HC Deb 20 March 1952 vol 497 cc2631-50

Order for Second Reading read.

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

7.1 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I beg to move, to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add: "upon this day six months."

To relieve the anxieties of the mayor, aldermen and burgesses of Rochester, I want to say I and my hon. Friends have no intention of dividing against this Bill. Our purpose is to secure that certain matters may be debated before the Bill reaches the Select Committee, and the purpose of our Motion to leave out Clauses 91, 109 and 121, which appears on the Order Paper as an instruction to the Select Committee, is to draw attention to the particular matters in which my hon. Friends and I are interested.

We wish to say something about those three Clauses. Clause 109, "Touting hawking, etc.", is a Clause which appears in many other Bills; but it seems to me unduly fussy and really not necessary. I think the existing law on importuning or insulting behaviour would cover all that is required. Clause 121—" Hairdressers and barbers "—deals with the registration of hairdressers; but I believe that to be already covered under the Public Health Acts. On these two points I think my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) will be speaking at greater length.

I want to address my remarks primarily to Clause 91—"Nuisance from pigeons, etc."—to authorise the City of Rochester to destroy pigeons, doves, starlings and a variety of other birds, on all of which I am not an expert. The purpose of this debate is not hostility in essence to this Clause, but to draw attention to a rapidly growing public evil. I am delighted to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture here. He has come because I suggested to him that we thought this was a matter in which his Department was primarily concerned.

Those who are familiar with Trafalgar Square and the streets adjoining will be aware that every evening tens of thousands of starlings come there before dusk. It is a remarkable sight to see them performing their aerial evolutions before they rest on the National Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a club to which I belong and other buildings. They are spreading now to the Haymarket and Pall Mall, and I believe large numbers go into St. James's Park, which is a more suitable place for them. They talk all night, which is much worse than our night sittings because they all talk simultaneously. People complain very much about the noise, and in addition these birds foul every building upon which they rest at night.

It is not only in the City of Westminster that this plague exists. I am told that a similar state of affairs exists in Birmingham. I am glad to have the agreement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. I am told there is a plague most nights in Finsbury Square. An attempt has been made to burn them up several times, but I think unsuccessfully.

By chance today I was talking to the present Mayor of Westminster who before he was mayor was chairman of the public health committee of the city. I am told that they have experimented in all sorts of ways and, in the main, unsuccessfully. They now think they have some new electrical device which may be successful. I am told they have had no success in Birmingham.

I am not an expert on ornithology, but I have talked on this subject with many people. I have also used the Library and consulted the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Chambers' Encyclopaedia. One says they are very dreadful birds, and the other says they are very good birds. If those two differ, it is no wonder that there is great doubt whether these birds are a benefit or an evil. A friend of mine said, "If you shoot them no dog will pick them up, they are so foul." I do not know. They look so lovely. A former mayor of Westminster who is now in Africa, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir E. Keeling), who was in the siege of Kut, told me that on one occasion they reinforced their diet by shooting starlings, but unfortunately they peppered the brigadier and so the starling shoot came to an end.

I believe these birds have become a menace and a pest. I do not believe they can be dealt with at the places where they go to sleep. The problem has to be solved in the countryside where they feed and breed. There are considerable doubts as to the migratory habits of these birds. Some people say they are not here during certain seasons. Others say that they migrate in stages throughout the year. But my information is that they are at Trafalgar Square every night, and I do not think that can be arranged by classified migration.

A great many people in the countryside believe these birds are carriers of foot-and-mouth disease. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. A substantial number of informed people in agricultural districts say that it is so. One hon. Member told me it is believed that these birds are also carriers of a certain fowl pest. He gave me the name of the disease, but I did not write it down and cannot pronounce it. But here we have a variety of allegations.

The sole purpose of this debate is to try and bring this matter to public attention. I have had no other opportunity of doing so. I am sorry that we are embarrassing Rochester Corporation who have given us this first opportunity. The curious thing is that Rochester Corporation are not worried about starlings. It is pigeons they want killed. But they also named starlings in their Clause, and I am grateful to them for providing us with this opportunity which otherwise we should not have had.

