Import and Sale of Fur — [Dame Maria Miller in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at on 27 June 2023.

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[Relevant document: e-petition 630751, Retain bans on cat, dog, seal fur imports, and extend to ban all fur imports.]

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton 9:30, 27 June 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the import and sale of fur.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Maria. As Members are aware, the welfare and protection of animals is an issue that our constituents care deeply about. In this country, we have a proud track record of leading the charge on the international stage in animal protection law. Only last year, we marked the bicentenary of the UK’s first animal protection law—indeed, the first national animal protection law in the world—the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, known as Martin’s Act. We in the UK lead the way.

In our ever-more connected world, British people are both informed about and concerned by the plight of animals, not just in this country but overseas, and we are rightly and especially concerned when animals suffer overseas to be turned into products that eventually reach the UK as a consumer market or important trading hub. Today’s debate is about our current double standard. In the UK, fur farming is banned on the grounds of ethics and welfare, but we continue to allow the import of farmed fur from animals that have suffered overseas. The debate is about recognising that when it comes to protecting the welfare of sentient animals, it is not enough simply to prevent cruelties occurring in our own backyard. We must look beyond our shores and ensure that we do not perpetuate the infliction of cruelty overseas by trading in cruel products such as fur.

The Government’s 2021 action plan for animal welfare pledged to explore action on the UK fur trade. It noted that although it is illegal to import seal, cat and dog fur,

“it is still possible to import other fur from abroad”.

In June 2021, the Government conducted a call for evidence on the fur market that received almost 30,000 responses, although they have not yet released a summary of those responses or a policy position. I hope we might have some progress on that point, and to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister about it today.

Today’s debate on the UK fur trade might be seen as a debate about an animal welfare problem. Indeed, animal welfare will feature significantly in my remarks. However, it is also a debate about the trade in an unsustainable product that causes great environmental harm and the production of which carries significant and extremely concerning human health risks through a strong association with the spread of zoonotic diseases, including covid-19. But let us begin with the animals themselves and their experience in the global fur trade.

Fur farming has rightly been banned across all nations of the UK since 2003. We were the first country in the world to ban it and we blazed a trail that 18 countries have followed, with legislation for fur farming bans currently progressing through the Parliaments of Romania and Lithuania. The shrinking list of countries that continue to allow the farming of animals for their fur includes Finland, Poland and China. Across all countries where animals are farmed for their fur, the conditions are broadly similar.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

I thank the hon. Member for securing the debate on an important issue that our constituents care deeply about. He talks about other countries that have continued to farm fur, but of course here we have a ceremonial hat worn by the King’s Guard that is made from the pelt of Canadian brown bears. Is it time to look for alternatives, given that right in the centre of any big parade we have that symbol of cruelty to animals?

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I am glad the hon. Lady mentioned the fur cap. I think it takes one bear to produce one cap. A lot of the caps are ancient and historic, but we now have alternative products that are very effective and hard wearing. There is no reason why we cannot move to that. We will need to talk to the Ministry of Defence about that and take it further. It is something I would be glad to pick up, and I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention.

Let me return to the condition of animals on fur farms, including foxes, raccoon dogs, mink and chinchillas, which are kept in wire battery cages that typically are no larger than 1 square metre, according to the industry’s own literature. They spend their short lives—typically around eight to nine months—in such cages. They are never permitted to run, dig, swim or hunt, or to engage in any of the other behaviours known to be vital to their physical and mental welfare.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I thank the hon. Member for securing such an important debate. He is making extremely powerful comments, but what does he make of the comments of Mike Moser, the former chief executive officer of the British Fur Trade Association and former director of standards at the International Fur Federation? Mike Moser spent 10 years defending the fur trade, but he now dedicates his life to being an anti-fur campaigner, and he confessed that

“neither welfare regulations nor any industry certification scheme, would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages for their entire lives.”

Do not those comments add to the argument that there is no such thing as humane fur farming?

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I could not agree more. In fact, I shall use that very quote later in my speech. The hon. Member will find that we agree wholeheartedly on the issue.

