even the most basic needs of the wild animals kept in them. It explicitly stated that it was not possible to safeguard the welfare of animals kept on fur farms.
Even more distressingly, research has shown that the environment of fur-farmed animals is so impoverished and alien to their natural behaviours that it is impossible to rehabilitate them. Fur farming is causing animals to have permanent brain dysfunction through sensory and motor deprivation during development. This dysfunction can be genetically transmitted from mothers to their offspring. Why do we continue to allow this industry to flourish through allowing millions of pounds’ worth of imports and sales into the UK? As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, why is it seen as okay to outsource the cruelty overseas when we do not see it as an acceptable practice in this country?
I would be more than happy to support the hon. Gentleman in calling for a ban on live exports. At the moment, I understand there is a ban on animals being taken overseas for slaughter, but not for fattening. That seems to me to be a strange distinction. Surely we ought to be stamping out the exporting and transporting of animals in inhumane, cramped conditions.
I want to briefly mention the evidence we saw in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Some people might argue that it is up to individual members of the public to exercise choice as to whether they want to boycott products that contain animal fur or shops that sell such products. Humane Society International’s recent investigations have shown that mislabelling of real fur as fake fur, or fur products having no labelling at all, is rife on the high street, whether by active disregard or innocent oversight. Complex, multi-country and subcontracted supply chains mean that shops often just do not know what is in their products by the time they arrive in the UK.
I was reassured by the evidence from the likes of Amazon, which seemed truly committed to trying to stamp out real fur sales. It talked about tightening up a lot of processes. Obviously it was trying to put the best gloss on that, but I felt it was genuine in its desire to address this.
That is exactly why the Select Committee took evidence from the likes of Amazon and Camden Market. A lot of these items are found on market stalls, but they have also been found in shops such as Boots, Tesco, FatFace, Groupon, House of Fraser and Missguided—well-established chains that need to get their own houses in order. Some of them had explicit fur-free promises, which they need to live up to.
I reject, too, any claims from the fur lobby about its “Welfur” mark. On two occasions—once at the APPG on animal welfare, and once when the fur lobby gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee—I have heard that a cruelty-free version of fur is on offer, but the fur trade is a cruel, ugly business, no matter how it is dressed up and marketed, and no matter how glamorous the end products or the people who might wear them are.
I implore the Minister to take heed of this debate and to recognise that it is indicative of much wider public support for a ban. He is a great enthusiast for Brexit, so whether or not we are allowed to do it under current rules, I hope he sees it as something that we can do in future.
Yes, and that is often the case. I had 500 emails about puppy farming, which was an earlier iteration of the campaign. I should say hello to Marc from that campaign, who is in the Gallery yet again—he is here more often than I am.
Let us stop outsourcing this cruelty and introduce a ban on all fur imports as soon as possible. It is the humane, moral and right thing to do, and it is something that the public want us to do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for securing this important debate.
The UK Government can be proud of their record on animal welfare, and of the fact that this country is a world leader in that field. That is reflected in the many restrictions that we have placed on the fur trade. For example, it is already rightly illegal to bring into this country furs derived from cats or dogs, or any products made from cat or dog furs, but we can improve on that.
Similarly, we prohibit the import of furs or fur products from 13 different species when they originate in countries where those species are caught by inhumane trapping methods. Those are welcome measures to act against poaching and inhumane trapping or securing methods, and to keep furs obtained through those methods out of the United Kingdom. We can be proud of that, but we can and must do more. I am pleased that the UK Government have been the driving force in the adoption of restrictions such as those at the European level. I am confident that, as we leave the EU, we should keep restrictions in place and work to improve them.
Although the people who signed the petition did so out of a heartfelt concern for animal welfare, which I also feel as an animal lover—I have said before in this Chamber that I am fond of animals and that I come from a farming background, and I realise the care and attention that is given to domestic and farm animals— I fear that a blanket ban would run the risk of fuelling a worldwide illegal market in fur that had no respect for animal welfare or the protection of endangered species. As has been mentioned, some products are already marketed as fake fur that have been found to contain real fur, and even cat fur.
We should be under no illusion that the threat of an illegal market exists—it needs to be recognised and robustly dealt with. To assist in raising standards and to tackle the illegal market, we need international co-operation. As a nation, we have an opportunity to step up those efforts as we take control of our own trade policy. We must use that new trade policy to encourage the adoption of higher standards of animal welfare worldwide. I share the concerns of the many people in my constituency and throughout the United Kingdom who signed the petition. As has been said, the public response is crystal clear, and I hope the Government are listening.
One way to reduce the legal and illegal fur trade is to reduce demand. I ask people to think carefully before buying a fur product about whether they really need it. There can be no pleasure in owning or wearing ill-gotten fur. Despite my concerns about the potential for an underground or illegal market, I support many of my constituents in supporting a ban on all fur imports to the United Kingdom, which should mirror the ban on ivory products.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Like many other hon. Members, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the way he introduced the debate and on the way that he kept the flow of the argument going, despite the many interventions he took. He did very well to get the main points across, which clearly reflected the great degree of consensus on the issue. He used the apposite phrase “outsourcing responsibility”, and he mentioned the complicity in cruelty that the current policy leads to.
