It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Rees. I thank Christian Wakeford for calling this debate on an issue of great importance for so many of our constituents around the UK. The hon. Member referred to us as a nation of animal lovers and he painted a picture of an intolerable situation that the Government have the power to solve easily. We have had a good debate and we have heard a lot of support for action from across the Chamber.
It has been great to hear the different arguments made by many Members from different parties. We heard about how good synthetic fur quality is from Sir Roger Gale. We heard about the brutal treatment of animals and an upsetting description of the conditions they live in from Steven Bonnar. We also heard that this issue matters to people across the UK. As my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones pointed out, in Wales a greater proportion of people—82%—back a ban.
I wanted to make some remarks about how long this journey has been. I am proud that my hon. Friend Maria Eagle introduced a Bill to ban fur farming in the UK that was turned into reality and made law over 20 years ago by a Labour Government. Britain was the first country to enact a ban on this cruel industry and I am pleased to see countries across Europe have since followed suit.
The ban was a huge step forward and as my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner eloquently said almost four years ago, while it halted the production of fur in the UK, fur farming was outsourced—a comment that was echoed today by my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn. It was also pointed out that we have a huge opportunity and things have changed since then.
My hon. Friend Emma Hardy raised the point that trade deals could help halt the trade and could hold countries to account to stop these practices. We know that other countries have less stringent animal welfare regulations, and that should be pursued. Although the public mood against the fur trade is overwhelming, we have yet to cut our economic ties to the trade completely and the UK continues to import and export tens of millions of pounds of fur products each year. This must stop. As long as we are trading these products, we are complicit in their production. It is right that we support a ban on trading fur in the UK and part of that must involve addressing the scandal of real fur being passed off as fake, as was mentioned today.
Some argue against a ban by claiming the need for fur to be ethically sourced instead, but it is well known that these so-called ethically sourced schemes unfortunately fall short. It is difficult to understand what best practice could mean as regards the conditions these animals are kept in. We know best practice in animal welfare can be so poor that it means very little. How could best practice be anything but poor? It is impossible to keep wild animals in captivity in the conditions we have heard about and to tend to their welfare.
Perhaps the most damaging examples to advocates of ethical sourcing are places like Germany and Sweden where the fur industry is being phased out. That is because the rules in those countries for the welfare of foxes and mink in captivity are so high that businesses are simply not profitable. We heard about the impact on public health and those examples demonstrate that cruelty cannot be regulated out of the industry and that it poses extra risks—unfortunately, it is a requirement for the industry to function successfully.
There is a direct contradiction between the ethical treatment of animals and the commercial viability of the fur trade, so I welcome the Government’s consultation on the sale of fur in the UK. I wonder why it has not come sooner. When I was preparing for this debate, I read through the robust Westminster Hall debate on the issue almost four years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge concluded by praising the standard of the contributions just as I have, but warned:
“My worry is that they will think that all we have had is a debate. That is the challenge for the Minister to go away to think about.”—[Official Report,
The Minister has been thinking about it for a long time now. What is the timetable for the consultation, and when does the Government hope to legislate?
My hon. Friend Taiwo Owatemi was right in her recent speech in the House that our moral objection to the fur trade should not be bargained away in any future trade deals. There really is no time to lose. I was so pleased to hear her excellent contribution today. I hope the Minister can provide us with more answers on timescales and where we want to get to. Clearly, the whole House is behind this.