Specifically in the case of mink, of which an estimated 20 million a year are farmed in tiny wire cages, veterinarians and welfare experts point out that as they are naturally solitary and wide-ranging animals in the wild, being kept row upon row, just centimetres from their equally unfortunate neighbours, is doubtless very stressful for them. Such an environment, and such cramped and barren conditions, comprehensively fail all scientific measures used to ensure that animals are kept in conditions that meet their welfare needs, such as the five freedoms of animal welfare and the five domains. Unsurprisingly, such conditions lead to physical and psychological suffering. The suffering in those cages is ubiquitous, and the fur industry builds into its so-called welfare assurance schemes an ambition to keep the percentage of animals suffering from diarrhoea, purulent discharge from the eyes, obvious skin lesions, and severe gum or tooth infections to less than 10%.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I echo the comments of colleagues in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he share the concerns of some about the impact of fur farms, which become reservoirs of disease, on human health? We need only look to our experience of the recent pandemic in that regard. That experience is another good reason for the UK Government to take the steps the hon. Gentleman is advocating.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, although we seem to be on a repeat cycle as I shall refer to those very issues later in my speech. I think he will be glad to hear my remarks.

Such health problems are widespread on fur farms and are the result of the grossly inadequate conditions in which the animals are forced to live. Investigations by organisations such as Humane Society International, to which I am incredibly grateful for its support during my preparation for the debate, repeatedly show the mental suffering of those wild animals, including a high frequency of stereotypical behaviours such as pacing and rocking as well as self-mutilation and cannibalism. Despite what the fur trade might like consumers to believe, there is no such thing as humane fur farming. Industry-led assurance schemes of high welfare fur farming permit a wide range of cruel practices, including the use of battery cages and cruel traps, such as leg-hold traps and even drowning traps for beavers.

At the end of their tragic lives, mink are typically gassed to death—veterinarians tell me that that is aversive to them, which of course it is, and that it causes suffering, which of course it does—while foxes and raccoon dogs are mostly anally electrocuted. Sickeningly, investigations, including one by Humane Society International in 2020 in China, show that animals are crudely beaten to death with metal poles and even skinned alive.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Member is making a fine speech. What brought the issue home to me was something that happened at school when I was 14 or 15. Our physics teacher, Mr Thompson, took an amber rod and showed us that rubbing it would produce a positive charge, but what he rubbed it with shook me to the core. It was a pussycat skin. He had a box of skins. He said, “It is all right; they came from abroad.” The hon. Member mentioned wild animals; that was a domestic moggy, somebody’s cat. That is what put me right off. Like Carol Monaghan, I have had numerous messages from constituents on the subject.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. He is absolutely right: it does not matter where these skins come from, we should take it very seriously and consider legislating heavily against it.

Could fur production be made humane? The simple and truthful answer is “no”, because the fur trade’s economic model remains completely reliant on battery cages. There is no humane alternative to the fur trade’s model of intensive confinement. When the Governments of Germany and Sweden brought in laws requiring that foxes be given digging substrate and, in Germany, that minks be provided with swimming water, the respective segments of the industry in those countries closed down, as it was no longer economically viable to meet the requirements of those sensible laws.

It is not only animal protection organisations, such as the HSI and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that are calling time on the fur trade. The former CEO of the British Fur Trade Association, Mike Moser, who was mentioned earlier by Nadia Whittome, resigned after 10 years defending the fur trade. In September 2020, he publicly pledged his support for the Fur Free Britain campaign to ban fur sales in the UK. It is worth reading his statement again:

“Over time I realised that whatever soundbites we devised to reassure consumers, retailers and politicians, neither welfare regulations nor any industry certification scheme, would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages for their entire lives.”

That is a good point, well made. An estimated 95% of fur traded—the majority—is from animals kept on fur farms.

Let us move on to wild animals. Wild animals trapped for their fur suffer different but similarly awful plights. In countries including the USA and Canada, such animals are frequently caught cruel leg-hold traps that have been banned in the UK since the 1950s. Animals such as coyotes and racoons can suffer for days in those traps before they eventually succumb to the elements or dehydration or are killed. Horrifically, it is not uncommon for animals to rip or chew off limbs in a bid to escape. Such suffering is impossible to imagine, all for the purpose of a sentient creature ending up as the trim on a jacket hood or fur cap.

