HC Deb 17 November 1977 vol 939 cc937-67

11.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

I beg to move: That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R./3265/76 and R/1961/77 on the preservation of birds. The proposal for a directive on this subject was made at the end of last year. The purpose was to ensure that all member States give general protection to wild birds. There was, and is, need for action of this kind. That was demonstrated by the concern expressed by hon. Members and by many members of the public last year about the mass slaughter of migrant birds that takes place in certain other countries. The Government have consistently expressed strong support for the principles of the directive, while seeking a number of detailed changes in its provisions.

Although the proposal is on broadly similar lines to our own Protection of Birds Acts, the original drafting did not take the needs of all interests fully into account. The Select Committee pointed out that the needs of game bird management, falconry, aircraft safety, public health and even of agriculture did not seem to have been adequately considered. However, in our consideration of the draft we have sought to consult all relevant interests, ranging from conservation bodies and field sports and shooting organisations to local authorities and those concerned with aircraft safety and with falconry. We have consulted bird fanciers, food manufacturers and public health services. We have been particularly conscious that some birds can have a damaging effect on agriculture, and my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture have been closely involved in all our discussions. I am pleased to say that, on virtually every point, we have been able to reach agreement on the amendments that should be sought to the draft.

Since last December this directive has been intensively discussed by officials in the Council's Environmental Working Group, and these discussions are still going on—indeed, the group has been meeting today, and will be meeting again tomorrow. As a result, the text has been substantially revised, and the revised Explanatory Memorandum which my right hon. Friend submitted on 8th November indicates that many of points have been met.

The group has also considered proposals from other quarters, notably from the European Parliament. There is general support in the group for the directive, and it had been hoped that it would be ready for submission to the Council of Ministers in December. This is not likely, but Ministers will probably be asked to give political guidance on a number of outstanding points. I would hope that the directive will then be ready for adoption by the Council during the first half of next year. Most of the outstanding points are discussed in the Select Committee's report, and I would welcome the views of hon. Members on them.

The first concerns the sale of dead birds, one of the few points on which there has been a difference of view in the United Kingdom. Our own Protection of Birds Acts allow the sale of any dead game birds except where there is evidence, as with wild geese, that this commercialisation may be harmful to the species. The directive is much more restrictive in the species which can be sold—an approach supported by many conservation bodies. The views of the working group are divided on this point, and a political decision may be required. The European Parliament has recommended that, with the advent of deep freezers, the prohibition on sales during the close season should be abandoned, and this is another point still under consideration.

The directive prohibits large-scale nonselective methods of killing, and this is what has concerned most hon. Members. Some countries have difficulties over this, but we do not. We share the view expressed to the Select Committee that punt-gunning and night shooting are not prohibited. While the directive goes beyond the Protection of Birds Acts in prohibiting the use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons to kill birds, we believe that such a prohibition would be generally acceptable, particularly as I understand that it is possible to modify existing weapons.

The Directive contains provisions to permit otherwise prohibited actions such as the killing of birds for special reasons, such as pest control. These derogations can be incorporated in national legislation, and there is no question of a reference to the Commission each time one is required. This part of the directive has been completely redrafted, so that derogations are permitted in the interests of public health and safety and air safety, to prevent damage to agriculture, for rescue operations, veterinary treatment and mercy killing, to protect indigenous flora and fauna, and for scientific research and rearing. This covers many of the areas of concern mentioned to the Select Committee.

The procedure for derogations is still under consideration, and we are seeking to maintain a balance between the needs of member States to safeguard their essential interests and the desirability of some Community supervision.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what all this has to do with the EEC? Will he tell us what the authority is, under the European Communities Act, the Treaty of Accession or the Treaty of Rome, that entitles all the legislative paraphernalia of the Common Market to legislate for Britain on a subject like this?

Mr. Marks

There is provision in the articles for this to happen. I am sure that where a matter affects all the member States, as the problem of migrant birds does, there is need for Common Market interest. Indeed, in this case there is need for international interest as well.

In particular, the needs of agriculture can be covered in this way, and the general view of the group is that a separate list of pest species is unnecessary in the directive. We have doubts about this, and in any event would continue, for practical reasons, to maintain a schedule of nest species in the Protection of Birds Acts. Falconry will also be covered by this derogation procedure, and a reference to falconry as a legitimate form of hunting has been inserted elsewhere in the directive. The interests of bird fanciers will again be covered under the derogations procedure.

The Select Committees refers to the needs of game bird management. Many of the problems have been resolved by limiting the scope of the directive to naturally occurring wild birds, so excluding captive reared game birds, and the scope of the derogations procedure is wide enough to cover egg harvesting for example, of lapwing and gulls eggs—and the taking of young birds or eggs from the wild for rearing or hatching in captivity.

It is clearly necessary to have machinery for amending the lists of specially protected species and of quarry species, and the list of prohibited methods of killing, and other detailed matters which are included in the annexes to the directive. This will be done by a technical progress committee, but that committee will not itself be able to alter the articles. It will consist of Government representatives, but we intend to ensure that all interests are consulted on its work, as has been done with the directive itself. We recognise that such changes can be controversial, and, indeed, the group is having great difficulty in agreeing the contents of some of the annexes.

I am pleased, therefore, to say that the directive is likely to emerge in a form even closer to our present legislation, and that it is likely to require few amendments to the Protection of Birds Acts. We shall, however, benefit from increased protection given to migrating birds on their way to and from this country.

I am pleased that the Select Committee's report and our own consultations indicate that there is general support for the directive. The United Kingdom has played a positive and active rôle in the discussion in the working group, and I share the views expressed to the Select Committee that this is a great and imaginative step forward in international bird protection.


