HL Deb 06 July 1964 vol 259 cc912-20

6.37 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The object of the Bill is to restrict the importation of rare animals into this country except under licence. This will help to curb traffic when it is illegal in the animals' country of origin and lead to more humane treatment generally. The Bill is in line with a resolution passed at the Seventh General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the Survival Service Commission and the Fauna Preservation Society at Cracow on June 24, 1950. The resolution was as follows: Believing that a major threat to the existence of some rare animals is their illegal exportation from the country of origin, followed by their legal importation to other countries … warmly approves the action of those countries which have restricted the importation of such animals, … now resolves that the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources should urge all Governments who do not yet restrict the importation of rare animals in harmony with the export laws of the countries of origin, to do so now and thereby support the efforts of those countries to preserve the animals in danger of extinction. This resolution was passed unanimously by over 30 countries, including the United Kingdom.

To-day, my Lords, there are many species of animals in danger of extinction, and one of the major factors contributing to the future decline is the speculative trade. Very seldom is the animal regarded as anything more than a money-making proposition; and with orang-outangs it is estimated that there is a wastage of nine animals for every one that reaches this country alive. There are two distinct methods of capture used in the illicit trade. The female may be shot and the young taken; or, alternatively, the animal may be located in a tree, in which case the surrounding trees are felled and the animal is isolated. When it is finally dying of thirst, it descends the tree and is captured. The latest reports suggest that there are 60 such animals, which have been captured purely on a speculative basis and are "in the pipeline" in the Singapore area.

Although the importation of rare animals for properly run zoos may be quite justifiable, it would be wrong to imagine that this can provide an important contribution in preserving the species. Not many animals breed well in captivity, and they will certainly ultimately produce a degenerate species, having few of the natural instincts and characteristics of the wild animal. The present wastage in obtaining such animals through anything except the official channels is appalling and far outweighs any possible gain by breeding in close captivity. There is, moreover, the question of the known cruelty to the animals. The speculative trade is at best concerned only to keep the animals alive until the money they represent changes hands. It is interesting to note that the United States of America have a strict code relating to imports of both animals and birds. In 1961, India, prohibited the import of rhinoceros trophies from Nepal, and since April, 1962, Hong Kong has refused permits for the importation of orang-outangs.

The provisions of the Bill itself are simple. Clause 1 states that the animals specified in the Schedule may be imported only under licence. The licence may be general or specific, and is revocable at any time. The clause also defines penalties, which are in addition to any which are incurred under the Customs and Excise Act, 1952. It also provides for the forfeiture of any scheduled animal found in the possession of a person who cannot furnish proof that it was imported under licence.

Clause 2 enables the Secretary of State, after consulting the Advisory Committee, which is to be established under Clause 3 of the Bill, to vary the list of animals scheduled. Clause 3 establishes an Advisory Committee. The Schedule lists families of animals. The first three families include well over 100 species, including various monkeys. In general, the Customs are prepared to operate the Bill only on the basis of complete families. Where a commonly imported animal is included, it will be necessary to obtain a licence, but since this must be on a general basis, no great inconvenience should be caused.

The Bill was very thoroughly debated in another place, in all, for something over four hours, and received general approval. It is a very useful measure, not only in helping to preserve rare species but also, indirectly, in discouraging inhumane and cruel treatment. It does nothing, of course, to prevent the importation of skins or the ravages caused to animal populations when they are used for food or other purposes. This is another question. It would seem to be a pity to risk the passage of this Bill into the Statute Book by any attempt to increase its scope. Nor do I think it would be wise to create difficulties of enforcement by seeking to exempt certain species—such as, for example, the common imported tortoise —from the families listed in the Schedule.

These can be covered by a general licence and the whole position, if necessary, could be re-examined in the light of experience under the provisions of Clause 2 of the Bill. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Viscount Hanworth.)

