Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the import, export and placing on the market of cat and dog fur, and any products containing such fur, has been banned in the United Kingdom since 2008. This Government are committed to maintaining this existing ban in order to protect our much-loved cats and dogs—something that I am sure all noble Lords will welcome. I declare an interest as the co-owner of two rather lively black working cocker spaniels.
In 2008, when the prohibition entered UK law, the UK was implementing an EU regulation. The UK was a key supporter of the introduction of this ban on the trade in cat and dog fur while we were a member of the EU. The ban was in response to fears that non-labelled fur from cats and dogs was being sold in the EU. Consumers were naturally concerned about the possibility that they could find themselves unwittingly buying cat and dog fur and products containing such fur. The UK supported and pushed for the ban at the time of its inception, and our position on this remains unchanged. This is why it is so important that we replicate and maintain the ban on the trade in cat and dog fur by ensuring, through this SI, that it is fully operable now that we have left the European Union.
Some may ask why this ban is not being extended to cover the fur of other species. That is not possible through this instrument because it is made under powers contained within the European Union withdrawal Act 2020. These powers are limited to correcting technical deficiencies in retained EU law and implementing the Northern Ireland protocol. This instrument cannot introduce new policy; instead, it ensures that we can continue to maintain a fully functioning ban on the trade in cat and dog fur and, therefore, protect cats and dogs from those who would trade in their fur.
The instrument replicates, clarifies and makes fully operable the ban on the trade in cat and dog fur by replacing references to the European Union, its institutions and its legislation with references to Great Britain. It also makes continued provision for enforcement and clarifies criminal penalties for breach of the prohibition in each of the United Kingdom’s criminal law jurisdictions. This will ensure that there can be no doubt about the penalties for breaching this important ban.
Unfettered movement of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is a requirement of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. The SI recognises this requirement by technically allowing the movement of cat and dog fur between Northern Ireland and Great Britain so that the retained regulation does not conflict with the requirement for the unfettered movement of goods within the United Kingdom.
However, to be clear, I assure noble Lords that this is merely a theoretical access to movement for cat and dog fur. No lawful movement of these goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will occur in practice, because it remains illegal to import, export or place on the market cat and dog fur across the whole of the United Kingdom, through the combined effects of the EU regulation in Northern Ireland and the retained domestic version in Great Britain.
There is no evidence of a trade in cat and dog fur with the United Kingdom. Indeed, the farming of such fur—or of any fur, for that matter—is illegal and has been so in England and Wales since 2000 and in Scotland and Northern Ireland since 2002.
This instrument follows the affirmative procedure as it transfers to the Secretary of State for International Trade a power that sat with the European Commission: the power to derogate for exemptions to the ban for educational and taxidermy purposes. While I understand that many would wish the removal of this power for the Secretary of State to allow for exemptions, we are limited by the powers under which this SI is made. Under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 we can correct deficiencies in the existing provisions but cannot make broader changes. Modifying or removing this power would therefore be beyond the scope of this instrument and the powers contained in the withdrawal Act.
I reassure noble Lords and the British public that this Government have no intention of using this power to limit the ban. The European Commission never exercised the power while we were a member state, and we see no reason for this or future Governments to do so.
For the record, the Government shared these regulations with the devolved Administrations in draft, outlining the changes made as part of the SI. We remain confident that there is consensus across the United Kingdom on the need to maintain the ban on trade in cat and dog fur.
I am pleased that trade measures can play such an influential role in helping protect our cats and dogs. This instrument is an important step in maintaining the ban on the import, export and placing on the market of their fur, and products containing such fur. I hope that, with this rather detailed explanation, noble Lords will be unanimous in their support for this statutory instrument and for its critical objective. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward this instrument. I am sure everyone would wish to support it—I think the fur would really start to fly if there was any sign of any trade whatever.
I have just one question for my noble friend. It is good to know that there is no evidence of any trade either from third countries or the EU—which is now a third country to us as well. What steps are taken at UK borders—airports, sea ports and indeed the Channel Tunnel—to ensure that there is no fur from cats or dogs in any part of the luggage? Obviously it is quite small and would be quite easy to hide. I would like to put my mind at rest that measures are in place to ensure that no fur is being brought in wilfully by passengers and can pass through untraced.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, for his thorough explanation. I very much support his sentiments and comments around this area. I do not want to prolong the debate but, as we have heard, the instrument makes no change to policy and we welcome the Government’s continued commitment to maintaining pre-existing trade measures. I particularly recognise the Minister’s comments on how it is possible to use trade measures to make sure that these important matters are implemented, and I echo the sentiment and understanding that the fur trade is an abhorrent and cruel industry, and we have to do everything in our power to make sure that we interrupt any such practices wherever we can.
I have a couple of brief questions. I am sure the Minister will be aware of comments from Cats Protection raising concerns that regulations will be effective only where goods are explicitly sold as cat fur and do not address the problem of real fur being imported and sold as faux fur in poorly labelled goods. It has seen evidence of cases where fake fur used in products and garments such as shoes was in fact cat fur. What assessment have the Government made of that and have they given any consideration to further steps to stamp down on such practices? It cannot be right for UK consumers to be unwittingly supporting this cruel trade due to improper labelling.
On a wider but related note, have the Government considered changing labelling requirements so that any products containing animal fur or other parts of animal origin are clearly listed, so that consumers can be further aware of when they are and are not buying animal products, where they may have come from—both which animal and which country—and how they have been manufactured? I understand the possibilities around this; in the United States, there are detailed labelling requirements under the Fur Products Labeling Act.
I welcome the sentiments and intent of the proceedings today, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, for their brief comments and support for this SI. I will do my best to answer the questions raised. They broadly follow the same theme of enforcement, so I will pick up first on the point made by my noble friend and touched on by the noble Baroness.
There is no evidence of a trade in these products in the United Kingdom. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, it has been banned since 2008. Importers and exporters must declare that their goods do not contain cat and dog fur. Border Force is responsible for enforcing anti-smuggling controls at UK points of entry and exit to prevent imports and exports of prohibited cat and dog fur and products containing such fur. Where Border Force believes an item has been intentionally described to conceal its true identity and suspects that it is cat or dog fur, it has the ability to detain or seize it and, if necessary, have it forensically tested. I hope that touches on the point about faux fur as a cover for real fur.
Traders found to have breached the ban can be subject to criminal penalties, and this SI provides for the imposition of those penalties and clarifies them in each of the United Kingdom’s criminal law jurisdictions. There can be no doubt as to the penalties that can be applied to those found to be trading in cat and dog fur. I have no doubt that UK Border Force is well trained in seeking out such goods, particularly as they can be easily hidden—a point that was well made.
Labelling was brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Blake. Labelling is more linked to Defra policy, so I will write a letter to the noble Baroness, and copy in my noble friend Lady McIntosh, explaining its link to the DIT.
This was not raised, but I want to give some reassurance to the Committee about the future. In May last year, Defra published a formal call for evidence on the fur trade in Great Britain. The evidence gathered will be used to inform future action on the fur trade in Great Britain. The outcome of the call for evidence will be published soon. I am afraid that I cannot give any further details, but it is happening. It is important to mention that as I am on my feet talking about this subject. I hope that I have answered all the questions.