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Draft Cat and Dog Fur (Control of Movement etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

Debated on Tuesday 6 September 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: †Julie Elliott

Bonnar, Steven (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)

† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)

Bradshaw, Mr Ben (Exeter) (Lab)

† Buchan, Felicity (Kensington) (Con)

† Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

† Carden, Dan (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)

† Holloway, Adam (Gravesham) (Con)

Johnson, Kim (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)

† Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)

† Mahmood, Mr Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)

† Moore, Damien (Southport) (Con)

† Mordaunt, Penny (Minister for Trade Policy)

† Mortimer, Jill (Hartlepool) (Con)

† Owatemi, Taiwo (Coventry North West) (Lab)

† Poulter, Dr Dan (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)

† Richards, Nicola (West Bromwich East) (Con)

† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)

Robi Quigley, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 6 September 2022

[Julie Elliott in the Chair]

Draft Cat and Dog Fur (Control of Movement Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Cat and Dog Fur (Control of Movement Etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. As a courtesy, I should say that my phone is off before the jokes start. I should also declare an interest as the humble servant of four cats at home.

I am sure that all Members are of one mind that the slaughter of cats and dogs to trade in their fur is completely wrong. Since 2008, the import, export and placing on the market of cat and dog fur, and products containing their fur, has been banned in the United Kingdom, and it will continue to be. When the ban entered into force it was at EU level, but I am proud that the United Kingdom played an influential role in its introduction. The Government rightly chose to keep the ban in place upon the UK’s departure from the European Union, and today we are seeking to secure this statutory instrument to ensure our robust position is maintained.

The SI replicates, clarifies and makes operable the prohibition on the import, export and placing on the market of cat and dog fur, and products containing such fur.

I am interested in the definition of fur. Does it relate to fur and pelts, as in pelts with fur on, or does it also include combed fur that is not attached to a pelt and has been removed from a live animal?

The definition includes products containing that fur, so it is a broad definition.

The regulations are simple and do not introduce new policy; instead we are correcting technical deficiencies in the retained EU law and amending domestic law to ensure that the regulations work for the UK now that we have left the EU. The SI ensures the continued enforcement of the ban, as well as clarifies the criminal penalties for breaching it in each of the UK’s criminal law jurisdictions in accordance with the primary legislation that that applies to. In doing so, we are ensuring that any doubt regarding those penalties is removed. The SI also replaces references to the European Union and its institutions and legislation with the equivalent references to Great Britain.

I am sure that there are many things that Members wish that the SI might do, but its scope is very limited. For example, Members may want to end the existing derogation powers for educational purposes, or want the draft regulations to cover other species. But that would be beyond the powers under which the SI is made. It cannot introduce new policy and it is simply ensuring that the ban on the trade in cat and dog fur is fully maintained now that the UK has left the EU. In doing so we are sending a clear message across the world that that is the case.

Drafts of the regulations were shared with the devolved Administrations, and we are confident that there is agreement across the UK on the importance of maintaining the ban on the trade in cat and dog fur. To waiver would risk cat and dog fur crossing our borders and entering our market, and that is not acceptable to this Government. I very much hope that Members will be unanimous in their support for the SI and what it seeks to achieve.

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Ms Elliott. It is also a pleasure to serve at what may be the Minister’s last gig in her current team. We wish her well.

We welcome the Government’s decision to uphold the ban on the import, export and sale of both dog and cat fur in the UK. The shocking reports about cats and dogs being exploited in fur farms disgusts all of us and our constituents. I am pleased that we have made so much progress in the UK in combating the awful abusive practices associated with fur over the past 30 years. I am also pleased to note the influence we have had in the world over that trade, although there is still more to do.

It was a Labour Government who introduced the ban on fur farming in the UK, and Labour has called for the Government to take the next step and ban the importation of fur altogether. Although we welcome the straightforward SI, there are some issues that I would like to take the opportunity to raise.

First, I know, as other Members will know, that Cats Protection still has concerns about the use of cat fur. It has called for better labelling of fur on textile products, with information for consumers to include the species of the fur used. It even appears that cat fur may now be so cheap that clothes and accessories containing it are sold on our high streets labelled as fake fur. A previous investigation by the Humane Society and Sky News found that shoes containing real cat fur were being sold on high streets in Britain, and Cats Protection has received reports of real fur being sold as fake fur, which suggests that there is a problem with the enforcement of the existing legislation. Can the Minister, or if not her, the Government, set out what steps the Government will take to ensure that the legislation is enforced and how will that be monitored?

