HC Deb 20 December 1989 vol 164 cc563-74 5.52 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

When the topic of the international trade in birds, fish and rain forest reptiles was drawn in the ballot, there was a certain curiosity among parliamentary colleagues as to who would answer the debate.

One of my hon. Friends said that it was a matter for the Treasury because it controlled Customs and Excise. No, said another colleague. He thought it was a matter for the Foreign Office because, he said, one had to tackle action by the Governments of rain forest countries at source. In any event, as I was told yesterday in reply to a parliamentary question, it is a matter for Community directives.

Another opinion was that it was a matter for the Overseas Development Administration because it was really about habitat and the provision of habitat for rain forest birds.

The Department of Trade and Industry telephoned me—assuming that it was its responsibility—wanting to know what I would say in the debate. The Secretary of State's private secretary said that it was a matter of trade, so she wanted to know what I intended to ask because it would probably be dealt with by the DTI.

By that time I had already telephoned the private secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. But another colleague had the feeling that the Department of the Environment was probably involved, since it was responsible for CITES.

No, said one of my hon. Friends, who thought it was for the Department of Transport, since the wretched animals came in by air, and, in any case, it was a matter for International Air Transport Association regulations.

A senior colleague was definite in his opinion. He thought it was for the Home Office, which had animal welfare responsibilities. Yet another colleague thought it was a matter for the Department of Health, which was responsible for the quarantine regulations.

An irreverent Conservative Member, a friend of mine whose name will not be dragged from me, commented, "The answer is for you to get the Government Whips to tell the Prime Minister to come to the House to answer your debate at about half-past five in the morning." But I fear that even the daunting presence of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) on the Government Whips Bench, combined with the forces of the Opposition Chief Whip—both of whom have done me the courtesy of being present—would not be wholly persuasive in getting the Prime Minister out of her bed to answer my debate.

I think that Whitehall is very good at dealing wth matters that come within the orbit of one or two Departments, but when a subject comes between 10 Departments there tends often to be a falling between stools. My first request is that it is established which is the lead Department to deal with the problem which I have chosen to raise. I am not silly enough to suggest that there should be a Minister devoted especiclly to it, but it is important that there should be a lead Department and clear responsibilities.

Incidentally, although I am not an uncritical admirer of the Prime Minister, I believe that she cares about rain forests. I acknowledge that £100 million has been earmarked. We wait with great interest to learn how that will be spread and used, but that is a slightly different subject.

I decided that I would approach the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as soon as I learned that I had been successful in the ballot, partly because I think that MAFF is an extremely effective Department and partly because I was extremely well received by the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) when he was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry. After I went to Whitehall court, he took great trouble to follow up our meeting and to pursue the matter as best he could.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), the Parliamentary Secretary, is on the Government Front Bench, because he is a Scot and he knows the Highlands. In all my discussions in Brasilia and with other foreigners who are interested in rain forests, I begin with the same few sentences. I say that I come from a country where we have cut down a great deal of our ancient Caledonian forest. I explain that we still have problems at Abernethy, as the Minister knows, with the Mondhvie wood. I acknowledge that we are not in a position to lecture others, especially when we are destroying our peat bogs rapidly to provide garden peat.

Although there is a world problem, I do not think that it serves great purpose to go through the awful and powerful stories that have appeared in the newspapers, especially—to their credit—the tabloids. I shall quote Sian James of Today, however. The article of 31 October reads: The beautiful young bird screeches in pain as its wings are severed with a machete before hunters nail it to a stake in the forest floor. Its pitiful shrieks ring through the trees. The cries attract others in the flock who fly to investigate and are themselves trapped. This stomach-churning brutality is an everyday scene". I do not know whether that is an exaggeration. I can say only that when I was at the Altimera conference I saw parrots for sale. I asked about the position and I was told, rather movingly, "The man who is selling the parrots has seven children to feed." We must be extremely careful about making moral judgments. Many of those who do the trapping undertake it for a pittance, but considerable sums are made elsewhere.

