HL Deb 12 December 1984 vol 458 cc274-6

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the effectiveness of Section 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in preventing the illegal taking of birds of prey from the wild; and whether they will review the procedures for registering captive birds of prey with the Department of the Environment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, the purpose of the registration scheme introduced by Section 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is to prevent eggs and birds illegally taken from a nest being passed off as captive bred. We consider that the scheme, coupled with the checks undertaken to verify captive breeding, acts as a strong deterrent to illegal taking from the wild. Its operation is being kept under review.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Relating to the species most at risk, being golden eagle, goshawk, merlin and peregrine, would the noble Earl make a statement about the number of young that were captured during this year, 1984? It is believed that the numbers were heavy. Is the Minister aware that in the three years since 1982—that is, 1982, 1983 and 1984—the total number of peregrines stolen was 219, of goshawks 23 and of merlins 14? Would he agree that this throws some doubt on the working of the Act?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I was aware of some of the statistics that the noble Baroness has given me. She will no doubt have seen the exchange on 3rd December. Of course, this is a new scheme. When the registration scheme was introduced, it broke completely new ground. No one envisaged at the time the number of birds kept or the volume of trade in birds. Furthermore, the department was reliant upon information provided by keepers, which was not always as accurate as we would have liked. However, I have looked into this carefully and I do believe that as the data basis improves our knowledge we shall become more efficient in this particular sphere.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, on another aspect of this Act, is there not a continuing risk of serious damage being done to wildlife habitats until what is known as the three months' loophole is blocked? That is something which both Government and Opposition wish to see done. Is it not unfortunate that in another place a Private Member's Bill (which I understand is not yet printed but the contents of which, nonetheless, have been broadcast) includes this amendment but also three others, at least one of which is highly controversial? Is there not, therefore, in these circumstances, a serious risk that the amendment which everybody wants is likely to fall by the wayside?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I understand my noble friend's question. Obviously, I am not yet in a position to comment on this Bill as it has not been published. I agree with my noble friend that the chances would obviously be better for the clause which he has in mind if the Bill did not contain other controversial matter.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one of the greatest dangers to these rare birds in their natural habitat is the free access of hikers to the hills in the Highlands? They now come in great numbers, and that causes great disturbance to these rare birds. I do not know what one can do about it.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I cannot accept my noble friend's criticism of hikers in this way, but, of course, I understand the point he is making. I believe the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds does a great deal of work in this particular sphere.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the greatest threat is theft? This is because the value of these birds on the market is extremely high. In some cases it is many thousands of pounds. Can the Minister make a statement on the level of fines imposed on those offenders who have so far been brought before the courts? Can he also tell us whether central records will be kept so that the Secretary of State can measure whether the regulations need changing in the future?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as far as the fines are concerned, the maximum fine is £2,000 for an offence under Section 7. For other offences, it is £400. In recent publications I have seen some cases reported which show that some of the fines that are being imposed are quite severe. During our monitoring we shall of course make sure we have a record of what is going on.