§ Amendments made:
§ In page 3, line 2, column 2, leave out the words "(all British species)."
§ In line 7, column 1, leave out "(all British species)."
§ In line 19, column 2, leave out "(all British species)."
§ In line 20, column 2, leave out "all British species."
§ In line 24, column 2, leave out "(all British species).'
§ In line 25, column 2, leave out "(all British species).'
§ In line 26, column 1, leave out "(all British species)."
§ In line 31, column 2, leave out "(all British species)."
§ In line 35, column 1, leave out "all British species."
§ Leave out lines 37 to 39.—[Mr. Buchan.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time ".—[Sir J. Gilmour.]829
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Major HILLS
I want to put before this House the reasons why I think that this Bill should not pass into law. In doing so, I give full credit to the humane spirit of the promoters. I quite recognise that they are inspired by the highest humanity, and that they wish to spare birds from suffering. My objection to the Bill is not because of what they intend to do, but of the way in which they do it. In my opinion, they are doing what is right in a wrong way.
May I describe to the House the effect of this Bill? This is the first time that the Bill has been discussed in this House. It passed its Second Reading without discussion and, I understand, it passed its Committee stage very quickly. It is being discussed for the first time on Third Reading. If this Bill passes, it will be, in effect, impossible for anyone to keep any of the birds scheduled in the Bill as a pet. The Schedule includes many popular cage birds such as the chaffinch, the greenfinch, the goldfinch and the bullfinch, and no one will be able to keep such birds as pets, if this Bill passes. The Bill goes far beyond the caging of a bird. It does not only make the caging of such birds impossible, but their possession. Birds cannot he kept, even in large and well constructed and managed avaries, or in zoological gardens, if they are birds of these species. We cannot even do what many people have done in the past, keep a tame bird in a garden. Ravens, jays anal jackdaws, and other birds of that character, are often kept in a state of liberty. That will become practically impossible if this Bill passes.
I ought to say, in passing, that this is made impossible because the Bill prohibits the offering for sale of any bird to which this Act applies. The people who keep these birds are not the wealthy people. They are people who have not the opportunity, which some of us in this House have, of going into the country and taking birds from the nest. An enormous majority of the people that keep British cage-birds are of small means, living in humble circumstances, and it is against them that the Bill is directed. It will fall upon their shoulders, and upon their shoulders alone. If the House thinks that the caging of a bird under proper conditions is in itself cruel and that birds ought not to be caged—I do not think that they do think 830 that—they will, of course, vote for the Bill. If it is the general opinion of this House that the caging of birds even under the best conditions, is a wicked and cruel thing, hon. Members must vote for the Bill, but I ought to say that that is not the opinion of the promoters, who have made it clear—and this comes out in the evidence given before the Select Committee of the House of Lords to which this Bill went—that what they are trying to prevent is not the cruelty in the caging, but in the catching, of the birds.
It is stated, in the minutes of evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Lords, that the cruelty is almost entirely connected with the trafficking and the method of catching. That is contained in question and answer 1125 of the minutes of evidence. It is stated more than once that it is not alleged that there is cruelty in the caging of the birds but in the catching of them, and especially in the methods by which birds are conveyed by the catcher to the market to be sold. The promoters are therefore not accusing the bird-keepers of cruelty. Nor do the Home Office. Summing up the evidence, the Select Committee say that cruelty is almost entirely connected with the catching of birds. The Home Office issued a Memorandum in which it is stated:The Home Office is not in possession of any information which would justify it in expressing an opinion upon the question whether the caging of the birds scheduled is necessarily attended with such an amount of cruelty that it ought to be prohibited.Therefore, the Home Office are not convinced that cruelty exists in the caging of birds. More important than all, in 1919, a Departmental Committee on bird protection reported. It was appointed just before the War. It did not sit during the War, and reported in 1919. It examined 36 witnesses and issued a very long report, with 12 schedules. It went very carefully into the whole question of bird protection, and its chairman was the late Mr. Edwin Montagu, who was very well known to many hon. Members. If there was one man who loved birds it was Mr. Montagu. In paragraph 136 of that report, the Committee say:We have heard a great deal of evidence on the keeping of British birds in cages. Properly safeguarded, we see no reason why the practice should be accompanied by cruelty and many wild birds do in fact live in captivity in perfect health for long 831 periods. The keeping of cage-birds provides many town dwellers with an innocent solace and amusement, and we see no reason for its general abolition.That announcement is far more weighty, and more attention should be given to it than to some of the partisan statements which are contained in the evidence given before the Select Committee. Neither those who promoted the Bill in the House of Lords, nor the Home Office, nor the Departmental Committee, considered that the keeping of birds in cages is cruel. But if some people do think that, consider where that leads. If you say that there is any cruelty in keeping any animal in captivity, why confine the argument to birds? You must carry it on to the zoological gardens, and to all those exhibitions of animals which are a source of pleasure, interest and instruction to a large part of our population. You need not always be logical in your laws, but you must be just, and if it means hitting a part of the population which is poor and not represented in this House you cannot, I think, leave untouched the larger, and perhaps wealthier, population, who take their pleasure in watching animals in the zoos. Any argument which defends the keeping of wild animals in cages in zoological gardens will apply to the keeping of birds under proper conditions.
May I note another very important question? The size of cage may be very small. A bird keeper who keeps a bird in a cage cannot be accused of cruelty, even though the cage is much too small. Under the Protection of Birds Act, 1925, Section 2 (1), the cage need only be of such a size as to enable a birdfreely to stretch its wings.I believe that that was Sir Harry Brittain's Bill.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
On a point of Order. Am I to understand that an hon. Member is in order in raising something which is not contained in the Bill? The right hon. Member is referring to the size of cages, but I cannot see that in the Bill. May I ask whether he is in order in discussing upon Third Reading things which are not in the Bill?
§ Major HILLS
On that point of Order. I submit that I am entitled to show the effect of the Bill. The Bill, as originally drawn in the House of Lords, I may say 832 for the information of the hon. Member, prohibited the caging of birds. That was in Lord Buckmaster's original Bill, but he dropped it because of the difficulty of defining what was a cage, and this Bill was brought in in its stead, with the same intention of preventing the caging of birds by preventing the catching of them.
§ Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Captain BOURNE)
It is a well-known rule of the House that, on. Third Reading, hon. Members can only deal with what is contained in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman cannot make a point about a Bill that was introduced in another place, and which cannot possibly concern us now.
§ Major HILLS
I must go very carefully. I will try to observe your ruling. I take it that I am right in using as an argument against the passing of this Bill an analogy from other relations between man and the animal kingdom. If there is cruelty, for goodness sake put down that cruelty. So far as I am concerned, you cannot do it too strongly, but be sure that the cruelty is in the caging of the bird, and is not in the process which enables the bird-lover to get the bird. I do not care how strenuously my hon. Friend—he need not interrupt me; I am perfectly in order——
§ Sir ROBERT GOWER
I am not suggesting that my right hon. and gallant Friend is out of order, but I cannot follow his argument.