The case against the cruelty of the fur trade is straightforward. Less commonly understood, perhaps, is that fur farms can act as a reservoir for viruses and present a risk to public health, as Jonathan Edwards mentioned earlier. More than 480 fur farms across Europe and north America have been affected by outbreaks of covid-19 over the past three years, with six countries confirming spillover events from fur farms back to humans. Some 20 million animals were culled to protect public health, but mink farming continues in several countries across Europe and beyond.

An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza on a mink farm in Spain last autumn further raised pandemic fears, with virologists from Imperial College, London, writing that it is “incredibly concerning” and “a warning bell” for humanity. A recent statement by the World Organisation for Animal Health warns:

“Some animals, such as mink, may act as mixing vessels for different influenza viruses, leading to the emergence of new strains and subtypes that could be more harmful to animals and/or humans. Recently reported infections in farmed mink are a concern, because infections of large numbers of mammals kept in close proximity of each other exacerbate this risk.”

By importing animal fur, we are importing cruelty, and we are facilitating a trade that could very well be the source of the next pandemic.

Lastly, let me outline briefly a final, compelling reason for the Government to act to end the UK fur trade: its sizeable environmental footprint. A new report published by Humane Society International has found that among the eight materials considered, fur from minks, foxes and racoon dogs had the highest air emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and water pollution per kilogram. The carbon footprint of 1 kg of mink fur was found to be 31 times higher than that of 1 kg of cotton, and the water consumption in fur production was found to be five times higher than that for cotton, with a kilogram of fur requiring a staggering 29,130 litres of water. The fur trade is bad news for animals, bad news for human health and bad news for the environment. An import ban, as they say in the vernacular, is a no-brainer.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I remind Members that they should bob if they wish to take part in the debate.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 9:46, 27 June 2023

By means of an intervention, I have already said what I said about my teacher, Mr Thompson. The main point I will make is that that was then. I am quite old; that was an education in the late ’60s, in the hands of Scotland at Tain Royal Academy. Things change over time. That is precisely why Giles Watling made the speech that he just did: things change and human opinions change. If someone talked to my three children, they would find the whole idea of the fur trade or breeding any animal to kill it by some ghastly means simply to have its skin, as has been outlined, abhorrent. There is a sense of decency out there, and I am proud that our country is saying what it is saying, and it has a lot more to say. We await the Minister’s response with great interest.

There is a sort of moral high ground. We are a nation of animal lovers, which is precisely why my constituents have been in touch with me in the way that they have. I take this opportunity to put on the record that I thank them for saying those things. I hope that we can spread the word to other nations that it is absolutely out of order to do what the hon. Member for Clacton told us about. We have only one planet together, and we are all—pretty much—sentient beings.

I have a much-loved pet cat at home called Hattie, which gives my wife and myself great pleasure; the same is true of everyone who has a pet, or, indeed, if I look out the window and see a blackbird hopping about or just a wild animal. In my constituency, we are blessed with an enormous amount of wildlife, from deer to badgers to otters, and even the occasional roving beaver, so I am led to understand. We all love that, and it makes our lives worth living.

This is a short contribution, but I sincerely thank the hon. Member for Clacton for raising the matter today. It is an honourable cause, and well done to him; I hope his constituents will see the good work he does.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology) 9:48, 27 June 2023

Like Jamie Stone, I did not plan to make a speech this morning, but I take the opportunity to congratulate both Giles Watling on introducing the debate and the other Members who took the time to participate.

We are a number of nations—four nations—of animal lovers. Since we are mentioning pets, I do not think my own pet has been on the record before, so I will ensure that I mention Wee Jean, who, in 2019, won Westminster Dog of the Year—so I will get Wee Jean on the record.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I will just point out that several years ago my cat Hattie was runner-up for the Cat of the Year award.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

I thank the hon. Member for that.

On a more serious point, we rarely have constituents getting in touch—in fact, I never have—to say “Can we keep fur imports? Can we continue doing this?” On almost everything, we usually get constituents getting in touch on both sides of the debate, so we can say that in this case the issue quite clearly has the support of the public. Many high-street brands have already banned fur, and I believe that Marks and Spencer, H&M and Adidas have all taken a stand against it. There is no reason why we need it, because there are perfectly acceptable alternatives.

I mentioned Canadian bears—I think I said the Canadian brown bear, but I meant to say the Canadian black bear, whose fur is used for hats. There are alternatives. Last year, a group brought an alternative into Parliament and said that it had been tested under lots of different conditions. The group felt that it was just stubbornness and refusal to give up tradition that meant we were continuing to use real Canadian black bear pelts for hats. We need to move on. There is no reason to be doing this.

