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Mr. Randall : I rise to speak briefly to this group of amendments, and especially to my amendment No. 35. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) for bringing new clause 5 forward, but with all due respect to him I confess that I am not sure that this Bill is the most appropriate place for it. It is possible that his proposals would be more suited to the Animal Welfare Bill. However, this is an important matter, and there are many arguments to be made.

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said about the CITES species, but we must be very careful, as there are more factors than he may appreciate. It may not be appropriate to discuss those factors in this debate, as
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other matters need to be considered before the 9 o'clock guillotine but, as an ornithologist, I take slight issue with the families of birds included in new clause 5(4)(ii). I used to lead bird tours abroad in a professional capacity, and am therefore acquainted with many of the species listed in the new clause. For example, the Cracidae family includes curassows and guans, which could be caught in the forests of central and southern America. In addition, the term "turkey" covers much more than the birds with which most people are familiar, as among the wild species of turkey is the ocellated turkey of central America. Moreover, the Megapodiidae family covers the fascinating group of birds that build mounds in which to incubate their eggs. Such birds include the mallee fowl and the brush turkey.

Norman Baker: Ah, the brush turkey.

Mr. Randall: Indeed.

I am not sure that the model proposed in new clause 5 is the best way to approach this matter, but the question is worth discussing. However, quoting the American example, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said that there had been a fall in the illegal trade in birds. I am worried that the huge amounts of money involved in the existing illegal import of CITES species of birds mean that the trade will go further undercover. The trade is not conducted by enthusiasts, as all wildlife crime is part of organised crime. Again, that may be a matter for debate at another time.

I turn now to amendment No. 5. I think that the period proposed could be a little longer than five years, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments. I shall come to the list of birds contained in amendment No. 35 in a moment, but I want to take the example of the golden eagle. Those birds often have several eyries that are used intermittently—in other words, birds may return to an eyrie after a period of years. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire is right that those nests cannot be preserved in perpetuity. In the highlands and elsewhere, one is always being shown places where birds used to breed. Thankfully, some of those places are being recolonised, but it would be a mistake to keep a nest for too long a period. I do not know whether it would be better to preserve them for seven or 10 years; five years might be too short a time, but the matter is worth serious consideration.

I come now to the Bill's list of species whose nests are to be protected. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, the white-tailed eagle was reintroduced into Britain but currently breeds only in Scotland, which is not covered by these proposals. I am glad that the white-tailed eagle has returned to these islands, but I do not know how soon the bird will colonise further south. As I recall, there is normally only one golden eagle nest somewhere in the Lake District, although that may vary from year to year. Osprey numbers have been increasing, and I am pleased to say that that bird is a little less uncommon than used to be the case, but none of the species that I have mentioned reflects the specifically English and Welsh nature of the Bill.
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In amendment No. 35, I put forward three species that could really use protection. First of all, though, I have to point out that the amendment as printed contains an error, perhaps caused by my handwriting when I submitted my proposal. However, the scientific name of the peregrine falcon is falco peregrinus, and not falco pregrinus as printed. If the Minister rejects my amendment, it will be for that reason alone, and I will happily undertake to submit a correct version later.

The peregrine falcon is a classic example of a bird that sometimes suffers at the hands of rogue elements in the pigeon-fancying fraternity. It has been known for some people to put stones on those birds' breeding ledges, or to block them up in some way. However, the numbers of peregrine falcons have been increasing—the birds are now reported to be breeding in central London—and that caused me to wonder what would happen if protection were to be extended to those birds and then a pair were to breed on a disused building. I think that licensing by the Department, for reasons of health and safety, or for other good reasons, could then be used to allow that nest site to be dismantled.

Even people who are not ornithologists know the very popular and beautiful barn owl, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly uncommon. Barn owls sometimes nest in disused buildings, and again there may be good health and safety reasons why the owner of such a building—a farmer, for instance—might want to get rid of that building. Licences issued by the Department would have a part to play in that process, with the proviso that alternative nest sites must be provided.

The problem is that if we are not careful we could be in danger of getting rid of established nest sites. As the Minister is aware—and I think most people are aware, as is apparent when people come to me to discuss planning issues—bats are afforded some of the best protection, whether at roost sites or hibernation sites, or where they are breeding, and we should be considering giving these three species similar protection.

