Fur Trade (Prohibition) Debate

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Fur Trade (Prohibition)

Taiwo Owatemi Excerpts
1st reading
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Fur Trade (Prohibition) Bill 2019-21 View all Fur Trade (Prohibition) Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text

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Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the import, export, purchase and sale of fur and fur products; and for connected purposes.

Twenty-two years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) introduced in this House a Bill to ban fur farming. She said it was time to

“put an end to a cruel barbaric practice”

of

“keeping wild animals in small barren cages simply to obtain an unessential luxury product.”—[Official Report, 5 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 1339.]

Her Bill was taken up by the Labour Government and a year later became law, making Britain the first country in the world to ban the cruelty of fur farming, but despite that decision the products of that same cruelty have continued for the past 20 years to be imported into our country from overseas and put on sale in our shops. That double standard has continued simply because as a member of the EU, decisions on what imports to permit were not ours to take. Now, however, as an independent trading nation, we have the opportunity to eliminate that double standard and once again to make history by becoming the first country in the world to ban the importation and sale of fur.

In doing so, we will have the overwhelming support of the animal-loving British public. The most recent YouGov poll commissioned by the Humane Society International UK shows that 72% of the British public support a complete ban, and currently only 3% of people wear animal fur. Yesterday, in a further sign of public feeling, the Fur Free Britain campaign delivered to Downing Street its petition with more than 1 million signatures in support. I thank all the organisations and individuals behind the Fur Free Britain campaign, led by the Humane Society International UK, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, PETA UK, Open Cages and Four Paws, as well as their official campaign partner, the Daily Mirror, for all their tireless work on this issue over the years and for the concern and compassion they have inspired in so many, including myself.

The Bill I am presenting today, is a response to that public pressure, but let me explain why it is necessary, what it seeks to do and, just as important, what it does not. At present, fur taken from farmed animals gassed or electrocuted after spending their short lives in cramped cages can be imported into the UK from countries all around the world. In addition, fur taken from wild animals after their slow, agonising deaths captured in leg-hold traps and other inhumane devices can be imported from the EU and a select group of other countries. Last year, the value of those imports was £29 million. The majority of the imported fur is turned into clothing, hats and accessories by the fashion industry here Britain, either to be sold in our shops or exported overseas in an export trade that was worth £20 million last year. Under the Bill, everything I have just described would be banned in the UK: the import and export of fur and fur products and the sale of new fur products in our shops.

Some people will argue that we should not criminalise the wearing of existing fur products in the UK, or their sale in the second-hand market. I entirely agree. The ultimate purpose of the Bill is to ensure that animals in other countries are not bred, trapped or killed today to supply the UK trade in fur. It does nothing to serve that purpose to criminalise the wearing or sale of products made many years ago. Others will argue that there should be an exemption for fur hats and other items traditionally worn for religious reasons, such as the Jewish shtreimel. Again, I agree. A reasonable ban on the trade will be able to distinguish between fur worn as a mark of faith and fur worn as a fashion accessory.

Finally, some will argue that any ban will have consequences for jobs and businesses in the fashion industry—a point made for many years by the British Fur Trade Association. I agree that, just as there was with the ban on fur production two decades ago, there must be support and compensation for any business and workers affected—but we should not exaggerate the economic effects. After all, in 2020, the UK imported £20 billion worth of clothing items, but imports of fur and fur articles made up just 0.15% of that total. Nor should we let the economic effects distract us from the core principles at stake. It was the former head of the British Fur Trade Association, Mr Mike Moser, who left the organisation last year saying that it was an “indefensible” industry and that

“there is no justification for fur”.

If there are some arguments that my Bill seeks to accommodate, there are others that I feel it cannot. Some critics will say that the Queen’s Guard must be allowed to continue wearing bearskin hats as part of its ceremonial dress. As we wish Her Majesty a happy birthday in this very sad week, my view is that if she decided to stop purchasing new fur some 18 months ago, it is high time for her guards to do the same and transition to synthetic alternatives. After all, it was the Prime Minister himself who said in 2015:

“If Stella McCartney can help save a few bears by making false busbys then…I’m not going to fight that.”

Other critics may argue that this is a civil liberties issue and people should be free to buy and sell whatever they please. My view is that the British public feel deeply that the trade in animal fur is something that we do not wish to continue in our country, and that overwhelming opinion cannot be permanently blocked by the very small minority who disagree.

Finally, some critics may argue that a ban on fur might cause us problems when seeking to negotiate new trade deals with fur-producing nations such as the United States and Canada. My view is that that is, in fact, an argument for pressing ahead with a UK ban at the earliest opportunity, before it can become a bargaining chip in any negotiation or, even worse, we find ourselves bound by the terms of any trade agreement that makes a fur ban more difficult to introduce. After all, it would be bizarre if we finally regained the right to take this decision as an independent trading nation but then found ourselves unable to do so because of a new trade deal signed elsewhere.

That brings me to the question of timing. I hope that the Government will take up my Bill, but if they intend to do so, I hope that they will do so quickly, decisively and as a stand-alone issue, because the time to act is now. We cannot wait and run the risk that a proposed fur ban gets either bogged down or watered down as a result of future trade negotiations. We cannot wait for a fur ban to be included in some much wider animal welfare Bill that risks suffering months or years of delay. And from the point of view of morality, we should not wait while yet more animals overseas live short, miserable lives in wire cages, or suffer cruel, slow deaths in leg-hold traps, just to service a fur trade in our country that the vast majority of our people oppose.

Let me conclude by echoing the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood in 1999, when she introduced her Bill to ban the domestic production of fur. She said:

“As we approach the new millennium, it is up to the House to set the standards that we want for the next one”.—[Official Report, 5 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 1339.]

As we enter another new era as an independent trading nation, it is once again up to this House to set the standards we want by deciding what trade we wish to permit. I therefore urge colleagues across the House to join me in saying that Britain no longer wishes to permit this barbaric trade in the fur of animals, and instead chooses to make history by being the first country in the world to ban that trade in full. That is what my Bill seeks to do, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Taiwo Owatemi, Emily Thornberry, Luke Pollard, Clive Lewis, Kerry McCarthy, Maria Eagle, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Alex Sobel, Edward Miliband, Rachel Hopkins, Caroline Lucas and Seema Malhotra present the Bill.

Taiwo Owatemi accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 289).