There are four other Bills proceeding in another place which also contain Clauses dealing with starlings, so the problem is one of considerable substance. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will agree that here is a problem to be solved. I am not sufficiently expert to say what is the solution. His Department have the resources, and, in conjunction with various societies, they could study the movement and habit of these birds and come to the conclusion whether it is desirable that their numbers should be drastically reduced. All I want to do is to present to the House the fact that the problem exists.

I hope I shall not be thought discourteous if I am not here for the whole debate. The Chairman of Ways and Means is an autocrat in these matters, and he selects the dates of debates. Over two months ago I committed myself to having a free dinner and making a speech in payment for it. If I leave before the end of the proceedings, I hope I shall be acquitted of discourtesy, especially having regard to the fact that I have no desire to vote on this problem. Though I shall miss the dinner I feel that I must make my payment for the invitation. I have promised that we would not take too much time on this Bill because there is another Bill to come up for Second Reading which excites far more controversy.

I hope I have presented reasons adequate to the House why we have put down the instruction to the Committee to leave out Clauses 91, 109 and 121, one of which is outside the general scope of what we commonly discuss on Private Bills.

7.10 p.m.

Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I wish to deal with the question of touting and hawking. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) said, the object of bringing this Clause to the notice of the House is, to enable us to say that we regard it as being apparently—I will not say more than that—a very fussy Clause which may not really be necessary. We do not want to embarrass the Rochester Corporation in the runnning of their own show, because we strongly believe that local authorities should have the maximum amount of freedom in the conduct of their own affairs.

But there is a risk. This Clause deals mainly with ice-cream vendors, who no doubt may have been making a great deal of trouble, one way and another, in the borough; otherwise the city fathers would not have seen fit to bring forward this Clause. But I suggest that we ought to avoid provisions of this type—the tendency of which is to clamp down on the freedom of the individual—unless they are really necessary. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), who I imagine will contribute to this debate, has any special information on the subject. If he has, I know that the House would be glad to hear of it.

We wish that the amenities of the borough, like those of all other boroughs, should be available as far as possible to the inhabitants. We do not wish to clamp down upon them. But if it is a fact that this touting and hawking, in which ice-cream vendors appear to be the main offenders, has become a menace in the borough, then we should like to hear a little more about it. We should also like to know whether the existing rules and regulations and legislation available to the borough are not sufficient already to deal with what may be a considerable trouble.

After those few words of an exploratory nature, I hope that we may be given some information. We do not intend to divide against the Bill, but we should like to have more information which is not only of interest to the House, as the guardian of the freedom of the people, but of interest to other boroughs which may be considering similar action because they have similar trouble.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. F. J. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I am glad to have this opportunity of referring to the position of hairdressers in Rochester. It affords a chance of saying something about the circular which the promoters of the Bill have thought fit to send to all Members of this House. The circular makes the suggestion, on page 3, that the Floor of the House is the wrong place upon which to discuss a Private Bill and that it would be much better if it was done upstairs in Committee.

I can hardly believe that the promoters of this Bill and their extremely competent advisers are so naive and ingenuous as to think that the Committee appointed to consider a private Bill is of the same character as that which takes over the Committee stage of a public Bill. At a Private Bill Committee, as most hon. Members realise, our colleagues sit in a judicial capacity. Those of us who take an interest in private legislation may not—and quite rightly—induce our colleagues on that Committee to consider our own points of view. Hon. Members sit on such a Committee in a judicial capacity to hear the evidence for and against the contentious points.

It is, therefore, entirely proper and appropriate that we should seek this opportunity at 7 o'clock in the evening to examine certain matters which appear in this Bill which we feel are either wrong in principle or inappropriate to the occasion. I am specially concerned with Clause 121, which deals with the registration of hairdressers I see no reason why hairdressers should have to be registered. Why should not a man set himself up as a barber and hairdresser without having to go along to his town hall to get a permit? Since the end of the war we have had far too much of the mentality which says, "Please teacher, may I do something?" before one is allowed to do it.

I have opposed a similar Clause to this when it has appeared in other Bills during the last six years, and I do not hesitate to express my opposition now. I was unsuccessful because the last Government held different views. They felt that a system of registration and control was in the public interest. As a result, a number of Private Acts are now on the Statute Book, placed there since the war and containing provisions for the registration of hairdressers in certain boroughs and areas. That does not in any way reduce the strength of my case. It may be that some mistakes have been made in the past, but that is no reason for making the same mistakes now or in the future.

