§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Sport and Recreation (Mr. Denis Howell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I shall give a short resume of the Bill and a few of the Government's opinions about it.
The Bill has already been through another place and was introduced in this House on 20th May. It was entirely suitable that it should start its life in that other place, because many of their Lordships have great knowledge of conservation matters. Moreover, an Endangered Species Bill, which was a Private Member's measure with similar objectives, had already been extensively debated there.
I had hoped that we could hold Second Reading in this House in Committee, and I regret that the necessary motion was not accepted by the House. I would not have thought that the Bill, important though it is, could be regarded as controversial in a party sense. However, I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Lord President has managed to find a slot in our crowded timetable to enable us to hold this debate this afternoon.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide specific and rather better powers than we have at present to implement the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. I think it will be best, therefore, if I begin with the convention itself before turning to the provisions of the Bill.
The convention was signed in Washington in 1973. It arose from one of the resolutions carried at the Environment Conference held in Stockholm in 1972. It was felt that many animals and plants were being driven to extinction by hunting and collecting and that steps were needed to regulate trade. The basic idea was for the industrialised nations which import most of the furs, ivory and so on to join hands with the larger and mostly developing countries which possess the biggest numbers and variety of wildlife. Import controls in the consumer countries would be linked to, and support, export controls in the countries of origin.
893 I want to stress at the outset that there is no intention of banning all trade in wildlife. Such trade has obvious benefits. Many developing countries obtain valuable foreign currency from such exports—furs, skins, and orchids, to name but a few of the items involved. This country is one of the major importers, although much of what we import we re-export, thanks to the skill of our breeders, propagators, manufacturers and dealers. We are not asking traders to stop trading, but rather to be sensible and avoid eating their seed corn.
The convention provides for the control of both imports and exports of live animals and plants and of such of their parts and derivatives as are readily recognisable. The species to be most strictly controlled, which are those already considered to be threatened with extinction, are listed in Appendix I to the convention. Commercial trade in these is virtually banned for the time being. Other species which, though not in immediate danger, are considered likely to disappear if trade is not regulated are listed in a second appendix. For this second group trade must be controlled and monitored so that action can be taken if a threat to survival develops. A third appendix lists species which a contracting State may consider threatened within its own borders, and in respect of which it operates export controls. Other contracting States have to co-operate with such controls in these cases.
The United Kingdom was one of a number of countries which signed the convention in 1973. Altogether 64 countries have now signed and 32 have ratified. The convention came into force in July 1975, following the tenth ratification.
As the House knows, we implemented the main provisions of the convention in the United Kingdom on 1st January this year under the powers of the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939. But the use of these powers was intended to be only temporary pending the grant of a more specific power by Parliament. Before we implemented them we held consultations with representatives of the trades and industries likely to be affected by the new controls and with the voluntary conservation bodies. These consultations have continued during the various stages of this Bill and have proved 894 most fruitful. I am grateful to the bodies that have been consulted. Indeed, I think I can say that those consultations and the debate in another place have contributed to a Bill which will provide a far more satisfactory basis for our implementation than would have been the position under the existing legislation.
I know that even with the changes in our present arrangements embodied in this Bill we shall not be doing everything that the most ardent conservationists would wish. But we have to hold a reasonable balance. The controls must be practical and in particular they must be effective. We consider it most important to avoid unnecessary interference with legitimate trade.
We also have had the benefit of advice from our three scientific authorities that the Secretary of State has already established or appointed under existing powers. The Nature Conservancy Council, which is the Government's statutory adviser on all matters concerning nature conservation, gives advice on the wider issues of policy raised by the convention extending beyond the operation of the import and export controls. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is the authority for plants and advises on the issue of licences for them. The Director of Kew has appointed a committee, with representatives of other major relevant institutions, to advise him on the operation of the convention.
The third authority is the Scientific Authority for Animals, a newly established body of individuals with expert knowledge of the status of endangered species and related matters. Its chairman is Professor Wynne-Edwards, who is also the chairman of the Birds Advisory Committee for England, Wales and Scotland, thus providing a valuable link with the various controls under the Protection of Birds Acts.
