HL Deb 05 February 1976 vol 367 cc1436-60

4.21 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, perhaps we can get away from this contentious "bird", Concorde, which may be endangered or not—I am not quite clear—and get back to our endangered species. I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, very much for having introduced yet another of these Bills to preserve the fauna and flora of the world. I have already had the opportunity to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to the transport side of our debates. It now falls to me to welcome her to this side of the environment, the conservation of species. She is having quite a rough time of it, what with horses as well!

However, I was very impressed when the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, talked about how, 18 months ago, the Government had given him some assurances that they were going to introduce a Bill. The lapse of time since then is not at all the fault of the noble Baroness personally. She was not in the Government then, and she has only recently come into the Ministry which she now graces so well. But, my Lords, for the Government to be working on something, to be sitting on something, to be cogitating on something, for 18 months really does seem to be an awfully long time, and it has meant that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has had to go to the length of putting in all the effort and work necessary to produce this splended little Bill. We may not agree with all parts of it, but it has taken a lot of work, a lot of effort; and now, my Lords, we are told by the noble Baroness that next week the Government will be producing their own Bill.

My Lords, this debate is a complete and utter waste of time. Nothing that we can say will alter one little jot what is in the Government's Bill. It is printed already. We have not been shown it, we have been told about it. We are therefore discussing a nice, hypothetical question of what might be, what could be and what actually is in this Bill, which, unfortunately, will perhaps go the way of so many other Bills of the same sort, which have suffered from old age, General Elections and things like that. So I should like to protest to the noble Baroness on that score. Let there be no doubt, however, that, like her and like her Government, we totally agree with and support our participation in these International conventions. Let us not be in any doubt on this point: we are all aiming at the same objective. We all agree that conservation is important; and if there is a doubt between trade and preservation, I think most of us would agree that preservation, rather than trade, should have the benefit of the doubt. I go along with the Bill in all those ways.

My Lords, let us discuss this Bill a little, because although many bodies such as the World Wildlife Organisation have refused even to comment on this Bill because they knew the Government had one of their own up their sleeve, I think that, as we have the Bill before us, the least we can do is to look at it, as we shall then know approximately what we will be considering on the Government's Bill on its Second Reading and its Committee stage. Obviously, we are not going to have a chance, in practice, to discuss further details on this Bill in Committee. I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in his production of this Bill. I think the work he has done has been remarkable.

As to the omissions from the Government's list which they produced in their order of the1st January, I should like to thank sincerely the noble Baroness and (if she would inform him) her right honourable friend Mr. Silkin for bringing in this order. Admittedly, I for one am not over-enamoured with the way it was brought in, in the form of an order. Had it been introduced in Parliament, where it could have been debated, questions might have been asked on its details. This is a detail, I accept; but the noble Baroness will remember that we had a case the other day when we protested that we thought that something which it was proposed should be done one way could be done more openly, with discussion. In that case the noble Baroness was very capable and clever, and was able to persuade her Government to agree to what we were suggesting. I think this is another case where this sort of Government order, by killing discussion, is not in the best interests of what it is trying to achieve. At the same time I would say that we are all grateful.

This Bill and the Government both envisage, as well as the Botanical Gardens, Kew, appointing a scientific authority for animals, comprising members with appropriate knowledge and experience. So far, excellent. What I would hope and wish is that the noble Baroness, when she comes eventually to produce her Bill, will be able to assure me that this will not lead to a further proliferation of civil servants. We all respect and admire the Civil Service. One would hope, though, that this new authority could be appointed from the existing body of civil servants. They are so clever and so able that I am always amazed that they go on recruiting new "bods" to their already efficient body. The new "bods" cannot be as efficient as they are themselves already; and I hope that the enforcement of the provisions of this or the Government's Bill will not lead to further recruitment.

I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, that one of the few matters in this Bill which I really do not like is Clause 4, with its recording and enforcement provisions. Would it not be better to have stringent controls—more stringent, perhaps, than are in this Bill—and to really enforce them? Increase the penalty, by all means; but I personally should not like to see the life of the Customs and Excise officers made harder than it is already. I know that anything coming into this country has to have a ticket of origin and certification of what it is, but here we are dealing with a Bill covering such a multitude of things. I was looking today, for instance, at some shoes which were on my wife's feet. I asked, "Are those crocodile shoes?" "No", she said, "they are sham". I said, "Could you tell the difference, quite honestly, if they were or not?" She said, If I took them off and handled them, yes. To look at them, no". There is so much of this sort of thing. I should hate to see the Customs and Excise officers' job made too difficult by too many complications.

