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I beg to move,
That this House has considered real fur sales in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. Banning fur is increasingly an issue of public concern, reflected in the decision that the vast majority of consumers now make to avoid buying fur products and the huge support for the Fur Free Britain campaign—try saying that five times fast—led by the Humane Society International UK. In 2000, this House set an example for the world by banning fur farming in England and Wales, and Scotland and Northern Ireland enacted bans in 2002. We are clearly a nation of animal lovers, yet our existing legislation on the fur trade contradicts that fundamental aspect of being British.
Pressure for change is growing both inside Parliament and among the broader public. More than 1 million people have signed Fur Free Britain’s petition to ban fur sales, and a group of more than 100 MPs and peers signed my cross-party letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs just last month, which called on the Government to ban the import and sale of animal fur. A similar number of MPs signed the live early-day motion on the same issue, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) tabled a ten-minute rule Bill on this matter in April, so it is clear that Members want the animal fur trade to end.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend not just for securing this debate but for being kind enough to mention the early-day motion in my name, which is currently live and has been signed by the highest number of MPs in this Session. In the previous Session, 140 MPs signed the early-day motion. Does he agree that that shows that there is huge cross-party support on this issue, reflecting public opinion? There is really only one outcome, which is to ban fur sales, full stop.
How could I not agree with my hon. Friend, given that I name-dropped her in my speech? That shows that there is clear support not only in this Chamber but in the main Chamber and both Houses.
I invite hon. Members to imagine a scene—I apologise in advance for the picture that this will paint. A nearby neighbour is keeping two dogs outside the house in a wire cage. The cage measures not more than 1 square metre and has a wire floor and a wire ceiling. The dogs are never allowed to leave the cage, and over time exhibit signs of mental distress. They take their frustration out on one another and repeatedly pace. Over time, one dog’s legs become deformed and have open sores from standing on the wire floor. The other has untreated diseased eyes. They have no escape from the intense summer sun or the freezing winter nights. One day, the neighbour forces electrical probes into either end of each dog and ends their pitiful lives.
That scene would be utterly intolerable for any right-thinking person. I imagine that in witnessing such treatment of animals, a great many, if not all, of my colleagues, friends and the great British public would have called either the police or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and would have rightly expected that individual to be prosecuted for animal cruelty. But in all important ways, the scene I describe is not hypothetical. If we simply switch the animals in the cages from dogs to foxes and move the location to Finland, Poland, China or another in a decreasing list of nations still permitting fur farming, that animal cruelty is a daily reality for far too many animals. More than 100 million animals—foxes, mink, raccoon dogs, chinchillas and others—are kept like that daily.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. As well as being cruel, is it not utterly illogical that Britain, having rightly taken the decision to ban fur farming here, continues to be willing to allow the products of cruel fur farming to be imported into the country? Does that not strengthen the case, supported by so many right hon. and hon. Members, for banning its sale in this country?
I completely agree. It is a cruel irony that we have illegalised the practice in this country but offshored cruelty. It is not something that I am particularly happy about, and hopefully we will see change.
The 5 million or so animals caught for their fur in barbaric traps that are banned in the UK fare no better. Sometimes they are left languishing in traps for days, and often chew off their own limbs to escape.
Our debate today should allow us to discuss whether the UK should be playing any part in an industry that we find so unconscionable in our own country. Despite our previous world-leading progress in banning this outdated and cruel practice, we have since continued to allow the import and sale of fur from abroad, effectively outsourcing animal suffering. Since 2003, we have imported—
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. On wanting to ban imports, we know that at the moment the Government are interested in doing trade deals with other countries. Could it not be a condition that we do not wish to do trade deals with countries that continue to exploit animals in this way?
I completely agree; in fact, it is almost as if the hon. Member has read part of my speech in advance. If we are exporting and importing cruelty, it is fundamentally wrong. Any sane, normal-minded person would find it absolutely intolerable.
Since 2003, we have imported more than £800 million of animal fur from countries including China, Finland, France and Poland. HSIS estimates that this equates to some 20 million animals—to let that sink in, 20 million animals have gone through this cruelty.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. Does he agree that the health risk presented by the fur trade needs to be better publicised so that consumers may make more informed decisions? The intensive breeding conditions in these fur farms lead to poor hygiene, stress and low genetic diversity, creating a perfect breeding ground for disease.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. The fact that we have to advertise where our food is coming from but not where our clothes are coming from is wrong on so many levels.
We must now be strong enough to eradicate our involvement—I hope any involvement—in the perpetuation of these animals suffering for such a completely unnecessary, frivolous purpose as to be turned into a pompom on a hat or a trim on a collar. If we can legislate to say that the practice is too cruel in our country, we must take the next step and legislate to say that it is too cruel for us, in effect, to underwrite it in other countries as well.