§ Major HILLS
I have a case to make for something like 1,500,000 who keep birds and who are not in the least cruel, who are as kindly people as any body of people in this House, but who in the Press are being dubbed cruel and heartless and are held up to public obliquy. In doing that I shall endeavour to keep within the Rules of Order, and I beg my hon. Friend not to interrupt me unless I stray beyond those Rules, in which case you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will correct me. I take it that I am in order in referring to the report of the Select Committee on which this Bill is founded. In that Report it is stated that the keepers of birds number 1,500,000, and that they are mostly poor and live in towns; and, if this Bill passes, they will be prevented from buying the sort of birds that they want to keep.
I hope the House will believe me when I say in all sincerity that I have loved 833 birds all my life. If I go into the country, a large part of my time is occupied in watching birds, and they are some of the most beautiful creatures on this earth; but I, being able to do that, am not going to say that people who have not those facilities, who do not own gardens and cannot see birds under natural conditions, are not to have the chance of coming into contact with our bird population. The study of nature is a very valuable part of man's education, and a great many people are able to enjoy it in gardens, in the country, in woods and by streams; but here we have people who live under quite different conditions, and who only have one way of knowing birds. Many of these people are naturalists, who not only keep birds, but study them, and birds are very interesting creatures.
I shall probably be told that only about 15 per cent. of the birds exhibited at shows are of British species, the rest being foreign birds, but I do not think that that would apply to the 1,500,000 bird-keepers in this country. Even assuming that it does, I do not see why those people should not be enabled to follow their favourite pursuit provided that they do not inflict cruelty. May I say also that the bird population of this country has the same characteristic as the human population—it is more intelligent than the bird populations in other countries. Anybody who has kept foreign birds will know that they are stupid birds. Anyone who has kept canaries knows that they are dull birds, and the difference between keeping a canary and keeping a highly intelligent bird like a bullfinch is very great indeed.
If it be decided that it is cruel to keep all birds in captivity, then, of course, it must be forbidden. But if it be agreed that, provided decent conditions are observed, and that the cage is of a decent size, such as has now been agreed upon by the fanciers and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is enforced at all the shows, and will, it is hoped, soon be made compulsory by law—if it be agreed that under these conditions it is not cruel to keep a bird in a cage, then I ask the House to be careful with regard to this Bill. The bird-keepers have no trade union, but I hope that some hon. Members oppo- 834 site will speak up for them. They are largely town-dwellers, they are not represented here, and their case was put very badly before the Select Committee. If it be said that they are cruel in keeping birds in cages, listen to what this Bill will allow. It will allow a man to go out and catch birds, and, as long as he kills them, he keeps within the law; but if he keeps them alive he will be breaking the law as soon as this Bill passes. The Bill still gives him leave to catch birds for the purpose of killing them. I feel a responsibility in this matter, because no one has put the case for these people. They have a case, and it ought to be put to the House, though it may be that the House will turn it down. It was not put in the House of Lords, it was not put before the Select Committee, and we had no debate on the Second Reading of the Bill in this House.
From some of the arguments that I find in the public Press, and from some of the speeches on the Second Reading in the House of Lords, it seems to be assumed that for birds the state of nature is a state of unalloyed bliss. It seems to be assumed that, once they are free, all is happiness with them, and it is only man who comes in with his iniquities and makes them unhappy. As a matter of fact, however, there goes on in nature a struggle and a contest far more severe than anything that man brings about, and that is particularly so in the life of a bird. It is exposed to very many dangers which it escapes by being made a pet, even if, as such, it is caged. I notice that Lord Buckmaster, in a very fine passage of his speech in the House of Lords, asked who could think of caging larks that sing at Heaven's gate? I cannot repeat his eloquence, but I would remind the House that sometimes at Heaven's gate, or at any rate in the sky, the lark may meet a hawk which will tear it to pieces. Do not, therefore, let it be thought that this Bill entirely serves the bird's purpose; do not let it be thought that a sort of perfection in nature exists in bird life, and that it only descends deeper and deeper as man comes into the picture. That is not so at all. Man has done a certain amount of harm in the animal kingdom, but has also done a very great deal of good, and birds, especially small birds, are better 835 protected from their enemies than they would be if man were not here.
I should not be putting the whole case if I did not point out that the present Bill is passed for this nation—it does not affect the foreigner. In some cases the foreign bird is not an expensive bird, but in other cases it is, and birds of that sort can still be caged. It is entirely on one class of the bird-keeping population that this Bill will fall; it will fall entirely on those who keep British birds. Someone has to decide this question, and I can imagine no better tribunal than the House of Commons. It touches one of the most intricate problems in life—the exact right that we have over the animal kingdom. I am certain that, whether the House agrees with me or not, it will come to a wise decision, but I do not think I am unreasonable in feeling some resentment when I think of Noble Lords in another place, who possess their own gardens where they can see birds at their leisure, legislating for the poor man who is condemned to live in a street. I confess that I rather resent that, because I regard it as class legislation. It was, further, stated in evidence that this Bill will not entirely put down the taking of birds, because a man could still employ an agent to go and take birds in the country, and that would not be breaking the law, for the birds would not be offered for sale. That does not apply to the working man in a town. We know very well that in walking down any town street we shall see birds, and, very often, the poorer the street the more birds we shall see.
There is another point that arises on the Schedule. All the falcon tribe are left out. I should have thought that, if any bird was ill at ease in a cage, it was a peregrine falcon, but I am wondering whether I am unfair and taking too low a view on this point, because the keeping of falcons is a favourite pursuit of the rich. I notice, also, that owls of all British species except the little owl are under this prohibition of capture. I wonder why the little owl is left out. The only difference that I know of between the little owl and the brown owl or the barn owl is that, whereas the brown owl and the barn owl live largely on small birds like sparrows and on mice and rats, the little owl lives on the young of game 836 birds—partridges and pheasants. I can conceive of no other reason why it is left out. I do not think I am far wrong when I say that this Bill carries with it class legislation. It affects very hardly the class that keeps birds.
I have detained the House far longer than I intended, and I thank hon. Members for the patience with which they have listened to statements which, I know, are distasteful to many of them. I have been in mean streets on some days such as we had in the last sultry summer and the whole street has been enlivened and glorified by the song of cage birds. I beg the House before they pass the Bill to give full weight to the considerations that I have urged, and to bear in mind the sort of persons who keep these birds and the right they have to fair treatment from the House.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Sir R. GOWER
I have listened with some amazement to my right hon. Friend's speech. It seems obvious to me that he has not read the Bill, otherwise he would not have made the statements he has. The Bill only applies to the taking ofany wild bird, being a bird to which this Act applies, with the intention that it shall be sold alive and to the person who sells, offers for sale, or has in his possession for sale any live bird, being a bird to which this Act applies other than close-ringed specimens bred in captivity.I am quoting from the Bill. There can be no question at all as to the meaning of the words and there is no doubt that the greater part of my right hon. and gallant Friend's speech was entirely irrelevant.