"Manufactured goods" is, in theory, I accept, an ideal for conservationists; but is it practical? Let us take the case of ivory. In Africa, the elephant is under very great pressure from poachers, ivory thieves. It is considered in Africa that ivory is a great form of investment and it probably is. In India, there is another species of elephant which, so far as I know, is not in any great danger of extinction. It is usually harnessed for ceremonial, agricultural, or forestry work. Its tusks are not normally needed. They are, in fact, a considerable hindrance to the handlers and the people who work these animals. The Indians—and not just the Indians but the people on the sub-Continent including the Pakistanis—have developed a great art in manufacturing carved goods. They sometimes take years to manufacture small carved goods of great beauty which have great commercial, artistic and intrinsic value. If this Bill is passed as it now stands all that trade will vanish. I think that prob- ably that is going a little too far. Pity the poor excise officer who must identify whether a piece of ivory is African or Indian. I know that it is easy to pick holes; and I am doing so deliberately. We are going to be able to discuss this later and—


My Lords, with regard to the point that the noble Lord has raised about goods which have been illegally imported, may I point out that Clause 2(2) reads: No one shall sell, or invite the purchase of, any scheduled item unless he can show that the item was not unlawfully imported. In other words, the onus is there transferred from the customs officer to the person selling. The noble Lord referred, for instance, to shoes which may be made of lizard or crocodile skin. These are usually expensive shoes and are advertised specifically as being of that nature. Therefore, this clause would deal with that particular point. It would not necessarily have to be stopped at the port of entrance. It could be dealt with when it is put up for sale.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord He has elucidated one or two things. I am aware of what he said, but I still think that the onus of proof being put on people is going to add complications to life. I agree that life is complicated already and that the protection of endangered species should warrant a little bit of extra complication; but I had been suggesting earlier that perhaps "manufactured goods" ought to be left to be implemented in their own territories by those other countries who ratify the convention. I was rather suggesting that the Government, for simplicity's sake, might find it easier to impose more stringent controls of basic goods at the ports of entry. I am only putting thoughts forward. Any good law must be simple. As soon as one starts going into too much nitty-gritty of detail it becomes more awkward.

Again, on a small point, I should have liked to know the source of the scheduled list. I do not think the noble Lord told us; perhaps he can do so when he makes his summing up. It is an impressive list. I am afraid I am not able to identify more than a few of them. I looked to my wife this morning to identify them. She recognised only the bison and the gorilla. She asked whether we were really debating the protection of these animals and trying to stop them from coming into the country in large numbers. I said that I did not think that many licences would be granted for large imports of these particular animals but that others, no doubt, deserve every protection. I should like to know the origin of the scheduled list.

My Lords, the other question is this —and I have asked it before. Is the appointment of these scientific authorities going to need a support group of civil servants? I have emphasised this strongly and I hope that the answer will be, No. The Government list which came out on 1st January, and for which we are grateful, did not include, as the noble Lord said, the otter and the lynx. There is a host of other controls also not mentioned: the bobcat, the ocelot, the tiger cat and the Siberian tiger.

Perhaps there are so few of these animals coming in that they are mostly under the control of other countries. Are these to be considered in the Government's new Bill? Will the new authority be in a position of having a mandatory duty to advise the Secretary of State; or will they advise if they wish to do so? I should like to see them having a mandatory duty and occasionally to meet and give advice. I should not like it to be left to the Secretary of State to have to go to them to ask a particular question. I should like to think that they were a body rather like those splendid people who—I do not know whether they are still in existence—were paid £1,000 a year to think in their baths and to advise people. I should like to think that they should be able permanently to think in their baths of what species should or should not have more help; and when they meet they would have the onus of advising the Secretary of State.

This is basically a good Bill. It is going in the right direction. I think that that splendid society, the Friends of the Earth, who have so much interest in this cause have probably helped my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones—if I may so call him. If I may say so, I think that they deserve the thanks of the Government for the work they have done. They have gingered the Govern- ment into producing a Bill of their own. It remains for me to say, with respect, that I think the Government could have produced their Bill earlier. With that, once again I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I stumble to my feet to crave your Lordships' indulgence for a maiden speech. There have been several of these in the last year since I first took my seat, many of them by the younger Members. I can only assume that they, like me, do not feel that at their age maidenhood rests very aptly on a noble shoulder. Indeed, when I put my name down to speak in this debate today I had not realised that it was scheduled for my wedding anniversary and I can only hope that today is as auspicious an occasion for a maiden voyage as was 5th February four years ago. In my opening remarks I mentioned the word "stumble". I seem to have stumbled also into a minor Parliamentary battlefield, not to say a minefield, for there would appear to be something of a difficulty in that what we are debating today we are also going to debate on another occasion in a few weeks' time. However, my remarks on today's Bill will apply equally to the Bill which I suspect the Government will ultimately produce and which will have its First Reading next week.

