|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 564earmarked. We wait with great interest to learn how that will be spread and used, but that is a slightly different subject. I decided that I would approach the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as soon as I learned that I had been successful in the ballot, partly because I think that MAFF is an extremely effective Department and partly because I was extremely well received by the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) when he was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry. After I went to Whitehall court, he took great trouble to follow up our meeting and to pursue the matter as best he could.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), the Parliamentary Secretary, is on the Government Front Bench, because he is a Scot and he knows the Highlands. In all my discussions in Brasilia and with other foreigners who are interested in rain forests, I begin with the same few sentences. I say that I come from a country where we have cut down a great deal of our ancient Caledonian forest. I explain that we still have problems at Abernethy, as the Minister knows, with the Mondhvie wood. I acknowledge that we are not in a position to lecture others, especially when we are destroying our peat bogs rapidly to provide garden peat.
Although there is a world problem, I do not think that it serves great purpose to go through the awful and powerful stories that have appeared in the newspapers, especially--to their credit--the tabloids. I shall quote Sian James of Today, however. The article of 31 October reads :
"The beautiful young bird screeches in pain as its wings are severed with a machete before hunters nail it to a stake in the forest floor.
Its pitiful shrieks ring through the trees. The cries attract others in the flock who fly to investigate and are themselves trapped.
This stomach-churning brutality is an everyday scene". I do not know whether that is an exaggeration. I can say only that when I was at the Altimera conference I saw parrots for sale. I asked about the position and I was told, rather movingly, "The man who is selling the parrots has seven children to feed." We must be extremely careful about making moral judgments. Many of those who do the trapping undertake it for a pittance, but considerable sums are made elsewhere.
I refer to a powerful article that appeared in last Sunday's edition of The Observer. It was written by Peter Beaumont and Polly Ghazi. It seems to show that there is an action plan in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I may be doubly fortunate in securing the debate because I take the opportunity of saying--I have given warning of this--that I would like to know whether the story in The Observer is accurate. I hope that it is.
I should add that scientists such as Peter Furley and Jim Raffa--who are distinguished Edinburgh university professors as well as professors at Brazilian universities and have taken part in the Maraca project--confirm much of the difficulty with the Amazon. I gave notice to the private secretary to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that I was to make a glancing reference to the problem of the Yanomami. The new Brazilian President was the guest of the Government and many hon. Members met him. I do not know how tactful it is to make a plea about the Yanomami, but I shall read the all-party motion that will be tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer). It reads :
Column 565"That this House expresses its grave concern for the Indian people of Brazil and in particular the Yanomami people ; notes that the Brazilian Constitution requires Indian land to be demarcated ; is encouraged that on 22 October the Brazilian Federal Court gave legal protection to all Yanomami lands ; notes with concern however that the Yanomami's future is threatened by the invasion of their land by mineral prospectors, approximately 45,000 of whom have begun prospecting since 1987 ; notes with concern that these developments have led to the introduction of diseases such as an epidemic increase of malaria cases, flu, venereal diseases, and respiratory diseases, as well as large scale pollution of the environment by mercury poisoning of rivers and deforestation which have serious and detrimental impact on the livelihood of the Yanomami through crop devastation and the disappearance of fish and game ; urges Her Majesty's Government to work with and encourage other Governments and international agencies to support the Brazilian Government in its efforts to demarcate Indian lands and to enforce the removal of prospectors from Yanomami lands and in particular looks forward to the day when the Yanomami people are able to live in peace and the environment in which they live is protected and restored." I pay tribute to Roy Trevidy and his colleagues at Oxfam for taking an intense interest in the problem. I pay tribute also to our excellent embassy in Brazil, which is led by the ambassador Michael Newington. It has sent Mr. Morris and other senior colleagues to the Yanomami lands. I make no criticism of the British embassy. The problem is not only Brazil. Last week, I was the guest of the Association of South- East Asian Nations high commissioners. I asked a parliamentary question about what studies had been
"made of the situation of indigenous peoples of the rain forests of Sarawak ; what were the results of such studies" ?
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs replied :
"We have noted reports of the arrest of nomadic Penan tribespeople for blockading logging roads. The Malaysian authorities are aware of international interest in the effects of deforestation on the global environment and on tribespeople. We have expressed concern to the Malaysian authorities, who state that their aim is to resettle the Penans and provide education, health care and an improved quality of life."--[ Official Report, 11 December 1989 ; Vol. 163, c. 497 .] I met some Penans, who are very primitive people, in Borneo, in the 1960s. They may want to continue their own way of life. It may be to the advantage of the world if they do so, because they may be the best guardians of the forest. I say that to show that it is not simply a south American problem.
