Committee for Agriculture
and Rural Development
Friday 28 June 2002
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill:
Rev Dr Ian Paisley (Chairperson)
Mr Savage (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr J Given ) Department of Agriculture
Ms M Hood ) and Rural Development
The Chairperson: We welcome Mr Given and Ms Hood from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Committee wishes to deal with the proposals made last week, which you have replied to. We would also like to discuss the Committee’s proposal for additional penalties on conviction, such as the seizing of equipment, and why the Department has decided not to move forward on that.
Would you make a statement on that matter, and, if the Committee is content with it, we will move to the clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill.
Mr Given: Two issues were raised last week. The first concerned the forfeiture order and the proposal to include equipment. The second concerned the question of including some reference to when payments may be made under the scheme mentioned in clause 5.
The Department considers clauses 2 and 3 to be sufficient for the purpose of the Bill, which is to stop fur farming. We do not think it necessary to extend the forfeiture order to include equipment. It would be difficult to agree a definition of the word "equipment". For instance, would it include cages, or a barn? Our legal advice is that such an extension to the legislation would be an additional penalty on conviction and would require the Secretary of State’s approval. Our legal advisers tell us that the Secretary of State would be reluctant to give such approval because such a provision is not included in legislation applying to other parts of the United Kingdom.
Mr Ford: On a point of principle, I do not accept the view that the Secretary of State’s reluctance should be a reason for this legislature not to do what it thinks is best for Northern Ireland. I am not persuaded by that argument.
The Assembly Director of Legal Services has identified potential knock-on practical difficulties that probably go beyond the significance of this Bill, and I would be happy to accept the view that the Committee should not push for forfeiture of equipment at this stage. However, I am not deeply persuaded by the Department telling us that we should not do the best for Northern Ireland just because something is not happening in England, Wales or Scotland. The Committee should flag that up as a point of principle in all its work.
The Chairperson: All Committee members would agree that this is a devolved Government. Whether the Secretary of State is so senseless that he does not see as good sense what we see to be good sense is no reason for us not to press ahead with our good sense, and thus not leave ourselves in the hands of his folly. This hidey-hole that you have found, Mr Given, is not a good hidey-hole — I am being jocular.
What you have said does not make for good argument. If what we are saying is right, we should argue the point with the Secretary of State. If the argument is then lost, so be it. As my Colleague Mr Ford said, the reason for not pursuing the matter is because of the information given by our legal adviser about the difficulties that would arise, not because we have any respect for the brains and talent of the Secretary of State, or that he would not accept it because it is not done in the remainder of the United Kingdom. The main difficulty would arise in trying to prove ownership.
Mr Ford: In fairness to Mr Given and Ms Hood, they flagged up some practical difficulties also.
Mr Given: My primary point was not about the Secretary of State.
The Chairperson: I think that we have come to agreement about the matter. We agree to proceed with only the amendment to clause 5.
Mr Given: I was absent for part of the week; however, Ms Hood had been working with the legal people to produce the amendment. If the Committee is satisfied with it, we will arrange for the Bill to be amended accordingly.
The Chairperson: Are you giving an undertaking that the Minister will move the clause as amended?
Mr Given: No. However, I do not envisage any difficulty.
The Chairperson: The Committee would expect that this would be a matter for the Department, and that the Minister would move the amendment.
Mr Given: I do not foresee any difficulties. I will persuade the Minister that it is a good idea.
The Chairperson: I do not think that this should come from the Committee. We are agreeing this amendment on the undertaking that the Minister will move it.
Mr Ford: I am happy with the amendment; however, I would raise one point with Ms Hood about her e-mail dated 27 June. It states that I suggested that rather than 10 April 2001 — the date of the original letter — that the date of 13 May 2002 would be more appropriate. The transcript of last week’s meeting shows that I suggested that the date should be the one on which the Bill was introduced. It was only a minute or two later that Mr Given pointed out that the letter was sent out on 10 April 2001. I am not arguing for the date the Bill was introduced over the date that the notification was sent. When I made my suggestion, I was unaware that the letter had been sent on 10 April 2001. I do not believe that 13 May 2002 should be the cut-off date.
Mr Given: The amendment will not stipulate a date.
Mr Ford: I want it on the record for when the Committee considers any Regulations that you may make that I am not arguing for 13 May 2002, on the basis that you wrote to people on 10 April 2001.
Mr Given: The legal advice is that, given the time that has elapsed, the date of the Bill’s introduction might be a more appropriate date to use. The matter can be looked at if and when such a scheme is created.
Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Compensation for existing businesses)
Question proposed: That the Committee recommend to the Assembly that the clause be amended as follows: in page 3, line 36, insert
"(4) The scheme shall provide that payments shall not be made under the scheme in respect of a business which was first carried on after a date specified in the scheme." — [The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.]
Mr Ford: Would the Committee Clerk advise us whether it is proper for us to be content with a clause if the Minister is to move an amendment suggested by officials? Failing that, the Committee would have to move the amendment.
The Chairperson: Yes.
Mr Ford: It is quite clear, but is it proper?
The Chairperson: Yes. It would then be the Minister’s responsibility. The Committee has said that it would pursue the matter. I feel that, having discussed the matter with the officials and agreed the wording of the amendment, it is now the Minister’s responsibility.
Mr Ford: The issue is whether the Committee Clerk can write a proper report on the Committee’s deliberations on this matter.
The Committee Clerk: Yes. The Chairperson will put the question in such a way that the Committee will be recommending to the Assembly that the clause, as amended, as directed by the Minister through the e-mail from Ms Hood dated 27 June, be accepted. That recommendation would stand whether or not the Minister tables it.
Mr Given: That is a persuasive argument for me to get it done.
Question, That the Committee is content with the clause, subject to the Minister’s proposed amendment put and agreed to.
Clause 6 agreed to.
Long title agreed to.
The Chairperson: That is the end of our considerations. Thank you for your help. I understand that Mr Given is retiring. I would like to give you my good wishes. We are sorry that we will not be seeing your smiling face and your increasing halo. We trust that you will have a very happy retirement and that you will be re-tyred to run faster and smoother.
Mr Given: Thank you very much.