The Bill before your Lordships' House today might well be in danger of becoming a tired old horse chestnut—not because Aesculus hippocastanumis an endangered species but because this is the third time that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has promoted such a Bill in as many years. This year's version is considerably enlarged by two new clauses and one Schedule, namely, of plants and seeds to implement the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which has been signed by the United Kingdom but as I understand from speeches today, it has not yet been ratified. The Bill contains a phenomenal list of birds and animals universally considered to be in danger of extinction.

As an aside, I should like to put on record my feeling that the world is in a sorry state when one considers that man has so affected the ecology of the globe that one group of men—or perhaps I should say "persons" in view of recent legislation—has had to design a convention so that another group should be prevented from mistreating their fellow creatures. Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs. It was not long ago that the Press made much of the export of lions to South Africa, and there is no doubt that both private and public zoological gardens in this country are in the forefront of repopulating species to their homelands. This, on the bird front, is one of the main purposes of the Severn Wild Fowl Trust at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire.

However, it is neither animals nor birds that I wish to discuss today, especially as I regard myself as a total animal ignoramus. I am sure that this Bill is quite excellent in the case of animals and birds, but I am afraid that it lacks precision as far as plants are concerned. From this comment your Lordships will see that my interest is in the plant section. But before I go any further, I must declare a pecuniary interest in this subject. I am by training a horticulturalist and by employment a nurseryman. My nursery specialises in dwarf growing bulbs and corms, and pride of place in both my income and my interests is the genus cyclamen—a genus which appears in Schedule 2 as composed of endangered species. I also have a non-commercial stock of terrestrial orchids, some of which I have collected myself and others which have been given to me, some as rescues from road-widening where the donors suppose—I hope not mistakenly—that I am more likely to cultivate these plants successfully than they are.

There are two specific points that I should like to make. The Bill wishes to restrict the movement of endangered species of wild fauna and flora. Certainly nobody who knows the story of cyclamen mirabile in 1973 will object to this. Briefly, what happened is this: a well-known dealer in bulbs and plants applied to his agent in Turkey for a large quantity of cyclamen neapolitanum a species which is almost a weed in the eastern Mediterranean area. I do not know for certain what the agent's method of collecting may be, but I suspect that he employs peasants to dig the plants up. They would be told to go to a particular area and dig up plants looking like a type specimen. In this case they were obviously sent to a new area and carried out their task to the best of their abilities. The bulb merchant in this country received what purported to be thousands of corms of cyclamen neapolitanum as ordered but, on opening a case to examine the samples, found to his surprise a number of smooth coated corms with flat tops instead of the typical nobbly-coated dish-shaped tops of cyclamen neapolitanum. He suspected that they were a form of cyclamen cilicium, but they did not quite measure up to that species which he had dealt in for many years and knew very well. He then went through his other cases and found that he had some 10,000 of the strange corms.

It so happened that my nursery was short of neapolitanum that year, so I had ordered a few thousand from this particular dealer. When he delivered them he gave me some of the strangers to try. He also told me he had given some to the Botanic Gardens at Kew. I grew mine fairly successfully, but they failed to flower. However, Kew identified them as the very rare and almost legendary cyclamen mirabile which was first described by Hildebrand in 1906 but subsequently lost to cultivation. Once they had arrived in this country the damage was already done and it was essential to give the plants a good home. I—and I think one other nurseryman bought a few which was all we could afford, especially as we did not know how well they could be grown here. The dealer was left with the balance which were quite unsaleable under their proper name and they were finally sent to a well-known chain store and sold as cyclamen neapolitanum.

This is a cautionary tale indeed and the chances of this plant being imported would have been very much reduced if this Bill had been in force at the time. It would have been stopped entirely of course if all wild cyclamen were prohibited plants. Indeed, the Schedule is rather vague as to which species are to be included, as under Primulaceae it says, and I quote, "cyclamen species" Compare this with orchidaceae, there it states, "All orchid species".

My Lords, I had to stop and think long and hard—like my noble friend Lord Mowbray in his bath—when I saw araucaria auraucana in Schedule 2. This is a native of Chile and will, I am sure, be better known to many of your Lordships as that tree so beloved of our Victorian forefathers—the monkey puzzle. Even today this species is planted in English gardens and, though I do know that one can still buy it from nurserymen here, I would be surprised if it was grown in this country. It would be much more likely to be imported from a specialist nursery in Europe. In this case it cannot possibly be described as a wild plant, and it is surely wrong that the word "wild" is not clearly defined in Clause 7, as it seems to affect animals and plants in different ways. The propagation of the animals under discussion is practically unknown outside zoological gardens and in the wild, whereas the propagation of plants is comparatively easy and is carried on by both amateurs and nursery gardeners. When it is, the progeny can hardly be described as wild. As in the case of the monkey puzzle, the same would apply to many other species in the Schedule which are grown from cuttings or seeds.

