Tories block ban on fur farming

ANIMAL CRUELTY BILL
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The Independent Online
AN ATTEMPT to outlaw fur farming was blocked by Tory backbenchers yesterday amid angry protests.

The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Private Member's Bill, sponsored by Maria Eagle (Lab, Liverpool Garston) with cross-party and government backing, was given an unopposed second reading by MPs in March. But its progress was halted by amendments drawn up by the former Tory ministers Eric Forth (Bromley and Chis-lehurst) and David Maclean (Penrith and the Border).

As time ran out for the Bill's report stage yesterday after five hours of debate, only four of eight groupings of amendments had been dealt with.

The six-clause Bill, which aims to close England's remaining 13 mink farms by January 2002 and compensate farmers for their loss, now goes back down the queue of backbench measures and stands little chance of becoming law.

The Bill proposed it be an offence to keep any animals for slaughter or for breeding, where the sole or primary purpose is to obtain the value of their fur, punishable by a fine of up to pounds 20,000. Up to 150,000 young mink are slaughtered on farms each year for their pelts. They are not domesticated, but are forced to live in small cages.

Supporters of the Bill bitterly attacked its opponents during the course of the debate.

At one stage, the Agriculture minister Elliot Morley clashed with both Mr Forth and Mr Maclean when he accused some MPs of trying to "frustrate the democratic process" by time-wasting.

Mr Morley said fur farmers wanted the Bill to become law. He added: "I am suspicious that there are certain members who have no intention of allowing the Bill to go through its democratic process.

"There's a danger that people outside the House will draw their own conclusions that a minority of people, quite arrogantly, would want to frustrate the democratic process."

But Mr Forth accused the minister of "sanctimonious humbug" and criticised the Government's record in blocking backbench legislation, insisting: "Over 20 Private Members' Bills have been obstructed by the Government already this session."

Later, in a statement, Ms Eagle angrily hit out at "Tory wreckers" for destroying her Bill's chances. She said thousands of people had written to her supporting the measure. She accused the Tory front bench of condoning its backbenchers' tactics.

"I have helped to negotiate an agreement between fur farmers, the National Farmers' Unions and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which means that everyone concerned closely with the industry wants the Bill to proceed," Ms Eagle said. "The Tories have wrecked that deal for no good reason and have left the fur farmers facing an uncertain future."

One of the Bill's co-sponsors, Angela Smith (Lab, Basildon), condemned the Tories' actions as "disgraceful".

She said in a statement: "A ban on fur farming is backed by the vast majority of the British people. Yet just a handful of Tory MPs have blocked its passage through Parliament and there is now no guarantee that it will become law.

"After the same thing happened over hunting with hounds, how many more times are we to be denied progress on animal welfare legislation by a handful of out-of-touch MPs who are allowing cruelty to continue?"

Supporters of the Bill are now expected to put pressure on ministers to guarantee that legislation will be brought in to ban fur farming.

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