From his representations to Ministers, has the hon. Gentleman had any indication as to the reasons for their reluctance to do something that would be so popular—justifiably so—with the public, in order to prevent this cruel trade and make a major contribution to eliminating it not only in the United Kingdom but across the planet? Would this not only be a major exercise, but one that is fairly simple and straightforward to do?
Again, I completely agree. I hope I am not putting words in the Minister’s mouth when she responds, but it is the right, fair and humane thing to do. There is overwhelming public—
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is making an excellent speech and being so kind in taking so many interventions, for bringing this debate to the Chamber today. Does he agree that it is not just the humane thing to do, but that there is also a public health interest in making sure this happens? Humane Society International has reported that there are covid-19 outbreaks on more than 400 mink farms in 12 countries to date. While we are all grappling with the pandemic, surely we must also have the public health interest at the forefront of our concerns.
That is not a matter I was going to cover in this speech, but the hon. Lady makes a very educated and well-informed point. Certainly, in pandemic Britain, we need to think about this. If we allow more people to be infected across the globe, it is obviously going to come back to our shores as well.
As I said, there is overwhelming public support for a fur ban. A recent Yonder poll in May found that more than seven in 10 members of the public would support a ban on the import or sale of fur in the UK, including more than 50% who stated their strong support.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he agree that, while there are goods with fur attached—for pompoms, for instance, as he indicated—that level of public supports suggests that perhaps the public neither know nor wish to be purchasing real fur? If the Government here took steps to prevent that from happening, the public would be very grateful.
I completely agree. People’s shopping habits have fundamentally changed in recent years, and there has been a growth in the import of faux fur, but again this comes down to a labelling issue. Far too often, people who buy faux fur end up wearing real fur, so there needs to be a wider conversation around that.
A YouGov poll from 2020 revealed that the public consider fashion brands selling real fur to be “unethical”, “outdated”, “cruel” and “out of touch”. Is it not time to bring our legislation in line with public feeling and sever our ties with this inhumane industry for good?
We also have a duty to protect this nation of animal lovers from unwittingly funding this industry, which they so despise. In recent years, scores of British retailers have been found to be mis-selling real fur products as faux fur, leading unsuspecting customers to prop up the industry. It is essential that we take action to ban this duplicitous practice. Banning fur imports and sales could create appropriate penalties for retailers found to be selling real fur, and could be a significant step forward in this regard.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and add my voice to the cross-party support for banning the import of fur sales. Does he agree that when we set the standard, some 20 years ago, by banning fur farming here in the UK, other countries followed our lead? If we can set the example here, not only will we help animal welfare in this country, but other countries will follow. Does he agree that we should take the lead?
I completely agree. As I have said in the Chamber in other debates on different topics, we are global Britain. We have a proud reputation across the globe and when we speak, people should listen. Other countries have followed, and we need only look at Israel, which has a complete fur ban across the country already.
British high streets generally mirror public opinion on fur. The vast majority of our stores are now fur free, including Marks & Spencer, Selfridges and Next, as well as high-end fashion and designers, such as Stella McCartney, Burberry and Chanel. Businesses are moving away from using fur of their own accord, driven by the most profound moral argument for doing so and by changing customer spending habits, proving that a ban would only have a limited impact on businesses.
There are a relatively small number of organisations still working in the fur industry. A managed period to phase them out should ensure that they can transition to alternative humane materials and products.
We agree, first of all, that in this day and age there is no justification whatsoever for using real fur, because so many good synthetic alternatives are available. I do not want to broaden the debate too far, but is this not also yet another form of trophy hunting? This kind of trophy, whether a fur coat on somebody’s back or an animal mat on a floor, has no place in a civilised society.
I would disagree slightly, because some out there would try to picture hunting with some degree of romanticism, but that is just not true of the fur trade, which is barbaric and cruel. It is not hunting, but catching animals in traps and leaving them to bleed out or even worse, so although I disagree on that point, I completely agree with my right hon. Friend’s sentiment.
Brexit has given us a unique opportunity to forge a new standard for animal welfare and protection, in keeping with our values as a country. Previously, 80% of animal welfare legislation came from the European Union, and last year the Minister of State, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed that following the end of the Brexit transition period we will be able to properly consider raising our standards on the fur trade even further. We must now move forward from those words and legislate for real change.
Leaving the European Union has started a new chapter in our trading relationship with the rest of the world, and banning fur will send a strong message that our trading principles will be synonymous with our high standards of animal welfare. Cities, states and countries around the world are implementing their own versions of this legislation, with Israel recently becoming the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur. Our new trading freedoms are ours to become an integral part of the global movement against this outdated industry, and we must not let this opportunity pass us by.
