HC Deb 29 October 1976 vol 918 cc910-21
Mr. Stephen Ross

I beg to move, Amendment No. 60, in page 25, line 36, leave out 'any rug, coverlet, coat, jacket, cape or stole'. and insert 'clothing or furnishings'.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this amendment we are to take the following amendments:

No. 89, in page 25, line 37, leave out '(except where the furskin is trimming only)'.

No. 69, in page 26, line 42, leave out "coat or jacket' and insert 'clothing'.

No. 82, in page 27, line 43, at end add—


In this Schedule, the following definitions shall apply: clothing" includes footwear and any personal accessory except a container; container" means any personal portable receptacle; furnishings" means household, office, vehicle and any other furnishings, and includes non-personal ornaments of any kind'.

Mr. Ross

The amendment seeks to provide a precedent for the scientific authorities in providing sufficiently comprehensive definitions for controlled goods. It has been deliberately restricted to cover the position of spotted cats.

I should like to start by giving the Committee some rather alarming figures about imports of skins from spotted cats, particularly from South America, which appear in the briefing document from Friends of the Earth, to which organisation I pay tribute. It has played a very large role in providing information both to the noble Lords and to Members of this House about the background of the Bill. This has been recognised by the Government and by Members of both Houses.

From these figures we can appreciate just how great is the trade in the species to which I have referred. Apparently, licences issued between 1st January and 30th June 1976 for the export of some animals products were as follows: for ocelot, the South American spotted cat, no fewer than 11,826 skins; for tiger cat, or little spotted cat, 4,738 skins; for Wied's tiger cat, or the margay, 3,955 skins; for poor old Geoffrey's cat, also from South America, 4,046 skins.

One could go on and try to extend the amendment to try to cover reptiles, but I have not done so. However, even there the number of skins of water snakes is 2,000, and the figure for the Indian rat snake is some 26,000.

We are talking about very big numbers and, therefore, this is an amendment of some importance.

The Customs seems to want to keep the Bill to terms used in the Customs Tariff so that they can integrate their general revenue functions with their functions of controlling prohibited imports. However, I think that it would be agreed in all quarters that the Customs Tariff can be very vague. I do not wish to take up much time by quoting examples, but if one looks at Article 42.02 of the Customs Tariff one finds examples of the definition of "containers" which lead to confusion. One has only to look at the existing schedule to see the variation in terms, and the odd and anomalous distinctions between what is controlled and what is not. For example, leopard-skin coats are controlled, but leopard-skin boots, which have been on sale recently in Oxford Street, are not controlled.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am alarmed and astonished at the idea of leopard-skin boots being on sale, but is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that they were made of real leopard skin, and not imitation leopard skin?

Mr. Ross

I am assured that they were. I would certainly not wish to purchase any such thing for my wife. Indeed, she would divorce me if I did. However, I take this from the information that has been provided to me, which is fairly sound, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that these were genuine leopard-skin boots.

So far only a few manufactured products appear in the schedule, but the scientific authority will no doubt be wanting soon to control certain manufactured products. It should bring uniformity to the schedule if the authority has available to it easily recognisable and quantifiable categories of product. It should make the job easier by reducing the bewildering variety of products which could be controlled, each under its individual name, and with the consequent risk of overlapping, not to mention gaps in controls, complications and accidental anomalies.

What is intended in the amendment is that rather than what has happened under the open general import licences in the past, the definitions should be fully debated and considered by biologists, politicians, traders, conservationists and lawyers, in order to obtain a precise, concise, intelligible and workable set of definitions for certain situations. If we can do that we should avoid the confusion in current law about the products which has never been defined by parliamentary counsel and which has grown up in an ad hoc fashion.

I may be accused of making the job of the Customs vastly more difficult than it is already. However, applying the definitions suggested would simplify Customs work. One has only to look at paragraph 9(4) of the schedule to see, in line 36, the words, Any rug, coverlet, coat, jacket, cape or stole made wholly or partly of any furskin of a defined animal (except where the furskin is trimming only). If that were reduced to "clothing" and "furskins", how much more simple it would be.

