HC Deb 10 June 1921 vol 142 cc2232-42

Within four months of the passing of this Act the Board of Trade shall appoint an advisory committee consisting of—

  1. (a) An independent chairman.
  2. (b) Two experts in ornithology.
  3. (c) Three experts in the feather trade.
  4. (d) Four other members.
All applications for addition to or removal from the Schedule to this Act shall be made to the Board of Trade, which shall refer such applications to the advisory committee, which shall after due inquiry submit a recommendation to the Board of Trade in regard thereto.

Colonel Sir C. YATE

I beg to move, in paragraph (d), to leave out the word "Four," and to insert instead thereof the word "Six."

This Amendment to increase the number of members to be nominated by the Board of Trade from four to six is of even more importance now than it was before, since we have heard the statement of the hon. Member in charge of the Bill that the Board of Trade will take no action without consultation with the advisory committee. No one welcomes the appointment of the advisory committee more than I do, in fact, I was one of the first to propose it, and I hope it will come to maturity. But when one comes to look at the composition of the committee it ought to be considered with care. Two experts in ornithology are to be appointed. I do not know who they are, but an expert may be anywhere, and when the committee meets it may be very difficult to get even one expert present. With only two members we can really not be certain that an expert will always be present. Then there are to be three experts in the feather trade. I think we may be sure they will always be present, because it is a question of their trade and their living.

As a matter of fact, the committee ought to have been a committee of experts, combined with the Board of Trade, who would have heard the representations of the different sides. The experts in ornithology would give the scientific opinion, the Board of Trade would give the Government opinion, and the representatives of the feather trade ought properly to have come before the committee as witnesses, we may say, to present their case, and on the other side there ought to be experts who understand the question and would be able to answer them. With only four members to be nominated by the Board of Trade it strikes me that there is no opportunity given for proper representation of the societies to whom the Bill is due and the fruition of whose work on the Bill for the last fifteen or twenty years we see to-day. The representative of the Board of Trade or his successors will probably attend some of the committees. Then there must certainly be a permanent official, and there will also be a representative of the Customs. That leaves only one vacant position for the representation of societies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which, in spite of its name, takes as great interest in birds as in animals, the Plumage Bill group, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. We ought to have representatives of these or similar societies always available to give their opinion, because they understand questions connected with the trade. For that reason I propose that the Board of Trade be given the power, should they think fit, to nominate six members instead: of four. That will allow three members to be present on behalf of the Board of Trade and three experts from outside should they think it necessary.

Sir J. D. REES

I beg to second the Amendment.


While? appreciate my hon. and gallant Friend's: feelings in the matter, I appeal to him not to press the Amendment. When the Bill was being considered in Committee an arrangement was come to which was very fair and reasonable, and which has been very honourably observed throughout by the opponents of the Bill. On that ground alone it would be extremely unfair if we were to vary any of the terms of that arrangement. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that he need be under no misapprehension as to the fair nature of the committee. The promoters of the Bill are perfectly satisfied with the discretion which is left in the hands of the Board of Trade. I have no intention of being a member of the committee myself or of putting any permanent official of the Board of Trade on it. I appeal to my hon. and gallant Friend not to disturb the harmony of the proceedings.


I do not know what arrangement was come to in the Committee, but I deprecate the idea that an arrangement made in Committee can prevent the House exercising its own judgment. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider what the result might be unless some other member is added. One I think must be added. The committee consists of an independent chairman, five experts and four other members. If the four experts join together, which is extremely likely, there is an end of the whole matter. They will control the whole thing, and the independent chairman, who should have a controlling voice, disappears. I suggest that, at any rate, the four other members should be made five other members, in which case they will be equal in numbers to the experts, and then the independent chairman will, if necessary, decide. That is a reasonable proposition. If the hon. Gentleman will consent to put in "five" instead of "six," I hope the House will agree.


I am sure the House will agree with the right hon. Baronet's remark that it is very undesirable that any arrangement come to in Committee should be at all binding on the House as a whole, and I suggest that the appeal made by the Minister was more particularly to the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir C. Yate), because he was one of the promoters of the Bill, and the other promoters of the Bill understood that this was an arrangement between the promoters and those who were in opposition with regard to this Clause. Therefore I think the appeal made to my hon. and gallant Friend was perfectly in order, without in any way prejudicing the right of the House to vary any arrangement which has been come to. I should like to join in the appeal that has been made to my hon. and gallant Friend to withdraw the Amendment, and to assure him that, so far as the societies in which he has taken so great an interest are concerned, they are quite satisfied. Of course, we listen with the very greatest respect to any suggestion from my hon. and gallant Friend, in view of the great support he has given to this cause in the past, and the good work he has done in connection with this Bill, of which I happen to be in charge. I assure him, however, that the societies concerned are satisfied, and they feel that the interests of the birds will be adequately safeguarded in the composition of the committee. With regard to the remarks made by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London, he put the two experts in ornithology as against the birds. The impression of the Committee was that these experts in ornithology would certainly, if prejudiced at all, be prejudiced in the interests of the preservation of bird life. Therefore, although they might not go the full length of some people on the purely humanitarian point of view, they certainly would not be on the side of the trade if it was a question of extermination. I appeal to my hon. and gallant Friend and to the House to accept the arrangement come to, which is an im- provement on the original form of the Bill. As it originally stood the matter was left entirely to the Board of Trade. The matter is still in the hands of the Board of Trade, but they have in addition the advice of this advisory committee, which I feel certain will adequately protect the interests of all concerned.