As we have heard, more than 100,000 people signed the petition, which is why the debate has come to the Chamber. Although only 157 signatures came from my constituency, it seems as though every single one of those petitioners sent me an email in support of a ban—as hon. Members will not be surprised to hear, given that the position we are in does not make a great deal of sense.
As hon. Members have already said, apparently the practices that we have rightly outlawed in this country to protect domestic animals, on the basis that they are cruel and barbaric, are okay if they happen elsewhere. Of course, we cannot tell another country what to do with its domestic laws but we can send a message about the importance this country places on animal welfare.
When I read reports about animals chewing off their own limbs in an attempt to break out of the traps they have been caught in, I am sickened and appalled. I do not want anything that has been produced as a consequence of that to enter this country, and I am sure most people feel the same. It is positive that this country no longer tolerates such cruelty, but if we allow imports from other countries where that sort of sadism goes on, we wrap ourselves in a false comfort blanket.
I am aware of the counter-argument that suggests that the better way to deal with animal cruelty is to work internationally to raise welfare standards. The Government’s response to the petition stated that
“we are working at an international level to agree global animal welfare standards and phase out cruel and inhumane farming and trapping practices. We believe this is the best way to prevent animal cruelty and that this approach will lead to a much higher level of animal welfare standards.”
It is arguable that such an approach might be preferable, but there is absolutely no evidence that it will work within a reasonable time period—there is an almost touching naivety about it. In reality, nothing in that statement says why a ban on imports cannot happen; surely international work to improve welfare standards can be done at the same time as imposing a ban on imports.
With everything else that will be going on in our post-Brexit world, I fear that we will have to use up an awful lot of goodwill that we might have gained to secure new trade deals, and that we will have little flexibility left to push on other issues. The sort of issues that we have discussed today will be towards the end of a long list.
The rise of online traders makes it harder and harder to police welfare standards. We can buy almost anything from anywhere in the world, which is a great thing for consumers, but the downside is that it can be difficult to meaningfully establish how a product was made and its adherence to ethical and welfare standards. There is no practical way of enforcing that, which is why an outright ban is so attractive.
Lots of people believe that there can be no ethical basis for the purchase of fur products, which is why polling has consistently shown that a very large majority of the public favour an outright ban on fur imports, as we have already heard. That is why the Government need to come forward with a positive strategy. If something is wrong, it does not matter which country it happens in. The time has come to end the contradiction in policy and implement a full ban.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. Let me start by making it clear that I hate, and have hated for all my thinking life—which might be quite short, I do not know—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) knows me too well. I have always hated the fur trade. It is interesting that the debate has not divided on party grounds. It is a rather philosophical debate, because this is one of the few issues that appears to unite vegan and carnivore—the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and I appeared on a BBC politics programme the other week to discuss the dairy sector. It also unites people with diametrically opposed views on country sports; indeed, it unites people with diametrically opposed views on all sorts of issues.
I slightly stand aside from the narrative of animal rights, because the giving of rights is a peculiar legal minefield. However, what trumps even that issue is our human duties, responsibilities and response to public morality. I start always by asking this question—is the fur trade actually needed? My judgment is that it is not.
Frankly, I could not care less about how marvellous the standards are for animals, or—more usually—how bad the standards are. It is the principle of farming for fur that I find so objectionable. Animals could be put up in the animal equivalent of the Ritz hotel; they could be given room service 24/7; and they could be killed in the most humane way possible, even being tickled to death by a swan’s feather, so that they go out laughing. The principle would still be wrong. So, to those who talk about the “fur fair” campaign and such things, I think that is totally the wrong line of argument to deploy. We should ask ourselves, “In the 21st century, is this a trade that we want to see?”
Of course, regarding the wearing of fur, one can go back to the sumptuary Acts of the Tudor period, which very clearly set out—in Acts of Parliament—who was allowed to wear ermine, who was allowed to wear mink, who was allowed to wear lynx fur and all the rest of it, as fur was a huge status symbol and people in those times often flaunted their wealth by the wearing of furs. I think that people now have other ways of demonstrating that they are wealthy and have access to lots of consumer goods without having to put the skin and the fur of another animal on their backs.
We can point out to those countries that still condone and support fur farming that the economy of a country does not collapse when it is made illegal. When the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) introduced her private Member’s Bill, I am sure people said, “Oh, job losses and unemployment, everybody will get rickets and bubonic plague will break out and God knows what else, because nobody can afford any taxes for the health service!” But the sky did not fall down. People who had been involved in the UK fur trade went off and did something else, and the economy kept going.
I think that nationally—not in this debate, but nationally—we are inclined to do something in this House, we make something illegal, we assuage our conscience and we say, “Job done!” We are, of course, fur farmers by proxy, because other countries are farming fur, the demand for which in the UK is worth—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) said this—£56.5 million in fur sales. So we clearly have to do more as parliamentarians and public policy makers to inform our fellow citizens that fur is something that they should not want, buy or look for.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) when he talks about the absolute “duty of care” on retailers. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) mentioned internet sales, which I will not go into because everybody tries to grapple with them, and I have not found a solution for controlling such sales; frankly, we know it is a problem. However, at a time when the high street has never been more competitive—fighting over market share—it strikes me as unconscionable that high street retailers are flogging products to people that they believe are fake but are actually real, because those products can be sourced from overseas at very cheap prices. Those retailers should be called out and those customers should not be going through their doors, because the power of the credit card, the purse and the wallet speaks, and in a competitive, cut-throat retail sector I suggest that the customer is king.
First, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point that I had tried to make so much better than I made it myself. Secondly, when the House voted to ban fur farming in 2000, we did so because we believed that it was a vile practice and that it had no place in modern British society. We did not vote to move the problem from A to B. Therefore, when my hon. Friend the Minister responds to this debate, it is only logical that he says that having willed the ends we must now will the means, and ban the trade.
My hon. Friend is right and if legislation was before us that banned the import of foreign-farmed fur into our country, he would find me in the Aye Lobby voting for it. However, his argument also goes to the point that we slightly salved our domestic conscience when we said—it was before my time in the House—that we have banned fur farming here, but we have not spread the message as to why we banned it, and nor have we pointed out that the doom-mongers’ prediction of an economic collapse after a ban has not materialised. We have not been strong enough in taking that message to those countries where fur farming still continues.
To state the blindingly obvious, we are no longer an imperial power that can send a gunboat to countries that we do not like, so that we can bully people into obeying. However, we can take our soft power and our leadership, and use them. If we wanted to find an example of where we had done that, we and some allies did it on climate change. We realised that there was an issue that needed to be addressed, and through Kyoto and other initiatives we got the world thinking collectively about climate change and the imperative of dealing with it in a proper way to safeguard humanity.
Now, let us not ascribe the same scale to fur farming as to the future climate of our world, although for some it will be equally important, but we should be talking to those countries that still farm fur. Frankly, if our banning imports meant that somebody lost £56.5 million of sales, I suggest that they would just find that money elsewhere in the world market. They will not stop farming fur because we stop importing it. Banning fur imports will make us feel better; of course, it will. We can write to those constituents who have emailed us on this issue—I have had many emails from my constituents in North Dorset—
My hon. Friend makes a point, but if he looks at this matter dispassionately he will see that, although we banned fur farming, the major countries that do the large-scale fur farming have not followed suit. So, yes, we can act and, yes, that would close off to all but the illegal trade the market in fur in this country, but we have to do far more in terms of world leadership to help those countries that have a fur farming sector, to show them how they can move away from it, how they can support the creation of new jobs and how they will not see a black hole in their economy if they ban it. So, let us lead by example, of course, but let us also use the soft power that the UK has.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that banning fur farming in this country while still buying fur has the smell of hypocrisy about it, whereas a total ban would surely take us to the proper moral high ground, and that in the scheme of things that can appeal to other people and so our influence might well percolate out?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and a total ban is one of the weapons in the arsenal that one can deploy. It would be bonkers for us to exhort people to stop farming fur if we were still seeking to import it—that is absolutely right. I suggest to the Minister that now—20 years down the timeline set out by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner)—is the time to take that next inexorable step of a ban on UK imports. Having done that, in a timely way, it should not be a matter of thinking “job done”, popping open the Pol Roger, the prosecco, the cava or the drink of choice and saying, “Aren’t we good?” The task then moves to the next stage—the two stages could run in parallel—of convincing those countries that still farm fur that it is time to stop. In the 21st century, the human body does not need another animal’s furs to keep warm. We have ways of doing that and of displaying our disposable wealth other than by wearing the pelt of an animal on our backs.
The hon. Gentleman knows me to be an Ulster MP, but I was surprised when researching this issue that there are still three animal fur farms in the Republic of Ireland, one of which is in Ulster—in Donegal. Those farms kill more than 200,000 mink per year. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a good starting point would be our nearest neighbour and trusted friend—a European partner we collaborate with and sit on British-Irish ministerial councils with—and that in this area we could convince it of the sound arguments, so that it would end its fur trade?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. He catches me totally by surprise, by saying that that remains a fact as we start the second half of 2018. That should be one of the easy wins—if one likes—in our campaign to stop the farming of fur for the retail and fashion trade.
I conclude with two key points. The first is about labelling, customer awareness and customer pressure on the retailer. It is a cut-throat marketplace and high street at the moment and now is the time for the consumer to speak. The second is world leadership. Let us ban here first and take that message, that dialogue and that discussion to those countries that continue to farm fur. Let us make it clear to them that we are not interested, per se, in the standards by which the animals are kept or the manner in which they are killed, germane and pertinent as those matters are. We urge them to stop farming fur because we think it is wrong and it is for our country to show the moral and legal leadership I know it can provide.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I was the MP who, 20 years ago—it seems like yesterday—introduced the original Bill on fur farming in the 1998-99 Session, and it was only because I was fortunate to come second in the private Member’s Bill ballot that I was able to do that with any prospect of success. It was as a consequence of that origin, as a private Member’s Bill, that the legislation was drawn narrowly. I wanted to succeed, and having a broad Bill when debating time is restricted is not a good strategy. I thought very early on, “I want this Bill to get on to the statute book, so let’s draw it narrowly. Let’s deal with fur farming in this country”—in England and Wales as it was—“and keep it to that”. The international fur trade was somewhat on the slide at the time and there was, I think, a reasonable hope that it was sinking and might not recover in the way in which the past 20 years have shown it to.
