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Animals (Restriction Of Importation) Bill

Volume 697: debated on Friday 26 June 1964

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir ROBERT GRIMSTON in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.

Schedule—(Kinds Of Animals The Importation Of Individuals Whereof Is Restricted)

Question proposed, That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill.

3.5 p.m.

This is an interesting Schedule, more interesting than illuminating, because although this admirable Bill is designed to conserve the species given in the Schedule, it is by no means clear what exactly is the identity of the various species which benefit from this conservation. I hope that it will in no way bend or stretch the frontiers of decency, if my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) were to tell us, for example, exactly what are "Testudinidae", to which reference is made at the end of the Schedule. It is not difficult to guess that a rhinoceros is indeed the animal which appears as a "Rhinocerotidae", and I imagine that a inguana comes under the heading "Iguanidae".

I hope that before the Schedule is passed into law we may be assured that we know the exact identity and extent of these animals, for is there not a risk that the House might either extend its protection to a species it would not wish to extend it to, or, alternatively, omit some species which is in great and crying need of conservation under this excellent Measure?

I notice that it is not protection which is extended to the animals mentioned in the Schedule—although I admit that, as I read the Schedule, I wondered whether they were all, in law, indeed animals. I should have thought, for example, that an iguana was a reptile, although I appreciate that the Long Title refers to the restriction of the importation of live animals of certain kinds. It is to be noticed that in Clause 2 birds are excluded, and I have not succeeded in identifying any birds in the Schedule.

I was wondering what was the characteristic which enabled my hon.

Friend to draw up the Schedule. Was it that the various animals which appear in it are becoming more and more rare, or is it that they are treated in some unkind or unnatural manner after being imported into this country?

Hon. Members will have read in the newspapers recently of the great risk which Is being run by the world's turtle population because, apparently, the consumption of turtles is now greater than the observed survival rate of young turtles. I await with baited breath to learn from my hon. Friend whether or not the turtle, whose precarious existence has been widely drawn by the Sunday Press to the attention of the British public, is included in the Schedule, because if it is not one must express the sincerely held hope that in another place this omission might be remedied. On the other hand, if turtles are excluded, the House is provided with an interesting exercise in speculation to determine which of the interesting if somewhat incomprehensible names in the Schedule is that of a turtle. We can safely exclude the possibility of the iguana—

As I understand it, the animal to which my hon. Friend has referred is a long, lizard-like animal that has nothing to do with the turtle at all. I fully agree with what he says about turtles, but he should not confuse them with iguanas.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who has, without doubt, clarified this interesting point to the great benefit and elucidation of the whole House. Since he has refreshed my memory, I believe I am right in saying that the iguanas in the Schedule probably come from the Galapagos Island, which is, I believe, the property of the Republic of Ecuador—I do not think it is in dispute, Sir Robert.

There are other animals that might need protection, and an interesting point is whether they need conservation or protection. Public opinion has before now been focussed—

Would my hon. Friend consider the rhinoceros, which is also in the list?

I do consider the rhinocheros, though I later intended to come to an interesting conclusion on the question of rhinoceros horn, which is a specific characteristic of the rhinoceros.

I was about to say that public opinion has been focussed before now on the plight of rhesus monkeys passing through this country by air en route to other countries. It has been known for plane loads of rhesus monkeys to arrive in this country either dead, or nearly dead, from asphyxiation and overcrowding. I take it that any fauna in the Schedule would be equally subject to conservation, even if they were not for permanent importation but were imported with a view to re-export; that is to say, that any of the scheduled animals passing through London Airport, Manchester Airport, even through some of the Scottish airports—any airport in the United Kingdom—would come within the provisions of the Bill.

I mention rhesus monkeys because they are one species for which there is ground to suppose that they suffer very considerable hardship, although whether conservation would help them, I do not know—supposing one of these Latin names was, indeed, the rhesus monkey; and we have yet to discover whether or not it is so. We have to decide whether "conservation" in Clause 2 could be extended to mean protection or preservation. I do not think that it could be held that there is any present danger of a shortage of rhesus monkeys, and I believe that the concept of conservation is that of preserving a species that is in danger of extinction for some reason—

I am very confused about Clause 2, and I would be greatly helped if my hon. Friend could elucidate it for me. It seems—

We are not discussing Clause 2; we are discussing the Schedule.

