HL Deb 23 January 1991 vol 525 cc226-7

3.7 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will restrict imports of turtles and terrapins to prevent salmonella infection and cruelty to animals.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, there is no firm evidence about the extent of salmonella infection from turtles and terrapins, and the Government have no immediate plans to extend the existing import controls in respect of them. It is already an offence for traders to cause suffering or ill treat animals.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Can she say whether the enthusiasm shown at Christmas for certain mutant turtles, described in press reports as "turtle mania", has increased the demand in this country for these unfortunate creatures?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there has been an increase as a result of the mutant hero turtle mania. However, I also understand that the Nature Conservancy Council is aware of a growing number of colonies in the country, the largest of which consists of only about six terrapins. They are omnivors and will therefore eat weeds and indigenous species of insects. But it is true to say that a cold weather spell would have the effect of killing them off.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that any attempt to restrict the import of these creatures is now too late? Is she also aware that there are at least two species which are now feral in our waterways? Is she further aware that emys orbicularis, the European pond terrapin, thrives perfectly well as far north as northern Germany and that the American red-eared terrapin, which has also been released, has been seen happily disporting itself —and indeed, has been photographed—as far north as Wolverhampton?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not know what effect that final comment has on all my Scottish colleagues in the House. The banning of animals has more to do with endangered species. I should point out that terrapins are not an endangered species.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, can my noble friend try to alleviate my ignorance on the matter? Are not terrapins what I used to think of as tortoises? I understand that this particular class of animal covers a very wide range of size, shape and species.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not an authority on terrapins. My understanding is that they are not tortoises. They are more akin to turtles, and they swim.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is not the difference between a terrapin and a turtle well described by Rudyard Kipling in the Just-So Stories?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is indeed.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, will the Government publicise the fact that turtles and terrapins are difficult pets to keep and, if abandoned, damage the local ecology?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The department writes continually to traders on the welfare of animals and ensures that people know their responsibilities under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.