Supporters of the fur industry—unfortunately there are a few, and I have been trolled by many of them in the last few days—claim that it should be left purely to the market and consumer choice. Yet despite the unpopularity of fur and its almost complete absence from the high street, the UK is still responsible for importing a large amount of animal fur and online sales are persistent.
We already have laws in place banning the sale of cat, dog and seal fur. We do not leave the fate of these species to market forces, nor should we, but we do for other fur-bearing animals. A ban on both imports and sales of fur can guarantee an end to the UK’s status as a global trading hub for fur.
Backers of fur have also claimed that an import and sales ban could jeopardise the UK’s effort to strike new trade deals around the world. This claim is little more than hyperbole and fearmongering. A ban not only would be consistent with our World Trade Organisation obligations but would be unlikely to be a red-line negotiation issue in any trade deal, because trade in fur is not economically significant enough.
I would also take this moment to pre-empt any suggestion that such a thing as humane fur farming exists. That is a fallacy and a downright lie, but do not take it from me alone. I would like to read a brief quote from a former CEO of the British Fur Trade Association, who recently, of his own volition, left the industry after 10 years and now supports a fur ban. He said:
“Over time I realised that whatever soundbites we devised to reassure consumers, retailers and politicians, neither welfare regulations nor any industry certification scheme, would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages for their entire lives.”
It is now time that we end the double standard of having a ban on fur farming while importing the same cruelty from overseas. The fur industry is outmoded and out of touch with the modern values and principles of the humane treatment of animals. I implore my parliamentary colleagues to join me in condemning it to the history books, as we have so many other cruel and archaic treatments of animals.
In conclusion, following the Government’s call for evidence on the fur trade over the summer, given the strong public and parliamentary support for this measure and noting the Government’s commitment and ambition to be a world leader on animal welfare standards, I ask the Minister to use her response to today’s debate to reassure me and everyone in this room that legislative action to end the UK’s involvement in the global fur trade will be imminently forthcoming. It is not just a popular thing to do; it is the right thing to do.
We will put an informal time limit on of about four or five minutes, and we should get everyone in.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees.
Historically, the UK was the foremost leader when it came to animal welfare—the first island of nations in the world to implement legislation protecting animal rights. Fur farming has rightly been banned in the UK since 2003, yet we continue to import tens of millions of pounds of animal fur each year. If it is too cruel an industry to have on our shores, how can we justify importing fur that is farmed using the same inhumane methods that are illegal in the UK? As the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) said, all we have managed to do is outsource our animal cruelty overseas.
The slaughter methods used on fur farms are horrendously cruel. Before an animal reaches its first birthday, it will be slaughtered using one of the following methods: by electrocution, with probes inserted into the animal’s mouth; by gassing, slowly starving the animal of oxygen; or by brutally beating the animal to death. Alternatively, many animals have their necks broken or are poisoned with noxious chemicals that result in organ failure. In some particularly horrific cases, animals may even be skinned alive. How can we really, truly call ourselves a progressive and caring society when we allow such actions to take place, purely for commercial purposes?
The fur trade not only has a devastating impact on innocent animals but also creates a risk to human welfare from zoonotic diseases. Last year, we witnessed a devastating cull of mink in Europe because of large outbreaks of covid-19. Dangerous viruses thrive when animals are kept in filthy, crowded conditions. By allowing the sale of fur in Britain, we are inadvertently supporting a reservoir of deadly viruses. The UK public overwhelmingly reject these barbaric and entirely outdated practices. One YouGov poll shows that 72% of our population want to see a ban on the importation and sale of fur.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that 72% of people want to see a ban. In Wales, the number is actually higher: 82% of people in Wales want to see a ban on the UK fur industry. It is vital that the Minister works with all nations of the United Kingdom and all devolved Administrations to tackle this problem head-on.
I absolutely agree with that sentiment. I know that people in Wales are very conscious when it comes to farming and other sentient animals. I take that fully on board, and I hope that the Minister will do the same.
According to the Humane Society International, around 100 million animals are bred each year to be slaughtered in intensive fur farms, including foxes, chinchillas, mink, raccoons, dogs and rabbits. The majority of this fur—around 85%—is produced by intensively farming animals in callous, claustrophobic battery cage systems to specifically supply the fashion industry. The ban on the sale of real fur is long overdue. Subjecting animals to extreme cruelty in the name of fashion is an abhorrence in direct opposition to animal welfare standards, and the values we hold dearly in Scotland—and of course in Wales and across the devolved nations.
