Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Committee for Agriculture
and Rural Development

Friday 7 June 2002


Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill:
Committee Stage

(NIA 8/01)

Consideration of responses to consultation

Members present:

Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Armstrong
Mr Bradley
Mr Douglas
Mr Ford
Mr Kane
Mr M Murphy
Mr Paisley Jnr

The Chairperson (Rev Dr Ian Paisley): We are considering responses to consultation, which are all contained in your document files. The Committee Office has provided a summary comparing the implications on respect for animals and the British Fur Trade Association. A copy of the submission of the Council for Nature, Conservation and the Countryside has also been distributed to members.

We must look at the submissions in the context of possible amendments to the Bill. We have not heard of any amendments, but perhaps members of the Committee will put some. We must also decide the way forward, including options laid out in the summary paper. It states that we need to consider whether we want those people who gave us representations to be examined by the Committee.

We had a fairly long canter over this field at the last meeting, and clarified our views on it. Whether it is a question of morality or expediency is not our business; we are not going to dissect the motives of those who sponsored the Bill.

The summary document notes that economic considerations relating to respect for animals have not been raised. As regards the British Fur Trade Association (BFTA), it notes that the fur trade represents a turnover of over £50 million a year for the UK, with BFTA members responsible for buying the majority of world trade at primary level as pelts. Fur sales have grown in the UK over the past 5 years due to a re-channelling of fur through fashion outlets. Sales of fur, including fur trim, increased by well over 30% in the UK in 1999-2000. The summary also refers to the IFTF (International Fur Trade Federation)/EFBA (European Fur Breeders’ Association) paper ‘the Socio-Economic Impact of European Fur Farming’.

The arguments put in the representations that have been made to us are for or against the Bill, rather than about the wording of the Bill. It is like a second reading in that respect, rather than a Committee Stage where phrases are added or deleted.

The Committee Clerk: Chairman, I would bring one thing to the Committee’s attention. In the submission from the Council for Nature, Conservation and the Countryside, Dr Lucinda Blakiston Houston refers to her comments of 16 May 2001. We have established that those comments were made to the Department as opposed to the Committee, and given what the council goes on to say, the Committee may need to see those comments. The council mentions clause 2(1) and the wording "in respect of animals of a particular description", and asks whether that is clarified anywhere. Members may be minded to pass that on to the Department and ask for it to be included in its response. The Department owes the Committee a response about other issues from the previous session.

The Chairperson: Are we agreed that we send that letter on and ask the Department to answer it while considering its answer to previous representations?

Members: Yes.

The Committee Clerk: The council is also concerned about the legal definition of fur. This coincides somewhat with an issue raised by the Committee last time, as the council wants to know if this would extend to the breeding of rabbits for meat and fur, or to other domesticated animals.

The Chairperson: Also hides, and pigskin?

The Committee Clerk: Precisely.

The Chairperson: Is pigskin regarded as fur?

Mr Armstrong: It all depends on its age.

Mr Savage: I see that fur farming uses 647 million tonnes of waste from the fish and meat industries each year. That is a significant way of getting rid of waste. Is that the figure for Great Britain?

The Chairperson: No, I think it is for the European Union.

This letter needs an answer from the Department. We can back it up with our request for an answer.

Do you have any idea when they are going to reply to our other briefs?

The Committee Clerk: The Department is aware that their officials are due back again on 21 June. They know that they need to reply in advance of that date.

The Chairperson: We now come to the ethical part of the debate. The summary document notes that on these grounds, the Bill can be welcomed "wholeheartedly", because

"fur farming is morally indefensible as it involves an inherently unacceptable element of cruelty to produce a frivolous product for which there are many alternatives."

As regards the British Fur Trade Association (BFTA), the document states that

"No case (for public morality) [is] made in the Bill or in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum nor are the wider implications for other sectors explored. The BFTA state that they believe that the real reason behind the GB Act was a £1 million donation made to the Labour Party by the Political Animal Lobby."

Was that right? The document goes on to say that

"The BFTA express surprise that the policy objective in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum (which states that it is necessary to prohibit fur farms in Northern Ireland to bring the law in line with that in GB) suggests that the law in Northern Ireland must follow English law."

There are two sides to the matter. One is an ethical argument; the other economic.

The last time we discussed this matter, the attitude was that if we had had a strong ethical approach, we should never have let the Bill get so far. The Bill is now on its way, and there is no way to stop it. I have not had much correspondence about the matter. Usually, a big issue like this, with great conviction behind it, leads to an overwhelming amount of letters. I do not know whether other Members have been lobbied about the matter.

Mr Douglas: We went through this matter at length and work has been done behind the scenes. I am not sure that it is all that important. There are other more serious matters that we should spend our time on. The fur farming Bill is going to happen anyway. I have no great difficulty with it.

The Chairperson: We certainly had a fair canter over the matter. I do not think that we can add much to that. There was no great opposition from anybody on the Committee.

Mr Armstrong: I agree with Mr Douglas that we should move on to more serious matters.

The Chairperson: Does the Committee wish to take oral evidence from any of the consultees that have provided written submissions?

Mr Ford: We have enough evidence in writing. We have no need to take oral evidence when the mind of the Committee seems to have been determined by the written evidence that we have received.

Mr Savage: I have been reading about foxes in the document. They are increasing in number. Do you remember when there was a bounty?

The Chairperson: You took the tongue of the fox into the police station.

Mr Savage: Foxes are not scarce.

The Chairperson: Those foxes are not in the wild; they are foxes that are being kept for their fur, which is another issue.

We do not want to put all the information into the Committee’s report. It is a waste of money to include copies of every submission that we receive in the report. The Committee could make its main submission and lodge copies of the other representations in the Assembly Library.

Mr Ford: Our staff could adequately prepare a two- or three-page summary, which is all that we require. They have already done that, although other representations that have agreed with the purposes of the Bill, but have not spelt it out in detail, have not been included. Those should be added in.

The Chairperson: We should lodge them in the Assembly Library in case anyone wants to consult them. However, it would be a waste of public money to publish all the submissions. Nobody will read them anyway. We shall move to the next item of business.

Mr Douglas: We should acknowledge the research and work that has been done by our staff. Though the issue was important, we felt that we should not spend much more time on it, and, because the relevant information was available, it was easy to deal with it quickly. I express my thanks.

The Chairperson: We have heard from everyone we wanted to write to us, and their propositions are before us. Only one proposition has yet to arrive, and that is from Newtownabbey Borough Council, which could not reply in time.

Mr Ford: The Committee is to have a further meeting with the Department on 21 June. It is hoped that that will not be a long session. Will it be possible to complete the clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill to allow the staff to get it printed over the summer? Given the potential legislative programme, we ought to be able to get a Bill like that out of the way.

The Committee Clerk: Chairperson, you have raised a few items with the Department, which has yet to reply to them. They may require consideration of an amendment. On the other hand, as with the Dogs (Amendment) Bill, the Committee may agree with the Department’s rationale that there is no need for an amendment for those items of business. Until that is known, it is impossible to say.

Mr Ford: A limited number of points remain to be discussed; there should be limited discussion on them.

The Chairperson: That is up to the Committee.

The Committee Clerk: It should be possible to finish taking evidence and to go through the Bill clause-by-clause at the same session. The Committee can then agree that it is content with the clauses or recommend amendments to them.

Mr Ford: We should set that today as our aspiration, unless complexities arise when the Committee meets the Department on 21 June. This business could be completed and signed off by the summer.

The Committee Clerk: A report must be signed off, but that could be done on 28 June.

The Chairperson: All Members are agreed on that.

7 June 2002 (part ii) / Menu / 21 June 2002