Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Committee for Agriculture
and Rural Development

Friday 21 June 2002


Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill:
Committee Stage
(NIA 8/01)

Members present:

Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Dallat
Mr Ford
Mr Kane
Mr McHugh
Mr M Murphy


Mr J Given ) Department of Agriculture
Ms M Hood ) and Rural Development

The Deputy Chairperson: I welcome Mr Johnston Given and Ms Margaret Hood from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. We are here to go through the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill.

Mr Given: Several questions have been asked recently, and we could clarify those if you like. I have made a note of them. For example, we were asked what would happen if the animals were to escape or be let out. It is an offence under article 15 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 to allow any species not native to Northern Ireland to escape or be released into the wild.

The Deputy Chairperson: It is an offence to release them into the wild?

Mr Given: Yes. They could escape, and there could always be an argument as to whether they escaped or were released, but that is for the courts to decide. It would result in a level three fine of £1,000.

The Deputy Chairperson: Members, we are going through the Bill clause by clause. We come to clause 2. The Committee asked for clarification regarding the criteria on which the Department would base its decision on whether or not to prosecute the secondary offence, and that is in the minutes of evidence of 24 May 2002.

In its response, the Department says that any decision to prosecute the secondary offence would depend on the circumstances of the case and the evidence available to the Department. The Department highlights the example, given in the explanatory and financial memorandum, of a person who knowingly grants tenancy of land to a fur farmer. The Committee may wish to decide if it is content with the Department's explanation. Members may wish to ask the Department to expand on the current explanation contained in the explanatory and financial memorandum regarding those likely to be subject to clause 1(2). Before we move on, do members have any questions?

Mr Given: You would need to treat the secondary offence on its merits, and a decision to prosecute would largely depend on the extent of the secondary person's involvement. You will have dealt with the primary offence, which is the main one. It is hard to say what kind of situation might give rise to prosecuting the secondary offender. If he were very clearly in charge of the operatin, oyou would probably prosecute him, but if he had merely leased the land to someone, perhaps without even knowing the purpose, you might think twice about it.

Mr McHugh: I was wondering what benefit there might be in that. I cannot see, for example, how you would be able to charge someone living in England who had leased land in Northern Ireland. I doubt the practicality of doing so.

Mr Given: It would be difficult.

Mr McHugh: What is the purpose of the stipulation? Is it to prevent someone from -

Mr Given: It gives you scope. It allows you, if there is someone involved apart from the primary person, to investigate the situation and decide on prosecution. It is a backstop.

Mr Ford: Perhaps I might return to Mr Given's original point regarding the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the offence of releasing animals. Does that provide adequate protection against the possibility that someone's negligence may allow animals to escape into the wild, even if they are not actively released?

Mr Given: Yes. In my opinion, the offence of releasing animals would be equivalent to negligence allowing their escape. I hope that a court would take the view that negligence in not keeping animals in would be tantamount to release.

Mr Ford: I hope so too, but I am not certain that a court would necessarily agree. Is there a case for including in this Bill a specific mention of negligence, as distinct from the release mentioned in the 1985 Order?

Mr Given: The 1985 Order says that

"1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person releases or allows to escape into the wild any animal which

(a) is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Northern Ireland in a wild state; or

(b) is included in Part I of Schedule 9,

he shall be guilty of an offence. "

Mr Ford: So you think that the wording "allows to escape" is adequate?

Mr Given: Yes.

Mr McHugh: To some extent this question is almost hypothetical since we are not supposed to keep such animals. However, are there standards for the cages? If you erect something that does not meet the standards, might you expect that animals will escape? Is that checked?

Mr Given: One of the existing Orders certainly lays down standards, but that will ultimately be part of the evidence.

The Deputy Chairperson: Are members content with the information that Mr Given has provided us with in regard to clause 1?

The Deputy Chairperson: Clause 2 gives the courts the power to make an order for the forfeiture and destruction or disposal of animals in the event that a person is convicted of either the primary or secondary offence. Are members content with the explanation furnished by the Department?

Mr Ford: The forfeiture order, as proposed, seems to refer to the animals concerned. Is there not also a case for a forfeiture order regarding equipment?

Mr Given: That is a good point. The animals are the key to the forfeiture order. We are trying to prohibit fur farming, and if the animals are disposed of, there will not be any fur farming.

Mr Ford: People would still have the equipment, which would have a financial value. Including the equipment in the forfeiture orders would be an additional disincentive to anyone to break the law.

Mr Given: In other words, no one should be able to benefit in any way from this business, including, for example, by selling the equipment.