While the farming of animals for fur has been illegal in the United kingdom since January 2003, and the sale and importation of cat and dog fur has been illegal since December 2008, each year the UK still imports around £75 million-worth of fur sourced from other animals. That is roughly 3 million dead animals. It is undoubtedly clear that the Government cannot be trusted on animal welfare. In response to an open petition calling for an end to the fur trade, the UK Government stated that
“national bans are less effective than working at an international level on animal welfare standards.”
They went on to say that they were helping to phase out cruel practices, as well as encouraging an outright ban on fur from species such as cats and dogs.
The answer from the UK Government is a total cop out. In Scotland we see all fur production as cruel and inhumane; there is no need to differentiate between species in such a way. No animal is more or less important than the other. Once again, this proves that Scotland is leading the UK on the issues that matter, not for the first time and not just in this area. There is no more important a step that we can take towards ending this cruelty than to simply end our participation with it. If this Government continue to allow the sale of fur from overseas, then we will remain complicit in an industry that causes immense animal suffering and environmental harm. The sale of fur is simply not aligned with the ethical trajectory of Scotland. This is what Scotland wants and has asked for from this Tory Government from day one.
Animal welfare is an area that the Scottish National party takes extremely seriously, and I would urge the UK Government to follow the Scottish Government’s leading example on these issues. We have created new legislation to further protect animals and wildlife, with the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, which enforces tougher penalties on perpetrators of animal abuse, increases sentences from a maximum of 12 months in prison and a £20,000 fine to five years in prison and an unlimited fine, and also enshrines animal sentience into law. Nevertheless, regulation of international trade remains a reserved matter, and as such, it is a decision for this Government. We are imploring them to make the right decision. I urge the UK Government to listen to the people, listen to the morality of the argument, and prohibit the import of new fur products.
I remind Members to indicate that they wish to speak by standing between speakers.
It is a pleasure to be part of this debate, Ms Rees, and I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing it. I will be quite brief, as the UK can be proud of its extremely high animal welfare standards and the fact that we have banned fur farms. I intervened on the hon. Member for Bury South to talk about the opportunity we have with the trade deals coming up to not just stop the importation of fur, but to maintain those animal standards in all our imports. I would press on the Minister the need when making these trade deals to say that we should not have any reduction in animal welfare standards—be that in fur, in meat production or in any way whatsoever.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bury South mentioned that consumer choice is very important. However, sometimes consumers mistakenly buy fur products because they are incorrectly labelled, and because they cannot clearly identify where the products come from. He made the point that we know the country that our meat has come from, but we do not have the same knowledge with fur products; that is something else I would encourage the Government to look at. There are really high-quality synthetic alternatives, and if they were clearly labelled and made available, I think consumers would certainly want to choose them.
The evidence suggests that the great British public are overwhelmingly against fur farming and that they want to see high standards of animal welfare maintained. The opinion polls show that they think that fur farming is absolutely unacceptable. I conclude by saying to the Minister that I would like see this commitment to animal welfare reflected in the trade deals the Government reach with other countries.
I am delighted to speak in the debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) on securing it. I recall participating in a debate on this very issue on 4 June 2018—that date is important because it was the same day that Scotland became the first country in the United Kingdom to enact legislation banning the use of wild animals in circuses. The same week, a similar ban was imposed in Slovakia, and yet the UK Government insisted that we could not impose such a ban unilaterally as a member of the EU. Another day, another EU membership myth busted.
The fact is that the farming of animals for fur is not permitted in the UK. As we have heard, the next logical step is to ban the sale of animal fur products. Anything else is sheer hypocrisy—outsourcing our poor fashion choices. The contradiction suggests that although our law recognises the cruelty and barbarism of farming animals for their fur, as long as these animals are not farmed here, we are content for their fur to be imported into the UK. That position is illogical and hypocritical, and we must take the next step of banning the importation of animal fur products. It is quite a simple choice.
The demand for fur products in the UK has been in steady decline for decades, as consumers increasingly find them unethical and unacceptable. The inboxes of the people in this room are testament that our constituents continue to be concerned about this matter. Where consumers lead, businesses will follow.
Many large retailers such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis are already proactively moving away from fur sales and, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) said, public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of a ban on the importation and sale of fur. Would the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) agree that there is no need for a regulated industry and that, instead, an outright ban is the only viable way forward?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. It is true that shops such as Marks & Spencer, Adidas and H&M have now rejected the fur industry, and designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have supported calls for Britain to become the first European nation to ban fur sales. Of course, businesses are in the business of making money, and they are following where customers are taking them. It is about time that instead of continually playing catch-up, the UK Government responded to consumers and constituents in the UK. Israel is leading on the issue, and its ban on the sale of fur will come into force by the end of this year. For the UK to do the same would be a very logical next step given that the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is already banned. What are we waiting for?