The third and final species on my list is the red-billed chough, which may not be well known to Members. It is a crow with a red bill and red feet. It used to be much more widespread; it is on the coat of arms of Canterbury, and Thomas Becket had it on his coat of arms. Currently its stronghold is in Wales. It is the county bird of Cornwall, although until quite recently it had not been there for a long time, but I believe that pairs have started to come back. It is an absolutely wonderful bird. It is scarce, and that is why it would be a very good thing to add it to the list.

I believe that it is the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight)—

Jim Knight indicated dissent.

Mr. Randall: No, it is not. Well, I was going to say that both Ministers present are generally reckoned to be very good friends of biodiversity. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), has just one small Achilles heel in the shape of cormorants, but I will leave that for another day and time. I urge the Government to look very seriously at the need to add these birds to the list, and I shall be very interested to hear their reply.
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8.30 pm

Jim Knight: Let me clarify from the outset that I am the first ever UK Minister for biodiversity, international and national, so I am very much responsible for this area; that is why I am wearing my Countdown 2010 badge in respect of the European biodiversity target.

I very much share the intention behind new clause 5 in respect of the preservation of bird species and concern about the trade in exotic birds. Powers are already available under existing EU legislation to enable the Secretary of State to protect exotic species from the consequences of unsustainable trade and to ensure that their welfare needs are properly addressed during transportation. It is a case not of needing new legislation, but of working with Europe and other countries to better implement the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, and the European regulations that flow from that.

This proposal would insert a series of additional measures that at best overlap with and at worst contradict existing measures to regulate the trade in exotic species. In our view, adoption of the proposals would insert additional complexity that would confuse traders and administrators alike, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the existing controls on the trade in exotic birds.

I appreciate that the capture and transportation of live birds in some countries leads to undue suffering, but ultimately it is for the Government of the exporting country to take the necessary corrective measures to regulate those activities. I shall look at what more we can do to encourage such action, partly to assist with curtailing the damaging illegal trade in birds, which I know is very active and which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) talked about. I could have gone on at length, but I hope that with that brief explanation he will withdraw his amendment.

Amendment No. 5 seeks to limit the protection of nests that are reused by a limited number of birds to a period of five years from when the nest was constructed or last used. On the face of it, that appears sensible—what use is there in protecting a nest that has been abandoned and will never be used again?—but as we have heard from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), some birds, such as golden eagles, can use several nests and may return to a nest even if it looks as though it has been abandoned for some time. It is important to remember in this context that it is possible, as he said, to apply for a licence under section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 if there are good reasons for removing a nest that appears to be abandoned. Each application is considered on its merits, but it allows for development if it can be demonstrated that it is necessary to remove the nest.

There is also a practical difficulty in accepting the amendment, or indeed any amendment that seeks to restrict protection to a particular period: how is it possible for an enforcement authority to know how long a particular nest has been abandoned? How do we know when to start counting? Not all nests of the birds protected by this new offence are observed all year round. I accept that there is a limited number of nests, for the reason that the hon. Member for Uxbridge gave,
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but not all of them are monitored all year round and there may be some difficulty in obtaining information to start the clock ticking.

Finally, amendment No. 35 seeks to add three species to the three already listed. The three species are amber listed according to the World Conservation Union guidelines and they can all be spotted in my constituency; the choughs are pretty tricky but they have been spotted in recent years. The fact that they are amber listed means that they have unfavourable conservation status within Europe. However, there are signs that their populations in England and Wales are slowly increasing—including the barn owl; in my constituency, farmers are reporting seeing more of them around, as I am sure the hon. Member for Uxbridge will be pleased to hear.

The three species proposed in the amendment return to the same nest, and will use it if it is still available. However, if it has been damaged or destroyed, they will build a nest nearby just as readily—more readily than the other three species, I am advised. As I explained in Committee, they are important species and they deserve to be protected, which is why it is already an offence to disturb them during the breeding season. I know that there are rogue elements who seek to disturb peregrine falcons, in particular, but I do not believe that it is appropriate to protect the nests of the species in the amendment all year round. To do so would require the monitoring of more than 6,000 sites, which is not realistic.

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