Mr Ford: There should be no possibility of a sale of the equipment to someone in this jurisdiction, or another jurisdiction where fur farming may be legal.

Mr McHugh: The equipment should be impounded.

Mr Given: The order clearly applies only to the destruction or other disposal of the animals. Are you suggesting that any equipment associated with the business should also be disposed of?

Mr Ford: It would be logical to include the equipment that was specifically used for fur farming. I am not talking about the general forfeiture of all equipment on the premises. However, cages used for mink, for example, should be included in the forfeiture order.

Mr Given: I have no problem with taking that matter back to the Department and discussing it with lawyers.

Mr M Murphy: People would have to be compensated for the removal of that equipment.

Ms Hood: Yes. Presumably people would receive compensation.

Mr Ford: That would depend on the Regulations that you make regarding compensation.

Mr McHugh: Yes. People should be compensated only for a business that was established before the Bill.

Mr Ford: There should be no compensation for activities that have been deemed illegal.

Mr M Murphy: Is fur farming illegal at present?

Mr Given: No. Any scheme for compensation will apply to businesses that did not require to be licensed and that were in operation prior to the introduction of the legislation. However, we do not believe that there are any such businesses.

The Deputy Chairperson: Has anyone contacted the Department to say that there are any such businesses? Are you satisfied that there are none?

Mr Given: None has been brought to my attention. I would be surprised if any such operations existed but had not come to the Department's attention, given the number of departmental officials who travel around the countryside with the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA ) and others.

The Deputy Chairperson: Is the Committee content with clause 2?

Mr Ford: I am happy with the clause, subject to what we have just discussed.

Mr Given: Does the Committee wish me to reconsider that?

Mr Ford: That would be useful.

The Deputy Chairperson: Is the Committee content with clause 2, subject to that amendment? The Committee may need to wait for an amendment. It depends on the answer that Mr Given provides when he appears before the Committee again.

Mr Given: Presumably, the Committee could propose an amendment at that stage.

The Deputy Chairperson: The Committee will need to wait to see what you say next time.

Mr Given: I will talk to lawyers and advise the Committee, which can then decide whether to propose an amendment.

The Deputy Chairperson: Clause 3 deals with the effect of forfeiture orders and provides a right of appeal. No concerns were raised about this clause. Are Members content with clause 3?

Mr Ford: There is a potential knock-on effect from the matter I raised with regard to clause 2. There is no problem with clause 3 as it stands, but if clause 2 were amended, a consequential amendment to clause 3 would be required.

The Deputy Chairperson: OK.

The Deputy Chairperson: Clause 4 confers a power of entry and inspection to enable the gathering of evidence, and a power to enter premises to carry out a forfeiture order. Are members happy with the response from the Department? OK.

The Deputy Chairperson: Clause 5 deals with compensation for existing businesses. Members have seen the response from the Department.

Mr Ford: Some of us have asked how compensation becomes payable. My understanding is that there is nothing to prevent me from establishing a fur farm tomorrow and claiming compensation from the Department when the Bill goes through. The Bill should contain a cut-off date, possibly the date the Bill was introduced. The Committee's legal advice is that there should not be a date, but the suggestion is that there should be a reference in clause 5(3) to the effect that the Regulations should specify the latest date in respect of which payments will be made. That must be more explicitly spelt out.

Mr Given: The purpose of this clause is to set the framework for any compensation scheme. The clause gives the Department adequate cover to do whatever it wishes with regard to setting start dates or end dates. It is not usual to put the date in the Bill as Mr Ford suggests.

Mr Ford: I appreciate that it is not usual to put the date in the Bill, but surely it is reasonable to specify that the Regulations shall prescribe a date. That makes it clear that there is no intention to provide open-ended compensation to anyone who jumps on the bandwagon now.

The Deputy Chairperson: What is in place to prevent someone from starting a fur farm business today and then claiming compensation?

Mr Given: The Department would tell the applicant that the consultation letter that was sent out to everybody on 10 April 2001 specified that no compensation was payable to anyone who went into business after that date. Clause 5(3)(b) says that any compensation scheme shall

"specify the businesses in respect of which payments are to be made".

It could, for example, specify

"a business being in operation before 10 April 2001"

- the date that the Department is likely to use - so there is no need to go any further.

Mr McHugh: So no one will get a licence to start a fur farm.

Mr Dallat: Providing a date almost invites people to start a fur farm before that date. The advice that the Committee has been given is professional and should be used.

The Deputy Chairperson: The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has asked for legal advice, and there is some conflict of opinion. The advice to the Committee is to specify a date before which a business must have been in operation in order to qualify for payments. There must be clarification.