I refer to a powerful article that appeared in last Sunday's edition of The Observer. It was written by Peter Beaumont and Polly Ghazi. It seems to show that there is an action plan in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I may be doubly fortunate in securing the debate because I take the opportunity of saying— I have given warning of this—that I would like to know whether the story in The Observer is accurate. I hope that it is.

I should add that scientists such as Peter Furley and Jim Raffa—who are distinguished Edinburgh university professors as well as professors at Brazilian universities and have taken part in the Maraca project—confirm much of the difficulty with the Amazon.

I gave notice to the private secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that I was to make a glancing reference to the problem of the Yanomami. The new Brazilian President was the guest of the Government and many hon. Members met him. I do not know how tactful it is to make a plea about the Yanomami, but I shall read the all-party motion that will be tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer). It reads: That this House expresses its grave concern for the Indian people of Brazil and in particular the Yanomami people; notes that the Brazilian Constitution requires Indian land to be demarcated; is encouraged that on 22 October the Brazilian Federal Court gave legal protection to all Yanomami lands; notes with concern however that the Yanomami's future is threatened by the invasion of their land by mineral prospectors, approximately 45,000 of whom have begun prospecting since 1987; notes with concern that these developments have led to the introduction of diseases such as an epidemic increase of malaria cases, flu, venereal diseases, and respiratory diseases, as well as large scale pollution of the environment by mercury poisoning of rivers and deforestation which have serious and detrimental impact on the livelihood of the Yanomami through crop devastation and the disappearance of fish and game; urges Her Majesty's Government to work with and encourage other Governments and international agencies to support the Brazilian Government in its efforts to demarcate Indian lands and to enforce the removal of prospectors from Yanomami lands and in particular looks forward to the day when the Yanomami people are able to live in peace and the environment in which they live is protected and restored. I pay tribute to Roy Trevidy and his colleagues at Oxfam for taking an intense interest in the problem. I pay tribute also to our excellent embassy in Brazil, which is led by the ambassador Michael Newington. It has sent Mr. Morris and other senior colleagues to the Yanomami lands. I make no criticism of the British embassy.

The problem is not only Brazil. Last week, I was the guest of the Association of South-East Asian Nations high commissioners. I asked a parliamentary question about what studies had been made of the situation of indigenous peoples of the rain forests of Sarawak; what were the results of such studies"? The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs replied: We have noted reports of the arrest of nomadic Penan tribespeople for blockading logging roads. The Malaysian authorities are aware of international interest in the effects of deforestation on the global environment and on tribespeople. We have expressed concern to the Malaysian authorities, who state that their aim is to resettle the Penans and provide education, health care and an improved quality of life."— [Official Report, 11 December 1989; Vol. 163, c. 497.] I met some Penans, who are very primitive people, in Borneo, in the 1960s. They may want to continue their own way of life. It may be to the advantage of the world if they do so, because they may be the best guardians of the forest. I say that to show that it is not simply a south American problem.

I am greatly indebted to Tony Juniper and Christoph Imboden of the International Council for Bird Preservation, which is primarily concerned with the conservation of species. It is therefore of great concern that they have learnt that the number of birds dying in each consignment entering Britain continually averages between 13 and 20 per cent. In answer, I think that the Minister gave a figure of 13.7 per cent. The recent consignment of birds from Tanzanian en route through Heathrow to Miami is a good example of the scale of the problem.

Just one consignment totalled over 8,700 birds, but over 1,200 individuals died. That is within the percentage loss that appears to be generally accepted by the authorities and importers, not only in Britain but worldwide. In the United States, the figures for deaths range from 14 to 24 per cent. Current public feeling to animals must not accept that figure. If it were dogs, cats or horses in trade, such figures would be totally unacceptable.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food figures, compiled through its quarantine regulations, show that, in 1987, almost 170,000 birds other than poultry were imported into Britain. Almost all those birds will be destined for the commercial trade. United States figures show that over 99 per cent. of all birds imported are used in the pet shop and commercial trade. There is no reason to suspect different figures for this country.

While detailed figures are available on this trade in other countries, there are no comparative figures available in this country. For example, in the United States in 1985, over 18,000 grey parrots were imported and almost 2,700 died. No such specific comparable figures are available in the United Kingdom.