§ Mr. Howell
I am not sure whether there were consultations with that body, but I shall clear up that matter in the course of the debate. In fact, I have just been told that the answer is "Yes". The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that he gets the same swift answers 895 on this subject as I am able to give on drought matters.
§ Mr. Howell
My answers on drought matters have been most realistic— namely, to bring rain. The answer that I have just given is as realistic and accurate.
I am pleased to be able to say that the United Kingdom has now ratified the convention. The necessary instrument was deposited with the Swiss Government on 2nd August. It is, of course, most unusual for us to delay ratification of an international treaty until after we have started to implement it, but there were two special reasons for this. The original intention had been for EEC States jointly to ratify the convention. This, however, did not prove feasible, and member States are ratifying as soon as they are able. The United Kingdom, after West Germany, was the second member State to ratify the convention.
The other reason is that we wished to include as many of our dependent territories as possible in our instrument of ratification, since there is no provision in the convention for us to ratify on their behalf at a later date. Since many of our territories had no existing legislation to enable them to implement the convention, we have had to allow them time to prepare fresh legislation. I am sure that the House will agree that that was reasonable.
Our reason for ratifying at the time we did was to enable us to play a full part in the first conference of the parties to the convention, which is to begin on 2nd November in Berne. A great deal of preparatory work has already been done to ensure that the United Kingdom makes a very positive contribution to this conference.
I now turn to the main provisions of the Bill, which are designed to meet the requirements of the convention, to allow for possible future changes in it and to permit adequate flexibility in administration.
Under Clause 1, which is the main substantive clause, licences are required for the import or export of all the live or dead animals and plants, and of the parts 896 and derivatives, covered by the schedules. The licensing will be administered in Great Britain by the Department of the Environment, in Northern Ireland by the Department of Agriculture and in the dependent territories by their own authorities. The licences may impose terms or conditions. The most common condition will be that, in the case of an import licence, the goods must have a permit from the exporting country.
The Bill's schedules define the species and items to be controlled. Schedule 1 covers the animals in appendices I and II of the convention, and Schedule II the plants in both appendices. Schedule III lists those parts and derivatives of both animals and plants which are considered to be readily recognisable and therefore capable of control. I stress that the schedules to the Bill do not follow the same layout as the appendices to the convention but follow a layout similar to that which the House has approved on other occasions in other legislation.
I shall now say a few words about enforcement of the new controls. The basic intention is to prohibit the import and export of unlicensed goods and so attract the provisions against illegal import and export in Customs legislation. There are, however, some extra provisions in the Bill which we think desirable to deal with the special problems posed by endangered species.
Clause 1(6) makes it an offence knowingly or recklessly to give false information when applying for a licence. Clause 1(8) requires anyone in possession of animals, plants or the listed goods to furnish proof that their import or export was not or is not unlawful. Clause 4 gives the Secretary of State a permissive power to restrict the ports of entry for live animals if this appears desirable to aid enforcement.
Clause 5 enables the Secretary of State to specify premises at which live animals may be kept so as to ensure that animals covered by appendix I of the convention are at least kept in proper accommodation used for approved purposes.
Clause 1(3), (9) and (10) provide specific penalties for knowingly importing, exporting or handling unlicensed goods, and I ought to say a little more about these subsections.
§ Mr. Burden
There is a matter to be clarified here and there may be difficulty since enforcement is to be done through the Customs. There are long lists of animals and plants, including dead animals and dead plants as well as live. What instructions and advice will be given to Her Majesty's Customs so that its officers may recognise the items subject to prohibition? That applies with special force in respect of the dead plants involved. Also, what instructions will be given to enable them to make their recognition fairly easily? It is essential that all these items, including the listed animals, be readily recognised.