I hope that the Minister is listening, and that we do not have to come back in another couple of years to repeat the same calls for something so humane, which has both widespread public support and firm cross-party support. Let us just get on and do it. There is no reason to hang about and not get it done.
Thank you, Ms Rees. I am grateful to be able to speak in this important debate, although I am frustrated that we need it in the first place.
In April, I introduced a Bill to the House that called for the fur trade to be banned once and for all in Britain. I called on colleagues across the House to step up and make history, making the UK the first country in the world to prohibit the sale of fur in full. I am therefore extremely disappointed that this cruel practice continues to be an issue in the United Kingdom. Twenty-two years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) introduced a Bill to ban fur farming. She said it was time to
“put an end to a cruel barbaric practice”.—[Official Report, 5 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 1339.]
That Bill was taken up by the last Labour Government and a year later it became law, making Britain the first country in the world to ban fur farming outright.
Despite that decision, the products of fur farming have continued for the past 20 years to be imported into our country and sold in our shops. We do, however, have the option of eliminating that double standard and once again making history by becoming the first country in the world to ban the importation and sale of fur. The Government have shown some willingness and stated that they want to drive up animal welfare standards in the United Kingdom. Banning the fur trade in its entirety, including fur imports, would be a bold step toward reaching these aims.
We need actions, not just warm words from the Government. In banning the fur trade, we will have the overwhelming support of the animal-loving British public. Many Members have spoken about the YouGov poll commissioned by the Humane Society International, which showed that 72% of the British public support a complete ban and that only 3% of people even wear animal fur. This year alone, over 60 of my constituents have reached out and asked me to take action against ongoing fur sales. I am sure every Member participating in the debate has received similar correspondence. My constituents have made it clear that they have had enough of this cruel and often violent industry. Fur stoles in the UK are often taken from animals that are killed by electrocution after having spent their short, unhappy lives inside crowded cages.
Given that there is such overwhelming support in this House and among the public for taking this measure, can anyone understand why the Government are so reluctant to do something that might, for once, make them popular?
I am hoping the Minister will be able to answer that. We all hope that the Government will be able to provide some clarity on when they hope to ban the sale of fur.
Fur is regularly imported from the EU and several other countries. This is completely unacceptable. It is once again up to this House to set the highest standard possible, deciding what trade we believe to be ethical and wish to permit. I urge colleagues across the House to join me in saying that Britain no longer wishes to permit the barbaric trade in animal fur, instead choosing to make history instead by being the first country in the world to ban the trade in full. I call on the Government to step up and support tough legislation that would see the fur trade consigned to history. I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing the debate. We must all continue to speak out against the terrible practice.
I want to call Front Benchers at 5.08 pm, so will the remaining two speakers be wary of that?
Thank you, Ms Rees; I can be very brief. I had not intended to intervene at all, but I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) and congratulate him on securing the debate.
It is many years since I went out on the ice with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and watched baby seals being clubbed to death and then skinned—either alive or dead—in the interest of what I believe is known as fashion. I do not think the animal knows very much whether it is a caged animal bred for fur or whether it is a wild animal slaughtered for fur. The fact of the matter is that neither of these practices should be acceptable in civilised society. Neither is necessary, because, as I said earlier, the synthetics are so good.
We know that a considerable amount of material is imported, very often as trim. Half the time, the people that are buying a pair of kids’ slippers or something with a fur trim on it do not actually know that it is real fur, and they would be horrified if they did know. There is only one way around this. My friend the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said very correctly that it is completely anomalous that we should abandon fur farming in the UK and then allow the product to be imported from other countries. It has got to stop. It can stop now. The Government have a good track record of bringing forward animal welfare legislation, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to make sure that this is added to that portfolio. Let us stop it now.
It is a pleasure, as always to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. Sometimes, we—[Interruption.]
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
The debate may now continue until 5.54 pm, and I intend to call the Front Benchers at 5.32 pm.
Sometimes we imagine that our concern for the wellbeing of other species is very modern, but in 1783—nearly a quarter of a millennium ago—a young ploughboy, Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s bard, who was born in my constituency, wrote of the feelings of animals in his famous poems “To a Mouse”, “On Glenriddell’s Fox Breaking His Chain” and many others, clearly displaying his understanding that animals have feelings and suffer pain. By 2021, we have so much evidence of animal sentience that we must reconsider all our behaviour towards them.