I am sure that the Minister will say that the issue is largely one for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but if we wait for that Department it may be like waiting for Godot. Back in 2021, DEFRA opened its consultation on the fur market, as Ministers admitted that we could go further. Yet it is now September 2022, and 15 months later we are still waiting for the Government’s response to that consultation. One delay alone could be dismissed, but look at the wider pattern. It has been briefed that senior members of Government were battling to block efforts to ban the import of foie gras and fur, with one Cabinet Minister claiming that a ban “limits personal choice”.

We then saw the Government go even further when they appeared to drop the Animals Abroad Bill, which was a manifesto commitment of the Conservative party. A “senior Government source” blamed that move on

“A handful of very wealthy peers”

who were

“pressing for all the animal welfare measures to be dropped because they fear eventually it may mean their weekends could be affected.”

I think that says it all.

Although we welcome the overdue move to place the ban on the import of cat and dog fur in UK domestic law, there is more that can be done. We need a comprehensive approach to animal welfare issues within our trade policy. That means using our leverage and our influence in the world to ensure that our trade deals have animal welfare at their heart. Yet we have seen the UK sign a free trade agreement with Australia, a country with much weaker animal welfare standards than our own. It has not banned sow stalls, or hot branding, nor dehorning calves and mulesing lambs without pain relief—and much more. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made that clear last year when the Government were negotiating that free trade agreement.

When our soon to be Prime Minister was Trade Secretary, she championed those deals and brandished them across her Instagram account. But did she ever once consider the very real impact that those deals will have on animal welfare and on consumer standards? Both of those really matter to British people. There was a very clear direction of travel—an “any deal will do” approach—that saw animal welfare and a whole host of other issues thrown on the bonfire. But trade does not happen in a vacuum; whoever is appointed Secretary of State cannot and should not continue the deeply damaging approach that we have seen over the past three years. The UK has a chance to be a world leader on these issues, but instead appears to be squandering the chance to put ethics and justice at the heart of our trade policy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. Like the Minister I must declare an interest, as the owner of an elderly cat—although people with cats are more servants than owners—whose fur is rather ragged these days; perhaps she would like me to import some fur to help her.

I want to speak briefly about a couple of issues because there are questions that we should be asking. I agree with the Minister that there is agreement across the House that the ban was the right thing to do. It is worth reflecting that the ban on the import of cat and dog fur was the first animal welfare issue agreed on when it came to legislation in both the EU and here in the UK. We all recognise that Felix and Fido deserve our support; we want to stop the horror of fur being imported and what that means, particularly in fur farms.

The Minister said clearly that Members might want to go further. She talked about the fact that the legislation has an opt-out for educational purposes; it also has an opt-out for taxidermy. Many of us would like to see some benefit to Brexit, and surely we could move forward on making sure that Felix and Fido do not get stuffed anymore. Will she explain why, now that we are rewriting these regulations, the Government have not chosen in the first instance to bring in that protection for cats and dogs?

However, the Government have chosen to derogate for one of the more critical functional aspects of the regulation that covered EU trade. This is a trade issue after all, and I hope the Minister for Trade Policy can answer this in the few minutes she has left in her post. This statutory instrument amends EU regulation No 1523/2007 that required member states to report how they were testing whether cat or dog fur was being brought in. I completely understand why; obviously, we are no longer part of the EU and we no longer need to report to each other how we are testing whether cat or dog fur has been brought in. But how are the Government going to analyse whether dog or cat fur is still in our market? As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth pointed out, there is real evidence that cat fur is being imported and mislabelled as fake fur. Consumers trying to protect our cats do not necessarily get the support they need. Testing is critical. Will the Minister set out why the Government chose to remove the analytical element of the regulation, which was the key to making it work?

Secondly, ladies and gents, we are all going to sit on thousands of SIs—we shall enjoy them, I am sure—as we rewrite European Union regulations into British law; we all thought that they were perfectly sensible but we will have to spend countless parliamentary hours on that when we could be tackling the cost of living crisis. In Northern Ireland, of course, the situation will be different—people there will still be subject to the EU regulations and the requirements around analytical testing. What provision is the Minister making for people and businesses in Northern Ireland to make sure that there is not disproportionately more red tape as a result of Brexit when it comes to cat and dog fur?