Therefore, the justification adduced by the promoters of this Bill that such a Clause is already a model Clause is no justification whatever for permitting the registration of hairdressers in the Borough of Rochester. The imputation in the circular which we have received is that because this is a model Clause it is therefore a perfect and proper Clause. Model Clauses are, of course, nothing of the sort. They are merely those Clauses which have been agreed to by a Committee as containing the best way of expressing a particular intention, if Parliament decides that power should be given to that intention.

If a number of corporations were to seek to have a Clause which empowered them to murder their town clerks, there would be a model Clause to that effect. But the fact that there was a model Clause upon such a morbid subject would be no justification for the principle behind it. I hope that in future the promoters of Private Bills will not seek to take refuge behind the existence of a model Clause when called upon to justify the need for a particular provision in the borough in which they are interested.

What harm have the hairdressers of Rochester done that they must now troop along in a miserable queue to a town hall to pay their fee—there is always a fee at the back of these Clauses—in order to get their miserable certificate? It is a certificate which must be displayed prominently, a certificate which must be accompanied by a spate of by-laws imposing what are quite extreme penalties when one considers the moderate nature of the offences which may be committed by the barbers of Rochester. Why should they have this added burden imposed upon them? Because it is a model Clause? Because it has been done in the last six years, and because the promoters thought that it would be a good idea to push it in?

Is there a shred of evidence that this Clause is needed in Rochester? Not a shred. On the admission of the promoters of the Bill themselves, in the circular, there is no evidence of any need for this provision. It is just another example of control for control's sake. I submit that the Clause should be removed. I take this stand on this Bill, and I hope that the inhabitants of Rochester will not feel strongly against me because of it, because as far as I know this is the first opportunity we have had of seeking to eliminate this type of Clause from private legislation. If it appears in other Bills of this type, I shall continue my opposition.

While having thus ventilated the subject, I fully agree that the Bill should go to Commitee and the matter be there discussed; nevertheless, I give notice that if I find this Clause still in the Bill when it comes back to this House on the Report stage, I shall continue my opposition, and I think that I shall have the support of my hon. Friends in this course. If we are not successful in this House in removing the Clause, I hope that attention will be drawn in another place to the debate which has taken place tonight on the Floor of this House.

7.21 p.m.

Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)

I should like to make it perfectly clear that I have no connection whatever with the opposition to this Bill which has so far been voiced in this debate. As far as I am concerned, if the city fathers of Rochester want to catch pigeons and starlings, I am all in favour of them doing so. If the citizens of Rochester elect city fathers who want to register hairdressers, and stop touting, that is no concern of mine, and I do not suppose it is any very great concern of any of my constituents; it is a matter solely for the citizens of Rochester.

I should like to make it clear that neither I nor any of my constituents, whether they be private citizens or whether they have some representative capacity, have any lack of sympathy for the real difficulties of the City of Rochester in connection with housing. We sympathise with those difficulties. What town or what village is there in this country which has not got its housing problem? If it were a question of giving Rochester some small, reasonable assistance to help them in their housing problem, I am sure that my constituents and any local council which represents them would be very glad indeed to give any reasonable assistance within their power.

But our case against this Bill is based upon the fact that the proposal involves taking away far too much land out of the Strood Rural District Council to include it within the boundaries of the City of Rochester. I cannot see any justification for this taking of land, and I can see no case that could be made for it unless it is based on the question of housing.

When we look into the housing figures they turn out to be somewhat as follows. The Rochester City Corporation, to the best of my knowledge and belief, has 1,770 applicants—that is to say, families—on its housing list, and they have 1,067 unfit houses within the City that really ought to be pulled down. Taking those two figures together, they mean that 3,837 new houses are required. If we made no allowance whatever for acres which would, in fact, be cleared by pulling down the unfit houses, it means that they need some 383 acres, at the rate or 10 houses to the acre; or, if we allow for some churches, shops, and so on, they may need some 400 or 500 acres.