§ Sir R. GOWER
If my right hon. Friend will read the Bill and compare it with his speech he will see how really irrelevant his statements were. There is one point which I greatly regret that he has endeavoured to make. He suggested that those who are promoting it have been guilty of presenting one which is in the nature of class legislation. There is not one word of truth in his suggestion. It is clear that my right hon. Friend is not acquainted with the subject because, if he had been to those places where birds are sold, he would ascertain that foreign birds can be purchased at as cheap if not at a cheaper price than the 837 British birds which are included in the Schedule to this Bill. I must express my regret that he should have adduced matters of class as an argument in opposing the Third Reading of this Bill. I should like, in order to rebut some of my right hon. Friend's statements, to read part of an article which appeared in the "Field" written by the editor a short time ago. I agree with what a speaker said in another place that there is no paper more honest, more manly and straightforward than the "Field." The editor of that paper personally went to Club Row and described what he saw there. He said:I found a barrow with wooden cages containing linnets, goldfinches and a variety of other birds. The woman in charge of the birds took linnet after linnet from a tiny cage, held it up by its tail and legs, dipped its little beak into a glass of dirty water and put it head first into a cardboard box, closed the box and pocketed a shilling. She took and dipped a goldfinch and sold that Then I caught sight of a song thrush in a wire cage, crouching against the bars. Others watched it besides myself. 'New to it. He don't know where he are in that cage" I heard a man say behind me. That bird was sold for six shillings. He bought it and it was thrust into a cardboard box.The Editor of the "Field" bought one or two of these birds himself, and he describes the condition of distress in which they were. When I tell the House that it was proved before the Committee in another place that many of these wild birds sustained broken legs and wings and their condition was most pitiful, I think hon. Members will agree that an Act should be passed to prevent cruelty of this nature. I have the honour and privilege of presiding over the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We caution where we can, but on many occasions we consider it our duty to prosecute. There is nothing more painful to members of the Council than to find cases of cruelty in which we are advised by the most eminent of His Majesty's Counsel that it is no use to institute prosecutions. I would ask hon. Members very carefully to consider the terms of the Bill and I am sure they will then support it. It is only a start in the right direction. I wish it went far further than it does. I appeal with confidence to the House to give it the Third Reading. In conclusion, I would point out that only 10 per cent. of captured wild birds survive.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
I also appeal to hon. Members to give serious consideration to the Bill and, when the time comes, to vote against it. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has given the ground upon which propaganda has been carried on throughout the country. We are asked to believe that people who have these birds are cruel. It is because of cruelty to birds that we are asked to pass legislation to restrict their possession. I believe the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan), who has put his name to the Bill, like many other Members of the House, is a fisherman. I think I have read in his books something that indicated his keen pleasure in following that hobby. I believe there is as much cruelty in fishing as there is in catching birds. No one knows where you will end if you begin this policy of restricting the rights of individuals over their pets. I have been in the houses of men who were the possessors of a large number of various kinds of birds. Recently I went into the aviary of a man living within a few miles of where I live, and I was surprised to find that the place where he kept his birds was infinitely superior to the houses of people living in the same town. There is no question that men who are interested in these birds have no desire whatever to act cruelly, and it is unfair to suggest that the bird fancier is addicted to cruelty. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman says, the Bill lays it down that if a man is in possession of any wild bird——
§ Sir R. GOWER
The words are:Being a bird to which this Act applies, other than close-ringed specimens bred in captivity.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Yes, but the birds in captivity will die out, and there will be no more birds kept by the bird fancier belonging to this species. The Subsection lays it down that any person whoever is proved guilty of having in his 839 possession any live bird for sale, being a bird to which the Act applies is liable to a penalty of something like £2. Quite a large number of us have been bird nesters when we were boys. We caught some of the birds that are mentioned here and offered them for sale, and boys in the country villages are doing so now. A large proportion of the birds owned by bird fanciers are larks and linnets. You are going to make lads who are pursuing this very common habit criminals because they have these birds for sale.
I know a large number of men who make it a regular hobby to go in for the keeping of cage birds. One of the very best features of that is that few of the men are in any sense addicted to bad habits. The ordinary bird fancier does not spend most of his time either in gambling or in drinking. Bird fancying is practically his only hobby, and he spends a big part of his time and a large part of his resources, in trying to secure the very best type of birds he can get. He prides himself on the condition in which he keeps his birds, and in many of the local bird shows some of the principal prizes are offered in respect of the condition of the birds themselves, which is evidence that, as far as the ordinary bird fancier is concerned, he has no desire to act cruelly towards the birds in his possession any more than any one of us would desire to act cruelly towards a dog of which we might be the owner. Some of the finest examples of devotion I have even seen have been those of men fighting in defence of their dogs. It is very much to the credit of our people that, with comparatively few exceptions, we have an innate love for animals, and that it is against the grain for men to act cruelly towards animals.
I believe that the bird fanciers themselves are particularly anxious that there should be some provision passed by Parliament to ensure that the particular thing to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gillingham (Sir R. Gower) referred in the quotation which he gave from the "Field," should be prevented. Men guilty of cruelty to birds ought to be punished very severely, and as far as bird fanciers are concerned they would be prepared to give the utmost support to Parliament if such a line were taken. They are afraid, however, that the result 840 of this Measure will be to limit largely, but not entirely, a very innocent hobby which is carried on by large numbers of members of the working class. I sincerely hope that the House will agree to hold up the Bill until some sort of agreement is reached which will secure the birds against cruelty, and, at the same time, make possible the continuance of the enjoyment of the hobby by large sections of the working classes of this country.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. LEWIS
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the discussion began by reminding us that this was the first time that this Bill had been discussed in this House. That is true, but I hope that no one will conclude from that fact that the Bill has not, in fact, been adequately considered. As long ago as last February the Second Reading of the Bill was moved in another place. A long Debate took place on that occasion, and, as a result, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee in another place who considered it very carefully and amended it very considerably. Since then the Bill has come to us. It is true that there was no opposition on Second Reading, but it had been considered by a Standing Committee upstairs, and there was plenty of opportunity there for any Members of the Committee who cared to do so to put down Amendments to the Bill. In point of fact, the Bill was slightly amended by that Committee, and it has now come down for us to consider. Therefore, I do not think that any case can be made for saying that the Bill, which, after all, is a very short one, has not had adequate consideration.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) went on to say that the case for the bird keepers had never been properly put. If I may say so with great respect, if the best case of the bird keepers is the case which the right hon. Gentleman has put to us this evening, it is a pretty poor case, because the right hon. Gentleman devoted the whole burthen of his argument to attacking something which is not in the Bill at all. I took down his actual words. He said:If this Bill be passed, it will be impossible to keep any of the birds mentioned in the Schedule as a pet.That is untrue.