I am greatly indebted to Tony Juniper and Christoph Imboden of the International Council for Bird Preservation, which is primarily concerned with the conservation of species. It is therefore of great concern that they have learnt that the number of birds dying in each consignment entering Britain continually averages between 13 and 20 per cent. In answer, I think that the Minister gave a figure of 13.7 per cent. The recent consignment of birds from Tanzanian en route through Heathrow to Miami is a good example of the scale of the problem.
Just one consignment totalled over 8,700 birds, but over 1,200 individuals died. That is within the percentage loss that appears to be generally accepted by the authorities and importers, not only in Britain but worldwide. In the United States, the figures for deaths range from 14 to 24
Column 566per cent. Current public feeling to animals must not accept that figure. If it were dogs, cats or horses in trade, such figures would be totally unacceptable.
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food figures, compiled through its quarantine regulations, show that, in 1987, almost 170, 000 birds other than poultry were imported into Britain. Almost all those birds will be destined for the commercial trade. United States figures show that over 99 per cent. of all birds imported are used in the pet shop and commercial trade. There is no reason to suspect different figures for this country.
While detailed figures are available on this trade in other countries, there are no comparative figures available in this country. For example, in the United States in 1985, over 18,000 grey parrots were imported and almost 2,700 died. No such specific comparable figures are available in the United Kingdom.
Birds are not the only animal commodity traded in such numbers. Tropical fish, both marine and freshwater, imported into Britain alone total over 400 million. The trade generally accepts a mortality figure of around 5 per cent. to 10 per cent., but that accounts for 40 million individuals.
Obviously a total ban on the trade in animals for commercial trade is ideal, but the present climate would never accept such a measure. However, limiting the trade to those individuals which are captive bred will certainly reduce the trade and the mortality figures. Interim measures which could be easily implemented include a stronger resolve by Governments to get to grips with this problem and to implement the CITES checklist scheme.
The problem experienced by the International Air Transport Association is very important. It is vital that the dialogue between the CITES secretariat, through the standing committee, and the live animals board of the International Air Transport Association, the Animal Air Transport Association and the International Office of Epizootics be continued ; that applicants for export permits or re-export certificates should be notified that, as a condition of issuance, they are required to prepare and ship live specimens in accordance with IATA live animals regulations for the transport of live specimens by air and the CITES guidelines for transport of live specimens for marine or terrestrial shipments ; that to assist enforcement officers, CITES export permits or re-export certificates should be accompanied by a crating check list to be signed immediately prior to shipment by a person designated by a CITES management authority, the person so designated being familiar with the live animals regualtions ; that where parties to the convention have designated ports of entry and exit, animal holding facilities should be provided ; that parties be encouraged to gather information on mortality occurring during transport and to note obvious causes of such mortality ; that to the extent possible, parties should ensure that animal holding facilities are open for inspection of shipments, with the concurrence of the transport company, by CITES- designated enforcement personnel or designated observers ; and that any documented information be made available to the appropriate authorities and transport companies.
Those are all matters for the Department of Transport. I hope that officials at that Department will read the Hansard record of this debate and will write to me at their convenience about it. As soon as I knew that I was to have this opportunity to raise the subject, I phoned the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to inform the officials
Column 567there of the matters that I considered to be their
responsibilities. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to my points.
I am greatly indebted to Mark Love, the senior legal adviser to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ; to Gerry Lloyd, the RSPCA's parliamentary liaison officer ; and to the RSPCA chief inspector at the sharp end, Andy Foxcroft, for helping me to formulate my questions.
First, what criteria are applied by the Ministry in granting licences under the Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979? For example, does the Minister take note of any relevant previous convictions for importation offences? It seems to me that those convicted of habitual and repeated offences should not be allowed to continue in trade.
Secondly, is there any liaison between the Department of the Environment and MAFF when an individual applies to import protected species of birds and seeks the necessary licences from the respective DOE and MAFF departments? Specifically, is it the case that MAFF says, "We are interested only in hygiene," and that the DOE says, "We are interested only in the convention in CITES"? That is my impression. If I am wrong, I am sure that I will be told.
Thirdly, does the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food require production of the relevant Department of the Environment licence for protected species of birds before issuing an import licence under the Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979?
Fourthly, are there any controls or checks to prevent dealers from importing protected species of birds by multiple applications for import licences for family pet birds? I am concerned about this matter. There are dealers who, under the guise of family import, bring in up to six birds-- that is their entitlement--and are making multi applications. That is an abuse of the system. It is what happens particularly in relation to valuable birds. Some birds and parrots are extremely valuable--we are talking about thousands of pounds.