Peter Mills (Devon, West)

I welcome what the Minister has had to say tonight on this subject. This is an interesting and very important subject, particularly to those who value our countryside. We have a wonderful rural heritage in Britain. Although we have set a very fine example in the past. I believe that we must seek to encourage others to follow that example. This is all contained in this legislation.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), let me say that as one who has sat for three years on the Scrutiny Committee looking at hundreds of instruments and pieces of legislation, some with an awful lot of nonsense, I believe that the more one looks into this matter the more one can appreciate that this is a very good illustration of harmonisation which ought to go forward.

In the past, man has been incredibly stupid and certainly utterly selfish in some countries over these matters. Therefore, the Select Committee on European Legislation on which I have the privilege to sit, had no hesitation in recommending this instrument for further debate in the House so that we could get the full support of the House in these matters. Even with the changes that have now been made. I still think that it is worth while debating the matter and asking the Minister a few questions.

The Committee is grateful to the Minister and his Department for the trouble taken in these matters. We like to think that our Committee had some influence on these matters. We had a very useful series of Comimttee meetings.

Looking at the purpose of the directive, I think that all would subscribe to it and support it. Looking at the aims and what it is trying to achieve, although it may take two years or more, I am sure that all will support it. I fear that in some areas it may be too late and it may be difficult to get back the birds that have gone and have been, perhaps lost for ever.

We welcome the fact that the member States will have a general power of derogation from the laws on taking, killing and sale, for purposes of conservation, research, teaching and breeding, and for the prevention of serious damage to crops, forests and water, provided that the method to be used receives the prior approval of the Commission. The reason I say that is simply because countries have different problems and different circumstances. We cannot all be the same in this matter. Therefore, it is necessary to have some derogations.

I think, too, that as we in Britain look at the draft directive we can congratulate ourselves as a nation, because most of the directive follows closely the general framework of the United Kingdom legislation on the protection of birds. Birds in Britain—I mean the feathered ones—have had considerable protection for a number of years. Long may that continue. I only wish that other countries—I mention Italy as one, and the Southern Mediterranean area—had the same concern that we have had over the years. I think that we can pat ourselves on the back for our legislation and for the fact that it is a pattern for the Community.

As to the policy implications, because United Kingdom legislation on birds largely accords with modern concepts of conservation the United Kingdom is likely to face fewer problems in implementing the directive than some other member States. While I think that we may not find it very difficult to carry out this legislation, I believe that other countries will find it so. I only hope that they will have the determination, and that the reports that have to be sent to the Commission during the coming years will show very clearly that they are prepared to implement these policies. They have to take these matters seriously, they must be enforced. I hope that the Commission will be fairly tough in these matters, because the constant slaughter of many lovely birds, some of which are very rare, is a real crime. The idea of shooting anything that moves, as they do in some countries, is to me, as a countryman, unfortunate to say the least.

The Select Committee received evidence from various associations. I will not read them all, but they fully co-operated with us in every way. Each in its own way played a real part. Some had different opinions, and were concerned about different things, but they all played a part and were extremely helpful. I thank them for their co-operation.

The various problems that arose in the Committee have mostly been solved. I did not know that so many people were keen on falconry. I did not realise the importance of airfield clearance. I did not know much about punt-gunning and night shooting of birds, but all these things are important to certain people.

Progress has been made in the latest draft, and I am sure that the House will welcome what has been achieved through the representations. It is important that the House should listen carefully to all these bodies so that their specialist views and knowledge can be brought to bear.

One or two points arose in particular. There is the argument about the undesirability of imposing uniform condition of bird protection throughout the EEC. It seems extraordinary that we should have hundreds of miles in which there will be uniformity. I hope that admitted derogations will be considered very carefully to cover the needs of various countries, and I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that the Government will seek to bring that about.

I turn now to the composition of the Technical and Progress Committee. The draft directive in its original form proposed the setting up of a committee consisting of representatives from member States under the chairmanship of the Commission to adopt the directive on technical and scientific progress. That is important. Nothing stands still. We must be on the watch for progress in new technical matters. Therefore, this committee must sit and be prepared to make up-to-date decisions.

What is important is the fact that one or two bodies have spoken to us about assurances that in selecting the United Kingdom representatives shooting interests are not left out. I declare an interest in that I enjoy my shooting and I want to see representatives of the shooting brigade on this committee.

Then there is the restriction on the sales of dead game birds. Again we are concerned about it. The Department's explanatory memorandum sets out the restrictions which are considerably loosened by the additions to the annexe of species to be sold. It would be helpful if the Minister could give us more information about the species likely to be added.

Also, we hope that the Minister will make quite clear the position of the poulterer who buys a pheasant legitimately in the open season and sells it in the close season. Will he clarify that point?

Lastly, on the question of enforcement, I hope the Minister, if he is dealing with this matter in Brussels, will make it clear that many of the penalties are far too low or small. It is ridiculous that some of these valuable birds should be taken or that their eggs should be sold at high prices and that the penalties for so doing should be so tiny. I hope that there can be some fairly tough dialogue in that respect, and I hope that the Minister will say something on the point tonight.

I have received a letter from the Food Manufacturers Federation, which slightly surprised me. It appears that the federation is still concerned about this directive because of its effect on companies that store food. One thinks of the storage of dried milk in bulk and other material stacked in storehouse premises. Birds can easily cause contamination, and there can be bird infestation of such material. The federation feels that it may be hindered from dealing drastically with bird damage to food. I hope the Minister will make the situation clear so that the federation will be able to take sudden and drastic steps to deal with heavy infestation in a factory or store where food is being processed or made. The federation would like to be reassured on this point.

There have been many stupid harmonisation measures, including provisions on tinkers' licences, exhaust pipes and motor horns, but I believe that this measure is a worthy one. The small Committee of which I was Chairman supports the measure and also the efforts of the Government in this respect.