§ Major HILLS
I have been challenged. I said that if this Bill is passed it will be, in effect, impossible to keep any of the scheduled birds as a pet, and I went on to say that the keepers or would-be keepers of these birds could not catch them in the field or take them from the nest, but had to buy them. Therefore if the sale of these birds were forbidden, they would be effectively prevented from keeping any of the scheduled birds.
§ Mr. LEWIS
I am within the recollection of the House, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is putting it to the House in a very different way from the way in which he put it before. In any ease, he is still wrong in saying that it would, in fact, be impossible to keep these birds. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent any village lad from getting a bird, retaining it and keeping it as a pet, and, if he be skilled enough, breeding from it, and, if he is successful, selling the produce of that breeding. All the Bill does is to prevent the making of a profit out of the catching of the wild bird. There is nothing whatever to prevent the amateur fancier from catching birds, keeping them, breeding from them, and, if he likes, selling the young. That is an important point, because there are many of us who support this Bill who would not support a Bill which sought to prohibit the keeping of wild birds and animals in captivity.
I recognise that the very greatest benefits have been conferred upon mankind in the past through past generations which have kept wild birds and animals in captivity. If we go far enough back, if someone had not kept wild cattle in captivity, milk would not have been an article of food to-day. If someone had not kept wild jungle fowl in captivity eggs would not be in our diet to-day. Therefore, while supporting the Bill, I should not be prepared to support the imaginary Bill of which the right hon. Gentleman has been talking which would prohibit the keeping in captivity of birds or animals. As far as the Bill is concerned, there is nothing to prevent zoological societies and private persons from keeping the birds referred to in captivity. The Bill seeks to prohibit the trading in wild birds, because it is found as a fact that this trading involves a great deal of cruelty and loss of life as far as these birds are concerned. In the 842 opinion of those of us who support the Bill, the cruelty and loss of life is out of all proportion to the benefits conferred.
§ Mr. D. GRAHAM
May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he will apply his mind to the point that at these shows it is a frequent occurrence for bird fanciers to sell their birds, and, apart from the shows, to buy and sell them by private arrangement? Is it suggested that there is any cruelty in that?
§ Mr. LEWIS
No, Sir. We say that those birds at the show are only a very small percentage of the wild birds that are caught in order that those birds may be ultimately shown. That is a large part of our case. There is so much destruction of life for so small a percentage of the wild birds sold. There is so small a percentage of the wild birds caught that live for any length of time in captivity. The hon. Member made a point about his dog. He said that he kept his dog in captivity. The true parallel in the case of his dog is not the case of the wild bird caught but of the bird bred in captivity, just as his dog was bred. I would point out that the Bill specifically lays it down that if a bird is bred in captivity it may be sold, exactly as the hon. Member's dog may be sold.
The hon. Member also made a point about boys going bird nesting, and he said—I think I heard him correctly—that he knew of cases where boys caught linnets, with the object of selling them. He suggested that we are making criminals of those boys if we pass this Bill. If it comes to that, they are criminals already. Does the hon. Member not know that under the existing law it is forbidden to take a nesting linnet for any purpose, for sale or any other purpose. Therefore, when the hon. Member tries to make a case by saying that we shall make these lads criminals by passing this Bill, he forgets that they are, to use his own words, criminals already.
§ Mr. LEWIS
That is another matter. They will not be made criminals by our passing this Bill. The Bill, one might say broadly, is desirable not only on these humanitarian grounds but for utilitarian reasons. Many of the species referred to have a very real value to the agriculturist and the horticulturist, and it is in their interest that the numbers of these birds 843 should not be reduced. The Bill does not interfere with scientific study. It does not interfere with the interests of agriculture and horticulture. It does not interfere with the pleasure that any amateur may get, be he poor or be he rich, by catching and keeping a wild bird, but it prohibits the making of profit out of the indiscriminate destruction of one of the loveliest creatures of our countryside. My right hon. Friend speaks of class legislation. Does he mean that if you take a walk in the country it is only the rich man who gets any pleasure out of watching wild birds? I think my right hon. Friend pays a very poor compliment to those whom he seeks to defend. I hope the House will pass the Bill.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Sir ARNOLD WILSON
I should be very reluctant to rise to deal with a subject of which I have very little personal knowledge but for the fact that I was unexpectedly charged, in the absence of a number of other hon. Members, with the responsibility of presenting to this House a petition, signed by 59,000 persons, against the Bill. The grounds of that petition have been so amply covered by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) that I have some hesitation in carrying on the discussion much longer, but there are two or three points which I think have not been adequately dealt with. In the first place, the opponents of the Bill believe, I think rightly, that it will place an undue burden upon the police, who are already, at all events in countryside districts, under-manned and over-worked. They believe that the result of the Bill will be to drive the traffic underground and to increase illicit traffic, whereas if the views put forward in another place as to licensing dealers and licensing trappers had been pursued further it might have been possible to confer a very great benefit upon birds as a whole. I am an internationalist on this question, and my sympathy extends to foreign birds as well as the birds of our own nationality. I feel that the Bill might be greatly improved by providing more amply for the protection of all the birds which are destined to be sold or handled.
I hope the House do not think that those who oppose this Bill are less humane than those who support it. Every 844 man who keeps a bird in a cage is a lover of birds and brings up his family in the same belief. The vast majority of men who keep birds in cages, especially British birds, are working men, working men of a type whose independence of convention is such that they do not wear a white collar to keep their necks warm; working men who really care for animals and whose principal hobby it always has been—as I can testify from my early life in Lancashire—to keep birds and to care for them. Every house almost, in my recollection, used to have a bird, and those birds used to live very much longer, I believe, than the same species of bird in its natural surroundings. I do not think that it will be possible if this Bill passes for people much longer to keep British birds, in fact they will disappear and we shall be forced to harbour alien birds exclusively in our midst. I do not wish to import any flavour of tariff reform into this question, but it does seem a little hard that we should restrict all our favours to British birds and have nothing whatever to say about foreign birds.
There is a great deal of affection shown for birds, and I think bird-keeping is a thoroughly healthy hobby. I can confirm all that has been said by previous speakers as to the moral effect of bird-keeping, whether upon aged spinsters or upon miners. It is one of the most humane of hobbies. The trapper has been subjected to a good deal of abuse. One hon. Member said that it had been proved that only 10 per cent. of the captured birds survived. I question whether that has been proved. It was alleged, but the evidence was not in any way conclusive.
