HC Deb 04 May 1914 vol 62 cc4-7

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government have issued an invitation to various foreign: Governments to be represented at an international conference in order to secure an agreement for the prohibition of the import and export of skins and feathers of wild birds; if so, whether it is stipulated that each Government taking part in the conference must undertake to legislate to prohibit the import and export of the plumage of all wild birds except ostriches and eider ducks; and whether he will state which foreign Governments have been invited to be represented at the conference and from which have replies been received, and, if any such replies contain a refusal, what reason has been alleged?


His Majesty's Government have invited foreign Governments throughout the world, with the exception of France, Greece and Denmark, to take part in a conference to consider whether it would be possible to secure an international agreement on the following lines: (1) the importation of the skins and feathers of wild birds (other than ostrich feathers, eiderdown, and such other feathers as it may be considered desirable or unobjectionable to except) to be prohibited; (2) an exception to be made in the case of skins required for bonâ fide, scientific purposes: the right to import for such purposes to be confined, however, to institutions or persons to whom the Government of the country into which the skins are imported has granted a special permit, which would only be given on the recommendation of a committee of ornithologists; (3) each Government to undertake to promote legislation for the prohibition of the export of skins and feathers from the countries and territories under its control, subject to the exceptions specified above. An undertaking to initiate legislation is not a condition of admission to the conference. The French, Danish or Greek Governments were not invited because they had on previous occasions intimated that they would not be able to take part in such a conference. So far the following countries have accepted the invitation of His Majesty's Government: China, Colombia, Guatemala, Liberia, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Portugal, Roumania, Salvador, Siam, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States. Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras and Venezuela have refused—the first three gave no reasons for their decision, but the Honduranean Government have expressed their intention of adhering to any convention which may be drawn up by the conference. The Venezuelan Government, on the other hand, refused the invitation on the ground that the pro posed convention would operate to the prejudice of the manifold interests which in Venezuela are bound up with the egret plume industry. Twenty of the Governments which were invited have not yet replied, and the final decision of certain others is not yet definitely known.


Will the hon. Gentleman take steps to have that answer circulated amongst the members of Standing Committee B?


I will see what can be done.

Sir J. D. REES

May I ask whether there is any chance of success attending an international conference, while France, the chief market for feathers, abstains, from participation?


I am afraid I am not an expert in the matter.

Mr. F. HALL (Dulwich)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman if it is not a fact that if the Bill is, passed in its present form it will do incalculable injury to 25,000 or 30,000 workers?


That is more a matter for the Committee on the Bill.


When does he contemplate the conference meets, and how long will it last?


It is impossible to tell that at present.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, having regard to the fact that in 1910 he appointed a Committee consisting of representatives of the Colonial Office, India Office, Board of Trade, and British Museum, to consider how far it might be possible to restrict the demand for plumage by legislation in this country and the Colonies, or by international agreement, and that the Committee addressed to him a Report expressing the unanimous opinion that the only thoroughly satisfactory method of attaining this end is to secure an international agreement by which the importation of such feathers will be prohibited by all civilised countries, except when they are introduced for bonâ fide scientific purposes, whether he will state why His Majesty's Government have introduced a Bill, the application of which is confined to the United Kingdom, to the detriment of British trade, without securing international agreement, in view of the fact that the Committee reported that this is the only thoroughly satisfactory method of attaining the end desired?

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)

His Majesty's Government considered it desirable, while taking steps to secure an international agreement on the subject, to show their own willingness to enter into such an agreement by introducing the legislation in question. The tariff changes recently introduced by the Government of Canada include a general prohibition of plumage import similar to that of the Government Bill; and within the last two years nearly every Colony not possessing responsible Government has enacted ordinances prohibiting the export of plumage.