Birds are not the only animal commodity traded in such numbers. Tropical fish, both marine and freshwater, imported into Britain alone total over 400 million. The trade generally accepts a mortality figure of around 5 per cent. to 10 per cent., but that accounts for 40 million individuals.

Obviously a total ban on the trade in animals for commercial trade is ideal, but the present climate would never accept such a measure. However, limiting the trade to those individuals which are captive bred will certainly reduce the trade and the mortality figures. Interim measures which could be easily implemented include a stronger resolve by Governments to get to grips with this problem and to implement the CITES checklist scheme.

The problem experienced by the International Air Transport Association is very important. It is vital that the dialogue between the CITES secretariat, through the standing committee, and the live animals board of the International Air Transport Association, the Animal Air Transport Association and the International Office of Epizootics be continued; that applicants for export permits or re-export certificates should be notified that, as a condition of issuance, they are required to prepare and ship live specimens in accordance with IATA live animals regulations for the transport of live specimens by air and the CITES guidelines for transport of live specimens for marine or terrestrial shipments; that to assist enforcement officers, CITES export permits or re-export certificates should be accompanied by a crating check list to be signed immediately prior to shipment by a person designated by a CITES management authority, the person so designated being familiar with the live animals regualtions; that where parties to the convention have designated ports of entry and exit, animal holding facilities should be provided; that parties be encouraged to gather information on mortality occurring during transport and to note obvious causes of such mortality; that to the extent possible, parties should ensure that animal holding facilities are open for inspection of shipments, with the concurrence of the transport company, by CITES-designated enforcement personnel or designated observers; and that any documented information be made available to the appropriate authorities and transport companies.

Those are all matters for the Department of Transport. I hope that officials at that Department will read the Hansard record of this debate and will write to me at their convenience about it. As soon as I knew that I was to have this opportunity to raise the subject, I phoned the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to inform the officials there of the matters that I considered to be their responsibilities. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to my points.

I am greatly indebted to Mark Love, the senior legal adviser to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; to Gerry Lloyd, the RSPCA's parliamentary liaison officer; and to the RSPCA chief inspector at the sharp end, Andy Foxcroft, for helping me to formulate my questions.

First, what criteria are applied by the Ministry in granting licences under the Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979? For example, does the Minister take note of any relevant previous convictions for importation offences? It seems to me that those convicted of habitual and repeated offences should not be allowed to continue in trade.

Secondly, is there any liaison between the Department of the Environment and MAFF when an individual applies to import protected species of birds and seeks the necessary licences from the respective DOE and MAFF departments? Specifically, is it the case that MAFF says, "We are interested only in hygiene," and that the DOE says, "We are interested only in the convention in CITES"? That is my impression. If I am wrong, I am sure that I will be told.

Thirdly, does the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food require production of the relevant Department of the Environment licence for protected species of birds before issuing an import licence under the Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979?

Fourthly, are there any controls or checks to prevent dealers from importing protected species of birds by multiple applications for import licences for family pet birds? I am concerned about this matter. There are dealers who, under the guise of family import, bring in up to six birds—that is their entitlement—and are making multi applications. That is an abuse of the system. It is what happens particularly in relation to valuable birds. Some birds and parrots are extremely valuable—we are talking about thousands of pounds.

Fifthly, when protected species of birds are imported through the animal quarantine station at Heathrow, who checks that the necessary Department of the Environment licence has been granted and complied with? At present, there is only a MAFF licence.

Sixthly, what inquiries and checks are made that imports of protected species of fauna under zoo licences are for zoological study rather than for import into the commercial trade? The zoo directors and Roger Wheater in Edinburgh in particular are concerned about this matter. People should not be deprived of pets, but they should be captive-bred. Captive-bred parrots make much better pets.

Seventhly, on how many occasions in 1987, 1988 and 1989 have officials from Customs and Excise asked to see the relevant documentation supporting protected species in transit through the United Kingdom to a third non-EEC country, as provided by article 5.4 of EEC regulation 3626/82?