If the Rochester City Corporation were to approach the Strood Rural District Council, make out a case and ask for reasonable assistance, I am sure that they would be glad to consider it in a reasonable and generous spirit, as, indeed, the Strood Rural District Council did in 1934 when, at the request of the Rochester City Council, they agreed that 813 acres of land should be transferred from Strood to Rochester mainly for housing purposes

But we are bound to note that as against this housing need for some 383 acres, or a maximum of 500 acres, there are already within the boundaries of the City of Rochester no fewer than 886 vacant acres which, to the casual eye—and, in fact, to expert examination by people with knowledge of local government—appear to be perfectly suitable for building. As against 400 or 500 acres—the maximum housing need they can make out—they have got 800 acres within their boundaries; and they are asking to take no fewer than 8,000 acres from Strood Rural District Council.

This proposal seems to me and to my constituents to be out of all proportion and entirely unreasonable. It would do enormous administrative damage to the Strood Rural District Council to take away from that Council 16 per cent. of its area—and, be it noted, it is area which is the costly thing to administer—23 per cent. of its population and 26 per cent. of its rateable value. Leaving Strood with about seven-eighths of its area, it would take away more than a quarter, leaving less than three-quarters, of its rateable value.

Furthermore, at least half of this land which it is proposed to take into the city boundary is extremely good agricultural land. It is all agricultural land, but at least half of it is the very best that we have got in Kent; it includes early potato land, horticultural land, and land on which marvellous fruit crops are grown. Indeed, the agricultural value of this land is of a very high order.

This proposal would take away the Strood Rural District Council offices, and they would be in the City of Rochester. The Strood Rural District Council rubbish disposal tip would be in the City of Rochester, so that the Strood Council would have to go along, cap in hand, and ask "Please, may we tip our rubbish within your city boundaries?" This proposal would take away the sewage works, including a main sewer which has been put in recently under the 1944 Act by the enterprise of the Strood Rural District Council. If this change came about, this sewer would be serving one-half Strood and one-half Rochester—a situation which, I should think, would give rise to enormous complications.

The inhabitants of the village of Shorne have been subscribing to purchase for the village a recreation ground, and they would find their recreation ground in the City of Rochester. It is, therefore, small wonder that the number of citizens who, in this tiny village of Shorne, attended a public meeting to protest unanimously against this Bill was four times more numerous than the number of citizens who attended a public meeting in the great City of Rochester to support it.

That takes me to what is perhaps the strongest point, namely, the feelings of the people themselves. I assure the House that the opinion in these villages which it is proposed to take over is overwhelmingly strong and, as far as I can make out, virtually unanimous, as anyone would imagine it would be if he were to take a walk through these rural places. There is, for example, the village of Upnor, where the training ship "Arethusa" is located; one wonders why the Rochester City Council should want to take that village over. What do they want with the village of Cuxton? So one could go on mentioning village after village.

A curious feature of this case is that the City of Rochester have bought by private treaty a large area of the farm land which they now want to take in. There seems to be some sort of argument on these lines—"We bought it; now you ought to allow us to extend our boundaries so that we can have it inside." Nobody quite knows what they want to do with this land. Apparently they do not want to build houses on it—at least, not yet.

There is a rumour that they want to run model farms on it. I am all in favour of almost any sort of public enterprise, and if it is proposed to run some model farms under the Ministry of Agriculture or even under, say, the Devon County Council or any other county council, I believe there is something to be said for it: But good Socialist as I am, it does seem to me that the running of model farms is a very curious function for a city council.

We find that in Clause 55 Rochester takes special power to erect stands on their Cobham Estate. I should like to know to what sort of stands they refer. Are they bandstands or grandstands, or what? Why do the city fathers want to erect these stands? I am wondering very much whether this business of buying some land, extending their boundaries and saying they want it for their housing needs is not comparable to the little boy who wants a little more cream to finish his sugar and then more strawberries to finish his cream and then some more sugar to finish his strawberries. They seek to take much more land than necessary for their housing needs; when they get the land they will want some more factories to put on it and then they will want some more workers to work in the factories and then more houses to house the workers and then some more land on which to put the houses.

At the end of it, I have a shrewd suspicion that Rochester is aiming to get enough population to be able to claim to be a county borough on its own, without worrying about Gillingham or Chatham, and then they can advertise all over America and say, "Come to Rochester and see the county borough with the longest traffic block in Christendom." That is what will happen if this House and the Committee on this Bill encourages the development which is foreshadowed according to the map prepared by the Rochester City Council.

I expect that a large number of hon. Members have attempted to cross Rochester Bridge by car in the summer. Since the Chancellor's Budget I think there will be even more cars wanting to cross that bridge.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

I thought the hon. Member complained about the increase in the price of petrol.

