HC Deb 22 January 1930 vol 234 cc208-11

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal certain enactments providing for the protection of wild birds in Scotland; and to substitute other provisions therefor. The Bill which I am asking the leave of the House to bring in is one which applies to Scotland and the territorial waters around Scotland, and is for the purpose of repealing certain enactments for the protection of wild birds and for substituting other provisions. Scotland is richly endowed with bird life, and the measures taken up to the present to protect bird life have been embodied in seven Acts of Parliament extending from the year 1880 to the year 1904. These Acts have concerned themselves principally with protecting certain rare birds, and it may be said that the method we have adopted has had the effect of setting up an ornithological aristocracy. I want to go about the matter in a different way. This Bill seeks to establish a general protection for wild birds, their nests and eggs. This is not an attempt to solve the conundrum as to which came first, the bird or the egg, by bringing in as a third solution the suggestion that the nest came first.

The first exception to which I would draw attention is one that may he mentioned in connection with unemployment. I want to assure those unemployed, those not genuinely seeking work, who travel to Scotland in sleeping car express trains just before the 12th of August, that their employment is not to be interfered with. That is another way of saying that there is no intention and no provision in this Bill to interfere with the birds that come within the provisions of the Game Laws. Therefore, the first exception that is made from the general protection provided by this Bill relates to game birds. There are certain quasi-game birds that are usually included in any shooting rights let to a tenant of ground, such as geese, ducks, etc. They also will be exempted from the general protection given by this Bill, and a Schedule provides for their exemption.

There are other exceptions from the general protection that is given. On application to the Secretary of State for Scotland by a county or burgh council, wild birds which are injurious to community interests will be exempted from the protection given by the Bill, so long as an order granted by the Secretary of State for Scotland is in force. With regard to birds that may be a nuisance to farmers, a nuisance to the fishing industry, or a menace to their own feathered friends, provision is made, for human community interests and for bird community interests, whereby the Secretary of State for Scotland, on application from a local authority, will have power to grant release from the protection given by the Bill. Therefore, in our democracy of bird life we take away protection only from those birds which have become criminals

It is provided that the Secretary of State for Scotland shall have power to extend protection to other birds. That gives him power to establish bird sanctuaries. I am sure the House will wish some power like that to be conferred when a matter of this kind is being dealt with. Certificates may be granted, on application to the Secretary of State for Scotland, providing for the supply of birds to zoological gardens and for birds to be used in public scientific investigations. These certificates will be strictly limited in their scope, and those taking or killing the birds or taking their eggs and nests will be required to give particulars showing how they have used the certificate granted, and what number of birds, eggs and nests have been taken. Provisions are made for prosecutions and penalties, and for the defraying of the small costs involved in this Bill. There is also provision for the special position of the Island of St. Kilda, which had an Act passed in 1904 dealing with its particular situation.

Criticism may be directed at the question of penalties, and the proposal to make it an offence to take the eggs of any of the common birds. The boyish trait of taking eggs has not entirely died out, but the influence of youth organisations, church organisations and educational authorities has had very considerable effect in showing that the taking of birds' eggs is not a way in which the acquisitive spirit of boys should be used. Great progress has been made since the youth of many hon. Members in the direction of giving greater protection to common birds. If hon. Members argue that the provisions in this Bill are ahead of established public opinion, I should be very glad to find that that is so. It would be a refreshing novelty to see this House in legislation giving a lead to public opinion, instead of simply endorsing public opinion which has already established itself outside.

All who realise the value of the protection of birds, not only rare birds but the common birds of our everyday life, will wish to see this Bill brought in, so that they may have an opportunity of studying its provisions. Within this week we shall be celebrating the memory of Robert Burns, reminding ourselves of many of the things to which he gave expression, and reminding ourselves of the way in which he deplored the breaking of nature's social union. Here is an opportunity to heal some of the breaches of nature's social union, and I am glad that in this Burns celebration week I am asking the House to grant me permission to bring in a Bill for the protection of wild birds in Scotland. I ask for that permission with confidence.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mathers, Mr. Buchan, Mr. Clarke, Mr. Macpherson, Lieut.-Colonel Moore, and Mr. Ramsay.