Fifthly, when protected species of birds are imported through the animal quarantine station at Heathrow, who checks that the necessary Department of the Environment licence has been granted and complied with? At present, there is only a MAFF licence.
Sixthly, what inquiries and checks are made that imports of protected species of fauna under zoo licences are for zoological study rather than for import into the commercial trade? The zoo directors and Roger Wheater in Edinburgh in particular are concerned about this matter. People should not be deprived of pets, but they should be captive-bred. Captive-bred parrots make much better pets. Seventhly, on how many occasions in 1987, 1988 and 1989 have officials from Customs and Excise asked to see the relevant documentation supporting protected species in transit through the United Kingdom to a third non-EEC country, as provided by article 5.4 of EEC regulation 3626/82?
Eighthly, in the recent transit flight involving protected species of birds, in which over 1,200 flamingos died--it is greedy to bring in that number of birds ; it is disgraceful--did any officer of the animal quarantine station ask to see all the relevant CITES export documents, as provided
Column 568in 5.4 of EEC regulation 3626/82? Why did the animal quarantine station not call in Customs to check the relevant CITES paperwork? Ninthly, what inquiries and checks are made to ensure that protected species of birds that are imported as captive-bred birds are captive-bred? I suspect that there is a great deal of labelling that birds are captive-bred when they are nothing of the kind because they were brought in and, therefore, supposed to be cheaper. That will not do.
Tenthly, why are family pet birds that are the subject of CITES protection imported in ports other than Heathrow? On 13 December in a question, which was answered on 18 December, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I asked :
"what are the implications for the enforcement of regulations concerning the Wildlife Trade and the implementation of CITES of the effect on specialist skills, including intelligence gathering and criminal identifications, resulting from the proposed move of the Custom and Excise Endangered Species Branch from London to Southend."
I am not at all happy about the Economic Secretary's answer. He said :
"There is no reason to suppose that the proposed relocation from London to Southend of the small group of Customs and Excise HQ staff dealing with import and export controls on endangered species will have any significant effect on the level of enforcement".--[ Official Report, 18 December 1989 ; Vol. 164, c. 28. ]
That may be a technically correct answer, but like the rest of us, the Customs officials have families. It is a question of moving, and it may not be easy for them. I do not know what their personal circumstances are-- whether they have mortgages, or kids at school, or whatever. However, for one reason or another, justified or unjustified, the unit seems to be being broken up. That is a tragedy, because comparatively few people have the expertise to make the decisions that are so necessary. Possibly that matter could be taken up.
Lastly, I cannot resist returning to a subject that I raised with the Scottish Office at 3.15 this afternoon. Why has the Scottish Office refused the eminently reasonable request of the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) for an independent chairman of the Science Co-ordinating Committee? I am profoundly unhappy about the break-up of the Nature Conservancy Council. That is a matter for the green Bill and for debate elsewhere, but those who go about breaking up the NCC and its expertise should think, and think again, about the effect of that on the subject that I have raised. I thank the Whips, my Chief Whip and the Minister for their presence.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Maclean) : The hon. Membefor Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has done well to raise a subject of great concern to the House. Clearly, it is a matter on which he is campaigning most ardently and with an impressive depth of knowledge. I thank him for his customary kindness and courtesy to me and to those others who have been present at this hour of the morning to listen and respond to his debate.
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman made at the start of his speech--that responsibility for this problem, depending on which aspect is of greatest concern, could cross many departmental boundaries. I assure him that there is considerable liaison between the various Departments depending on whether the problem at the time relates to welfare or transport or is a Foreign Office
responsibility. The hon. Gentleman, who has considerable
Column 569experience of the machinery of government and how it works, will appreciate that it is not possible on any one subject to designate one Department as being in the lead on all occasions. It depends on the problem being highlighted at the time.
I am delighted that on this occasion not just the buck but the African Gray stops here and I have the chance to respond to the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased to respond to him for another reason, which is entirely unrelated to his debate. The last time the hon. Gentleman and I met properly in a debate in the House was on a Committee when as a Back Bencher I decided to rise to support a new Government initiative allowing grants to be given for dry stone walls. It must have been five or six years ago--
Mr. Dalyell : Yes, I remember.
Mr. Maclean : I made my little speech on the importance of dry stone walls and the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to jump to his feet immediately after me and to stress that I was absolutely right and that dry stone walls--or dry stone "dykes" as he said--were vital to the rural economy. The hon. Gentleman spent five minutes making sensible and erudite points to back up what I had said, much to consternation of all my hon. Friends, who were surprised to see the hon. Member for Linlithgow entirely agreeing with everything that I said. They told me that my promotion prospects were ruined for ever. Thankfully, that was not the case, and the hon. Gentleman and I have both gone on to greater things.
I should like to make our position quite clear on the import trade in wild- caught birds. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made clear in The Observer newspaper at the weekend, we are not happy that large numbers of birds should have to die--whether on capture, during handling and transport or after arrival in this country-- for no better reason than to make money or to be a status symbol for the owner who buys them. I question the morality of the whole trade. If it is necessary for birds of exotic species to be caged in this country, it is surely better that they should have been bred in captivity, as the hon. Gentleman said. In that way, the mortality would be reduced and wild birds could continue to adorn their natural habitat. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, and it is also my understanding, captive-bred birds are much more likely to provide responsive and amenable pets. The hon. Member referred to the details of a study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food into mortalities of imported birds, which was made available yesterday. The figures cover all birds arriving at post- import quarantine premises during 1988. They are not capable of separation into birds that were captured in the wild and any other categories, but the statistics are divided into birds dead on arrival at quarantine premises and those which die during the statutory quarantine period.
I understand that the study provides the first comprehensive survey of its type, and as such it will be an important basis for deciding on any subsequent measures. It reveals that of 185,000 birds, 5,000 were dead on arrival and a further 21,000 died during quarantine. The overall average mortality rate was 13.7 per cent. Those losses are in addition to unquantified deaths during capture and
Column 570subsequent handling and transport in the country of origin, for which we have no figures. Clearly losses are higher for certain bird species and for certain individual countries than for others. There can be no doubt that there is a major problem and the unfortunate cargo of flamingoes and other birds that recently transited Heathrow en route to Miami further highlighted the problem. I shall refer to that incident later.
The natural initial reaction of anyone confronted with the problem is to ask for a unilateral ban on imports of these birds. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, that simple remedy is not open to us. We would immediately run foul of our international obligations both as members of the Community and under the general agreement on tariffs and trade. Nor are there powers to restrict the imports of birds on welfare grounds, either under the EC regulation 3626/82, which implements CITES within the Community, or under the Endangered Species (Import/Export) Act 1976, which is, of course, Department of the Environment legislation.
As the hon. Member is fully aware, my Department is responsible both for ensuring appropriate disease protection arrangements and for safeguarding the welfare of birds, and indeed all animals, during transport and on landing. Taking disease protection first, the Importation of Birds, Poultry and Hatching Eggs Order 1979 is designed to reduce the risk of certain bird diseases, especially Newcastle disease, being introduced into the country by way of imported birds or poultry. Applicants for licences under the order must confirm the availability of appropriate quarantine premises which, except for pet birds, have to be inspected and approved by MAFF veterinary staff before licences are issued.
Mr. Dalyell : Quite often pigeons from France bring Newcastle disease.
Mr. Maclean : That is a fair point. However, we must ensure that it does not enter the country through birds going through the quarantine regulations.
Applicants must nominate the means of transport from points of landing to the quarantine premises and provide the names of local veterinary inspectors to supervise those quarantine premises. Applicants must also undertake to comply with our import conditions which, among other things, include a requirement that imported birds are accompanied by the prescribed health certificate signed by an official veterinarian in the exporting country. In those circumstances, there is no power to refuse to issue a licence as long as those criteria are met.
Liaison between the Ministry and the Department of the Environment in relation to individual import licences is not normally required, but all applicants for a licence under the 1979 order are told that they should contact the DoE in case a licence is required by that Department. Licences issue under the 1979 order make it clear that they provide no exemption from the need to obtain a DoE licence if appropriate, but there is no requirement for the issue of a MAFF licence to be conditional upon the production of a DoE licence. All applications for import licences under the 1979 order, including those for pet birds, are carefully scrutinised. Checks are made to ensure, as far as possible, that multiple applications for pet bird licences do not contravene the rules for such imports, which are less stringent than those governing other type of imports. The
Column 571hon. Gentleman referred to that in his speech. If he or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has any evidence that the pet bird import rules are being abused, I shall be pleased to receive it and I undertake to arrange for the appropriate investigations to be made. We shall be pleased to do that. Imports into zoological collections must undergo quarantine in approved premises and are subject to official supervision. Birds are released from quarantine only once a MAFF veterinary officer is satisfied of their health status.