Eighthly, in the recent transit flight involving protected species of birds, in which over 1,200 flamingos died—it is greedy to bring in that number of birds; it is disgraceful —did any officer of the animal quarantine station ask to see all the relevant CITES export documents, as provided in 5.4 of EEC regulation 3626/82? Why did the animal quarantine station not call in Customs to check the relevant CITES paperwork?

Ninthly, what inquiries and checks are made to ensure that protected species of birds that are imported as captive-bred birds are captive-bred? I suspect that there is a great deal of labelling that birds are captive-bred when they are nothing of the kind because they were brought in and, therefore, supposed to be cheaper. That will not do.

Tenthly, why are family pet birds that are the subject of CITES protection imported in ports other than Heathrow? On 13 December in a question, which was answered on 18 December, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I asked: what are the implications for the enforcement of regulations concerning the Wildlife Trade and the implementation of CITES of the effect on specialist skills, including intelligence gathering and criminal identifications, resulting from the proposed move of the Custom and Excise Endangered Species Branch from London to Southend. I am not at all happy about the Economic Secretary's answer. He said: There is no reason to suppose that the proposed relocation from London to Southend of the small group of Customs and Excise HQ staff dealing with import and export controls on endangered species will have any significant effect on the level of enforcement".—[Official Report, 18 December 1989; Vol. 164, c. 28.] That may be a technically correct answer, but like the rest of us, the Customs officials have families. It is a question of moving, and it may not be easy for them. I do not know what their personal circumstances are—whether they have mortgages, or kids at school, or whatever. However, for one reason or another, justified or unjustified, the unit seems to be being broken up. That is a tragedy, because comparatively few people have the expertise to make the decisions that are so necessary. Possibly that matter could be taken up.

Lastly, I cannot resist returning to a subject that I raised with the Scottish Office at 3.15 this afternoon. Why has the Scottish Office refused the eminently reasonable request of the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) for an independent chairman of the Science Co-ordinating Committee? I am profoundly unhappy about the break-up of the Nature Conservancy Council. That is a matter for the green Bill and for debate elsewhere, but those who go about breaking up the NCC and its expertise should think, and think again, about the effect of that on the subject that I have raised. I thank the Whips, my Chief Whip and the Minister for their presence.

6.15 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean)

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has done well to raise a subject of great concern to the House. Clearly, it is a matter on which he is campaigning most ardently and with an impressive depth of knowledge. I thank him for his customary kindness and courtesy to me and to those others who have been present at this hour of the morning to listen and respond to his debate.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman made at the start of his speech—that responsibility for this problem, depending on which aspect is of greatest concern, could cross many departmental boundaries. I assure him that there is considerable liaison between the various Departments depending on whether the problem at the time relates to welfare or transport or is a Foreign Office responsibility. The hon. Gentleman, who has considerable experience of the machinery of government and how it works, will appreciate that it is not possible on any one subject to designate one Department as being in the lead on all occasions. It depends on the problem being highlighted at the time.

I am delighted that on this occasion not just the buck but the African Gray stops here and I have the chance to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased to respond to him for another reason, which is entirely unrelated to his debate. The last time the hon. Gentleman and I met properly in a debate in the House was on a Committee when as a Back Bencher I decided to rise to support a new Government initiative allowing grants to be given for dry stone walls. It must have been five or six years ago—

Mr. Dalyell

Yes, I remember.

Mr. Maclean

I made my little speech on the importance of dry stone walls and the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to jump to his feet immediately after me and to stress that I was absolutely right and that dry stone walls—or dry stone "dykes" as he said—were vital to the rural economy. The hon. Gentleman spent five minutes making sensible and erudite points to back up what I had said, much to consternation of all my hon. Friends, who were surprised to see the hon. Member for Linlithgow entirely agreeing with everything that I said. They told me that my promotion prospects were ruined for ever. Thankfully, that was not the case, and the hon. Gentleman and I have both gone on to greater things.

