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Mr. Paice: I shall try to deal briefly with new clause 6. We addressed a similar issue in Committeeor to be more precise, the Liberal Democrats did soand it is right that it should be considered a little further. New clause 6 deals with the need to control invasive non-native species. Of course, not all non-native species are bad. I can cite species such as the rabbit, the fallow deer and the pheasant, none of which are native to this country. They have been here for hundreds of years, but they are not native and, with the possible exception of the rabbit, no one would argue that they were bad. There are many other examples.
There are certain examples where that is clearly an issue. Interestingly and very topically, the ruddy duck has been mentioned in today's paper. The north American ruddy duck, which was originally introduced to Britain, is now to be culled in Spain because it has flown there
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and mated with a local species, producing a hybrid that threatens the original. That is a clear example of an invasive non-native species causing a problem.
Other species are listed in new clause 9, to which I could add the signal crayfish, which is destroying our native crayfish in many of our waterways, including those in south Dorset, and, of course, the grey squirrel.
Mr. Paice: The Minister is right: they are rats with fluffy tails. I am sure that, if we spoke to people walking across St. James's park or Green park, they would all think that they were lovely animals, but they cause immense damage to our trees, our forestry and, most importantly, to our beloved red squirrel. They are an immense problem. I shall not detain the House by quoting all the accounts of the problems that they cause, such as the damage to woodland, the competition with bats for roost sites and with birds for resourcesfood and nesting sitesthe predation of birds' nests and, most importantly, the competition with the red squirrel. There is a belief that they may well spread disease to the red squirrel, and there has not yet been enough research into whether the grey squirrel is spreading the squirrel pox virus to our red squirrels.
The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) said quite clearly in July last year that the Forestry Commission is engaged in the preparation of a policy statement on grey squirrels. I am told that that policy statement is due by the end of 2005. I hope that that is the case, but that is still a very long time. The Minister is looking somewhat doubtful about whether it will be produced even then. I hope that he will not delay it further.
New clause 6 would require the Secretary of State to tell Parliament how such an action plan would be implemented. We need more than simply an action plan. It is all very well to talk, as I am doing now, about the seriousness of the problems caused by the grey squirrel and those other species to our natural flora and fauna and the threat that they represent to red squirrels and other aspects of our natural environment, but we must do something about it. There is a common belief in the country that the Forestry Commission is dragging its heels. By its nature, the commission has a huge impact on the grey squirrel because it owns so much of our woodland and forestry. So whatever action it takes is central to controlling that species. If the commission is dragging its heels, as is widely believed and often reported in a number of different professional journals, that is not good news.
My purpose in speaking to new clause 6 is to encourage the Government to look again at what is going on with invasive species that can damage native
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flora and fauna. In particular, how will the Government turn policy and proposals into action? I remind them that 30 or 40 years ago we had an excellent rabbit clearance policyalthough now we might say that it has not worked. More recently, we eliminated the coypu, which was doing huge damage to parts of the country. It is probably unrealistic to expect us to eradicate the grey squirrel, unfortunately. I agree entirely with the Minister about that. I suspect that if we advocated such a course we should bring the wrath of some members of the community down on our heads. However, the grey squirrel needs to be seriously controlled, especially outside urban areas where it does so much damage. New clause 6 would address that problem and turn policy into action. I commend it to the House.
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