Turning now to my Department's welfare responsibilities, I return to the deaths of flamingos and other birds in transit from Tanzania to the USA via Amsterdam. On 9 December, staff at the animal quarantine station at Heathrow became aware of problems with the consignment. Sorting of the birds revealed the extent of the mortalities and the transport condition. Approximately 1,250 birds, including flamingos, were dead on arrival.
My right hon. Friend the Minister was able to speak promptly to Mr. Gerrit Braks, his Dutch counterpart, about the need for prompt and close co- operation in investigating this case and exploring particular lessons to be learned. Ministry vets also offered their assistance to the AQS. It is operated by the City of London corporation and it has the powers of enforcement under the Animal Health Act 1981. I understand that it is considering whether to take proceedings in this particular case under the Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973. Since that is pending consideration, it would be unwise for me to say more about that specific incident.
Mr. Dalyell : Some of us were deeply shocked and angered when, on the different subject of orchids, the Customs and Excise went to enormous trouble to bring a prosecution against a plant dealer, which was overturned by the courts. That was disheartening for them. I should like to put on record my strong support for the Customs and Excise in this matter.
Mr. Maclean : I am grateful for the support that the hon. Gentleman has expressed for Customs and Excise and say other Government Departments or authorities charged with responsibility for prosecuting those who may have offended against regulations. I can only repeat that the authority responsible for operating the animal quarantine station, the City of London corporation, is considering at this precise moment what action it should take under the Transit of Animal (General) Order 1973.
Mr. Dalyell : There is a feeling that the courts treat offences involving animals and plants differently from other offences. They are equally offences.
Mr. Maclean : I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that they are equally offences. I hope that the courts do not make that distinction. I, and all hon. Members who are in the Chamber at this hour in the morning have the strongest regard for animal welfare legislation. The Government have made clear their commitment in other cases. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry laid charges against those responsible for the export of beagles in the case of a few weeks ago. We take the dimmest possible view of any breach of any animal health and welfare regulations, and the courts would take a similar view.
Column 572I can make it clear it general terms that those involved in transporting birds or animals must know and should know that causing suffering is a very serious matter. Necessary steps will be taken by the local authorities enforcement officers or ourselves against offenders. I can also say that, as a direct result of the incident involving birds in transit from Tanzania to the United States, my officials are drawing up a general import licence which, among other things, will require advance notice to be given to my Department of consignments transiting this country so that they may be inspected on arrival here. I hope that those new arrangements will be in place early in the new year.
Mr. Maclean : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that welcome.
The hon. Gentleman will know full well that the law covering the welfare of birds in transit to and from this country is set out in the Transit of Animals (General) Order 1973, as amended in 1988. It is underpinned by general provisions in the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Offenders can be, and are, prosecuted under this legislation. I have just given one such exammple. But we think the European Community as a whole should take a close look into the health and welfare aspects of the captive bird trade. That is why I made it clear, in a reply to the hon. Gentleman yesterday, that we will raise this matter in the Council of Ministers at an early opportunity. On the specific points to which the hon. Gentleman sought a response, he will know the important fact that all commercial imports entering this country must be routed through the animal quarantine station. Staff there are particularly knowledgeable in the transport of exotic species of birds and have taken important steps not only to prosecute, but warn and advise airlines on transport conditions and practices. However, when the birds first enter the country, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise make the checks that the Department of the Environment's endangered species controls are properly met. Unfortunately the Customs and Excise department does not hold, centrally, information which would enable me to say how often its officers have checked the documentation for those species transitting this country. Nor have we been able to determine whether the relevant CITES document was inspected in the case of the recent flamingo consignment.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, certain protected species may be imported for a limited and clearly defined range of circumstances. For example, species are allowed for zoological study, and to be imported if they are captive-bred. The Department of the Environment will not issue the relevant import permits unless it is fully satisfied with the evidence submitted in support of the import applications. The nature of the information sought varies according to the circumstances of each import. I understand that some follow-up checks are made.
Family pet birds need not enter this country via Heathrow or Gatwick even though the species are subject to CITES protection. The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Designation of Ports of Entry) Regulations 1985 do not apply where a person imports two birds or fewer and accompanies them. This exemption does not, however, apply to diurnal birds of prey--in other words, daytime raptors such as eagles, hawks and falcons.
Column 573I have referred to the study on mortality in imported birds, the results of which have been placed in the Library of the House. That study provides a basis for considering what further measures need to be taken.