12.8 a.m.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I find myself in a large measure of agreement with the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills). He suggested that it was appropriate that we should consider the subject of birds tonight. It is certainly idiomatically proper that we should do so, in view of the fact that on this same night the Miss World contest is taking place. The young ladies involved in that industry are more able than the feathered variety to care for themselves, and that certainly applies to the PR people involved in the presentation of the contest, who look after themselves very nicely.

We are concerned about the many hundreds of species of birds that require urgent attention in Western Europe. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is one of the more appropriate forms of harmonisation. Since this directive will be of considerable help in saving our natural heritage, it is much to be welcomed.

I am delighted that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is taking a pleasant view of this development. I believe that all interested organisations are viewing it kindly. It appears that as the process of consultation developed those bodies became more favourably disposed towards the directive. That goes for responsible bodies, such as the Wild-fowlers Association.

The proposals are broadly similar to existing United Kingdom legislation, which has been most helpful. Indeed, our reserves of wild birds are envied in many parts of the world. I believe that the present situation would not have been achieved without the response and consideration given to this matter by successive Governments. The situation has improved since last year, when the House afforded favourable consideration to the amending Bill. I was grateful for the Government's helpful attitude on that occasion. The Government has maintained their commendable concern in the ensuing months.

Reference has been made to the Select Committee on European Legislation, and we are grateful for the line taken by that Committee. Members of this House were greatly concerned, if not appalled, at the evidence in recent years of the astonishing annihilation of millions of birds in and around the Mediterranean, especially in Italy. The fact that many British people were offended is obviously of great concern to us, but we probably do not realise that the massive slaughter caused concern throughout many parts of Northern Europe. There was a great deal of feeling in Britain and other countries. That should not be regarded as meddlesome interference, as millions of the birds killed were obviously on their way to our own and other countries. The slaughter seems to be senseless as there is very little flesh on the carcase of a warbler. It is rather sad that we lost so many of these small birds for such little purpose.

I hope that the attitude that has already been suggested in this debate will not allow a weakening of the proposed position. It could mean that smaller birds receive less consideration as there seems to be some concentration upon the more unusual and exotic species.

The concern of millions has been properly borne in mind by the Community, but perhaps it is fair to make reference to other organisations. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on which I serve, has been very much involved in these matters. The political institutions of Western Europe have rightly reflected the growing pressure and great anxiety of many millions.

In common with the hon. Member for Devon, West, I am not always enthusiastic about many of the directives that we have to consider, but I believe that this one is especially welcome. That is because it is relevant to the interests of many and is broadly similar to our own legislation. It may—perhaps rightly—put a little more stress on habitat than our own legislation, but by and large it is acceptable. I am delighted that it will not require anything but minor amendment to our existing legislation.

I regard the directive favourably, especially because the Government and the Community have paid careful regard to the views of those with expert knowledge. There are many with expert knowledge in the United Kingdom. It would have been foolish for politicians and administrators to concern themselves with the matter to the exclusion of that tremendous body of expertise.

I hope that when the regular reviews take place we shall in no way depart from the splendid precedent that the Government have set of ensuring that consultation takes place with experts. I hope that that will continue. I hope that those who represent the United Kingdom's interests in future consultations will themselves be knowledgeable and will have readily available to them the considerable knowledge that exists.

One of the directive's great attractions is that member States will have to submit reports at regular intervals. They will have to subject themselves to the scrutiny of their neighbours. That places the onus upon the interested individuals and organisations. It seems that without being unnecessarily meddlesome those who are concerned with conservation will have to ensure that they keep an eye on activities throughout the Community. I suppose that this is suggesting that they be good Europeans in a conservationist sense.

The explanatory memorandum suggests that there is a possibility that night shooting will one day be specifically prohibited. I am not entirely opposed to that, but I am anxious about the definition of "night". Will that definition be in accordance with national interpretation, or is there some Community definition of which we should be aware? Secondly, will my hon. Friend offer an assurance that the use of nets, decoys and traps for recording reasons—perhaps purely for research—will not be prevented if it is carried out only by authorised and reputable persons? It is essential that we continue to maintain our knowledge of ornithology, and that sort of activity is at times necessary. My hon. Friend will do well to give an assurance in that respect.

Broadly, I agree with the species listed in the annexe, but I wonder why the red kite, the goshawk, the merlin and perhaps even the raven and the chough are excluded. In case the House suggests that I am in favour of the predator, it seems that some of the smaller and rarer warblers and the bearded tit have been omitted. There seems a possibility that the legislation for protection is weighted in favour of the more exotic.

I also regret the inclusion of one or two of the species in Annexe II, particularly the merganser and the bar-tailed godwit.

A point that may arise in the future concerns the question of a species that may be common and a nuisance in one member State, so that it is afforded no protection, but could well fly into and perhaps become resident in another member State where it becomes a rarity. There should be adequate flexibility so that the rarity can be protected rather than suffer the common condemnation that may arise from its being a nuisance in another member State.

I would not dream of asking my hon. Friend to answer those questions tonight, but I hope that he will find time to drop me a line about them. I also hope that my hon. Friend will resist any demands that the proposals should be necessarily weakened. It is essential that the species now in danger, some of them at serious risk of extinction, survive. We should accept that the basic reason for the decline of many of those species is not a change in climate or anything of that kind. It is to a large extent due to the often senseless destruction of the birds and very often the unnecessary destruction of their habitat.

I hope that the directive will be properly effective before long and that it will ensure that our future springs in Northern Europe, and certainly in the United Kingdom, will continue to witness the arrival of these migatory species which have been put at so much hazard in recent years. I hope that our summers will continue to be enriched by their colour and their song. We have a saying that one swallow does not make a summer, but a summer without the swallow would be incomplete. We must protect our natural heritage and our springs and summers. I do not think that we can do so effectively acting purely as an individual State. It is essential that the Community should take action.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) questioned the legal basis. There is a strong moral basis, but I believe that Articles 100 and 235 of the Treaty of Rome offer adequate justification in law. Law and good sense dictate the action proposed.

