On 4th June a debate took place in Westminster Hall following a petition (200888) which gained 109,554 signatures; a debate which has. to my knowledge, been ignored by the media; which begs the question how important was it, bearing in mind our media is supposed to report news of public interest (but I digress).
First, a little background: according to this article there is a small green bag in the House of Commons that hangs hidden on the back of the Speaker’s chair with a sign attached. It reads: “Do not touch”. Into this bag disappear all the petitions that pass through parliament.It is hard to see this bag as anything other than a metaphor for the triviality with which politicians treat petitions and civic engagement in general. This is nothing new. Petitioning, a practice from medieval times, was used by the working class in the 19th century to demand the vote in their millions; yet the government of the time was quick to reject the multiple petitions they presented……But Directgov is rarely more than a farce – and a destructive one at that. Almost half of petition requests submitted to the site by the public are rejected (link now inoperative) before they reach publication stage. When it promises that “if you collect more than 100,000 signatures, your e-petition could be debated in the House of Commons”, few realise the weight of significance behind the word “could”. Many petitions exceed this threshold and lead to no debate. In reality, they are passed to the backbench where, in the absence of an MP with a reason to champion the cause, they suffer death by committee. Of course, if you happen to move in the same social circles as an MP, you could just bypass the task of convincing 100,000 people a cause is right and convince just the one.
Philosopher Roger Scruton argues that:”We elect our MPs to represent our interests and think seriously about issues. “People are social animals who respond to collective emotions, they can respond to crowd feelings…… We all know that we can feel these crowd emotions at one moment and retire to our private quarters and recognise that we were wrong……. We want MPs to be the same, not just to be driven along on the whims of collective emotion, as though they were not duty bound to think things through“. Unfortunately, for us the electorate, MPs are driven by ‘matters du jour’, especially when they think of their re-selection; but again I digress. On the subject of: as though they were not duty bound to think things through, just how many laws are we subjected to – which don’t work – because MPs have not thought things through?
The debate can be watched here and the Hansard version here. I say ‘version’ as it is not a true record of the spoken word. I accept that Hansard is a ‘record’ and not a word-for-word transcript of debates in Parliament.; but in my opinion it should be the latter. If Hansard is not a verbatim report, then those of us using it are not getting a true version of what was said. As an aside, is this another ploy to ensure MPs cannot be held to account?
Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab), the mover of this debate in Westminster Hall, stated (Hansard: Col: 5WH): The petition itself is testimony to the strength of public feeling, but on top of that, a YouGov poll in February this year showed that 69% of the public, nearly seven in 10, would support a ban on the import and sale of fur in the UK.
This is interesting in that having ‘trawled’ Google to find said survey, to no avail; I telephoned YouGov to be advised by ‘reception’ that I needed to speak with their press office. Unfortunately the receptionist was unable to connect me as no-one appeared available to answer the call. She then advised me to email them (which I did on 6th June*) and informed me that I should receive a response within hours. Three working days days later and I am still waiting for said response. The only survey I can find on the subject of the fur trade is one published in March, here. The last survey I can find about the banning of fur imports was carried out in 2016 although according to this article one was carried out in February 2018 by YouGov on behalf of HSI.
It appears that such a survey may have been carried out by YouGov (source), but if so why does there appear to be no record in YouGov’s archive? Most odd, is it not?
The question asked in the survey published in March was: Real fur is considered by many to be cruel. Fake fur is often made from unrenewable plastics, which can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Which do you think is worse? YouGov then state that the findings of this survey have been ‘weighted’. For those unfamiliar with the term ‘weighting’ it can be defined as a process by which a commonly applied correction technique is weighting adjustment. It assigns an adjustment weight to each survey respondent. Persons in under-represented groups get a weight larger than 1, and those in over-represented groups get a weight smaller than 1. For more on this, what may be called ‘sleight of hand’, see here. It would appear that, once again, we are being fed ‘selective information’?
Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con) stated: I slightly stand aside from the narrative of animal rights, because the giving of rights is a peculiar legal minefield. However, what trumps even that issue is our human duties, responsibilities and response to public morality. I find it incredible that those who appear so concerned about public morality fail to exhibit decent public morality where their lives and ‘work’ are concerned.
Giles Watling (Clacton) (Con), complaining about the belief that international co-operation would bring about a change in animal welfare where fur farming is concerned (Col 9WH), stated: This is a profit-driven industry, and behaviour will be slow to change. By waiting for that to happen, we only prolong our role in supporting and enabling these dreadful animal welfare practices. That is not in keeping with our British values. Neither is the practice, where British values are concerned, by those entering this country who, willfully it seems, refuse to accept the values of their adopted new country – ie, those of a certain religion.
Assuming the figure of £56.5 million in fur sales is correct then there must be one hell of a lot of customers; and if the ‘customer is king’, by what right does he attempt to decide what people can and cannot wear?
In an intervention (col25WH), George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab) asked: Does she (Maria Eagle) agree that it is within the scope of the Government and the Minister to change the practice of importing fur in a way that would please not only those of us taking part in the debate, but the majority of our constituents? I would question the use of the words: ‘majority of our constituents’. A number of MPs quoted how many of their constituents had signed the petition: Giles Watling: 177; Andrea Jenkyns: 153; Karen Lee: 200; Justin Madders: 157 – and the number of their constituents is how many tens of thousands? Neither would I consider that a petition that accumulated 109,554 signatures constituted a majority of the electorate.
Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP), in agreeing with Simon Hoare, stated: A ban on the sale of fur products is important to keep those loathsome and vile products out of the United Kingdom. Ah, if only the electorate had the possibility of keeping out of politics those who appear to have not one brain cell between them; who when speaking (out of the wrong orifice, I hasten to add) tend to leave a nasty smell hanging in the air. Such politicians truly are a loathsome and vile product of a system of democracy that begs to be changed.
Whilst stating that he did not understand why the retail trade could not be ‘leaned on’, Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) continued: but why people wear fur—to me, it is the same as wearing a swastika or something (27WH); continuing: It appears that 90% of the British public support us,……. Now where is the source for that figure? Perhaps this MP should be told that he can no longer wear a particular suit, or tie as that garment has unsavoury connotations – and then wait for the howl of protest. It is understood that Drew has subsequently apologised for his remarks which he termed ‘inappropriate’.
This ‘debate’ no more resembled such, as it was more akin to a baying group calling for blood. These MPs continually cited the manner in which mink and other fur-bearing animals were killed, citing gassing or electrocution. If this is such a problem for them, perhaps they may wish to consider how cattle are killed. From Wikipedia we learn of Electrical (stunning or slaughtering with electric current known as electronarcosis); Gaseous (Carbon dioxide); Mechanical (Captive bolt pistol); and Exsanguination. In view of which one wonders how many of those MPs have leather shoes, wallets, handbags, purses and coats.
Those MPs who protest so loud about fur farming must surely believe in the slogan of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way (emphasis mine) but, again, I wonder how many of them watch Crufts and are enthralled at the antics of, for example, Collies taking part in the obstacle course races.
Hypocrisy appears to know no boundaries in the minds of MPs.
I have written once before on this subject and can only suggest you view the second video in the link provided within the article from the European Fur Breeding Association. As it happens the comments I made about minutes and records of what is said at meetings of committees (whether official or not) still appear a tad lax. Yes, there are, it seems, fur farms that leave a lot to be desired; however, why should those farms that do comply with best practice have their livelihood jeopardized? I can but repeat the content of the previous article to which I have linked.
*Text of email to YouGov: