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Fur: Import and Sale

Volume 837: debated on Monday 22 April 2024


Asked by

My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register. Fur farming is banned in the UK, and there are already import restrictions, which means that some skin and fur products may not be legally imported. In Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare, Defra committed to explore further potential action in relation to the import of fur from abroad, but we have continued to build our evidence base, including commissioning a report from our Animal Welfare Committee.

The action plan to which the Minister refers was produced in June 2021, nearly three years ago. Knowing that we are a nation of animal lovers and that the number of animals killed for fur is estimated worldwide at 130 million, most of them kept in appalling conditions and suffering mental and physical distress, why on earth cannot the Government bring a popular Bill, for a change, to this House, so that it can vote for something happily—instead of the Rwanda Bill, for example?

My Lords, there is a good news story on this, because the volume of fur that is imported and exported has fallen by 50% in the past five years. In the action plan for animal welfare, Defra committed to explore potential action in relation to the import of fur from abroad. The call for evidence that Defra published in 2021 was a key step in delivering that commitment. A summary of the replies received should be published in due course; in the meantime, we are continuing to build our evidence base on the fur sector, which will be used to inform any future action on the fur trade. We have also commissioned a report from our expert Animal Welfare Committee, which I mentioned earlier, on what constitutes responsible sourcing in the fur industry. This report will support our understanding of the fur industry and help to inform our next steps.

My Lords, the import of fur is unnecessary. The killing of Canadian bears for their pelts is still used to make bearskin headgear for the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace. These come at a minimum cost of £650 each. The MoD orders between 50 and 100 bearskins each year. In 2020, the MoD stated that the quality of alternative material did not match natural fur. Surely, the Minister would agree that it is time for this unnecessary practice to be discontinued without delay.

My Lords, the wearing of bearskins by the Guards division is a matter for the Ministry of Defence. We are continuing to build our evidence base on the fur sector, which will be used to inform the future of the fur trade, and we will continue to share this evidence with other government departments, including the Ministry of Defence.

My Lords, what has happened to joined-up government? Is not this a matter for environmental and welfare considerations, and are they and the Ministry of Defence to be completely separated? I would suggest not. On the wider question, I am delighted by the progress that is being made, but could my noble friend speed it up a bit? I want to be alive when something really happens.

My noble friend is in very robust form, and I can see will be for many years ahead. I commit to providing a response to the consultation and the wider other brief as soon as I can.

My Lords, surely the Minister would agree that, in light of the new legislation that is coming in on the banning of the import of shark-fins and the progress of the Government-backed Private Member’s Bill on banning cruel puppy imports, the trade measures, such as a total ban on the import of fur and foie gras, which also safeguard animal welfare standards, should have equal priority. That is clearly not the case at the moment.

The Government made it clear in their manifesto commitment that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. The UK is rightly proud of the animal welfare standards that underpin our high-quality produce. Imports into the UK must comply with our existing import requirements, such as meeting the United Kingdom’s slaughter standards.

My Lords, what assessment has my noble friend the Minister made of the UK’s role in the global fur trade and of the volume of the import and export trade in animal fur and fur products over the past five years?

I thank my noble friend for her question. Between 2017 and 2019, the UK imported around £61 million-worth of fur or fur-based products and we exported around £35 million of fur and fur-based goods. The majority of these were for apparel and clothing. In the period since then—the latest report was in 2023—the volume and the numbers have exactly halved.

My Lords, the RSPCA has stated that one-quarter of children aged 10 to 18 have witnessed animal abuse videos online. What action are the Government taking to tackle the increase in this content? What education are we providing to children on the importance of animal welfare?

I thank my noble friend. I was not aware of those statistics from the RSPCA, but they sound very concerning and it is a matter that the Government will be taking very seriously. As for the content, I will refer my noble friend to the Home Office, because it sounds highly inappropriate for children to be watching that. I will take the issue of education back to my department.

My Lords, last week in the Grand Committee, the noble Lord and I were agreeing about the importance of biosecurity and the threat presented to human and animal health—indeed, One Health. During Covid 19, we saw huge numbers slaughtered on mink farms because of the risk of transmission. Does the Minister agree that the fur farms that keep animals in such dreadful conditions as my noble friend referred to present a threat to the security of all of us, in terms of the transmission of zoonoses? If we were to ban the imports, we would actually be making the world safer for all of us by helping to discourage those farms from continuing and presenting the biosecurity threat that they do.

The noble Baroness raises a very good point. We have been in discussions with our colleagues in Europe about these issues over the period. I can assure the House that there is no current risk, or the risk is assessed as extremely low, in terms of any transfer of diseases across from Europe. I know that where they do get outbreaks, they go to a policy of cull straightaway.

My Lords, a year ago the Government staged a U-turn on the promise to ban fur imports. We do not know the reason for that, but we do know that, as we have heard mentioned, in April 2021 there was a call for evidence and the Government received 30,000 replies. Since then, we have heard nothing, so will the Minister say when that evidence, the 30,000 responses to the call for evidence, will be released?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right about the numbers there. As I said earlier, I do not have an exact date for that response, but I am pressing for it to come out as soon as possible.

My Lords, what are the arguments for not banning fur products coming into the country? It does not seem to me that there is any important reason why we should not ban them. I think the vast majority of the public would support that move. What arguments are the Government putting forward for not banning them?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I am not in a position to go into that level of detail right now, so I will write to him.

Can my noble friend the Minister tell us whether his department has done any analysis of the source of fur from animals? What I mean by that is when animals are killed for fur, what percentage are killed specifically for fur; what percentage are killed for something else, such as meat, and the fur is a by-product; and what percentage are killed to control an animal population?

My Lords, I asked this specific Question three years ago. I have not had an answer in those three years and I do not like the Answer today. Is it any wonder that I get so annoyed with this Government? Please, bring us back a proper answer on this.

I am distressed that we are causing the noble Baroness so much discomfort—that is certainly not the intention of the Government nor, indeed, my department at Defra. As I stated, I do take a personal interest in this; I have attended a number of meetings on it over the last month or so and I am endeavouring to get a response shortly, which I hope will satisfy the noble Baroness.