§ Sir A. WILSON
It was perhaps accepted in that place, but it has been stated very freely elsewhere that no trapper could possibly carry on his vocation if he lost 90 per cent. of the birds. We had a moving reference to what goes on at Club Row. Al] that I can say is that the existing law is adequate to deal with such abominations. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is not backward, to my knowledge, in instituting prosecutions in any such cases and there is no petitioner against the Bill who would not heartily 845 support the society in wiping out such abuses. We believe that complete prohibition of the traffic is not the way, but that the best way is by a system of licensing, education and control. Has the progress of humanity towards wild birds been so slow in the past few decades that it is necessary for us to make this great step forward of complete prohibition. In this matter as in others, is not the slow process of licensing, control and education, seasoned by occasional prosecution, better calculated to promote the interests of humanity? I speak with all diffidence as to the probable results of the Bill. It is supported by persons for whom I have the greatest respect, but my own predilections and my experience of my young days in Lancashire, lead me to think that it will, in fact, do injustice to men and women who keep British birds by making them practically unobtainable. I have received during the past week, ever since I carried that large bundle to the Table of the House, letters from various sources, including one from a country vicar in Lincolnshire. I will venture to read one extract. Of the treatment of birds he says that:
There has been an immense improvement of late years. I have never yet found anything but tenderness for wild birds, where even one cage bird was kept. All keepers of caged birds, from the poor man in the town who never hears the song of a bird save that of his little captive, to the rich man, or the fortunate country dweller who can have large roomy aviaries, will tell you that their birds are quick to recognise their keepers and rarely fail to develop a real affection for them. Do not stop a humanising and fascinating pursuit. Deal with the dealers as you will, and standardise your cages.He is only one of a number of persons who have no conceivable trade interest, who do not attempt to deal with the financial or moral issue, but who believe in the humanising effect of the keeping of birds in general and British birds in particular. There are two other points I want to raise. The first is that there are no less than 780 registered cage bird societies in this country, with a membership ranging from a few dozen to several thousand members. They are all interested, and I cannot feel sure that their interests were adequately represented in another place or that they have been properly considered by those in charge of the Bill. Their only recourse was to a petition. 846 There is one minor point. There are many, particularly working men, who have made it their life's hobby to make experiments in the hybridisation of British birds. They have to get their specimens from dealers. They have to make their experiments during a period of years. It is a humane pursuit. Is it reasonable for us, in haste, to put a complete end to the sale of birds or the catching of birds when one sparrow hawk will probably kill 3,000 birds in a year and when frost and snow will kill hundreds and thousands in a day or two. Birds in cages live much longer than those in the countryside. I support the rejection of the Bill.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I am opposing the Bill, in the first place because it comes from the House of Lords. This Bill is a proof that they have no right to exist. Here again they are interfering in a very serious manner with the everyday life of the working classes. They have no knowledge of what they are doing. This is essentially a working-class hobby. It is only the working classes which are affected by this Bill, and the Lords are interfering with the working classes about whom they know nothing. If they did they would not interfere. I could understand perfectly well if they had come along and said that the 12th of August was to be the last 12th of August, that there was to be no more killing of deer, no more going to Scotland to shoot down deer. But here they are interfering with a working-class hobby; and it is a serious business to begin to legislate with regard to hobbies because you have no guarantee what hobby will take the place of the hobby you are displacing. There is nothing surer than that man must have some outlet, and the outlet for many thousands of working classes in this country is the keeping of birds. In my constituency I have hundreds of folk who keep birds and they are just as kindly disposed people as Lord Buckmaster, who is responsible for introducing this Bill. They have sent me a petition and asked me to do what I can to see that it does not become an Act of Parliament. What do they say?In Lord Buckmaster's own words, 'this Bill is based on two propositions, first, that the snaring and keeping of wild birds is cruel, second, that it can and ought to be stopped.' We repudiate the charges of cruelty. On the contrary, we keep British 847 birds, as also other pets, purely from the motive of kindness. Bird keeping is practised by all sorts and conditions of people, the working man who keeps a linnet for its song; my lady, who keeps a bullfinch for its confiding nature, the business man who keeps a suburban garden aviary, the fancier who keeps a young goldfinch for crossing with his canary. None of these would achieve their object if any form of cruelty was practised. It is not a money-making hobby. The prize money at the show is so paltry as to dispose of any suggestion of cruelty for gain. Professional bird catching is highly skilled; the man must be well versed in weather lore, birds ways, bird keeping and such like before he can earn a living. Out of some 500 birds on the British list less than 20 of the varieties are wanted by him. Further, his birds must be marketed in good condition, and as his birds represent cash, cruelty would mean a high death rate and that in turn would mean definite financial loss.Restraint is admitted, but that applies to every household pet, be it dog, cat or other animal. Every horse has to he broken in. Cruelty is quite a different matter. Only the very prejudiced would believe that blinding birds deliberately is practised. Like the assertion that the kingfisher and swallow are regularly caged, it is not true. We believe the existing wild bird laws to be quite adequate. It should he remembered that the Act of 1925 prohibits the use of bird lime and prohibits the keeping of birds in too small cages. Why not, as an Amendment to Lord Buckmaster's Bill, license bird catchers and bird dealers and prohibit all street trading. The granting of a licence would ensure that it would only he issued to persons possessing the necessary qualifications.The passing of this Bill into law would result in unemployment to thousands—dealers cage-makers, seed merchants, and other allied trades, among whom are quite a number of disabled men, who would be all affected.That document is signed by over 100 individuals in my constituency who keep birds. Upon their behalf and on the broad issue at stake, that is the doing away with a kindly, commonplace, working-class hobby, I shall oppose the Bill.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Commander MARSDEN
Certainly the most moving speeches we have heard on the Bill arc for its rejection. I do not ally myself with those hon. Members, but I am certainly not quite happy about certain points in the Bill. In the first place I do not know quite why this Bill is being discussed at all now. It seems suddenly to have emerged out of a bunch of Bills which would automatically die next Friday, to a position of honour, with the backing of the Government. I do not 848 know why, and I seem to be the only person who does not know why. This Bill has given the impression throughout the country that it is going to stop a tremendous lot of cruelty to birds, and yet, after having sat here and listened to the actual instances of cruelty cited, I am of the opinion that all of them could have been dealt with by existing laws. I am therefore rather puzzled as to the necessity for the Bill.
As to the famous Club Row, my own experience and the experience of friends who have been there lately is that most, of the types of cases which have been mentioned to bolster up the Bill exist no longer. No longer are birds put into paper bags. The police are keenly on the look-out to stop any case of cruelty. The case has been cited of a thrush being put into a small cardboard box, which was thrust into a man's pocket. It must have been a very isolated case, for what man would buy a bird at a fancy price and immediately proceed to kill it rather than cherish it? I do not think that that was a fair instance to give to the House. Then listen to the "Times." The "Times" nowadays seems to be very unilateral in everything it does. It mentioned that this Bill was taken up by the Government, and proceeded:Now it is taken up by the Government its progress through the House of Commons is no longer likely to he blocked by Members who seem to believe that wild birds can really be happy in cages.I have never heard a more unfair statement. I did not block the Bill, so that there is no skin taken off my nose, and I do not care what the "Times" says. But I do keep wild birds in a cage. The "Times" bird expert may be surprised to know that from the time I get up to the time I go to bed the door of the cage is open and the birds can fly about if they wish. One was taken by a hawk in the summer, but the rest survived, and they never dream of leaving the cage. So that there is really not any captivity there at all.
