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|Falcon, Peregrine||Falco pregrinus.'.|
I am sorry that I was rather slow to rise to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was getting carried away with my own success on the last group. We now move on to another issue. I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) to his place; I presume that he will respond to this group of amendments, as it falls within his responsibilities.
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The Government are rightly addressing several wildlife protection issues[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary is looking at me somewhat askance. Clearly he will not be responding to this group; at least, if he is it will be a very interesting response, because he has just asked his fellow Minister what this group is about.
New clause 5 is about the serious issue of the import of exotic bird species. In the context of an earlier debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) said that he was with the birds. With this group of amendments, so am I, and so are the Opposition. I was astonished when I looked at some of the statistics, not for all types of birds but just for the species listed in CITESthe convention on international trade in endangered species. In 2001, 28,500 such exotic birds were imported into the United Kingdom, but by 2003, that figure had increased to 83,000a threefold increase. In that year, more than 10,000 parrots were importeda 50 per cent. increase on the previous year.
Many of those species are under threat in their natural environment, and the CITES arrangements go out of their way to protect them and require special permits for their import. That is not enough. Neither the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals nor the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds believes that it is. The World Parrot Trust, a very authoritative organisation, is not against the keeping of parrots in captivity, but it believes that we need to limit imports, and strongly condemns that trade. The RSPCA estimates that the mortality rates among imported wild-caught birds could be as high as 60 per cent.
By contrast, in the UK, we do not allow commercial exploitation of our native birds. All bar a few species are protected entirely and it is an offence to catch a finch, for example. The time was when most households had a finch in a cage, but these days no native finch could be captured and kept in a cage. However, we happily allow wild-caught parrots to be imported and kept in cages. It is also clear that a huge illegal trade exists in the importation of wild-caught birds, although by its very nature exact numbers cannot be determined. I do not decry the efforts made by Revenue and Customsas we must now call itbut seizures of such imported birds have been low. In 2001, 5,000 CITES-listed animals and birds were seized. By 2002, the number had increased to 8,600, but in 2003 it dropped to just under 3,000. I suggest that the fall does not reflect a reduction in the overall number of illegal imports.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I concur with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the seizures. I am concerned that the authorities do not have sufficient enforcement powers. The fines may have increased, but that is no deterrent if there is no proper enforcement. Has the hon. Gentleman noticed the increase in examples on the internet of trade in exotic birds and endangered species and does he agree that the Government should pay more attention to that issue?
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I support what the hon. Gentleman seeks to achieve, but I am puzzled by one point. I am not an ornithologist, but the exclusions in subsection (4) appear to include large families of birds, such as the pheasants, turkeys, ducks, ostriches, rheas and cranes. Why has he chosen to exclude all those birds, some of which are undoubtedly exotic birds in the UK context and not all of which are game birds?
Mr. Paice: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I hope to address that issue, not least by pointing out that one would not keep an ostrich in a cageat least, not in one's front room. That is a light-hearted point, but I will try to address the issue in a moment.
Many organisations want to see an end to this trade and most reasonable people would agree with that. Many of the species are at real risk in their native habitat. The latest World Conservation Union red list, published by BirdLife International, says that one in eight of all bird species are at real risk of becoming extinct. Of those species, 113 are directly threatened by exploitation for the caged bird trade and 57 per cent. of threatened parrot species are trapped for the trade. Those are significant figures.
The World Parrot Trust says that there are already enough individuals of each parrot species in this country to provide a viable breeding population. If people want to keep parrotsand this debate is not about the rights and wrongs of doing sosupply is available from captive-bred birds, without the need to catch more in the wild. Indeed, it can be hard to re-home parrots when owners wish to give the birds up because they cannot cope with them. Birds can change hands on average every six years and, given that they can live for 45 years, they may have several owners in that time.
I suspect that the Minister will say that the issue is a matter for the European Union. I understand that, and this is not a debate about the rights and wrongs of Europe. It is about whether we should address the very real problem of imported exotic birds, many of which come from threatened species. We have examined the experience of the United States. Its Wild Bird Conservation Act 1992 has had a dramatic effect and caused a massive drop in the volume of birds imported to the US. Through the 1980s, the US imported an average of 700,000 birds annually, of which captive-bred birds accounted for only 9 to 13 per cent. The other 90 or so per cent. were taken from the wild. By 1994, the total had fallen to 80,000, of which almost half were captive-bred. So the number of wild-caught birds legally imported into the US as a result of the 1992 Act fell from more than 600,000 to some 45,000a huge drop in anybody's language.
Importantly, the 1992 US Act benefited legitimate bird dealers, by stemming the flood of wild-caught birds on to the American pet market. Virtually all the commercially popular exotic bird species could be bred in captivity, and the Act encouraged that. However, wild-caught birds generally cost less, because captive breeding is an expensive and labour-intensive process. By preventing the importation of the wild-caught birds, the Act shifted the demand to professional bird breeders.
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Perhaps even more important than the reduction in the legal trade was the huge reduction in the illegal trade, which may come as a surprise to many hon. Members. The 1992 Act effectively banned the importation of any CITES-listed bird species, with exceptions for scientific research, zoological breeding or display, approved co-operative breeding programmes and a "clean" list of species for which trade was known to consist entirely of captive-bred birds. In other words, and in answer to the question from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), the excluded species are not normally wild-caught birds, but captive-bred ones. Therefore, their importation does not risk the species' survival in the wild.
The new clause is not a direct copy of the US Act, but gains its basic points from it. The US Act is a good example of what can be achieved and I therefore strongly commend the new clause to the Minister.
Amendment No. 5 addresses a question that we discussed in Committee. The Minister is rightly extending protection to the nests of three species of birds. I would say native birds, but the sea eagle is not native to England at the moment. We have no pairs in this country, although we hope that they will come in from Scotland.
In Committee, we discussed the issue of how long a nest is a nest. I expressed then my concern that the in perpetuity nature of the clause, which the Minister admitted, was too long. We know that those bird species return to nests. Indeed, they may have three or four nest sites to which they return every few years or so, for sensible reasonszoologists believeof parasite control. However, given that it will be an offence to interfere with a nest, it is stretching a point to say that once a nest is there it should not be interfered with in perpetuityfor 10 years, 15 years or even 100 years.
If one stick remains that was once part of an eagle's nest, the Bill will mean that it should never be interfered with. I think that that goes too far. In Committee, I proposed an amendment that would have limited the period to three years, but the Minister said that that was not satisfactory. After further discussions with interested bodies, I suggest in amendment No. 5 that the period should be five years, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider. It is too much to propose that a nest should be protected in perpetuity. The Minister may disagree with my proposal of five years, but there needs to be a limit.
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