I should like to make our position quite clear on the import trade in wild-caught birds. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made clear in The Observer newspaper at the weekend, we are not happy that large numbers of birds should have to die—whether on capture, during handling and transport or after arrival in this country—for no better reason than to make money or to be a status symbol for the owner who buys them. I question the morality of the whole trade. If it is necessary for birds of exotic species to be caged in this country, it is surely better that they should have been bred in captivity, as the hon. Gentleman said. In that way, the mortality would be reduced and wild birds could continue to adorn their natural habitat. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, and it is also my understanding, captive-bred birds are much more likely to provide responsive and amenable pets.

The hon. Member referred to the details of a study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food into mortalities of imported birds, which was made available yesterday. The figures cover all birds arriving at post-import quarantine premises during 1988. They are not capable of separation into birds that were captured in the wild and any other categories, but the statistics are divided into birds dead on arrival at quarantine premises and those which die during the statutory quarantine period.

I understand that the study provides the first comprehensive survey of its type, and as such it will be an important basis for deciding on any subsequent measures. It reveals that of 185,000 birds, 5,000 were dead on arrival and a further 21,000 died during quarantine. The overall average mortality rate was 13.7 per cent. Those losses are in addition to unquantified deaths during capture and subsequent handling and transport in the country of origin, for which we have no figures. Clearly losses are higher for certain bird species and for certain individual countries than for others. There can be no doubt that there is a major problem and the unfortunate cargo of flamingoes and other birds that recently transited Heathrow en route to Miami further highlighted the problem. I shall refer to that incident later.

The natural initial reaction of anyone confronted with the problem is to ask for a unilateral ban on imports of these birds. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, that simple remedy is not open to us. We would immediately run foul of our international obligations both as members of the Community and under the general agreement on tariffs and trade. Nor are there powers to restrict the imports of birds on welfare grounds, either under the EC regulation 3626/82, which implements CITES within the Community, or under the Endangered Species (Import/ Export) Act 1976, which is, of course, Department of the Environment legislation.

As the hon. Member is fully aware, my Department is responsible both for ensuring appropriate disease protection arrangements and for safeguarding the welfare of birds, and indeed all animals, during transport and on landing. Taking disease protection first, the Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979 is designed to reduce the risk of certain bird diseases, especially Newcastle disease, being introduced into the country by way of imported birds or poultry. Applicants for licences under the order must confirm the availability of appropriate quarantine premises which, except for pet birds, have to be inspected and approved by MAFF veterinary staff before licences are issued.

Mr. Dalyell

Quite often pigeons from France bring Newcastle disease.

Mr. Maclean

That is a fair point. However, we must ensure that it does not enter the country through birds going through the quarantine regulations.

Applicants must nominate the means of transport from points of landing to the quarantine premises and provide the names of local veterinary inspectors to supervise those quarantine premises. Applicants must also undertake to comply with our import conditions which, among other things, include a requirement that imported birds are accompanied by the prescribed health certificate signed by an official veterinarian in the exporting country. In those circumstances, there is no power to refuse to issue a licence as long as those criteria are met.

Liaison between the Ministry and the Department of the Environment in relation to individual import licences is not normally required, but all applicants for a licence under the 1979 order are told that they should contact the DoE in case a licence is required by that Department. Licences issue under the 1979 order make it clear that they provide no exemption from the need to obtain a DoE licence if appropriate, but there is no requirement for the issue of a MAFF licence to be conditional upon the production of a DoE licence.

All applications for import licences under the 1979 order, including those for pet birds, are carefully scrutinised. Checks are made to ensure, as far as possible, that multiple applications for pet bird licences do not contravene the rules for such imports, which are less stringent than those governing other type of imports. The hon. Gentleman referred to that in his speech. If he or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has any evidence that the pet bird import rules are being abused, I shall be pleased to receive it and I undertake to arrange for the appropriate investigations to be made. We shall be pleased to do that.

Imports into zoological collections must undergo quarantine in approved premises and are subject to official supervision. Birds are released from quarantine only once a MAFF veterinary officer is satisfied of their health status.

