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Agriculture: Chinese Lanterns

Volume 717: debated on Thursday 4 February 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have considered the threat posed by Chinese lanterns to the well-being of livestock; and what action they propose to take in that regard.

My Lords, we recognise the concern among livestock and horse keepers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, while few animals have been affected, the impacts can be severe. Chinese lanterns are enjoyed by many but this should not be at the expense of litter in our countryside or injury to animals. Biodegradable lanterns are available and we will work with interested parties to promote the use of models that do not cause harm or environmental damage.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that large numbers of these lanterns are being set off, that each contains a lighted candle and bamboo and wire structures and that there is considerable anecdotal evidence of their harm to animals either at the time of their use or when found chopped up in silage or hay? Will he go further and seek an outright ban on these apparently enchanting creatures, shall we call them?

My Lords, no doubt the release of Chinese lanterns is fun and a part of celebrations. However, we emphasise that we expect the industry to move to the biodegradable lanterns that are available and do not contain wire. Those do not present the danger to livestock that has been reported, which has always been in terms of the danger from the wire.

My Lords, this is an extremely important issue because these objects are dangerous to the cattle and horses that may come across them. How long are the Government prepared to give the industry to sort itself out before they introduce a regulatory procedure banning these dangerous lanterns?

My Lords, the National Farmers’ Union officially brought a case to our attention recently, but the use of these lanterns for fun and enjoyment has been going on for several years and we should not exaggerate their impact. However, it is clear that biodegradable lanterns are available and we will talk to the interested parties and ensure that the industry moves over to such lanterns.

My Lords, will my noble friend assure me that the abolition of Chinese lanterns will not be in the Labour Party’s manifesto at the next election?

My Lords, we may have preparations for the use of biodegradable lanterns in the celebrations after the election victory.

My Lords, I am fairly certain that it will not be in the Conservative Party’s manifesto either. I speak as a member of the National Farmers’ Union, which is not seeking an outright ban. The Minister is right in saying that there are ways forward on this issue, but does he not agree that one of the biggest problems is that people using these lanterns are ignorant of the threat that they present to livestock, crops and feedstock? Does he also agree that the key issue is to get the suppliers and manufacturers to give clear instructions on their use?

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. The recent flurry of publicity, the efforts that the Government will make hereon and the industry will bring to people’s attention the care that needs to be exercised with regard to the lanterns. There is no doubt that there is irresponsible use—although I have to say that I participated in an event last year entirely ignorant of the potential consequences.

My Lords, was the pedigree prize-winning cow that was killed by the wire from one of these lanterns in December covered by insurance? Is the Minister aware that Germany and Australia have banned these flying lanterns?

My Lords, I am aware that drastic action has been taken by a number of countries, although the incidence of the release of lanterns has been far greater elsewhere than we have experienced in Britain—I think that 1 million of them were released at one time in the United States, which sounds a prodigious number. The use of the lanterns in Britain has been fairly modest, but it is obviously a growing piece of celebration and fun. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that we need to address ourselves to the matter. However, if we guarantee that the lanterns are safe, the issue of insurance will not arise.

My Lords, I pick up on a point made from the Conservative Front Bench about the education of the public in the use of these lanterns. Last week, in the village of Scourie in north-west Sutherland, a member of the public mistook Chinese lanterns for marine distress flares and the coastguard cliff rescue team was called out. Fortunately, the police identified them for what they were before the Lochinver lifeboat went to sea, but it is important that the public are educated properly in the use of these things, because life and limb are at risk when cliff rescue teams and lifeboats go to sea on mistaken errands.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who is very knowledgeable about these issues. The advice that is given is that such lanterns should not be set off within five miles of the coastline for exactly the reason that he identified. We clearly have work to do in educating the public and that is certainly one dimension that we will need to bring to the public’s attention.