It would also make controls more comprehensive, which is the point of proposing these definitions. There is no sense in controlling tiger-skin bedspreads, which is done at present, I am told, but not tiger-skin curtains, which is not done at present. Again, I do not fancy tiger-skin curtains. Heaven forbid! Nevertheless, I understand that this is one way in which people get round these controls. If one wants a tiger-skin bedspread, apparently what one does is to attach curtain hooks to the tiger-skin and the Customs have to let it through, and once in the country one takes off the curtain rings and put it on one's bed. This brings the law into contempt, and as the Customs have to enforce it at the ports in the arbitrary manner laid down in Schedule 3, they can do nothing about it and it will tend to bring the Customs into contempt. They could do nothing about it even if the hooks were publicly pulled off within sight of the Customs barrier.

Those are a couple of examples of the way that tiger-skins and leopard-skins may be used for bedspreads and boots. I am not suggesting that many people in Britain would want to have those items. Unfortunately, however, there are people in this world who do want them. All that I am trying to do is to simplify the wording so that these anomalies can be avoided and so that we can, perhaps, get some fairly concise definition and know exactly what we are dealing with. We are dealing with animals which have been vastly over-exploited. We know the situation with regard to tigers, but the figures that I read earlier about spotted cats should alarm us all into taking some action. I hope that my amendment will receive some consideration from the Minister.

Mr. Burden

I want the Minister to give very serious consideration to Amendment No. 89, standing in my name. It would have the effect of deleting the exceptions where the furskin is trimming only. There are very serious objections to the retention of this particular exception. The Minister must realise that furskin trimming can be of several sizes. It can be very small or it can be quite extensive.

I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to this question. It is inevitable that if the skins of these threatened rare species are to be used as trimmings, the people who will so use them will want the mto be sufficiently large to be recognisable and the women wearing them to be proud of the fact that they have an article trimmed with a very rare skin. If there is a sufficiency of trimmings of the skins of these animals, that could mean the use of a large number of them.

1.30 p.m.

If, on the other hand, it is said that the trimmings are small, I submit that the effect of such a trimming on the style and quality of the garment would be so insignificant that it would be unrecognisable except to someone with expert knowledge of skins.

It is also the fact that the skins are to be used not as fur garments, but as trimmings. I submit that it would be extremely difficult to control the size or to decide whether the skin was recognised as a trimming. The only difficulties would arise because of the enormous number of companies who manufacture coats and suits on which the skin would appear.

I am also convinced that the use of these fur trimmings for fashion purposes is completely unnecessary. If we are talking about trying to save endangered species and restricting the use to which their skins can be put in order to help to save the animals, the last thing we want to exclude from control is something that is to be used purely for fashion purposes. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the amendment.

Mr. Sainsbury

I should like to have been able to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and, indeed, that moved by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), but, commendable as the amendments are, I suggest that unless the Minister is able to assure us that these matters have been discussed with those concerned, and particularly with those in the trade who are involved, and that what is proposed is acceptable, it would be better if the Minister would take note of what has been said and consider the matter again.

Mr. Burden

I am surprised that my hon. Friend should take that line. For many years I was engaged in the clothing trade, and I am sure that if the Minister accepts the amendment, even though there may be some objections to it from members of the fur trade who may want to use these furs as trimmings, what is proposed will not involve them in any great hardship. We are talking about endangered species. Very few of their skins will be allowed to come in, and if manufacturers were to rely on receiving these furs they would go bust anyhow.

Mr. Sainsbury

I appreciate that, but the schedule gives rise to a licensing requirement and extends the complexity of the administration. Perhaps I should be reassured by what my hon. Friend said, because I was intending to suggest that if the Minister cannot assure us that he has already consulted the trade about these matters it would be better if he were to consider what has been said—and said powerfully on this group of amendments—and consider the matter again in another place.

There is the other aspect, and it is that, under Clause 3, the schedules can be varied by order of the Secretary of State. If we get the Bill on to the statute book, which I am sure we all want, and a loophole is discovered, it will be open to the Secretary of State, after the necessary consultations, to bring forward an order to vary the schedule.

Mr. Burden

I think that if we can we should deal with these matters now and not leave them to be dealt with at a later date. If this is a reasonable amendment, as I hope the Minister will accept it is, he should agree to incorporate it into the Bill and deal with the matter now.