One thing the hon. Member for Clacton did not mention was foie gras. It is a cruel method of production for a luxury food item that really is not required.

I will mention one other thing. Just a few months ago, Henry Smith successfully introduced the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill and got the support of the House. That was a real show of cross-party strength on an issue, and I think we can do the same for fur. I thank the hon. Member for Clacton once again for bringing forward this issue, and I look forward to other Members’ contributions.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member) 9:51, 27 June 2023

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Dame Maria. I thank all Members for their contributions to the debate, and Giles Watling for leading it. Many of my constituents across Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill have written to me on the issue and have signed e-petition 602285 on the import and sale of fur.

Banning imports of animal fur is a crucial step in upholding high standards of animal welfare. If we are to pride ourselves on our commitment to compassion and ethical practice, we must take action now to ensure that our actions are aligned with our words. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 was heralded by all at the time, and rightly so, but fur production has long been associated with acts of animal cruelty and unnecessary animal suffering.

The Government talk the talk, but they have dropped the ball completely on animal welfare with the shelving of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Last year, rumours were swirling around the UK that the Government could back out of their promise to ban the importation of fur. At the time, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs corrected the reports, saying:

“Future legislation to ban the imports of fur and foie gras has not been ‘dropped’”.

It said that the legislation faced a lack of progress due to “limited Parliamentary time”. Considering how early the House’s business has collapsed in recent weeks, we know that not to be the case, don’t we, colleagues?

As the hon. Member for Clacton said, the UK has historically been a leader on animal rights, becoming the first European nation to ban fur farming on ethical grounds back in 2003. As consumers become more concerned about animal welfare, public health and the environment, the demand for fur products is thankfully decreasing, but the United Kingdom still imported around £55 million-worth of fur in 2019 alone, according to the UK charity coalition Wildlife and Countryside Link.

We know that there is strong public backing for a UK fur sales ban. Over 1.1 million signatures have now been collected to date, with a poll from April 2022 showing that 77% of UK voters think that the Government should ban the importation of animal products such as fur.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

The hon. Member and I were no supporters of Brexit, but much of the talk following Brexit has been about how the UK Government are going to place animal welfare at the top of their international trade policy. Would banning the import of fur not be a huge statement that furthered that agenda considerably?

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

The hon. Member makes an excellent point. The Department for International Trade has a big part to play: I would like to see a clause in our free trade deals that says that they will not be implemented if the country is involved in these practices. I will come on to a wee bit of that later on.

Early-day motion 929, in the name of my hon. Friend Kirsten Oswald, calls for faux fur to be used so that bears are not slaughtered for fur to make ceremonial hats. The Ministry of Defence pays more than £1,700 per bearskin, and in response to a letter it said that 110 caps made from bearskin had been purchased in 2020 at a cost of £145,000 to the taxpayer, and that in 2021 a further 23 bearskin caps were purchased at a total cost of £40,000. The use of bear fur is not only wrong but a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money, particularly at a time when so many people out there are struggling to buy basic necessities. The SNP fully supports replacing those ceremonial hats with indistinguishable fake fur. As has been highlighted, there are alternatives that do not involve the suffering of wildlife to meet the fashion requirements of the MOD.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that very good point about the fur caps that the military wear. I am sure he agrees that there are also more cost-effective ways of producing that fur.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

It is on the record that there are far more cost-effective ways of doing that, and faux fur caps last a lot longer too, so I am absolutely behind that. Nobody wants to take away the pomp and pageantry. Some people like it, and we respect the fact that it matters to people here, but there is no need for animal suffering.

The early-day motion states that the continued use of bearskin from wild bears impedes the UK Government’s efforts to strengthen animal welfare legislation and improve animal rights. That cruelty and maltreatment must not continue unabated, given that faux fur is a cruelty-free and more cost-effective alternative, as the hon. Gentleman has just outlined.

Despite all that, and despite calls from the length and breadth of the UK to protect animals and choose the humane option, the MOD has not moved. In June, the Government stated:

“The use of faux fur products for future requirements remains under review.”