§ Mr. Howell
I would make two points on that. First, I do not think that it is possible to give Her Majesty's Customs and Excise instructions. The Customs service is totally independent and is required by this House to carry out the laws that we pass. However, obviously we shall be giving the Customs some advice—which is the word that I think that the hon. Gentleman might have chosen. It would be better if we dealt with this detailed point at Committee stage, which I understand will be taken on the Floor of the House, and I shall be happy to do so then as it will probably be more appropriate than dealing with it when considering the principle of the Bill.
A number of the provisions in the Bill which I have just described were inserted or modified in another place. In most cases the changes were agreed and seem to me to be satisfactory. But subsections (3), (9) and (10) need some attention. We shall have to ask hon. Members to look at these in Committee.
I am here dealing with the amendments which would allow private prosecutions. Hitherto, all prosecutions for illegal import and export have been reserved to the Customs. But it was felt strongly in the other place that, in the case of endangered species, private prosecutions should also be allowed as an aid to enforcement.
These subsections were introduced against the Government's advice and, as they stand, I do not believe that they are workable. For my part, I value the contribution that private individuals and especially members of conservation groups can make in detecting and reporting 898 any breaches of our controls. They have a fund of expertise and a remarkable enthusiasm at their disposal which is to be most commended. However, it must be remembered that the primary responsibility rests on Her Majesty's Customs and Excise to police and enforce these controls. After mature reflection, I do not think that we can part from that concept. Any move to let in private prosecutions will be counter-productive if it hampers Customs officials in their work and cuts across Customs legal powers.
I have given a great deal of thought to ways in which these apparently conflicting objectives might be resolved, as I am sure all of us wish to resolve them if we can. I have also held very much in mind the need to avoid the risk of unnecessary harassment of importers and traders. It seems possible, though not easy, I confess, to insert a provision which will widen the scope of prosecution in such a way that the activities of the voluntary bodies will be complementary to and not confounded with the activities of Customs officials. I therefore intend to table an amendment in Committee designed to achieve this.
The Government are not firmly wedded to the principle of this amendment. It is an attempt in part to be helpful and to try to bring together the parties, Customs and Excise and the voluntary bodies. We are content to leave the House to decide later whether a power to bring private prosecutions is desirable or whether the amendment that I shall be tabling may achieve what all of us would like to achieve.
My contention is simply that if the power is thought desirable, the Government amendment will be workable, whereas the subsections in the Bill as at present drafted are not workable. I am sure that no one in the House, whatever his views, would wish to pass into law an enactment that was not thought to be workable.
There are a few other amendments that the Government will wish to bring forward. Clause 5, which deals with specified premises, has been heavily amended in another place, and could be reorganised to advantage. I shall be bringing in amendments to control otter skins, which were debated in another place, and to add one or two other items to Schedule 3. But I do not think I need 899 take up the time of the House discussing these relatively minor details now, as consultations are continuing and the intention is to table the amendments as soon as possible after this afternoon's debate.
In closing, I should point out that it the Bill is enacted it will not come into force immediately. A little time will be needed to make the necessary administrative changes from our present control system. However, under Clause 9 (7) and (8) the Bill must come into force within six months of its being passed. The House has my assurance that I wish it to come into force as soon as possible and I would not, in any case, expect more than three months to be required to get the administrative arrangements in order so that it can be brought fully into effect.
With that brief outline of the provisions of the Bill, which I like to think will enjoy all-party support, I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)
I give the Bill a wholehearted welcome and assure the Minister, on behalf of the official Opposition, that we are anxious to see it having a speedy passage on the statute book. It was fully debated in another place, with the benefit of some very specialised knowledge. If one reads that debate it is of considerable interest to note what a variety of experts there are on various flora as well as fauna.
I would also congratulate the many voluntary bodies on their articulate and energetically expressed concern, and their helpful and productive prodding of Government—perhaps the Opposition as well —that mankind should act positively in support of the endangered species. We were glad to hear the Minister refer to the ratification of the convention by the United Kingdom on 6th August. He also referred to the problem of dependent territories. I wonder whether he could tell us the situation with regard to Hong Kong, which is particularly important because it handles large quantities of some of the species which are endangered.