This then is my criticism of the Bill: although it seeks to control the import of endangered species, what is in fact required is the control of species from their country of origin. I cannot see the need for umbrella controls, especially for those species which are already grown in specialist nurseries. I should mention here the subject of exports. So far as I can see the only species native to this country mentioned in the Schedule are terrestrial orchids. While I can see very good reasons for licensing the export of these particular plants, I fail to see how the export of the majority of the plants on the list affects their conservation. After all, my Lords, if you cannot import a particular plant, the only way you will be able to export it is by propagation from stock already in this country. In doing so, you can hardly be affecting the population of plants in the wild. Both Parliament and the Government are always concerned with encouraging firms to export, and any legislation such as that embodied in Clause 2(1) can only increase the price of the plants and the difficulty of firms in achieving this aim.

Having covered this point, I must now turn to another interest I have in this Bill, First however I should declare two other linked interests. Not only am I a supplier of plants, but I am also a consumer. In this connection I am a very minor Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society and also a committee member of the Alpine Garden Society. Both these amateur gardening organisations have a considerable interest in this Bill, as many of their members enjoy holidays abroad. When they do so they naturally take a particular note of the flora of the country they are visiting, and some will wish to grow a few of the plants they see. Before they leave this country they obtain a permit from the Ministry of Agriculture allowing them either to bring in a packet of plants grown in the wild or to post it. In both cases, the consignment must not weigh more than 3 kg. and must be accompanied by the import permit. There are, of course, several conditions attached to this permit, one being that the plants must be available for inspection by the local plant health inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture, and another being that various plants likely to carry noxious diseases are prohibited. It would be very easy to add the species currently regarded as endangered to the list of plants that are prohibited.

Earlier in this speech I mentioned my private collection of orchidaceae, and some of these were acquired in this way. I feel very strongly that, even though a plant species is endangered to a greater or lesser degree, it is wholesale ravishing of plant stations that should be stopped, and amateurs should not be prohibited from bringing in one or two plants of any species that appeals to them. It is the commercial wholesale decimation of stocks that must be avoided. In this connection it would of course be up to any country to protect its own endangered species by passing such a Bill as the Wild Plants Protection Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, last Session. Indeed, similar laws are in force in many areas of the Alps.

I should perhaps point out that many of the plants that we enjoy in our own gardens and greenhouses today have come from a very few selected plants, seeds or cuttings of a particular species taken from their natural habitat. Certainly I would not be dogmatic about a refusal to grant a licence for plants—I emphasise, plants—but I feel it would be definitely injurious to the future development of horticulture in this country to seek to control or even ban the importation of seeds or cuttings by the refusal of a licence.

I support this Bill, but I am afraid it looks as though it will be impossible for us to go through it fully in a Committee stage. However, the Government Bill will be getting the full treatment, I am sure, both in this House and in another place; and while not wishing to be controversial in my first speech to your Lordships, I give the Government fair warning that I am likely to tear into their Bill like a snow leopard! Nevertheless, I support the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in his magnificent efforts to get the Government to work a little harder to implement the Convention and I hope very much that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading today.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, one of the endangered species which we sometimes hear being threatened is the hereditary peerage; but whatever may be its eventual fate, one of the great advantages of the hereditary peerage in your Lordships' House is that from time to time we get the benefit of speakers who come here with very special and specialist knowledge, which does us all a tremendous amount of good and is an immense help to the work of your Lordships' House. I am sure we all wish to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and to congratulate him on his speech. Also, if I may say so, I am sure we should all like to wish the noble Lord and his wife many happy returns of their wedding anniversary. We hope we shall hear him speak often—and I, for one, shall not particularly repine if he is wading into the Government.

I think that at this time we also need to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, and the body which has done so much to urge this Bill—the Friends of the Earth—because I have no doubt that, whatever is said publicly and whatever disclaimers are made, they must be considered to be a bit of a nuisance by the Government. I reckon that any body of any people who are regarded as a nuisance by the Government on matters of conservation are worthy of congratulation.

I do not want to go at any length into the merits and demerits of this Bill. We are delighted that the Government have at last produced a Bill. We shall look at it with critical attention and hope that something really worth while can come out of it. I think that our deliberations at all stages of the Government's Bill will be illuminated by some of the debates we have already had, and are having, in this House on the Bill produced by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones.