In my short time as an MP, I have found myself writing to Ministers and speaking in the House, urging them to act on a wide range of animal welfare-related matters, including the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, an end to lab testing with animals, stiffer penalties for cruelty to animals, a ban on the use of cages, traps and puppy farms, and of course an end to the fur trade. As the RSPCA put it:
“Evidence from multiple scientific studies has helped us to understand that a wide range of animals are sentient beings. This means they have the capacity to experience positive and negative feelings such as pleasure, joy, pain and distress that matter to the individual.”
As many as 2,500 scientific studies have proven the existence of animal sentience across a dizzying array of species. To put it simply, like us they know what it is to experience the horror of what we do to them, to live in agonising fear of it and—if they survive—to have to live with the memory of it.
The fur trade also means terror for sentient creatures. As one of my constituents put it to me:
“I don’t wear fur because I think it’s cruel. Every year around the world millions of animals are kept in small wire cages or caught in metal leghold traps before being brutally killed, all for a product no one needs, a frivolous piece of fur trim. The practice of keeping and rearing animals in cages unfit for purpose and to kill them for their fur for profit is barbaric, cruel and inhumane and for any country to condone and allow such fur to be imported and sold is equally as barbaric.”
The message is clear; the call for evidence is complete. A total ban on fur imports and sales is required, and it is required now.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for securing it, for the way in which he opened it and for his activity on this issue to date, leading up to it.
This has been a genuinely positive debate, with speakers from all parties in the House in common cause on banning fur imports. With regard to fur sales, my own attitude can quite simply be summed up as, “I just dinnae like it”, and I wholeheartedly agree that fur sales should be banned.
The process of fur farming can too often lead to unacceptable and cruel conditions for far too many animals. As fur imports in the UK are currently a reserved matter, it is incumbent on the UK Government to introduce a ban on the import of fur products. I know that view is shared by many of my constituents and indeed by many people throughout these isles. Indeed, several opinion polls in recent years have shown that a ban on fur imports would be overwhelmingly supported by the public.
So it will come as no surprise that I was delighted to be one of more than 100 MPs and peers to have signed the cross-party letter to the Environment Secretary organised by the hon. Member for Bury South, and to have been a signatory both to early-day motion 193, on “The fur trade in the UK”, which was tabled on 14 June 2021, and early-day motion 267, on “Real fur imports”, which was tabled on 9 March 2020. Indeed, many of my colleagues in the Scottish National party have also supported these calls. Animal welfare is an issue that we take extremely seriously and we support the steps to strengthen animal welfare legislation in the Scottish Government’s programme for government. As I have said, international trade is a reserved matter, and until we have the power to determine this matter for ourselves in Scotland we will continue to urge the UK Government to make the right decision, to listen to the people and to morally end the import of new fur products.
As we have heard, fur farming across the UK was banned in 2003 because of the related cruelty and suffering, and the importation of cat and dog fur has been illegal since December 2008. The import, export and sale of cat and dog fur, and of seal pelts, is already banned in the European Union. However, the UK Government continue to be guilty by proxy of that cruelty and suffering, with the equivalent of fur from around two million animals being imported to the UK each year.
Investigations show that the physical and mental abuse suffered by animals kept in barbaric conditions, which the industry professes to be humane, include the use of leghold traps and keeping animals for their entire lives in cages that are 1 metre square. Their deaths are equally horrific, with animals being beaten to death or even skinned alive, as we have heard from a number of speakers today.
Banning fur farming across the UK was world-leading and, with almost 20 European countries following suit, it showed what good leadership can achieve. The UK Government’s response to an e-petition calling for a fur import ban back in 2018 said that such a ban would be unlikely while Britain was a member of the EU. Now, it will not have escaped anyone’s attention that we are no longer a member of the EU, so I wonder whether the Minister can tell us what excuse the UK Government have now. Even the former chief executive of the British Fur Trade Association and director of standards at the International Fur Federation accepts that nothing
“would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages”.
In conclusion, although we have missed the chance to lead the world by banning the sale of fur across the UK—Israel has passed an amendment to its wildlife protection law to ban the sale of wild animal fur from any source and so has the state of California—can we not at least be among the front-runners in bringing an end to this brutal and inhumane industry?
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank the hon. Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for calling this debate on an issue of great importance for so many of our constituents around the UK. The hon. Member referred to us as a nation of animal lovers and he painted a picture of an intolerable situation that the Government have the power to solve easily. We have had a good debate and we have heard a lot of support for action from across the Chamber.
It has been great to hear the different arguments made by many Members from different parties. We heard about how good synthetic fur quality is from the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale). We heard about the brutal treatment of animals and an upsetting description of the conditions they live in from the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar). We also heard that this issue matters to people across the UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) pointed out, in Wales a greater proportion of people—82%—back a ban.