I am grateful that the Select Committee made it possible for us to have this debate, and I am grateful for the way in which the Government have tackled it. I only hope that the rest of Europe will follow the pattern that we have long established.

12.18 a.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I support the hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and Devon, West (Mr. Mills), and very much welcome the directive. It is one of the most sensible things to come out of the EEC for a long time. It is certainly a matter of great importance for the survival of nature. In Italy and some of the other Mediterranean countries the whole balance of nature has been disturbed by the enormous slaughter that has taken place.

On a recent visit to the dentist I read a colour supplement, I think of the Sunday Telegraph, of some months ago. Any hon. Member who has doubts about the directive should read that supplement, because it shows in startling detail exactly what has been going on, and presumably is still going on this autumn, particularly in Italy. There are the most ghastly forms of traps, liming and nets. Decoy birds are used to attract others in.

What is it all about? It is done purely for financial gain, at a time when people in Western Europe have plenty to eat and there is no need for this senseless slaughter. Between 100 million and 250 million birds are being slaughtered each year. I do not think that this country is suffering from the loss of the birds, because I understand that on the whole those that migrate to the United Kingdom probably pass through Spain, but there must be a dramatic effect on Germany.

The effect is also felt in North Africa, where pesticides and other means are having to be used to deal with pests that would have been dealt with naturally by the birds that have been killed. Therefore, this is a matter of great significance, and I congratulate every hon. Member who has had any part in assisting in the compilation of the directive, and particularly the very competent organisations operating in this country. We are fortunate to have such organisations as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We lead the world in this field. One has only to go to the RSPB's annual get-together, which was held in Nottingham this year, to see how many people come from all parts of the world to attend. We are fortunate to have that organisation's advice, and that of others, and, as the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) said, I hope that we shall continue to take it.

I would like to see the directive implemented as soon as possible. I was disappointed to learn that implementation is not expected until the middle of next year. I hope that the Minister will use all his powers to ensure that it is implemented early next year so that it becomes effective by the autumn.

There must be constant monitoring. I understand that annual reports must be presented by the countries concerned. I accept that there must be derogations. But I hope that we check that they are not bogus under the guise that certain birds are damaging to crops, for instance. This country will be honest, but I suspect that derogations might be used to avoid implementation of the regulations. We must watch that carefully.

The article in the Sunday Telegraph showed that some finches and other species were coming into Britain in dressed form for consumption. For example, thrush pâte comes here from France. We should try to prevent such imports. Are the Government doing anything about that?

I understand that there are to be two additional annexes to the directive. I believe that the fourth annexe will itemise the various traps and decoys which are to be prohibited. I am not sure what is to be in the fifth annexe. Could the Minister tell the House about it?

I am delighted to be able to speak in the House on this subject. I support everything that has been said.

12.24 a.m.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

I shall be brief, not least because I agree so whole-heartedly with everything that has been said by previous speakers. I was particularly impressed with the points made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr Ross). I shall not reiterate the matters that he raised with the Minister. I second him in the answers and assurances that he sought, particularly on the time factor. Implementation will require legislation in some member States. One wonders what the chances are of implementation within a time that most of us would regard as reasonable instead of its dragging on, permitting a continuation of the present annihilation of birds. I hope that there will be no waste of time in adopting the directive. It is of enormous significance to bird conservation.

I stress the extent to which the directive shows how the Community is often able to achieve internal advances that are beyond the capability of individual Governments. No amount of pressure over many years on particular member States which have been the principal offenders in permitting the indiscriminate slaughter of migratory birds has had any real effect. In spite of the efforts of all the bodies in this country—the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others—which have done so much valuable work in bringing these appalling circumstances to public and international attention, there had been very little effect before the Community itself stepped in. We have the culmination now in this very welcome draft directive.

I shall not name the countries which I have in mind as the worst offenders, but I can illustrate what I mean by relating one experience I had, an experience which may well be common among hon. Members on both sides who have tried to bring pressure to bear on the Governments involved. I made personal representations on the subject not long ago to one ambassador, and he told me that, while he strongly deprecated the practices in his country of which I complained—practices causing indiscriminate slaughter among birds, often by utterly distasteful methods such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight—he did not think that his Government would be able to intervene because of the fear of electoral repercussions which might result from interference with a popular recreation in his country.

What a frightful state of affairs that frank statement reflected! Clearly, it shows the value of having an international body such as the Community able to bring concerted pressure to bear in that sort of political situation.

The directive is modelled largely on our own Protection of Birds Act. There are certain improvements of detail, to which the Minister properly referred, but they appear to be more of a formal than a substantive nature for the United Kingdom. So far as I know, there is no immediate need for amendments to our statute law, but should that need arise, as it undoubtedly will in due course, I hope that the improvements contained in the directive will at that stage be formally embodied in our own law.

12.28 a.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) for the way he chaired the Select Committee and brought all the interests together. I pay tribute also to the outcome of his Committee's recommendations in that we are having this important debate tonight on an EEC instrument which breaks entirely new ground inasmuch as it is liable to affect the conduct of field sports and other matters in this country. It is right that it should be considered in detail by the House.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) may well ask what the EEC is doing considering these matters—has it run out of steam on economic matters and is now turning to the protection of birds? I must admit to some disquiet about the proposals in the directive as they existed at the time of its publication in December last year. Although its originators at that time were well intentioned, the directive showed far too much influence from the uninitiated lobby in Brussels, from people such as the Friends of the Earth, and far too little thought given at that stage to the widely differing climatic conditions throughout the Community, extending from the North of Scotland to the southern tip of Italy.