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend, Lord Wise, who has studied this subject in much greater detail, I should like to welcome this Bill. It is the sort of small measure which is most appropriate for a Private Member's Bill and which, I am sure, the Government would like to see passed into law. The noble Viscount said that the Bill was debated at considerable length in another place. There it gave rise to a good deal of merriment. I think that the difficulty was that honourable Members who spoke did not know what the Schedule meant. We are accustomed now to having schedules in French, but it is unusual to have a schedule which is as unintelligible as this one is. Everybody knows that pongidae means monkeys of some kind, because we know what "pongos" were during the war. They were Army officers named after an ape with a particularly small brain. That is a useful clue, based on previous experience in another Service.

I am sure that the Customs, the Government and the supporters of the Bill are right to extend the general control over families, rather than over species. It is extremely important that there should be an international measure of control in the case of certain animals. The present great interest in the World Wild Life Fund is encouraging. It is making considerable impact, and may even preserve such animals as the oryx, which has been so heavily hunted in Persia, and other species. Perhaps the noble Viscount, or the Minister, may be prepared to say something about two species of animals from a part of the world in which my noble friend Lord Shepherd and I are both interested—the orang-outang and the turtle. Perhaps noble Lords read the article in the Sunday Times, written by an old friend of mine, Mr. Tom Harrison, in which he told the remarkable story of the turtle. We still do not know the full life circle of the turtle, but whereas it is one of the most efficient producers of eggs, there is still a danger that, if not controlled, it will become extinct. I doubt whether this Bill will be effective in this matter. I doubt whether it is really directed to the problem of the turtle and the Lord Mayor's Mansion House dinner. Nevertheless, it is a small step in the direction of saving wild life.

I should be interested to know, either from the noble Viscount or from the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, how far other countries are going to apply similar provisions. I am thinking particularly of the emerging African countries, where the problem is not one of restricting import but one of restricting export. It is obviously necessary that there should be a two-way stop. This is a matter directly beyond our control, but one has only to talk to a game warden from East Africa, or to anyone concerned with the preservation of wild life, to know the great anxiety that is felt.

Certain difficulties are likely to arise. It is not clear whether the Bill will apply to animals in transit. Nor am I clear whether it will enable action to be taken, either by the Customs or by some other authority, where it is found that a large number of animals are travelling under difficult conditions. Anyway, they would probably be animals the importation of which was permitted under general licence. The Bill is primarily directed to preserving certain rare species which belong to these particular families mentioned. It may be that there are other species. What are sphenodontidae?


They are South American monkeys.


They are a different kind of pongidae. It was suggested that one of these species was an extinct hominid. But presumably this is not so: these are all names of animals that exist, and not references to our extinct ancestors.

At any rate, we wish the Bill well, and we hope that it works. This is a responsibility which the Government appear to be content to shoulder. I take it that the Customs authorities are satisfied with this; because, as the noble Viscount said, it must be workable, and we must not seek the perfect situation. If we are not going to be able to achieve that, then I think we should be content to have this small but useful measure, which is very much in accordance with present-day thinking in this matter.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask a question of the Minister, because I think it is one which only the Government, and not the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill, can answer. As I see it, these animals will not be allowed to be imported into the country unless a licence has been granted. We know of the difficulties under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, where persons have entered this country who have not a permit to come and are therefore returned. I am being serious. I know that there have been difficulties where animals have been brought to this country by air or by sea when there has been no licence for them. Somebody has taken a risk, hoping that, having brought the animal over, the Customs will be more lenient in the granting of a licence. I hope that the Board of Trade will consult with the shipping owners and airlines to ensure that they do not carry, either in ships or in aircraft, any animal that is subject to a licence unless a licence number has been produced.

