HL Deb 20 December 1995 vol 567 cc1601-3

2.58 p.m.

Lord Stodart of Leaston asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the arrival of two pelicans from Prague was the result of a request made to the Government of the Czech Republic; and whether there are more to come to join Vaclav and Rusalka with a view to restoring the number of pelicans in St. James's Park.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

My Lords, the two pelicans, Vaclav and Rusalka, joined the white pelican and the eastern white pelican at St. James's Park in September. They were brought from Prague Zoo. There are no plans to acquire any more.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for such a positive reply. Is he aware of the fact that over the past 30 years or so, when this subject has been discussed, questions have been asked about the possibility of reproduction among the pelicans in St. James's Park? On each occasion the Minister answering the Question has been obliged to say that because of his ignorance of the sex of the pelicans he has been unable to provide any information. On this occasion, the two pelicans have been supplied with Christian names. Does that give my noble friend the possibility of adding a plume to his cap by refuting the claim that has always been made that the only thing that knows the sex of a pelican is another pelican?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships are grateful to my noble friend for having the interests of the pelicans in St. James's Park so close to his heart over so many years. As my noble friend commented, the two newly acquired pelicans are called Vaclav and Rusalka. Vaclav is the same name as Wenceslas, a male name, and Rusalka is a female name. When the pelicans left Prague Zoo, the experts there identified the sex of each of the pelicans. In order to ensure that they are no longer in the predicament of not knowing the identity or the sex of the pelicans, the Government have ringed each of them so that the knowledge can be retained.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the Minister who replied to a similar question on this subject in 1988 indicated that the park pelicans had not laid an egg for 300 years. Is that because conditions in the park are not propitious for the propagation of pelicans? If so, is it kind to import those pelicans and so deny them a normal life with a mate, including the patter of little webbed feet.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, an egg was laid by the pelicans in St. James's Park but it was infertile. I am advised by ornithological experts that the reality is that pelicans tend not to produce fertile eggs unless they are part of a larger flock of a minimum of about 10 birds. I understand that London Zoo plans to try to establish such a flock. As for the nature of the community in which pelicans live, it is similar to that experienced in monasteries and nunneries.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is it true that there have been pelicans in St. James's Park since the reign of Charles II and if there are no pelicans there, according to historical myth, dreadful things will happen? Can the noble Lord elucidate on that at all?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the first pelicans in St. James's Park were presented to King Charles II by the Russian ambassador in the early 1660s. In February 1665, John Evelyn noted that he had seen a pelican which was, a fowle between a stork and a swan". I have no detailed knowledge of the myth to which the noble Lord refers.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, in view of the importance of the pelicans and the amount of traffic in St. James's Park, will the Minister consider putting up some pelican crossings?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, that is a matter for the Department of Transport.

Lord Annan

My Lords, will a third pelican be added so that, as in the days of the last war, they can be referred to as Chiefs of Staff?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am sure that it is possible to add a pelican. But if more than four pelicans are in St. James's Park they have a tendency to behave very badly towards the other water fowl on the lake; in particular, they eat up the young ones. That goes against the wish of the Royal Parks Agency.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome more beautiful birds, especially at this time of the year. However, can the Minister reassure the House that those birds are in fact legal and not illegal immigrants? Can the noble Lord further assure the House that, if they ask for political asylum, they will not have their benefits reduced? Finally, I should like to wish the House a very happy Christmas.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I can confirm that the pelicans were legally imported to this country; indeed, I understand that they went through their period of quarantine on Duck Island, together with the pelican to which I referred which went to London Zoo. I can assure the House that the pelicans are being properly looked after. Each pelican eats four pounds of whiting a day at a cost of £78.50p per week for all the pelicans. In addition, they receive supplements of vitamin tablets.

Lord Stoddart of Leaston

My Lords, I merely rise to thank my noble friend the Minister for giving the House more detailed information on the Question than we have ever had before.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I endeavour to provide whatever information your Lordships may seek of me.