I would mention only two detailed points. First, I think we must concentrate as much as possible on this business of making people keep records. It is a very difficult thing to control trade in the products from endangered species. Nevertheless, it is tremendously worth while. Although I agree that to put too much faith on records is not necessarily wise or sensible, this is one of the few ways in which we can try to stop those people who really want to get round these laws; let us make no mistake about it, there will be people trying as hard as they can to break any law that is made on this matter. So I believe that we should concentrate on the keeping of records. We must also bear in mind the necessity, in any question of doubt, of giving the benefit to the endangered species. After all, it is that which is at risk. It is much more important—as I had occasion to say to your Lordships' House during the consideration of the Wild Plants Protection Bill—that we should stop any species being exterminated or going out of existence than do a great many of the other things that Governments do.

I have one particular criticism of this Bill which I hope will not be copied in the Government's Bill, although I am sure it will not be. I think it is wrong that, as laid down in Clause 5(2), the Customs and Excise should be able to seize products if they are merely in the possession of someone, unless the possessor can prove that he got them legally. I think it is right, when buying and selling, that the burden of proof should be on the person who is buying and selling; but in the case of "possession" I think that seizure is an unwarranted interference with the liberty of the subject. I had the great good fortune some time ago to challenge this principle in another kind of Bill on the subject of opium pipes. If I may claim in any way to have altered the legislation of this country, it is that if any of your Lordships happen, quite innocently, to possess an opium pipe without using it, he will no longer be in danger of being arrested, as a Conservative Government at that time suggested should be done. I think, similarly, that people who are in legitimate possession of products, even if they cannot prove the ownership of some of these products should not be in danger of having them seized.

That, of course, isa minor criticism. There are others; and some of them have already been pointed out by other speakers today. I agree with some of them which I understand, and am quite sure that there are others that I should also agree with if I understood them more fully. This is a good Bill and it commands our support. As I said earlier, it is much more worth while than a great many of the things we do. It is much more important that we should preserve one of the endangered species which is flying about today in the Schedule of Birds than that we should preserve the endangered species we heard of earlier this afternoon, and which, so far as I am concerned, can stay endangered. At least the birds we are talking about do not make an unconscionable noise and they do not run the risk of causing damage to the ozone. What is more, they do not cost this country and the British Aircraft Corporation thousands of pounds every time they fly. So I am much more in favour of the birds. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has campaigned so long and so successfully on this; and I very much congratulate the Government on having at last produced this Bill.

4.59 p.m.

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I do not think this is merely a good Bill; I think it is a remarkable Bill. Those of your Lordships who have perused it from cover to cover will have noticed that 20 out of the 25 pages are in the Latin tongue. One would therefore have assumed it to have been sponsored by a great classical scholar; but not a bit of it. Its sponsor is an eminent professor of chemistry; so eminent that he was made Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Newcastle Univer- sity in 1968. Despite this, I have no proof that he was the professor who said to a student: "What is HNo8?" The student was a bit nonplussed and began to stammer: "Er—I've got it right on the tip of my tongue, sir," "Spit it out at once!" said the professor, "it's nitric acid."

To return to our muttons, or rather the Bill, the Explanatory Memorandum states that Clause 3 says that at certain ports there will be specialist advice available on the identification of controlled—My Lords, I ask you to realise that I was in no way responsible for that interruption.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is not accusing me.


My Lords, they are not friends of mine either.

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, does any other noble Lord wish to rise and disclaim responsibility? If not, I will continue. I was stating that the Explanatory Memorandum states that Clause 3 says that at certain ports there will be specialist advice available on the identification of controlled species. But there is no mention of specialist advice in Clause 3 unless "the proper officer of Customs and Excise" covers this.

With regard to specialist advice, and whatever the names of the people are, it appears that these must be persons who have taken an Honours degree in Classics, Biology and Botany. Even those of your Lordships who were educated at Eton, Harrow or Winchester could probably identify gorilla gorilla on page 10, though why the unfortunate animal has to be duplicated, I do not know. But what about pan troglodytes (satyrus) just below it, which is a chimpanzee? Possibly those educated at the schools I have mentioned could also say what canis lupus, on page 11, is. But what about dugong dugong on page 13, which is a sea cetacean and the origin of the myths about the mermaid; or pudu pudu on the same page, which is a Chilean deer? Also, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in his very attractive and notable maiden speech, there is the araucaria auraucana, which, as he said, is a monkey puzzle tree. If this Bill, or the Bill of the noble Baroness, goes forward, I beg that in order to avoid a lot of confusion. trouble and headaches, or even heart attacks, the English equivalents should be printed in the Bill.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I always listen to the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, with interest, I always expect to be entertained and I always expect him to say something worth listening to. But I am afraid that he is a little ungenerous to the people who have drafted this Bill and have conformed to an international convention. I agree with him that the whole of these classifications, the work of Buffon, the work of Carl von Linne and all the others, who are altering it day by day, are really quite fantastic. But if one looks into the difficulties, I think one will appreciate that at least they have tried to make these classifications on a reasoned basis.