Our existing arrangements relating to the import of captive birds have been strikingly successful in dealing with the disease risks which such imports would otherwise constitute. But in the light of the results of the survey I shall be taking further steps to ensure that our requirements are being fulfilled. I cannot, of course, comment on the speculation in The Observer newspaper at the weekend, but the hon. Gentleman asked me for our action plan and I shall give it.
My officials will be visiting major exporting countries to determine how effectively they fulfil our import requirements and impress upon them the importance of following the International Air Transport Association standards for shipment to the United Kingdom. These visits will enable us to decide whether it is necessary to impose additional conditions and whether there are any countries from which imports should no longer be accepted on health grounds. I will also review the conditions that are imposed after birds reach the United Kingdom, including stocking rates in quarantine premises, which my officials are already examining, and the possibility of requiring post-import prophylactic treatment for certain important diseases. Officials will be meeting representatives of the bird trade to discuss the implications of the results of the survey and the possibility of a code of practice. I will be contacting the airlines to emphasise how much importance I attach to compliance with satisfactory practice in transporting birds, and will be considering whether any further welfare safeguards are needed.
Dealing with the high mortality found among imported birds is not, however, fundamentally a problem which can be tackled at a national level alone. I therefore propose to raise this matter in the Council of Ministers at an early opportunity. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's views about other possible avenues. Representatives of the trade will also wish to comment. We would also be interested in any proposals from organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Environmental Investigation Agency, the International Council for the Preservation of Birds and the RSPCA.
Mr. Dalyell : There is one urgent matter. There is soon to be a new Government in Brazil. It is important that they should be talked to quietly and privately. As I emphasised in my speech, there should be no sense of lecturing. There should be a discussion of the problem as between partners.
Mr. Maclean : Since this debate has touched a wide variety of Departments, I shall ensure that today's Hansard is drawn to the attention of all of them, including the Foreign Office.
At this time of year, our thoughts run particularly to the keeping and love of animals. I have in mind, for example, the excellent campaign and slogan, "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas". Many children have their own pets and are encouraged to think and remember that, if they get a pet such as a puppy, they must consider how they will look after it and what they will do with it when it grows up and becomes much larger.
I am in correspondence with hundreds and hundreds of colleagues who are desperately concerned about the treatment and welfare of horses and ponies after 1992. While many people are concerned--children are writing to me because they are worried about it--I would place a little of the responsibility on them. The next time some young girl pesters her daddy to get her a pony, she should remember that one day that pony will be a bit older and perhaps, when her interest turns to teenage boys rather than ponies, someone will have to look after that animal or dispose of it when it is older.
People who buy an animal as a pet, or whatever, must consider the consequences. The examples that I gave are relevant to this. I urge everyone who sees a captive bird in a pet shop to think of its origins, when it was perhaps flying free in the Amazon rain forest, and the many birds of that species which have died on capture on or on transit in order to supply one live bird in captivity. They should think of the sierra parakeets, 50 per cent. of which die before arriving in this country ; of the red-fronted macaws, 30 per cent. of which die ; and the same applies to peach-faced lovebirds. Next time anyone goes to a pet shop and wants to buy a blue-headed parrot, let him remember that for every parrot bought here another has perished on the journey--and those figures do not include deaths during capture and while awaiting export. People who buy such birds must remember that, however well they may look after them, horrendous losses have occurred to get the birds into the shops in this country. The Government will do all that they can to protect these species. We shall tighten up the transit rules whenever possible. We shall enforce the IATA regulations strictly. We shall raise the matter in the EC and the Council of Ministers, and we shall not hesitate to prosecute offenders.
Ultimately, however, what will have the most profound effect on this trade will be a change of attitude and perceptions. So long as people want to possess these birds in cages, there will be those who are willing to supply them at any price, regardless of the death and suffering caused. But if people decide that keeping these wild birds causes unacceptable losses or suffering and that they will have no more of it, demand for the birds will end and so will their suffering.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) : It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who represents the Department to which I had the privilege of being special adviser. The last debate was initiated by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), a gentleman in every sense of the word, who raised a matter of considerable importance with which many of us have a great deal of sympathy. My role this morning is to move to a somewhat different subject, but one that is appropriate to the time of year, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) has risen from his bed and come hotfoot to the Chamber to answer this debate on charities. Christmas is a time of maximum indulgence for most of us, but it is also a time when the gap between those who cannot join in--not always for lack of funds--and those who enjoy Christmas is most clearly to be seen. One of the roles of charities is to bridge that gap. It is remarkable and to the credit of our people that so many of them muck in and help in charitable activities by giving money or time at Christmas. One of my early political mentors, Iain Macleod, was closely involved with the charity Crisis at Christmas, which does the kind of work that many of us will be doing in our constituencies this Christmas.