I realise the importance of the point which the hon. Member has put, and I also realise the importance of the remarks made by the right hon. Baronet, I should like to ask the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Bartley Denniss), who is representing the opposition, whether he would consent to have three experts in ornithology instead of two. That would be a very fair compromise, We want to be certain that an expert in ornithology will always be present, and I have grave doubts whether, with only two experts on the committee, we could always be sure of getting the presence of a man who really understands the question. I would be the last to disturb any arrangement made, but I had no knowledge of this arrangement. It was not referred to me beforehand. If I had been consulted, I should have pointed out the position which I have explained to the House. I agreed with many of the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Finsbury (Lieut.-Colonel Archer-Shee) in Committee. He made a suggestion with regard to bustards and other birds shot both for food or as pests. I have shot many bustards and other game birds, and I know of no reason why the men who shoot such birds should not be allowed to send the plumage to their friends. I do not want this Bill to inflict hardship or inconvenience on individuals. I would like to see the Committee have power to arrange for all these sort of things. We do not want to interfere with the harmless sport of individuals, but we do want to stop general trade in hundreds of thousands of the skins of birds killed solely for the sake of their plumage, especially those killed during the breeding season.

Captain Sir B. STANIER

I support the Amendment because I think it would be very much fairer if we had three experts in ornithology on the committee. In addition there would be three experts in the feather trade and four other members.


If it was desired to have three experts in ornithology on the committee, ought it not to have been moved in an early part of the Clause, because that comes under paragraph (b), and we have passed that. We are now on paragraph (d). I say nothing as to whether or not it is desirable to have three experts in ornithology, but I submit it cannot be done now.


It could be done if the present Amendment were withdrawn. If it be the view of the House that this Amendment should be withdrawn, we could then go back to an Amendment in paragraph (b), but not otherwise.


I hope we shall be able to make the Amendment so that we could have three ornithological experts in addition to the three experts in the feather trade and the four other members. The balance would then be equally divided.

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

I hope the hon. and gallant Member will see his way to withdraw the Amendment. It is true that this House, when the Bill comes down to it, is at perfect liberty to cut it about in any way it likes, but I would point out that the hon. and gallant Member was a Member of the Committee upstairs when we came to agreement, after many years of squabbling over this Bill. It was an agreed thing, not only in the Committee, but the agreement was come to really outside the House by experts in ornithology and the societies, and if those who are particularly interested in the matter are satisfied, I am sure that the House will be satisfied also. I think we have had enough of this Bill. It has been going on for many years, and I do appeal to the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw his Amendment and let the Bill be carried.


Can the hon. and gallant Member tell me who were the parties to the agreement outside. Were the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the other societies I have named parties to the agreement?

Lieut.-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

The hon. Member for Oldham will be able to give my hon. and gallant Friend more information. I understand from him that they were there, or, at any rate, that they approved of the agreement.


I thought it was with the feather trade that the agreement was made.


I appeal to the hon. and gallant Member not to persist in what seems to me to be a most ridiculous quibble. All this talk about ornithological experts seems to me to be quite outside the question. We are all ornithological experts since this Bill has come before Parliament. Roughly every second person over the age of 16 is an expert. It is commonly said of wars that the main benefit that society gets from them is that they burnish up our geographical knowledge. All the stuff that has been pumped out over this Bill in the way of differentiation between one sort of bird and another, exempting this bird and including that, seems to be sheer waste of time. I am not going to waste any more time, and I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman not to persist in his Amendment.


As one who was interested in this Bill in this House and who took a very patient interest in it in Committee, with the expectation that it would occupy a long period of time, may I say that when an agreement was reached it was a relief to all the Committee. When the arrangement was made we examined it fully and agreed to it. There was a sort of understanding, and though it does not bind the House it does bind the members of the Committee. I am a strong believer in carrying out any agreement which we have honourably entered into. If the battle of experts begins again I do not know where it is going to end. What I am afraid of is that if we disturb the balance of the arrangement made by the Committee we shall be disturbing every other interest and breaking faith with the people who are responsible for the agreement being entered into. Therefore I earnestly appeal to the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw his Amendment.


It will be negatived.


It will be, but I prefer to have the Bill agreed to by all.


With whom was the arrangement made?


The hon. Member has had two speeches.


May I submit, without putting my judgment against yours, Sir, that when a Bill has been in the Standing Committee the Mover of an Amendment can make as many speeches as he likes. I think that you will find that there is no limitation in the Rule about the number of speeches.