I have intervened to say that I speak not merely for myself but for many men in my constituency. There is a thing known as the Battersea Working Men's Institute, and one of the most important sections there is the bird-lovers' section. Its official name is the Bird Fanciers; bird fanciers and bird lovers go together. I defy anyone who is back- 849 ing this Bill to say that there has been a single case of cruelty brought against any member of the Institute. A similar remark probably applies to working men throughout the country. As a rule bird fanciers are working people who keep one or two or perhaps more birds. Those birds are not only their pets, but their friends also.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN
I think we have rather lost sight of the object of the Bill. We have heard a great deal about cruelty to birds by bird fanciers. The cruelty to the bird is not by the bird fancier or the bird lover, but the cruelty is in shutting up a wild bird in a cage. Anyone who lives in the country, as I have lived all my life, anyone who loves birds, who watches them throughout the year, listens to their song in the early Spring and watches their joy in the mating season, must feel that a wild bird caught by birdlime or in a net and placed in a cage, however much the owner may like it, cannot be anything but a miserable captive. No man confined to prison for life can suffer anything like what is suffered by a bird confined to a cage. [HON. MEMBERS: "How do you know?"] I know for the simple reason that I have not wings and a bird has. A man can use his legs and arms, but a bird shut up in a cage cannot use its wings, the one thing that God has given it, and enjoy the life for which God meant it. The man who confines a bird in a cage because he says he is a bird fancier or bird lover is committing an act of cruelty due mainly to a want of imagination. No man—I do not care who he is—who has the least imagination could possibly like to see a linnet or a goldfinch hopping up to its perch and down again, and pecking the wires of a cage all day long so long as it lives.
One of the best testimonies as to the truth of what I say is the fact that the bird fancier always covers up bird with a black cloth so that it shall not see the light of God. It is only in the day-time that he allows the wretched bird to jump up and down and hit its wings against the cage in the vain hope of once more getting its freedom. If we proposed, even for a short time, to confine to prison a man who had done no wrong, the law of habeas corpus would operate. No one can confine a man to prison in this 850 country until he has been judged and condemned. When we think so highly of the freedom of human beings, why should we deny freedom to unfortunate birds?
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) made a very eloquent plea for the bird-financiers in his district. He made a statement to the effect that certain birds were particularly suited to cage life. If there are birds suited to cage life, then surely those birds could be bred in the cage and the hon. Member's bird-fanciers can thus have their caged birds, because there would be no cruelty if the birds had never known anything else except life in a cage. [An HON. MEMBER: "They must be caught first!"] Yes, but once they are caught you can go on breeding them, and there are thousands of birds in captivity to-day. Why not breed from them? There is nothing in the Bill to prevent bird-fanciers having cage-bred birds. All the Bill does is to prevent people catching wild birds and confining them in cages for purposes of profit. The Bill seeks to prevent the wholesale caging of birds for the purposes of profit, and that is all.
Perhaps I ought not to be speaking on this subject. I myself may be charged with cruelty because I am a sportsman. I shoot wild birds. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] But I could not help thinking when I heard an hon. Member's statement about birds dying in the snow, that it was much happier for the bird to be killed or to perish in the snow, than that it should be confined in the prison of a cage for the rest of its natural life. We ought to realise the ghastly suffering of a bird which is caught wild and is then kept until it dies in a little cage, never able to use the God-given gift of its wings. For those reasons I support the Bill.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. PIKE
If there was not already good reason why the House should divide against this Bill I think a reason has been supplied by the speech to which we have just listened. The hon. and gallant Member sought to give the impression that we had got away in this Debate from the real object of the Bill. That object, in his opinion, is to prevent the caging of wild birds. He sought to impress his argument on the House by drawing a picture of a bird in a small cage 851 with only sufficient liberty to jump backwards and forwards between a little perch and the bottom of the cage. If the object of the Bill were as he described it, I believe that every hon. Member would support it. But that is not the object of the Bill at all. I do not imagine that the hon. and gallant Member can have read the Bill. Its object is to prevent the sale or the offering for sale of any wild bird, and it appears to me that we require some more clear definition than we have had up to the present of what is a wild bird and what constitutes an offer for sale.
If a working man can breed birds in cages for the purposes of sale, when does a bird begin to be a wild bird and when does it cease to be a wild bird? The hon. and gallant Member suggests that it ceases to be a wild bird once it is put to breeding purposes and that it then becomes a domestic bird. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that. A sparrow is a sparrow whatever colour you put on its wings, and a hawk is a hawk whatever else you like to call it. What is to be the legal position under the Bill in regard to a transaction between an ordinary working-man who has bred a bullfinch, and the person who wants to purchase that bullfinch from him, if the bird is the result of a pairing which has taken place five years previously in that man's own cages? I am convinced that the Bill will destroy a very valuable and a moral industry. I do not agree with the practices of some professional dealers in birds. I have seen some of the results of their work, but the average working-man is just as much opposed to that form of trading in birds as the promoters of the Bill. If the average working-man saw some of the things for which those people are responsible he would be the first to take off his jacket in defence of the bird.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) in criticising the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. D. Graham) said he did not think that the hon. Member would suggest that birds and the beauty of birds were not the poor man's pleasure as well as the rich man's pleasure. This Bill is going to make a great difference in that respect. The rich man can enjoy the pleasure of a huge aviary. Who is to say that the aviary does not constitute as great a 852 menace to the wild bird as the six-inch cage? I have heard members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals declare that the keeping of wild birds in aviaries did not constitute cruelty to an extent commensurate with the cruelty of keeping birds in cages. The working-man has neither the space nor the cash to enable him to keep an aviary such as a rich man can afford to keep. If the rich man is to be allowed to keep wild birds in his aviary and breed from them, whether for sale or exchange or any other purpose, I am convinced that this Bill, whatever its intention may be, will be interpreted as the worst piece of class legislation that has passed through the House for a considerable time.
