HC Deb 13 July 1981 vol 8 cc884-6

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Wildlife and Countryside Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Gummer.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee) again considered.

Mr. Hardy

In the last few months, as I was saying, Mr. Owen has released six barn owls, nine kestrels and 12 tawny owls. In the last few years he has taken, cured where they have been injured or sick and tended, birds of that kind. He has released large numbers, including a honey buzzard, so that a honey buzzard is now breeding close to my constituency as a result of that gentleman's sterling efforts. He takes the injured hawks, owls and falcons from the police or the RSPCA, or individuals advised by those bodies, and wherever possible he releases them in the wild.

I believe that the House will regard Mr. Owen's efforts as commendable. He has enriched the fauna of the Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire area significantly over the last decade. I am pleased to have Mr. Owen doing that good work in my constituency. I hope that he will not find his work affected, in regard to caring for and releasing barn owls or any other species. I hope that the Minister can take this opportunity to give an assurance that that commendable activity can be maintained.

The barn owl is listed in schedule 1. That suggests that it is a relatively rare breeding bird in Britain. The Minister will agree that it breeds regularly in captivity. It is possible that birds currently held in captivity could provide for a self-sustaining population, given a degree of co-operation between the breeders, although that may not exist at present.

Barn owls are regularly advertised for sale in a number of journals. Those birds are usually close-ringed, implying that they have been bred in captivity. The Protection of Birds Act requires that barn owls offered for sale are aviary-bred and close-ringed. There is evidence that barn owls that have been ringed illegally are being advertised and sold. They are ringed closely in the nest in the wild and then taken into captivity. The owner then pretends that they have been legally bred and, therefore, that he can legally sell them. Although the barn owl breeds regularly in captivity, the level of abuse in the close ringing of birds in the nest in the wild, coupled with the fact that the bird is listed in schedule 1, warrants the removal of the barn owl from this schedule.

It will be interesting to hear the Minister's comments on those three species and how he can explain the illogicality of leaving the jay and the jackdaw in the schedule, now that the rook has been removed. I hope that he will respond favourably, particularly in regard to the barn owl. I await his comments on my constituent Mr. Owen and his ability to carry on his commendable activity.

Mr. King

I shall respond to the amendments. We seem also to be discussing amendment No. 18, on the barn owl, which has not been selected, if I am correct.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Amendment No. 18 is a Government amendment.

Mr. King

That cannot be the amendment on the barn owl. We shall check that. I believe that line 18 refers to the barn owl. There has been a technical hitch. I think that one of my advisers cannot read the difference between lines 17 and 18. We shall return to that matter.

As an aside, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for drawing my attention to the fact that the proper name for the jay is garrulus glandarius, which seems a suitable name for a lot of people whom I know.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Name them.

Mr. King

One can think of one or two members of the House to whom it might apply.

This is a difficult series of amendments. We are talking of removing from the list of birds that can be kept in captivity those that can be taken from the wild without licence and that can be shot at any time—those for which there is no protection whatsoever. We are seeking, none the less, to impose a special restraint, in that those birds may not be kept in captivity, notwithstanding the fact that the only birds that could be kept in captivity in that way would be close-ringed and would, therefore, have had to be bred in captivity.

Difficult issues are involved. I believe that there are differing views in the House on the pursuit of aviculture. The position of aviculturists is a matter of controversy among hon. Members. So we do not approve of the pastime; others believe that it is perfectly respectable and well merited.

The Government are concerned that some aspects of the Bill may be seen by aviculturists as an attack on their interests. That is not the intention. Far from being an attack on their hobby or pastime, the Bill is the first serious attempt to give it permanent and defensible status and to make clear that it operates within clearly defined rules.

The amendments of the hon. Member for Rother Valley affect those difficult issues. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to remove from the list birds for which otherwise it would appear that society has no regard. It is a difficult area of judgment. It is not clear what the numbers would be. The advisory committee considered it reasonable not to put any impediment in the way of keeping those species, even though the records are sparse.

The hon. Gentleman could argue that there is no clear logic in the present position. However, we are trying to strike a reasonable balance in the pursuit of aviculture, and believe that we should give aviculturists the benefit of the doubt. The list concerns only birds that can be shown to be ringed and bred in captivity. Although the argument may not be enormously convincing, I hope that he will feel able to ask leave to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Hardy

Would the Minister deal with the point that I raised about Mr. Owen?

Mr. King

There was a slight technical hitch, and it was thought that the amendment referred to the magpie and not the barn owl. It would seem an admirable achievement for Mr. Ower to have contributed to the wildlife in the area through his breeding success.

Mr. Hardy

My amendment deals with the barn owl, and I hope that that matter can be resolved.

Mr. Owen and people like him tend birds, particularly rare ones, such as owls, hawks and falcons, which are difficult to release in the wild if they are to survive. People like Mr. Owen require an assurance that they can carry on with that activity, despite the fact that the birds may not be ringed and may not have to be licensed. Perhaps the Minister would consider that point and write to me, so that Mr. Owen and people like him can be reassured that they are not breaking the law. If the Minister will agree to that, it would be discourteous of me to press the amendment.

Mr. King

I certainly give that assurance.

Mr. Hardy

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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