The Schedule, of course, includes for the species in it the benefits extended by Clause 2, and excludes from the benefits of that Clause—to which we may not allude, as you have said, Sir Robert—anything that is not in it. That is, by definition, self-evident.

3.15 p.m.

On a point of order. I apologise that I came in late. I thought that we were on Second Reading.

I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that I would not be in this Chair if we were on Second Reading.

May I help my hon. Friend by referring him to a very good systematic dictionary of mammals of the world by Maurice Burton, which I borrowed from the Library? It gives the habitat of the rhesus monkey and says that it is

"equally at home among trees on a rocky hillside and in living in and around buildings."
It therefore might survive in the United Kingdom.

I agree, but the habitat I was dealing with was inside an aeroplane. I move now to the tortoise as opposed to the turtle.

I am sure that the House is interested in what the hon. Member is saying, but would he bear in mind that there are other Bills on the Order Paper, including the Widows' Pensions Bill in which I am interested? Would the hon. Member not think that he is going too far in trying to block a Bill which would be of great benefit to widows?

If the hon. Member cares to look at the clock he will see that there is a considerable amount of time left.

On a point of order. Is not the remark just made by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) highly improper? Is it not quite wrong that any suggestion should be made that some business coming later should take precedence over the business now before the Committee? Is the hon. Member in order in suggesting that this debate should be curtailed, which would be a form of applying the Guillotine?

I am not suggesting that the debate should be curtailed, but I suggest that it might be carried on with some common sense in order to secure a quick decision so that the very important Widows' Pensions Bill may be dealt with. That Bill has been blocked by hon. Members opposite for months, but they are not prepared to face the fact.

This is not a point of order for me. In effect, the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) is suggesting that there is obstruction, but it is not unparliamentary to suggest that.

Thank you, Sir Robert, for your Ruling. It must be obvious to the House that the presence of only three Labour Members—[Interruption.]—

On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir Robert, for an hon. Member to refer to yourself as "a rat"?

It ill becomes a party which has only three representatives present in the Chamber to claim concern about widows. I should have thought that as there are only three hon. Members opposite present they would have ample opportunity to discuss that Measure if and when the House comes to it.

Order. Two hon. Members cannot address the House at the same time.

I now come to the third animal which may or may not be included in the Schedule, and that is the tortoise. I expect that there is not an hon. Member present who has not received communications from constituents as a result of complaints made in the Press about the conditions in which these animals are imported into the country. The difference is that whereas the rhesus monkey is primarily imported with a view to re-export, the tortoise is imported with a view to its remaining premanently here and being offered for sale.

So I think that we require clarification of the reasons why the various animals are included within the Schedule and the reasons why other examples which I have mentioned, if they are not included, are not included. I think till we have had an explanation of that kind the whole purpose of the Bill remains in a degree of doubt, and so I shall look forward now to hearing my hon. Friend who introduced so well this worthy and extremely timely Bill give an explanation on these points.

I think that it would be appropriate if at this stage I were to make reference in some detail to this formidable document. It is true that I had not intended to do so, at any rate at this stage, but I think that I have little option to do anything else now. If any hon. Member feels disposed to tackle his A-levels after a full and final study of the Schedule he will perhaps be able to achieve them in Latin and in what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and I agree should still be called natural history.

The fact is that this Schedule follows a respectable classification.

It does, in fact, follow the classification of wild animals as recommended by the Zoology Department of the British Museum (Natural History) and that, in turn, recommends such classifications to be followed as recommended in this work which sets out how this should be done. It does so under the principles:

"Classification and classification of mammals by George Gaylord Simpson, published in 1945, Vol. 85, c. 12."
I will make only one brief reference to classification, but it will perhaps make clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), whose knowledge of this subject appears to be a little scanty, how one bases one's judgment of such things.
"Just as the study of classification is or should be to express relationship but in the first place one has to devise a method of clasification that can express sufficiently or consistently… the system as actually used in zoology … to serve as a grammar and vocabulary of zoology."
I certainly do not wish to detain or weary the House unduly with this, but I want to follow the same volume, at page 14, where one once more sees the hierarchy of the classification, and there one will find how the hierarchy was originated and how it was adopted from Linnaeus. In 1758, it was first consistently used in Systema Natura.