To my mind, the focus had to be on banning so-called fur farming. What goes on in these places can in no way be called farming; it is factory production of fur and it is as well to bear that in mind. When we say “farm” we think of nice socially useful things that feed the population and help to keep us going. There is no way the production of these animals for fur across the world—no longer here, thank goodness—could possibly be described as farming. Let us be clear about that: it is fur factory-farm production.
Coming back to this debate 20 years later, I hear the same arguments and see the same appallingly poor standards and conditions, and the animals going through the same terrible, unconscionable suffering wherever the fur is produced. There are no viable, humane standards for fur factory-farm production; they do not exist. The farm animal welfare people at the time were right that it was impossible to produce fur humanely in the manner in which the fur farms that existed in England and Wales were operating, and as farms operate now across some of the rest of the world. It is impossible. Colleagues from different political parties set out in their speeches some of the suffering that animals produced in this way undergo. There is no way of ameliorating that suffering. These are wild animals, and they should not be dealt with in the way in which they still are around the rest of the world. We banned fur farming in this country because it was impossible to produce fur humanely and with any kind of welfare standards in the way in which it was being produced.
I was somewhat shocked, on coming back to the debate 20 years later, to see that 135 million animals are killed for their fur worldwide and an estimated 2 million pelts are imported into the UK every year. That is a lot of unconscionable suffering that we, when we banned fur farming in this country, thought to put an end to. I had hoped that the trade would decline and decline, since it was clear that most people, certainly in this country, did not approve of treating animals in this way. When the public are asked, usually at least three quarters of them reply that they want to see these practices banned. So there has been no reversal of the views of our constituents about how animals should be treated, it is simply that the trade has gone back up and, unbeknownst to most people, the number of pelts being imported has gone up. It seems that fur is not the luxury it was once seen to be, and that is probably responsible, in part, for the increase in the trade.
Given that we have been disappointed that the trade has not naturally declined and given up the ghost, now is the time to remove the contradiction between our having banned fur farming ourselves and our still importing pelts to that level. Now is the time to say, “Okay. It didn’t die out naturally. Let’s kill it off.” There is no way in which fur farming can be done properly or humanely.
One reason for the trade going up has been the phenomenal success of Canada Goose, a company that uses real fur trimming from coyotes that are hunted—humanely it says—in Canada. Leghold traps are legal there, but a mother animal, if caught, will chew off her leg to get back to her children, which can in no way be humane. We should call on companies that use fur trimming to do what their rivals do and use artificial fur.
I agree with my hon. Friend; I do not think that it is possible to hunt humanely with those kinds of traps. Indeed, they have been banned in this country for decades longer than fur farming has been banned. We should not allow that kind of trade into this country.
This is not a party political debate. I hope that the Minister realises that there is widespread support across parties—as there always has been, and as there was at the time of my Bill—for banning this inhumane and appalling way of treating animals. It is not a party political issue, but perhaps the Minister would like to talk to some of his colleagues, particularly in the Lords, who appear not to have fully understood the nature of the ban introduced in 2000. When the Select Committee took oral evidence from Lord Henley, he said:
“I have no desire to close things down. I am not in the business of banning things.”
Lord Gardiner said he was
“committed to improving the welfare standards of animals across the world.”
Lord Gardiner ought to know that that cannot be done with fur farming; there are no welfare standards that are acceptable. He said that animals
“for whatever purpose are reared and then killed in a humane manner”
and that the fur industry needs
“to be thinking about how we produce fur in a more humane manner…fur farming, if it is to have a future, needs to be concentrating on humane and sustainable farming and trapping.”
The Minister needs to go back to his Department and have a seminar with his colleagues in the Lords about how impossible it is to do the things they seem to think are possible. If they represent the Government’s attitude to the issue, we are not going to see any progress. It is not possible—I cannot stress this enough—for fur farming to be done humanely. It has to be banned. After all this time, as the first nation in the world to ban fur farming, we can take a leadership position around the world, but we will only do so if Ministers in the Department understand that it is not possible to do this farming better.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The core of her argument—I agree with it—is that the ban can be done. Does she agree that it is within the scope of the Government and the Minister to change the practice of importing fur in a way that would please not only those of us taking part in the debate, but the majority of our constituents?
I think it is possible. It was certainly possible for us to ban fur farming in this country even though we were a full member of the EU at the time and were not talking about leaving. Leading by example is a very good thing. We have done it before: following our ban of fur farming—we were the first country in the world to do so—there have been full bans across many European countries, inside and outside the EU. Austria, the Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia and, most recently, the Czech Republic have banned fur farming. I gave a seminar to Czech parliamentarians ahead of them considering their legislation, and I heard the same arguments from their fur trade people that I heard 20 years ago from the then remnant of our fur industry. There are partial bans in Belgium, Denmark and Hungary. The Germans have just increased their regulations to require all farmed mink to have water to swim in. I doubt that will do much for the viability of mink farming in Germany—in fact, I think it will make it completely unviable.