Very little consideration has been given to the role of the sportsman as a conservationist. The British Field Sports Society, with which I am involved, was particularly concerned about the position of our oldest of all field sports, falconry, and we are also concerned about the position of game farming and the nonsense of the position which was first of all stated as regards the sale of dead game birds. The House should just ponder on the dangers of uninformed opinion rushing headlong into potential legislation and measures in the name of conservation and the preservation of wild life.

When this matter was debated in the European Parliament one German Member of that Parliament actually moved an amendment which would have had the effect of making duck, woodcock and even the red-legged partridge prohibited species from the point of view of being game birds.

It was very encouraging to see the United Kingdom delegation in these matters playing for once a constructive role. We are always being accused of being rather negative in Europe, and it was very encouraging to see a former colleague of ours—Basil de Ferranti—trying to make sense of this directive in its early stages. We are all grateful for the part played by Stanley Cramp, the Ornithological Adviser to the EEC, and to Professor Geoffrey Matthews.

I want to raise two brief points on the explanatory memorandum which the Minister has laid before us. I thank him and, in particular, the officials in his Department for the way in which they have dealt with the falconry problem. It is now expressly clear that falconry will continue in member countries where it has always been practised under the terms of Article 7. In conjunction with the British Falconers Club, I should like to say how grateful we are that this matter is being left without any doubts.

The hon. Members for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) talked about the terrible things that some of our EEC partners do to birds of passage in particular, and I will not enlarge on that.

I turn to the all-important Article 9 of the directive which the Minister mentioned in his opening remarks. This is the part of the directive which allows member States to derogate under various headings from the specific terms of the directive as necessary. I think the Minister will agree that this article forms the linchpin of the directive.

I congratulate the Minister on obtaining it, and I hope that the agreement of other member States to a two-tier system of derogation whereby under the first-tier system provision will be made for this country to continue its well-established regulations will be firmly written into the final document. I hope we shall see no shifting from this situation, because the point about derogation is the most important part.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West dealt with paragraph 14 of the Minister's memorandum relating to the setting up of a technical progress committee. I hope that when the time comes for the committee to be set up its remit will be clearly defined. I should like the Minister's reassurance on this point.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that in some respects it is a pity that this directive, which is welcomed on both sides of the House, should be brought forward at such breakneck speed. At the beginning of this week we were not satisfied with it in its final form. We are now satisfied with it in its final form, but I would hope that if we are to see other measures on this aspect of the environment brought forward they will not be brought forward with such a rush and in such a higgledy-piggledy state. If it had not been for my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West, I doubt whether we should have achieved the agreement on consultations which at the last moment we have achieved.

12.35 a.m.

Mr. John Cope (Gloucestershire, South)

I strongly support the proposals contained in the directive, but it wanders a good way from the Treaty of Rome and the EEC. It is difficult to see what relevance it has to the EEC at all. It seems that the authors of the document and those handling it had a bit of a job fitting it into an appropriate article of the Treaty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) said that Articles 100 and 235 were the ones that he thought covered it. That was so in the case of the original draft of the directive, but that was a little odd, because Article 100 is the one that enables the Community to issue directives in a proper manner as affecting the establishment or functions of the Common Market. I am not sure how that could be held to lead to such a directive. Therefore, when it was revised one of the changes was the removal of the words "Article 100" and the insertion of "Article 43", which deals with common agricultural policies, provides for a conference of member States on agricultural policy and provides for proposals for the working out of the common agricultural policy itself. It also provides for a marketing organisation and deals with certain raw materials. I am not sure how those matters could give rise to such a directive.

I am a supporter of the proposals but my worry is that, trouble having been taken to get the directive right, if when it comes to the crunch someone opposes it in any one of the countries of the Community, it might fail in the courts for the reason that it does not genuinely flow from the Treaty of Rome. It is, of course, an entirely environmental directive rather than an economic one. Quite apart from the legal questions about under which article the directive fits, I have some reservations about the EEC bringing such a directive forward. There is certainly no shortage of other things for the EEC to do which are perfectly within its field and which it could spend its time considering, including the common agricultural policy—which everybody agrees is far from satisfactory. Of course, there are other international bodies a large number of which provide ways for various nations to agree on conservation measures, not only in the EEC but much more widely, and not only for birds.

Above all, the boundaries of the EEC, whatever economic and political sense they may have, are not recognised by the birds. I live near Slimbridge, which is in the constituency next door to my own, and birds—particularly geese and swans —fly there from places well outside the EEC, regularly and in large numbers. At certain times of the year the resident birds must feel a little like we do in Parliament Square in the summer, because it is difficult to see another local about.

However, at least we can unreservedly welcome the fact that discussion on the directive has led to greater European co-operation between the various organisations concerned with these matters.

In following my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, it is perhaps particularly appropriate for me to mention the new field sports organisation that he has recently helped to set up. It is also noteworthy, in looking at the proceedings of the Select Committee, which was so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), to see how close the agreement was on this occasion, as quite often, between the conservationist organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the field sports bodies such as the Field Sports Society and the WAGBI for Shooting and Conservation.

The directive is highly desirable, but constitutionally most dubious.

12.41 a.m.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

I should like to utter a word of caution. I am as keen as any hon. Member on bird preservation, and I should like to see the directive given much more force. I should like to see harmonisation at least of the contents of this regulation throughout Western Europe. But we must remember that not all of us in this House are always keen upon harmonisation of legislation. There have been occasions when we have taken the view that proposals from the EEC did not fit in with our British ideas.

It would be optimistic to think that by this House accepting this directive a similar welcome will greet it elsewhere in Europe.