So I think I can assure my hon. Friend that the basic classification in this Schedule is reputable and that the classification extends, as it does, to a very wide range. It is obvious that it will facilitate the efforts of those who interpret the Schedule and who have had the opportunity of studying the book which I hold to discover an intelligent and commonsense interpretation of that which is in the Schedule.

Therefore, I do not at this moment intend to continue further detail in regard to the basis of classification and I turn now to the actual nomenclature about which some hon. Members may be better informed than my hon. Friend. There were one or two references he made, and which were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts), from which I am not too clear whether he had read in the greatest possible detail the earlier Clauses of the Bill the discussion of which now, Sir Robert, you would rule to be out of order. So I must take the Schedule as it stands and ask the House to remember that it relates obviously to some of the Clauses which we have just passed.

To return to the actual list in the Schedule, I must now refer to the three groups of persons who will have to deal with the list in practice. First, the Advisory Committee established under Clause 3 will have powers to vary the Schedule, either by the addition or the subtraction of any species, as it thinks fit. No doubt, hon. Members will have seen that the Schedule is drawn up according to families, and there is thus the greatest possible width in the Schedule as it stands. This is a sensible step, deliberately taken, because it will enable variation by the Advisory Committee to be equally wide.

The other two groups of persons concerned with the Schedule will be, first, the Customs officers who will have to apply a common-sense rule of thumb to the list, and second, members of the Pet Trade Association, who must have an assurance that their interests are preserved.

The hon. Lady said that the Schedule was drawn up by family groups. As I read it, it is drawn up in alphabetical order.

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to return to the volume which I have just put down. However, in spite of the benevolent appearance of his hon. Friend behind him, the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), I do not imagine that the House would welcome my embarking on any further excursion into it. If the hon. Gentleman will ask his grandchildren or, perhaps, his children for a little clarification as to what the term "family" means in this connotation, he will, I think, be able better to appreciate the nomenclature in the Schedule.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton has asked for an interpretation of the various names in the list. As I have explained, it is right that the list should be subject to variation, according to Clause 2 of the Bill, in order to serve the interests of the people I have mentioned. Tempted though I am, I take it that I had better not weary the House by going in detail through every family and species covered by the list in the Schedule. As a brief example, I can tell the House that in one of the families mentioned there are over 700 species, although of these only two may fall within the terms of the Bill if it becomes law.

Further, I should make clear that the first three families in the list are monkeys. I do not think that I should be tempted to go into the individual description of the 40 species falling within the second family named. For the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, the tortoise family to which he referred is the last one in the list, the Testudinidae. I have already explained that there are a good many species in this family, though I do not propose to give the House the full list.

It is interesting to note—I think that this must reflect a little on the boyhood interests of some of my hon. Friends—that the two families which have been singled out for mention have been the tortoise and the Iguanidae, that is, lizards. I gather that some of my hon. Friends have kept pets in both these categories in their time.

I think that perhaps I have detained the House sufficiently at this stage. But we should not lose sight of the fact that however refreshing it may be to hon. Members, on a day reserved for Private Members' Bills, to enter into considerations rather outwith those which fall in the normal day's business, the Bill draws attention to and I hope will alleviate a very real problem in the world today. The animals listed in the Schedule represent a wide variety of those for whom protection in one form or another is required and for whom we are seeking to legislate, because there is a danger that they may be subject to wholly unsuitable treatment, which we in a sophisticated society should recognise and deplore, or that they will become rare or even extinct through the callousness of modern society and through the work of another animal who is allegedly in control.

I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton on the points which he raised and I give him an assurance that I could go on indefinitely giving him further explanations and that I shall gladly do so, but perhaps outwith the Chamber.

3.30 p.m.

We are all intrigued by the excellent piece of combination between the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), in putting questions on the Schedule which I still find it impossible to understand completely, and the hon. Lady. It has been an interesting exercise so that the Schedule may be fully explored in every detail before we adjourn our proceedings at 4 p.m.