The result is that of one variety—.I think it is the bowea—there is only one sample, and of the others there are a couple of thousand. The liliaceae—I do not propose to make any effort to pronounce these names properly, because that will arouse more division than does the Bill—includes onions, asparagus, lilies and tulips, although in the Schedule all of these are excluded and the Bill is limited to the species aloe. There are 200 different kinds of aloe. There are those used to produce medicine which my mother used to give me, but which is not now recommended quite so strongly as a purgative, and there is one which is definitely poisonous. But generally speaking, they are not a very exciting species, although they furnish supplies to many rock gardens.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, who always sneaks well on any matter—I remember his speech in the debate last March—spoke, for one who is habitually courteous, with rather more force than he normally does and with something approaching indignation. Except for the fact that I wish the speech had been made—if that were possible—to a Minister whom I do not like rather than to a Minister whom I do like, I agree with every word. I really feel a sense of personal indignation, because I thought I was going to make a damn good speech today and I have not made one since, I came into this House. I spent days checking up the Schedules, because I know nothing about the subject.

It is just two and a half weeks since I was sitting in a bungalow at Amboseli watching half of creation going by. There were Malibou storks flying over, and an elephant ambling by the window and going to drink 35 gallons at one go of the water which was reserved for the birds. I saw in Amboseli at least four of the five animals listed as the kings of creation. The elephant is pre-eminent as number one and then there are the rhinoceros, the buffalo, the hippopotamus and theleopard—the leopard for its beauty no doubt, because it does not have the best of reputations—and I had the privilege of seeing all but the hippopotamus. I do not think I could have missed it had there been one there, then, but it was the dry season. I came back full of acquired knowledge. I will not try to deceive the House and say that I went to East Africa to prepare myself for this Bill. I went there at the invitation of a most distinguished Indian in East Africa, whose son is a managing director there, and the family is known to Members of both Houses.

So, having gone through agony last year, I have been persuaded, or invited, by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, at very short notice, because the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is ill, to stand up to support it. I have studied it and have personal experience of the grave penal effects of this Bill, because over 22 years ago I found myself on a brief but rather hectic visit of three or four days to Uganda. I was entertained to a sundowner, on my arrival, by my hosts who happened to be Mr. John Stonehouse and his charming wife. We met the Kabaka, who was worried about the proposals for the Federation of East Africa which would have left him a second-class citizen.

Also, I addressed a meeting of farmers who, to my intense surprise, on the eve of my departure, presented me with a leopard skin. It would not only have been a discourteous thing to ask where they had got it; it would have been a damn silly thing to do—or, in the language of this House, it would have been a work of supererogation. All I could do, fully, was to hand it over to Customs without having time to examine it care- who, very properly, confiscated it at once. I could not take any objection, but I still wish they had not looked quite so pleased about it as they did. So I have had experience both ways.

It was, therefore, with very real joy that the one lightning occasion today, apart from the able but almost desponding speeches which had to be made by those who have worked so hard on this matter, was the extraordinary speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. It is customary to pass facile compliments on the maiden speeches that are made in this House, but this is not an occasion for doing that. I thought his speech was a joy to listen to. I thought, here at last we have someone who knows something about a very difficult part of this subject—I know that we have other noble Lords with knowledge, too—who is able to put forward precisely the kind of case which has been in our minds as one of the problems, and who, if I understood him correctly (although I am a little deaf I heard what he had to say because he spoke with great clarity), said that even so his sympathies are rather with the objects of the Bill. That is where I think we all are.

Indeed, if I may say so to the noble Lord, I myself have been doing my homework on cacti. I find that there are 2,000 varieties of cacti. They all are cacti but they vary. Some grow 20 feet high and they now spread all over the earth. I unearthed the wonderful story about how the opuntia cacti fought against the whole of Australia with a zeal and determination which the West Indies have failed to display in the last few days. It went over there, I think, because of the phylloxera infection on grapes. Certainly it went to the Canary Isles on the same mission and to South Africa. Finally, it took over, over 40 years, 60 million acres of Australian land, half of it completely and half of it to such an extent as to render it difficult to use.

Each of the opuntia has many other virtues. It is edible and produces food which satisfies both hunger and thirst. Some of these opuntia can produce 50,000 seeds. Noble Lords may say that homo sapiens produces a million million according to Sir Aldous Huxley in his Fifth Philosopher's Song, but mostly they go to waste. However, the opuntia seeds virtually speaking, never go to waste. You plough them in and still they can come up after 20 years. One can try to destroy the plant—the Australians tried and bred insects, hatched three million eggs and imported more destructive insects, but the opuntia fought for something like 50 years before it was finally exterminated.