I wanted to make some remarks about how long this journey has been. I am proud that my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) introduced a Bill to ban fur farming in the UK that was turned into reality and made law over 20 years ago by a Labour Government. Britain was the first country to enact a ban on this cruel industry and I am pleased to see countries across Europe have since followed suit.
The ban was a huge step forward and as my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) eloquently said almost four years ago, while it halted the production of fur in the UK, fur farming was outsourced—a comment that was echoed today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). It was also pointed out that we have a huge opportunity and things have changed since then.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) raised the point that trade deals could help halt the trade and could hold countries to account to stop these practices. We know that other countries have less stringent animal welfare regulations, and that should be pursued. Although the public mood against the fur trade is overwhelming, we have yet to cut our economic ties to the trade completely and the UK continues to import and export tens of millions of pounds of fur products each year. This must stop. As long as we are trading these products, we are complicit in their production. It is right that we support a ban on trading fur in the UK and part of that must involve addressing the scandal of real fur being passed off as fake, as was mentioned today.
Some argue against a ban by claiming the need for fur to be ethically sourced instead, but it is well known that these so-called ethically sourced schemes unfortunately fall short. It is difficult to understand what best practice could mean as regards the conditions these animals are kept in. We know best practice in animal welfare can be so poor that it means very little. How could best practice be anything but poor? It is impossible to keep wild animals in captivity in the conditions we have heard about and to tend to their welfare.
Perhaps the most damaging examples to advocates of ethical sourcing are places like Germany and Sweden where the fur industry is being phased out. That is because the rules in those countries for the welfare of foxes and mink in captivity are so high that businesses are simply not profitable. We heard about the impact on public health and those examples demonstrate that cruelty cannot be regulated out of the industry and that it poses extra risks—unfortunately, it is a requirement for the industry to function successfully.
There is a direct contradiction between the ethical treatment of animals and the commercial viability of the fur trade, so I welcome the Government’s consultation on the sale of fur in the UK. I wonder why it has not come sooner. When I was preparing for this debate, I read through the robust Westminster Hall debate on the issue almost four years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge concluded by praising the standard of the contributions just as I have, but warned:
“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.”—[Official Report, 4 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 32WH.]
The Minister has been thinking about it for a long time now. What is the timetable for the consultation, and when does the Government hope to legislate?
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) was right in her recent speech in the House that our moral objection to the fur trade should not be bargained away in any future trade deals. There really is no time to lose. I was so pleased to hear her excellent contribution today. I hope the Minister can provide us with more answers on timescales and where we want to get to. Clearly, the whole House is behind this.
Would the Minister be so kind as to leave a couple of minutes at the end for summing up?
Of course I will, Ms Rees. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Christian Wakeford) for bringing this debate, and all other hon. Members who have spoken today. It is obvious from the speeches and all those interventions that there is great strength of feeling on this topic. I spoke on it myself as a Back Bencher when I was in the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare. Similarly, the support for the early-day motion that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) has tabled shows the strength of feeling.
We know that we are a nation of animal lovers. We were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals, and we have developed a lasting legacy of improving and enhancing animal health and welfare. I do not think anyone in this room would deny that. Since 2010 we have banned the use of conventional battery cages for laying hens, made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses, modernised our licensing system for dog breeding and pet sales, introduced the popular Finn’s Law, banned the commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens and led work to implement humane trapping standards. However, we do have the opportunity to do more and go further. Animal welfare is an absolute priority of the Government, as I think that raft of measures demonstrates.
We have outlined our aims and ambitions for improving animal welfare in our action plan, published on 12 May. We have introduced landmark legislation in this Session that will recognise animals as sentient beings in UK law, and we are establishing an expert committee to ensure that animal sentience is considered as part of policy making. We have launched the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which will introduce new powers to crack down on puppy smuggling, a ban on the live export of animals for fattening and slaughter, a ban on keeping primates as pets, and new powers for police to provide greater protection to livestock from dangerous and out of control dogs. I think Members will agree that it is an impressive list.
As Members know, fur farming has been banned in England and Wales since 2000 and in Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2002. There are also restrictions on some skin and fur products that cannot be legally imported into the UK. Those include fur and products from cats and dogs and sealskin products from commercial hunts. There is a small exemption there for subsistence seal farming by individual groups. We have established controls on fur from endangered species protected by the convention on international trade in endangered species—CITES—and we do not allow imports of fur from wild animals caught using methods that are not compliant with international humane trapping standards.