Progress is being made, but it is too slow. Given the statistics about the level of the trade and the fact that it has not died out, as we might have hoped 20 years ago, now is the time for us to take that next step. I do not agree for a minute that it matters whether we are inside or outside the EU; we can do it either way. We do not have to ask anybody; we can do it ourselves, and parliamentarians should do it. I think we will, and I hope that in considering the matter the Minister will take a view that his colleagues in the Lords did not sufficiently understand the nature of the trade to properly set out the Government’s position to the Select Committee.
I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to express that the Government, of which he is a member, will take forward the banning of this trade, because it is time. It is something that our constituents want. Over decades they have shown a very high level of support for banning the trade and for looking after animals properly. The idea that we can have 135 million animals killed for their fur every year, having put up with the most appalling suffering, is unconscionable. We need to act. We need to lead the world again. The Minister is in a position to do it, and I hope that he will. Perhaps he will tell us so today.
[Philip Davies in the Chair]
I am delighted to speak in this debate, which is sponsored by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). I thank him for his constructive, thoughtful and comprehensive exposition.
By way of preamble—that is never a good way to begin a sentence—in recent weeks and months, I, like others, have spoken in this Chamber calling for a United Nations ban on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. I have spoken on puppy smuggling, puppy farms, the ivory trade and a range of animal welfare issues. My constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran care deeply about them, as do people right across the United Kingdom. They are hugely important to our constituents. We are a conglomeration of countries—a political union—that cares very deeply about animals.
This is an auspicious day in Scotland, because today we become the first country in the United Kingdom to enact legislation banning the use of wild animals in circuses. I sincerely hope that other parts of the UK and Europe follow us.
The hon. Lady makes a pertinent point. I have been told so many times that we cannot introduce a unilateral ban on wild animals in circuses because the EU would not let us, yet we hear that many other countries have done so—Slovakia did so this week. Clearly, being in the European Union was being used as an excuse.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I do not want to wander too far away from the focus of this debate, but we heard today that there might be issues with banning fur sales while we are still in Europe. We need to be careful about finding reasons not to do things. We can always find 100 reasons not to do something, but if the political will is there, we should make a greater effort to do what needs to be done.
As we have heard, fur farming has been illegal across the UK for a considerable time. That ban happened as a response to the public simply making it known to politicians that fur farms were an affront to decency that simply could not and would not be tolerated any longer. Consumers across the UK have been leading the debate, as they often do when it comes to ethical choices, particularly in relation to animal rights. Each year more than 100 million animals around the globe are killed just for their fur, either through being trapped in the wild, which accounts for about 15% of those killed, or from fur factory farms, which account for about 85% of those killed.
The animals farmed for their fur—most commonly, but not exclusively, mink—are wild animals. They are held in the most appalling and unnatural conditions, as was set out clearly and chillingly by the hon. Members for Cambridge, for Clacton (Giles Watling), for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). Animals are held in appalling conditions until they are eventually killed for their fur, usually by gassing or electrocution. Those trapped in the wild are most commonly caught in leg traps. Some animals chew through their own limbs to escape and others are left for days until the trapper returns and kills them by stamping or kneeling on them, taking care, of course, not to damage the animal’s pelt.
The sale of fur in the UK has been in steady decline over the past 30 years or so. I am no fashion icon, Mr Davies, as you can probably tell, but fur products have become distinctly unfashionable in many quarters. As I have said, consumers are way ahead of us in Westminster. They have made an ethical choice and have been turning away from fur over the past 30 years, although the volumes of sales are still very disturbing, as the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) pointed out—I thank her for her powerful speech.
We know how consumers feel and we see the evidence in our inboxes. I do not often say this, but the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) is absolutely correct. The trade is simply not needed. A ban on the sale of fur products is important to keep those loathsome and vile products out of the United Kingdom. We have an opportunity here to begin to wash the blood from our hands. As we have heard, other countries will follow. The question that Parliament has to decide—I know the Minister is listening carefully—is whether it wants to lead or whether it wants to follow. The change is coming. The question is how quickly we implement it.
The earlier comment made by the hon. Member for North Dorset was correct: we must deal robustly with ruthless operators in the supply chain who, when we have a ban, will try to pass off real fur as fake fur. We must make sure we are ready for that.
As the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) pointed out, it is not good enough to wait for international welfare standards to improve and simply make the issue go away. A ban would hasten improvements in animal welfare internationally, not impede them. We cannot, as my former head teacher used to say, move at the rate of the slowest caravan.
The UK public, in numbers that are growing all the time, are appalled by the suffering caused to animals by the fur trade. A YouGov poll in February of this year showed that 69% of the British public support a ban on the import and sale of real fur, regardless of their political affiliation. It cuts through any voting behaviour and other belief systems people have. The World Trade Organisation has set a precedent for a ban, as the hon. Member for Cambridge pointed out. Following challenges by Norway and Canada, the World Trade Organisation upheld the right of the EU to ban trade in seal products on the grounds of public morality. It noted that commercial seal hunts pose inherent dangers to animal welfare and the ruling was upheld on appeal. The door is open for a ban on the sale of animal fur in the UK. The question is whether the Minister will allow us to walk through it.