Turning now to my Department's welfare responsibilities, I return to the deaths of flamingos and other birds in transit from Tanzania to the USA via Amsterdam. On 9 December, staff at the animal quarantine station at Heathrow became aware of problems with the consignment. Sorting of the birds revealed the extent of the mortalities and the transport condition. Approximately 1,250 birds, including flamingos, were dead on arrival.

My right hon. Friend the Minister was able to speak promptly to Mr. Gerrit Braks, his Dutch counterpart, about the need for prompt and close co-operation in investigating this case and exploring particular lessons to be learned. Ministry vets also offered their assistance to the AQS. It is operated by the City of London corporation and it has the powers of enforcement under the Animal Health Act 1981. I understand that it is considering whether to take proceedings in this particular case under the Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973. Since that is pending consideration, it would be unwise for me to say more about that specific incident.

Mr. Dalyell

Some of us were deeply shocked and angered when, on the different subject of orchids, the Customs and Excise went to enormous trouble to bring a prosecution against a plant dealer, which was overturned by the courts. That was disheartening for them. I should like to put on record my strong support for the Customs and Excise in this matter.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful for the support that the hon. Gentleman has expressed for Customs and Excise and say other Government Departments or authorities charged with responsibility for prosecuting those who may have offended against regulations. I can only repeat that the authority responsible for operating the animal quarantine station, the City of London corporation, is considering at this precise moment what action it should take under the Transit of Animal (General) Order 1973.

Mr. Dalyell

There is a feeling that the courts treat offences involving animals and plants differently from other offences. They are equally offences.

Mr. Maclean

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that they are equally offences. I hope that the courts do not make that distinction. I, and all hon. Members who are in the Chamber at this hour in the morning have the strongest regard for animal welfare legislation. The Government have made clear their commitment in other cases. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry laid charges against those responsible for the export of beagles in the case of a few weeks ago. We take the dimmest possible view of any breach of any animal health and welfare regulations, and the courts would take a similar view.

I can make it clear it general terms that those involved in transporting birds or animals must know and should know that causing suffering is a very serious matter. Necessary steps will be taken by the local authorities enforcement officers or ourselves against offenders. I can also say that, as a direct result of the incident involving birds in transit from Tanzania to the United States, my officials are drawing up a general import licence which, among other things, will require advance notice to be given to my Department of consignments transiting this country so that they may be inspected on arrival here. I hope that those new arrangements will be in place early in the new year.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that welcome.

The hon. Gentleman will know full well that the law covering the welfare of birds in transit to and from this country is set out in the Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973, as amended in 1988. It is underpinned by general provisions in the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Offenders can be, and are, prosecuted under this legislation. I have just given one such exammple. But we think the European Community as a whole should take a close look into the health and welfare aspects of the captive bird trade. That is why I made it clear, in a reply to the hon. Gentleman yesterday, that we will raise this matter in the Council of Ministers at an early opportunity.

On the specific points to which the hon. Gentleman sought a response, he will know the important fact that all commercial imports entering this country must be routed through the animal quarantine station. Staff there are particularly knowledgeable in the transport of exotic species of birds and have taken important steps not only to prosecute, but warn and advise airlines on transport conditions and practices. However, when the birds first enter the country, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise make the checks that the Department of the Environment's endangered species controls are properly met. Unfortunately the Customs and Excise department does not hold, centrally, information which would enable me to say how often its officers have checked the documentation for those species transitting this country. Nor have we been able to determine whether the relevant CITES document was inspected in the case of the recent flamingo consignment.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, certain protected species may be imported for a limited and clearly defined range of circumstances. For example, species are allowed for zoological study, and to be imported if they are captive-bred. The Department of the Environment will not issue the relevant import permits unless it is fully satisfied with the evidence submitted in support of the import applications. The nature of the information sought varies according to the circumstances of each import. I understand that some follow-up checks are made.

Family pet birds need not enter this country via Heathrow or Gatwick even though the species are subject to CITES protection. The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Designation of Ports of Entry) Regulations 1985 do not apply where a person imports two birds or fewer and accompanies them. This exemption does not, however, apply to diurnal birds of prey—in other words, daytime raptors such as eagles, hawks and falcons.