However, it is still possible to import other types of fur from abroad. In our action plan for animal welfare, the Government committed to exploring further action in this area, which we are free to do now that we have left the EU. I wanted to stress that point particularly, and it has been mentioned by a number of Members today. Bear in mind, as well, that some nations in the EU still have fur and mink farming and so on. We are building a strong evidence base on which to inform any future policy, noting information from a range of sources, including industry associated with the fur trade and notable retailers who have recently gone fur free. A list was mentioned just now, but they include the likes of Adidas, H&M, Lacoste, Mango, Marks & Spencer, charities and other organisations, as well as a range of fashion designers including Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Prada, Armani, Burberry and Chanel. I am sure lots of hon. Members and hon. Friends are wearing some of those brands today, because it is Second Hand September; I am.
The Minister makes the important point that high street retailers and consumers want to do the most ethical thing by buying items marketed as faux fur or synthetic fur, but when tests are carried out unfortunately it turns out they are real fur, because it is cheaper to use real fur than faux fur. Can the Minister outline what she is doing to counteract this? Consumers think they are doing the right thing, but we need to make sure that they really are.
That point was raised by a number of Members today, including the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is no longer in her place, and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). It is a good point and the Government recognise the moral concern that some consumers have about whether the fur is real and whether labels are correct.
Information has been given to businesses requiring them to be accurate and not misleading. Labelling that contains false or misleading information, or omits material information that consumers need to make an informed decision, is prohibited. The textile labelling regulations require that the presence of fur and other non-textile parts of animal origin, such as leather and pearls, are labelled. We have a clear system and if anyone feels there is a breach it should be reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
The Minister may well be aware that a Humane Society International and YouGov poll has shown that 93% of the British population do not want to wear fur. While I press her to ban the import of fur, will she also please sit down with the British fashion industry and encourage it to take a lead on this issue across the world as well?
I thank my hon. Friend for that; it is a good point. I work with the fashion industry on a range of issues, not least recycling and fast fashion. When I speak to them about those issues I will be pleased to make reference to that point as well.
I was asked about faux fur. I have a faux fur jacket, but I am now afraid to wear it in case anybody thinks it is real. It is clearly faux fur and has all the labelling, but I have steered away from it.
Moving on, we are building a strong evidence base. We published our formal call for evidence on the fur trade on 31 May. That was a key step in helping us to improve our understanding of the sector and we have received an incredible 30,000 responses from businesses, representative bodies and individuals, demonstrating the strong feeling in this area, as many have suggested today.
Officials have been analysing the responses that we have received and we have been engaging directly with stakeholders in order to further the Government’s understanding of the sector. That has included meeting with industry representatives and the British Fur Trade Association, as well as animal welfare groups, such as the Humane Society International. We will use all the evidence to inform any future action on the fur trade. A summary of responses to the call for evidence, setting out the results and any next steps in the policy, will be published at a later date.
As ever, we will work closely with the devolved Administrations, and the formal call for evidence on the fur sector in Great Britain was published jointly with Scotland and Wales. As was pointed out earlier on the international front, the matter is devolved, but the call was published together.
It sounds as though the Minister has a collection of information to inform her, but it is unclear when the matter will be considered again. Is there a timeline for when a law could be brought forward?
As I just said, we received an awful lot of data—30,000 responses that must be ploughed through in the correct manner—so we will publish the results at a later date.
Touching on the disease issue raised by several hon. Members, the emergence of covid and its global impact reminds us of the importance of interactions between humans, animals and the environment. That is another reason why we need to work together to understand better how our behaviour, supply chains and cultures can change those interactions and create risks. The Government are committed to building a clear body of evidence on that, because it is really important.
To wind up, I hope that Members here will understand that I am not in a position to announce any next steps on the fur trade, and it is vital that any future policies are based on robust evidence. I hope that past action and recently introduced legislation demonstrate this Government’s clear commitment to treat our animals in the right way. I listed the many measures that we have brought in recently, many of which also address unacceptable practices abroad. We have an opportunity to set a clear global sense of direction, including on international conservation and trade. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South for securing today’s debate.
I now face the audacious task of trying to read my own writing. Parliament is truly at its best when there is clear cross-party support, although I hope the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) will forgive me for disagreeing slightly about this being a reason to push further for Scottish independence.
I thank the Minister for her response. There were certainly some very warm words, and it looks like the start of us heading in a certain direction. However, I urge haste because for every day we delay, millions of animals face these conditions, which is clearly incorrect. I invite the Minister to my fur-banning reception in the Palace on 16 November. Indeed, if she wants to hear more, I am also speaking at the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation during the party conference.
In closing, Gandhi said that the
“greatness of a nation…can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Let us be a fair, humane and compassionate Britain but, more importantly, let us be a great Britain.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered real fur sales in the UK.