All lucrative endeavours bring with them powerful lobbyists such as we have seen with the tobacco industry. The latest example in the fur industry is an organisation called WelFur. I am sure the Minister is aware of the comprehensive and rigorous “Scientiﬁc Review of Animal Welfare Standards and ‘WelFur’”, which concluded:
“WelFur is not able to address the major welfare issues for mink and foxes farmed for fur...or the serious inadequacies in current labelling and regulation.”
I am sure the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood also pointed that out.
For me, and I believe for many people in the UK, it is quite simple when we get right down to it—we have heard it said repeatedly in the debate. If we banned fur farms because of the cruelty they inflict on animals, it is simply not sustainable—indeed, it is actively hypocritical —to allow the sale of real fur in the UK. It suggests that the suffering inflicted on animals for fur is absolutely fine as long as it is not done in the UK. It is not fine. Probably everybody in this Chamber believes that, and every constituent who has contacted me believes it. If something is wrong because it is cruel, it is wrong regardless of where it occurs. The best message we can send today is to show how strongly we believe that by refusing to allow real fur into the UK for sale. We have outsourced the cruelty, as the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood has pointed out, and it is not good enough. No matter what animal we are talking about, the cruelty inflicted is simply not justifiable or acceptable.
I will end by urging the Minister to screw his courage to the sticking place and implement a ban on the sale of animal fur in the UK as soon as possible. The House supports it and our constituents support it and want it. Let us make it happen. I have no doubt that other countries will follow.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and that of your predecessor, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for introducing the debate—he stole our thunder by giving all the evidence. We have also had important contributions from the hon. Members for Clacton (Giles Watling), for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns), for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), and from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). We had a tour de force from my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), who is responsible for taking us to the stage we are at today, and I very much concur with the contribution from the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson).
I will start with my usual appeal. It is a little strange that we are here in this place. We should be somewhere else later debating the Ivory Bill. I say in all sincerity to the Minister that the ban on animal fur would be much better catered for in a genuine animal welfare Act, which is what we should all push for, where all the different measures would come together. We have not had one for some considerable time. It would be helpful to address the matter in primary legislation. We are thankful that the Government have introduced the Ivory Bill, but it would be nice to think that this would be part of proactive legislative action so that we can deal with all the measures. Not one speech has wavered from the fact that we all want a ban and we want it now, and we want it done in a way in which we yet again show the world that this issue matters. It matters because of the 109,000 people who have signed the petition, but I know there have been other petitions that got into hundreds of thousands because the issue touches a raw nerve. People do not believe that, having banned it in this country, we should get fur in through the back door, particularly as it looks as though we have simply outsourced our cruelty. That cannot be right. It is not fair and it is not moral.
The Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood was about morality, taking a stand and making it clear that we wanted to ban fur farming. We were told that we could not do it. We were told that it would cost lots of jobs and that it was a minor industry. We were told that for those people who wanted to wear fur it was right that they had a choice. Sadly, we have proved them wrong, but there are people who still think that fur can come in through the back door and we now have to do something about that, so we are revisiting the 2000 ban, which is popular. It is fair to say that it was popular across the House, although there were a few backwoodsmen, whose names will not be recalled, who spent time trying to delay the process, but we took them on and we beat them. It was a great pleasure to see a Labour Government enact the legislation and people felt that we had a strong stance on animal welfare.
It is therefore disappointing that what goes on elsewhere in the world still has an impact in this country. Certain animals are bred in the most cruel manner simply so that somebody can enjoy wearing fur. I do not understand not only why we cannot lean on the retail trade, but why people wear fur—to me, it is the same as wearing a swastika or something. People should not think that it is acceptable; it is not. It is a form of licence that people generally feel we should do something about. It appears that 90% of the British public support us, which is a pretty high figure. People ought to respond to that by recognising that if they have furs in their top drawer, they should quietly dispose of them. It is not acceptable in this day and age to wear them.
We largely welcome what the Government have said, although we do not necessarily agree with their inaction and unwillingness to consider the issue. We also want it to be part of a more comprehensive policy that shows that we are leading the way in this country—with action, not words. In Labour’s animal welfare plan, a ban on fur imports is one of our 50 commitments. It is important that we make such commitments in opposition. The difference is that we intend to carry them through if and when we are elected.
It is important to recognise that animal welfare is a key issue. So many Members have spoken in today’s debate, and I did not count the number who intervened. The poor presenter of the petition must have taken about 12 interventions. He eventually went back 20 years; I think we must have all gone forward about 40 years with the number of people who wanted to contribute. People feel very strongly about this issue. Hon. Members have turned up to the debate partly because they feel passionately about it, but also because they have been petitioned by their constituents, who want their Members of Parliament to do something about it. That is why we have the petitions process. People can influence policy, and influence their MPs to do something about policy.
In the nicest possible way, I hope that the Minister has listened. He might not clarify all the things that we want him to today, but in due course we want him to accept that there is overwhelming support for such changes. As I said, we can take this forward in various international treaties and negotiations, and say that the world has to ban this heinous crime. It is despicable. There are no grounds for the way in which some countries and people still think that they can earn a living from it. It is not acceptable, and we should say so loudly and clearly.