Mr. Sainsbury

I agree that it is always better to deal with something straight away if that is possible, and experience shows that it is not always possible to ensure that orders are thoroughly discussed and ventilated, but if we are on new ground that has not been the subject of discussions with the trade, we are to some extent on dangerous ground. I agree that if we are dealing with endangered species, we do not want the animal killed when only a small tip of the tail is to be used as a trimming for fashion purposes. Equally, however, there are problems of identification. Presumably, ancient fur coats could be cut up and used as trimmings on modern garments. That could give rise to the problem of determining whether one was dealing with something that was legal and proper, or something that was not.

I should have liked to be able to support the amendments, but I think that this is a matter on which there should be full consultation.

Mr. Burden

My hon. Friend says that old fur coats could be cut up and used as trimmings. Stoles are often made from cutting up fur coats. If there were a problem about trimmings, there would be a problem also about stoles.

Mr. Sainsbury

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I hesitate even to define what is a stole.

Mr. Guy Barnett

I propose to deal first with the amendment moved so persuasively by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and then to refer to the amendment so persuasively suggested by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden).

The convention requires us to control such parts and derivatives of the species on the appendices as are readily recognisable. Here lies perhaps the most intractable problem in the convention because identification can often be very difficult indeed. We have interpreted the term "readily recognisable" as meaning that the items in each paragraph of Schedule 3 can be recognised by most laymen as a group, and that the individual species within each paragraph can be identified by an expert. It is essential that any controls we introduce should be practical and enforceable.

We have managed to provide a fairly thorough coverage of raw parts. But so far our coverage of manufactured goods and derivatives has been less extensive. It is extremely difficult to identify the precise species in most manufactured goods, and it is far from easy to define the area of control in a manner which customs and traders will find workable. Our approach has been a gradual and pragmatic one. We have produced a short list of those products most commonly in trade which are big enough to make identification possible. We do not pretend that our present coverage is the last word on the subject. A power to change the schedules by order is provided, and we intend to use it as the convention changes and we gain experience.

The amendment moved by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight is something of a compromise between the approach that we have adopted and the opposite extreme suggested to us of controlling all products of named species. Although, if I may say so, it is an ingenious one, it still does not overcome the recognisability problem. It provides no exemption, for example, for very small pieces of skin which even an expert could not identify. Moreover, it does not provide a clear and unambiguous list of the products to be controlled.

In any case these amendments would extend our area of control appreciably and before we could take such a step detailed consultation with the trade would be necessary.

In the past we have always consulted with traders before extending the scope of our controls and we intend to continue such consultations. I am certainly prepared to review the controls on products after the convention to be held in Berne next week and to consult as necessary with a view to placing an order before the House some time next year if this seems advantageous. I hope that this undertaking will satisfy the hon. Member for Isle of Wight and will enable him to withdraw his amendment.

I now turn to the amendment suggested by the hon. Member for Gillingham concerned with trimmings. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the trade in trimmings may be substantial and that their exemption may leave an undesirable loophole. I do not feel able to accept that argument. In the first place, as we have already said, small pieces of fur are very difficult for even an expert to identify.

Mr. Burden

With the greatest respect, if indeed they cannot be identified that is all the more reason for banning the importation of the entire skin.

Mr. Burden

With the greatest case but I am dealing with the point about trimmings which the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am sure he will recognise that when we are making a protection we should make one that we can enforce.

In the second place—this is germane to the point which the hon. Gentleman made—trimmings are a by-product of the trade. We consider that it is more important at this stage to control the products from which the animal is exploited and in which the furskin forms a significant part. But as I said earlier, we are prepared to change the schedules later as we gain experience. In the light of what I have said I hope that the hon. Member for Gillingham will not press his amendment.

Mr. Burden

The Minister is in a satisfactory position because we cannot push any of these amendments to a Division, as he well knows. But that in no way takes from him the responsibility. He has shown a considerable measure of agreement with what has been said and with what we are attempting to achieve.

It is of considerable concern to me that this loophole does exist. Perhaps the Minister and his Department have paid a little too much attention to the approaches which have been made to them by the fur trade, because a moment's thought must convince the Minister that if these words are left out—and these trimmings were not allowed—the women of this country would not rise up in arms because they were denied the opportunity of expressing themselves through a design in fashion. Certainly the fur trade would not go bust. In any case it is a very small trade and the amendment would apply only to buyers of what will be expensive garments.

