Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate my hon. Friend Christian Matheson on his insightful and sometimes passionate speech. Like others, I want to set out my opposition to foxhunting. The general election might not have decided which way the public felt, but when the Prime Minister announced she was pro-foxhunting my postbag was inundated with correspondence from people who were against bringing back foxhunting. I hope and pray that this country will never again see the foxhunting of the past.
Foxhunting and hare coursing have been covered very well in the debate. I want to focus my attention on the illegal theft of bird eggs. Although the introduction in 2000 of custodial sentences for the offences of egg theft and possession appear to have had a positive effect on reducing egg-collecting activity in the UK, there is no indication that the sentences have had an impact on the illegal egg trade. Why am I talking about the egg trade? Many egg collectors and egg thieves are attracted to endangered species, particularly endangered birds. Collecting bird eggs has been illegal in the UK since the Protection of Birds Act 1954 was passed, making it illegal to take the eggs of most wild birds. The law was further bolstered by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which provides stipulations for the protection of wild birds and their eggs and nests. Magistrates are able to hand down a range of punishments, from fines to six months in prison per egg.
There are a variety of motivations behind egg theft. Recent arrests have shown that many collectors find themselves addicted to the process of tracking birds and capturing their eggs. The individuals who take part in those horrendous activities take pride in their ability to steal eggs from nests that lie in purposely secluded and difficult to reach areas. That is a blatant violation of the various Acts in place to protect the birds and it also eradicates the lives of very rare birds.
In one sickening case in 2011, someone stole seven golden eagle eggs that were so close to hatching that he likely removed a live chick from the shell just to have something nice to look at. After admitting to 10 charges of theft and illegal possession of bird eggs, he was given only a six-month sentence—a slap on the wrist for someone who clearly has a problem. Weak penalties for wildlife crime mean that offenders have little to fear. Those who collect the eggs currently face very short prison sentences, so there is no incentive for them to cease collecting.
The situation is made worse by an illegal bird egg trade available on eBay. A search for “bird egg collection” provides potential buyers with the option to purchase a red grouse egg. The RSPB has given the bird an amber status, which denotes an unfavourable conservation status as well as a decline in UK breeding populations. What is more, the red grouse species is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
In recent weeks the Government have done very good work in terms of social media, self-harm and suicide, but where there is a violation of the law it is up to them to say to eBay, “Why are you listing these eggs? Why are you encouraging a decline in our rare bird species?” It is up to the Government to talk to eBay, Gumtree and the other sites that sell bird eggs and fuel the trade. Very few people talk about it, but we must protect the valuable bird species in this country.