How will the two systems work together? Cat and dog fur has been found in Parka coats. What will somebody who sells coats in a Belfast market do if they want to sell them in a Walthamstow market? How will they make sure that they abide by the two regulations without finding their business heavily curtailed by additional paperwork? What enforcement has taken place since we left the European Union to make sure that, although we are no longer part of those laws and protections, Felix and Fido are not going into our Parka coats?

The Minister said that this regulation makes operable the previous regulations. All of us want her to succeed in that endeavour but some practical questions, which are a direct result of Brexit, mean that if we do not get this right not only our businesses but Felix and Fido will continue to be stuffed. I hope she has some decent answers to these questions.

I thank all hon. Members who are broadly supportive of enabling us to tidy up this particular area and ensure that the measures are in statute.

I will start on the wider issues of animal welfare. The Committee will be aware that we have done a huge amount in recent years, but we also have a proud history of protecting and improving animal welfare, as many Members have alluded to. Fur farming has been banned in England and Wales since 2000 and in Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2002. Beyond cat and dog fur, there are existing restrictions on the trade of seal furs and skins, and in May of last year, DEFRA published a call for evidence on the fur trade in Great Britain. The evidence gathered, and wider engagement with the fur sector, will be used to inform any future action on the fur trade in Great Britain. Many other concerns have been raised during the debate about the future of such matters. We will wait to see what the new Administration do with work that is currently in train.

The Government published the “Action Plan for Animal Welfare” in May of last year, setting out domestic and international animal welfare and conservation reforms. Its delivery requires primary and secondary legislation. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which was reintroduced in May, delivers on three of the Government’s manifesto commitments: banning the export of live animals, cracking down on puppy smuggling, and banning the keeping of primates. That Bill was secured in a carry-over motion in April and reintroduced in May, and is awaiting confirmation of Report stage, which will hopefully happen in autumn. We have done many other things in recent years, particularly on the international stage on endangered species.

Members raised enforcement and better labelling. As I have explained, the SI is narrow in scope, but work has been going on at DEFRA to ensure that we have better enforcement, whether for such fur products or for our food supply chains. We have the ambition to have the best border in the world by 2025.

In addition to the integrity of supply chains and labelling, in this role I have done a lot of work with DEFRA colleagues to make use of new technology. It is possible through some technology that exists now, but that did not at the time the regulations were written, to test in different ways, identify not just the nature of the product but where it originates from, and to track it. With our ambitions for our border, we would want to update that, but that is not the reason why it is not included in the regulations—the reason is the narrow scope of the powers in the SI.

I just do not want to misunderstand what the Minister was saying. To clarify, is she saying that the rules about analytical requirements are not being imported because of the narrowness of this SI process, or because the Government have an alternative proposal in place? Surely, if the regulations replicate previous legislation that already had those analytical rules in place, that would be within scope.

Before I ask the Minister to resume her remarks, I ask Members to put their phones on silent. A phone has gone off twice now while we have been talking. I am not sure whose it is, but somebody’s phone keeps going off.

That is a further reason to complete this SI Committee swiftly.

Let me be clear: this is not about enforcement or about the issues that the hon. Lady raised. Those are practical matters and would not be in the scope of any legislation. They are about our own enforcement bodies and how they operationalise the requirements that we set out. In this SI we are not talking about how things would be tested and checked operationally. That is not the point of it. It is a very narrow SI that is designed to ensure that we have clarity about our own intent. I can reassure the hon. Lady that it is not intention that the Secretary of State would derogate from the SI’s provisions. That is not what we wish to do, and nor have we ever done that while those provisions were in EU law. The scope is extremely narrow, however, and we are not intending to open it up to other issues.

I know that people will have concerns about other species and future policy and whether we will derogate. That is not this Government’s policy and we will not seek to derogate. If a future Government chose to do so, that would have to be done through another legislative vehicle, because such derogation would not be within the scope of the SI.