That is not good enough. The Ministry of Defence uses not only bear for ceremonial caps, but black fox skin, and rabbit, beaver and hare fur, for various other items of uniform. We believe that the Ministry of Defence has serious questions to answer, and so does the Department for International Trade.

As the regulation of international trade remains a reserved matter, this is a decision that the UK Government must take on behalf of all nations of the UK. The SNP urges the Government to make the right decision, listen to the people and to morality, and prohibit the import of any new fur products. Furthermore, we call on the Department for International Trade to introduce a ban before it negotiates and signs any more free trade deals with fur-exporting nations. The challenges we face must not be used to oppose a ban, as is currently happening in some quarters. We also do not want to find ourselves bound by the terms of any trade agreement that makes a fur ban more difficult to introduce, so we must have guarantees that such terms will never be used as a bargaining chip in any negotiations.

I remind those who argue that this issue is insignificant compared with other pressing concerns that our treatment of animals speaks volumes about our society. The way we treat the most vulnerable among us, including animals, reflects our collective character. By banning fur imports, we would reaffirm our commitment to empathy and compassion, and foster a society that values the inherent worth of all sentient beings. The time has come for the United Kingdom to take that bold step and ban the import of animal fur.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:59, 27 June 2023

I thank Giles Watling for securing this important debate, and particularly for his point about the environmental footprint of fur, which, as he rightly points out, involves water and carbon usage far in excess of any other type of clothing.

I will start with a quotation:

The UK has a world-leading record on animal welfare, and over the last decade the Government has introduced a range of measures to ensure we offer animals the care, respect and protection they deserve.”

Those were the words of the then Environment Secretary, George Eustice, as he launched his party’s action plan on animal welfare. I wonder how the Conservative party feels about those words now. The Government have dropped the kept animals Bill and abandoned the animals abroad Bill—two pieces of legislation that promised to cement the UK’s reputation as a global leader in animal welfare. It raises questions about whether the Government genuinely care about animal welfare.

As I am sure is the case for everyone here, my office has been inundated with correspondence from concerned constituents expressing their deep distress and disappointment with the Government’s decision to scrap their promises and renege on animal welfare measures. In particular, there is great concern about the importation of fur to our country, effectively outsourcing animal cruelty and suffering overseas—a measure that would have been included in the Bills that I mentioned. It is pertinent to remind the House that in February, DEFRA released a statement confirming:

“Future legislation to ban the imports of fur and foie gras has not been ‘dropped’”.

We now need the Minister to provide us with a straight answer on this and shed some light on why this legislation has not come forward. Has it been abandoned? I think we would all like to know.

We have had some excellent contributions. Jamie Stone made a moral case, reminding us that the UK is a nation of animal lovers. Carol Monaghan made the point that no constituent has ever asked us to keep the importation of fur and that alternatives are widely available. This is an “unethical”, “outdated”, “cruel” and “out-of-touch” practice—those were the words of 79% of people surveyed by YouGov in a 2020 poll about wearing real animal fur. The survey found that 93% of the British public are opposed to wearing real animal fur.

It is not just the general public. As my hon. Friend Nadia Whittome and the hon. Member for Clacton said, the former CEO of the British Fur Trade Association, Mike Moser, has pledged his support for a ban, stating:

“Over time I realised that whatever soundbites we devised to reassure consumers, retailers and politicians, neither welfare regulations nor any industry certification scheme, would ever change the reality of these animals being stuck in tiny wire cages for their entire lives”.

I have never seen such a flip from a leading exponent of a practice and industry as Mike Moser’s. That shows the need to reflect not just in the UK, but internationally, about the practice of fur farming.

Back in 2018, the Government claimed that advancing a ban on imported fur would be unlikely because of our membership of the EU. They touted Brexit as an opportunity to get the job done and promised us again that they would ban fur imports in their last manifesto in 2019. Regrettably, it seems that the opinions of the British public and experts in the field such as HSI, Four Paws, Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and Cats Protection, as well as leading international experts such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, hold little sway with the Government.

Just last week, we had Conservative MPs blocking Labour’s motion to revive the kept animals Bill, which would have outlawed fur imports. Instead, they chose to disregard animal welfare again, reneging on their own manifesto pledge and dismissing the will of the people who voted for them. Their party is out of touch and, I am afraid, out of time.