I have referred to the study on mortality in imported birds, the results of which have been placed in the Library of the House. That study provides a basis for considering what further measures need to be taken.

Our existing arrangements relating to the import of captive birds have been strikingly successful in dealing with the disease risks which such imports would otherwise constitute. But in the light of the results of the survey I shall be taking further steps to ensure that our requirements are being fulfilled. I cannot, of course, comment on the speculation in The Observer newspaper at the weekend, but the hon. Gentleman asked me for our action plan and I shall give it.

My officials will be visiting major exporting countries to determine how effectively they fulfil our import requirements and impress upon them the importance of following the International Air Transport Association standards for shipment to the United Kingdom. These visits will enable us to decide whether it is necessary to impose additional conditions and whether there are any countries from which imports should no longer be accepted on health grounds. I will also review the conditions that are imposed after birds reach the United Kingdom, including stocking rates in quarantine premises, which my officials are already examining, and the possibility of requiring post-import prophylactic treatment for certain important diseases. Officials will be meeting representatives of the bird trade to discuss the implications of the results of the survey and the possibility of a code of practice. I will be contacting the airlines to emphasise how much importance I attach to compliance with satisfactory practice in transporting birds, and will be considering whether any further welfare safeguards are needed.

Dealing with the high mortality found among imported birds is not, however, fundamentally a problem which can be tackled at a national level alone. I therefore propose to raise this matter in the Council of Ministers at an early opportunity. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's views about other possible avenues. Representatives of the trade will also wish to comment. We would also be interested in any proposals from organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the International Council for the Preservation of Birds and the RSPCA.

Mr. Dalyell

There is one urgent matter. There is soon to be a new Government in Brazil. It is important that they should be talked to quietly and privately. As I emphasised in my speech, there should be no sense of lecturing. There should be a discussion of the problem as between partners.

Mr. Maclean

Since this debate has touched a wide variety of Departments, I shall ensure that today's Hansard is drawn to the attention of all of them, including the Foreign Office.

At this time of year, our thoughts run particularly to the keeping and love of animals. I have in mind, for example, the excellent campaign and slogan, "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas". Many children have their own pets and are encouraged to think and remember that, if they get a pet such as a puppy, they must consider how they will look after it and what they will do with it when it grows up and becomes much larger.

I am in correspondence with hundreds and hundreds of colleagues who are desperately concerned about the treatment and welfare of horses and ponies after 1992. While many people are concerned—children are writing to me because they are worried about it—I would place a little of the responsibility on them. The next time some young girl pesters her daddy to get her a pony, she should remember that one day that pony will be a bit older and perhaps, when her interest turns to teenage boys rather than ponies, someone will have to look after that animal or dispose of it when it is older.

People who buy an animal as a pet, or whatever, must consider the consequences. The examples that I gave are relevant to this. I urge everyone who sees a captive bird in a pet shop to think of its origins, when it was perhaps flying free in the Amazon rain forest, and the many birds of that species which have died on capture on or on transit in order to supply one live bird in captivity. They should think of the sierra parakeets, 50 per cent. of which die before arriving in this country; of the red-fronted macaws, 30 per cent. of which die; and the same applies to peach-faced lovebirds. Next time anyone goes to a pet shop and wants to buy a blue-headed parrot, let him remember that for every parrot bought here another has perished on the journey—and those figures do not include deaths during capture and while awaiting export. People who buy such birds must remember that, however well they may look after them, horrendous losses have occurred to get the birds into the shops in this country.

The Government will do all that they can to protect these species. We shall tighten up the transit rules whenever possible. We shall enforce the IATA regulations strictly. We shall raise the matter in the EC and the Council of Ministers, and we shall not hesitate to prosecute offenders.

Ultimately, however, what will have the most profound effect on this trade will be a change of attitude and perceptions. So long as people want to possess these birds in cages, there will be those who are willing to supply them at any price, regardless of the death and suffering caused. But if people decide that keeping these wild birds causes unacceptable losses or suffering and that they will have no more of it, demand for the birds will end and so will their suffering.

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