If the Government want to do something to protect wild birds from cruelty they should first of all withdraw the peregrine falcon from the list of protected birds. There is no bird responsible for such wicked cruelty to both wild and domesticated species as the bird of the peregrine or hawk falcon type. If the Government are genuine in their desire to protect wild birds they will take it out of the list of protected birds. Not only the ordinary bird fancier but every person with any feeling for birds as a whole would welcome such action. The Bill does not say how far the working-man bird fancier can go. If I keep certain of the wild birds included in this Schedule and my neighbour keeps other scheduled birds of a different type, and if I tell him that I propose to develop the breed of a particular type of bird and offer to exchange them, on terms, for some of his, then, however, the law may choose to interpret that exchange, it is a bargain between two persons and it has all the elements of buying and selling. [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] As I conceive it that would be barter. I always thought that barter was the exchange of services, and I cannot see how you can have an exchange of services without the element of buying and selling. Whether or not you arrange a figure beforehand is a matter of the actual contract. This Bill does not say to the working man that he can exchange birds without being regarded as a dealer in birds, or that he can sell his birds without being regarded as a dealer in birds. If it goes through as it is, I am convinced that it will create such a host of implications and complications as will place on the head of the average working man the idea that in 853 dealing with wild birds he is a criminal of the worst possible character. Finally, I would ask the Government whether they have taken into consideration the enormous injury and damage that the passage of this Bill might do to that great hemp industry of which we heard so much only a few months ago in this House.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am afraid I cannot agree with some of my colleagues on this matter, though I do not suggest that there is any cruelty in the mind of anyone who is opposed to this Bill. My experience is that, like many other people, I have spent a lot of time watching birds, and when I see a bird like a skylark soaring up to the heavens and giving forth its song, it crosses my mind that if that bird has to be caged and taken out of its natural element, there is something wrong with nature. It is because that kind of thought has entered my mind that, in spite of what has been said in opposition to the Bill, I feel that I could not vote against it after the experience that I have had. I will put it to those hon. Members who are opposing the Bill that they should have some regard to what would be our own position if we happened to be kept out of our natural element. What would our feelings be? I am confident that if that kind of thing could happen to us, very few of us would argue against the passage of a Bill of this kind.
I take it that the traffic in these birds has been such as to draw attention to it, that the growing tendency to capture these birds and to create a sale for them is the reason why this Bill has been brought forward; and if that be so, if the attention of the Members of the House of Commons has been drawn to that traffic, it is for us to take some action to prevent it. The argument against that is that many of the working-class have made a hobby of it, and so they have. I remember in my early days going to a lark-singing contest, to see how it took place, and this is what I saw. Every bird was well looked after, and all possible care was given to it, but just before the contest started every cage was covered over with a cloth. Each bird was in a kind of prison as a result, and when the cloth was taken from it and the gaslight shone on the bird, then it began to sing. It had been suppressed for hours at a time, so that, at the first chance it got, it burst forth into song.
854 That kind of thing is not natural. There was no cruelty on the part of the men. As I say, every care was bestowed on each bird, yet there was cruelty in so far that the bird was not allowed to have what nature had intended, namely, the freedom of singing whenever it desired. A bird, of course, likes its natural element and likes soaring up into the heavens, but these birds could not rise more than a few inches and had to do it on the perch in the cage. I do not think anyone will hold with that. I believe that everybody with humane feelings wants to do all that is proper by both animals and birds, and, having to weigh the two sides up and to give a vote on this matter, I feel that I must support the Bill, even though it has come from the House of Lords. In general, I would like to oppose the House of Lords, but in a matter like this I must give my vote in favour of the Bill, because of what I have seen in my walks along the countryside.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHAN
I may be allowed to sum up very briefly what seem to me to be the justification and the purpose of this Measure, and incidentally to answer some criticisms which have been made on it. The purpose is to put an end to specific kinds of cruelty, cruelty which I readily admit is very often unwitting and unwilling. Frankly, I agree with a recent speaker that it is cruel to cage any wild bird, because you are thereby depriving the bird of the exercise of the free and natural function of flight. But I readily admit that that view is extreme and could not be put into effect, because the keeping of cage birds as a practice has so woven itself into our life, and, moreover, there are many foreign birds which are specially suited to cage life and can live there for a long time. For example, the life of a canary in a cage is far longer than the life of a linnet or a chaffinch. But I believe there is a very real cruelty in the caging of British wild birds. Apart from atrocious practices like the blinding of decoy birds, which still happens, although it is illegal, and the covering of cages with black cloth to make birds sing, there is cruelty, to my mind, inevitable cruelty, in the process which accustoms a bird to caged life.
If hon. Members will look at the report of the Select Committee, they will find 855 that some of the witnesses put the mortality among birds caged either at the time of capture or within three weeks at 50 per cent. That, no doubt, is an extreme figure, but even the opponents of the Bill put the mortality at 10 per cent. for linnets, and for goldfinches at 20 per cent. I would specially refer to the evidence of the secretary of the Bird Keepers' Defence Association, and of the editor of the "Cage Bird Fancier," both humane and candid men, who admitted that a man who caged a birl had to buy his experience at the bird's expense, and that two birds died before a third could live; and I need not point out to hon. Members that before death there must have been prolonged suffering.
The business of capturing wild birds, to anyone who has seen it, is a pretty sordid affair, and there can be no question of the cruelty and squalor of the ordinary way of selling birds, either in the East End markets or in any one of the open-air markets in our country towns. That has been so much repeated in the Press and so admirably brought out in the Committee that I need not refer to it. There is one further argument for this Bill which I should like to put to the House, namely, the preservation of the amenities of the English countryside. One of the happiest features of our life to-day is the way in which rural England has been discovered by the town dweller, and the town dweller's desire to protect its beauties in his own interests. Now a principal charm of the country is the presence of wild birds, but if we are not careful we shall drive away the many beautiful and interesting birds from all accessible places—and the large part of our country to-day is accessible. I know a common near a populous town which in my recollection was full of goldfinches. There is not a goldfinch to be seen there to-day; the bird catcher has been there. The one argument against the Bill was put very forcibly by the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). Undoubtedly it does interfere with the poor man's hobby. It will work a certain amount of minor hardships to perfectly honest and humane bird fanciers. My only answer to this, I fear, is that you cannot help creating a certain amount of undeserved hard- 856 ship if you are to remedy an abuse. It is a bad law which provides for every hard case. If you are to have a good law there must be some hard cases. But there is one undoubted fact which mitigates the hardship. The keeping of British wild birds in cages is becoming much less popular. Twenty or 30 years ago in the Crystal Palace Cage Bird Exhibition nearly 25 per cent. Of the birds exhibited were British. At the last exhibition 4,000 odd birds were shown. Of these, only 500 were British wild birds in the Schedule; that is to say, to-day only about 10 to 15 per cent. of the cage birds kept in this country would be affected by this Bill. If you view the case of the very poor, I would point out that you can buy a cage-bred canary for 2s. or 3s., which is practically as cheap as any British bird. I would appeal on behalf of this Bill as an efficient Measure to deal with a form of abominable cruelty to the most wonderful of living creatures, with a minimum interference with a hobby which I gladly admit to be in most cases innocent and commendable.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. COCKS
I rise with some reluctance, and I do so because I feel somewhat uneasy about this Bill. I am one of those who are against cruelty in any shape or form, as I hope all are. I want to prevent cruelty, and I agree with my hon. Friend opposite that there must be a good deal of cruelty in the capture and sale of birds. I have read those articles which have been sent to me about the conditions in Club Row, and anything that can be done to stop this wholesale capture of birds ought to be done. I also think that the conditions under which these birds are sold are cruel in many cases. I am wondering whether a perfectly legitimate hobby cannot be preserved and cruelty stopped in the taking and selling of birds by regulation and licence. For example, I think it could be possible for a Bill to be brought in providing that all dealers in birds should be subject to licence and inspection, so that no cruelty could be involved; and also that regulations could be passed to stop the depredations caused by the wholesale capture of birds. So far as I can make out, this Bill says that anybody who catches even one wild bird in his own garden—he may capture 857 it because it has a broken wing—and who sells the bird, will be liable to a penalty.
