My Lords, the Government have committed to exploring potential action in relation to animal fur, as set out in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare. We have since conducted a call for evidence on the fur sector and engaged further with interested parties. We are continuing to build our evidence base, which will be used to inform any future action on the fur trade.
That did not sound like a yes. In fact, this is a government promise; I do not understand why the Government have such problems promising and then not delivering. A few articles in newspapers in February said that the blockage for all cruelty-free animal welfare legislation was Jacob Rees-Mogg. Why is one senior person in the Conservative Party blocking all the legislation that so many people in Britain want to see enacted?
My Lords, I share the noble Baroness’s passion on this issue—as she knows—and her frustration with some of the blockages that have got in the way of a whole range of animal welfare legislation. However, it is not true to say that all our legislation has been blocked. We have achieved an enormous amount in the last two years. We have increased sentences for animal cruelty from six months to five years; recognised the sentience of animals; banned glue traps for rodents; and enacted and extended the ivory trade ban, which is now the strongest in the world. We are currently in the process of banning the live export of animals for slaughter and banning the keeping of primates as pets. Although I am running out of time for this answer, there is a whole range of things of which we can be proud—but, like the noble Baroness, I hope we can do more.
I can certainly provide an assurance that I will do what I can to ensure that this measure is brought through, along with a whole bunch of other measures which appeared in what I thought was an excellent Action Plan for Animal Welfare.
My Lords, the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act has now passed into law. If the Government are serious about upholding the principles and ethos of this Act, surely they should be banning the import and sale of fur. While it may have been acceptable to possess a fur coat many decades ago, this is no longer the case. For mink to be bred in inhumane conditions just to provide a fashion item is unacceptable. Does the Minister agree?
My Lords, I start by saying that the fur trade body headed, I think, by a former colleague of the noble Baroness, is extremely litigious and I find myself on the wrong end of numerous threatening letters, so I have to be careful what I say. She makes a very strong point, but the UK was one of the first countries to ban fur farming domestically. It was a position we took many years ago and was followed rapidly by a whole range of other countries across the EU, leading all the way up to Ireland, which only two months ago banned fur domestically. Where Britain treads, others often follow.
My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that if a ban is brought in, there will be an exemption for military bearskins, which are part of a very important ceremonial tradition going back nearly 300 years, so long as the black bear fur is humanely and sustainably harvested?
My noble friend will understand that I cannot go into the details of what legislation might look like, other than to say that there would be a consultation process and there would almost certainly be exemptions—for example, for religious and cultural reasons. We certainly would not want to prohibit the use of second-hand fur or the repurposing of old products. I can tell my noble friend that Defra policy officials are currently engaging in discussions with the Ministry of Defence on the issue he just raised, and those conversations are ongoing.
My Lords, the promise to ban the import and sale of fur is part of the animals abroad Bill. I do not doubt the Minister’s commitment to this, but it was missed out of the Queen’s Speech. There is cross-party support and clear and persistent public support for banning the import and sale of fur, so can the Minister explain why the animals abroad Bill was not in the Queen’s Speech, and what has happened to the rest of the promises in that Bill?
My Lords, a number of issues were destined at one point to appear in the so-called animals abroad Bill. Those measures have not been dropped, although the Bill was not listed in the Queen’s Speech. It is certainly my ambition, an ambition shared across government, with perhaps one or two exceptions, to see these measures introduced in different forms over the course of this Session.
My Lords, I am certainly no fan of the inappropriate use of plastics, which are, as the noble Earl says, choking the oceans and have done more damage in one generation than it is almost possible to imagine. However, he is talking about an extremely niche part of the clothing sector. Of the overall volume of clothing created, the amount that is or could ever be real fur, even if we were mad enthusiasts for fur, would be such a tiny part that there are bigger fish to fry. A more important focus for the Government to look at is how we can use more sustainable products for the clothes we use.
My Lords, will my noble friend explain why the Government would wish to ban the import of rabbit-fur articles? Is he aware that at the moment it is not possible to export any live animal for breeding purposes anywhere in Europe, because there are simply no facilities that will take them? Will my noble friend use his best authority to research this and make sure that that trade resumes? It is an extremely important trade for the farming industry and one that has suffered grave losses at this time.
I apologise to the noble Baroness; I did not hear the first part of the question. If she is asking about the merits of using rabbit fur—if not, I will certainly write to her and provide clarity—the arguments against farming any animal for fur are usually around the conditions in which those animals are kept and subsequently slaughtered. I think that is the principal reason that what seems like a clear majority of the British public opposes fur farming.