When we have a given time in which to debate a Clause or Schedule in Committee, it is not always easy to pose the questions intelligently which will prolong the debate to fill the time of the Committee. This is a noted exercise in the House; when an hon. Member is promoting a Bill and wants it to occupy a given period the difficulty is in posing the right question.

In my view the hon. Member for Tiverton has done an excellent parliamentary service, on which I can congratulate him. He has put the right questions on the right aspects which were bound to take a long time to answer. The hon. Lady had prepared herself with a volume. She quoted from 1789. She has prepared this assiduously, ready to answer her hon. Friend—with every point ready. This exercise is bound to take at least half-an-hour or three-quarters of an hour, which will occupy a good deal of the Committee's time: In case the questions were not sufficient or were not adequately answered, other hon. Members were brought to the Chamber to fill up the time, for every hon. Member could join in.

Normally, I would enjoy this exercise. Moreover, I have great respect for the proposition that we should preserve animals—all sorts of animals, including human animals. But although this exercise has been very interesting, an exercise on the Widows' Pensions Bill would have been much more interesting, could we have cut out all the nonsense which we have heard and got down to the Bill.

After all, even what the hon. Lady has just quoted was nonsense. We could not follow it. It is impossible to examine all the species listed in the Schedule. That would be an exercise taking hours. It would require at least a 48-hour study of these animals to be able to make an intelligent comment on their inclusion in the Schedule. The hon. Lady said that there were hundreds of animals and thousands of species.

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he deny the right of any hon. Member to challenge anything which is going through the House of Commons and is liable to become law? He has made allegations about Members being brought into the Chamber to block Bills. Is he not aware that the majority of hon. Members present on my side of the House are regular attenders on Fridays and are assiduous in their attendance to business on Fridays?

I have been an hon. Member for nearly 14 years and I have always admired co-ordinated effort, on whichever side of the House it has occurred. I am not angry. I admire the exercise. The hon. Member for Tiverton and the hon. Lady are quite in order in carrying out the exercise. They have not exceeded their rights or duties. They have been doing a job of work. I am not condemning them, but recognising what they are doing and expressing my admiration. They have carried out this exercise and have successfully prevented the House of Commons from considering a Bill to abolish the earnings rule.

The hon. Member may be surprised to learn that I did not tell my hon. Friend that I intended to discuss the Schedule. Nor was I aware of the existence of the book which she has mentioned. The hon. Member has already taken nearly 10 minutes which might have been spent on the Bill to which he has referred.

I have myself many times been in the position in which I could say that there had been no collusion and that I had no knowledge of this, that, or the other.

Having listened to the on. Lady intently, I am satisfied with her explanation. She has read from a book which she got from the Library. I shall read it afterwards and I ask hon. Members opposite to do the same and not to ask the hon. Lady any more questions. To ask her more would be to tax her memory a good deal. She has given us a great deal of detail and has obviously done a lot of homework.

The Committee ought now to accept the Schedule so that we can get the Bill through the Committee and allow us to get on to my hon. Friend's Bill and do something for widows as well as for the animals which we import.

I wish to consider the second name which appears in the Schedule, cebidae.

It is a sub-family of the New World family of monkeys known as cebidae, medium-sized or small, with a round, haired, rolled-up tail. As the hon. Gentleman wants us to get on, I will not read more of this detailed description.

We are dealing with a Schedule which is concerned with animals which may or may not be imported and whose loose wording might send one of my constituents to prison. I am not prepared to support a Bill or a Schedule likely to send to prison for an infringement one of my constituents who happens to bring in a cebidae.

If one of my constituents brings in a cebidae—

The Committee is being asked to say that if one of my constituents brings in one or more of these animals he can be sent to prison for one month for the first offence. I do not believe that we should pass legislation which will send one of my constituents to prison for bringing in an animal of this kind.

I think that we ought to maintain a sense of proportion in this matter. We are a legislative body which has the power to send our constituents to prison, but it is a power which we should exercise very carefully. Here we are planning to use the weapon of one month's imprisonment against any of my constituents who import any of these animals. I am not prepared to agree to that. I do not think that this animal should be included in the Schedule at all. It is not an animal which warrants the sending to prison of any person who imports it.