I speak as a member of, but not on behalf of, the all-party working party on charity law. The group spans both Houses and has been useful, I hope, to the Home Office in the deliberations leading up to the White Paper published in May. I trust, too, that it will continue to be useful as we move to legislation on this subject.
I should declare an interest as president of the Perry Foundation, a private and endowed agricultural trust working in agricultural research and organised, as so many charities now are, as a company limited by guarantee. It has a substantial income. Later, I shall advert to trends and changes in the pattern of charitable activity. It is remarkable that this House pays little attention to charities unless there is a particular failure and something goes wrong. Even in respect of our work on the all-party group, the other place is livelier and more forthcoming. On 30 November, it had a most interesting and distinguished debate, which demonstrated the expertise that many noble Lords have in the subject. The other place often concerns itself with matters of law, which are of great importance but in which I have no professional qualification. Nevertheless, it is right for right hon. and hon. Members to turn their thoughts increasingly to the subject of charity as we move towards legislating on it in the year ahead.
The White Paper touches on the size of charitable activity in this country, but that aspect is insufficiently understood. The White Paper quotes a turnover of £13 billion per year, and charities have a number of implications for the public purse--in the form of commensurate tax relief on that income and the direct structure of Government grant aid. If one adds together the value of that grant aid and indirect Government support-- such as employment training and personal social services--they total about £2 billion. Another £500 million comes from tax relief. That adds up to big business, and it supports an even bigger business--private charity.
Column 576Government assistance to the voluntary sector has been subject to separate scrutiny, which I welcome. I understand that that study is now in the hands of Ministers, and I trust that the House will have an opportunity to debate it and other charity matters when right hon. and hon. Members return from the Christmas Recess. The Government face a difficult task. If we are spending public money, we are entitled in this House to seek value. In our role as the protectors of the public interest, we are entitled also to establish arrangements to ensure that private moneys given for charitable purposes are also spent properly.
There will always be the hard cases, and when they arise there will always be calls for draconian legislation, still further controls, and a tightening up of the whole sector. Perhaps that is inevitable. However, there is an equal and opposite danger in the form of excessive control. My hon. Friend will be aware of the phrase "a light touch" in the context of his Department's regulatory responsibilities in broadcasting, and it is probably appropriate in respect of regulating charities too.
It is a matter of record that the Home Office takes a relatively low profile in the control function, and rightly. I shall comment on the Charity Commissioners later. Before I do so, I may warn the House that whatever is done in this place, we must not muddy the wheels of charity. If someone feels that it is really important to donate money to the indigent children of left-handed taxidermists--and although you, Mr. Speaker, and I may not share that sentiment--it is extremely important that he should have the opportuniy to express his generosity in that way.
I recently found that my own charity, which I felt should be whiter than white, had slipped up on a technicality. Many trustees of smaller charities may not be as aware of their duties as they should be, but it is nevertheless unreasonable to impose on them huge burdens of regulatory competence with which they cannot deal. My charity is not the only one that has had to smarten itself up in certain technical respects ; many of the greatest in the land have run into problems, as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations would no doubt readily admit.
We cannot have a system in which the best is the enemy of the good, and trustees find themselves harassed by onerous and unreasonable prescriptions and requirements. Whatever we do must be realistic, and I welcome the White Paper's proposal for certain bands of compliance in relation to the size of the charity. We need regulation, but we must not scare off those who wish to give.
I pay tribute to the assistance that my group has received from Robin Guthrie and the Charity Commission. The commission has not always had a good press in this place, although that has not always been the fault of its members. For a start, it is an unusual body--it could almost have been said to be the first next steps agency when it was set up many years ago, in that it has a regulatory function but is also an arm of the High Court. It is both a compromise and, in a sense, ahead of the field. It is well known and, I think, hardly controversial that the commission operated with extremely limited resources in the past, and was therefore unable to do the job as it should. We need proper regulation or no regulation at all--there is no case for semi-regulation or inadequate regulation of charities. The new arrangements are exemplified by the move of some of the London activities out to Taunton, and by the
Column 577new team which includes part-time commissioners to supplement the work of the full-timers. Given those arrangements, I see a good prospect of improvement in the present position. In a single step we are moving from the danger of being wrapped in some Victorian cocoon--the sad world of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce--to the use of information technology and the most modern systems to keep abreast. This is a major task for the commission. The White Paper makes the reasonable point that some 4,000 charities a year--or one for every half-hour of the working day--are added to the register. It is rather like the correspondence with which Members of Parliament have to deal--it never seems to diminish very much, and the problems that it involves are constantly increasing.