I know that a number of hon. Members have tried to avoid the subject and not be beastly to the Italians, but it is possible to be beastly to the French as well and, no doubt to the Greeks and Spaniards, too, when the Community is expanded. There is a quotation about Latins making lousy lovers. I do not want to be racialist about that, but it may be true. It certainly is where birds are concerned. Of course, I am being facetious, but we must accept that countries where the hunting of birds is a traditional sport will regard the directive as an interference with their way of life. It is sad to have to admit it, but we must not be too optimistic about what we are doing.

If we cannot have harmonisation in this area we must accept that migratory birds will be preserved in this country but that their fate is to be slaughtered elsewhere in Europe. We must hope that the United Kingdom bodies associated with the protection of birds will do even more to extend their arguments into Europe.

I come back to the question of our legislation. Obviously we hold the lead in Western Europe for the preservation and protection of birds. But even our legislation lags behind the facts of life in an inflationary society. For proof of that one has only to look at the determination displayed by egg collectors in the history of the ospreys at Boat of Garten, and one has only to consider the money that can be made out of birds, bird skins, eggs and all the rest. Most of us would accept that fines imposed in this country are in many cases derisory because we are dealing with an activity which in many ways is big business.

Falconry has been mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball) said that it was an ancient sport. I have a number of falconers in my constituency. Ancient it may be, but I find it rather messy and I prefer to see it at a distance. But when one considers the value of a young falcon illegally taken, exported, smuggled and all the rest, one must accept that we are dealing with people who are criminals but are dealing in a big business. Small fines have very little effect on such people.

We have to think in terms of extending from this island the sort of sanctions that we hope will be imposed in Europe. I suggest that that will take a considerable time. There will be considerable difficulties in getting the rest of Europe to accept the attitudes that we accept on this island.

Of course, I welcome the directive. I should like to see it have more force, but that will take some time. I hope that that time will be shorter, but do not let us be too optimistic about the effects of the directive.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I was one of those who voted for the United Kingdom to enter the European Economic Community, but I do not think it was present in the minds of those who did so that at some stage we would be seeing the EEC taking over the legislative functions of this House. In fact, that is what is happening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) referred to the purported justification for this interference in the powers of this House as Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome, which he explained, and another article. A third article probably covers this subject: Article 235, which is designed to secure the objectives of the Treaty of Rome in so far as those objectives are not covered by the article concerned. This is an example of the sort of powers that exist for harmonisation. If one can have harmonisation on the protection of birds one can harmonise on anything, including, for example, firearms legislation.

How does it come about that we in this House are prepared to give up the right to control the way of life in this country and all matters concerning the way of life of our citizens to some institution beyond the seas which purports to control us and have superior authority over us? It does not have that superior authority, and we should say that this directive does not apply to British institutions because it is this House which has power over these matters and we are not going to give up those powers.

12.47 a.m.

Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston upon Thames)

I welcome the directive. Like a number of other hon. Members on both sides, I applaud the fact that it recognises that the birds of Europe are a common heritage and that their preservation is a problem which can be tackled only by international action. This is exactly the sort of problem that the European Community should be trying to tackle. It is only through international institutions that we shall ever be able to deal with the problem of preserving birds that migrate across international frontiers.

All debates on EEC matters revolve around the question of national sovereignty. There is always the danger of interfering in the affairs of other countries. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) is right in saying that the draft directive will not be received with the same enthusiasm in Italy as it has been received here tonight. Certainly, in Italy the trapping of birds is a very live political issue, and politicians wax very eloquent about it.

On the other hand, the trapping of birds in Italy causes great concern in many countries. The methods used are often indiscriminate, and when indiscriminate methods are used one can foresee that often rare birds will be trapped along with masses of other birds. When a bird is trapped by lime, it is only afterwards that one may discover that one has trapped a very rare species. Often flocks of birds such as finches will contain several species, and netting may result in the destruction of a very rare species.

It has also been shown that in some instances, such as that of the red-backed shrike, which is now becoming very rare in this country—we have fewer than 100 breeding pairs—one of the causes of the decline has been the killing of such birds in Italy. What happens to birds in Italy certainly affects our fauna.

I am glad that the directive places upon individual Governments the obligation to preserve habitats and to create the environment in which particularly rare species can be preserved. Some would argue that this is better than having fines. I am not sure that this is the case. Having a suitable habitat or suitable environment will not alone deal with the problem. If we are to have effective preservation measures it is also necessary to have a system of fines and one that takes into account all the changes in the value of money.

I noticed recently a case mentioned in the papers in which people had attempted to sell a peregrine falcon for £2,000. Even under the latest change in legislation the maximum fine that could have been imposed is £500. It is difficult to get information about the prices prevailing in the market because people are naturally reluctant to disclose the details of what goes on. There is little doubt that fines do not bear any relationship to the prices actually obtained in the market for birds illegally taken.

I have one or two points to make about the species in the annexes. It is surprising that the chuff is not in Annexe 1. It seems to be disappering from large areas of Europe and the population has certainly shrunk in certain areas of this country. I would have thought that the red-footed falcon was perhaps a candidate for inclusion in Annexe 1 as well as the great skua, although that breeds only in the Shetland Islands. Looking at the other annexes it seems strange that the wood pigeon is classified only as a game species since I would have thought that there was an argument for classifying it as a pest species. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) might be interested to know that in the annexe dealing with game birds it is only the male capercaillie and the male black grouse that are classified as game birds. Despite the fact that they are polygamous birds, I cannot see the logic for that distinction.

I reiterate what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) said about Article 9. While I appreciate the arguments that have led to some modification of the powers of derogation, if this is to be meaningful it is essential that some powers should remain with the Commission. If that does not happen we shall find that the directive will be passed by national Governments but nothing will be done in individual countries to create the reservations and habitats necessary and which, according to the directive, national Governments should take action to create.

Apart from these small points, I warmly applaud the details of the directive and commend it to the House.

12.54 a.m.

Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I apologise to the Front-Bench speakers for being unable to be present at the commencement of the debate. With the Miss World contestants busy outside it is indeed a night for the birds. The important points have been well made by hon. Members. I want to reiterate three of them.

First, I am sure that we are all agreed that the principles behind the directive are excellent, well argued and cogently placed before the House, but the concern must be whether they can be implemented and whether the principles can lead to a really effective contribution towards conservation. In this connection, although there may not be countries which are party to these discussions at this stage, I ask whether there have been discussions particularly with Spain, in view of the vast importance of the Spanish hinterland to migratory birds and their preservation.

Secondly, the question of the authority of the Commission to offer directives in this field was raised, and I think the House should recall the importance of maintaining a balance of nature within our environment. Agriculturalists would certainly argue that the preservation of bird life has a most important bearing on pest control, even though there are many modern methods of trying to improve yields and reduce pests. Nature's predators are sometimes the most effective in dealing with many of the problems of our farmers.

Thirdly, the international application of this matter is obviously very important and quite consistent with the way in which these conservation measures have been tackled in the past. The United Kingdom has been a signatory to a number of international obligations. A recent one was the Ramsar Convention on the Preservation of Wetlands. I have yet to see the Government following that up, or any decisions from the Department of the Environment which favour it.

We have had discussions with the hon. Gentleman's Department on the Tees-mouth project and on the Somerset wetlands, which we are not entirely satisfied have been given the true status of preservation which their rarity requires. This is a very sound way of proceeding, because we cannot preserve our heritage in isolation here in the United Kingdom. Bird life is an international heritage and it is only by international agreement that we can make some real progress towards solving some of the problems of preservation.

We have to bear in mind that the pressures towards conservation rest largely upon the backs of voluntary bodies, and tribute has been rightly paid in the debate to those—led, I suspect, by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and by the sporting interests, which have all played their part in this. But as we look to the future of European conservation we must wonder whether we shall obtain some support from voluntary bodies in other Community countries. In Italy there is not only the greatest slaughter of wild birds on migration. It is also the country with the least number of voluntary conservationists. There number—they do a remarkable job of work—is about 60,000, whereas in this country the RSPB has several hundred thousand members in the field, all helping to raise both money and enthusiasm to protect the wild heritage which we enjoy so much.

In debating these issues we must recognise that the contribution we can perhaps most effectively make is to encourage the establishment of voluntary bodies to take forward the legislative proposals which are before the House and to translate them into effective action, which so often means merely watching developments to make certain that actions are not taken by Governments or other interested parties which ignore the importance of maintaining a balance in nature and conservation.

It is good to have a directive of this kind, which has wholehearted support on both sides of the House, and I am sure that we all wish it well.

12.59 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I too, should like to applaud the hard work which has evidently gone into this directive. In the course of the debate the truth has gradually emerged as to what this is all about. I think it is a question of ganging up on Italy.

I can claim to have been present at the death of the last Italian woodcock. This happened in a pinewood in Ravenna not far behind the Eight Army Front in March 1945. My childish recollections of Italy are most vivid for the shops one saw in places such as Milan, where the game dealers had whole slabs covered with tiny birds which were eagerly bought by the inhabitants. I think that, in doing what we have done, we have to consider that there has grown up in Italy a certain vested interest in this sort of thing, and that we should perhaps try to make practical suggestions on how to deal with it.

I want to turn the Minister's attention to Sturnus vulgaris, which is in Annexe II. It is a serious problem in this country. It is doing serious damage to our forests. So far as I can see, the Government are doing nothing about it. I do not know what the practical problems are, but perhaps the Government could try using helicopters to see whether they would be of use in dealing with the problem. Perhaps Sturnus vulgaris, if it could be dealt with in quantity, could be exported to Italy and appear on the slabs of the game dealers of Milan and elsewhere. In that way, we might get more co-operation from the Italians in dealing with this legislation.

There is another bird that I much dislike in Annex II—Steptopelia decaoctoa, a comparatively recent immigrant. I am rather shocked to see that it is a game bird in only some of the countries of the Community. Is it not possible to get some harmonisation here? The countries which do not seem to treat it as a game bird are quite small. Surely it is possible to bully the small countries in the Community and make them come into line and have it recognised as a game bird all over the Common Market.

Talking of Italy, it occurs to me that the Vatican City is a member of the EEC. When I was in Rome this year, I did not observe any doves hovering even over St. Peter's Square. We should inquire whether shooting takes place by cardinals out of Vatican windows.

I add my praise to an excellent piece of work, and I hope that the Government will take seriously their obligations under Article 2, because it is so very relevant to the whole problem of Stanzas vulgaris.

1.3 a.m.

Mr. Marks

I thank all those who have spoken for their contributions. This has been one of the most pleasant debates on Community legislation that I have ever taken part in or attended. Rarely can any Minister have had such a pleasant ride. It may be because the "shooting brigade" is here—and I do not mean the usual shooting brigade which attends Community debates.

This is not just a question of the House taking note of a Community directive but of Ministers taking note of what the House says, and I assure hon. Members that I shall do so. I shall not go into detail on the species that have been mentioned, particularly by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More).

We shall examine all the points that have been made in the debate.

The only note in the debate of the usual Community character, was that about the articles. I accept that Article 100 is not relevant in this case and that there are doubts about Article 43. But I am advised that Article 235 of the Treaty of Rome allows the Community to do anything relevant to its functions with the agreement of all of its members.

We in this House have always accepted that environmental concerns are a proper area of Community authority, and much of the work done in my Deparament—on air pollution, for example—is, as the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) said, a very important part of the harmonisation process.

Mr. Cope

The hon. Gentleman said that Article 235 covers this matter in effect. But I understand that it provides a blanket permission to do things subject to the rules for achieving the objectives of the EEC. As far as I am aware, the objectives of the EEC as stated in the Treaty of Rome do not include harmonisation of the environment—and Lord preserve it from ever becoming one of them.