Previous legislation that we are copying into GB law set out explicitly how an analytical process would take place to ensure that the provisions were operable. As the Minister herself said, the SI is about making those provisions operable, but she is now saying that the enforcement element will be carried out by A Another body or A Another process. I hope that she can understand that for those of us who want to see the legislation succeed now that we are out of the EU it is rather troubling that the Government have not thought through how to make that happen, given that the EU legislation did think that through. Perhaps the Minister can clarify when the Government might be able to tell cat and dog lovers that the laws are operable.

The enforcement bodies that will operationalise the rules that we set here know how to do that—they have been doing it for a long time already. The difference between the previous EU legislation and what we are discussing today is the fact that it will be the United Kingdom that must be made reference to. We are not reporting to the EU Commission on these matters, and that was the requirement in the previous legislation. That is the difference in the element that the hon. Lady has highlighted, if I have understood her correctly. The scope of the SI is not about how we operationalise; we are not here to discuss how testing is done, what particular technology is used or the protocols surrounding that. That is an operational matter. That is not a matter for the SI, which is simply transposing the relevant parts of the previous legislation and clarifying the fact that we have left the EU. It will not make reference to the EU but to the UK.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. I do not wish to delay our proceedings, but it is worth reading into the record that the provisions of EU regulation No 1523/2007 were exactly about the operation of the analytical approach. The point about sharing information with other EU countries was about being able to identify cat and dog fur and the techniques that companies were using to try to avoid the regulations. By removing those regulations, we are removing a means of enforcement. I am pleased to hear that the Minister thinks there are UK bodies that will conduct that analysis, but all we are asking for is clarity as to when the two approaches will match up. Without the protection of the EU requirement, we do not have that analytical approach, because that was a direct enforcement requirement under 1523/2007.

Although we are catching up with the legislation we are discussing, out in the real world people are continuing to monitor, track, test and share information. It is not the case that there is a gap in coverage. The SI is simply tidying things up for the UK statute book. I am quite sure that my colleagues at DEFRA will be able to give the hon. Lady as much detail as she needs about the technology that is being employed and the intelligence gathered on such products. Of course it is very important not just that we work with our European partners on this but with partners around world, because I am afraid to say that this horrible trade goes on in too many other countries. We have a clear role to play in trying to improve animal welfare standards there.

Moving on to other issues that colleagues have raised, as I speak, the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill is being debated on the Floor of the House. I refer hon. Members to the analysis of the trade Bills, and to the Trade and Agriculture Commission report on animal welfare standards and other issues. When we talk about EU retained law and UK law on welfare standards, it is important to remember that there is not necessarily an equivalent in other countries; Australia was mentioned, but we are talking about local guidelines and practice. There is not equivalent regulation that would be on a par with UK law or EU retained law. It is important to point that out.

I think I have covered all hon. Members’ points—

On Northern Ireland, the Government are obviously committed to the unfettered movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The statutory instrument makes our desire to protect cats and dogs compatible with the Northern Ireland protocol situation. The hon. Lady will be aware that the UK is making a huge effort to ensure that trade is as frictionless as possible. I have sat longer than anyone on the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, and I can tell her that we have acted in good faith and made proactive, positive suggestions on a whole raft of fronts, including on veterinary agreements. We will continue to work to ensure that burdens are lifted from Northern Ireland businesses and opportunities are maximised.

Could the Minister clarify—I did ask—whether there will be two separate systems running coterminously? Obviously, there are now different systems for EU trade and GB trade. It is true that until the resolution of the Northern Ireland protocol situation, a trader in Northern Ireland will have to complete two lots of paperwork if they want to sell Parka coats that may or may not use cat or dog fur.

As the hon. Lady will be well aware, there are a number of matters that we want rectified through a resolution of the Northern Ireland protocol issues, and we will continue to work on that. She will know that my Department has set up a couple of services to assist Northern Ireland businesses. We are continuing to lift burdens; we would be delighted if the Opposition helped us in that, and encouraged the EU to do more. Again, this is a technical issue; it does not impact the work that has been going on for many months—indeed, years—to monitor and track these products, and to ensure that they do not get into the UK market. I hope that gives her reassurance. I am happy to ask DEFRA to give her further assurances, if she wants to know the detail of the operational matters that she raises.

I hope that I have addressed all Members’ issues of concern, and that I have unanimous support for ensuring that Felix and Fido can have confidence in the integrity of the UK market.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.