Sir R. Acland

I had a telegram from a well-known firm whose business is the auctioning of second-hand cars. The telegram said: "All auction prices show sharp upward trend since Budget." As some hon. Members may know, I am personally interested in this question.

Mr. Erroll

May I ask the hon. Member if the firm of auctioneers is on the south coast? If prices have risen, surely that indicates that there will be fewer and not more cars available.

Sir R. Acland

No, it shows that those who are thinking about purchasing a car, instead of buying—

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing about motorcars in this Bill.

Sir R. Acland

Except this, that the number of cars passing across Rochester Bridge even in the present circumstances is phenomenal. I have myself seen that traffic queue reaching right up the High Street of Strood, up a steep hill and away outside the present city boundaries, to the golf course, nearly to Cobham Woods.

Unless hon. Members know the very roundabout detour which will lead them, with a bit of private enterprise, through some back streets to the top of the queue, very often it takes one or two hours to cross this Bridge. In this Bill they are asking to take enough land to build more houses on the west side of the Medway River to serve industries and dockyards and all that one has in Rochester, Gillingham and Chatham.

Suppose there would eventually be 2,000 more people living on the west side, and suppose the traffic queue only exists for 26 weeks of the year, many workers who pass to and from their factories will want to use that bridge once each way per day and if there is only an extra quarter of an hour needed to cross it, taking an average wage of 188s. 6d. for a 44 hour week, it would mean a loss of £27,300 worth of time due to waiting to cross that bridge. I hope that that will be borne in mind if the Committee and anybody on behalf of Rochester City wants to argue on the expenditure which would be involved in making some of the land already in the city boundaries available and suitable for housing.

It may be said, "All this does not matter because we are putting in a bypass." In these days of damping down civil capital expenditure, I should not like to be the one to prophesy the date by which that by-pass will be built. But what if it is built? It is a little difficult to make this point without a map and a blackboard on which to draw the line of the proposed by-pass, but, broadly speaking, there is only one possible line. If one has a by-pass coming down to the south and then across the river eastwards, who would be such a mug as to put all the city expansion on the west of the proposed by-pass so that it will be necessary to cross the by-pass to get into the city? To say there is to be a by-pass is, therefore, no answer to the question of this bridge being a supreme bottleneck.

I am not absolutely persuaded at this moment whether or not I should ask my hon. Friends to divide against this Second Reading. I may be a little influenced by what the Minister says. Perhaps he will have a word to say on the general principles underlying this business and tell us how he sees this problem—which is only typical of what other cities have tried and will be trying to do in the future—whether he thinks that a city of about 3,000 acres should have attached to it some 8,000 acres of agricultural land and whether, in his view, it would not be wise in Committee to challenge the Rochester City Corporation and their witnesses very acutely and very narrowly, first to show, if they can, that they have not enough vacant space within their existing boundaries for their present needs and then, if they have not, to justify not each quarter of an acre but each 100 acres they claim.

If they can justify that, as far as I and my constituents are concerned, they can have it, if it is for a real need. I hope most earnestly that any Committee of this House, investigating this Bill, will look more than once at the possibility that a city should take in such large numbers of a rural population who do not want to become citizens of a city and which would make the administration of the remainder of this rural area a virtual impossibility.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I rise to oppose the Amendment, but I do not want to follow the line of thought of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) other than to say that, whether or not there is to be an extension of the boundary I think his observations could be used just as much to argue for as against an extension of the city boundary. In supporting this Bill it does not mean that I agree that Rochester should extend its boundaries at the expense of the Borough of Chatham. With that reservation, I support the Bill.

The City of Rochester is a name famous in the history of England. It was founded by the Romans on the great highway leading from London towards the continent of Europe. The first things that impress the visitor approaching the city from London are the fine cathedral and the Norman castle. There is civic and domestic architecture of all styles and periods, which make the ancient City of Rochester one of the imperishable treasures of our island.

It is to enable the city to be fully governed by the city fathers that this Bill is introduced. It is recognised that obligations are put upon the city and they will not abuse powers given them.