Mr Given: There are two dates in question. If there were to be a compensation scheme, the Department would make it applicable to people who were in operation before 10 April 2001. In any scheme, a closing date, on or before which those who qualify for assistance must apply, is also specified. The cover is in place to do both of those things.

Mr McHugh: We do not need to add a specific date.

Mr Given: Lawyers are like doctors; they differ.

Mr Kane: Therefore, David, your new venture will go out of business.

Mr M Murphy: The Committee is not asking the Department to include a deadline in the Bill. It is beyond doubt that the scheme can specify a date. The proposed amendment would be to specify a date after which payments cannot be made.

Mr Given: Are you referring to a date, having introduced the scheme -

Mr M Murphy: That is the advice that the Committee was given.

Mr Given: No claims will be entertained after a certain date. The point is that the Department may never introduce a scheme.

The Deputy Chairperson: Are there two dates?

Mr Given: The Bill will provide sufficient cover to allow for two dates: a date before which applicants must have been in operation in order to qualify for compensation, and a date by which people must apply in order to receive payment. However, if nothing comes out of the woodwork, the Department may not establish a scheme.

The Deputy Chairperson: The Committee is trying to safeguard itself -

Mr McHugh: David could start a scheme.

Mr Given: I would rather he did not.

Mr Ford: With respect, that is not an answer. Clause 5(3) contains five proposals that the Department's scheme may never do. The Committee merely wants to add a sixth proposal that the Department may never do, but which is there to provide cover for the cut-off point of 10 April 2001.

Mr Given: If 10 April 2001 is the correct date, are you talking about that date or the end date?

Mr Ford: I am talking about what you defined this morning as 10 April 2001: the date on which you informed people that there would be no payments to anyone going into business after that date. At the moment, the Committee is aware of the Department's belief that the various parts of clause 5(3) give adequate cover. You referred to 10 April 2001 as the date that was given to those who might be affected by the cut-off point. The Committee feels that another subsection should be included to enable the Department to make it clear that 10 April 2001 has legal standing. The Department believes that it is covered; the Committee is not sure of that. I do not see why the Department would worry about having a belt as well as braces.

Mr Given: I will refer that point to the Department's lawyers.

The Deputy Chairperson: Are you happy with that, Mr Given?

Mr Given: I am happy with almost anything at the minute.

The Deputy Chairperson: Members want to be sure that they have received adequate legal advice.

Mr Given: I will take that on board and talk to the Department's lawyers to determine what they think about the inclusion of that date. As Mr Ford said, it would copperfasten the date that is already in the public arena.

Mr Ford: It is in the public arena, but it has no legal authority.

The Deputy Chairperson: That covers clause 5.

The Deputy Chairperson: Clause 6 contains the title of the Bill and provides for the legislation to come into operation on 1 January 2003. No specific issues have been raised.

The Committee has asked for the Department's views on the Chairperson's concerns that the proposed Bill might allow breeders to raise mink primarily for meat, and sell their fur as a by-product, in the same way that leather is a by-product of the beef industry.

Mr Given: We replied to that. The Bill, as proposed, would enable a breeder to raise mink primarily for meat and sell the fur as a by-product. The breeder would have to establish, to the Department's satisfaction, that there was a market for such meat and that that was the primary purpose of the enterprise.

Mr McHugh: We are talking about the animal being mink; there are larger furrier animals that would be more valuable.

The Deputy Chairperson: We await your answers on the possible amendments, Mr Given, and that will close the matter.

Mr Given: I have received correspondence asking that the principle of the Bill be enunciated in the Bill. That is not proper. As the lawyer says, the principle is not relevant to the legal proposition. However, it could be included in the explanatory and financial memorandum, which is ultimately published as notes to the Act when the Bill is enacted. If Members felt that that would be helpful, we could add something. For example, the explanatory and financial memorandum states at paragraph 3 that

"The purpose of the Bill is to prohibit the keeping of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. The Bill would bring the law into line with that in England, Wales and Scotland."

A form of words such as

"The Bill, which would bring the law into line with that in England, Wales and Scotland, is being promoted on the grounds that fur farming is not consistent with proper value and respect for animal life."

could be used if members felt it was appropriate. The issue was mentioned in a fax or e-mail that I received. We can arrange that further down the line, if required.

The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you, Mr Given and Ms Hood for your contributions. Do members have any further questions?

Mr McHugh: Does Mr Given have any answers for questions that we have not asked?

Mr Given: That is what I have just done - which is always foolish.

The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you.

7 June 2002 (part iii) / Menu / 28 June 2002