Motion to Approve
My Lords, the regulations are necessary to maintain the ban on trade in cat and dog fur following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. We recognise the strength of feeling in the UK against a trade that could encourage killing cats and dogs to make money out of their fur. The regulations are most certainly needed to continue to meet the public’s expectations. Without them, the legislation imposing the ban would be inoperable.
The regulations were laid before Parliament on 4 March. They are made under powers in the EU withdrawal Act 2018. Noble Lords will know that, given the context, those powers are limited and allow only the correction of technical deficiencies in existing EU law that, by the operation of the Act, will be retained in UK law following withdrawal. The regulations correct such deficiencies, for example by replacing references to the EU and its institutions with the appropriate UK references.
To be clear, such powers cannot make policy changes. I add that it is beyond the scope of the regulations and today’s debate to consider wider changes to the ways in which animals with fur, and indeed other creatures, are protected. This is about ensuring continuity and making sure that the legislation is operable. To ensure that the ban on trade in cat or dog fur is maintained, I commend these regulations to the House.
My Lords, if we are to leave the European Union and crash out in a way I consider disastrous, a degree of legal certainty is necessary for some of the areas where protection for animals is provided. Indeed, the Minister will recall that this specific example was raised in the Trade Bill.
I welcome putting this mechanism in place to ensure that there are no gaps in this heinous trade, which British criminal proceedings established as a crime more than a decade ago. I also welcome the high penalties for this crime being maintained. In doing so, I wonder whether the Minister can address a few points of clarification. It is important to note that the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum highlighted the fact that the European Commission found little evidence of trade in this area. Nevertheless, regrettably, if those in the criminal fraternity see an opportunity or an opening, they are likely to exploit it.
With that caveat, I ask for further explanation on the instrument. Its existing power to derogate, contained in the EC regulation, will be transferred to the Secretary of State. The Minister said that this measure would not be a vehicle for making new policy, but this power would provide Ministers with the ability to derogate. Where will potential derogations occur? If they have already been highlighted for educational or taxidermy purposes, are those purposes defined in current legislation? I know through my links with the textile and fashion industry in Scotland and across the UK that, regrettably, companies could set themselves up as taxidermy companies to exploit a loophole. Clarification from the Government on that point would be very welcome.
The second area was that the current approach, as the Explanatory Memorandum states,
“allows the European Commission to adopt an analytical method to identify different species of fur”,
and, if necessary, to amend on that basis. This will now be a power of the Secretary of State, so how will the Government consider this analytical method for considering which species are covered by this regulation?
My final point relates to the devolved Administrations, which I am sure the Minister will not be surprised about. While this will be considered as part of a reserved power—I have no dispute about that—inevitably there has been an interaction with devolved Administrations. When I served in the Scottish Parliament there were proposals for legislation to ban puppy farming and the consequential element of what would potentially become a product from that puppy farming. Indeed, legislation exists in Scotland on other wild animals and the pelts derived from them. If the Minister were able to clarify what discussions the Government have had—primarily in Scotland, which has some complementary areas of primary legislation in this area—it would be most welcome.
My Lords, the Minister brought forward a well-argued and brief case, and there is no need for us to go over much of the ground here. This is a very straightforward translation across of an existing power, and it is obviously necessary. These bans are only there because of public indignation and moral outcry about the trade in fur products, with particular reference to cats and dogs in this case.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, there is a wider context, and it would be helpful to have some sense of where this lies in the thinking on the broader trade in live puppies—and presumably cats—which are brought in to the great distress of the animals concerned, with poor standards of veterinary care and often with misleading information about what breeds they are and their likely state of health. There is also the broader question about how these issues are to be policed.
Mention is made in the commentary around this statutory instrument that determining the quality of the fur is complicated by the fact that it is sometimes quite difficult to track exactly what it is and where it has come from. More work needs to be done on that, and I wonder whether more effort will be placed on this now that the matter is being brought into direct control from the UK. That broader question also leads to the point about whether resources are available to make sure that it is properly policed. Presumably this is a trading standards issue. Trading standards is often asked to take on additional burdens and rarely given additional resources, since its funding comes from local authorities. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that there will be adequate resources for this work to be carried out.
My Lords, I will try to address a number of the concerns raised. The noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Purvis of Tweed, both mentioned a broader, more extensive ban. There may be time another day to talk about extending the ban. There have been no challenges to this ban under WTO rules. Our position is that that is beyond the scope of this statutory instrument, and therefore it is not a subject for discussion today.
There is a power to derogate in the current regulations. Because we are required only to correct technical deficiencies and because it exists, removing it would amount to more than correcting a technical deficiency. The power is there so that it is appropriate to bestow it on the UK. But let me be absolutely clear here on the Floor of the House—and this is why I am not going to address the other detailed questions of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—that the Government have no plans to use that power. As the noble Lord said, the derogation is for education and taxidermy. We have no plans to make use of that power.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the use of specific analytical methods. The requirement to report was to the Commission. We no longer need to do that, because we can determine what analytical methods we use. As the UK uses DNA-based methodology, we consider that to be the most appropriate overall and expect to continue to use it.
On the agreement of the devolved Administrations, it is recorded in the Explanatory Memorandum to the 2008 regulations on this subject that this is a reserved matter. The international trade regulation falls within the general reservation for international affairs set out in the Scotland Act 1998. We have shared these regulations with the devolved Administrations in draft, and, in practical terms, we are confident that there is consensus across the UK on the desirability of maintaining the ban.
I can confirm to both noble Lords who have spoken that we expect these regulations to continue to be rigorously enforced. HMRC will continue its role. It inspects consignments of fur at the point of entry into or exit from the UK, and on retail premises, to ensure they do not contain any cat or dog fur. It will retain its existing power to seize goods it considers to be in breach. It can also bring criminal proceedings against any persons found to have breached the prohibitions.
With that, I hope I have addressed the noble Lords’ questions.
One might assume that this is an area where, if the border with the European Union is in Northern Ireland, capacity will have to be in place to ensure there is no opportunity for the importation of illegal goods through that border. How do the Government intend to ensure that the checks that the Minister said will be required, and that it is the Government’s intention to carry out, will take place at the Northern Ireland border?