Two decades have now passed since fur farming was banned in the UK. I am proud to confirm once again that a Labour Government would take the necessary action on the importation of fur into Britain. We are committed to this. Unlike the current Government, we would base our actions on evidence, advice and morality. The Labour party has a clear plan for protecting animal welfare and looks forward to honouring the will of this nation of animal lovers. A Labour Britain will be a compassionate, fur-free Britain.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:04, 27 June 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Maria. It has been less of a pleasure, in many ways, to listen to colleagues’ accounts, but I thank all Members for raising awareness, which is absolutely necessary, about some of the ways animals have been kept and treated in the production of fur.

I would particularly like to thank my hon. Friend Giles Watling for his evidence-based, exceptionally well-written and powerful speech, and to ensure that the record remembers his work for decades on the subject of animal welfare, in this place and well before coming to this place. I thank all colleagues for bringing to our attention accounts that are deeply awful but necessary to face. I do feel that ignorance—simply not knowing about the conditions in which some fur-farmed animals are kept and the way they have been so cruelly treated and killed—would lead to the purchase of these products. Of course, this debate has expanded well beyond animal welfare to include biosecurity and environmental impacts.

As I think every speaker said, we are a nation of animal lovers. Animal welfare has been a really significant priority for the Government since 2010. Already, our standards of animal welfare are world-leading: according to the World Animal Protection International animal protection index, they are not just the best in the G7, but the best in the world. I was pleased to hear such a focus by colleagues across the House on this area today.

Since 2010, we have raised animal welfare standards for farm animals, companion animals and wild animals. The most notable legislative measures already taken include the banning of traditional battery cages for laying hens and the raising of standards for chickens to be consumed for meat. We have implemented and upgraded welfare standards at slaughterhouses and introduced CCTV. Further steps include the revamped local authority licensing regime for commercial pet services including selling, dog breeding, boarding and animal displays. We banned third party puppy and kitten sales through Lucy’s law. We introduced protections for service animals through Finn’s law. We introduced offences for horse fly-grazing and abandonment. We also banned wild animals in travelling circuses.

Our manifesto commitments demonstrate the ambition to go further on animal welfare. In 2018, we committed to bringing in new laws on animal sentience; introducing tougher sentences for animal cruelty; implementing the Ivory Act 2018 and extending it to other species; ensuring that animal welfare standards are not compromised in trade deals; cracking down on the illegal smuggling of dogs and puppies; bringing forward cat microchipping; banning the keeping of primates as pets; and banning imports of hunting trophies from endangered species.

Carol Monaghan referred to the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Henry Smith. It is making sterling progress through the House, as are other private Members’ Bills—there is the work that Christina Rees is doing on the banning of shark fins, and the work that my hon. Friend Angela Richardson is doing through her Bill to improve animal welfare abroad in relation to advertisements.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

It is clear from the Minister’s words that she understands the importance of animal welfare and the impact that fur farming has, not just on animal welfare but on the environment and public health. Given that, can she tell us a date by which the Government will introduce an import ban on fur?

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the hon. Member for her intervention. If she can be patient for just a couple more minutes, I will go into more detail about the response to the call for evidence—30,000 people responded—and the next steps in this process, but I would like to continue to explain the Government’s progress so far. We have also banned the cruel shipment of live animals, or rather there has been no shipment of live animals for fattening and slaughtering since 2020. We want this to continue, and that is absolutely why we will be bringing forward legislation in the very near future—certainly before the end of this Parliament—to ensure that it continues. We also want to ensure that, in return for funding, farmers safeguard high standards of animal welfare.

We have already delivered many of the manifesto commitments. The Government have increased penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty. We passed the Animal Welfare Sentience Act 2022 and launched a dedicated Animal Sentience Committee. We made microchipping compulsory for cats as well as dogs. We also announced an extension to the Ivory Act 2018, which came into force last year, covering five more endangered species: hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.

On top of our manifesto commitments, in 2021 we published our ambitious and comprehensive action plan for animal welfare. The plan includes about 40 different actions—steady progress is being made on the vast majority—and sets out the work we are focused on pursuing throughout this parliamentary term and beyond. Our action plan covers farmed animals, wild animals, pets and sporting animals, and it includes legislative and non-legislative reforms relating to activities in this country and abroad. Most recently, the Government supported a private Member’s Bill that paves the way for penalty notices to be applied to animal welfare offences, and we are consulting on how we should do that. We have also banned glue traps and given the police additional powers to tackle hare coursing.