I do not wish to delay the House at this hour and, as I said, we want to see this legislation on the statute book as soon as possible. There is one aspect to which 900 I would like to refer, to which the Minister has also referred. We certainly would not wish the Bill to fall short of achieving its objective for want of effective methods of enforcement. We know that this is an aspect of particular concern to the voluntary organisations, to which we are all indebted.
Equally, as hon. Members are aware, this is a matter of concern to retailers. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest as a retailer, although not one whose organisation handles the products with which we are concerned. It is of concern to retailers who might be the subject of private prosecutions. That is a worry. We all recognise that one could have private prosecutions undertaken perhaps more with excessive zeal than on the basis of the weight of the evidence. That is a matter which we shall want to look at in Committee. We shall need to take into consideration the desire not to hamper legitimate trade, particularly since a lot of that trade is concerned with exports. I noted the Minister's comments with interest on this subject and we are grateful to him for them.
We shall want to consider by whom these private prosecutions should be brought. There may be something to be said for restricting the right to bring private prosecutions to perhaps the stated voluntary organisations which have the known expertise in this field. We must also consider what shall constitute a defence in the case of a private prosecution. That is not a matter which should cause any unreasonable delay in Committee, but it is one that we shall have to look at somewhat carefully.
I repeat my welcome for this Bill. It is nice for once to be able to congratulate the Government on a Bill, even when it is brought forward late in the Session. I can think of a long list of legislation that I would rather they had left out altogether or had brought in late with no hope of success in order to give this Bill precedence. If we have an early sight of the amendments that the Minister has promised, with good will all round I hope that the Bill will progress speedily and that we shall put on the statute book a valuable contribution to a worthy cause.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I add my congratulations to the Government on this Bill. It might be late but 901 it is welcome. It is one of the better pieces of legislation to have come before the House in my time here. This is a matter in which I have a considerable interest. I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage.
It is a pity that time is short, because it is important to get this legislation right. We may not have another opportunity for five or 10 years, by which time some species may be extinct. Many are in grave danger now. As each year goes by, the problem becomes more acute.
I understand the feelings about private prosecutions. I agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) about the use of recognised bodies. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, for example, has acted cautiously in this field—and almost entirely successfully. It has taken up the cudgels only when the Customs and Excise has decided not to proceed. The Society does not do so too readily because substantial expenditure is involved, which could be more usefully used in other fields. I declare an interest as vice-chairman of a wildlife organisation branch in my area, and for some years the chairman.
There are some areas of disagreement with the Bill. First, I believe that private prosecutions for the sale of goods illegally imported should extend to prosecution for possession and for advertising. Many people feel that action should be taken in some examples shown on television recently. Second, applications to a magistrate for a search warrant should be allowed.
Third, all products listed in the convention should be controlled. Fourth, licences should not be issued for rare animals for scientific research unless no other species can be used and that species cannot be bred. Finally, information about who has received a licence should be available for all convention species.
I imagine that we shall have to compromise in Committee—I do not wish to hold up the Bill longer than necessary —but if some of these points could be covered, that would be an enormous step forward. I welcome the Bill and hope that it will have a speedy passage.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I think that we all welcome the Bill. The 902 speed with which it is going through shows it to be one of the least controversial measures that the Government have introduced. In view of the controversy which has raged over much of the Government's legislation and which will continue to rage, it is a great pleasure to he confronted with a Bill such as this.
Will it be possible to add to the schedule from time to time if and when other species are threatened? That would be a necessary step.
The Minister took me to task for saying that Customs officials should be "instructed". But that is what I meant —instructed in recognition. I am convinced that many Customs officers will not be able to recognise many of these species without proper instruction. Is it possible for the Minister to consider the production of colour illustrations of the animals and plants referred to in Schedule 3 so that they can be put on display in the Customs areas where their importation may be considered?