I think that the right hon. Baronet is right. For a moment I thought that there was only a right of reply after moving the Amendment.


I wish to ask only one question. Was the agreement made between the Natural History Museum and the feather trade or the Natural History Museum, the Plumage Bill group, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds?


As a humble back bencher I support the remarks of the right hon. Baronet protesting against Bills coming here and the House being told that we must accept them because an arrangement has been made upstairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Not only in the case of this Bill, but in that of other Bills we have often been told that they have been decided by the Committee upstairs.


I do not for a moment challenge the right of this House to revise the decision of the Committee, but this is not merely a question which has been decided in Committee upstairs, but is a question on which there has been an agreement in the Committee as a compromise, and I would venture to make an appeal to those who were members of the Committee to stand by their agreement.


I have a great respect for hon. Members who spend so much time in going through Bills upstairs. But it does place one in an embarrassing position when one likes to support what the Committee does and at the same time one feels that one has to vote against it. I would like it to be fully understood that other Members disagree with the Committee upstairs and that they have a perfect right to do so. I am not a member of any of the Committees upstairs and therefore, when I give a Second Reading, I do so with the idea that a Committee will consider the Bill and that we shall decide afterwards. In a case like this when an arrangement is made we should have some explanation as to what the arrangement is and with whom it has been made. I protest against the idea that an arrangement made upstairs must necessarily be adopted by this House.


I heartily welcome this arrangement. I am very glad that the matter has come to a close in this way. It is very unfortunate that this question should be raised now, because the arrangement has been accepted by other parties in this matter. Though I quite agree that the House has the right to revise any arrangement which is made still, when two parties who are so absolutely divided as they have been on this question come to an arrangement there is something to be said in favour of that arrangement holding good when the parties are satisfied. I think that 10 members of this Committee are quite sufficient. Four are nominated by the Board of Trade, and the experts of the trade concerned are represented as well as experts in ornithology. I would appeal to the House to allow the Bill to go through as it is.


Might I have an answer to my question?

Captain BROWN

May we decide this question now?

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Colonel Sir J. GREIG

I agree thoroughly with this Bill, but there are one or two features about it which need a little comment. I desire to make my position quite clear. As a convinced free trader who is in favour of this Bill, I think that the machinery and the motive underlying it need looking into. What does the Bill do? In the first Clause it prohibits the imports of certain raw material. The machinery by which it is to do this is first of all absolute prohibition tempered by a licence. I find that a bureaucratic Department is invested with the power of granting licences under which people may import this particular raw material. To that Department is also confided the power of removing from or adding to the schedule certain articles. Under the circumstances it is absolutely necessary that I should make my position clear. What are the motives which underlie this Bill? They are a regard for the beautiful and humanitarianism. Both are very good motives and urgent enough for me as a free trader. Other Measures have been put forward on the ground of the safety of the realm and they have been supported by free traders from that point of view. The reasons of humanitarian interest and regard for the beautiful may not perhaps be quite so powerful as a regard for the safety of the realm, but I think they are sufficient to convince me that the Bill ought to be passed. If I had any more doubt about the matter I have only to look at the back of the Bill and see by whom it has been brought in. First of all, there is the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson). I find also the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. A. Williams), and amongst others we have the Member for Leith Burghs (Captain W. Benn). I have much pleasure in supporting the Bill, but in future perhaps hon. Members opposite who are inclined to criticise others on this side will begin their criticism at home.


I do not propose to follow the last speaker in his pleasantries. With regard to the Debate on the last Amendment, I think it only fair to make it quite clear that the arrangement come to in Committee was a Parliamentary arrangement, made, not between any outside authorities, but between the promoters of the Bill and those who led a very vigorous opposition to the Bill in Committee. After a number of sittings, conversations took place between the Parliamentary representatives on either side, and we are glad that with the assistance of the hon. and learned Member for Oldham (Mr. B. Denniss) we found a middle course and produced a Measure which will ultimately protect, perhaps more satisfactorily than the original Bill, the plumage of birds. There was no arrangement made by outside authorities, and it was an ordinary Parliamentary bargain.


I did not reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Melton (Sir C. Yate), because I thought it improper to enter into a controversy on the Bill. I agree that this was purely a Parliamentary arrangement. I am very glad to hear the last speaker say that the Bill now is a better Bill than that which went into Committee. It will possibly do more to protect the birds than the original Bill, and I hope it will form the basis at no distant date for an international arrangement by which the birds will be completely protected. That could not have been done under the original Bill. It is the reward I hope to achieve as a result of all the efforts I have made during the last seven years.


I am glad to have heard the statement as to the arrangement reached. I had no wish to upset any arrangement, but I did want to know what the arrangement was. I hope the Bill will enable us to put a stop to the importation of plumage in future, and that we may be able to come to some international arrangement on the subject. Our main object in this Bill is to carry out the Regulations in India, in the Dominions, and in the Crown Colonies prohibiting the export of the plumage of birds they desire to protect.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.