We have heard a lot about the suffering and the nature of the industry. I will not labour that point, which has been made clearly with some very graphic examples of what happens. We must try to persuade other countries, and certainly those within the EU. When we ban it, we should clearly write to them and explain the ban. There seems to be some misunderstanding that our ban was just based within our borders. It should not and could not be. We are still a member of the EU. If there are the issues in the Republic of Ireland that were identified by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), we need to write to them and say that it is not something we support. Countries such as Denmark are our close neighbours. I saw the BBC film, which was interesting in how it highlighted what goes on in other parts of the world. Such countries should not be thinking that we just ignore this practice. We should not ignore it; we should take it up and ensure that they understand that what they are doing is wrong, and do what we can about it.
I ask the Minister to be very clear, if he can, that such a measure will be introduced, as the ivory trade ban is being introduced today. As I said, it would be nice if a ban on fur imports were part of a wider animal welfare Bill, and certainly part of a wider strategy, but I will accept that, if he says that in due course the Government will introduce a Bill to ban imports, that is a tangible thing to get from today’s debate.
It is important that we send the message loudly to the rest of the world—perhaps more clearly than we did last time, when we banned it within our own borders—that we see the sale of animal fur as an unacceptable trade that should be dealt with at an international level, and that we will deal with it in this country not only by tackling our domestic business, but by banning imports. People will then be under no illusions: the fur trade is wrong and should be abolished.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the way in which he introduced the debate. This is an emotive topic, which I know the public care about deeply. As hon. Members have pointed out, more than 109,000 people have signed the petition, so it is right that we have a long debate today to explore the issues in more detail.
The UK prides itself on being a world leader in animal welfare standards and, as hon. Members have also pointed out, this is a cross-party approach. Governments of all colours have advanced the case for improving animal welfare and tackling animal cruelty. We are at the forefront of international efforts to protect the interests of animals. For example, as hon. Members have said, we recently announced proposals to ban the sale of ivory to help to bring an end to elephant poaching. That Bill will start its passage through Parliament this evening, and I am sure that it will have universal support from all Members at today’s debate.
I was going to come on to that point, because I am aware that the hon. Lady introduced a private Member’s Bill on this subject. She recalled earlier how a number of Back Benchers frustrated her Bill. She joins an illustrious list of people before her and since who have had their private Members’ Bills frustrated. As a general rule, I find that if the Government do not support a private Member’s Bill, Back Benchers support it, and vice versa. It is one of those Catch-22s that we have to live with.
The hon. Lady correctly pointed out that the Farm Animal Welfare Council—now the Farm Animal Welfare Committee—did a piece of work on fur farming. It looked specifically at two species, mink and arctic fox, and concluded that because they are wild animals it was unable to come up with an industry code of practice to enable those two species to be farmed in a way that was conducive to their welfare. On that basis it recommended, and the Government accepted, a move towards a ban on fur farming. It is important to recognise, though, that—for reasons that I will come on to later—the then Labour Government introduced that ban but stopped short of a ban on trade in fur. Instead, they introduced a fur farming ban, which is far easier to achieve.
However, the hon. Lady put her finger on an important point—the difficulty of farming animals, and wild ones in particular, in a way that is conducive to their welfare. That point was made powerfully by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Clacton (Giles Watling), for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), and the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) talked about the ethical difficulty of these issues.
The Government have supported higher animal welfare standards worldwide as the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane farming and trapping practices that are banned here. Once the UK retakes its independent seat on international bodies, such as the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora and the World Organisation for Animal Health, we will have an opportunity to promote the British view on animal welfare in such international forums, and to support improved animal welfare standards internationally.
In the meantime, there are some EU provisions that the UK has always supported—indeed, in many cases the UK argued for them. First, there are regulations that include a blanket ban on the importing of furs from a number of animals, including cats and dogs, as well as seal skins and products from commercial hunts. Secondly, there are EU regulations that ensure that any fur that can be imported into the UK from the EU comes from animals that have been kept, trapped and killed humanely, as defined by EU regulations. Fur production is allowed in some other EU member states, and EU directive 98/58/EC applies animal welfare standards to farmed animal production, including animals farmed for fur. EU regulation 1099/2009 applies requirements to protect the welfare of fur animals at the time of killing. Those regulations are audited by the European Commission.
Humane Society International figures suggest that about 85% of fur imported into the UK comes from farmed species such as mink, arctic fox, racoon, dog and rabbit, with the remainder coming from trapped wild species. The EU does not allow imports of fur from wild animals caught by unacceptable trapping practices. EU regulation 3254/91 relates to fur from 13 animal species, and requires certification, including from third countries, that animals were trapped in the right way.
All of those EU regulations pertaining to trade from third countries and the standards we require will come across into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament. I will return to the issue of additional trade restrictions in the WTO and the EU, which a number of hon. Members raised, but first I want to dwell on some of the other restrictions that we support.
In addition to the EU regulations, CITES controls fur from endangered species. For example, export permits and commercial use certificates strictly control the import of fur from endangered species. Those controls are implemented in the UK by the wildlife trade regulations. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is responsible for processing import declarations and granting customs clearance for regulated goods, and Border Force works to ensure anti-smuggling controls intercept any illegal products. Although there were no seizures last year, 19 consignments were checked because it was considered that they might have some irregularities in their paperwork.