The fourth on the list is Dasyuridae. I am sure that the Committee knows what this is. It is a family of Polyprotodontia marsupials distributed over Australia, Tasmania, South America, and other countries. I have many friends in Australia and in Tasmania. They live in peace and harmony with these animals. They are not sent to goal because they are found in their countries. If the Bill were passed, it would give the police power to go to the house of one of my constituents in Heeley and say, "You have a Dasyuridae in your house, which you should not have. You will therefore go to prison".

Would a policeman know what this animal was?

I confess that I did not know half an hour ago, but I went to the Library to find out. A policeman would be able to refer to this book written by Mr. Leo Wender, and I suggest that it could become part of the library of every police force. This book was published in 1948, and it is, therefore, an up-to-date publication. Every policeman would soon learn what Desyuridae was.

My protest is a real one, and this is not a question of taking away the time which I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) will have at a later occasion to present his Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that his constituents, or my constituents, should go to gaol because they have any of these animals in their houses?

As I did not bring in this Bill, the hon. Gentleman should not charge me with wanting to send his constituents to prison. He should make that charge against his hon. Friends.

I am asking the hon. Gentleman to support me in my opposition to the Bill, because I do not think that he wants his constituents to go to goal for importing any of these animals.

I know that many hon. Members want to hear what the Minister has to say. I hope that he will remember that the attitude of mind which we seem to have in the House all too frequently on a Friday, of bringing in legislation to send people to goal, is wrong. If private Members want to bring Bills before the House, those Bills should contain penalties which we can accept. I should have thought that in this case a fine would be adequate. Any move we can make to prevent unnecessary regulations and unnecessary penalties being introduced we should make, and I am proud to fight for the rights and liberties of my constituents to this end.

3.45 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Christopher Chataway)

A number of very relevant questions have been raised by my hon. Friends. I can understand the reluctance with which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts) views any Bill which might result in his constituents being sent to prison. I am not sure that I go along with him in his argument that too severe a penalty is included in the Bill. I hope that when I have answered one or two points raised by him and by other hon. Mem- bers, and said a word about the Bill's purpose, he will agree that the penalty is not excessive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) raised an important point about animals in transit. It is the case that under the Bill the Customs and Excise would have power to look at animals in transit and to consider whether they fell within the terms of the Schedule. That is the legal position. But there are considerable difficulties about this. Apart from the problem of finding enough Customs officials to supervise transit traffic, there is the difficulty of the susceptibilities of other countries.

Unless there are special reasons—for example, health reasons—it is not the practice of Customs officials to supervise all transit traffic, and it is unlikely that rare animals in transit would be supervised. A large proportion of the transit traffic is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton recognised, in monkeys going to the United States for research purposes. Most of them are common varieties. Customs staff could not be provided with means to inspect and nor would they be qualified to inspect such animals to ensure that no rare ones were included. It must be accepted, therefore, that the Bill's effect on transit traffic is likely to be marginal.

The hon. Gentleman said that the Customs could look at rare animals in transit and then he said that they could supervise them. Could rare animals in transit be forfeited under the Bill? If so, what would happen to them?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is, "Yes". If they were to be refused a passage and taken charge of by the Customs, the question of returning them to the country of origin or of arranging for their satisfactory care follows. This is a normal problem.

The other point on which a number of hon. Members touched is the reason for including families in the Schedule rather than individual rare species. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, on Second Reading, explained why it was necessary to include in the Schedule families rather than individual rare species. Customs officers cannot be expected to have the necessary zoological knowledge to be able to distinguish whether, within a family, a particular animal was a rare animal. It has, therefore, been necessary to detail them by families.

The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), who has explained to me that he cannot be here today, has nevertheless asked me to refer to the complaints that have been made by the Pet Trade Association. That Association has argued that the business of its members would be interfered with less if only rare animals were detailed in the Schedule. This suggestion has been carefully considered, but for the reasons given on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend it has been found necessary to include in this Schedule the names of families of animals. I do not believe that it would be possible to operate the Bill were Customs officials required to determine which animals were rare and which were not at the point of entry.

This is an important Bill on which my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. David James) have expended a great deal of effort over the years. I believe that the House generally was agreed on Second Reading and will agree that it is an important Measure in order to assist those countries which are attempting to preserve their rare fauna the better to do so. I hope, therefore, that after its very full consideration of the Schedule the House may be prepared to give the Bill its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.