Mr. Marks

For this evening's debate, at any rate, I shall take it that the House has already debated a number of matters concerning the environment. With all the points that have been raised, I do not know whether we should be discussing that at present.

The hon. Member for Devon, West raised a number of matters. He asked whether it was right to attempt to apply common standards throughout the Community. We believe that there are certain common principles of bird conservation, such as the general prohibition of the killing or capture of birds with a limited number of clearly defined exceptions—the prohibitions that I have mentioned. Birds migrate from one country to another. Last year—and this year as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) pointed out—there was great concern in this country and in others, including Italy, about the mass slaughter of migratory birds that takes place. This directive provides a means of enforcing these common principles on all Governments in the Community, and I have no reason to believe that the Governments in the Community have any fundamental objection to it.

The derogations procedure provides the flexibility needed to take account of different national problems, though I take note of what was said by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) about not allowing too much, perhaps, to national derogation. However, the feeling in the group at present is that all of it should go to national derogations, with a sort of retrospective look at them by the Commission. I shall note what the hon. Gentleman said on that point.

Of course, it is desirable to extend the principles beyond the limits of the EEC. We are already involved in discussions in the Council of Europe and with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature about further conventions on this subject. We hope that Spain will take part in the conventions. However, these are some way off, and we cannot yet be sure how effective they will be.

I am convinced that it is right to start at the Community level. Then we can use the directive as a basis for these wider discussions, as our own Acts have been used as the basis for this directive.

On the question of representation on the Technical Progress Committee, I think that representation of all the interests—the Friends of the Earth, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the shooting brigade, as it has been called tonight—would be unworkable. We consider that Government representation is the only practical way of proceeding. However, it is our intention to consult all relevant interests over the work of this committee, just as we have consulted on the directive.

On the sale of dead game birds, I can only repeat that there is a difference of view on this point in the group. Some of those we have consulted would like to see the number of dead game birds that can be sold severely limited to traditional delicacies, such as grouse, partridges and pheasants, as the Commission has proposed. They argue that many species can stand shooting for sport but not shooting for sale. This difference has been mirrored in the discussions in the working party, where some 60 species have been proposed for addition to the particular schedule. I can only say that we shall consider carefully the views expressed in the House this evening on the ongoing discussions and in particular when the directive comes before the Council of Ministers.

On the point about sales in the close season, we in the United Kingdom believe at present that the ban on the sale of dead game birds in the close season should be maintained, despite the advent of deep freezers. Without such a ban the temptation to ignore the close season is that much greater. However, it is clear that many of our partners, in indeed, the European Parliament, do not agree with this view. Fortunately, it is likely that the directive will allow member States to keep more stringent provisions of this nature in their own legislation. One again we shall consider carefully the views that have been expressed.

On the question of deficiencies in the existing legislation, raised by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder), my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) and others, it seems likely that some amendments will be required to the Protection of Birds Acts as a result of this directive. When we deal with that, we shall certainly take the opportunity of considering whether other amendments to such Acts, such as increases in penalties should be proposed at the same time.

I realise that enforcement is a problem. It is a problem for us and it is probably even greater for the Italians, but increasingly there is public support and education in this field. This is having an effect in this country. We believe that international action of this kind will provide that pressure in other countries.

A number of different ways of dealing with derogations has been proposed and we still have to agree on a final form of the procedure. However, whatever procedure is adopted, we intend to ensure that we are still free to deal with the problems of public health and safety, aircraft safety and agricultural pests, and the needs of falconry, aviculture, rearing and veterinary educational and scientific work in a proper manner. Indeed we have taken a leading part in the group establishing these needs so that they are fully taken into account in the directive.

Reference was made to a letter from the Food Manufacturers' Association. It is thinking in terms of the first of the draft directives. We are fully aware of the need for food manufacturers to deal with public health problems caused by birds. As I said in opening the debate, the article dealing with derogations from the directive has been completely redrafted and now specifically allows derogations in the interest of public health and safety.

The Federation is one of the bodies which has been consulted on the directive, and the position was explained by my officials at a meeting on 12th October at which the Federation was represented. If it is still worried when it considers the revised memorandum, I shall look at it again. I do not think the Federation will have any need to be worried.

I am grateful for the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Hardy). He has apologised for having left the Chamber; he had to be in Yorkshire very early tomorrow morning. At times his speech was quite poetic. He asked me to define the word "night ". I do not think one could ask anyone in this House to define "night" —we never seem to know whether it is night or day. There is no intention to prohibit night shooting, there is no reference to it in the directive and no definition, so I shall not try to define it. My hon. Friend mentioned a number of species, which I shall deal with later. The list in the annexe is far from agreed upon, but I shall look at the species that he mentioned.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight talked about effectiveness before next Autumn. Normally there is a two-year period for implementation by member Governments, and we, with our parliamentary programme as it is, will need another year before we can get amendments on this matter through the House, the hon. Member mentioned Annexe 5, which lists types of research that member States are required to carry out in the directive.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) congratulated the Government, and I am grateful to him. I know that he will not congratulate us on Wednesday when we are talking about otters. I know that the Belgian presidency is very keen to get this before the Council of Ministers on 12th December, but I am afraid that it probably will be discussed for the political points to be raised, then referred back to the working party. We welcome all the speed that we can get on this matter.

I have mentioned the point about penalties which the hon. Member for Clitheroe raised. I can certainly assure him that in the Department we looked seriously at this point. He has mentioned wetlands. We are in difficulties here. One of my problems is that I deal with applications for mineral planning and also with areas of outstanding natural beauty, and invariably I find that they are in the same place.

I should like to thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, especially at such a late hour. I assure them that we shall take note of all that has been said in the discussions.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/3265/76 and R/1961/77 on the preservation of birds.

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