There are legal frameworks for the farming of fur animals in some non-EU countries, including minimum standards and inspections of welfare conditions. However, there are of course no EU or UK checks on farming conditions in those third countries.
We will all have heard what the Minister said about the international treaties and our ability to make the case that many of us have talked about, but does he accept that, notwithstanding the prevailing regulations and those that might come in the future, we would prefer to live in a world in which those regulations are not required because the trade has ceased?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and I was going to return to the issue of trade. The point is that it is not possible to make a difference just through the restriction on trade to the UK, because we represent a tiny portion—about 0.25%—of the entire global market. We would probably be more effective agitating for change through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others to get improvements and further restrictions, and to encourage other countries to adopt the sorts of measures we have adopted. The Government recognise that some consumers do not wish to purchase fur on ethical grounds. As a consumer protection measure, there are laws about the legal fur trade to ensure consumers can obtain sufficient information about whether a product is composed wholly or partly of fur so they can make an informed choice.
I recognise, as several hon. Members pointed out—including my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) in an intervention—that concerns have been expressed recently that real fur is being passed off as fake fur, especially in low-cost items. That is the subject of an inquiry by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, to which my noble Friend Lord Gardiner gave evidence. The hon. Member for Bristol East cast aspersions on Lord Gardiner’s knowledge of these issues, but I believe he has looked at them in depth and understands them well.
I am sorry; I would like to correct that. I misremembered who made that point—it was the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle). I assure hon. Members that my noble Friend Lord Gardiner has looked at these issues in great detail and, I believe, has a deep understanding of them.
The hon. Member for Cambridge asked about levels of trade. Various figures have been mentioned. I am told that, in 2017, we imported £63 million-worth of fur and articles with fur, and exported £33 million-worth of fur and articles with fur, which suggests that about £30 million-worth of those imports was for UK use.
Let me turn to some of the points made by hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman talked about WTO rules, and I broadly agree with him. I have argued many times in this Chamber that nothing in the WTO rules precludes us from taking stances on ethical grounds and from advancing animal welfare. As he pointed out, an important test case relating to seal fur and seal skins was upheld. It is not perfectly straightforward—the WTO has not upheld other cases—but there is case law that allows individual national Governments to advance such measures on ethical grounds, particularly relating to animal welfare.
It is a little more complicated when it comes to the European Union, because where there are EU harmonising measures relevant to the movement of fur—including the EU animal by-product regulations—any limitation of where such products can be sold and any national restriction would need to meet the requirement of article 114 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That would require us to have the consent of other countries or cede the final decision to the European Commission. It is a complex picture but, for political reasons, it is unlikely that we would be able to advance that while we are in the EU. I suspect that is why the previous Labour Government, when they introduced the ban on fur farming, stopped short of trying to introduce a restriction on trade.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood made a very important point about the use of leghold traps. As I said earlier, under current EU regulations there is a prohibition on the import of furs or fur products from some wild animal species originating in countries where they are caught by leghold traps or trapping methods that do not meet international standards of humane trapping. The furs of animals caught in leghold traps are prohibited from import into the UK, and there has to be certification to confirm the country of origin, so I believe that the existing regulations cover that.
Some hon. Members made an important point about the saliency of this issue to the public. I agree and concur with that completely. The lion’s share of the correspondence coming into DEFRA relates to animal welfare. This really does matter. I was not aware that we had ever blamed the European Union for not introducing a ban on wild animals in circuses—indeed, that has been Government policy for a couple of years now. We are committed to introducing that Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset talked about our ability to use soft power. I agree with much of what he said on that issue but, as I pointed out earlier, I believe we will be more effective if we advance that soft power through forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others in order to get a wider uptake of the types of bans and restrictions that we have in place here in the UK.
There have been many thoughtful contributions to this important debate, including from hon. Members who have been campaigning on the issue for many years. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge on introducing the debate, and all hon. Members on their contributions.
It has been a good debate and there have been many thoughtful contributions from all sides.
I joined the Petitions Committee only recently, and this is the first time I have introduced a debate. It is a testimony to the power of the e-petitions process that so many people got engaged, signed the petition and are watching us today. My worry is that they will think that all we have had is a debate. That is the challenge for the Minister to go away to think about.
We have had a discussion with excellent contributions. The one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) was particularly telling. She started on this process many years ago and summarised the debate with passion, saying that, in effect, there is no such things as humane fur farming. There is the question of whether a ban can be made while we are members of the European Union but, in my limited experience of this place, one thing that I have noticed is that what we can do often depends on whom we ask and how much we want to do it. That is the real question.
We have heard from every single political party in the House—from Conservative and Labour Members, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party—and there is almost unanimity. One of the great Presidents of America, Lyndon Baines Johnson, famously said that politics was about counting the votes. I have been counting the votes and—I am looking at the Government Benches—some Members have self-declared already, tonight. This House has the votes. What it needs is a Government willing to introduce a ban. That is what the public expect.
I hope the Minister will go back to the Secretary of State with the very strong message from this House that it is time we banned the fur trade.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 200888 relating to the sale of animal fur in the UK.