This was after the experience in France, where they first treated phylloxera with prayer. In the Rhone Valley they had services in the cathedral and the vine growers were warned that possibly it was their sins that had brought it about. They had a longer fight against phylloxera. The chairman of Bordeaux said that by 1888 the phylloxera fly, which is about six-hundredths of an inch, had cost France £800 million, which was about twice the indemnity that they had paid to the Germans after the war of 1870–1871. Of course, they had not got near the end of it. The methods which had been used up to then were the insecticides. In fact, an agnostic chemist came along with potassium sulphocarbonate, I think it was. Such insecticides were used and produced some results. The hierarchy held a special service of thanks to God for sending the agnostic with the black bag to do something about it. The phylloxera went on and meant the replacement of vines all over the world. In the meantime, in the Canaries where they had introduced the opuntia, they used it for the purpose for which it was imported. The opuntia is a host to the cochineal rearing fly, a scale fly. It prospered for quite a long time until somebody produced aniline dyes, and the Canaries replanted with bananas. It is an extraordinary story which I should have loved to tell but I have not got the time in which to do it. Therefore, it will have to go into the wastepaper basket, together with all the other undelivered speeches.

I will conclude with only a couple of questions, but they are important ones. First, although the noble Baroness spoke with very great clarity, and I congratulate her upon her speech, I missed the tiny explanation, which was quite extraordinary, of why we have not signed the convention. Why have we been mucking about for 11 months? Certainly the implication of the speech that was delivered last time by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was that one more signature would complete the bringing into force of the convention and that after that, but for a technical difficulty or two, we should be signing it without reservation.

The second question is, how were these orders to which the noble Baroness referred made, and when were they made? I have been searching the Vote Office for some days to find out. Let me say that every possible assistance was given to me by the Vote Office. There is no suggestion whatever of blame there. I gather that they were made under one of the Acts that was passed on 3rd or 4th September 1939, or thereabouts, when we were about to be at war. The Act has in brackets "(Defence)"as part of its Title. That gave power to make orders which need not have Parliamentary approval. I was going to say that this is an outrage. I am faced with the dilemma that, as a matter of fact, in cases of this kind I am strongly in favour of orders which do not involve lugging people to the petty sessions if this can possibly be avoided. The making of an order without punitive measures is an extremely good thing to do but it must be made with Parliamentary approval. It must be treated as a Statutory Instrument. We could not go on without that.

Finally, the noble Baroness was good and generous enough to say without hesitation that she hoped the House would give this Bill a Second Reading, at least, so that we may have a look at the Bill that is prepared for next week, or whenever it is produced. I am grateful for that assurance and I hope that at the conclusion of the debate the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, with the rest of the House may I thank the noble Lord for introducing this Bill and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hale, said, for giving us the opportunity that we all wanted: to ask, why has not the convention already been ratified? I know there has been a great deal of misunderstanding, and some of us know that there have been some very good reasons for it. We hope that in due course we shall have a fairly detailed statement of the reasons why we have not ratified. My noble friend on the Front Bench was rather forceful about the question of enforcement, but I should like for one moment to put forward the difficulties facing any Government, or even the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in finding out exactly how to do these things. Some countries—not Britain—just sign anything. If we sign something, it has got to work properly. This has been the problem.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, in a most excellent maiden speech—and I hope he will become a member of our conservation Committee—gave us an example of one of the difficulties. Let me give your Lordships another. As everybody in this House knows, a number of species are endangered in the wild, but they breed in zoos in sufficient quantities to ensure that they are either no longer endangered or will shortly be not endangered at all as home bred species. As the noble Lord said, this makes it very difficult to control the movements. Not to control the movements of the species if it is endangered and caught in the wild, is to do the wrong thing. If, on the other hand, you control its movements for breeding purposes, you are doing the wrong thing in keeping the species going. It is easy enough to say and very difficult to enact.

Another great difficulty confronting conservation is that someone somewhere will offer animals for sale. They will say that the animals are home bred and you can go and see them. This applies especially to spotted cats. One knows, however, that really the animals being offered were not bred there but were caught in the wild. For every one that is offered for sale in this country, four have died in the catching. This aspect must be caught up by the regulations.

