HL Deb 21 May 1975 vol 360 cc1277-80

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take on the report of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds entitled Heaven in a Rage.


My Lords, this is a comprehensive report based upon a two-year survey of the air transport of exotic birds. It merits very careful study. The eight specific recommendations are being examined, and appropriate Government action will be taken.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that in the last four years there arrived at Heathrow just over 21,000 wild birds which were dead or nearly dead? Is the noble Lord also aware that among those birds were many rare endangered species which are listed in the appendices to the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna which was signed by 26 nations, including the United Kingdom, in 1973? Further, may I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government consider it is now time that they ratified this Convention and did their best to ensure that the abuses in this trade, particularly the abuse of overcrowding, cease?


My Lords, the noble Viscount has asked me whether I am aware of the facts of which he spoke. I have, of course, read the report; therefore, I am aware of the facts. I am not simply aware of the number of birds that arrive dead, but I am also sickened to find that in some cases birds arriving live have had their eyelids sewn up with string. These are matters which require examination and action, and I have told the noble Viscount that some action will be taken.


My Lords, is it not possible to do something fairly soon about birds which are particularly liable to suffer and die from being transported by air?


My Lords, the answer to that question is, Yes. There are various problems, one of which is controlling the birds which are most liable to disease. Action was taken on psittacines. The volume of this traffic will immediately be lessened and control will be made that much easier.


My Lords, may I press the noble Lord regarding the ratification of the Convention, since his reply is rather disappointing? I believe Her Majesty's Government have made it clear that it is their intention to ratify this Convention. If that is the case, will he say something about its implementation and, in particular, which authorities and scientific bodies will be responsible for implementing the Convention?


My Lords, I believe that this was explained fully in a debate in this House on 20th March, in which my noble friend Lord Melchett answered on behalf of the Government. I confirm, again, that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to ratify this Convention. The noble Lord asks me how enforcement will be achieved. The principal authority will be Her Majesty's Customs and Excise who have a good deal of experience in this matter. However, there is the question of identification and other matters which require further study. The noble Lord asked me which authority will be responsible for implementing the Convention. In this country the Department of the Environment will be the principal management authority responsible for policy. As to which scientific body will be nominated, the matter is under consideration.


My Lords, will the noble Lord acknowledge that probably in the whole House there is a strong feeling that there should be urgent action in this matter? I know that he himself is sympathetic, but will he remember that there are at least two important policy questions which require attention? The first is the cruelty involved in the transportation in this way of birds of this kind; the other is the preservation of endangered species. Both of these matters need quick action, and I know that the noble Lord will receive the support of this side of the House if he takes it.


My Lords, I shall endeavour to see that encouragement is given to those who want to take action. However, it is of relevance to mention that involved in all this are the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Department of the Environment, the Home Office, the Department of Trade, the Department of Health, the Foreign Office and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. The complexity of the matter does not always lend itself to speedy action.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the International Airlines Organisation lays down stringent regulations regarding the packing and overcrowding of birds, but that people do not appear to adhere to them? Could Her Majesty's Government put some pressure on the International Airlines Organisation to try to obtain enforcement of the regulations?


Yes, my Lords, something could be done. However, as the noble Viscount will appreciate, by definition the trouble to which he refers does not originate in this country—or does not originate under our responsibility.


My Lords, first, do the Government help the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds? Secondly, will my noble friend inform the BBC that many of us appreciate their wildlife talks in the mornings and hope that more of them will be broadcast so as to get this information across to the mass of the public?


My Lords, I have no doubt that the BBC already know what the noble Lord has said. As to the first part of his question, I am not aware of the facts and will write to him.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Convention was signed two years ago? Is he also aware that the Government Departments which he has named have been at work for a considerable time and that by now they should have sorted out all the problems and difficulties?


My Lords, I will see that my noble friend's view is forwarded.

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