My noble friend Lord Shackleton mentioned the orang-outang. Your Lord-ships may have seen a report on the efforts that have had to be made by the wife of one of the forestry officers in Borneo for the training of the orang-outang to go back to its natural life. They have been in capitivity for a relatively short period, and because of that it would be inhumane to send them hack into the jungle without this period of training and acclimatisation. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will be able to give an assurance that the Board of Trade will consult with the shipping companies and airlines, in order to ensure that they do not bring any of these animals into this country unless a valid licence is available. If that can be done, a great deal of hardship may be prevented.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we should all like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Hanworth for bringing before the House this Private Member's Bill from another place, because it is quite clear that its objects command general support. I think I might make one comment on his speech, and it is that the Conference at Cracow took place in June, 1960, and not in 1950, as he said. However, this is not his fault, because it is a misprint in Hansard of another place. As my noble friend has made clear, some species of animals are now becoming so rare as to stand in real danger of extinction, not by any process of natural selection or even response to climatic change in their own habitat, but, I regret to say, from man-made causes and the result of the exploitation by man.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, suggested, the first line of protection lies in the countries of origin. But those countries do not always have the administrative apparatus to enforce protective legislation along the whole length of their frontiers. And so long as there is an uncontrolled market in importing countries, such as our own, there will always be an incentive to speculative hunting and trapping, even if certain legal pro hibitions do already exist. The Government therefore welcome this Bill as a useful and necessary underpinning of efforts at conservation made by other countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me the extent to which similar legislation was being initiated in other countries. Since the Cracow resolution —and I think some 30 countries endorsed that resolution—I regret to say that there has not been much legislation, except in the United States. The Government therefore felt strongly that we should set a good example and follow the lead of, and endorse, the Cracow resolution.


My Lords, what does the noble Earl mean by saying "the Government" think that we ought to set a good example? I thought this was a Private Member's Bill.


The Government endorse the view of the private Member that this country should set a good example.

The object of the Bill, as the noble Viscount has told us, is to stop the import of rare animals into this country, except for genuine educational and scientific purposes. In form, the Bill will bring in control, by import licensing, many species which are not at all rare, as noble Lords will see, including a few which are sometimes kept as pets. Licences will, of course, be readily granted for common species, and such licences under Clause 1(2) of the Bill may be to any degree general or specific. It has been asked: why include common species within the scope of the Bill at all? This is a question of practical operation of the control. It is no use legislating if you cannot enforce. Customs officers are not zoologists: they can learn to recognise animals belonging to the families of, say, apes, monkeys or lemurs; they cannot be expected to distinguished between rare and common species of those families—the more so as their "rarity" may depend on their place of origin. As time goes on, a species which is now rare may cease to need special protection, or, on the other hand, the population of another species may decline to the danger level and may need protection under the Bill. The only way, therefore, it seems, to provide effective protection for those which need it is to require a licence for all members of the families of animals concerned, so that the job of the Customs officer is merely to check the existence of a corresponding licence.

As my noble friend pointed out, the Bill provides for the setting up of an Advisory Committee. It will be among the functions of this Committee to keep the Schedule under review and advise when additions or deletions may be made under Clause 2. It will also advise the licensing authority which species within the Schedule from given countries of origin can be freely licensed, and which not, having regard to the need for conservation of that particular species. This Committee will, of course, include fully qualified persons to advise on these matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also asked me about animals in transit. The answer to his question is that this Bill would cover animals landed temporarily in this country which are in transit to other destinations. The Bill will also enable Customs and Excise to confiscate unlicensed rare animals included in such consignments. This could be done, and would be done in particular instances, if the Customs had been previously alerted to any undesirable traffic of this kind. It is not, however, the practice of the Customs to exercise the same close supervision of consignments in transit as of imports into this country, unless there is some compelling reason of health or safety to do so, both for reasons of manpower and of our relations with other countries. I am quite sure that we should not attempt to police the world in this matter. We should hope rather that the countries of ultimate destination, such as our own, in so far as they have not already done so, would themselves legislate to control the importation of rare animals.

There was a reference to the names in the Schedule, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, agreed with me that it is necessary to include the names as set out. I have been asked whether it would not be possible to include the English translation as well, but the trouble is that the English names are not scientific names, and they vary in different parts of the world. So I think it is preferable that the names should stay as they are, although if any noble Lord would like a list with the translation of Cebidae, Cercopithecidae, and Dasyuridae, or any of the others, I should be glad to hand him a copy of that list. I do not know whether there was any other point, except perhaps I should add that turtles are not included, although tortoises are. As I have said, I am sure we have a useful measure here which deserves the support of this House, and I commend it accordingly and hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, I think the Minister has answered all the points which were raised by noble Lords, and it only remains for me to thank them for giving the warm reception they have given to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.