We should, I think, consider a charge for registration, as recommended by the White Paper. I have reservations about whether we should also charge an annual fee for the filing of accounts, because I am not sure that it would be cost-effective. The registration arrangement for new charities, however, would at least give the commissioners an opportunity to discuss whether the introduction of a new charity was absolutely necessary or desirable, or whether it would be possible to achieve the relevant objectives through association with an existing charity.
Again, our maxim must be that, if people want to give, they should be encouraged to do so, and in the way that they choose ; clearly, however, it is a good idea to provide a hoop through which they must go, to engage in serious examination of their motives and the machinery that they are setting up. There is great scope for model clauses, codes of practice and accounts to try to simplify the task and to make trustees' lives easier.
It is remarkable, although perhaps it is not so remarkable in the middle of this somewhat archaically structured debate, that the source of this business lies in the preamble to the Elizabethan Act of 1601, where we still find definitions, as glossed by Lord Macnaghten in a judgment in the last century, that are applicable today. It describes the four basic heads of charity as the advancement of religion, education, the relief of poverty and any other public purpose. It is interesting to note that, although the White Paper says that the statute of 1601 is being repealed, some of the purposes and how they are set out--the relief of aged, impotent and poor people, the maintenance of sick and maimed soldiers and mariners, schools of learning, free schools and scholars in universities, the repair of bridges, ports, havens, causeways and churches and others--still continue to be referred to.
We have new motorway construction work in my area. The Department of Transport is unwilling to pay for some bridge guarding on a side road because, it says, that is outside its specification. The provisions that I have just mentioned struck a chord with me in that context. I have not entirely abandoned the possibility of public funding, but at least there is a possibility of telling local people, "If you really believe that it is as important as you think it is, why do you not get together and raise the money to do it?" We have perhaps forgotten the great tradition of charity. People and communities were bound together for public purposes such as the maintenance of roads and the turnpikes. That may be an area in which more happens in the future. There is clearly a shift in the charitable world, which I welcome, from the more traditional endowed
Column 578charities, which were set up by the Victorian industrialist who felt that he should give something back to his community, and the old, poor and bread charities, to new charities often with no capital at all, which depend entirely on current fund raising from the public. I think that that is a good thing, because no institution can flourish when it depends solely on the generosity of the dead. It must depend on the enthusiasm of the living as well.
That change has been accompanied by a democratic or demotic shift towards much wider involvement with charity. I welcome that, as many have been put off because they regard charity as the dowager launching some great activity. God bless the dowagers in what they can do and continue to do, but activity should go wider than that. People's generosity is not confined by their social background or by their income. I welcome the way in which Telethon, Children in Need and the rest are opening up the possibilities of charity to the general public.
Anyone who has anything to do with young people or young electors knows that they are extremely generous. They have powerful concerns for the public good. We may not always agree with them, but surely it is right that they should be brought in and should organise events such as the red-nose day. They also take an interest in how the money is spent. That is a positive change, although, as the Minister will know it has some regulatory implications as the provisions of the Charities Act 1960 are basically relevant to the old endowed charities.
It should not be thought that because I introduced the notion of the democratisation of charity I wanted to underplay or diminish the role of the traditional endowed charities, as they have a great deal to offer. We first need to find out who they are, so the restructuring of charitable registration and the White Paper will be relevant. I do not criticise the White Paper, but the experience of the working panel reveals the need to put greater emphasis on local reviews of charities.
We heard evidence from two counties--Wiltshire and Devon--and discussed their attitude to local reviews. Money has to be spent on that--it has to come either from the local authority or from the commission--but it is extremely well spent. I understand that the review of local charities in Devon unearthed some 4,000 local charities, of which 30 per cent. had not previously been registered, with an annual income exceeding £10 million.
In addition, I would emphasise the importance of keeping a local register. Devon has a database up and running which I hope it will develop wider in conjunction with the Charity Commissioners, but it must be extremely useful in dealing with the traditional relief of poverty through the county's social services as help is immediately accessible and available through the county computer network in public libraries and sub-post offices. I hope that such schemes will be set up in every county. When that has been developed in conjunction with the central register of the Charity Commission, we shall maintain it so that there is an effective local point of access and reference.
My next point is very close to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) who has been in and out of the Chamber during the debate but, sadly, is not here now. He is concerned that moneys raised for public purposes are left in small sums--in penny packets--in various bank accounts and are eventually centralised by the bank but are not really applied to charitable purposes because the charities have failed or are