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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The Minister's reply is very much predicated on what happens on an EU-wide basis, but here in Britain it is a criminal offence to try to catch and cage any bird, whether a robin, a kingfisher, a sparrow or a starling. I e-mailed Defra to test this theory out. I cannot catch a bird at
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all to put it in a cage. Is that the case in every EU country, or are there different rules governing different countries with regard to capturing their native bird populations? If so, how does that measure up to this approach?
Lord Bach: I do not know the answer to the noble Baroness's perfectly proper question. If I may, I will write to her in the same letter that I will write to my noble friend Lady Young when I have found out what the answer is regarding other EU member states. The arguments that have been employed so powerfully today need to be answered in written form, and I will ensure that is done before the next stage of the Bill.
I was going on to say that I am satisfied that our licensing activities are set at an appropriate leveland by "our" I mean the UKand that they are necessary to allow traditional practices to continue in a sustainable fashion. Seriously to curtail these pastimes would be inappropriate, especially as there has been no prior consultation until this stage. Let me remind the Committee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, already has, that there is a ban on importing all wild birds until 31 May, as a precautionary measure. The question of whether this temporary ban should be established on a more permanent basis was raised at the Environment Council on 2 December 2005 and the Commission was asked to report back on it at its next meeting in March.
In the mean time, we are arranging a meeting with key stakeholders to gauge the likely impact of such a ban. I hope the noble Baroness will take some comfort from that. We therefore feel that it would be premature to introduce any stricter measures in relation to importing wild birds, pending the development of a wider EU position on this matter. I have done my best to answer, as sympathetically as I can, the points raised by the noble Baroness. There is obviously some movement in relation to the EU meeting I have just referred to. As the noble Baroness states, this is as much an EU issue as a UK issue.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am always concerned when I am congratulated on my passion, because that usually precedes an unfavourable reply. The Minister has talked about the Secretary of State being able to do something when there is an unsustainable trade. I believe the Minister needs to take away the message that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, very powerfully pointed outI thank the noble Baroness for her contributionthis trade is, in essence, unsustainable: there is no such thing as a sustainable trade in wild birds. The noble Baroness spoke of the fact that Bird Life International had spent some time trying to make the trade sustainable, but could not find a way of doing so.
The Minister further talked about developing countries' traditional practices, but before the EU and this country were such a burgeoning market for this trade, there was no such tradition. That is why these countries have seen the populations of their most exotic and colourful birds plummet, in some cases to
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zero. If the Minister had been with me to hear the case made by the Friends of Karoo National Park, who are desperately trying to reintroduce just five pairs of scarlet macaws, where previously there had been hundreds within living memory, he would understand that there is no such thing as a sustainable wild bird trade.
I fully accept that my amendment is wrong in detail. It was merely meant to start the debate. I hope that those involved, such as the RSPB, will now help me to draft something far more appropriate. I would at this point like to pay tribute to the World Parrot Trust, which has been unstinting and energetic in drawing to everybody's attention the appalling situation that exists. I shall of course withdraw the amendment because I recognise its shortcomings.
Lord Carter: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It would be helpful if, when my noble friend the Minister writes about this subject, he could indicate what vehicle the Government would use if they decided to introduce a ban. We are waiting now for the EU decision. Would that then have to be done through this Bill, another Bill, or through an order?
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for that very helpful suggestion. As my question during the Minister's reply indicated, I think there are different approaches to wild birds in every EU country in any case. I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage, but I mean to return to this issue on Report.
"(3) In section 14 of the 1981 Act (introduction of new species etc.), for subsection (1) substitute
"(1) Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person releases or allows to escape into the wild any animal which
(a) is a native animal, or
(b) is a non-native animal, or
(c) is included in Part I of Schedule 9, or
(d) is a hybrid of any animal included in Part I of Schedule 9,
he shall be guilty of an offence."
(4) In section 27(1) of the 1981 Act (interpretation of Part I), at the appropriate place insert
""native" means, in relation to any plant or animal, a plant or animal the presence of which in any part of Great Britain is or would be within the past or present natural distribution of the species or sub-species in which it is taxonomically classified;
"non-native" means in relation to any plant or animal, a plant or animal the presence of which in any part of Great Britain is or would be outside the past or present natural distribution of the species or sub-species in which it is taxonomically classified, where such natural distribution includes any part of Great Britain or
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otherwise; and directly results from or would directly result from any action of man; and includes any hybrid of any such plant or animal.""
The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the need for regulation of species reintroductions. I am sure we all agree that reintroduction can be a valuable conservation tool where the possibility of a species recolonising part of its natural or historic range is otherwise low, and can bring considerable benefits for conservation, community involvement and rural economies.
Clause 47 gives legal protection to birds bred in captivity and released as part of a lawful reintroduction programme. That should close a loophole in the law. Currently it seems that almost any release is lawful. The purpose of the amendment is to provide a better definition of what constitutes a lawful reintroduction programme.
If the amendment or something like it were accepted, we would expect licences to reintroduce species to be granted in only a relatively few cases where there is an obvious and significant conservation benefit such as achieving the objectives of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and facilitating movement of organisms undergoing range change indirectly caused by human activity; for example, climate change.
The object of the amendment is straightforward. Having tabled it, I was approached with some urgency by the National Gamekeepers' Organisation, the CLA and the Game Conservancy Trust which pointed out that, as drafted, the amendment is unintentionally much too wide. I say that to save the Minister telling me that when she replies. As was pointed out by the National Gamekeepers' Organisation, the amendment appears to prohibit the release of all native and non-native animals, including birds and fish, unless such release is specifically licensed. As part of their job, thousands of gamekeepers release pheasants, partridges and duck to replenish wild stocks for shooting. They also release non-target animals and birds from live capture traps set to control other species.
It is clear that the amendment as drafted is unintentionally much too wide. However, it would be helpful if the Minister commented on its purpose rather than its drafting. As I say, its purpose is to provide a better definition of what constitutes the lawful reintroduction of species into the UK. At present it appears that almost any release can be classified as lawful, but that does not mean that all releases are beneficial to other native wildlife or represent the best use of conservation, time and resources. I beg to move.
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