If this measure is to be effective, the Customs officers must be able to recognise the animals and plants concerned, and it is therefore necessary that they should have proper instruction in recognition. Especially is this true because, as the Bill stands, the Customs and Excise is to be the only prosecuting and enforcement authority. That will be no good unless it has the knowledge to enable it to enforce the law.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider this aspect together with the possibility of perhaps allowing prosecutions, not by individuals but by established organisations with considerable knowledge of the subject. I am not an anti-vivisectionist, but in that area the only power of prosecution lies with the advisory committee, which is Government-sponsored. There has not been a prosecution for many years, if ever.
It is no good bringing in a law and saying that it will be enforced if steps are not taken to ensure that it is enforceable. Under animal welfare legislation there are always warnings. People are told "You should not do this and you must not do it again" when in fact they are in breach of the law.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give an undertaking that the recommendations in the Bill will be enforceable 903 and will meet the requirements of the organisations which have made representations to the Government, so that we can look forward to this Bill being a really good measure for improving animal welfare.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Howell
I am grateful to the House, and particularly to the three hon. Members who have spoken for their appreciative welcome to the Bill and their kind offer to support it.
The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) raised the question of Hong Kong. I am glad to report that Hong Kong agreed to be included in the United Kingdom instrument of ratification, although it has some reservations on the questions of ivory products and reptiles. We would prefer to have Hong Kong ratify without reservations, but the alternative would be to have the colony excluded from the United Kingdom instrument, and we think it preferable that it should be included even with reservations rather than be excluded completely.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Does that mean in practice that Hong Kong has ratified but has excluded reptiles and ivory products from the effect of its ratification?
§ Mr. Howell
I was about to say that the exact effect is a little complicated and that I prefer to write to the hon. Gentleman about it. This is not a matter within our control. Hong Kong's legislation to implement the provisions of the Washington Convention was passed only as recently as 4th August, but already separate management and scientific authorities have been established, which is very encouraging.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about traders and private prosecutions. This matter is at the heart of the problem. One wants to encourage the voluntary bodies to help us ensure that no trader or organisation tries to find ways round this legislation, on which we all set so much store. But some traders are very concerned about trade information—for example, which licences are being approved—becoming available to their competitors. I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that there is, or should be, a basic right to know, and as far as possible one 904 would want to see it. But we must have regard to the considerations mentioned by the hon. Member for Hove, who said that traders should not be worried unnecessarily and certainly should not be harassed.
It was possibly for this reason that their Lordships considered whether it might be possible to protect traders from an over-enthusiastic person—I use that phrase to cover a wide range of possibilities—putting an improper degree of pressure upon them. I gather that their Lordships thought about the point raised by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), the question whether the names of certain bodies should be added to the Bill. Unfortunately, it seems that there are no obviously pre-eminent bodies that could be specified. But there is no harm in our discussing the matter further. I have said that I am approaching the Bill with an open mind and a readiness to consider alternatives, and I shall be happy to consider amendments.
The question of the rights of private possession causes difficulty, and we should examine it in Committee. Should people be stopped in the street or elsewhere because they seem to be carrying, for example, a handbag made out of an animal of a species the use of which another person thinks is improper under the Bill? We must be careful to protect the citizen from that sort of thing. In encouraging responsible bodies to help, we must protect ordinary citizens against what might be silly and possibly unpleasant interventions.
I was glad to note that the hon. Member for Gillingham, in regard to the Customs, used the word "instruct" in what is possibly its proper sense—to inform, to educate. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to inform and educate Her Majesty's Customs, I am sure that they will be happy to be on the receiving end of that process. In that sense I am happy to accept the word "instruct". We shall proceed on that basis. It is a difficult point to deal with in detail on Second Reading, but no doubt we shall return to the matter in Committee.
The hon. Member for Gillingham also asked whether we could, by order, add words to Clause 3 when we found other species endangered. The answer is in the affirmative.
905 I hope that I have covered all the points, and I look forward to continued co-operation at later stages of the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Mr. Graham.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.