In relation to Clause 91—"Nuisance from pigeons, etc."—it is true that these pigeons are a problem. They are in the castle keep and the corporation believe that they can deal effectively with them if they are given these powers. Pigeons and starlings, as hon. Members know, are birds of great superficial charm but, at the same time, they have marked anti-social tendencies. We want to remove these difficulties so that our city can be much better provided for in the way of amenities for visitors and residents alike.

In days gone by, it used to be a very popular thing for the children to have bags of corn from which to feed the pigeons. That mitigated the problem of the pigeons in the sense that they were well fed and remained close at hand, but nowadays, instead of getting their food in that way, they go into the country and the farms around the city and destroy very substantial amounts of agricultural produce which I think the Minister of Agriculture would say it was vital to preserve in these days of food shortage. It is felt that by this Clause it will assist in keeping down the number of pigeons in the castle keep. It is a problem which should be dealt with and it can be tackled if this Clause is in the Bill.

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) referred to Clause 109, which deals with touting and hawking. I share his view that we do not want to be too harsh in administering this Clause, but I am informed that there is rather excessive touting and hawking and that some control is necessary. I have it on the authority of the city council that this control will be exercised with due discretion so as not to interfere too much with the legitimate trade of those who want to follow their calling.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

We share the right hon. Gentleman's hopes that the council will use their powers reasonably. The present council may, but we do not know about future councils. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is not sufficient control under existing legislation without this increase in powers?

Mr. Bottomley

I gather that this is necessary.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will know that his hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), was on the Bourne Committee which drew up model Clauses for this purpose, and this is an up-to-date version of the standard Clause which the Bourne Committee adopted. It can be exercised with due moderation, and the touting and hawking can be limited. It is hoped that by establishing a precedent now, those who control the council in the future will see that it has been established and it will, therefore, be enforced reasonably in the future, too.

Clause 121 refers to hairdressers and barbers. I have listened to the discussion in the House on this subject on other occasions, when it was not a question for the Government of the day but one for general discussion The Clause was then supported on both sides of the House. This Clause about the registration of hairdressers and barbers was inserted in previous Bills and was argued on its merits. Is it to be said that those arguments no longer apply?

It may be argued that under the Public Health Act, 1936, there already exists some method of keeping these establishments clean and hygienic. This has been investigated and it has been found that the point is not covered. If there are to be really clean and hygienic establishments it is felt that there must be some method of inspection, which calls for registration. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will admit that he was exaggerating when he spoke about queues of people lining up outside the Town Hall to register as barbers. The limitation to be imposed is not one of numbers. Rather is it a question of making sure that the establishments in the town are those which reach the reasonable standard required, so as to be sure that when a person goes into a hair-dressers or a barbers he can come out, later reasonably clean.

I hope the hon. Member for Croydon, East will not press his Amendment to a Division. May I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend that his views will be fully considered in Committee upstairs? He can afford, therefore, to await the results of the Committee before pressing this matter to a Division.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

I support the Second Reading of the Bill, as I always support the Second Reading of Bills which have been promoted by a local authority in what they conceive to be the best interests of the people living within their ambit, no doubt after mature and careful consideration.

I was, however, alarmed to hear the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) suggest that it might have been better had the promoters of the Bill first made some reasonable approach to the rural district authorities. That suggested that the promoters had gone forward with this Measure without having taken what I, as a sympathiser with boroughs and county boroughs in their present difficulties, consider to be the first step which should be taken before they come to this House for permission to extend their boundaries.

Having said that, I repeat that I support the Bill, although I doubt whether I have ever heard a case for an extension Bill so effectively shot down as this was shot down by the hon. Member for Gravesend; nor, I doubt, has any other hon. Member. On almost every aspect of the Bill as presented to the House, he made what seemed to be an unanswerable case, and he did it in spite of the fact that the House seemed to have been made the subject of, not sharp practice—it would be unbecoming to suggest that—but certainly an example of sleight of hand.

I understand that all hon. Members have received a circular on the Bill from the Rochester Corporation, and it is probably not going too far to say that the intention of putting this circular into the hands of hon. Members in time for Second Reading might have been to direct the House into a discussion about the registration of hairdressers, the suppression of ice-cream vendors and the slaughter of pigeons, whereas the real purpose of this Bill is a very wide extension of the boundaries of the City—the sort of extension Bill with which the House is very familiar.