I agree that it is cruel to keep in captivity certain English birds which appear in the Schedule—birds like the kingfisher, for example. I do not suppose anybody has ever kept that bird in captivity. I agree also that it is cruel to keep larks in captivity, because it is the nature of that bird to ascend. I am told that in order to prevent them from ascending and injuring themselves, they are kept in flat cages two or three inches deep. That is very cruel, and should be stopped. I accept that it is cruel to keep such birds in cages, but I am not at all sure that that applies to many of the birds in the Schedule. I have been round my constituency to see people who keep birds. They do not always keep them in small cages; many of them keep them in aviaries where the birds can fly about for several yards. The owners get a great deal of enjoyment from what is quite a legitimate pleasure. They study the habits of the birds, they are very fond of them, and the birds are their pets. In many cases when they open the cages the birds come out and stand on their hands. I have always believed that every wild animal, if the human species of animal treat them properly, will become very friendly. I have been told that when a mariner has landed on an island in the South Seas where no human being has ever been, all the animals and birds are extremely friendly, and not afraid. It is not a question of taming them; it is a question of overcoming their natural fear of man.
We have been told one or two things that seem to be exaggerated. We are told that it is cruel to put a black cloth on a cage in order that when the cloth is removed the bird will sing. The bird always does that when it sees the light. I have a canary at home which sings during the day, and at night we have to put a black cloth over the cage in order to make it go to sleep, because when people put on the electric light the wretched bird starts to sing again. It is perfectly happy. We call it "George." The idea that people should not put on a cloth to make a bird go to sleep so that when the light comes it begins to sing is absurd. There is nothing cruel about that at all. This is a very real pleasure 858 indulged in by many people. Not only is it a pleasure, but the birds themselves are happy. The hon. Member said that they have been "deprived of the supreme natural function of flight." That is rather a sentimental way of looking at it. Why should he call flight the supreme natural function? A bird has other functions which we have, in which it takes great delight—bringing up children, and so on. If it is cruel to deprive a wild bird of that function, it is equally cruel to deprive a canary of it, for it also has wings and wishes to fly.
I should like to see this Bill recommitted. I think it is far too drastic as it stands at present. I say this as a lover of birds and of the wild life of the country. I should like to see a Bill which says that certain birds should never be kept in any circumstances, and I should like to have regulations made about the selling and capture of birds, and a licence. I think a Bill of that sort would pass this House unanimously. This Bill, however, is far too drastic, and although its passing would prevent a certain amount of cruelty, another Bill ought to be brought in, and I cannot support this.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Sir J. NALL
I do not wish unduly to prolong the Debate, but I wish to suggest to the House a reason why it should not support the Bill. It is very easy for the sentiment of the super-sensitive to run away on matters of this kind. I want to ask those who are vehemently supporting this Bill whether they think it cruel and propose to take any steps to stop the keeping of ordinary barn-door fowls in wire cages in the backyard. Do they think it wrong to eat ducks and geese, and do they want to stop the exposure of ducks and geese in the Christmas market? Is it cruel to keep a horse in the stable and harness him in a cart for the service of man? Is it cruel to keep a cow in a shed for the purpose of producing milk? We must keep a sense of proportion. I support the hon. Member who suggested that this Bill be recommitted, so that it may be dealt with as a common-sense Measure.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is too late for the hon. Member to talk about the recommitting of the Bill. We have 859 got beyond that stage, and are now on the Third Reading.
§ Sir J. NALL
On that point, if it is too late to recommit the Bill in its present form, a new Session is to commence at the beginning of next week. It would be quite easy to let this Bill go, and to reintroduce it in a more sensible form. I, for one, and I expect also the whole House, would support a Measure which would enact that, where it is proved that a particular kind of bird is disappearing, steps be taken to stop that process. But a Bill of this kind, which interferes with the perfectly innocent and harmless amusement of a vast number of quite reasonable people, seems to me to be inflicting a hardship on masses of persons, and if it were in force justice would not be done.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The House wishes to be kind to birds, but in doing that we ought not to overlook the consequences which may follow on the action which we are taking. In abolishing one cruelty it is often necessary to watch that you do not establish something equally bad in its place. I have constantly observed this happening. Hon. Members can make out a perfectly sensible case for something being wrong. My view of mankind is that man is constantly doing wrong things. Every man, by nature, seems to have a method and a way of doing things that are wrong. This House requires to be constantly safeguarded against the danger that in stopping one wrong they may substitute something even worse. There is no answer to the statement that cruelty is done to birds. There are cruelties to birds, and I believe that cruelties are also practised in the caging of wild animals. But the proposition is a two-fold one. When you abolish this evil, do you not run the risk of substituting something else?
Some people argue in the same way about moving pictures, when they see wrong and unedifying ones. But shut the pictures, and those who enjoy them will only substitute something else. If you stop these decent men and their wives and families from pursuing this perfectly innocent hobby, you take the chance that they will substitute for it something very 860 much worse. Anything that keeps men sober and makes them good husbands to their wives is not altogether a bad habit. My view of these men is that they are following a perfectly innocent pleasure and are sober, decent men in their ordinary, everyday lives. Stop them from doing it, and you do not make them good; all you do is to drive them to some other form of amusement that may import bitter cruelty into what they do.
Whether you like it or do not like it, certain men will defy the law—large numbers of them. You are faced with two propositions. First of all, you must give a certain number of people the power—almost the bureaucratic power—of seeing that the law is carried out. Before this Bill can be effectively administered, it is almost necessary to have the power of entry into homes. If the cruelty can be established, that is where it takes place. Before it gives such a measure of power to the people who would exercise it, this House ought to observe great care in what it is doing. I am one of those who believe that in the normal functions of human life mankind ought to receive as much liberty as possible. It is necessary to take care that in abolishing this practice you do not set up in power people who may inflict greater hardship by their interference than does the practice itself.
The first Clause provides for fines for taking and selling birds. Do not forget that these people whom you are fining are poor people. The fine will be paid, and you are stopping one cruelty by inflicting on them a, cruelty that may be as severe as that which they are inflicting on the bird. Taking it as a whole, the Bill is one which should make us pause, and pause long. While I agree, and no one could deny, that there has been cruelty, and I myself dislike the keeping of birds or any animal in captivity, and have never done it myself, I do say that the House should try to keep a proper perspective in regard to other people not like us. If we prevent these other people from doing this we may cause them to substitute something worse in its place.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 214; Noes, 14.861
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.