I do not blame the Government. I think they have been doing a wonderful job. The Friends of the Earth have certainly put pressure on the Government, quite rightly, and so have all the conservation bodies; but the various conservation bodies—the Fauna Preservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the RSPB and many others—would be the first to admit that, being registered charities, they are not able to bring the open and public pressure on Government departments that can quite properly be brought by the Friends of the Earth. The Friends of the Earth play an essential part in the pressure for conservation, but I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, and the Minister would be the first to admit that just as much valuable work has been done, not in the public eye, by bodies which are equally concerned but which are charities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones said, there are so many points to be discussed that I will not speak about any of them. It is a little difficult now because we are to get a Bill in a week's time, so anything I may say cannot alter what is already in print. But I liked two points in the Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, the first being that it controlled all the products of endangered species rather than listing a few products. I think he mentioned reptile skin shoes. In my view it is essential that all the products should be controlled. We cannot pick out one, because someone will find a loophole to the detriment of the species in some other way. The second point is that it prohibits the advertising and sale of any scheduled item, whether it is imported under licence or not. This puts the onus on the person so advertising and selling to say that the item has been legally imported. These are good provisions and I hope they will go into the Bill if not, we shall have to think about them.

My noble friend on the Front Bench referred to the penalties. I consider that in these days £100 is a ridiculous penalty, and I hope the subject of the penalties will be examined. I for one congratulate the Minister and her predecessor who is on the Front Bench. I know how much he and the Department concerned did behind the scenes. I know all they have done in moving fast to get as far as they have done. I accept the assurances given by the noble Baroness, and we shall study the Government's Bill with great care. Finally, I hope that when that Bill is drafted, we shall be able to correct the mistakes that will have been made. Let us have a Bill which will enable us to put things right, because in one short Bill we cannot solve all the problems that will arise over the next 20 years.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make a very short intervention in this debate, for the purpose of supporting my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones in his admirable efforts which have continued over a very long time. I want to underline a point which he made and which I am rather surprised has not been more emphasised by other speakers in this interesting debate. The noble Lord mentioned that his earlier Bills had been, as it were, narrowly nationalistic, whereas on this occasion he had taken a wider outlook and the Bill had important international implications. That seems to me to be a most important aspect of this matter. We do not know what will be in the Government Bill about which we have heard, but I hope that they are taking a wide view of that kind.

Last night we had a most interesting meeting of the all-Party conservation Committee which the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, guides with such understanding and tact, at which the importance of the international aspects of this matter were raised very clearly indeed. I think we must make quite sure that when the Government Bill goes through it covers that particular matter, because clearly it is of great importance. At the meeting last night we had a speech from Sir Peter Scott, who I suppose knows more about this matter than anybody else in the country, and almost every sentence underlined the importance of the international controls which must be exercised if these species are in fact to be preserved for the world which, in regard to its splendid qualities and materials and wildlife, over the last years we have been doing so much to destroy. Therefore I hope your Lordships will make quite sure that in the new Bill the international aspects are properly looked after. On that basis I propose to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill today.

Viscount RIDLEY

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, replies, perhaps he would like to know that a great compliment has been paid to him today in that the intervention which we heard recently was in Welsh.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones replies, may I say that there is one industry that is dying. It is in fact very nearly dead. It is the herring fishing industry of the North Sea. There is no cure for that except for international action by all the nations directly concerned—the Soviet Union, Norway, Denmark, Holland and ourselves—and we ought to summon an international conference. When I was a Member of Parliament there used to be great fishings off the Buchan coast in Aberdeenshire in the summer, and off the East Anglian coast—Yarmouth and Lowestoft—in the autumn. We used to export a million barrels of herring a year to Germany and Russia. That trade is dead. The herring is now becoming a precious fish. One used to be able to buy them, with old money, at threepence for six; now, they cost the equivalent of two or three shillings for one and they are becoming more and more scarce all the time. This is only one example of what is going on at the present time. I submit to your Lordships' House that there is only one answer, namely, international action, an international conference to decide what should be done to conserve this industry and, if possible, to revive it.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his fascinating speech. I wish I had known of his interest earlier, because I might have learned something by talking to him about it. It shows how one can never cease in this House to shed a little of one's ignorance by making use of other people. Of course, the noble Viscount, Lord Monck, has been entertaining us all, and showing his great knowledge of the Latin tongue. He quite rightly assumed that my knowledge was not as great as his. Today's debate has shown very clearly a unanimity in this House on the matter. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for her remarks today. I completely accept that it is the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill. The noble Baroness will naturally appreciate that, as I have not seen the Bill and do not know at all what its contents are, I should prefer that this Bill should remain until we have had time to study the Government's Bill. However, I would like to thank the noble Baroness and her predecessor, and all those people in her Department who, to my knowledge, have put in a great deal of effort on this matter.

My Lords, reference has been made to the Friends of the Earth and other organisations. Without their help the Bill which I have been presenting would not be before your Lordships. I am sure all your Lordships understand perfectly well that I am the person standing as an actor presenting his part. I hope I have presented it reasonably adequately. I can assure your Lordships that, with all good luck, this is positively my last appearance in this particular role. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

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