I hope the House will not direct its attention closely to the question of pigeons and hairdressers and ice-cream vendors, but will bear in mind that this is an extension Bill of a very familiar kind which ought to be considered in the light of what has been said by the hon. Member for Gravesend; and which ought not to be too readily approved, when it reaches Committee upstairs, as I hope it will.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a minute or two, but I must add my protest about these attacks on rural district councils, which make their work increasingly difficult, especially in the very difficult financial times in which we live.

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland), with perhaps more humour than I should have used, made what in my opinion was a very good case and, although I hope he will not divide the House—because the Bill ought to go upstairs in the usual way—nevertheless I hope the arguments affecting the Strood Rural District Council will be taken very carefully into consideration.

I was rather surprised that the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) did not deal with that aspect of the problem at all. He confined himself to the simpler matters of pigeons, starlings and barbers but, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. K. Thompson), the real purpose of the Bill was one on which the right hon. Gentleman did not touch. He merely said he hoped it would be dealt with in Committee.

I thought that, as the representative of the promoters, the right hon. Member would have given us something a little more substantial about the way in which the criticism of the hon. Member for Gravesend will be met. Having said that, however, I do not wish to detain the House, although I hope that when the Bill reaches Committee the points raised by the hon. Member for Gravesend will be carefully considered.

7.50 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I promised to make a short reply to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), on the question of starlings which was, I think, the reason why he put down his Amendment in the first place. The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) has, I think, really justified the inclusion of Clause 91 in the Bill. My right hon. Friend entirely sympathises with the intention of Rochester to try to control, in so far as it can, pigeons and starlings, so that their population does not seriously make depredations on surrounding farmland.

In reply to the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, has made, I would say that it is true that this Clause will not be particularly effective because, by its terms, it cannot go beyond the Wild Birds Protection Acts, which do make illegal most of the more effective means of controlling starlings and other wild birds.

In our affection for song birds and other kinds of birds we have legislated in such a way that we have now made it illegal, pretty well, to control birds like starlings, whose population has grown to a size at which they have ceased to be a benefit to the community and, undoubtedly, have now become a pest. My hon. Friend's suggestion that they could be controlled in the countryside is not a realistic one. It is true that there is an urban population which goes out every day to feed on the farms—goes out 20, 30, 40 miles daily, and comes back at night to nest in tall buildings around here and in other towns. It is true that they go into the countryside and feed off the fields, but there is no way that the farmers can discourage them other than by shooting at them, and, obviously, with cartridges at 6d. a time it is impossible for them to do that today. So I am afraid that the answer must be, that the Measure which is taken here shows a good intention, and I hope that Rochester will be able to put it into some effect.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (Angus, South)

Would my hon. Friend confirm that Rochester is within the area of migration of starlings from the Continent of Europe, whence comes foot-and-mouth disease?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, that is so.

7.52 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

In fairness to Rochester Corporation, I should like to make one observation following the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. K. Thompson). He charges Rochester Corporation with having bated its statement with references to pigeons, falconry, hawking and hairdressers. He suggests that the statement was put forward in a rather deceitful form, and that the real idea, of course, is to extend the boundaries of Rochester. Let me point out that the statement which we have received from the promoters of the Bill has not attempted to conceal anything of the kind. It attempts only to deal with Clauses 91, 107 and 121, which were to have been the subject of an instruction to the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). There was no need for them to go at any length into the question of the extension of the boundaries, because that has not been challenged.

I want to be fair to the promoters, who have tried to meet the House by putting forward a reasoned justification for their case, especially against proposals against their case. As one who has served in local government myself, I know the problems and difficulties of local authorities. There may be some hon. Members who have not sat on those authorities, and who, therefore, have not had much experience of their problems and difficulties. That would be my answer to the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir A. Acland).

We on this side believe in local government. I hope that local government will be allowed to carry out its intentions and practices without our having to descend to quarrelling over the problem of controlling such things as barbers' itch and the misadventures of pigeons and starlings. I hope that Rochester Corporation will follow nearly the high traditions of local government with which I am familiar, and will leave these things out, but I do think that it is entitled to come to the House and make the statement it has made. I am compelled to say that in defence of Rochester Corporation, as a supporter of local government, and I hope that the corporation, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), will be duly grateful to me for this intervention.

Mr. Erroll

In view of the interesting and valuable discussion which has taken place, on behalf of my hon. Friends, I should like to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Question, "That 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and Committed.