As well as legislating, we have launched the pioneering animal health and welfare pathway, which sets out the way forward for improving farm animal welfare for years to come, building on the work that we have already done to improve conditions for sheep, cattle and chickens. With the pathway, we are working in partnership with industry to transform farm animal welfare, through annual health and welfare reviews with a vet of choice, supported by financial grants.

Alex Sobel invited me to provide updates and reassurance on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. The reason that I went through our impressive track record on animal welfare was to convey confidence to Members across this House that what we set out in our 2019 manifesto will be delivered. It will not be delivered through a single Bill, because we have encountered numerous difficulties in trying to achieve that. As I said last week, the important thing is that we deliver our commitments successfully and swiftly, so we have announced that measures in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will be taken forward individually during the remainder of this term.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that the King’s Speech later this year will be followed by a ballot. Private Members’ Bills will then be supported by officials in DEFRA, along with other single-issue Bills, statutory instruments, legislative programmes, secondary legislation, regulation and reforms with industry.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

What will the Minister do if, in the private Member’s ballot, no Member wishes to bring forward a Bill to ban the importation of fur?

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I regard that to be an incredibly low risk—nigh on impossible—given the interest that we have already had from Members looking to pursue such private Members’ Bills. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman encourages Opposition Members to apply to take a Bill forward. I can guarantee that officials in DEFRA will work incredibly diligently, as they always do, to support Members with their private Members’ Bills to ensure that they are robust, evidence-based and make the necessary progress across both Houses.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton

I, like many others across both sides of this House, was disappointed when the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was dropped. I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries when he made that announcement. My understanding is that parts of that Bill will be going through as legislation. I ask the Minister how many parts will become legislation and will the Bill eventually go through in its entirety?

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend allows me to say that there were six measures listed in the manifesto, and all six will be acted on through various legislative means, including primary and secondary legislation, regulation and reforms with the industry. I will be happy to meet with my hon. Friend to provide further detail, and to encourage him to submit an application in the ballot after the King’s Speech later this year. I reiterate that officials across DEFRA will provide support to ensure that Bills are delivered successfully, swiftly and in the best interests of animal welfare.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

The Minister is detailing a lot of the legislation that has passed, and we are all thankful for what has been done so far, but surely it should not be up to private Members’ Bills to make the required changes in matters such as importing fur.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I undertook my own private Member’s Bill to ban wild animals in circuses, and I certainly found it was a rewarding way to spend my time in Parliament. The hon. Lady does not do justice to private Members’ Bills by speaking ill of them. The record is there: they are incredibly successful at gaining Royal Assent and transitioning into Acts of Parliament, and making a tremendous difference.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I would like to make some progress on the subject of the debate brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton, but I will give way.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

I thank the Minister. To clarify, I did not speak ill of any hon. Members bringing Bills forward; my point was that the Government should not be relying on Members to bring them forward. They should be part of the Government’s legislative programme.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As I said, private Members’ Bills will be supported, enabled and progressed by the Government. Their success to date reinforces why I am looking forward to working with hon. Members as they bring their Bills forward. The most important thing is that measures are enacted successfully and swiftly.

As hon. Members know, fur farming has been banned domestically for over 20 years. Our legislation prohibits the keeping and breeding of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. Consumer protection laws means that information given to consumers must be accurate and not misleading. As a consequence, real fur must not be sold as faux fur. We also have strict restrictions on some skin and fur products that may never be legally imported into the UK. Those include fur and fur products from cats and dogs, whose import, export and placing on the market is prohibited. Seal products, including fur and fur products, may be imported and placed on the UK market for sale only in very limited, strict conditions. They are otherwise prohibited.

We have well-established controls in place on fur from endangered species, which are protected by the convention on international trade in endangered species. We also do not allow imports of fur from wild animals caught using methods that are non-compliant with international humane trapping standards. We recognise that some countries and territories have chosen to impose restrictions on trade in fur. We will watch developments on the European citizens’ initiative “fur free Europe” petition with a keen eye.