Although it is perfectly clear that the Minister will not accept my amendment, unless he changes his mind, he signified an undertaking. I hope he will endorse it in unequivocal terms, and ensure that this point will be given serious consideration at a later stage on pragmatic lines and not on fashion lines.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross

If there were one amendment that I would like to have pressed to a Division it is this one. The figures are so alarming that we have got to take action quickly, otherwise none of these animals will be left. We know that certain steps are now being taken to protect tigers, but it appears that in South America the reduction in the number of spotted cats is quite enormous. I sincerely hope that at the which meets next week further steps will be taken to protect these animals—even certain reptiles, such as crocodiles—which are now in danger. Things move very fast and we could find ourselves in a situation in which they have gone too far.

As the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) rightly said, one does not want to interrupt people's trading activities. They are people who have been in the business for a few years, but the fact is that trade will stop anyway because these animals will just not be around. I sincerely hope that something rather more will come out of the convention next week. I note the Minister's sympathetic undertaking to consider whether further legislation should be put before this House early next year. If we get to the Queen's Speech there will not be that much legislation in it—if it includes devolution—and I think there would be time to discuss a further restriction on these sort of imports. Obviously I cannot press the amendment today. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Guy Barnett

I beg to move Amendment No. 61, in page 25, line 40, at end insert—

'Aonyx (clawless otters)'.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this we may take the following amendments:

Government Amendments Nos. 62 to 68 and Government Amendments Nos. 70 to 81.

Mr. Barnett

The effect of these amendments would be to add all species of otter to the animals defined in paragraph 9 of Schedule 3, thereby controlling otter furskins and certain of their products. The fur trade has been consulted and accepts the proposal.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I thank the Government, and in particular the Minister, for carrying out an undertaking they gave in the other place to include otters. They indicated that this might be possible and I am delighted that it has happened. I congratulate the trade on a sensible approach.

It is essential to protect otters in this country because they have almost disappeared from the South of England. I understand the reason why they are not given protection like badgers is that they are still said to be plentiful in Scotland. I am not sure whether that is so, but certainly in many parts of England and Wales their numbers are declining and they are rarely seen. I hope that, having given protection to the imports of otter skins, we shall now protect our own native otter.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made:

No. 62, in page 25, line 41, at end insert— 'Lutra (common otters)'.

No. 63, in page 25, line 42, at end insert— 'Paraonyx (clawless otters)'.

No. 64, in page 26, line 2, at end insert— 'Amblonyx cinerea (oriental small-clawed otter)'.

No. 65, in page 26, line 5, at end insert— 'Enhydra lutris (sea otter)'.

No. 66, in page 26, line 23, at end insert— 'Lutrogale perspicillata (smooth-coated otter)'.

No. 67, in page 26, line 30, at end insert— 'Pteronura brasiliensis (giant otter)'.

No. 68, in page 26, line 36, at end insert— '9A. The skin and scales of any animal of the family Manidae (pangolins)'.

No. 70, in page 26, line 44, leave out 'sub-species Moschus moschiferus moschi-ferus' and insert 'species Moschus moschiferus'.

No. 71, in page 27, line 1, after 'The', insert 'whole or any part of any'.

No. 72, in page 27, line 5, leave out 'claws' and insert 'flippers'.

No. 73, in page 27, line 6, at end insert— '15. The meat and cartilage, including callipee and callipash, of any animal of the family Cheloniidae (see turtles)'.

No. 74, in page 27, line 16, at end insert— 'Gallus gallus (red junglefowl and domestic fowl)'.

No. 75, in page 27, line 17, after 'colchicus ('insert common pheasant, otherwise known as'.

No. 76, in page 27, leave out line 27.

No. 77, in page 27, line 33, after 'cristatus (',insert 'Indian'.

No. 78, in page 27, line 34, leave out 'sub-paragraphs' and insert 'paragraphs'.

No. 79, in page 27, line 38, at end insert— '18A. Any egg, whether whole or blown, of any bird other than—

  1. (a) a bird of any of the following species, namely—
  2. (b) a bird of any domestic form of any of the following species, namely—

No. 80, in page 27, line 39, leave out 'the family Cyatheaceae' and insert any of the families Cyatheaceae and Dicksoniaceae'.

No. 81, in page 27, line 41, leave out 'explanation' and insert 'guidance'.—[Mr. Guy Barnett.]

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

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