Although fur cannot be farmed in this country—quite rightly—and the import and sale of fur from some species is prohibited, it is still possible, as hon. Members have discussed, to import and sell other types of fur from abroad, including products from caged production. It is also possible to re-export fur and fur products that have been imported. It is a complex picture, but we have begun a course of action. In our action plan for animal welfare, the Government committed to exploring potential action in the area. In line with our commitment to improving animal welfare standards, we have sought to build on our evidence. We have sought the perspective of the public, and reached out to both animal welfare organisations and organisations directly involved in the fur trade.

DEFRA published a formal call for evidence on the fur trade in Great Britain in 2021. Launched jointly with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, it asked for views on animal welfare and on the social and economic impacts associated with the trade, both on our shores and overseas. This is a key step in helping us to improve our understanding of the fur sector. In particular, we sought views on the scale and nature of domestic fur sector activity, including trading; the scale and nature of fur sector activities abroad, which are integral to our existing domestic fur sector; and individuals’ attitudes towards the domestic fur sector.

We received around 30,000 responses from businesses, representative bodies and individuals. Officials have been analysing the responses we received and have engaged directly with stakeholders to develop further our understanding of the sector; this includes meeting key representatives and animal welfare groups. We would like to use the evidence gathered to inform future action on the fur trade. A summary of responses to the call for evidence, setting out the results and the next steps in this policy space, will be published very soon.

Members rightly acknowledged the importance of biosecurity, so I will touch on some aspects of that. We note the reference to the report by Humane Society International and will consider it as part of the evidence-building process, along with other sources. As I think has been recognised today, covid-19 and its significant global impact reminds us of the importance of the interaction between humans, animals and the environment at all times and in all places. We all need to work together globally to understand better how our behaviour, our supply chains and our cultures change these interactions and create risks. We are aware of concerns around disease risks associated with the fur trade, and we will continue to gather evidence on that issue.

It is vital that any future policies are developed on the basis of robust evidence. We will continue to build the evidence base on fur, which will inform potential future action on the fur trade. Far from evidence-gathering being abandoned, I can confirm today that this process includes commissioning a report from our experts on the Animal Welfare Committee, who have done tremendous work for a number of years now. They will consider the issue of responsible sourcing in the fur industry, including the animal welfare standards and safeguards that apply to fur imported into this country. Given what we have heard today from Members, in particular the accounts by my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton of the ways in which animals are kept and treated, I pay tribute to members of the Animal Welfare Committee, because gathering such evidence will most surely be a harrowing ordeal, albeit an absolutely necessary one to provide us with the evidence we need to take action in the interests of animal welfare.

Animal welfare is an absolute priority for this Government. Our track record thus far speaks for itself. We recognise the valuable contribution that animals of all kinds can make to our lives and our planet, and it was lovely to hear the accounts of two Members about their pets. I think that all of us have had incredibly positive interactions with animals, including pets, and it is certainly part of my role to ensure that people are more connected to nature through the work of our environmental improvement plan and our commitment that everyone should live within 15 minutes of a blue or green space, all of which contribute to people’s enjoyment of nature and animals in their own environment.

That is the way that we should enjoy animals—not by having a piece of fur attached to a jacket, but by being in the great outdoors and experiencing animals in their own environment. So we will continue to prioritise caring for, respecting and protecting animals in the future.

I will leave a couple of minutes, Dame Maria, to hear a final few words from my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton, who has done a sterling job, not only in raising our awareness today but in working in this area over many decades, both in this House and before he came here.

Photo of Giles Watling Giles Watling Conservative, Clacton 10:24, 27 June 2023

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her very positive words. At the end of her remarks, she mentioned the animals we all know and love, and share our lives with. I have been a lifelong animal owner of one sort or another. Humphrey and Herbie are my current companions, and I say that just so that I can get them into Hansard. They have wonderful fur that is much better on them than anywhere else. I have had many dogs.

I think it is worth touching on a couple of points before the debate ends. On a positive note, it is good to remember that the UK fur trade, once prolific, is now almost dead as far as the high street is concerned. We have come an awfully long way, but there is much further to go. I think all Members agree that banning the import and sale of fur is a low-hanging fruit for the Government, and I therefore implore the Government to move on it. A survey found that 70% of British people would like to see a fur ban, and 1.1 million people signed a petition. The Government should listen. This is an easy win that will be appreciated by all sides and all constituents across all our four nations.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the import and sale of fur.

Sitting suspended.